Taming Time


Lately I’ve been thinking a bit about time and about how to manage it and keep it from slipping away too quickly each day. As I juggle my business, my family, my recreational activities and some other ministry responsibilities that I have I’ve been thinking and sorting through the ways that I keep track of that ever elusive foe. I know many small business owners (of which I am one) are always walking a tight rope managing all the activities that they do on a daily basis. It used to be that just getting through your administrative tasks and the main profit reaping goals of your business was enough, but now throw in the myriad of social media avenues and forget it, you can easily get bogged down and never see the light of day.

Here are just a few of the tools that I find keep my life a little more in check these days:

1. Staples ARC customizable notebooks– I’m not sure who invented these but they are a genius! I used to work in about 5 notebooks at any one time. I’d have one for work, one for to-do’s, one for personal memos to myself, one for a Mothers of Preschoolers (MOPS) group that I’m involved with and the list goes on. The flaw with that system is that I would invariably be out somewhere without the appropriate notebook when I needed it! These customizable notebooks (they’re actually more of a binder style) allow you to add paper and tabs to create separate sections, so all of my notes are in 1 place! They come in a wide variety of sizes, colors and they offer several different fill paper options (my favorite are the “action” pages where you can take notes on the right and  on the left there is space for “action items”).

2. Google Calendar– I pretty much use Google for most things these days (Gmail & docs) but I’ve been a faithful Google calendar user for years. My favorite thing is that you can share the calendar with other people. So in my case, my husband and I share a calendar for our family life that we can both access and see from anywhere. I’ll also throw in a quick plug for Google docs in here as well. I still am a hard-core Excel lover (I Love Spreadsheets!) but the ease of being able to share documents with clients through this platform is wonderful and does make collaboration a million times easier. It lacks a bunch of things that Excel has but for quick and simple documents it’s a time saver in my book.

3. Freshbooks– For a while when I first started working as a VA I did all of my billing and tracking of my time in Excel (see, I told you I love it) but as time went on, I just found that it lacked what I really needed which was more of a timekeeping program. So much of the project work I do is billed by the hour so the fact that Freshbooks offers a time tracking component with an actual timer makes it super handy. You can just name your project, assign it to a client and then just start the timer when you are working on that particular project. At the end of your billing cycle you can then easily turn that into an invoice. So much time saved!

4. Dropbox– Before Dropbox my inbox would be full of separate emails of pictures or large documents that couldn’t be sent in one shot. Now I happily get 1 lovely email from Dropbox saying that someone has shared something with me and then I can just go ahead and save all the contents onto my computer. It’s super easy to use and makes thing very convenient, especially if you’re working with people who may not be in the office right next door.

5. PicMonkey– Editing photos can really be time consuming. I can easily spend several hours trying to get a picture cropped and looking just right. Pic Monkey makes that process fun and simple to use. They offer lots of free editing tools in addition to several upgraded options that you pay a small monthly fee for. I’m sure there are lots of super fancy editing tools out in the world but to be honest, they would probably take more time for me to learn than what I currently need. For the quick edits that I do on a regular basis PicMonkey has become my best friend.

These are just 5 of my favorite tools that I’m using on a regular basis these days and that have streamlined areas of my work life. What tools do others use?

Crafting Compelling Titles

I love taking advantage of free (or low cost) resources that are abundantly available to enhance my skills or learn something completely new. If you want to, you could probably sit in on a webinar on some topic of interest to you, every day of the week. Well, last week I sat in on a free class that was hosted by Mad Mimi (the e-mail marketing company) & Clever Zebo (online marketing company) that looked at subject lines in newsletters. Subject lines are super important. They are the first things  your customers see when your email pops onto their desk. Oftentimes they are the difference between the “trash” bin and a sale, so take the time to craft compelling titles.

Just a few notes from the class:

  • Remember to use subjects that capture people’s attention!
    • Sometimes shock value is good
      • The example the presenters used in this scenario was a tech company that sent out an email with the subject “QTP is no more…” (QTP was a favorite software that many of their clients used). Now once you opened the email you found out what that really meant (they were upgrading their software, not getting rid of it altogether). This email got a larger open rate than say one that simply stated that they were upgrading their software. Of course, with this method, you want to be careful not to anger your customers either 😉
      • A sense of drama or urgency can compel an audience to take action
        • Today vs. Tomorrow
          • The folks at Clever Zebo ran a test using the wording “today” in the subject line and another one using “tomorrow”
          • Ironically the one with the word “tomorrow” in the headline got more opens and a higher click through rate, BUT
          • the newsletter that went out with the “today” subject actually had a higher number of actual registrations for the event they were promoting (it was actually a webinar that they were holding)
          • They discovered that urgency mattered more if the people reading it (your customers) already had a strong emotional connection with you
          • An important point to note is to be thoughtful when using words, don’t overuse them, make them count
      • Try using a subject that begs a question that can only be answered by opening your newsletter
      • Something that speaks to our sense of curiosity can be very effective
    • Interest vs. Importance
      • There is a difference between creating a subject line that creates interest “oh, i’ll leave this in my inbox and check it out when I have time” and importance “I need to find out right now what this is about”
    • Remember to let your customers know where value is in your email, the sample they used in the class was “Increase sales by 8% per month”, in that headline there is a very specific value to the reader

A few key takeaways that they mentioned:

1. Simplicity-Remember less is more-Stick to no more than 8-10 words in your subject

2. Specificity-give people a specific reason to open your email

3. Sytntax-remember to be true to your voice and your brand

A couple side tips that came out via questions that were asked:

  • Remember to link your email marketing to your social networks
  • Add a newsletter sign up form to your Facebook page
  • Keep it simple!

Reading This Week…

I love reading and I’m always scouring the web for interesting/inspirational articles that would be relevant to my clients. Here is a little list of some articles and websites that I’ve been checking out this week…

Why You Can’t Fire Employees Complaining on Facebook (Social Media Today)

5 Traits Top  Entrepreneurs Have in Common (Young Entrepreneur.com) A short 2 minute video!

5 Ways to Tame You Email Beast (Inc.com) We can all use some help with reining in our email. Can you tell I love a list?

Business in Trouble? Tell Your Customers! (Inc.com) This article shared an interesting strategy that a coffee house in Mass. that was in financial trouble used to stay afloat. Recently I’ve seen quite a few local businesses going under and I wonder if they had just told their most loyal customers about their struggles if they would still be in business.

The High Calling Great website about work,life and God and how they intersect.



I’m Mad About Mimi…Email Newsletters

One of my clients is a busy sales rep that manages about a half dozen lines and over a hundred clients. She can’t possibly connect with each of those clients on a weekly basis, so one of the ways that she’s chosen to communicate with them is through a bi-monthly newsletter that I manage, develop and send out for her. Recently, one of her clients reached out to me to ask about email newsletter companies and get my opinion on the one that I use.

When I first began doing a newsletter for this client we went with Constant Contact (CC), I think pretty much because they were the most well known e-marketing company out there. For over a year we were very happy with the performance of their  program. It’s loaded with features, they offer lots of online resources and help and it’s affordable. The one thing that I always felt was lacking though was a more sophisticated and clean aesthetic. Most of the newsletter templates they offered just seemed very crowded, with too many spots for too many messages. So, in searching for a new company to work with I ran across a company called Mad Mimi (sort of a funny name). I had received a few newsletters from local businesses that used their service and I always loved the clean, crisp look so I decided to check it out for myself.

Mad Mimi’s service doesn’t offer nearly the wide variety of templates that CC does but it is almost completely customizable. They stress a more simple and clean approach to email marketing, which I can appreciate. I hate getting a newsletter with tons of different fonts and colors, in my opinion, it’s just too distracting for the reader. With Mad Mimi you choose a color palette (or you can create your own based on your logo or branding) and it incorporates that into your entire newsletter. In addition, you choose one font for all your titles, you can choose one for all your subtitles, one for your body text, etc…It almost forces you to keep your message visually pleasing to your customer. The entire newsletter is centered with no extraneous messaging on the sides.

They offer many of the same tracking features as CC such as open rates, bounces & click throughs. In addition to all the above you can link all your campaigns to Google Analytics as well as automatically connect your newsletters to social media.

One of the other things that I look for when working with any company is that they offer a strong support desk. I’m never one to shy away from asking for help and I’ve contacted them several times when I’ve had an issue with an image not loading properly or something not copying over properly from another site. They have an online chat and as far as I’ve seen someone is always there and willing to help in whatever way they can. They seem to really value their customers. One last perk is that they have an active blog where they post all sorts of helpful e-marketing tips and they offer online webinars like the one I just attended this week on writing impactful subject lines.

There are several deficits that I would like to mention, one is that they don’t have a direct feed to blogs. My client has a blog that she occasionally would like to link an article from to her newsletter. With CC this was an easy, automatic thing. With MM, I need to work around this and just create a link  to her article (not a big deal, but it’s not as smooth). Another thing that I miss is that they are not as supportive of PDF’s. I agree with the idea of not sending out a PDF if you are a B2C client but this client I have is a B2B person, she needs to send price lists, catalogues and things of that nature to her customers. I attach quite a few PDF’s in the newsletters. With CC it was super easy to do, you just attached it and inserted the link wherever you wanted the info. With MM I now have to “host” the PDF on our website and then link it into my newsletter (again, not a deal breaker, but annoying). I just saw on their blog this week that they are now offering a 3rd party hosting spot so maybe that will be easier with that service.

There are a bunch of other e-mail services out there, another I’d like to try out soon is MailChimp, I’ve seen some nice newsletters done with this program as well. If anyone has any experience with either MailChimp, CC or Mad Mimi, I’d love to hear about it. Also, if you have any questions that I can answer about e-newsletters I’d love to help. This post originated from an email that I got from a client’s customer.

***If you are interested in trying out Mad Mimi, they do offer a perk to people who recommend them. Here is my affiliate link***


Mad Mimi Email Marketing

YOU Are A Brand!

“Developing who you are to reveal more of who God is, in the way only you can for the good of others”

I was fortunate enough to hear about and attend an online class that was held at The Influence Network called “Brand You”, through a friend of mine. I wanted to share some of my favorite insights with you here. It was all about branding yourself and your blog or small business and was led by an awesome woman named  Stephanie Bryant of S.Bryant Social Marketing. Her emphasis is that YOU are a brand! She encouraged us to sit down and answer several questions about your business/blog?

  • What do you want to be known for?
    • Take some time and think about what what you want your business (and you as the face of that business) to be recognized for? Are you offering a service? What special gifts, skills, traits, experiences do you bring to that? Are you selling a product? What is the image that you want to create in your customers’ minds about that product? For me, this answer looked something like this: I want my business to be known for offering small businesses, entrepreneurs & non-profits practical services (such as creating and distributing email newsletters) in a service oriented, reliable, creative way. I want clients to feel like I’m their partner in the success of their business and  want to be known for being encouraging, resourceful, helpful & enthusiastic.
  • Where do you hope to be a year from now?
    • This question involves dreaming! One of my favorite things (just ask my husband). Where do you see yourself and your business a year from now? Do you see taking on more clients or readers? Do you see your focus shifting? Do you see yourself having more or less time pursuing the things you’re passionate about? Do you see yourself adding to your product line or weeding out and focusing on just your top selling items? Do you see opening up new avenues of distribution? Are you planning on taking advantage of a new social media or marketing tool? This question can go anywhere, take time and imagine the possibilities!
  • What is the expectation that you hope to create for your future customer?
    • This is a super question because what she was essentially asking us to consider with this question is “What is the promise that you are making to your customers?” You already listed some things that you want to be known for, here is where you can tie those things into what you are offering your customer. You want to make a promise to them. Give them an idea of what they can expect when they buy something from you, talk to you, receive a service from you, read something you wrote, whatever… For me, my hope would be that when a client comes to me for my services that they could expect someone who is enthusiastic about the work, diligent, creative, organized, resourceful & trustworthy. That I am someone who will strive to treat their brand as I do my own. And finally, that I would do everything I can to fulfill their expectation and assist them with all the skills that I have to the best of my ability. This becomes the “promise” to my clients.
  • Who is your audience?
    • This is that demographic question that we all need to answer. Who are you looking to serve with your product/blog/service?
  • Is the promise you’re making fulfilling to your audience?
    • Are your promises in line with the people you are looking to serve and then how are you living up to those promises. Your name, your services, your tag line,  who you identify as those customers (we can’t serve everyone at the same time), your logo, your website, your business cards, your social media, your Facebook page all convey ways that you are fulfilling that promise to your audience.

Stephanie stressed the importance of the having a unifying identity across all of your outlets. If someone sees your newsletter, stumbles onto your website, or goes on your Facebook page, it would be obvious who’s brand this is.  This class really got my juices flowing and energized to be more intentional about branding myself and my business. This is an ongoing process and today is as good a day to begin as any.

Reading this week…

Over my first cup of coffee in the morning, this is a weekly roundup spot of some of the online things that are inspiring or intriguing me each week…

Michael Hyatt of Intentional Leadership talks about his experience hiring a virtual assistant

When Your Personal Assistant is VirtualBusinessWeek Article

Small Business Tools on The Influence Network

14 Ways to Get More Facebook Shares by Mari Smith

8 Ways to Get More Leads for Your Business on LinkedIn on Social Media Examiner