Archive for the ‘General’ Category
Email marketing can be one of the most effective ways to connect directly with your audience. Having people “opt-in” to your email list, you’re assured to reach people who WANT to hear from you. This is usually a very small yet extremely highly qualified pool of potential customers and influencers.
So how can you integrate email marketing into your business and marketing strategies? What are some of the rules and best practices you should follow? Hopefully this short guide will help!
Rule #1: Differentiate Between Business Emails and Marketing Emails
If you’re communicating one-on-one with customers, even if it’s in response to a quote request or some other automated function, these are not marketing emails. These are considered “business” emails. In 99% of cases, the email recipient will have initiated the email conversation by reaching out to you first. Business emails can be conducted without much fuss, and are directed at one single recipient – or a very small group of recipients – at a time.
Marketing emails, on the other hand, are usually blasted to a large audience who are on a list owned by the business. These recipients must have given consent to be placed on this list, and understand that they will be receiving regular communications from that business. Since marketing emails are sent to a broader audience in a less personal way, they are held to a much higher standard to protect the recipient. This guide will focus on marketing emails.
Rule #2: Use an Email Service Provider (ESP)
I’m sure you have an email address (possibly more than one) for your business. These are usually “firstname.lastname@example.org” or “email@example.com” and will be used for all your business emails.
Many small businesses make the mistake of using the same address to send their marketing emails. They will simply write out their marketing email in Outlook or Thunderbird, maybe even attach a well-designed PDF newsletter, add all the email addresses from their list into the “BCC” field, and send the email to their entire list.
This is probably the #1 greatest mistake you can make when starting out in email marketing!
Why? Because it only takes a few people to click on the “SPAM” button upon receiving that email before all your emails (business ones included) start going directly to EVERYONE’s “Junk” folders.
In order to ensure this doesn’t happen to you, there are countless services out there built exclusively to help you send out marketing emails. These are called Email Service Providers, or ESPs. They will help keep your email list clean, and will ensure that your emails conform to most email best practices.
They will also allow recipients to “unsubscribe” from your list, which is a far better solution than those users marking your emails as spam!
If your marketing emails do happen to be marked as spam and start ending up in people’s junk folders… your business emails (from your own business account) won’t be affected, as long as you use an ESP.
The benefits of an ESP
In addition to protecting your business emails, an ESP will help you design appealing marketing emails. Most ESPs provide multiple templates that can be customized for your business, without having to mess around with the code yourself.
You’ll also get some amazing metrics from an ESP that you won’t get with your regular email software. After sending out a marketing email, you’ll be able to track how many people opened the email, clicked on a link, which links were most successful, etc. This can help you gauge what type of content is most appealing to your recipients.
Rule #3: Don’t Be Sneaky About Opt-Ins
In order to build your email marketing list, you’ll ask users to “opt-in” to that list at some point. For most businesses, this is a simple “sign up for our newsletter” form on their website. Others will have an opt-in as part of other forms. (i.e. “Fill out this form to receive a quote, and check this box if you’d also like to receive our newsletter”).
However you choose to do it, make sure it’s crystal clear to people what they’re opting into and why they should care. Don’t use sneaky methods to grow your email list. They’ll come back to bite you. Many businesses are obsessed about the size of their email list and not about the quality of the email recipients.
Think of it this way: There’s no point in emailing someone who has no need for your services and no intention of ever becoming a customer. These are the recipients who are most likely to mark your emails as Spam, which is something you don’t want to happen. You want people on that list who WANT to hear from you.
So, while you want to make it easy for people to join your email list, you want them to be informed about it as well.
Rule #4: Keep your Lists Clean
After sending marketing emails, you’ll probably get a few automated replies of incorrect or invalid email addresses. These are called “hard bounces”. Make it a point to delete these names and addresses off your list. They’re worth nothing.
Going back to rule #3, you want your email list to contain email recipients who WANT to hear from you. It’s not a bad idea to conduct a more thorough cleaning of your lists, at least once a year. Here’s how:
If you’re using an ESP (please, please use an ESP!!!) then you’ll have information on who’s opened and/or clicked on every marketing email you’ve ever sent through that ESP. Periodically, you’ll want to take everyone who hasn’t so much as opened an email from you in the past 6-12 months, and send them a one-time email asking them if they really DO want to hear from you. These are called “re-confirmation” emails. A recipient needs to 1) Open the email and 2) Click on the link you provide in order to confirm that they want to continue receiving your emails. If they don’t, then they’re permanently removed from your list.
This type of regular list maintenance ensures you keep your list to a targeted, qualified group.
Rule #5: It’s All About the Content
We’ve discussed this many times before: People don’t like to be “sold to”… especially not by service businesses. When someone opts-in to your newsletter list, it’s because they believe they’ll receive something useful out of your emails.
When we talked about how to write a blog, we discussed the importance of useful content. When I say “useful content”, I mean useful for the READER, not for YOU! Many businesses send out marketing emails that talk about nothing but themselves, instead of talking to their audience.
What’s in it for ME?
That’s what readers will be asking themselves the second they see your email. They might even ask that question in order to decide whether your email is worth opening!
So be sure your emails feature content that your audience wants to read about. Next, convey that message through a punchy subject line that will encourage them to open the email.
Don’t overdo it
It’s easy to stuff content into emails. Try not to. Your email should have one clear focus or “top story”, and can have two or three secondary messages that are less important… but try not to go much beyond that. A reader will likely only take a single action with each email. If you have two important messages competing for first place, both messages will suffer.
Rule #6: Be Consistent
Be consistent with your timing
Set an email schedule and stick to it. If you decide to email your list once a month, then make sure you have enough content every month to send out an email. Same goes if you email bi-weekly, weekly or even daily! With any luck, once you’ve built up a solid marketing list, those recipients will come to expect to receive your emails at a certain time. Don’t disappoint them!
Note: That having been said, there’s nothing wrong with sending out “one-off” emails once in a while if you have a special announcement or some piece of content you know your audience will want to see right away.
Be consistent with your design
Choose one design for your marketing emails and try to stick to it. Recipients will come to recognize your brand by your email’s design, and will become familiar with how to best navigate your emails. Take your time to select a design that’s unique, user-friendly and useful for the type of content you’ll be emailing!
Be consistent with your writing style
Marketing emails should be written in short sections that are easy to navigate. Don’t send out emails that feature long paragraphs of text unless you’re 100% certain that it’s what your audience wants (hint: there’s almost always a better way)!
Just like when you’re building your website, you’ll want to use headers, bullet points, and images to separate your email content and make it manageable for the 90% of users who will simply “scan read” it.
What’s more, choose one style of writing and stick to it. I’ve seen emails that start off in a formal 3rd person voice, to move on to a 1st person conversational tone, then go back to a third completely different voice, and so on. It’s very confusing to the reader, and gives the impression that the sender used multiple copywriters who didn’t bother communicating with each other.
Rule #7: Testing is not a Dirty Word
Some business owners are terrified of testing their marketing collateral. Generally those are the ones who don’t like to learn they’ve been doing something wrong (and would simply prefer continue making the same mistakes in perpetuity).
Please don’t be that person.
While you do want to be consistent, there’s nothing wrong with testing varying subject lines, email themes, times of day, etc. when sending your emails.
In fact, most good ESPs will have that function built into your interface. When you build your email, you’ll be able to tell the ESP what you want to test and enter a few parameters, then the program will select a random sample size out of your email list, send them the test variables, and send the winning email to the remaining members of the list.
Testing in this fashion can be incredibly useful to learn more about what your audience likes, what they’re indifferent to and, above all, what works for your business.
Rule #8: Follow the Rules
Emailing is a great way to raise your bottom line. Just be aware that in certain countries or jurisdictions, there maybe be legal requirements you must follow to send marketing emails without being fined.
Regulations can relate to how you obtain email addresses, to what information must be made available to recipients in every message, to the type of content you are or aren’t allowed to send in a marketing message. These regulations might apply to you even if your business is not located within the boundaries of the jurisdiction. For example, if one of your email recipients resides in that area or even if you simply have an email server located in that area, you may have to follow that jurisdiction’s laws.
Be informed about what you can and can’t do with your marketing emails. Luckily, most of these laws and regulations simply force businesses to conform to the best practices mentioned in this article!
I hope this guide has helped answer some questions you might have about email marketing, and you now feel more comfortable trying it for your business! With strong content and a good ESP at your side, you have a recipe to succeed.
It might take a while to build that list, so give it time and don’t give up!
Are you thinking of starting a design business? Check out the Full Business Training included with QC’s online courses!
Starting a small business can be a very exciting and overwhelming enterprise! It’ll be a lot of work but don’t panic – we’re going to help you get started on the right foot. As a business owner you will need to wear multiple hats. This list may be daunting but most entrepreneurs are eager to take on the challenge:
Customer Service Supervisor
Relationship Manager (vendors, clients)
Human Resource Manager (if you plan to hire staff)
You’ll realize pretty quickly that the key to success is knowing your limitations. There are just some things you can’t (or shouldn’t!) do yourself. Here are a few professionals you’ll want to consult with as you begin to build your business.
Before starting a small business you will want to make sure your finances are in order, you’re following tax law to the letter and you have the funds to support the business for a set period of time. This is where an accountant comes in handy.
An accountant can look at your business plan to determine whether your business will be profitable, how long it will take to generate profits and what the best plan would be for minimizing loss and maximizing profit over the long haul. Once you’ve launched your business you’re going to be busy. An accountant can lessen your load by helping you establish payroll, track incoming/outgoing expenses and file your taxes in April.
There are always legal hoops to jump through when starting a business and consulting a lawyer is the best way to navigate them. First, you will need to decide whether you want a lawyer from a big or small firm. There are pros and cons to both. You’ll find more one-on-one attention and affordable rates with a small firm. On the other hand, large firms will be more expensive and you’ll spend more time speaking with the firm’s staff then the lawyers themselves. Even so, large firms do hold more clout in the community and a larger legal team means you can meet all your legal needs under one roof.
Once you find your lawyer, they can help you with a number of important tasks such as structuring your business to reduce personal liability, ensuring protection from unwanted litigation and minimizing your tax burden. Your lawyer can provide advice about licensing and regulations you may not be aware of and help you protect your intellectual property. And finally, you can look to them for help understanding the contracts you may be signing (ie. leasing agreements) as well as developing legally binding contracts for use with clients and vendors.
If you don’t have all the necessary funds for starting a business then you will need to consult with outside funders. The first people to ask for seed money would be family and friends. Just keep in mind that mixing money with family/friends can be dangerous for maintaining relationships! If you’re not keen to ask for help so close to home, here are your other options:
Banker: If you’re planning on getting a business loan you will need to consult with a banker. You’ll want to choose one with an understanding of business accounting from a bank you have a good track record with. Your banker will guide you through the application process and help maximize your chances of being approved for a loan.
Investors: If you plan to ask for funding from outside investors you’ll want to consult with them fairly early on. Investors like to be involved in the planning stages as a way to minimize their risk of loss.
The type of insurance you will need as a business owner will depend on the scale of your business. Will you have staff? Is your business home-based or will you have a public office? Will you be using your car for business purposes? An insurance agent can help tailor an insurance package to your specific business needs.
You’ll definitely want insurance for peace of mind. Insurance will allow you to protect your assets (ie. your vehicle, office space, equipment and yourself) and limit your risks. You’ll be able to sleep at night knowing that you’re prepared for the worst-case scenario!
Business Coaches or Entrepreneurs
Who knows the trials and tribulations of starting a small business better than successful entrepreneurs from your field? Business owners know the journey well and can give you some real-world insight on the pros and cons of being your own boss. A business coach can pass on the knowledge they learned the hard way! You may even get referrals to trusted lawyers, accountants, bankers and insurance agents to help you get started.
You will probably want to look outside of your location so you’re not consulting with a business owner who’d be in direct competition with you. However, don’t stray too far since markets vary wildly from place to place!
Now that you know who to consult as you build your small business you’re ready to assemble your very own A-Team! Don’t try to spread yourself too thin – who has time to become an accountant, lawyer and insurance agent when you’re starting a business?!
If you have your own business and consulted other professionals we’d love to hear from you! Please let us know who you had on your A-Team in the comments below!
Have you ever gone to Google and typed in “Do a Barrel Roll”? Go ahead and try it. I’ll wait.
How about changing your default language settings on Facebook? You’ll find a few options in there that are worth trying out. I recently changed my account to “English – Pirate” as a language… and I swear I’ve used Facebook a little more since then.
These are classic examples of “Easter Egg” Marketing: fun little surprises on your website, made to delight customers.
The great part about an Easter Eggs is, you let your users discover it on their own. You build it… and if it’s worth mentioning customers will market it (and therefore your brand) for you!
Why Easter Egg Marketing Works
People today have an aversion to “being sold”. Alternative forms of marketing are therefore growing like crazy because more and more customers are developing a blindness to classic-type ads. Even paid search ads on Google are being ignored by a majority of searchers!
Instead, consumers want to choose brands based on trust, reliability, and yes – fun!
Easter egg marketing works because to the consumer, it’s a surprise they weren’t expecting. It helps them identify with your brand on a more personal level than if they were to stumble upon your ad on Facebook or Google for instance.
Think about it. If you were on a site and found a gem you weren’t expecting… say, press the Tab and B keys on your keyboard and have a picture of a Tabby Cat appear on your screen (thank you, Asana!).
If cats are your cup of tea, you’d instantly share this discovery with friends, wouldn’t you? And most likely, those friends will then go see that Easter Egg for themselves. At least, that was the case when I discovered the Pirate English on Facebook. 🙂
What Makes an Easter Egg Successful
There are a few elements you’ll want to consider before going ahead and committing time to developing your Easter Egg.
The most important factor in deciding to hide an Easter Egg, is you want to make sure it’s suitable for your brand. I hope you have a specific brand identity, right? If not, you’ll want to read this.
For example, if your design company stands for timeless décor and elegant style, you’ll probably want to avoid suddenly changing your site to pirate speech on “talk like a pirate day” (which is September 19th, by the way). Whereas having classic wallpaper patterns unroll on a user’s screen when they, say, click a button on your site or press a key on their keyboard might be just the ticket.
If your Easter Egg conforms to your brand’s identity, it should therefore appeal to your target audience! Once you have that down, you’re half-way there!
Easy to Find
If an Easter Egg is never found… then it’s not worth the effort!
Yes an Easter Egg is hidden… but you WANT people to find them. Consider the two examples I mentioned at the start of this article. It’s very likely that some people will genuinely type in “do a barrel roll” into the Google search engine… or want to change their language settings on Facebook. Those Easter Eggs – though “hidden” as in no one’s announced their existence – are very easy to stumble upon!
Consider that when you build your own Easter Egg. Develop them in such a way that gives any random user a decent chance at discovering them.
It’s not enough that your users find your Easter Egg. It needs to be fun, interesting and/or surprising enough to warrant users sharing it with their friends.
Think about it: the whole point of an Easter Egg is that you don’t share it yourself. So if you want it to work from a marketing standpoint, then you need your users to do the work for you! Odds are a good Easter Egg will be shared by 5-10% of users who discover it. Make sure you have a method of measuring these results.
What else should you know?
Alright, so I’ve convinced you: Easter Eggs are a great way to increase brand awareness through user sharing. Now I’ve got a few more tips if you’re going to go down that road.
A good Easter Egg doesn’t happen overnight for most businesses. Especially in your small business… you’ll want to do careful planning and discuss with a web developer before you execute on your decision to build an Easter Egg. If it’s one that’s time-sensitive (perhaps something that’s only active for a special occasion or day) then you want to give yourself enough time to develop and test your Easter Egg properly. Which brings me to my next point:
User testing is always a good idea when building a website, and this is also true when adding new features to your site. Make sure your Easter Egg works properly in all browsers, and that there are no unexpected side effects to having it on your site.
It might also be a good idea to have a few users go through your site and test it for you. You can use some friends or family if you want, or use services like UserTesting.com to have strangers go through your site. This might also be a great way to see if those users can actually FIND your Easter Egg. 🙂
Engage with Users
You’re a small business, which means you have the advantage of being able to engage with people one-on-one.
The point of Eater Egg Marketing is for users to spread the word for you, right? So help them along! You can set up alerts to monitor for mentions of your brand on social media like Facebook and Twitter, so that you are notified when someone is talking about you and your Easter Egg. If you find a user who mentions finding your Easter Egg, you can write a reply to that person and maybe even start a discussion about their discovery. This will in turn help other users discover that little delight for themselves!
The whole purpose of Easter Egg Marketing is to make something fun for your customers. But it should also be fun for you! An Easter Egg should convey a message about who you are as a brand on a very real level. So if Pirate Talk isn’t something you find appealing, don’t bother trying to work it into your content! (And if you don’t like pirate talk… I’m sorry but I don’t think we can be friends anymore).
What do you think about Easter Egg Marketing? Do you think you’ll try it in YOUR business? Let us know in a comment!
It’s a term that can intimidate and put off many professionals. The thought of “project management” leads many people to envision old businessmen in suits around a conference room table with charts and graphs, arguing about things like “deliverables” and “scope creep”. Ew.
Truth is, every business owner, every manager, participates in project management whether that’s what they call it or not.
It’s the key to any successful business: planning ahead to ensure things are completed on time and within budget. Having a basic understanding of basic project management methods will help you become a well-rounded business owner and professional.
Regardless of the method you use, there are some key elements that one must follow when planning a project.
Let’s pause. The word “project” deserves a definition. It can mean anything from a case study, to a single blog article, to a full-blown home renovation.
Goals & Requirements
First thing’s first: write down what you expect to see as a finished product. What, in your mind or in your understanding, would classify the project as “successful”. If it’s a particularly large project, you’ll likely have many goals… in which case you’ll want to list them in order of priority.
Keep these goals handy and when you’re working on your project, continue to refer back to them. It’s amazing how easily human beings get side-tracked and focus on details that really don’t matter in the end. Before you start a task, ask yourself if that task will help you reach the end goal(s). If the answer is “no”, then your time is likely best spent elsewhere.
On top of your overarching goals and objectives for the project, are there any requirements you must meet? This will probably include elements like your budget, target audience, language, and – if you’re working with a client – any requirements from your clients (colors, themes, etc.)
You’ll also want to establish who your stakeholder(s) is or are. The stakeholder is whoever has the “final say” on the project. This person will be the one to help you establish all your requirements for the project, and the one who will decide – at the end of the day – if the end product meets those requirements.
Note: This is arguably the most important part of project management. Take your time and work with the stakeholder(s) to make sure they agree with your interpretation of the requirements for the project. If you’re the stakeholder, then you’re in great company! If your stakeholder is a client, this is where a good client interview (probably several) will be key.
Breaking Down Individual Tasks
Here’s where the nitty-gritty comes in. An effective project manager (yes, that’s you!) will work very hard to list every, single, task required of a project in order for it to see completion.
The devil’s in the details!
You’ll want to get quite granular in your task descriptions. The best way to achieve this, is to work backwards.
Start with your end goal. Let’s say the project is the launch of a brand new online store. Next, list the 5 or 6 main tasks needed to achieve this launch. Let’s say the launch has 6 major tasks that need to be completed before it’ll be ready for publishing:
- Shopping Cart
- Design & Layout
- Testing & Launch
Next, break down each of THOSE tasks into the 5-10 sub-tasks required.
For example, the task “text” would be further broken down into six subtasks, for each webpage:
- First Draft
- Peer Review
- Final copy
Depending on the project, there could be 3 or 4 levels of sub tasks. Your task list will probably end up looking like a big tree!
Planning for Time
Almost every single project will have a firm deadline. This could be the date of an event, a publication date, a meeting or conference date. Make sure you know what date this is!
Now, are there any secondary due dates that are set-in-stone? Do you have client meetings scheduled? Maybe it’s a first draft for an editor? Again, make sure you have ALL these dates written down.
Next, go back to your task list as discussed above, and try to estimate the amount of time you think it’ll take to complete each of these tasks. You can either go at a high level and just estimate in days, or go much more specific and estimate in hours or even minutes!
Personally, I find planning tasks in terms of “days” works pretty well, drilling down to half-days or quarter-days for very small tasks.
Choosing your Method
The project management method you use will depend on a few factors.
The first is how many people you have working on the same project. If you’re a one-man (or woman) show, then likely the method you choose doesn’t really matter since only one task will be completed at a time. If you have multiple people working on the same project, you’ll want to use a method that allows each person to work effectively to help you reach your end goals!
You’ll also want to consider the skillset of those working on the project. Do they all have identical skills, or do you have a few specialists who will work on only select tasks?
Next, look at your task list. Are all the tasks dependent on one another? Does task A need to be completed before Task B can start, and so on? In most cases, you’ll likely find that some tasks need to be done sequentially while some can be done independently.
If we return to our online store launch example, for instance, it’s definitely a good idea to get the text finalized before you choose the images for your site. However, while these tasks are being completed, you can also have a developer work on the shopping cart.
With those two elements in mind, consider which of the following methods work best for you:
Classic Waterfall Method
This linear approach is also considered “classic project management” by some industry veterans.
True to its name, the waterfall method works wonderfully for projects where one task depends on the previous one in order to complete the project. Once everything is complete and absolutely perfect, the project is complete.
It’s very simple: Complete task A, then move on to task B, and so on. Assign due dates to individual tasks, working backward from the final project due date and based on your time estimates for each task.
Using the online store example again, let’s say it’s due next Friday March 27th. I’ve established that the final two tasks are layout (estimated 2 days to complete), followed by testing (estimated 1 day to complete).
Giving myself a bit of a buffer, the due date for the “testing” task (with all its sub-tasks) will be Thursday the 26th. Working backward from there, and knowing the testing task will take me a day, the “layout” task therefore cannot be due any later than Wednesday the 25th.
The great news about the waterfall project management method is that it’s very MS-Excel friendly. You can easily download about a hundred different templates for Gantt charts that will help you plot all your tasks and figure out their due dates!
Agile project management has increased in popularity over the past 10 years. The word “agile” is taken quite literally… meaning, flexible!
In an agile method, you’ll pair tasks that must be completed sequentially with tasks that can be completed at any time. The goal of agile is to complete (meaning, launch, publish, release) portions of the project while continuing to work on other tasks.
For instance, with the online store launch, an agile approach to the project would see us publishing each web page as it’s completed, while we’re still working on other pieces of the site.
This type of process is most useful when your project is a specific “product” and not a “service”. For instance, an agile approach to organizing a fashion show wouldn’t be very practical!
By contrast, a home renovation project might be exactly the perfect situation for an agile approach. In this case, you might complete the living room first, then move on to the kitchen, then the bathroom… this might be more practical for the homeowners than gutting the entire house and working on all the plumbing, then all the electricity, then all the painting, and so on.
While both agile and waterfall methods will have the same completion date (or close to it), the agile method will allow you to “deliver” parts of your project in increments.
Where the waterfall method will rely on a Gantt Chart, the agile method is best organized on a board where you can write tasks on cards or post-its, and move them from a “to do” column to a “doing” column and finally to a “done” column.
Pro Tip: If you like the idea of this board approach, check out Trello – an online software that quickly allows you to organize a project by individual task.
Once it’s all done
Something not many people bother with – though it’s highly beneficial – is to take some time once your project is complete to look back and analyze how the entire project was done, from top to bottom. Are there any elements that could have gone better? Did you encounter any unexpected delays? And on the flip side, did anything go particularly well? Answering these questions will allow you to plan your next project more effectively.
Now get to it!
If you’re the type of person who has the “it’ll happen when it happens” philosophy, I challenge you to try this more practical approach to your next project. I can’t wait to hear how it goes!
We’re curious! What methods of project management work the best for you? Do you have any other tips on project management for beginners? Let us know in a comment, we’d love to hear from you!
STOP STRESSING BEFORE I SLAP YOU!
I’m sure every professional has heard those words once or twice. Just in a moment when you’re about to have a panic attack, someone comes along and very helpfully suggests that you should just calm down. “Thanks, friend. Never thought of that!” It’s the equivalent of the dentist telling you to relax before she pulls a tooth. Doesn’t help.
That said, I’m on board and totally agree that people need to calm down in general. There seems to be a strange cultural phenomenon that says if you’re not stressed by your job, you’re not working hard enough. I really don’t understand where this one came from, but all you have to do is observe people in a business environment to know it’s true.
If you take a step back and investigate further, you’ll notice that the most successful and happiest entrepreneurs and professionals are some of the most easy-going people in the world. These are the people who understand how to keep their stress levels at bay.
Here’s how you can do it, too!
#1 – Keep your work at work
Smart phones are a double-edged sword. On the one hand, who doesn’t love having an internet machine in their back pocket at all times? On the flip side, it means that your emails are always with you, and that flashing notification light makes you feel lazy if you ignore it for too long.
But the number one most useful piece of advice I can give you when it comes to stress management is to actually disconnect when you head home at the end of the day. Focus on your family, your pets, your hobbies. Your work will be waiting for you the next day, don’t worry.
Turn off the email notifications on your phone. You really don’t need a “beep” and flashing light every time you get a newsletter delivered to your business inbox. If it makes you feel better, check your email once (yes, only once) in the evening in case of emergencies (which is very unlikely to actually happen, by the way). Before long, you’ll stop even doing that and you’ll actually find yourself looking for something to do on your evenings and weekends. You know, something OTHER than “catching up on work”.
So disconnect when you get home and only use your smartphone for what it was intended: ordering pizza and playing Candy Crush.
#2 – Plan to work, work your plan
Have you ever sat at your computer desk for the better part of a day only to leave thinking you’ve accomplished absolutely nothing? That’s probably because emails, meetings, colleagues, phone calls, more emails, and social media got in the way. It happens to everyone, and is an especially prominent issue with small business owners.
Do yourself a favor: start making it a point to block out a 1-2 hour period of time each day for “work”. Put it in your personal calendar and make sure your colleagues/employees know you’re busy during this time. Again, turn off your email notifications (including the desktop ones!) and don’t answer calls unless you know they’re crazy-important. Now take out your long-overdue “to do” list and start knocking off the important stuff. You know, the stuff you know NEEDS to get done but that you never have the time for. Here’s your chance. You’re welcome.
Trust me. This is a very difficult habit to adopt but once you have, it’s amazing just how much you’ll get done.
#3 – Eat, Drink and be Merry
In other words, look out for #1 (that’s you, by the way).
A healthy body breeds a healthy mind. Give yourself permission to take a good half hour for an honest-to-God breakfast in the morning and a good wholesome lunch during the workday. Drink lots of water, and try to get a good uninterrupted night’s sleep. A good workout once or twice a week can also do wonders for your overall stress levels.
And on the flip side, make some time for yourself to truly and completely unwind at least once a week. For me, that’s a hot bubble bath with a glass of wine and a book, or a nice long walk at the dog park. For others, it might be a wilderness hike or dinner with friends. Whatever works for you!
Let’s pause. I know what you’re thinking.
“That’s all fine and dandy, but I’m TOO BUSY to do any of that! That’s why I’m stressed! Don’t you get it?”
Trust me. I do get it.
But the fact of the matter is, most of us are actually caught in the belief that our work life defines us. And it really shouldn’t!
Think about it: if you were to take a half hour every week for a bubble bath, would your business go bankrupt? Would you lose clients? Would your colleagues end up hating or resenting you? For 99.99% of you, the answer is “no”.
I’m hoping most people realize this truism BEFORE they burn out and have to take a few months’ stress leave. Once you admit to yourself that you can afford to take care of yourself, believe me you’ll become a calmer, happier person.
And isn’t that everyone’s ultimate goal?
So try it. Just for a week or two at first. Think of it as a mini-challenge: turn off your notifications, don’t answer emails after working hours, set aside some time to work every day and adopt a healthier lifestyle. If you won’t do it for yourself, do it for me! Just because. Try it.
What are some of your favorite ways to unwind after a long day? Or are you someone who never takes the time to do so? Let us know in a comment!
When you think of owning your own business, you think of doing what you love, setting your own hours, being your own boss… sounds just wonderful, doesn’t it?
And it can be. It really can be a wonderful fantastic experience. Many business owners I know swear that they would NEVER go back to working for someone else. They absolutely love being in charge.
That having been said, odds are these people knew what they were getting into when they started on their journey. Owning a small business isn’t always fun and games. The reality is there is a lot of work that goes into it… and work that you don’t get paid for. Luckily, there are many different tools that can help you with managing your business.
Here are some you’ll want to research NOW!
A good Content Management System (CMS) for your website
I really, really hope your business has a website. If it doesn’t, you need to build one, yesterday. With any luck, your site will be built on a platform that makes it easy to edit the content, add pages, move content around, build your blog and more.
With a good CMS, you’ll be able to spend less time coding your web pages and spend more time focusing on top-quality content!
Social Media Management Software
Assuming you’re in charge of your business marketing efforts, you’ll probably be on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, etc. at least once a day, if not more.
Social media is essential for any business to keep in touch with its customers, but keeping on top of all those different channels can be exhausting and overwhelming. Luckily there are a few awesome tools to help you schedule posts in advance, monitor comments, and even read and reply to direct messages on multiple platforms and accounts – all with one login!
Much like a CMS, Social Medial Management tools are available in all shapes and sizes, and you’ll want to find one that suits your goals and tech-savviness. Two tools that you’ll at least want to consider are Hootsuite and Buffer.
Need more info on social media? Check out this post: Social Media for Beginners
Project Management Tools
The lists… the lists!
It can take a while to find a good project management software that will actually save you time and not add to it! But once you find that software, you’ll wonder how you ever lived without it.
A good project management tool will work with you, not against you. The best advice I have is, look for one that doesn’t feel like work. If you’re a very organized, list-driven person who already writes everything down, then something like BaseCamp or Microsoft Project might be right up your alley.
Again you’re not short on options here. Most of these tools are free, or if they’re paid you can at least get a trial version to test them out. Give yourself enough time to truly evaluate these types of programs. Commit to one for at least a week or two before you make up your mind!
Email Service Provider
You probably use Outlook or Thunderbird for your business emails, and that’s just fine. What many small businesses don’t use, is an email provider for their regular client communications like newsletters.
While most aren’t free, most email service providers can be very inexpensive depending on your list size and can save you SO much time. What’s more, an email provider will protect your business emails! Especially when you send out content such as newsletters, there’s always a chance your email will be flagged as “spam”.
Now if you follow best practices this is extremely unlikely, but it can happen to anyone. If you use your regular business email to send out newsletters and (God forbid) your newsletter is flagged as spam, there’s a very good chance that your regular one-on-one client emails will start going into people’s “junk” folders without you even realizing it.
For a small business, this can have devastating financial consequences.
For that reason alone, I strongly urge all business owners to create an account with an email provider who can help you send out quality newsletter content to your email list, safely. Some of our favorite providers include MailChimp, Emma, and StreamSend.
I love Microsoft Excel… it’s awesome. But Excel alone can’t help you with your business accounting. Unless you’re a genius, do yourself a favor and invest in a good small business accounting software. (You might want to do yourself an even bigger favor and at least pay an accountant to help you set it up!).
Trust me, it’s never too early to start with this one!
Are you planning on starting a small business? What types of tools do you think you’ll need to get off on the right foot? Let us know in a comment!
As a new home stager, you’ve probably heard the terms ‘good housing market’ and ‘bad housing market’, but you may not have had the chance to work in each of them yet. Right now, many places in North America are experiencing a bad housing market. This means that, because of things like unemployment rates, people are buying and selling houses much less frequently. If people can’t find steady employment they’re less likely to make such an expensive investment. Housing prices drop as a result because no one can afford to buy them at their original values. Homes are harder to sell, and those that were previously valued at high prices become cheaper in an attempt to encourage buying. When it comes to a ‘bad housing market’, the term alone puts some design professionals on edge depending on their area of expertise. What does a bad housing market mean for home stagers? What can you do to try and maximize business during a bad housing market, rather than suffering? How should you navigate the process of securing new clients during such a climate? Here are some tips for succeeding as a home stager in a bad housing market!
Keep up your visibility
Even in a bad housing market, buyers do exist! As long as there are buyers somewhere, there will also be sellers and it’s very likely that they will need your help. A bad housing market is a good time to stay visible and make sure that people know your services are available. Use things like online social networking to your advantage and let people know the value of your services and how you can help them! These networks have a wide reach in any economic climate, but online tools will be especially useful for both you and your potential clients in a market where people are having so much trouble selling and are therefore actively seeking information and assistance.
Know who your buyers are
Even in the best of markets, knowing who your buyers are is important for tailoring your services to the needs of your sellers and working with them to the best of your abilities. You already know that your clients are sellers whose houses aren’t being bought because of the state of the market. In order to help them, it’s also important for you to identify who it is they’re marketing their product (in this case, the house that they’re trying to sell) to. The people who are most often encouraged to buy in a bad housing market are young, first-time buyers who intend to invest in a home that they can live in long-term. By doing this, these buyers get a bigger, better quality home for a lesser price, and it’s okay if the market doesn’t pick up again for a few years because they aren’t looking to sell right away. For buyers intending to keep the home for a short time and then ‘flip’ it, buying that large home in a bad market is unwise because it might take many years for the value of the home to increase back to what it’s actually worth. If they sell it too soon, they won’t make as much of a profit as they’d like. By recognizing that your buyers might be young, first-time homeowners you will be able to style your staging to that demographic and help your sellers increase the chance that one of these buyers will be interested!
Find the ‘hot pockets’
Just because an area is experiencing a bad housing market doesn’t necessarily mean that every single neighborhood in that area is following suit. Often, there are ‘hot pockets’, or areas where houses are being bought and sold for decent value at a fairly normal rate. Keep an eye on these areas if business slows down elsewhere. While it’s true that troubled sellers are more in need of your services, hot pocket areas might have even more sellers than elsewhere because they can put a higher asking price on their home and have more of an expectation that it will sell. An area with a high concentration of sellers means an area with more people who could benefit from your home staging services!
Always remember to network
You may not experience as drastic a decline in business as other home-oriented professionals, but you should still invest some time in networking within the industry during a bad housing market. In the event that business does slow down for you, you can benefit from things like positive referrals from past clients to create new business relationships. Additionally, if the bad housing market actually creates a lot of work for you because so many people need help selling, home stagers can benefit from networking with each other. Perhaps one stager has taken on too many clients and can refer some to you? This is mutually beneficial, giving one person more business while also saving another person from tarnishing their professional reputation by having to cancel contracts or juggle too many jobs at once.
As a home stager, your services are proven to help people increase the value of their homes, thereby increasing the chances of actually selling them. This means that a ‘bad’ housing market might actually be a good market for you! Sellers need all the help they can get, and if you are prepared to take them on with a positive attitude and a good work ethic, you might secure more business than at any other time. Don’t let the terminology scare you out of working harder than ever!
Let us know in a comment about your experience home staging in a bad housing market and if you have any tips to share! And if you’d like to learn more about market trends for home stagers, take a look at the courses here at QC Design School!
Attending a job interview is a nerve wracking experience for new professionals. Even with practice, some people never kick their jitters. Despite the stress job interviews can cause, there are things you can do to feel less worried before you face your potential new boss! Try practicing the following skills before and during each interview to help you de-stress and really impress your interviewer!
1. Do dress appropriately
How you dress for an interview is a big part of the first impression you leave! You want to ensure that you’re not only dressed appropriately for a job interview, but also that you’re dressed well for the specific type of interview you’re attending. If the company is a high end corporation, consider professional attire like a blazer and dress pants. If you’re interviewing for an industry where your skills can be displayed on yourself, such as makeup artistry or hair styling, make sure that your own makeup or hair are done to the quality that the potential employer would expect from you on the job. Regardless of what type of interview it is, avoid dress that is too casual, looks messy, or might be considered too revealing.
2. Do show up on time
Your ability to show up prepared and on time is being assessed when you attend a job interview. Rushing in at the last second or arriving late will almost certainly lose you the position. Aim to be there a little to give yourself some emergency time. You shouldn’t arrive so early that the interviewer feels rushed or like they’re keeping you waiting, but punctuality is one of the best skills you can display.
3. Don’t be too casual
Being friendly in an interview is a good tactic. Potential employers want to see that you have good people skills and can communicate with those around you. There is a fine line, however, between being pleasant and being overly casual, which can tarnish an otherwise good first impression and come across as inappropriate or unprofessional. Be careful with things like jokes, greetings, and even your posture. Relaxing a little is beneficial because it might take the edge off your nerves, but forgetting that you’re in a professional setting is risky. Your interviewer might not be impressed if you treat them like your buddy.
4. Do listen carefully
Interview questions aren’t always simple, so make sure you’re keeping track of the details while you prepare for your answer. This will help you answer as effectively as possible. You should also listen hard if there is a practical component. If the interviewer asks you to do a sample to display the skills you’d use on the job, listen to and follow all instructions! Your ability to listen to information and act accordingly is something they’ll be evaluating.
5. Do answer the entire question
Sometimes interviewers ask long questions with more than one part. Handling these questions can be stressful because they often require long answers, and candidates worry they’ll forget part half way. Here’s another place to use your listening skills! You want to answer each part of every question you’re asked, so pay close attention when the interviewer is speaking. They’re asking you those questions for a reason, and you should provide them with the information they need to consider you properly. If you consistently miss the point of the question or fail to answer completely, their evaluation of you will reflect that.
6. Do some research in advance
One of the best ways to prepare for an interview is to research the company and the position itself. If you try to answer questions without knowing what the company does or what the position you’re being considered for entails, your interviewer won’t be impressed. As soon as you’ve applied for the position, or at least once you know you’ve got the interview, gather information about what services the company provides, who the important people are, and what they’re expecting of you.
7. Don’t talk too much
You will obviously be doing a lot of speaking in a job interview, since you’re being asked several questions. That doesn’t mean, however, that you should speak for long periods of time without break. Part of good communication is the ability to get your points across concisely, and your interviewer will be paying attention to how well you do this. If you ramble or get off topic, sum up your current point and recover quickly. You want to provide the interviewer with as much information as possible, but don’t overwhelm them with unrelated details.
8. Don’t let your nerves show
It’s completely normal to be nervous in a job interview. You will be expected, however, to rein your nerves in and conduct yourself well. Remember that body language is one of the biggest indicators of nerves! While you’re speaking, try to avoid nervous habits like jiggling your leg, twirling your hair, touching your face, or fiddling with your fingers. It’s okay to be nervous, but try not to let your interviewer see just how stressed you really are. They will expect you to conduct yourself professionally regardless of how many butterflies there are in your stomach!
9. Do find a balance between confidence and cockiness
Displaying a certain amount of confidence is necessary in a job interview because you’re being asked to list your skills and tell someone why you’re worth their time and money. If you lack confidence, you might have trouble convincing your interviewer that you’re the most qualified candidate available. On the other hand, being too confident can come across as cocky, which isn’t generally a quality that employers appreciate in their candidates. While you’re preparing for the interview, practice speaking positively about yourself without ‘tooting your own horn’. Interviewers are looking for candidates who have a solid sense of self, but who can also stay humble.
10. Do ask questions
At almost every job interview, you will be asked if you have any questions. This isn’t a trick; you are allowed and even encouraged to ask questions! If things went well and everything is straight forward then you might say that you don’t have questions for now, but be careful. Having no questions about the company or the position might be interpreted as disinterest and your interviewer might think you’re too eager to get out of there. Consider having a few general interest questions prepared just in case you get the sense that your interviewer expects you to ask for more information.
You’ve got this!
Stay calm, prepare in advance, and don’t beat yourself up too badly if it doesn’t go well! Job interviews aren’t easy, and everyone struggles with nerves beforehand. If you can master these skills and remember tips like this when you go in, you will increase your chances for success.
Need some tips on writing a resume to go along with your new job interview skills? Learn how to write the perfect resume here to land that interview!
Learning how to job search effectively is a skill that professionals across every industry should master. Navigating the world of applications can be intimidating, especially in a society that is trying to shift from paper to electronic processes. Many people grow discouraged as a result of repetitive information and complicated wording, but the job search process doesn’t have to be a negative experience. There are many resources available to help you find prospective positions, evaluate all of your options, and maximize your potential for success. Here are some tips and tricks for not just surviving, but excelling, in your job search!
DON’T limit your search
The Internet is by far the most useful tool in the modern job search. Most large companies have streamlined their application processes into a series of steps on their website, and electronic job boards host thousands of postings that rotate as positions are filled or made available. These job databases, like Monster, Indeed, and even the classifieds section of Kijiji, often have filtered notification features that will send you an email when a position that fits your skill set is posted. The time it takes to customize your database profiles is absolutely worth the access to thousands of positions that you’ll be afforded. Even though these databases are your most diverse tool, don’t limit yourself to just the Internet! Some people claim that printed classifieds and paper applications that you picked up at the location are outdated methods of job searching, but depending on your industry and the kind of job you’d like to do, ignoring these avenues might cause you to miss opportunities. If the chance to explore and apply for more positions exists, take it!
DON’T be intimidated by the ‘electronic gatekeeper’
The more places you apply, the more you’ll encounter lengthy, repetitive online forms and questionnaires required in addition to your cover letter and resume. These can feel overwhelming, especially if every place you’ve applied has asked you to fill in your full work experience despite having already attached your resume. Don’t let these ‘electronic gatekeepers’ defeat you! Many businesses actually put these in place to filter out candidates who aren’t serious about the position and therefore aren’t willing to put in the time and effort that a complicated online form requires. Just by completing each question, you’re already displaying your work ethic and proving your ability to take instruction well. Take a deep breath and answer those automated questions!
DO get old fashioned and pound the pavement
Just because there are thousands of job postings at your finger tips from your computer chair doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t proactively search for a job the more traditional way! Sure, there’s a possibility that you could walk into a business, ask for an application, and be told to go home and fill one out online, but you’ll have shown that business that you’re willing to put in a little extra effort. They might even take your resume from you right away, so you’re already in their minds and their files when they get your online application. Physically visiting a prospective workplace is a networking opportunity.
DO manage your online presence
Having a strong online presence can both help and hinder your job searching process. On one hand, business oriented social networks like Linkedin and industry specific forums are extremely useful tools for marketing your skills to prospective employers or clients. On the other hand, social networks that are used purely for enjoyment are often targeted by prospective employers, particularly larger companies, during the hiring process. Some companies actually hire people to screen applicants by searching their profiles on sites like Twitter and Facebook to ensure that you’re not doing anything in your personal life that might give them reason not to hire you. This doesn’t mean that you should avoid social networking all together, but you should take precautions before posting and manage your security and privacy settings.
DON’T forget about networking
Do you have industry related contacts based on past work experience or through your education? Are there job fairs or trade conventions that you can attend to meet other professionals in your prospective line of work? Are there online networks where you can interact and converse with other professionals to learn about opportunities and build potential business relationships? Taking advantage of networking opportunities, both online and off, can increase your exposure to prospective employers or clients, and also help keep you more informed about available positions.
DO consider self-employment
Depending on the industry you’re aiming to specialize in, working as an employee or associate for another business isn’t necessarily your only option. For client based industries, professionals might also have the option of working free lance or starting their own small business. If you believe that you can build your own client base and network well enough to realistically make a living from free lance work, this can be a wonderful opportunity to work according to your own terms. Depending on your goals and the state of your local industry, some professionals will choose to free lance full time, while others will free lance as a form of supplementary income between or in addition to other positions. Many professionals who have had success in free lancing will take the next step and start their own small business as a way to make a full time living from their skills. These working structures often start out more unsteady than working for an already established business, but they are an opportunity to independently build your name within your industry.
DO accept help
If family and friends offer to give you a hand throughout your job process, accept their help! It can be very beneficial to have a fresh pair of eyes editing your resume and cover letter and you’ll receive feedback that you can use to improve your application materials. If no one is available to take a look at your materials, consider hiring resume and cover letter editing services from your local employment agency or a reputable online job resource. These people will be able to advise you on changes that should be made in order to help the quality of your resume and cover letter stand out.
Put in the time and effort!
The more you invest yourself in the job search process, the more likely you are to have it pay off in the end. The time and effort you put into your resume, cover letter, and applications will be evident to prospective employers in comparison to those who didn’t invest as thoroughly, and you will stand out as a more qualified candidate.
Have you considered additional education in order to increase your employable skills? Take a look at the different academies and courses QC has to offer!
A change of season is the perfect reason to switch up your interior décor and try something new! When the cold and darkness of winter set in, making a few small adjustments can not only brighten up the room, but also keep things feeling cozier! Seasonal adjustments are also very versatile. Adding little budget friendly accessories can be a quick way to give the room a wintery feel just for that season, while bigger investment pieces can be used to change the atmosphere of your home every year. Try some of these decorative tricks to let the charm of winter in, while still keeping the cold out!
A cozy fireplace
On chilly winter nights, nothing beats the warmth of a fireplace at home. For some people, the ability to lounge in front of a real flame any time they like is worth the price, effort and risk of installing an actual fireplace. Those seeking a lower maintenance option but still hoping for that permanent warm center piece might prefer a large electric fireplace. These are an investment that can be used each year without restructuring the room or increasing the risk of house fire quite as high as a real open fire. For a more temporary and cost effective option, try a smaller portable electric fireplace. This way, the warmth can be moved throughout the home or stored away when the weather warms up, but the heat provided is more authentic than that of a cheap space heater. Any of these options offers a seasonally stylish way of keeping a little warmer than usual.
Warm rugs on cold surfaces
Stepping onto wooden or tile floors on a cold winter morning is enough to wake anyone up too quickly! Adding thick, comfortable rugs to these surfaces is both fashionable and functional for the winter months. Not only is a rug an opportunity for some new texture and color in order to update your interior decor, but it also insulates the room and decreases the number of cold, bare surfaces that you’ll have to walk on before the house warms up each morning. Try placing rugs of different colors, materials, and weights in the entry way, bathroom and kitchen for easy but diverse looks throughout the house. Choose a neutral, hand woven wool rug for a more classic investment piece, or a brightly colored rug made of simpler material for a trendy, more affordable accent piece. When the mornings get less bitter and the floors feel less icy, roll the rugs up and store them away for next winter’s brisk mornings!
Stylish throw blankets
Once again, fashion and function can be balanced throughout the house by using throw blankets as both a temporary solution for the chills and a seasonal change in aesthetic. Place blankets of different thicknesses, materials, and colors throughout the house, draped stylishly across chairs, hung on the backs of sofas, or folded nicely on foot stools and ottomans. Not only will the blankets give a cozy, cabin-like feel, but they’ll also be handy to curl up in for visiting guests or whoever might feel a chill. Try placing a thicker blanket in a warm winter color on the end of a bed for the guest who gets cold in the night or laying a large blanket in more a cheerful hue on the couch to brighten up the room while you share it with a loved one during a movie. When the weather gets warmer, pack the blankets away for next year!
Insulate with drapes
Even in new homes with good seals, heat can escape through big windows and cold air can make its way into your home. One stylish way to control this is to swap your light curtains for thick winter drapes. This will both help keep cold air at bay, and also provide an opportunity for yet another winter décor accent. Choose a heavy textured material in a deep purple, green, or burgundy to physically and aesthetically warm up the room, or thick smooth fabric in an accent color that coordinates with the rest of your scheme. With such a visible adjustment, try not to choose something too bright in the middle of winter, or the drapes will look out of place and out of season. When things begin to thaw, you can choose to simply draw back the drapes to let in air but keep the color, or switch them completely for an airier spring fabric and shade!
Balance colors, textures, and materials
Each of these decorative techniques has involved choosing seasonal colors or fabric weights and textures. Even if you’re not adding or changing noticeable pieces like large rugs and living room drapes, playing with small bits of color, texture, and material can be a simple way to make subtle décor changes for a new season. Choosing different combinations can enable you to incorporate a wintery atmosphere into your room without letting it feel cold like the weather outside. For example, placing comfortable white throw pillows that are reminiscent of the snow adds a nice season-appropriate touch, but the décor can still be kept warm by placing a decorative bowl made of dark wood on the coffee table flanked by deep burgundy candles that give a slight cinnamon scent. The colors and textures balance the look somewhere between letting the season in, and keeping the cold out.
Lights for decoration and function
During the darkest time of the year, changing the lights in a room can, once again, be both functional and fashionable. Darkness comes earlier in the winter, so the actual need for more light in most rooms is increased. Lights for decoration, however, don’t have to just be for Christmas! Try a small new table lamp with a warmly colored shade that matches your other winter décor, or a string of small, subtle icicle lights framing the bed’s headboard or wound around the stand of a tall lamp. Adding a bit of new light will literally brighten up the room without changing your décor too drastically or expensively for one season.
These are just a few methods of changing your interior décor for the winter months! Changes in color, light, and texture will do wonders for keeping the atmosphere in your home warm and bright throughout the winter, without blocking out the beauty of the season.