“Does everybody know what time it is?” Say it with me…”Tool Time!”
If you were also a lover of 90s sitcoms, I’m sure you recognize that reference!
Similar to the premise of the show within a show, I’m sharing some of my favorite tools, tips, and tricks as a member of the Gig Economy. While viewers of “Tool Time” may have been seeking advice for using the latest and greatest home improvement tools, this blog post is for you if you want suggestions for work improvement tools. Surely, the information that follows will not be nearly as comical as Tim Allen’s misfires in the workshop, but I hope that what I share will give you “More Power!” to work smarter and not harder. (Okay. No more Home Improvement puns.)
Favorite Tools to Em”power” You Professionally
(Okay. I promise, no more Home Improvement puns!)
Best Conference Call Tool – Free Conference
I’ve sat through more than 1,000 conference calls so far in my career, and I’m sure I will sit through more. I’ve dialed into subscription-based 1-800 dedicated conference lines, and I’ve participated in calls on a long-distance number from the Midwest. They all work the same, primarily; there’s a number that you call and an access code that you enter, and voila, you’re meeting with people on the phone. My favorite conference call service right now is Free Conference. Its prime advantage is conveyed in its name; it’s free! Full Disclosure: I once had issues with connectivity using this service, but I’d say that has happened less than 1 percent of the time that I’ve used it. If you’re looking for a way to host professional calls with individuals calling in from multiple locations, I recommend giving this tool a try.
Best To-Do List Tool – Todoist
Maintaining a list of tasks keeps me organized and on track in meeting my deadlines. There is also something very satisfying about crossing items off of the list and having proof that I was productive! I’ve used BaseCamp, ToDoist, Trello, Wunderlist, and a number of other task management tools in the past. Of all that I’ve tried, ToDoist is by far my favorite. There is a free option that I’ve found intuitive and full of features that I love:
Syncs with my Google account
Allows me to set up “Projects” to organize tasks and tag them
Allows me to check off items when I finish them
Accommodates recurring tasks (weekly, daily, every work day, etc.)
Best Password Management Tool – LastPass
The days of writing your passwords down on a sticky note are over, my friends! If you’re not using LastPass, you need to be. You set a master password, and then use that password to access a vault of all of your other passwords. There is a mobile phone app that allows you to access your information on the go, and a browser plug-in that pre-fills your stored information on the sites that you use. LastPass also allows you to share account login information with others (for example, giving my husband access to my daughter’s pediatrician’s website) and store other secure information like credit card numbers. I’m not sure I can quantify exactly much more productive this tool makes me, but I know it’s a lot!
Best Document Repository – DropBox
Most email providers include some type of cloud-based document storage (Google Drive, OneDrive, etc.). Although these are included with your account, I still prefer managing a separate tool for storing documents. I like DropBox (and even use the “Plus” paid-for version). I’ve found Dropbox is the tool that makes it most straightforward to share documents and folders with others and most convenient to keep files organized off of my hard drive. I love the plug-in that allows me to sync documents on my machines, and the Dropbox app for my phone, too. I regularly send emails from my phone and attach documents from my Dropbox with just one extra click. This tool makes working away from my desk so easy!
Best Email – Gmail
Do you ever wonder what it was like to work before email? I really can’t fathom the leap productivity made when email became mainstream. I have accounts through Comcast, Gmail, Office365, and Outlook. I’ve used Worldclient and AOL, too. I enjoy the style and features of Gmail best. It’s simple to set up a new Gmail account, and then access all of your Gmail accounts on a mobile phone. I find the calendar and contacts widgets easy to use. Another feature that I regularly use for work planning travel is the Maps tool. It allows me to save maps with pinned locations and directions to my Google account and then email them as part of itineraries that I need to share with other people.
These are just a few of the systems that I benefit from daily. They save time, help me stay organized, and make me more productive. Do you have any favorite tools that help you work smarter? Leave a comment to tell me about them!
I just returned home from an eight-day vacation to Montego Bay, Jamaica. Before leaving Pennsylvania for my tropical respite from work and winter, I set my automatic reply on my email. It’s what most people do when they will be out of the office for an extended time, correct?
But just because many of us set up auto-responses, does it make it the right thing to do?
He refers to his calling us out on this issue as a “cold slap in the face.”
My Take on the Subject
I think Jeffrey may have gone a bit far, especially in denouncing even auto-replies that provide customers with the contact information of someone who can help them in their hour of need. I fail to see what’s wrong with that.
However, I do agree with him about this:
“When someone sends you an email, in most cases they expect a reply within 24 hours. Sometimes, the same day.”
True! And, in my industry especially, time is of the essence. That’s why I have a Strella team member who will be readily available to handle any time-sensitive requests when I’m out of the office.
Auto-responding and Strella Social Media Core Values
With customer service and communication as two of our company’s core values, I would never think of leaving the office without making sure that someone will handle customer inquiries AND that customers know who will be there to help them.
Well before my vacation leave, I communicated my travel plans to our clients and our vendors. My team and I held a virtual meeting to prepare for the inquiries that might come from our customers and our internal team while I was out.
I then set up my automatic email reply to reinforce what I shared with customers and vendors and to ensure they knew who they could contact. I believe an automatic response is a wise move as long as it serves a purpose and offers the information clients need to have their questions or concerns addressed.
If it were true, as Jeffrey suggests, that my competition will benefit from my generating an auto-reply, I’m willing to take that risk. Vacations are meant to reduce stress and mentally and physically regroup. We can’t do that if we stay always connected to our work and never take a break.
Automatic Replies With Personality
As I was thinking about auto-replies, I began to recall some of the entertaining automated responses I’ve received from clients in the past. Just for fun, I’m going to share my top three favorites with you.
I am currently out of the office trekking in an RV with my wife, kids, and my in-laws to Canada. Probably either the worst or best decision I have ever made (I kid—my in-laws are fantastic).
If you need something while I am out, please contact Stevi—she is great and can take care of your need or can tell you who can. Otherwise, I will reply to your email when I return on Monday the 23rd, eh? See, Canada is rubbing off on me already.
I am out of the office spending time with family and skiing (mainly skiing). I’ll be checking emails when I return to the office January 2nd.
Sorry. Alex won’t be able to answer your email today. Yesterday we gave him one task too many and, well, he kinda freaked out. Last we saw him, he had declared himself “Pipi the Iguana King” and was demanding three cans of peas from everyone in the finance department.
He should be back on Monday, 6/11, though he might be heavily sedated.
Best wishes and be safe.
Well played, no?
Do You Use Auto-Replies When You’re Out of the Office?
Your turn! Write a comment with your answer. I’d love to hear your reasons why or why not. And if you’ve crafted a clever automatic reply, feel free to share it!
Social media is a staple in our daily lives, which makes it easy to take it for granted. We have to remember that while technology is a great thing, we are still interacting with people – and, as such, we need to maintain a level of appropriateness. As we continue our journey of modern communication, here are a few things to avoid. Don’t…
Engage with haters, trolls, and other negative influences online.
Battling them is—and always will be—a lost cause. If you do, you’ll waste time, energy, and creativity that you could be using to build your brand and serve your customers.
Post without proofreading.
If you publish posts with careless grammar and misspellings, it will reflect poorly on your brand. Before making posts live, review what you wrote and fix mistakes. I advise reviewing the content again after you publish it because sometimes sneaky errors can slip by despite initial proofreading efforts.
Ignore your followers’ questions, comments, and messages.
Although this seems like a logical no-no, I see it happen often. Ignoring your audience is the fast track to causing hard feelings, missing opportunities, and damaging your brand. Keep tabs on activity on your social media accounts, and respond promptly to your followers.
Use AI as a substitute for human interaction.
Marketing automation saves time, but never use it as a replacement for human-to-human communication on social media. Your followers expect to develop a relationship with your brand, which can only be done if you’re genuinely, humanly engaged with them.
Dwell too much on your competition.
Watching your competition is essential, but more critical to your success is developing your business and delivering excellent service to your customers. Leverage and nurture your brand’s unique strengths and capabilities rather than trying to be a carbon copy of another company.
Online interactions are a permanent and open forum. Beware of how you represent yourself and your business!
Technology is amazing. It allows us to connect more easily with people, access information more quickly, and automate much of our lives.
However, technology has its downsides, too. Excessive screen time is a concern for today’s youth—and employees. The full impact of staring at a computer screen for hours on end every day has yet to be determined. Some argue that it’s made us more sedentary and less healthy. Others believe it has negatively affected our psyches and our relationships by creating anxiety and jealousy as we compare ourselves to others based on what they share on social media.
For business owners, technology and social media can reap significant benefits for our bottom line. But they also bring the risk that even just one negative customer experience might spread like wildfire online and cause irreparable brand damage. Moreover, constant connectivity also threatens to overload and overwhelm us; we feel like we need to do multiple things at once and be at the beck and call of everyone all of the time.
The Struggle Is Real! How Can We Deal With These Challenges?
I believe the solution lies in seeking balance and moderation.
As a virtual solopreneur, I’m able to work at any time and from anywhere. This makes being a full-time mom to my two-year-old daughter possible. I can work from the comfort of my home when she sleeps and when I schedule babysitters to assist me; my availability is mine to choose.
But on the flip side, I don’t always find it easy to turn off my work. With the ability to sneak in 15 minutes here and 30 minutes there, when is it okay to decide not to be “on the clock?” I know I shouldn’t be working all of the time, but how can I not when it seems like everyone else is? The answer is to make choices that will allow me to achieve balance and moderation.
Is Multitasking the Answer?
Multitasking has become a signature approach for many busy professionals, including me. It’s how we juggle (or attempt to juggle) multiple priorities to try to get everything done. For example, I may download content to be posted to my clients YouTube accounts while I’m bookkeeping for someone else and listening to a thought leader’s latest podcast. At the same time, I may also be browning ground beef to prep a meal for my husband and running the dishwasher or the washing machine. All the while in the background, it’s likely the dog is barking to play fetch, and my two-year-old is playing dress up and wants my fashion advice.
It’s the best—and the worst—of both worlds. I’m fortunate to have no commute or daycare bill, and I get to share in all of my daughter’s childhood experiences. Still, on days that my phone won’t stop ringing and my toddler doesn’t agree with a thing I say, it’s a real struggle to feel that I’m giving every job (professionally and personally) the attention it deserves.
Can anyone perform more than one task actively, simultaneously, AND successfully? I think not. While we can devote ourselves to tackling multiple tasks at once, one eventually needs to be our primary focus.
Know When to Say “When” to Multitasking
If like me, you’re trying to stay ahead of feelings of burnout while keeping up with your professional and personal responsibilities, you’ll have to find a way to make multitasking work for you. You’ll need to occasionally step away from the office to decompress, recharge, and find the energy to come back renewed. My husband does this by working out and commits to never missing a session at the gym. As for me, one morning per week I carve out time (before my daughter wakes up) to binge-watch something on Netflix. On another morning each week, I connect with a friend over tea while our little ones play in the next room.
What makes the solopreneur dream work for me is finding balance and making it a priority. While I embrace technology and stay “plugged in” most of the day to ensure I’m responsive and come through on the myriad of deliverables I’ve promised, I take opportunities to put multitasking on hold. For example, when I’m on-site with a client or enjoying dinner with my family, I ignore distractions so that I can be fully present in the moment. It’s how I achieve the balance and moderation needed to do my best work for my clients and be the best mom and wife to my family.
Achieving goals of any sort involves doing more of the right things. Marketing and social media goals are no exception. How can you better ensure your social media efforts will help you accomplish your brand’s objectives in this new year? Below, I’ve shared some tips to help you.
Think first. Then post.
Remember that what you post on your personal social media accounts can affect how people view your company. Think carefully about how posts that issue commentary on hot-button topics like religion, politics, or gender issues might impact your relationships with customers, vendors, and others in the business community.
Let them hear your voice.
On your blog and social media channels, let your readers see your personality shine through. Many people follow bloggers because they like what the writers are saying AND how they’re saying it. Share your unique insight and strike a conversational tone that engages readers. My client, Lennie, an elder law attorney, is an excellent example of a blogger who does this well. While many writers in his field cover the standard stuff like “10 things to put in your will,” Lennie writes about how smart seniors do dumb things, and he infuses his perspective into his content.
Show your audience that you have real people behind your logo; it will make it easier for them to relate to your brand. Some ways to do that are to introduce members of your team, show videos with “behind the scenes” glimpses of your staff doing what they do best, and take photos of your team at special events and activities. Also, consider promoting the personal brand of your business owner or a high-level manager to put a face to your business name. Many organizations are doing that, and it’s an effective way to facilitate loyalty and trust.
Set realistic expectations.
Realize that social media alone can’t grow sales. Yes, it can help immensely by building your brand reputation, generating awareness, and increasing visibility of your business. However, many other areas of your company impact customer acquisition and revenue growth. Examples include the performance of your website, the quality of your products and services, your sales team’s skills, and your customer service. You must pay attention to your business as a whole for social media to succeed.
Write for your readers.
Focus your content on what will help your audience and write it in a way that they will understand it. This doesn’t mean you have to dumb it down, but avoid overly complicated wording and sentence structure. For instance, I once edited a post for a client in which he used an example of bilingual translation to illustrate his point about communication. It was complex, and I feared readers might not grasp the meaning. I simplified his content to discuss communication via text message instead, something his millennial readership could relate to better.
Put personalization into practice.
Customers expect that brands will tailor deals and discounts to their unique interests and needs. Consider embracing the potential of targeted advertising and retargeting campaigns on social media to cater to the demand for individualized content and offers.
The positive changes you make now will position your business for better outcomes all year long. Cheers to a prosperous 2019!
In the past few weeks, I’ve been talking about trends for 2019 (2 trends; 3 more trends). There is one trend that deserves its very own post – and that’s change: an ever-constant trend.
The one trend you can always count on resurfacing year after year is that businesses must—to some degree—adjust their social media approach to gain broader awareness and increase engagement with customers.
Mark Zuckerberg once said, “Figuring out what the next big trend is, tells us what we should focus on.” While that might be true for Facebook, realize it isn’t always so for every business. The thing about trends is that following them doesn’t guarantee success. I advocate paying attention to social media trends, but before you jump on the bandwagon, carefully evaluate if incorporating them in your marketing strategy will be consistent with your brand and practical for your business.
Today, social media platforms are the place for businesses to consistently demonstrate its value and reinforce its voice. They are the go-to places where customers ask questions, offer accolades, and air complaints. Gone are the days when companies can treat social media as an afterthought or a supplemental marketing channel.
In 2019 – and beyond – make it a routine practice to evaluate how you can best serve your customers and mold your marketing approach to meet these needs. Indeed, change is the only thing guaranteed.
Number 2. What the Heck Is Up With LinkedIn Hashtags? If you’re wondering, “What’s up with the hashtags on LinkedIn?” and if there’s any value to using hashtags on LinkedIn, you’re not alone. This post shares what I’ve discovered thus far in my research.
Number 1. How Long Should A Blog Post Be? When someone asks me, “how long should a blog post be?” my answer is always the same. This post shares my answer as well as how to approach blogging for your own business.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the top post of all time. This post is not only the top blog post, but it’s also the second most visited page on my entire site. It may come as no surprise, that it’s a personal story: The Accident That Changed My Life Forever.
There are just a few days left between now and Christmas. Are you starting to feel overwhelmed by the holidays and the massive to-do list that goes along with the “most wonderful time of the year?” To me, it seems like every year the celebrations—and expectations—become more involved and more complicated. I’m not sure if it’s as a result of my family growing, or if it’s due to something more universal. Regardless, I love and have found perspective in this modified Christmas to-do list, shared by actress Kyle Richards and others:
I’ve seen this list floating through cyberspace a lot recently. And every time a friend shares it, I think about it a little more. It has me wondering if it applies to more than just my Christmas to-dos. What if I would apply the mindset it promotes every day throughout the year? I’ll bet it could make a difference in helping me maintain my own sanity and bring happiness to those who interact with me.
I think this list serves as a great reminder of the value of picking your battles, not sweating the small stuff, letting the little things go, and trying to focus on what’s most important in life.
So, does it really matter if the font on the latest print piece (whether your family Christmas card or a business marketing flyer for Q1) doesn’t seem quite right? Is it worth getting upset about? Probably not.
In the grand scheme of things, does it really matter if my daughter watches an hour and 15 minutes of TV today, instead of the daily hour we’ve arbitrarily decided is “best” for her development? Nope, and I’m guessing that extra 15 minutes won’t cause her irreversible harm.
What if I don’t entirely clear out my inbox before leaving to celebrate the Christmas and New Year’s holidays? Will I really be so far behind? I doubt it’ll make much of a difference after all.
Whether it’s the holiday season or the middle of May, cut yourself some slack. Simplify things for yourself when you can, and give yourself a break. Chances are, many of the things that you think you have to do are self-imposed. Who will notice if you haven’t unloaded the dishwasher before you go to bed versus doing it first thing in the morning? And how much of a dilemma will it be if you submit your expense reports on Monday morning instead of by the end of business on Friday? If the rules and expectations that you’re breaking are your own, permit yourself some grace this holiday season…and all year round!
When I was in high school, my German teacher (who was also my Holocaust Studies teacher) said always to question authority. She didn’t mean to do so in a belligerent or disrespectful way, but she wanted us to know it’s alright to be curious. It’s OK to question the powers that be when something doesn’t make sense to us or if a directive seems out of sorts.
Why Asking Questions Scares Us
Often, people feel intimidated about asking persons of authority (or perceived power) tough questions that might be construed as undermining their expertise or intentions.
It happens with patients and their doctors, clients and their lawyers, and even employees and business owners.
We fear people will think we’re challenging them or trying to poke holes in the way things are being done.
We’re taught to respect authority—but that shouldn’t prevent us from asking questions of those in charge. People with authority must be responsible and accountable—and they sometimes make mistakes or oversights. Questions help make real leaders better at what they do.
Personally, I would never hire someone who would not challenge me or ask questions—whether it be to enhance their understanding or to verify that I know my stuff. In fact, some of my best customers ask difficult questions.
Curiosity: A Double-Edged Sword
In my last Vistage group, we were asked to complete the Gallup Strengths Assessment. The results identified one of my top five strengths as being “analytical.” While the report provided insight into my strength in this area, it also shared my blind spots.
“Because you ask many questions, people may think you doubt the validity of their ideas, that you do not trust them, and that you are tough to work with.”
“Your objective and fact-based approach to decision making may seem skeptical or critical.”
So, being inquisitive and studying ideas and processes from a variety of angles has its perceived downsides. But that doesn’t make asking questions wrong. Instead, it reinforces that we need to demonstrate respect when we approach people (whether they’re in a position of authority or not) with questions.
“The art and science of asking questions is the source of all knowledge.” ~ Thomas Berger
The bottom line is that questions represent a thirst for knowledge and insight, not a personal attack on someone’s authority or expertise. And asking questions is something people of all genders, races, ethnicities, occupations, and income levels should feel empowered to do regardless of who will be on the receiving end.
Ask questions and welcome questions to be asked of you—it’s OK, really!
Last week, I shared two social media trends to watch in 2019. They include the growing importance of personal branding to business branding and the acceleration of personal marketing. No business can ignore the significance of its social media presence because it influences how people perceive its brand.
And, while branding and personalized marketing will be prominent, they aren’t the only trends! As we edge closer to 2019, there are three more marketing trends to keep an eye on – all in the form of content development and distribution.
#1. Long-form content for making an SEO impact
While word count is not the only thing that can impact how prominently an article will appear on the search engine results page, SEO experts say long-form content can give you an edge. Although Google doesn’t penalize blog posts if they fail to reach a certain word count threshold, it stands to reason that a high-quality article with 1,600 words will likely outrank a high-quality article with 500 words. It’s for that reason that I believe we’re seeing more publishers requiring guest authors to submit articles with a minimum of 1,000 or more words.
I believe we’ll see more company blogs embracing long-form content and incorporating it into their content strategies. Therefore, businesses that have found they aren’t getting SEO traction with short posts may want to “go long” and add longer articles rich with information and insight that will attract readers and give Google a reason to rank them more favorably.
#2. Video’s prominence as the preferred form of content
In a survey by Wyzowl, “The State of Video Marketing 2018,” 97 percent of marketers said video has helped increase user understanding of their product or service, and 76 percent said it has helped increase web traffic and sales. That doesn’t seem farfetched given that 95 percent of people have watched explainer videos to learn more about a product or service and 81 percent have bought a product or service as a result of watching a brand’s video.
Live streaming video will continue its emergence as a powerful way to engage people on social media. According to statistics compiled by Go-Globe, two-thirds of all internet traffic in 2017 was streaming video. By 2020, 82 percent of internet traffic is expected to be live video.
I see video’s prominence tied closely to the first trend I mentioned—personal branding’s influence on the business brand. Video allows for a company to put a face to the business. It enables prospects and customers to get to know who leads and works in a business. Video gives businesses an opportunity to show not only what they do but also “who” they are.
Also, keep in mind that social media algorithms might give video posts better organic reach than other types of posts.