Personally Virtual Blog

26th November, 2017

With 2018 looming, it’s likely that you are currently experiencing a plethora of emotions; you could be excited about the upcoming festive season, contemplative when considering the promise of a ‘new beginning’ come January 1st, or downright terrified that this year appears to have flown by at break-neck speed.  It seems like only yesterday that I was sitting down to set out my business plans for 2017, and now a brand new and shiny planner for 2018 is lying unopened on my desk, enticing me to start writing plans on its crisp, unused pages…

Before cracking open my new planner, I have set aside time in December to sit down and review 2017 – the good, the bad, and everything in between.  I’ve compiled a list of questions that I think will help me to finish 2017 on a positive note, and allow me to constructively and objectively review the progress that the business has made over the last 12 months, as well as how I have progressed professionally.  If you’re planning a business review this December, perhaps some of my questions could help your business too? I’ve included them in this blog – just in case!

1.) Financially, where is your business now compared with where it was in January 2017? Has your rate increased? Have you got more clients? Are you happy with the amount that you take home every month or do you need a little more? This question is designed to make you consider whether your prices are still appropriate, and whether you are meeting your financial needs with the clients that you have at the moment.  Early 2018 is the perfect time for a price increase if one is overdue.

2.) Are there enough hours in the day to complete the work you have? Or have you found that work is slowly creeping into every waking hour of your day (and night – dreaming of software and work tasks can be a disappointing way to spend your precious sleep!)? If so, it may be time to consider outsourcing some of your work so that you can work more efficiently during the hours you actually want to work! It may also be worth considering whether it is time to part ways with some of your clients if the financial reward of working for them doesn’t correspond with the effort and time you invest in carrying out the work.

3.) Are you happy with the work you are doing? We all have to do work we don’t enjoy sometimes, but have you found yourself saying ‘yes’ more often to jobs that you just can’t stand?  It’s time to evaluate whether it’s worth dedicating hours of your time to tasks when you’d rather be having teeth pulled, or whether you have enough of a financial buffer to be a little more selective over jobs and invest time into networking and reaching out to businesses that need the services you actually want to offer!

4.) Are you at the top of your game? This can refer to your personal and professional development, and may be a little uncomfortable to answer – but go for it! If you are tired, sluggish and stressed, the likelihood is that you’re not feeling at your most productive or effective.  Burn-out could be just around the corner, so it’s worth setting strict rules for the new year to work less (possibly by offloading work or outsourcing, or making sure that your mornings, evenings and weekends are work free), and get out more. A stand up desk could be a great option, or an obligatory lunch break walk scheduled into your daily task list. If you feel that you are being left behind in a competitive industry by technological advances, etc., why not invest in some professional development? Even if your budget can’t stretch to full day courses and professional qualifications, there are plenty of free courses out there (try https://www.futurelearn.com/ and http://www.open.edu/openlearn/free-courses - both of which offer fabulous quality free online courses) that could help you to upskill in areas relevant to your sector.

5.) What do your clients think? A slightly scary question to ask sometimes, but definitely worth asking! Why not contact a client who you have a good working relationship with and ask them how they have felt the last 12 months working with you has been? Perhaps you could ask them to make recommendations about what could be done differently in 2018 to make the relationship even more productive and successful? The likelihood is that this feedback will be far nicer than you imagine – hence why they have chosen to continue working with you – and is quite a nice confidence boost to lead you into 2018!

6.) What things this year didn’t go to plan? Another question that can be hard to ask is ‘what went wrong?’.  Unfortunately, life isn’t all rainbows and sunshine and cake.  Sometimes you get ill.  Sometimes work is late.  Sometimes a client isn’t happy.  The important thing is to identify what went wrong and what you have done to improve the situation to reduce the likelihood of it happening again.  If you were ill and work was delayed, have you now got some kind of sickness cover in place? Do your clients know what to do in the event that they can’t reach you in an emergency?  If work was late, are you now working more effectively to deadlines by ensuring that you don’t overstretch yourself by saying ‘yes’ to everything? If not, now is the time to address these issues.

These are just a handful of the questions that I will be considering as part of my review of 2017, but even if you only have 20 minutes to briefly consider the few questions above, I strongly recommend that you try to before 2018 is finally upon us.  It’s a great way of double checking that things are moving in the right direction and at a sustainable pace and in a positive manner – things that any business owner should want.

Happy reviewing everyone!


20th October, 2017

For the majority of Sole Traders or small business owners, there isn’t a dedicated accounts department located in the office who are willing (albeit not happy) to accept a shoe-box full of expense receipts in order to process your business expenses.  It’s like the IT department, the Catering Department, and the Complaints Department – it’s highly likely that these are all you (which does makes the annual Christmas party a little less rowdy).

Though it is a tedious chore (only beaten in the ‘tedious’ work charts by actually having to phone HMRC, who are obviously very busy people), processing your expense receipts is an important necessity.  Without regularly going through your expenses, two possible things can happen.

1.) you are left with a pile of random receipts the size of Kilimanjaro to process when it comes to completing your tax return.

2.) you misplace some of your receipts (a result of them being ‘filed’ randomly in piles everywhere), meaning that the ‘taxable profit’ for your business is higher than it should have been.

So how do I keep on top of my expenses? I try to adopt a ‘little and often’ approach, scheduling in some time every couple of weeks and making sure that any allowable expenses have been logged on a spreadsheet and the relevant receipts have been filed away, usually with a liberal sprinkling of staples to keep everything together.  And I work through my diary to note my mileage and anything else I haven't seen already. This approach particularly helps when it comes to otherwise ‘invisible’ expenses like pay-by-phone parking, Oyster top ups or congestion charge payments that don’t give a receipt at the time of purchase.  It’s easy to forget these expenses if I leave it a month or two before logging them, so ensuring that they are sorted regularly helps me to avoid that horrendous ‘Oh no, I’ve paid more tax than I actually should have!’ feeling.

I also have a very hi-tech clothes peg stuck on the inside of my cupboard door. I can then unload all my receipts onto this and know where they will be when I come to do something them. 

One of the best recommendations I can make though is to actually schedule time for processing your expenses into your monthly task list or diary.  A tool like Todoist - https://en.todoist.com/ - allows you to set a recurring task to remind you to do it, though also gives you the flexibility to postpone the job for a day or two if you have more pressing  matters to attend to.  There are also a whole host of apps out there that allow you to take pictures of your receipts and transfer the details into a .csv file, making the process even easier if you have a tendency to accidentally put your receipts in the wash with your work trousers.

At Personally Virtual, we LOVE a good productivity ‘hack’ (although we are not fans of the word), some might say we're a tad obsessed, so we would love to know if you have any tips or tricks when it comes to managing your own expenses? Let us know on one of our Social Media channels.


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20th September, 2017

The term ‘Goldfishing’ – referring to the common human characteristic of doing what is right in front of you rather than completing work in order of priority – is a little bit demeaning for Goldfish.  Recent Canadian research into the attention spans of 2112 individuals found that the average human attention span is currently around 8 seconds, whereas Goldfish are believed to have an attention span of an impressive 9 seconds.[1] That's a whole blog about something different and very scary! 

The problem with consistent work goldfish is that they may have the best of intentions to get organised but they struggle. It's a vicious circle, if you are so busy dealing with whoever is shouting loudest or the last thing to arrive in the inbox and don't force yourself to step back, you'll never stop firefighting. Mostly this is because of overwhelm and volume of work but I do know some people who seem to just be built this way. We all know one! You know there's no point emailing them as it will go into a black hole and never be seen again unless you by sheer fluke pick the right moment. You need to see them in person or phone them to have any trust that the message has got through. 

The important thing to remember when it comes to your daily task list ‘plan of attack’, is that you clearly define important deadlines for all your work – and stick to them! Even if a long and complicated internal task is broken into more manageable chunks of activity it still needs to be done. The famous Urgent /Important box diagram I find can help if I'm struggling to separate what is business critical versus what just needs doing. 

One thing to watch out for, though, is getting unduly distracted by a client telephone call or email on a day that has already been given over to the completion of an important task. Turning off interruptions, notifications and ringers is so important to be able to focus on the task at hand. Inbox "pause" is well worth looking up! 

But of course, priorities can change really quickly when you work with a number of different clients. Lead-times when you have multiple clients can be an issue so I cover it in my client onboarding process.  There are times when everyone will need their work dealing with urgently and they will want to be my top priority. Sometimes they can be, but sometimes, given my unique understanding and overview of all of the work in my in-tray, this cannot be the case unless I have a Harry Potter time turner!  To try and avoid this issue, I encourage my clients to provide me with specific deadlines so that work can be scheduled in to my week. 

Occasionally, work can come in that is urgent, important and unexpected and I will give them a realistic timescale that I can work to.  Sometimes I can shift things around to accommodate them, but sometimes I can't – it is the nature of my role working in support of numerous businesses that means that some months there just aren’t enough hours in the day to complete new and/or unexpected tasks.  For me, honouring the agreements that I have in place already is the most important thing, as sacrificing one client to carry out additional and ad-hoc work for another is not a habit that I want to get in to!

So next time you veer away from your planned to-do list – make sure that you’ve got your deadlines sorted to come back to (and try not to be a goldfish!). 



[1] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/2016/03/12/humans-have-shorter-attention-span-than-goldfish-thanks-to-smart/

20th September, 2017

Yes – I’m talking to you, the person simultaneously reading this whilst hoovering their immaculate keyboard and arranging pens by ‘mood’ (of course, it is totally reasonable to have an ‘angry and frustrated’ pen).  However, I know that you really should be doing something else.  Like client work, or sorting out your receipts for your tax return, or something else important like that.  I’ve got your number, because the truth is we’ve all been there, no matter how efficient and productive we are generally on a day to day basis.

As a freelance worker, procrastination has a direct impact on the amount of money we take home – we work in ‘billable hours’, meaning that we only get paid when we are actively working for a particular individual, not when we are cleaning the kitchen cupboards rather than blog writing, or googling ‘what would win in a fight, a shark or an anaconda?’

However, procrastination isn’t always frowned upon.  Some thought leaders positively embrace it, including former Investment Banker turned University Professor Frank Partnoy, author of “Wait: The Art and Science of Delay”[1].  Partnoy claims that when faced with a decision, we should assess how long we have to make it and then wait until the last possible moment to take action if we want to lead happier lives.  Partnoy also differentiates between ‘passive’ and ‘active’ procrastination – the first of which involves just sitting around and doing nothing (which can be a tempting option, on occasion!), whereas ‘active’ procrastination occurs when you are aware that you are avoiding a particular task, but are doing something else that you deem to be a valuable activity instead.

As well as leading happier lives, evidence also suggests that serial procrastinators tend to be more creative; Research carried out by the University of Wisconsin looked at how often staff in two separate companies procrastinated, and then asked their bosses to rate how ‘creative’ and ‘innovative’ they were.  The evidence suggested that there was a positive correlation between the amount of time spent procrastinating and staff being considered more creative or innovative than their peers[2] - great news for all the procrastinators out there. 

So even though time spent hoovering your keyboard may, at first, seem like wasted time, I’m here to recommend that you embrace a good bit of procrastination every now and then.  As long as your work is completed to your exacting standards by the deadline set, it can’t hurt to let you mind wander for a few minutes!  Indeed, if creativity and innovation go hand in hand with a good bit of procrastination, you’ll find me in the kitchen, knocking up some meatballs…



[1] http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/why-procrastination-is-good-for-you-2102008/

[2] http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/procrastination-makes-you-more-creative-research-says-a6923626.html

3rd September, 2017

I was thinking this week about silent irritants. 

This is a phrase I learnt back as a student when I was working in a local pub (see below). We were told that these mysterious silent irritant things were would make customers feel uncomfortable. In essence, any dirty glass, dirty ashtrays (different times!) and things out of place were silent irritants. No one was likely to actually complain about sitting next to a table with one old glass on it but nonetheless it was part of their experience - conscious or unconscious. And most silent irritants were very easily fixed when a little effort and common sense were applied ("never walk back to the bar empty-handed" and "If you've got time to lean, you've got time to clean" being mottos to live by!). 

Even now I don't work in a pub (although I still can't walk through one without scooping up empty glasses, I think it's engrained for life!) I still find that I have silent irritants in my life and work. Not huge great crises or big projects but things that are so little they fall through the cracks - but the effect they have is irritating. This week I realised that I had one I hadn't even really felt the effect of until it was fixed. 

A few months ago, my wing mirror was smashed off my car. It went into the local garage and had a new one put on, but they had to order the cover that matched the paintwork so I needed to pop back for it to just be slotted on. That week I did, a couple of times and the boss wasn't there, the cover couldn't be found and after 2 weeks I forgot about it, remembering only when I got in the car each day. Weeks this went on for until last week I finally went back in and got it fitted. The relief! I hadn't realised that this little "unfinishedness" was just quietly poking me every time I looked at the car until it no longer was. 

In work we all have things that are so trivial they sink to the bottom of the list - expense receipts, filing, adding that new person to the CRM. We know that it's a ten minute job at most yet somehow that makes us less likely to find the time for it! But, the satisfaction of doing them somehow outweighs the minimal effort so it really is worth clearing an irritant or two each week.

What really annoying life or work niggle could you shift this week that would make you feel a tiny bit smug? 





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