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  • Bonuses to Lockdown - Don't kill time, reinvest it Apr 21, 2020

    Quarantine, lockdown and social distancing are a nightmare for service businesses everywhere, large, small and everything in between. Traditional uses of slow time just will not cut it in these desperate times. So many articles want to talk about how to use all of this "free time" we have now, but if you run a service business, this simply means it's time to catch up and make improvements without incoming revenue.

    Now it's time to do the things that always seemed like a good idea, but you never had the time. Some of them could help you survive the economic backlash after the viral pandemic has passed. Maybe you will find a new niche that will help you expand your business.


    Admin Catch-up - there's always something
    However organised you are, there is always something that gets left. Whether you reorganise your filing system or clear out your old files, there's something you can do to make sure you always know where to find the information you need. Maybe you can scan your invoices onto a computer, so they're easily accessible but not taking up filing space.


    Clear out and Simplify -
    We all do it, continue to do something just because it's the way we always have. An "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" approach to business administration is common, but it's not the most efficient or economical solution.

    Now that you have the time on your hands - that pesky coronavirus is keeping your clients away - you can take a harsh look at how you manage your business.


    Redundant Processes
    When you grow a business from the beginning, or even if you take over from someone else, there are processes involved, which adjust organically. Unfortunately, unless you reorganise and adapt from the ground up, there are always some redundancies. They hum along in the background; adding to your workload and not doing anything productive.

    Now is the time to weed out all of those sticky little jobs and reduce the time spent on duplicating tasks.


    Recurring subscriptions
    The worst culprits for this are online software subscriptions. You sign up for a small monthly subscription, and later on, when you no longer use it, you forget about it or work on the idea that "it might come in useful".

    There's a small but pointless trickle of money leaking from your business every month you let these subscriptions persist.

    Go through your monthly outgoings and match up every little leak with an essential business requirement. Do you have two separate subscriptions that can do the same job? Get rid of one.

    Extra recurring expenses that leak from your business could be a news or industry publication subscription. You sign up for a free trial or a discounted start-up subscription because you think it will be useful. Then you forget about the recurring monthly fee at the end of the trial period and only remember to cancel when it makes a regular disappearance from your bank account. How many business subscriptions do you really need? The answer is probably only one, but check the last time you accessed the publications to which you subscribe. If you haven't used the subscription over the previous three months, it's not working for you.

    Another outgoing expense that doesn't benefit you could be professional memberships. These are sneaky because they tend to be annual subscriptions or longer. If you receive a business benefit from being a member such as meeting an industry standard for membership, then you should keep it going. However, some of these subscriptions merely put your name on a list and give you no credible advantage. Pick the memberships that provide you with validity, credit, and exposure. Get rid of the ones that do nothing.


    Streamline and Consolidate
    How many pieces of software and tools do you use to manage your business? Which one does the most work for you? Can you integrate each piece seamlessly to maintain control of your

    ***

    That's the boring stuff out of the way. Now comes the fun stuff, safe in the knowledge that you'll return to a fully functioning business with all the boring and annoying tasks in order.

    Create Content — Contact & Communication
    If you haven't started blogging about your business, clients, and love of your industry, now it's time. Talk to your customers through your blog. Share your appreciation for your clients and the joys they bring to your work. Images and videos of you performing your "magic" or great outcomes for your clients are excellent ways for you to reach your clients. Encourage them to talk back.

    How is your social media game? In these times of quarantine and lockdown, sheer boredom is taking more people down the rabbit hole of social media. As that is the case, give them something 'real' with which they can engage. Nothing needs to be perfect. Everyone is working on an imperfect level at the moment. Maybe you can show a video of you disinfecting your premises, complete with scruffy clothes, gloves, facemask and cleaning gear. It's current, it's funny, and it lets your client know their safety is important to you. You could do the same if you have redecorated in the enforced downtime.


    Identifying Trends, New Ideas, and Service Development
    Whatever your service provision, you always get suggestions and service enhancement requests in your feedback - someone ALWAYS wants more than you already provide. Why not see if you develop your services to include requests and suggestions from your clients? When you have identified these areas for development, make a plan for introducing them.

    Can you do an online course that will let you provide the services that clients requested? Maybe it's merely a case of adaptation or new equipment.

    In a similar vein to checking for suggestions and requests, see what you can do about any negative feedback. Any niggling negatives that come up frequently? Make a big deal of improving or eradicating the situation. Let your clients know that you've fixed the problem, made the change that they've requested.

    What can you do to improve the way you do business? Can you add a skill to your repertoire? If there is something that you can learn while your business is on hiatus, that will bring MORE clients back to your door, take the time and opportunity to do it.

    While you're checking through your feedback, reviews and customer contacts, you can spot your service trends, your "VIP" customers - those who come back repeatedly, tipping well when they do -, your most popular services, and your most profitable ones, too.

    When you identify your slow periods, you can double down on marketing, and schedule in another admin catch-up.

    While you're working through all of your trends, you can also look for ways to expand your business. If you run a spa or salon, could you diversify into making all-natural products? It offers a retail addition to your service business that can weather periods of isolation.

    No matter what your business is, you can probably find ways to extend your service provision - even if it is only short term. A barbershop in my hometown is offering video calls where they help you cut your partner's hair...



    Don't give up, do what you can
    There is so much that you can do to pare down the expenses of a stagnating business. Try to view all of this 'extra' time as an opportunity to reinvest in your company, career, and clients. Take this unexpected and potentially destructive bag of lemons and start a lemonade delivery service. Okay, perhaps not, but you have many options available to you - even if it means changing the direction of your business for a while.

    SimplyBook.me is a scheduling and business management platform that can streamline and simplify the workings of your service business. Take a look.
    JEREMY HAWKE likes this.
  • How to Choose the Right Business Management Tools for the Service Entrepreneur Mar 12, 2020

    Starting and building a business needs the founder or owner to do a whole heap of work; it's not an easy ride. It doesn't matter what kind of entrepreneur you are. You could be embarking on a solo endeavour, or you could be starting big, but however small you start, the business owner wears many hats. When workloads, expectations and responsibilities depend on one, or even two or three people, they need the business management tools that will help to organise, develop, and support growing a service business.

    While it's virtually impossible to find a single tool that will do every possible job, some fantastic tools can make your life a whole lot simpler. I won't lie, we think that SimplyBook.me is on it's way to being one of the top business management tools for service businesses across the globe. Unlike any other industry, service sector businesses live and die by the way they provide services to their clients - long after retail and product businesses are replaced by technology; service providers will still be us, humans.

    What does your business need?

    Before you can find the tools that will best assist your business development, you need to know what you need for your business to grow. Do you know how many facets of your business that you need to organise and monitor?

    If you're an experienced entrepreneur, you'll already have a handle on it. However, here's a shortlist of the essential facets you'll need to cover:
    • Resource Management
    • Marketing
    • Performance Monitoring
    • Client Relationship Management (CRM)
    • Finances & Accounting
    • Payment Routes & Methods
    • Project Management
    • Appointment booking
    • Online Presence
    • Communications
    There are more, but these should cover the essentials for any service business, other items could be industry-specific or only particular to your business.

    It sounds pretty exhausting for a whole team of people. However, if you have to cover all of this on your own, you need to find the best tools available to make your business management more efficient.

    While it is unlikely that you'll find a tool that does everything you need, you can find some that will cover many of the essentials; the trick is to find the one that does it well.

    The Outliers
    Okay, I'm going to pay attention to those facets that tend to need outside assistance.

    • Finance & accounting - Taxes, accounts, payroll...
    • Communications - Phone, text, email, video calling...
    • Project Management - business development, processes, planning...
    The best and most affordable versions of these tools are mostly stand-alone entities, created specifically for the intricacies involved by people who understand it.

    Choosing the primary tool that will help you

    How you select your primary business tool depends on the importance you give to each facet of your business organisation. The only way that you can do this effectively is to do your research. If you search the internet for software business tools for each of the various facets of your business management structure, you'll get a list of the top contenders. When you start to explore these tools, you will find that many of them offer additional benefits that will cover other aspects of your business.

    Rank the facets of your business management structure in order of importance, and search for tools that will help you to streamline and facilitate that area. Once you have the most crucial aspects of your service business nailed down, you can research the tools that make that process more efficient. As you research those tools, you will find that the best ones will cover many more aspects of your business management needs.

    You have a service business to manage. When you deliver services (of any kind) scheduling appointments, classes, interviews, sittings, hiring times etc. is an essential aspect of your business. Meagre systems, missed bookings, poor time-management, and inadequate personnel and resource management will be a death knell for your business. It doesn't matter how good your payment systems, accounting software, or marketing are if no one wants to pay you anything.

    So, start with your scheduling and customer-facing facets and work outwards towards those parts that, have less effect on the experience of your clients. They are still important, but

    The best business management tools for an entrepreneur are those that can simplify and streamline the highest proportion of your management needs

    Selecting a Tool that "Fits"

    There are several great tools out there cover a broad range of business needs. However, they aren't giving you value if they offer a whole range of things that you don't need.

    Can you find a tool that gives you the things you need without the burden of things you don't?

    One of the downsides to some of the fully comprehensive software packages is that they aren't customisable to the requirements of the business. The best option you have is a system that will allow you to pick and choose the elements that you need. That will enable you to grow and expand your requirements as your business develops.

    Connectivity - you need it.

    You know that you can't get a single tool that will do everything for you - wouldn't that be nice. It doesn't matter how hard all of us try - we can't be perfect at everything. What we can do is acknowledge this and make sure that we can help you connect our super-cool management software with the auxiliary tools you need.

    Okay, you've chosen your best option to be your primary business management tool. You've done the research; your favourite tool can help you streamline and ease your business management load by 70-80%.

    However, there is no interconnectivity with the other tools you need to use. Your scheduling, marketing, website, monitoring, and resource management super-tool won't connect with your payment processors, your accounting software or your email system.

    It could be native connectivity in partnership with a well-known brand or use a third party "connector app" like Zapier. You need that connectivity to ensure that all of the time and effort and money you save with your super-tool, isn't lost by having to transfer data from one system to another manually. Possibly even multiple times.


    Conclusion

    While everyone in the Software as a Service (SaaS) sphere aims to be the answer to every problem that a business can possibly encounter. We want to be everything to our customers. We are realistic enough to know that we can't always do that.

    However, what a great business management tool can do is give you all the tools you need to build a business management system that suits you and your company.

    Perfection is almost impossible to find, but flexibility, connectivity and support can help you to build your ideal - even when that ideal changes, as your business evolves over time.
  • Reasons to list your business on Directories & Marketplaces Feb 19, 2020

    When your business needs to expand its client base, you need to spread your name across a broader range of people. It has always been easy to reach people in your immediate reach, such as friends and family, and then friends of friends. However, when you need to attract more people, you have to cast a wider net and get your name in front of people who have never heard of you. As the world population increasingly relies on internet searches to find what they need, listing your business on marketplaces and directories could be the answer to growing your client list.



    Directories vs Marketplaces - What's the difference?
    Directories have traditionally been used as a simple listing resource on the internet. With simple filtering by location, keywords, and industry, a typical listing would show the company name, sector, products or services, and contact details.

    The example with which you will be most familiar is Yell.com (or the Yellow Pages). A business submits their details, and the directory controls the listing. The directory might also charge a premium to display further promotional material on there, such as ratings, images and "top listing" status.

    Marketplaces are different in various ways; one of the main ways is that marketplaces have long been almost entirely populated by retailers providing products, not services. Listing your business on a marketplace not only gives you visibility, but you also have to option to sell from that platform. You get to keep your products and services current and relevant. You keep the responsibility for maintaining the market place listing. Two examples of well-known product marketplaces are Amazon and Etsy. You might not have heard that services have entered the marketplace space, but two examples are Treatwell and Booking.page

    Reap the benefits of listing your business
    While there are clear benefits to listing your business on a directory or marketplace, there are some additional bonuses that are a bit more subtle.

    Online visibility
    You already knew that adding your business to a directory would improve your online profile. That listing makes it easier for your potential clients to find what you're offering. You have an extra slice of internet space that is all about your business. Additionally, you increase the accessibility of your business by adding different channels through which new clients can find you.



    Improved SEO
    It follows naturally from increased online visibility to improved SEO. SEO (search engine optimisation) is the search engine algorithm aspect of having more than one point of contact for your business. The more areas of web space that your business appears on, the more likely it is to show up on search engine results pages. By listing a business on a directory, the link to your website becomes a worthwhile backlink for SEO. With your business name listed on an external directory, your results on local search pages will improve, even if clients don't find your listing ON the directory pages.

    Inbound Marketing, Direct and Indirect
    When people use directories, they don't usually know the exact business they want. They could be looking for your company on a recommendation, or they could be looking for any business in your industry. It's possible they don't even know your business exists. If a customer searches for <Dental clinic in Manchester> in a directory, your business will show up with every other dental clinic in the Greater Manchester area. If your business is located closer, either to home or work, has a better review rating, is easier to locate or has better images, the client seeking a dentist is more likely to find (and choose) you rather than a competitor. Meanwhile, people looking for your company will also find you.

    Partners & Partnerships
    If a company or individual seeks a partnership or investment opportunity with a compatible business, where do you think they look? It's a rough split between the local chamber of commerce and the local or industry-specific directories. If a company or investor wants to partner with your business, whether it is to sell appropriate products to you or to share clients in complementary industries (okay, GDPR compliance is essential here), they will search the proper directories and marketplaces.

    Improved Reputation
    Many directories and marketplaces allow for clients to leave ratings and reviews. It's a provision that benefits the directory because they get to offer the best results to clients who are searching. When a new client searches for a business in your sector, they will take notice of ratings, and both good and bad reviews. Your reputation is there for all new clients to see. If new clients can see your status, they are more inclined to choose your company. Showing your standing in multiple places spreads the word more effectively than a single review point on your website ever can.

    Also, a marketplace or directory that can sort businesses by reputation may place your listing near the top of the list — that's assuming that your reputation is good.

    Directory or Marketplace? Choose which one or use both
    With the differences listed before, it's usually a good plan to decide which format of online listing will work best for your business.

    Directories provide lists of businesses. It makes no difference whether they are product-based or service-based; you can list a business on a general directory. This might be different if you want to list your business on a directory specific to a particular industry or sector. You get a company title, a description of your business, your contact details, and possibly an image and customer rating.

    That's it. Input your business details to the directory, and that is your job done. If a client locates your business on the directory, they will leave the directory website to go a website, visit a store, make an appointment, whichever way they want to use what you have to offer.

    You can quickly spread your brand awareness on a directory with minimal effort or time. It's not a bad thing to have a passive method of advertising your business and increasing your online visibility.

    Marketplaces give you sales power. Whether you're selling products or services through the website, it might mean that you can list highlighted services or products, allowing clients to make appointments or letting them schedule a consultation. While marketplaces give you the extra power to sell, you also have to take responsibility for making sure your listings stay current. Marketplace selling isn't a passive access channel, not usually.

    A marketplace listing gives greater scope for client interaction and active selling. What you might not realise is that every time the marketplace advertises itself, it's also leading potential clients to your business too. The more visitors the marketplace receives, the more potential clients can find your business, products or services.

    If you want to spread your name about without much effort or input, directories are a good option. Marketplaces are excellent for increased interaction and selling. For the best results, mixing up your exposure on both registry types is the best call.
  • Online Booking Software has Changed the Game for Service SMEs Jan 15, 2020

    The digital age has changed the way we do business. With increased accessibility to information, services and products from all over the globe, the impact on everyone has been incredible. Technological advances mean we can do almost anything with a touch or swipe of our smartphones. Online booking platforms have changed the way that businesses receive bookings, reach new clients, and manage their concerns.

    Breaking the Status Quo

    While some people of the 'old-school' mentality have maintained that "our customers prefer the personal touch," their business stagnates. Yet the new customers find someone else who can facilitate their need for fast, controlled, and accessible online booking.

    Over the past ten years, people have become significantly more reliant on their computers and mobile devices - practically since the invention of the smartphone. It makes sense that businesses need to develop their approach along the same lines.

    Point of Contact

    Businesses that don't employ an online booking platform are missing out on the "impulse" section of web-searchers. When people search for services (whatever they are) if they want to treat themselves or have a desperate need, they will most likely choose the provider that gives them "instant access".

    It's all very nice having an optimised website, a google business profile so that you show up on page one, and social media presence. However, if potential clients can only negotiate an appointment or a consultation by waiting for people to be available, they will put a business in the "Maybe" pile and keep looking.

    The business that offers the best service AND the ability to book at the point of contact will win the race for new clients.

    Saving Time & Money

    If you handle all incoming appointment queries via phone, email or text, you are using valuable time, that you could be getting paid for, responding. You can't ignore your incoming contacts because that's who will fill your appointment book, but you could be filling the time spent responding with paying clients or having a home life.

    If your business is well-established, and you have the turnover to afford it, you could hire a receptionist, but you can only cover regular working hours. You're unlikely to hire someone to cover your calls and messages 24/7. For Small businesses that are just starting or medium-sized companies that are expanding, the extra expenditure is unrealistic.

    The Convenience has Become the Expectation

    As more businesses and companies use online booking, the more people expect it. A recent example was here on this forum, on a website review;

    "Why can't I book online?"

    It's a fair question.

    It's no longer a pleasant bonus to be able to make your appointment whenever you want; it's a requirement for many people. It's not enough anymore for a company to have a contact form or list an email address or phone number.

    Any service provider that requires booking time with a person, physical space or time with equipment can benefit from using online appointment booking. However, it's necessary to consider that rather than being an "optional extra" in the competition stakes, it's become a necessity.