Work Smarter, Not Harder – 4 Keys to a Lower Maintenance and More Productive Online Business

Here’s something that most online business owners struggle with. Working too hard for not enough return. Even when the returns are good, the hours can be grueling.

As a wife and mom of three kids, I can’t afford to be sitting at my computer 24/7. I chose to run an online business because I want to be home with my kids, but being at home glued to a computer screen isn’t like being at home.

Even if you don’t have a kid or a spouse, a business should not become your entire life. It’s a recipe for burnout and a dismal life that revolves around a computer. At first, building your business and working really may seem exciting, but then you look up and realize there’s nothing else in your life.

So, how do you work smarter and not harder? In other words, how do you make more money with less personal time invested in your business?

To me, in comes down to 4 key points:

  1. Value your time and don’t undercharge
  2. Leverage the strengths and time of others
  3. Implement passive income models into your business
  4. Don’t be afraid of technology

Here’s some more thoughts on each of those:

1. Value Your Time and Don’t Undercharge

You need to set and limit your working hours. You probably run your business so you can stay home with your family and/or have more freedom. Well, being a prisoner to your computer doesn’t do either of those things for you. In addition, when you limit your work time, you are actually more productive. If you have only 3 hours to get work done, you’re more likely to stay focused and do what you need to do. If you have set aside the whole day to work, you’re more likely to slack off and find distractions.

The other part of valuing your time is by charging what your time is really worth to you. A common practice for new business owners is to not charge enough. Retail business owners discount their prices to be lower than their competitors, and those that provide services charge too little because they don’t feel they can charge more, or that they’re not worth it yet. If you’re running your business as a hobby, that’s fine I guess, but if you are trying to build a successful business and significant income, then that just won’t work.

Instead of decreasing your prices, increase the value of what you offer – whether it’s in superior customer service, personal shopping assistance, or other value-added offerings that will make you stand out from your competitors for the right reasons, not just because you’re cheap.

2. Leverage The Strength & Time of Others

Don’t think of yourself as a solo entrepreneur…think of yourself as a team. You can leverage the strength and time of others by:

  • Outsourcing: You don’t need to do it all yourself!
  • Partnering with others reaching the same target market as you: Your competition doesn’t need to be your enemy. Make them your partners instead.
  • Recruiting and training an affiliate force: Just setting up the script for your affiliate program isn’t enough…set up a stellar program that will motivate users to be part of.
  • Being part of mastermind group that shares business strategies and experiences.

3. Implement Passive Income Models Into Your Business

Outsourcing and having your own well-managed affiliate program are ways to generate passive income. Other ways to add more passive income to your online business are:

  • Join affiliate programs: You don’t have to fulfill the orders and provide customer support.
  • Search engine optimization (SEO): Search engine optimization is an excellent source of highly-targeted traffic for your website. Just think, people enter a keyword phrase for something they want and voila, they find you.
  • Implement pay-per-click strategies: Just like with search engines, you can get highly-targeted traffic to your website, but you have to pay for it. But setting up a cost-effective and profitable campaign can do wonders for your business. Try Adwords or Yahoo Search Marketing.
  • Use autoresponders: Effectively automate your follow-up process with your prospects and customers.
  • Backend Sales & Upsells: When someone is already going to buy from you once, they’re more likely to buy more. Make sure you make extra offers.

4. Embrace Technology

This one might be tough for some non-technical people. Some uses of technology can include:

  • Autoresponders
  • Membership sites
  • Automating content addition to your sites
  • Making customer/prospect management easier and more profitable by using a CRM
  • Customer feedback, comments, reviews
  • Affiliate program
  • Tracking advertising and A/B split testing

So please, stop doing so much work! Your business, family, and friends will thank you for it!

Designing an Optimal Home Office

Your home office makes a big difference on your overall productivity and work happiness. Having a great home office makes it easier to concentrate and will help you get more done in less time. Here are some of the many things you should keep in mind while you’re designing your home office.

The Space Itself

Your home office should be separated from the rest of your house and especially the rest of your bedroom. If you don’t have a separate office space set aside, at least use curtains or other material to partition off the space.

When you step into your home office, it should feel like you’re stepping into a workspace. It should not be an extension of your bedroom.

Designing Your Flow

Place all the tools you’ll need within arm’s length. In other words, your phone, your keyboard, your printer tray and your notepad should all be in reaching distance if those are tools you use regularly.

Measure Your Space

Before you buy any equipment, make sure you take a tape measure and measure everything out. The last thing you want is to buy office equipment only to discover that it doesn’t fit.

Make Sure Your Cabinets Have Room to Open

This is one of the more common home office design mistakes people make. They remember to measure the cabinet’s space, but forget to measure enough space for the cabinet to open out. You don’t want your cabinet to hit anything else when it opens – including you or your chair.

Add Real Plants

Working in a home office all day can be quite stuffy. Research has shown that nature and real plants can help people concentrate and boost mood.

Add a real plant or two in your workspace to help lift your spirits.

Invest in a Quality Chair

Sitting in a low quality chair can result in back pain, aching shoulders and other kinds of body pains. If you’re going to spend money on anything in your office, spend it on your chair. Get a quality chair that supports your spine and allows you to work for extended periods of time without undue pressure.

Lighting Is Important

You don’t want to work in dim lighting. Having good lighting helps reduce strain on your eyes, promotes better mood and helps improve productivity.

The light in your office needs to appear diffused, so it can’t just come from one source. Ideally you’ll have three or four different lights that all contribute to an overall sense of having a well-lit room.

These are some of the many things that go into designing the optimal office. Your office space has a big impact on your overall workflow. The time you put into improving its design will pay off many times over.

Basic Outsourcing for Home Based Businesses

Did you know that outsourcing can save you time and money – even if you’re a small home based company? When people think of outsourcing, they often think of huge corporations hiring people in developing countries. In reality, a lot of outsourcing is done by very small companies, by people just like you.

How Outsourcing Can Help You

Outsourcing can make all the menial tasks go away. You can outsource a lot of your smaller tasks both in person and online.

For example, let’s say that every week you need to scan forums for potential clients. You look through various forums looking for people who’re asking questions. You answer those questions and offer your services. The whole process takes about 5 or 6 hours.

Of those 5 or 6 hours, only 1 hour is actually spent on responding to questions. The rest is spent on locating questions, browsing through the junk and finding people who are actually in your target market.

Those 4 or 5 hours of time are important to your business, but can easily be outsourced. You can have someone else do this task, freeing you up to do more important things in your business.

Getting Started

To begin with, come up with a value number for your time. For example, your billable hours might be worth $100 an hour. Of course, you have to put in a lot of work to earn a billable hour. You decide that your time is actually worth about $50 an hour.

So any time you can save yourself an hour of time for less than $30 or $40 an hour, you’re profitable. This is the magic number you use to decide whether or not to outsource something.

Now make a list of all the things you might want to outsource. Include everything from business tasks to personal tasks, like laundry and cooking.

Finding Your Outsourcers

One you have your list of tasks you want to outsource and you know your budget per hour limit, it’s time to find outsourcers.

For digital tasks, head over the oDesk.com or Elance.com and create a job describing the tasks that you want completed. If you have a lot of different tasks that you want one assistant to do, use an hourly rate. If it’s a per-project payment, then pay by the gig instead.

For in-person tasks, use tools like Zaarly or Craigslist to locate people who’re willing to do it. In first world countries, you can generally expect to pay between $10 and $25 an hour for a personal assistant or menial tasks.

This will help get you started on the path to outsourcing. In time, you’ll want to outsource virtually all the non-essential tasks in your business. This will allow you to free up a lot of time and attention so you can focus your energy on actually growing your business.

How to Create a Professional Image while Flying Solo

Many home business owners and solo entrepreneurs face a credibility challenge. When potential clients come to their website and see that it’s “just them,” they often end up leaving. People often prefer working with a large company rather than a solo entrepreneur, because they see large companies as more credible and more likely to deliver.

Fortunately, you don’t have to spend tens of thousands of dollars in staff to make it seem like you’re a large credible company. These tactics below can help you seem like you’re a big company, even if you’re flying solo.

Personally, as co-owner of Red Peach Designs, I prefer to keep our small company feel as that is what often appeals to potential clients who are often in the same boat. I also have the luxury of doing this, however, because our business is established. For those businesses starting out, the tips below are definitely helpful!

Professional Call Answering Service

You can pay as little as $30 a month for a professional call answering service. The way it works is quite simple.

The number you list on your website actually goes to your call answering service. When someone calls that number, they hear a professional secretary answer the phone. For example, if you’re a graphic designer, your “secretary” might answer:

“Thank you for calling Your Business, how may I direct your call?”

No matter what they say, the call gets routed to you. This creates the impression that you have a giant office and a large staff, when in reality you’re working out of your home paying $30 a month to have someone answer your phones.

It makes a big impact.

Another option is using Google Voice, which is FREE. You can record a professional message for users to hear when they call, and calls are routed to your number. You can choose to answer the calls or send them to voicemail.

Multiple Email Contacts

Don’t have one email address be the catch-all address for everything in your site. Instead, use a different email for different things.

For example, on your contact page you can put:

For media inquiries, contact: [email protected]
For sales, contact: [email protected]
For reprints, contact: [email protected]
For all other inquiries, contact: [email protected]

This creates the sense that you have a large team. Again, you can man all these email accounts yourself.

Website Design and Marketing Materials

There’s a very specific way to design websites and marketing materials to give off a “big brand” feel.

Your designs should make good use of white space. Colors should complement one another. The logo should be clearly and prominently displayed. It should look clean, simple and authoritative.

Avoid designing your own website at all costs, especially if you’re going for a big brand look.

The Story of James Caan

James Caan is the founder of Humana, currently #79 on the Fortune 500 list. Though today he’s a millionaire many times over, the beginnings of his story are much more humble.

He started by renting out a broom closet in an office. He named his company Alexander Mann to sound like it was founded by someone big and successful. There was nobody named Alexander Mann.

He created multiple names for himself and almost a virtual “office.” As a one man team, he created the impression that he had a huge workforce with which to service clients.

Many of today’s success stories started out like this. It’s okay to be small, but in many industries it’s important to look big. Use these techniques to help you create that brand image to help you move beyond the founding stages.

3 Steps to Maximizing Your Productivity While Working at Home

The difference between a productive work system and an unproductive one is enormous. Someone with high productivity can easily get more done in one or two hours than many people can in a full day of work. When you work a standard desk job, productivity often isn’t tracked. When you work for yourself, however, the only thing that matters is results. In this environment, productivity makes a big difference.

Defining Productivity

Productivity can be defined as getting as much done in as little time as possible. Being productive also means doing everything that needs to be done with as little stress as possible.

So how do you increase your productivity?

1. Create Uninterrupted Periods of Work

It’s impossible to be truly productive when you’re constantly being interrupted. If you’re always checking Facebook, emails, taking phone calls and so on, you’re simply not going to be able to get much done.

Work in batches of uninterrupted time. You might work in 50-minute segments, 25-minute segments or whatever amount of segments you find work for you. Block out time during which you don’t take calls and aren’t interrupted at all.

2. Manage Your Inbox

Your inbox is one of the keys to your productivity, yet most people pay next to no attention to their inbox management. Your inbox can be digital (your email) as well as physical. Any place where you receive communications or tasks that you’re responsible for can be considered an inbox.

Most people’s inbox management looks something like this. First, they see something land in their inbox. They then either do something with it or not. If not, they try to remember to do something about it later. Their inbox pretty soon piles up until they have dozens, hundreds or even thousands of emails sitting there.

This is no way to run an inbox or a business. Instead, successful people work from a “zero inbox” system. The inbox is a set of tasks that needs to be completed. Every time a task is complete, it’s moved out of the inbox. The email or message is either deleted, filed away or responded to. Nothing stays in the inbox. At the end of each day, the inbox goes back down to zero.

This eliminates dropped balls. It also completely eliminates the stress you experience regarding always feeling like there’s something you’re supposed to be doing.

3. Scheduling Your Time

You’ll find that there are certain times of days when you’re more productive than others. Some people find they do their best work before 7am, while others are late-night owls who only get started at 11 pm. Figure out which schedule works best for you.

If you get in the habit of working in blocks of productive time, get your inbox down to zero daily and schedule the bulk of your work during your peak productivity times, you’ll get a lot more done in a lot less time. You’ll feel less stressed to boot.

Questions?

Get in touch with us to discuss your project and answer your questions.

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