Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Self-employed? How to cope with quiet periods

No matter how successful you are as a small businessperson, you’re going to have periods when the work dries up. Now, if your business is going so well that a few weeks without having do anything comes as a relief, then you can go back to the sun lounger and ask your PA to stick some more factor 12 on your shoulders. For the rest of you – here’s a few tips that can make those periods seem easier to bear, and hopefully inspire you to get more out of your business.

1) Accept the situation. This sounds odd but the key to getting through times when work stops coming in is to accept that this is exactly what’s happening. Don’t ignore the tightness in your stomach, it’s there because you know that things aren’t going well. You may be a freelance sub-editor whose bookings have dried up or an online bookseller with no orders coming in. Whatever, accept your situation with clarity and without blaming yourself or anyone else – that leads nowhere. Once you do that, you can take action.

2) Chase up invoices. No-one likes doing this, especially with people whose money keeps us in business, and when the money’s rolling in, we’re all liable to let the odd invoice go unpaid a little longer than is advisable. But when work’s scarce, you simply can’t do this. Check out which customers owe you money and get on the phone to them, gently reminding them of their responsibilities to you. Even if their monies aren’t due yet, you can still ask them to get a payment rushed through. If you’re a valued supplier, they’ll be keen to keep you happy. Give it a go – it works more often than you’d think.

3) Take control of your business. Once you’ve done everything you can with regards to cashflow, you should then start looking seriously at your operation and what you can do to improve it. This can be anything, from getting in touch with regular customers with offers or pitches, to looking at the design of your website or the wording of your email newsletters. In a quiet period, the worst moments are when we feel powerless. By channeling your anxiety into creative thinking, you’re laying the foundations for new opportunities.

4) Learn to let go. There are just some days when the last thing you want to do is work for what can seem like very little reward. If you feel like this, take a break – and don’t beat yourself up about it. Tidy the house, make that meal you’ve meaning to for ages, meet a friend for coffee – you’ll come back clear-headed and ready to go again.

5) Ask for help. This isn’t ideal, but there may come a time when finances are such that you may be forced to ask someone for a loan to keep going. No-one is pretending this is easy, but if you have family members or friends who are in a position to help, it’s better you do that than go to a money-lender or bank. Don’t make unrealistic promises about when you can pay it back and don’t take offence if someone doesn’t want to lend you money, but swallowing your pride could help put you back on your feet. A word of warning: don’t let this become a habit – even the most generous person can become resentful if you take them for granted.  

This post originally appeared on the excellent Intuit Small Business Britain blog

Thursday, August 09, 2012

How social media can help your business – without turning you into a teenager

This article originally appeared on Intuit’s excellent Small Business Matters blog. For experienced – ahem – media professionals – lots of this will be self-evident, but the world isn’t full of latte-drinking wankers on fixed wheel bikes, and it’s those who this is aimed at. 

1) If you’ve got a Facebook page, make it fun. If you try the hard sell on your ‘friends’, people will just switch off. Instead, fill your page with videos and articles that they’ll love – and importantly, share, because in the digital era content really is king. Intel’s brilliant Museum of Me project is exactly what I’m talking about.

2) Update customers (both real and potential) with an email newsletter – you can ask an IT type to put a ‘subscribe’ button on your site. Say you run a small business concerned with technology, send your customers a mailout with interesting tech links in it, perhaps making one of the links go to something you’ve put on your site/Facebook page.

I edit an online men’s magazine, Umbrella and we update our readers with a weekly newsletter which not only entertains them, but drives them back to our site. We use Mail Chimp for this – great for email campaigns.

3) Have a conversation with your customers. By telling them about interesting things that are going on in your chosen field, you become someone they’re happy to interact with. Write a blog on your company website, and like the Facebook page, update it regularly with interesting stuff. Once they’re on your site, they’re more likely to to use your paid-for services.

4) The best use for Twitter is as a filter to the net. ‘Follow’ and ‘re-tweet’ journalists and experts in your field, because they’ll point you to articles and trends that you may not have heard about. You in turn can use those ideas yourself or link them back to your Facebook or website. There’s a whole world out there – be inspired by it.

5) Don’t get lazy. Facebook, Twitter and blogs rely on people updating their profiles. Like it or not, the state of your social media says a lot about your company’s attitude. If you haven’t added anything to your blog in three months, it’ll look like you’re closed for business and people will go elsewhere. You might not like it, but that’s the way it is.