My Twitter follow friday recommendations for Friday 30th October 2009

So who has educated me, helped me, entertained me or just made me smile this week then?

Well this week I would like to start with @kipfxdesign who has redesigned my Twitter background for me, and I love it. He has done several backgrounds just this week, and I believe some were for celebrities, so get in there and get yours ordered now, before he gets too famous!!

Next up, a repeat from a few weeks ago, @Elizabethwells, she is raising money for Breast Cancer Awareness this week, her raffle ends tomorrow so grab a ticket while you can from her facebook page . If you ever get to the Shambles in York do have a look at her beautiful lingerie shop, she also has an online service if any of you were looking for that something special for a loved one for Christmas.

Well, I guess you probably missed it because he hasn’t exactly shouted about it in every tweet he does (much) but @BradBurton launched his new book yesterday. I haven’t quite decided to buy it but think I probably will as his articles in Real Business always make great reading, and just look at the 4Networking set up, he obviously knows what he is talking about.

@ToniHunter has been a source of useful advice this week, and has made some very good suggestions for some natural health products which should help me through a mini bad spell, I know @efficiencycoach has recommended @ToniHunter for this before, so there you go, a double recommendation now.

@neilryder has some really great advice on his tweets, and together with @efficiencycoach they have formed a new networking group, Executive Village, more information can be found here on Heather's blog

@efficiencycoach is a very busy lady who has still found time to tweet me from her holidays and always asks how I am doing. She is interviewing me for her upcoming teleseminar details of which can be found here which is all about finding resources to save you money on your IT and Marketing costs in year 1 of your business.
@LawyerCoach has really made me laugh this week, some of her tweets about lawyers are just so funny, and definitely worth a mention.
@markbnorwich is a fairly new follow of mine but he has sent me some really good information, and always interacts, as well as having some really interesting tweets.

@SJABradley is a VA who has just launched her new business Help Ahoy and who has been of great assistance to me since we were introduced on Twitter. She often casts a critical eye over my Tuesday blogs for me, and has a great way with words and keeps me down to earth as well.

That said a shout out should go to the whole of the #VASG (VA Support Group), there are so many members I would probably miss someone out if I tried to list them, but if you are a VA do please get in touch with @DeeVAS or @emilyrobe and I am sure they will be happy to speak to you about the group. I think that the VA industry is one of the most supportive industries I have ever come across, VA’s have been in the media a lot this week, and by working together as we do it can only mean we can offer an even stronger service to our Clients. (That said I would like to point out that the majority of us don’t work in our pyjamas all day and that we are our own bosses! Whilst the media coverage is good it has got it a little wrong this week!)

Have a great week everyone!

To Tweet or not to Tweet...

... That is the question.  Should you jump on board the worldwide phenomenon that is Twitter? What can it do for you? Perhaps, like me a few months ago, you just don’t ‘get’ Twitter.

So what is special about this 140 character medium? I confess when I first considered it when my business started earlier this year I wasn’t convinced. 140 characters was no good to me, if I wanted to see what my friends were doing I could go on Facebook. But, biting the bullet, I signed up and started reading articles and advice about Twitter.

Twitter is amazing, I am a true convert, in fact, I confess to being slightly addicted to it. I now have a circle of friends and networking contacts on Twitter who make me laugh, inspire me, educate me, entertain me and assist me in growing my business. To me that is the essence of Twitter.

Some people have one account for their business and another for their personal comments. It’s a personal choice. I have one account which I use for both. One thing to be aware of is that whatever you Tweet can be read by a worldwide audience, including your clients, so if you wouldn’t say it to their face don’t say it on Twitter.

To me, the importance of Twitter followers is not the number of followers you have, but rather the quality of your following. What’s the point of having thousands of followers if you don’t have time to interact with them? Some people seem to think that a high number of followers represents some kind of status symbol; it doesn’t work that way for me.

There are lots of training opportunities available to  help with your Twitter experience. I chose to subscribe to Tweetmentor, a 100 day course via email run by @NikkiPilkington. In a couple of paragraphs a day she opened my eyes to Twitter and how I can make it work for me.

I digress, this was supposed to be about why you should give Twitter a try. Since using Twitter:

·         I’ve found new suppliers

·         met potential new Clients

·         gained so much from the blogs and articles freely shared by the people I follow

·         helped fellow Tweeters with their requirements

·         realised there are people in my own village and town that I hadn’t known were there before

·         received coaching from @EfficiencyCoach, and have even been invited to be part of a teleseminar she is running for start up businesses.

I know of several success stories where new business can directly be attributed to Twitter. With the help of Twitter, I am moving my business to the next level.

Have a look if you aren’t already using it and see where it can take you.

Outsource, I don’t outsource... but are you really sure?

Lots of small business owners seem shocked that anyone would suggest they outsource any of their work. I don’t outsource, I don’t need to outsource etc are just some of the responses (the polite ones anyway!).

But were you to look at your every day circumstances I am sure you would be surprised to know that you do outsource already.

Let’s look at what I perceive outsourcing to be: a system where you pass on to someone else work, projects or tasks that you are unskilled for, doing tasks that don’t move your company forward or bring in more money.

Have you ever ordered your grocery shopping online? Given someone else your ironing to do? Gone to the dentist for a filling? Gone to the hairdresser? Used a cleaner? These are all examples of outsourcing. I practice what I preach; I do my weekly shop online. It saves me an awful lot of time and it saves me money, no more temptations from those ends of aisle offers. I also use an ironing lady, she does a better job than I would, in less time than I would, and I make more money using my time elsewhere than the cost of the ironing. It just makes sense to me.

What value is there in you doing the task yourself? Because you feel you have to, because you feel you can’t afford not to, or because you don’t like to let go. Look at things a different way. If you concentrate on your core business how much can you earn in an hour? If you do certain tasks yourself is that common sense? Should you do your own admin or accounts? If bookkeeping takes you an hour then it has cost you your hourly rate. However, should you outsource, it could cost you a lot less, it could take a lot less time than it would have taken you, and in that time you could have won a new contract or client.

There are many experts out there who can make a huge difference to your business, you can outsource your bookkeeping, admin, website design and management, SEO, social media marketing, telemarketing, IT management and even personal tasks such as managing your diary or email, doing your shopping, or even walking your dog. Remember, it’s all about outsourcing tasks that someone else can do in less time, to a higher level or just tasks you don’t enjoy or have the time for.

Open yourself up to the possibilities of outsourcing today, and move your business on to the next level.

My Twitter follow friday recommendations for Friday 16th October 2009

This week I wanted to focus my follow Friday recommendations on people I have only recently started following.   Just because I am new to following them doesn’t detract in any way from their twittering, it just means I was a bit slow on the uptake!!

My first recommendation is @richard_white, The Accidental Salesman.  I found him through a competition, the answer to one of the questions was on his website, and whilst on there I thought he had a lot of interesting things to say, and have to say that this recent blog of his about how to increase rates without losing clients is superb and very relevant to so many people.

My next recommendation is for @sjabradley, a new member of the VA Support Group who was introduced to me by @emmawarren1.  Sarah has recently set up Help Ahoy, and is a Virtual Assistant like me.  We have only been chatting with each other for a short time but already she has been a great help to me and a great contributor to the support group.

Next up is @ElizabethWells from the same town as me, whose lingerie shop I have passed so often and yet not even realised it was there, and then found her on Twitter, just showing how small a world it really is out there.  @ElizabethWells is doing a lot to support Breast Cancer Awareness right now including a raffle and so forth.  She wrote a really great article this week especially for men wanting to buy their other half some special lingerie gifts . This is a lesson in saving tweets to favourites; it has taken me twenty minutes to find that link for you!!

Another example of not knowing what is right under your nose until you come across it on Twitter is @Jerry_Ibbotson.  Not only are we from the same town, we live in the same village and our daughters are in the same class!  However, it wasn’t until his latest book Chosen was recommended on Twitter that I found any of this out!! Of course you need the link to his website where you can buy the book as well, it is in Borders and Amazon (but I know Amazon is sold out) and in case you didn’t guess I really enjoyed this book. It’s one of those rare book where once I got going I really didn’t want to put it down and it took one hell of a lot of discipline for me not to pull an all nighter and finish it!  Instead I took some rare chill out time and read it in the bath. It’s a self published book so I know @Jerry_Ibbotson is looking for some help getting it promoted and mentioned, so if any of my lovely followers could assist I am sure it would help speed up the process of the second book he is writing which I am desperately waiting for!

Hope you have all had a great week, I know I have, and thanks to all my Twitter friends for their follows, DM’s, RT’s and messages.

How I depressed my Client today...

Okay, it wasn’t today. It was a couple of months ago. But I have felt bad about it ever since until I got a call off him last week.

So what horrible, unthinkable thing had I done to my Client that caused me to lose sleep, and to feel so bad? I wrote him a cash flow forecast. Nothing too bad you would think, but then, you didn’t see the content of it. It sent me a funny shade and him an even whiter one, followed by me advising him to talk it over with his Accountant!

Now one thing I have had drilled into me is that profit is vanity, turnover is insanity and cash flow is king. (Okay, perhaps I have overdosed on training courses of late!). But for so many trainers and coaches to say it there has to be some truth in it.

When was the last time you looked at your cash flow? Do you even have a cash flow? If not can I respectfully suggest that you give it a go. Talk to your Accountant and get him to show you how it works and what it means to your business.

What the cash flow showed my Client was that at the present time, if he carried on trading as he was, he had no future. It’s a harsh tool at times is a cash flow, but, he took it on the chin and took a good long look at his business. To be fair, since I started working with him earlier this year we have made many changes for the better, processes have been streamlined, credit control has been tightened, and we have evaluated what went wrong in the past and learned from it, putting in place measure to prevent a reoccurrence. His understanding of what his business is and where he wants it to go are much more defined and clearer. He is re-structuring and moving premises (the bits I lost sleep over) but he is now much more positive about where he is going. He is rebranding, becoming more focused on what his business actually offers; he has overhauled his product range and is coming up with some amazing new products to grow the business on.

Then last week I got a phone call. He has kept going with his cash flow that I created, made all the changes mentioned above, and can now see not just a pin prick of light at the end of the tunnel but he is nearly out the other side. It’s a great feeling when you are able to be part of something so positive. And, even better for me, although he has downsized quite dramatically, he still wants to keep working with me! Of course he does, he has taste!

So, take heed, monitor and act upon what your cash flow is telling you, don’t stick your head in the sand, and perhaps, like him, you can arise like a phoenix from the ashes, stronger and fitter and ready to push your business forward again.

My follow Friday recommendations for this week.

It’s been a busy and very fast moving week this week! But I still love being my own boss and learning how to run my own business (and learn from my mistakes)!

I do have to thank @efficiencycoach this week for her invaluable video coaching session. It was a really motivating call and left me buzzing. What started out as a simple coaching exercise saw me over the moon at being able to show her something she didn’t know about sharing your screen in Skype, and also led to me being invited to be interviewed in one of her upcoming teleseminars. I am honoured. It is all about tools and support for start ups and SME’s, and is to showcase the amount of information and resources that are available at little or no cost. How I wish I had known about all these things when I started out just a few months ago! It is going to be held in November so anyone interested in booking a place should contact @efficiencycoach for more information.

I will also be helping @efficiencycoach with some of her upcoming projects, am very very excited but sworn to secrecy, you will have to keep reading her newsletters to find out more! One area I can tell you about is a proposed series of teleseminars aimed at my fellow VA’s. Let us know what topics you would like to see covered as to me the list is nearly as long as a toilet roll!!

@maxinemaxxy I apologise profusely as I still owe you a phone call! @maxinemaxxy writes and shares some great articles about telemarketing that I find really useful, and is very kind and helpful. I suppose in a way she is my nemesis as she is a great telemarketer but I am an even greater gatekeeper!
The rest of my recommendations this week are for people who entertain me, cheer me up and make me laugh. We all need more of that in life.

@stevesteinman who is currently on tour with his band and Toyah Wilcox performing Vampires Rock, it’s a fantastic show and I cannot wait for it to come to York in a few weeks, our tickets were booked a year ago, as soon as we got home from the last one.

@mattchedit because however gloomy the day and early the hour he always has a warm greeting for me.

and finally but by no means least @rachaelblogs who I have sorely missed whilst she is on her jollies this week. It just isn’t the same without her. Her dazzling wit and blow by blow television commentaries brighten up any dull evening!

I actually know something that @efficiencycoach doesn’t! (well she does now!)

All day I’ve been nervous about my planned video chat with @efficiencycoach.  She very kindly agreed to call me and chat through a blog problem I was having.  Needless to say I am now buzzing and cannot wait to get started on my plan!  It was a great video call and she is a marvellous coach!
I don’t do photos so you can imagine how I felt about video! I was frantically searching the office for a hair brush, regretting I hadn’t put on my face or my lippy, and was lamenting the lack of high heels (it’s a girly thing, they give me confidence!).
Anyway, we were chatting away, @efficiencycoach coaxing my issues from me and helping me come up with some very good solutions (makes you think you thought of it yourself when it was her coaching all along that got you there!).  We happened to discuss what a wonderful invention Skype is
I happened to say that until a few weeks ago I hadn’t really understood Skype, and it is only these past few weeks that I have really come to appreciate what a fantastic piece of software it really is.  The text conversations, audio calls, video calling and screen sharing.  It was at that point @efficiencycoach stopped me.  “Screen sharing? Not heard of that before”.
Could it be that I actually was able to show @efficiencycoach something in return?
Skype offers a great feature called screen sharing.  So what is it? You can only share a screen one way so you need to decide in advance who will place the call. The person who places the call can choose to share their screen with the other party. Just above the text box and to the right of the smiley face you will see the word share. Click on this once you are in the call and it offers you the option to share full screen or selection. Click on full screen. 
So why would you want to use it. Well I have been using it with the very nice man who is writing my database for me.  On one call he shared his screen with me so I could see how various functions worked, and on another I shared my screen with him whilst I used the system so he could talk me through it.  As they say on the advert – simples!  It really is that easy.
So off you go and have a good old play with Skype and see what a valuable business tool it really is.
And meanwhile I will go off and prepare for a teleseminar interview that @efficiencycoach has asked me to take part in. I am so honoured!!  It is all about tools and ideas for start up and small companies that cost little or no money.  It is to be held at 8pm on Wednesday 25th November and you should contact @efficiencycoach to book your place.  Her website address is: and I am sure she will have details on there soon, in the meantime contact her for more information.
I am now off to bask in the knowledge that I managed to teach a respected coach like @efficiencycoach something new today and to book my hair cut and make over for the teleseminar. (Okay I know you won’t be able to SEE me but it will  make me feel better!)

My Twitter recommendations

Okay, I admit I am blatantly pinching this idea from @efficiencycoach, but it is such a good idea! I do give her total credit for it. Follow Friday is all well and good but I have really enjoyed reading why @efficiencycoach has recommended people. I can't promise to do mine every week as she does, but I will try and do this when I have someone I think is really worth following and tell you why.

Naturally @efficiencycoach is my first recommendation. Her tweets are always interesting and relevant, and some of them have really helped me. She always says thank you for her re-tweets and asks how you are, she is a working mum who has a great business, and I am really hoping I win that competition and can benefit from some of her business coaching.

My second recommendation is @Mad_Accountant an accountant with a sense of humour. I came across Ray on UK Business Labs forum, and from that first day he has been supportive of my business and my abilities. When others were telling me it couldn't be done he showed me all the reasons why it could and should be done. He is always wise with his words and free with his advice, and is definitely worth your follow.

My third and last recommendation for this post is @nikkipilkington. She is a social media guru. Nikki has grown an amazing business over the last few years, and if you want to know how to get your business noticed she is the lady. Be it Twitter, SEO, Google, article writing, blogging, then she is your lady. She has some fantastic advice available on her website, and her no nonsense approach to everything is a breath of fresh air. Not to mention, her tweets about her interactions with French bureacracy never fail to make me laugh.

I will keep this short and sweet this week. I follow lots of interesting people but there isn't room enough here to list you all and why I follow you. I will try and follow @efficiencycoach example and share a few each week if I can.

Starting Out in Business

I like to think that I am pretty switched on. I am quite IT literate, possess a modicum of common sense, and an enthusiasm and capacity for learning. I also have what I call a work ethic which I attribute to the way I was brought up. What's a work ethic? To me it is doing your job to the best of your abilities, going the extra mile and treating your employer's business as if it were your own.

Due to circumstances beyond my control I found myself working one day a week less. Unfortunately my mortgage requires five days of working income not four. Not being one to sit around I decided to do something about it. What skills do I have, who do I know, how can I put the two things together to generate an income? HLS Business Solutions was born.

Now having nothing in the way of budget wasn't going to stop me starting a business. I just had to be savvy about how I went about it. There is a wealth of free information and guidance out there if you can be bothered to look for it.

I attended Business Link training courses on marketing, financial forecasting, writing a business plan, and bookkeeping. I went on the Business Link open day to see what services were available to me. I scoured the internet for forums, websites and anything that would help me in my quest.

I also decided to do something about getting my bookkeeping qualification to prove I can do what I have been doing for years.

So what did I learn from this process? Lots is the short answer. So many different things that have shaped the way my business has grown. Did I make mistakes. Of course I did, it is a learning curve after all, but the important thing is that I learned from my mistakes as well.

What did I learn? Well I can now write a really good cashflow, I have bullet points explaining what I can offer on the back of my business cards, I undercharged my time in the beginning - being the cheapest is not always the answer, instead show why you are worth your hourly rate.

I learned that there are plenty of people out there willing to take your money from you, but that you should do more research before you buy. What they are offering may not be the answer you need.

I learned that no one has a get rich quick scheme, don't be tempted by false promises. If it sounds too good to be true then it is.

I learned that there are some fantastic people out there on the internet who are genuinely interested in helping you move your business forward, asking nothing in return, and they have proved invaluable to me this last couple of months as I have taken my business from one day a week, to two days a week and now to full time.

I learned to do my research. I used Survey Monkey for my business plan research survey, I kept it anonymous so people answering didn't feel I was selling them anything, and I sent it to people in my target market so that the responses I received were relevant to my business.

I have also learned that there are a lot of new start ups out there who expect everything for nothing. Stop asking, people work too hard for what they have achieved. Approach things differently.

Instead of asking for something for free, let people know your sensible budget and they will give you suggestions as to how you can achieve what you are looking for.

On forums participate first. Dont just jump in there with an advert. Learn about the people on there, take an interest in what they do, participate in the forum, then ask your questions or mention your company if it is allowed.

Look at social media options like Twitter. If you don't understand it still join in. It took me a while to catch on to what it was about and now I would say it is an essential tool for every business. I know of companies on Twitter who receive business from Twitter. I personally have some fantastic people that I follow, they share wisdom, ideas and humour with me on a daily basis. I hope to help my business grow through Twitter, and I am sure that if I take the time they will teach me how to write a "proper" blog, one that is more focused and less rambling than my current offerings.

Look for a forum or support group containing your peers. I have found a group of fellow VA's who are fast becoming my friends. We share advice, problems, daily traumas, and there is no competition there. Their advice is freely given and shared. We operate in different niche's and different areas of the country, but by working together, are able to offer a much stronger product to our Clients. Do your research, is this something you can find for your own market.

Look at different ways of communicating, you can Twitter, you can blog, you can send newsletters, you can advertise your services through a website, you can chat via Skype as well as calling people on Skype.

Above all I learned to grow my network, find people that can support you, that can motivate you, that can help you to believe you can achieve your dream.

But more than all of that I learned that I need to say thank you.

So to every single one of you who has helped me get to where I am today a huge thanks. I cannot name you all so won't, but you know who you are. I hope to be able to return the favour one day.