How to Clarify Your Business Direction

Business DirectionAs I was combing through older content on the blog, I came across this blog post, Three Business Lessons Learned from a Robot. The analogy is funny but the tips where full of insight. It made me think about how important it is to have a sense of direction when it comes to your business.

I think it goes a little beyond steps to setting goals, especially for a small internet home business run by solopreneurs. Sometimes  fear, lack of clarity, limited support and having no sense of direction gets the better of us.

See, you and I were trained to fail in entrepreneurship because we weren’t given the tools to manage through the hardships, fight through the struggles and withstand the unpredictability that frequently comes with running a business.

When we were younger, we followed house rules and directives from our parents. In school, we were guided by lesson plans facilitated by our teachers. At a job, we were given a set of tasks based on a job description. So when it comes to taking risks in entrepreneurship, resistance sets in because we’re not given a “guide” to follow. Take a look at this inspirational yet informational video featuring Seth Godin - Failing Until You Succeed.

Overcoming Limiting Beliefs: Who’s In Charge?

Many people I’ve come across have fantasized about starting a business at one point or another. My sister, who has a business degree, has specifically admitted she is afraid of failing. My best friend has had a longtime dream of opening up a childcare center. She quit her job last December and got very close to closing a deal on a property several months ago. The deal folded and she became paralyzed by disappointment. She is she now back to working a job. Another one of my friends grew up with an entrepreneurial father. She has dreams of starting a horticulture therapeutic center but feels she is not “organized” enough to even know where to begin.

There’s nothing worse than the hopeless feeling of jumping around aimlessly and later rationalizing your “failure” to a set of circumstances you created a belief around. You either have an internal or external locus of control, meaning things happen because of you or to you. Your viewpoint can affect your success.

I’ve always been passionate about facing fears and making breakthroughs. I encourage my clients and patients to give themselves permission to be bold – it’s cliché but true. But if you don’t know where you are going, it’s much more difficult to stay focused and grounded.

Visualizing what you want

There’s a lot of research done about visualization. Some people swear by vision boards. I, for one, believe that it definitely helps to envision and image  and actually feeling what it’s like to get there. It creates this energy and momentum and keeps you zoned in, even when you are not consciously thinking about it. I use something similar where I place a description of my ultimate business vision on my bedroom night table that way I see it as soon as I wake up. Not in a Law of Attraction kind of way but I feel it helps to remind me while my brain cells are fresh of what I need to do to get one step closer.  Check out these tips I found on how to use visualization to achieve your goals.

Setting Intentions

Goals are very individualistic. There is a reason why you want to accomplish “that thing”. The tangible outcome is rarely what you are after. Not to get touchy-feely but normally it’s a search for a feeling (accomplished, loved, smart, sexy, free, etc.). Get to know yourself. Self-awareness can be fun. It’s almost like putting a puzzle together.

Heighten up your senses to what stands out for you during the course of a day. It helps you identify what’s important to you so you can factor those into your business journey. For me, it’s noticing children, happy couples, and people’s moods. I love to people watch and notice when a person looks sad. I take note of businesses that go out of business and speculate on the circumstances. I wonder, did the owners give up? You can almost always find something that will satisfy you and the needs of the people you serve.

A Measurable Contract With Yourself

In business, setting measurable goals can help your business direction and ultimately its success. Most people find business success using a combination of their interests, values, passions and skills. Write down the actions you will take and what behaviors will you change in order to get there. Make your it specific enough where you can see progress and allow you the opportunity to praise yourself for small wins that will eventually turn into larger ones. Writing it down also makes things more concrete and establishes a contract with yourself. You’ll keep growing, refining and expanding as you move along.

The Power of Masterminding

This point was brought up in Lynette Chandler’s post. She says, “Now to figure out, what or who can be the GPS for your business? I think the answer is fairly obvious. It is a good business coach or a group of like minded people like a mastermind group made up of people you can trust.” Think about the power of gaining the insights of an expert or group of experts brainstorming and networking together and gaining perspective at a much quicker pace. Plus, it’ll help you stay accountable. Here are a few I belong to Blogging Concentrated, Solo Masterminds, Lynn Terry’s Private Brainstorming Group, MyNams (some of these have free and paid memberships).

Home-based Business Workspace: Ideas to make it work

home business workspaceYet another Spark Bits Weekly where I ask a panel of homeprenuers a blazing question about running and growing their businesses from home.

Today’s Q is:

Tell us about your workspace at home and how do keep your business endeavors organized?

Stephanie Watson from Barry Publishing says:

home business workspaceI’m very fortunate to have a dedicated office in my home. I have two  file cabinets, two desks, a printer, two computers, a laptop, and from years of doing this, all the office paraphernalia one would expect plus two comfortable chairs and some bookcases. Since my husband helps me in my business one station is his and one is mine. I barely use the filing cabinet or the printer or other stuff anymore. I use Dropbox to keep all my files organized. I scan receipts to keep them in a file for tax purposes, which is practically the only reason the printer is used, and file warranty information in one of the file cabinets.

I use my office only for working. When I want to have fun and play around I go use my laptop in the living room on the couch. This gives me a nice feeling of separation, so that when I am off work, I am off work. Plus it keeps me from wasting time on social media. I use my laptop for work when I am away from the house, or sometimes, like now, when I’m writing something like this and need a change of pace after writing all day long. But mostly, I use my lap top for “off duty” stuff.

I have a desk that allows me to sit or stand. I read that sitting for more than 4 hours a day increases your chances of sudden and early death exponentially, so I had my husband build me a desk that enables me to stand while working. At first I thought it would be hard, but I find that I am actually more productive when I stand.

I have set working hours and days. I do work “over time” when needed, but mostly I try to limit that and get my work done within the parameters that I’ve set. I used to feel like I worked 24/7 and now I don’t. Sure, sometimes I work overtime and on my days off, but that only happens when I need to rearrange something or before and after going on vacation.

I’m very fortunate having this space and all the supplies and equipment that I need. Back when I first started, I had an office in the living room stuffed behind the couch. It was difficult, with the kids running through the room, watching TV and so forth, but it was all I had at the time.

One great thing is that today,  working from home virtually means that I need very little paper or other supplies other than a computer, the Internet, and the right software since I now keep all  files organized in my Dropbox, there’s not much to it. My expenses are low, and I run lean and mean.

Brenda Trott from Done4UMedia Marketing says:

home business workspaceAfter going through 3 computers in one year, I decided to store everything on the cloud. I use Evernote to capture things online or store them on my Google drive where I can grab them from my phone as well as any computer. I store things in folders based on the product I’m creating or the client I’m working with.

Although I have a home office, I often find myself working from my bedroom.  The biggest fault is that it is easy to lose track of time, and I’ll send emails out at 3am.  Once upon a time that didn’t matter, but now that smart phones are notifying people of emails, it becomes a problem when I wake someone up with my late night (or early morning) emails!

My Insights

home business workspaceWorking from home can offer many perks. For one, it offers the opportunity for flexibility, which is especially gratifying for people like me who value freedom.  But with the perks also come disadvantages and one of those is maintaining an organized space for your business, which can be quite difficult when you have the distractions from your home life.

Working from home requires some thought especially when you are just starting out. A goal should be to create a working space that is suitable for you and works for both your personal and business life. For me, feeling physically comfortable when I’m working, noise control and keeping things organized are pretty important.

Although I do have an extra room with a desk, like Brenda, I find myself working out of my guest bedroom because my back and legs get tired from sitting for long periods and I also like to elevate my legs on the bed. I find that I tend to stay more productive in that position. I do bursts of exercise in between to keep my circulation flowing and mind clear. I’ve also considered getting a higher desk to work while standing like Stephanie discussed because of the negative health effects of sitting for long periods.

I also need complete silence to work effectively because I get highly distracted and lose my focus really quickly. It takes me much longer to get it back. Therefore, when I start to work, my husband knows that I’m in work mode and doesn’t overstep that boundary. Maintaining boundaries with your family is really important especially if you are sensitive to noise and distractions like I am. Having a chat with your family or even putting up a sign on your door or work area can help establish an understanding where after a while, you won’t even have to say or do anything.

In keeping things organized, I keep all of my business related things in one room and just bring my laptop with me when I move around in my home. The majority of my files are in digital format so most of the time my laptop will suffice. If I do work on my desk, it has to be completely bare. I can’t work in an area that is messy and cluttered. It doesn’t allow me to think clearly or creatively.

The key, I think, is to find a space that works for you and contributes to your sanity, health and  productivity. From a psychological standpoint, structuring and finding a “place for business” in your home will separate your home life with your business endeavors. Assess your personality and find a home setup that will best contribute to your business success. Your home-based business workspace and the way you organize your biz endeavors is an expression of your personality. Try to create an environment where you will feel most empowered to do your best work and will enhance your productivity.

Have you assessed and reconsidered your home business workspace lately?

Search Your Favorite Sites From The Browser

Everyone of us has sites we visit regularly to reference the information found there. For me, these sites are:Add to search bar

  • Flickr – to search for Creative Commons Licensed images to use on blog posts
  • WordPress.org Codex – to search for code snippets, functions and template tags
  • WordPress forum – to look up solutions to problems
  • Youtube – to find videos that I can blog about or add to my site/resources etc
  • Internet marketing forums – to see what people are saying about a topic I want to write about and question they are asking

Each one of those web sites have their very own search feature so what is the problem? No problem. I just like to cut out a few steps and clicks if possible because some of these sites especially WordPress, I search several times a day. Bookmarking and navigating to these sites take time.

So, I installed this cool little Firefox plugin called Add to Search Bar. This lets me add the search function for any web site to my Firefox Search Bar. Which means less looking up for a web site in the overloaded bookmarks folder and less clicking to get to the right page to search.

8 Tools For The Productivity Junkie

If there’s one thing I learned working around children, it is, you can’t expect 100% productivity all the time. Which means, during the times you can give your work your undivided attention, you’ll want to squeeze every bit out of every single minute. While I don’t see myself as a productivity junkie, some people in my household may beg to differ :) anyways, always one to look out for better ways to do things, I’ve scoped out a few tools that may be helpful.

A timer – it truly is super weird. For someone who works hard not to be ruled by a punch clock, the timer often helps me focus the most. Not only that, it also helps me track billable hours. Yeah I’m old school like that. While I do have a physical timer – preferred for offline work, I also use a digital and tiny timer on my computer. The best in my humble opinion is a simple, dirt cheap but very functional timer, Egg Timer Plus from Sardine software (love the name). Only $5

Evernote – *sigh* I could write a book about Evernote. It is a web clipper (clip text, images etc from the web), a note taker, a task planner, a recipe organizer – you name it, you can probably find a way to use it for that. To me it’s a huge virtual inbox but that’s nothing new. What I love best about this is, you can capture almost any kind of data from anywhere. From your desktop and directly from your cell phone this is a huge selling point for me. The only thing it doesn’t have is a calendar but it is definitely a 2nd brain.

Filebox eXtender – got tired of clicking and clicking and clicking through folders to find the file I want. If you make a concious effort to notice it, you usually revisit a couple of folders pretty regularly throughout the day, week and month. I wanted a way to quickly jump to these folders which are also contained within many parent folders. Filebox eXtender does that. Love it. Sadly, it is no longer being actively support. There have been some reported issues for some people but they do have a Windows Vista and Windows 7 version. It is free.

Filebox eXtender

QTTabBar – lets you have tabs in Windows Explorer. I have not installed it yet, will definitely install it shortly. Going by my love of tabs on Firefox, QTTabBar may quickly be a must have.

Gmail Labels, Filter and auto Archive feature – The sky will not fall on your head if you don’t read every single email that comes through your inbox. A big volume of our emails are probably not supposed to be acted upon anyhow so just – stuff them. You don’t have to see them but you may need them at some point in the future. Create a label and make sure you check the “Skip inbox” checkbox, mark as read and assign it a label – e.g. Receipts. Then filter all PayPal emails or even emails you get from the ‘Gurus’ or subscription list this way. Let Gmail to that petty work for you.

GridMove - this is one killer app – at least for me. I used to call GridMove the poor (wo)man’s 2nd monitor. Now that I have a 2nd monitor, I find I need it more! It separates your monitor into grids – you can even create your own layouts or download the many contributed by users. When you click on the middle mouse button and drag a window, it will show you the many grids you can drag the window to. It will ‘snap’ into place. Eliminating the need to manually resize windows. This is great for working with code and web sites – see the effect of your changes on one side and the code on another. It’s also come in real handy during household budgeting day. I can see my own spreadsheet on one side and the checking account on the other.

Gridmove

A Macro – Feels like Deja Vu. I’ve mentioned this one before ;-) Oh yeah! Right here. See, they all tie in together. A Macro does repetitive tasks for you so you don’t have to remember or do it manually. Saving you tons of time. It can launch applications for you, perform certain functions on a schedule and even type for you. Get it. Use it. DirectAccess has saved me 17 hours of typing. How do I know? Because it gives me a neat little chart estimate. It’ probably more than than though because I use it launch programs and open folders, I save the time required to search for the program from a programs list – or the time to find that elusive folder.

A Workflow or system if you prefer to call it that – Some people respond better to mindmaps, some people prefer lists – whichever you decide, using tools like wikis and Bubbl.us and Gliffy help you create a workflow faster and also edit them easier so if there are changes in your workflow, everyone else on your team won’t be stuck with archaic versions.

Sparkplugging Swap Your Labor Weekend

virtual-swap-meetLast year I held a virtual swap meet on the WAHM 2.0 blog and opened things up for readers to share what they have available to barter with the focus being on virtual services that they provide and products that they create or sell.

Bartering your valuable skills is a fantastic way to get the products and services you need to move forward with your business goals.  It’s especially attractive with your business budget is tight!

Get What You Need!

Since this is Labor Day Weekend, and since last year’s swap meet was so successful, I think this is a perfect time to revive the fun and open up the comments for you to share what you have to offer and what you’re looking for in return.

Are you a skilled writer in need of a new blog header graphic?  Offer to write a couple of killer articles for a graphic designer in need of content.  Are you a virtual assistant in need of a gift for your best friend’s birthday?  Offer to provide your services in exchange for personal care products.

The options are endless – just make your pitch and see what happens!

Let’s Swap!

Leave a comment below that shares what you have to offer for barter in enough detail that someone can make a decision about it.  If you know exactly what you’d like to barter for, lay that out to.  If you’re not sure, you can say that you’re open to creative offers.

Be sure to include contact information!  Your Twitter user name would be good.

Who knows what sort of swap connections we’ll make this weekend :)  Let’s go for it!

Tools That Make An Affiliate’s Life Easier

Kelly’s inspirational post about dreaming bigger, has really got quite a few of us riled up and ready to go. For me, it couldn’t have been better timing because this week is also the same week my kids start school again. I am excited to reclaim those hours and pour 100% of it into my business once again. Since Kelly talked about affiliate marketing and working harder on it, I thought it would be good to follow up with some tools that can help make your lives as affiliates easier, better, more productive which hopefully leads to more profits. So here goes.Tools

Password manager – I use Roboform on the PC and 1Password on the Mac, others I know use LastPass and Xmarks. Whatever you decide on, a password manager really helps logging in and out of those many affiliate accounts a breeze.

Affiliate link plugin for WordPress – there are a few out there. What does it do? You set a keyword for example “SparkplugU” and tell it to link to your affiliate URL each time SparkplugU is found. All automatic and works for older posts too.

Zemanta – this is a Firefox plugin that will make photo, books, DVD and website resources suggestions for you based on what you are writing about. You can link it up to Amazon – if you’re still their affiliate – and make it easy to add links to products found in Amazon.

A macro utility – Tired of typing your affiliate URL again and again? Copying and pasting is OK but still takes time to open your file, look it up, copy and paste. Too many actions. Use a macro utility. I use something called DirectAccess that helps me do a bunch of things, but one of my favorite uses is for it to help me type in URLs. Instead of typing, I enter a short code and hit ‘End’ the software types the links for me, reducing the amount of typing I do.

Image by sanja gjenero

Lynette enjoys discovering new ways to use technology or new technologies to use in a business and in turn help her clients apply them. You can find also Lynette at her blog, Twitter and Facebook

What Good Is A Wiki For Your Small Business?

According to Wikipedia…

A wiki is a website that uses wiki software, allowing the easy creation and editing of any number of interlinked Web pages, using a simplified markup language or a WYSIWYG text editor, within the browser.

So, in other words, it is a web site builder. What’s so special about that?

The web site building feature is not the interesting part. The interesting part is the fact that anyone can create, edit, add on and correct the information on the page anytime, anywhere using just a simple web browser. It’s kind of like Bob writing a proposal which he then sends out to Nancy and Jack for them to look over. They scribble their notes or cross out lines of text and send it back to Bob. Many people working on one document. The only difference is, the document is web based and everyone who has access to it can view it – instead of being passed around.Meeting

Yet how does something like this fit into a small, solo entrepreneur business like most of us have? The best answer – a wiki would make a fantastic knowledge repository. Here’s why.

We solo entrepreneurs carry an awful lot in our heads. I used to think this was great but these days, I don’t want to remember. I want to offload because my memory is not always accurate or reliable ;-), it helps a lot to unload what’s in our heads onto writing. Writing (or in this case typing) things down makes us more relaxed since we know the information is filed away safely and not forgotten. When you have less to remember, you’ll also function better. Kind of like our computer memory. The more you load it, the slower it becomes until it finishes processing everything.

Writing things down is also great when you outsource your tasks. Now, you don’t have to spend so much time training someone. We still have to invest a little bit of training to get someone new up to speed but if you have tasks and procedures documented, your personal time commitment is reduced. You can tell them to study/read the document and ask you questions if unclear. Great time saver.

Again, where does the wiki fit in? I think a wiki is perfect for internal documentation like this especially when you outsource your tasks because then, the burden of keeping accurate documents is distributed. Sure you can just as easily write up documentation on your word processor and send it out but if your VA makes a suggestion that you decide to implement or if there’s a change in policy or a simple edit for clarity, you still have to edit the document.

Using a wiki, your VA can edit the document without having to wait on you or have files sent to each other. This can reduce email volume plus, any edits become live immediately. The result, your team always has access to the latest information.

How do you set up a wiki? You have the option of installing the scripts on your own web site. This is probably better if you’re not comfortable storing information on a third party site and aren’t afraid of a little geek speak. You could check these out:

Or you can have completely hosted wikis like:

Image by Sigurd Decroos

Lynette enjoys discovering new ways to use technology or new technologies to use in a business and in turn help her clients apply them. You can find also Lynette at her blog, Twitter and Facebook

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