Personally Virtual Blog

There are a number of benefits associated with working from home – most notably the fact that the commute time is INCREDIBLY short (no sweaty train, tube or bus journeys and expensive parking) and the dress code is pretty casual.  The lack of communal fridge is also a big positive, with no passive aggressive post-it notes stuck to mugs/milk bottles/odorous snacks.  However, there are a few challenges too; it’s far too easy to procrastinate and end up scrubbing the bathtub or hoovering the curtains when you’ve got a deadline for client work approaching, and the lack of in-house tech support can be a challenge when all of your computer equipment decides to have a day off when you’ve got back to back video calls booked in.  Remote working from home can also be incredibly isolating, meaning that you’ve got no-one but the cat/dog/pot plant to talk to when you need to rant about the HMRC hold music or a particularly challenging customer call.

As the number of remote working freelance professional grows, so too does the number of available ‘hot desks’ available in co-working spaces.  Most towns now an office space that can be rented per hour/day/month with WIFI, desk space and even meeting rooms (there are several that I know that also have bars on site as an added perk!).  Although this increases the monthly overheads for business owners, I know a number of individuals who have chosen to take up this option rather than work solely from home. If they have regular client meetings, the on-site meeting rooms are definitely preferable to business meetings at home, surrounded by pets, children’s toys or washing.  Working away from your home can also make it easier to ‘switch off’ at the end of the day, as the office isn’t permanently set up on the dining room table or in the spare room, a stone’s throw away from where you are trying to relax.  The main reason that my remote working colleagues opt for renting desk or office space in a co-working office is for the social benefits, as working alongside other people can help reduce the negative feelings of isolation that can be experienced by home-based workers, particularly when they are having a challenging day!

According to research carried out by the Harvard Business Review, co-working spaces not only help to reduce feelings of isolation and loneliness, but can help to build on the important psychological and social values of ‘community, collaboration, learning, and sustainability[1].  Co-working spaces are a dynamic hub for freelance professionals, and it’s not unusual for individuals working within these spaces to end up working with their co-workers on shared projects.  Unfortunately, as with all shared office environments, there’s always going to be someone with poor kitchen etiquette, so if you’re desperate to escape kitchen politics a co-working space might not work for you.

For me, working from my dedicated home office gives me the opportunity and flexibility to build my full time role conveniently around my personal commitments; I have two dogs and regularly foster rescue dogs looking for a full time home, so being able to break my day up to fit in dog walks and feeds is incredibly useful! Co-working spaces have a definite value, but if I am feeling a little isolated (as it is worryingly easy to go for several days without speaking to another human face to face), I have joined several online communities of remote working business support professionals – the perfect space if I need impartial advice or to share any minor issues that might be bothering me.

Do you work from home or from a co-working space? I’d love to hear your thoughts on the home working vs. co-working space debate!

2nd April, 2019

“The price of doing the same old thing is far higher than the price of change.” —Bill Clinton

As you may have noticed, my business branding has recently had a refresh and my website and social media pages have been updated to fit in with the new look – I hope you like it!  A rebrand is something that I’ve been considering for a number of months, but it is definitely a business task that is far too easy to put on the back-burner if you are wrestling a huge in-tray full of billable client work! However, this new year I decided to take the bull by the horns and embrace this change, commissioning a graphic designer to create a logo and brand that more accurately reflected ‘Personally Virtual’ in 2019.

I haven’t necessarily added any new services to my list of business offerings this year and am not planning on re-launching my business or making any dramatic changes, so some may think that a rebrand is an unnecessary expense in the day to day running of my business.  However, just because the business hasn’t changed dramatically to the outside world, it doesn’t mean that I’m not in a state of transition; the last few months have seen my team grow significantly and incredibly positively, and I wanted to acknowledge this development in a shiny, visual way.

If your business logo/branding is looking a little tired and dated, why not consider a refresh? There are plenty of reasons why it could be a good time to rebrand – you might have new products or services on offer, be trying to appeal to a new audience, have a new specialism under your belt, or be celebrating a ‘new beginning’ (i.e. growing your team, moving offices, etc.).  Even if nothing has changed, it could be that you WANT a change in your business, and investing a little cash in your brand identity could help to kick-start that change by giving you a psychological boost and allowing you to celebrate and publicise that change on your social media channels (a great advertising tool!).

Having just completed my own re-brand, here are a few helpful tips I’ve learnt that could help with your own branding project:

Think ahead - Just because ‘Living Coral’ is the Pantone Colour of the Year, it doesn’t mean that you should jump on the coral bandwagon and use it for everything on your website.  Think about a font and colour combination that aren’t just fashionable now, but will still look clean and fresh in a couple of years time - make sure your branding is in it for the long haul!

Get a professional in - 25 minutes on Canva and I feel like a graphic designer, but the point is I’m not.  If you want an eye-catching and original logo in all the formats you could ever require (from transparent to high-resolution), you need an expert graphic designer on the case.  They’ll also be able to provide you with the exact details of the fonts and colours used so that these can become your style guidelines to help ensure consistency of branding. 

Publicise the change - if you’ve invested in a re-brand, it’s worth making a song and dance about it! It may be that customers still associate your business with your previous logo and brand imagery too, so letting them know that it’s you and not some hip new competitor can be handy!

Take time to find and replace old branding - If you are spending out on a rebrand, make sure that you invest some time in replacing your logos across social media channels and in any business directories that you may appear in.  Your website too, obviously, needs to be updated on every page - inconsistent branding looks messy and can be confusing to website users, so block out a good few hours in your diary to make the necessary changes, as it always takes longer than anticipated to update everything!

In my opinion, a re-brand is like the icing and sprinkles on the cake for a business; it’s consistent hard work and quality of service that makes a business, and it is a business’s reputation that ultimately leads it to success or failure.  The font, style and colour of your logo aren’t going to maintain monthly retainers or win new clients, but they can help to convey a level of professionalism and give you the confidence to leave your business cards/website information with peers and customers without feeling embarrassed about outdated branding!  So don’t listen to the naysayers – if a business rebranding can give you increased confidence and add a level of polish and prestige to your successful business (even if you have a perfectly functional business logo to start with), then embrace it! You put hours of work and blood, sweat and tears into your small business and you should be proud of every single aspect of it!

f you work with the same customers, month in month out, it’s incredibly easy to get into a comfortable working routine.  However, comfort doesn’t always correlate with productive and efficient working (unfortunately!); sometimes you need to mix things up a bit in order to revitalise your working habits, and this year I’m trialling ‘Super Chunking’ to do just that.

It sounds a little bit like a euphemism for vomit, or a variety of ice cream, but super chunking is when you combine similar activities that you carry out multiple times a week (or month) into a single session in order to optimise being in that particular ‘zone’.

If you have a business podcast (or work on one on behalf of a client), for example, think about the way that you usually work through the process of creating, publishing and promoting the podcast.  It may be that you record them once a week, then spend an hour later in the week editing the recording, and then spend an hour at another point in the week uploading the audio to a podcasting website or platform and then promoting it across email and social media marketing.  If you only do one job per week like this, it can take a few minutes every time you work on the task before you comfortably remember how to carry out the process – we’ve all had a brain-melt experience when carrying out a task that you’re generally quite familiar with! The idea of ‘super-chunking’ is that you are able to significantly reduce the preparation time (and downtime) that usually comes with spending only a single hour or two on a particular task, by dedicating a whole day, or even numerous days, to the same task.  Why not record all of your podcasts over a few days, then edit them in a single session, then schedule them to your podcasting platform all in one go with the relevant show notes and imagery… It really does work! Earlier this month I carried out this very activity and found that processing and uploading 4 podcasts in one go, rather than four separate sessions, saved a good couple of hours overall from the time I would usually have set aside for this task – an extra couple of hours that I could then use for some all-important self-care time or business development.

Obviously, this doesn’t work with every task that you do – if you are monitoring email inboxes, then this isn’t necessarily work that you can super-chunk! Some tasks are much better suited to a ‘little and often’ approach, particularly if they involve urgent or time-sensitive jobs (like forwarding important emails to relevant personnel to be dealt with quickly), but some technical or creative jobs, like website updates or content writing, work well with this ‘super chunking’ approach.

Are there any tasks that you could super-chunk this year to free up some valuable working hours? It would be great to hear your thoughts on Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn!

Are you someone who thrives on deadlines? I often find that urgent projects or projects with a definitive end date tend to awaken my inner productivity guru; I consider myself an organised person, but when the pressure of an impending deadline hits I find myself able to schedule my days more effectively down to the smallest chunks in order to clear the task quickly and efficiently and to the high standard I demand of myself.  Apparently, I’m not alone in this.  In the book ‘Work Less, Do More: The 14-day productivity makeover’, author Jan Yager claims that deadlines ‘help us by bestowing active status on a project and assigning it a tangible date to which we are committed, rather than allowing the task to fall into an open ended morass’.

Evidence suggests that personal effort into the completion of a task can sometimes reduce if an individual is given a long or open-ended timescale in which to complete it.  This idea is highlighted by Parkinson’s law, which states that ‘Work expands so as to fill the time available for it’s completion’.  Motivation and effort levels appear to reduce as the perceived ‘deadline’ gets further away, a feeling that I can definitely relate too!  Some non-urgent tasks appear on my daily or weekly ‘to-do’ list for months before I finally get round to doing them, and even then they may not be completed in a timely manner.

So what kind of tasks fall victim to the open-ended target deadline? These tasks tend to be primarily personal business projects, or could occasionally be ‘wish list’ tasks from a customer who is happy for you to work on them when you have the opportunity, but doesn’t need them turned around within the usual timescale.  However, despite their lack of urgency, some of these jobs could prove to be incredibly valuable to your business, so I’ve collated a few tips to help you complete those long, lingering tasks before the turn of the next millennium…

1.) Attribute a financial value to your task – if a task is for a client, then work out how many hours it is going to take you and think about the total value of that project to your business; it might be a one-off, but if a client has agreed to investing in your time in order to complete the project, it’s worth setting some time aside to complete it! That few hundred pounds extra in the business bank account could really help out in a quiet month.  If the task if for your own business, determine how additional income this task could bring in; if it’s a lead magnet, how many new customers do you think you could attract with it? If it’s learning a new skill or creating a new product, think about the financial rewards that that could bring to your business in the future.  Once you’ve got a financial value associated with the task, it becomes a lot easier to dedicate what you perceive as ‘non-billable hours’ to it!

2.) Block out time in the diary, and stick to it! If the task doesn’t need to be completed all in one go, set some time aside regularly to complete the project.  If it would be easier to complete in a couple of sittings, clear a couple of days in the diary for the task.  Obviously, if urgent client work or an emergency situation prevents you from being able to stick to these times, don’t feel too guilty, but try to stick to them and get the work partially or fully completed within these windows to get it off your ‘to-do’ list once and for all!

3.) Put a deadline in the diary – even if you don’t necessarily need one! Set yourself an end date for the project, even if it isn’t driven by anything (it could be a random date pulled out of a hat!).  A couple of years ago, I set myself a goal to write a book; it didn’t need to be completed by a specific date, but I felt compelled to set myself a relatively short deadline to complete it so that I didn’t fall victim to the apathy that can so often be associated with never-ending, non-urgent projects.

So if you’ve got a project that keeps being re-scheduled in your calendar, Todoist or Asana, why not sit down today and set a tangible target date for the work? It’s always nice to be able to finally tick something off the list, so why not make 2019 the year when you get those dream projects completed (or at least started!)?

22nd November, 2018

So… how is your Christmas planning going? From my experience, people tend to fall into one of two camps; firstly, we’ve got the people who tend to have finished their Christmas shopping (and wrapping) by early summer, and have their Christmas tree, colour coordinated decorations, and tangle free lights ready to ‘deck the halls’ on December 1st.  And then we’ve got the ‘last minute-rs’, adamant that they’ll be able to pick up their hastily written present list amidst the madness and panic of Christmas eve shoppers, and end up wrestling for a goose or partridge (no turkeys left!) with a fellow shopper in the hauntingly empty poultry aisle in Aldi.

If you fall into the latter category, do not fear – all is not lost! I’ve got some simple organisational tips from business that can help make Christmas a walk in the park!

1.) Treat Christmas like a project: When you’ve got a big upcoming project at work that you are in charge of, do you leave everything until the very last minute? For the majority of successful entrepreneurs and business owners, this just isn’t feasible (primarily for their own sanity!).  With business related projects, most project managers map out the lifetime and development of project, setting deadlines so that important jobs can be completed and reviewed in a timely manner.  Why not treat Christmas in the same way? You could set yourself targets for completing Christmas shopping, for writing (and posting!) cards, and for ordering and collecting your Christmas food.  Just don’t beat yourself up too much if you don’t stick to deadlines in a way that is quite as regimented as you might for your business – if your shopping and/or wrapping aren’t completed by your set due dates, it isn’t the end of the world!

2.) Create a gift list online using a tool like Trello or a simple spreadsheet. If you are collecting gift related bits and pieces throughout the year as you see them in the shops or online, it’s all too easy to lose them ‘in a safe place’ or end up with three different gifts for the same close friend and nothing for the family member who is notoriously difficult to buy for! If you are contemplating re-gifting items that you have previously received but have spent the last 12 months unopened and gathering dust, it’s always nice to have a note somewhere of who originally gifted you that item too… there’s nothing that says ‘Merry Christmas’ quite like the return of a gift that you have clearly not enjoyed a year later – unless the recipient would find that incredibly amusing! Making a list of the people you need to buy for and the gifts that you have collected can help you to keep track of spending and present allocation this festive season. 

3.) Hate shopping? Outsource it to the lovely people at Tesco/Asda/Ocado** (**Delete as applicable) and get them to do it for you, so you don’t even have to step foot in the madness of a supermarket in the week before Christmas.  Late December timeslots for delivery are notoriously hard to get hold of last minute, so book it now and fill your trolley with special offer gin and worry about the rest of the list a little closer to the big event!

4.) Know anyone who is lucky enough to have a birthday in December or early January? Admittedly, they are probably used to having friends and family members forget their birthday, or do a ‘two for one’ Merry Christmas and Happy Birthday gift/card, but if you’d really like to get in their good books this year why not pre-order a card and gift and ensure that it gets delivered directly to them to ensure it doesn’t get lost amidst the festive cheer in your own house.  It doesn’t matter if it’s ridiculously early – simply add a ‘Don’t open until X of December/January’ note to the package and get ordering! If the usual festive state of affairs for you is an armful of hastily grabbed miscellaneous items from a local petrol station, imaging the brownie points you’ll get from remembering a December birthday!

5.) Delegate, delegate, delegate! In your business, you probably find it relatively simple to hand the tasks you don’t enjoy to other members of your team, or to outsource them entirely – why not do the same at Christmas? You don’t need to be a martyr to the cause and insist on carrying out everything yourself, particularly if you’ve got a house full of willing volunteers over the festive period! Fuel them with mulled wine, festive music and copious snacks and you can get your friends and family members to help with anything! Christmas is a time to spend with the people you like, and when you’re enjoying yourself, even peeling vegetables and wrapping presents can be an enjoyable and festive experience.

Unlike the work that you carry out for your business, Christmas doesn’t need to be perfect.  But even if you’re never going to be an organisational ninja over the festive season, a little bit of preparation can go a long way and help contribute to a week of reduced stress – because, let’s face it, no-one in their right mind enjoys a supermarket shop on Christmas eve… *shudders at the thought*

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