The Value of Black Goo

I was in denial. My driveway needed re-sealing for quite a few years and I was really hoping the night fairies would come and do it for me. Alas, no. A couple of summers ago, I thought I’d do it myself: get the bucket of black goo and the roller from the DIY store and spend time in 35C heat rolling said black goo on  my 2 cars wide and 2 cars long driveway. I never quite got around to it. I’m not a procrastinator but somehow I always managed to justify my lack of dedication to this part of home ownership.

About a month ago, a young man from 2 streets away knocked on my door and told me that he had a new business re-sealing driveways for the summer. He was studying accounting at university and thought this type of business venture would help him in school. (Great idea!)

I asked him how much to do the job and he said $195 tax in. I had to think about it – that’s quite a bit of money just to roll out a bucketful of black goo. I looked at my dismal driveway and thought woefully how long I had been putting off the task. I called him back to say that I would take him up on his offer. We scheduled the work for the following day.

My hero came over close to supper time the next day and while I was preparing the meal, I checked in on the progress by periodically going back and forth between the kitchen and the living room. The first thing I saw was him power spraying all the weeds out from between the driveway and the curb. I didn’t even think of that. The next trip to the living room I saw him power spraying the entire surface of the driveway. I would have swept the driveway; I didn’t even think of power spraying it. Then he taped off the entire perimeter of the driveway so that no black goo would get on the lawn. After that, he manually filled in all the cracks and holes (there were many). Only then did he roll out the black goo.

By the time he finished, that $195 was the best money I ever spent for value of work. Not only did he save me the labour of doing that type of work in the summer’s heat, he also provided value because he knew what he was doing. He’s done a lot of driveways and has a level of expertise that I will never have (nor wish to have). Sure, I could have done it, but outsourcing this task yielded much better quality results and freed up my time. Now I have this task off my to-do list.

There is value in everything we do, both personally and professionally; our expertise in what we do daily provides value to others.   What do you need help with in your daily life?  In my view, it’s worthwhile seeking out resources to help you get things done, things that you don’t know how to do, or have no wish to learn how to do, and free up your time on what matters most to you.  Agree? Disagree?

No Excuses: the art of follow-up

why is consumer relations important

Just a little reminder today that the art of the follow up is now easier than ever. Why? Because of our ever-increasing virtual world of electronic media, social media, video, audio, smart phones and goodness knows what else will be available tomorrow!

Add these resources to what were used even 10 years ago, and there really is no reason not to follow up with your donors and sponsors for their contribution and to keep in touch with your members.

It’s so easy for organizations to post to their donors’ and sponsors’ Facebook feeds: send them a text message, record a personal video or send an email. On top of this you can use Skype, Facebook or Google Chat or Hangouts to connect and have a virtual coffee break to check in.  AND add to this the more traditional ways of keeping in touch with cards, notes and gifts in the regular “snail” mail, there’s no excuse not to keep in touch with your networks.  Personally, I like to mail hand-written cards and gifts.  From a marketing perspective, there’s nothing more alluring than ‘lumpy’ mail, so include a pen, a block of sticky notes or a little gift with a card; the chances of that piece of mail being opened will increase exponentially.  Even if you just write thank-you (for your time, for your call, for your donation, for your sponsorship…), doing so will go a long way. The combinations you can use to keep in touch are endless!

While most organizations spend time recruiting potential members, sponsors and donors, what about your current members, sponsors and donors? Do you ever thank them, take them out to lunch or send them a birthday card or gift? Your current database of contacts are your biggest fans and the most likely to refer. Stay connected with them and nurture those relationships! It doesn’t have to cost a lot of money – it’s the thought that counts.

The Good, the Not that Bad and the Manageable Side of Remote Work

If you’re one of those lucky workers out there who has found a place that suits you, whether it be in-office, remote or a hybrid of the two, congratulations! Having a place that you feel productive, content and comfortable can allow your talents to flourish and let you be your best is not always easy to accomplish.

I’ve operated my remote support agency for nearly 18 years.  It took me a while to get used to working from an office set up in my personal space.  I did eventually get used to a concept called ‘boundaries’ and now I wouldn’t work anywhere else.  I’m the most productive in a quiet environment with no distractions.  But that’s me; you will likely have a much different set of working environment needs than I do.  And that is totally okay.

Having to live with a global pandemic these past almost two years has forced everyone to re-examine how and where work is completed.  We’ve had to go that extra step and actually ask employees (rather than presume) what environment would help them be the most productive in their job.  We’ve had to cross the line between a person’s personal needs and their work needs, and instead of saying in the interview ‘this is what you’re required to do, when and where’, we now ask in the interview, ‘what environment are you able to provide these deliverables?’ In this article, let’s look at the good, the not so bad and the manageable side of being a remote worker.

The Good

Forcing everyone to work remotely, especially last year, has helped us learn more about ourselves and what working environment we thrive in; doing so has also shown us what working environment we do not thrive in.  This in itself is a great learning point and also shifts the relationship between employer and employee; just by asking what would help their employee get through their workday and by putting a telework agreement in place, tells the employee that their employer trusts them to complete their work, without being monitored. This alone can be a much-needed motivation boost. The remote worker may feel a sense of ownership and pride in their work knowing that they are in control, leading to a boost in productivity. Productivity can also result from the ability to work at a flexible schedule, taking advantage of more productive periods of the day rather than being in an office from 9 to 5 and being ‘on’ all the time.  More ‘points’ scored there!

Some remote workers find they have a better sense of well-being with no commute to provide an extra source of stress, eating home-made lunches instead of office take-out and perhaps taking some of the old commute time and turning it into a work-out or walk.  Even more points! 

The Not So Bad

If working remotely suits you, as with any job, you need to be prepared. This includes making sure you have the proper tools to be a productive, content and comfortable worker.  Working in a traditional office comes with many things that the worker is not responsible for providing, so it is important to understand what you will provide.  For example, you may have a desk and chair at home somewhere, high speed Internet and some software.  You need to ask what your employer will provide at their cost or pay you for, e.g. they may now reimburse your monthly Internet bill.

The Manageable

For all of these wonderful benefits of being a remote worker, there are some pitfalls that are important to address. While technology issues and a shortage of physical supplies or equipment may prove challenging, the solution for these is a simple fix, purchase or pick up from the office. However, there are some challenges that take a little bit more work and a little more effort to start some good remote worker habits.

 Managing procrastination, distraction and time are key to get you in the best situation to be successful. Yes, it is true that these are also needed in the traditional office, but these things are even more important when you’re working remotely. Working in a traditional office when distracted or under the curse of procrastination can be managed easily as there are other people around you still working which can give you that little extra push to get back on track, but when you’re alone this is more of a challenge.

Either way, creating work habits that are conducive to getting the job done but leaving it when the work-day is over is incredibly important in being a successful remote worker. Consider having a closed office, letting family and friends know your work schedule (a.k.a. those ‘boundaries’), and having a good pair of headphones to cut down on noise will all help.

It’s likely that the time between work and home have now blended together, so leaving the home tasks for after work and leaving the work when it is time to take care of personal tasks can help (and stick to it!). For more ideas on dealing with distraction, flex-jobs has a quick list of solutions.

For further insights, purchase my new e-book ‘Humans Working Remotely: Guiding Success for the Current Future’. It’s available to purchase here: https://virtualworks.ca/product/humans-working-remotely/

Outsourcing To Win

In order to break down the bigger picture of outsourcing your business tasks to a remote resource, let’s have a look at some of the ways to get started on the “how” of outsourcing (rather than the why, when or the where).

Starting with the basics, have a look at your business tasks and processes first, and look at your personal strengths and values (and be honest about it!) Ask people you know for feedback about you as a person. What do they think you are really good at?  What things aren’t you so good at? Make a list and go from there, being brutally honest with yourself. Look closely at your list on paper – the pluses and the minuses – and determine what makes sense for you to do, and what is reasonable for someone else to take care of; it might be an ‘us and them’ kind of thing. Every business is different, so the first key to effective outsourcing is to identify exactly what you need.

Along with your ‘us and them’ list, start brainstorming and list all the things you will do to build your business once you have all that extra time that comes with outsourcing.

Recognize that outsourcing is a process that takes time and planning. It’s your business, and it’s your responsibility to ensure things are done and done right. Plan for your needs, tell people what challenges you might be having, always be on the lookout for exceptional people through your circles and networks and ask for referrals. Don’t discount family and friends, either, if you are comfortable having that kind of relationship with those closest to you; not everyone is so inclined! Take the time you need to find the right people for the right work. Hire slowly, fire quickly.

The number one caveat in all of this is to remember that outsourcing is not a “set it and forget it” way of getting things done. Dropping a task list in someone else’s lap and saying “Here, you do it!” is essentially business suicide. 

The key to success is finding the right balance and developing a trusting relationship between you and the resource. It’s a very fine balance, too, and one that requires finesse and management. If you micro-manage your resource, they’re going to either quit because they don’t want you constantly in their face, or they won’t take initiative to get things done without your input. If you take a hands-off approach, and leave them on their own without checking in regularly, you’re setting yourself up for disaster, with tasks done wrong, a disregard for your timelines for completion or, worse still, tasks just aren’t getting done at all. All of these scenarios translate into spending more time that you don’t have, defeating the purpose from the outset. It pays to plan ahead and spend a bit of extra time finding the balance that allows you to delineate what they’re responsible for and what you’re responsible for, and also allows for how your remote resource likes to work and how they like to check in.

It’s your business and you’re responsible for managing the resources who work for you. Keep in mind that if you micro-manage your resources for fear of not being in control, you will miss the whole point of outsourcing. Commit to regularly checking in with your remote worker. You want to make sure they are doing the work as explained to them, identifying any challenges they might have, and ensuring that they understand that they’re expected to 1) report their progress to you, and 2) immediately let you know of any problems that arise. 

If things aren’t going as smoothly as would be ideal, step back and ask yourself if you’re the bottleneck. Many business owners feel a commitment to their business much like a parent’s to a baby. They gave birth to the idea that grew into the business, they have all the business knowledge in their head and they have a need to do it all to ensure it gets done right. For someone like that, it’s very hard to let go and delegate

Having all the knowledge is critical; however, it’s smarter to get out of your own way and delegate the back office tasks so that your business can thrive and grow with you at the helm. By using remote support, your time will be freed up so that you can focus on high-growth activities effectively and get on with growing your business. It’s really more about mindset than it is about logistics.

One of the first things to do when talking about outsourcing to a remote worker is to state your expectations and requirements clearly from the outset and don’t assume anything. This holds true whether you’re hiring a Virtual CFO or a teenager to cut your lawn. The resource doesn’t know what you know and they are also looking at the task from a different perspective than you are. Opening conversations with a potential resource to identify deliverables is essential.

Have an open and frank conversation about what each of you expects in that relationship. Be clear in knowing how they operate, what their reporting style is, how they like to work, where they work, in a remote support setting. Remote resources can work anywhere, from a fully kitted out office in their house or from a dining room table. You really have to get into how they operate and what makes them productive and the circumstances that allow them to thrive in being productive. 

The other thing to remember, in that open conversation, is that the resource doesn’t know what you know, as a business owner. Therefore, they’re looking at the tasks from different perspectives than you are. For example, as a business owner, you may know how an audit works. If the resource you’re hiring is going to do the bookkeeping, they may live for numbers and do their bookkeeping at lightning speed. However, if they haven’t experienced going through an audit, they’re looking at the bookkeeping from a different perspective and wouldn’t pick up on things an auditor would notice. This holds true whether you’re hiring someone to do your bookkeeping or someone to cut your lawn.

Ensuring expectations are clear begins with an open conversation that results in the business owner drawing up a specific contract that outlines exactly what was talked about and what the performance metrics are. The contract must outline exactly what is expected – remuneration, terms and conditions, confidentiality, security, who’s going to provide what – and will be as detailed as possible. Both parties can then carefully review and sign the contract before work begins. (It’s a good idea to have all business contracts reviewed by your lawyer.)

In this time of instant gratification, managing our frustrations when things don’t go smoothly is important, so get prepared and be patient!

Allow yourself – and your resource – time to transition. Letting go of tasks that you have always done yourself is not merely a matter of handing over a to-do list and walking away. A time investment by the business owner is essential for providing insight to the remote worker as to how things are to be done, as well as the time frame for completion. This can be as simple as open dialogue or a conference call with all stakeholders to discuss how and when transition is to take place, scheduling, etc. Once the handover is complete, let go and trust that all will be well. 

If you have provided clear instructions (and it’s your job to do so), there should be no problems.

Be prepared for a learning curve on the part of the resource. Be patient and, with time, they will find their groove and you can let go of the task completely. Manage success by checking in at periodic and scheduled intervals.

The bottom line? It’s still all about relationships. The key to successful business is building and maintaining relationships in every facet of your operations. An absolute must for business owners is to network to build relationships and gain referrals. The same can be said for building relationships with outsourced suppliers:  getting the right team in place, at the right time and for the right reason creates winning relationships and goodwill all around.

Keep these last few tips top-of-mind:

  • The lowest priced outsourced solution may not be the best; good people cost money and beware that even these days, you still get what you pay for.
  • Don’t outsource a task just because you don’t want to do it! There will be tasks that only you can do because they’re important to operations and your strategic plan.
  • Always strike a fair deal with your resources and treat them with respect. You’re relying on them to handle important tasks for you and your business so don’t take advantage of them.