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Slow times are part of any small business. Fortunately, you can act to help your business survive, and even thrive, through them. Here’s how.

 

Know That They’re Coming

 

You can’t predict all the slow times, of course. But if your business has trackable trends, such as a summer sales boom and a typical winter lag, stay aware of it.

 

Look at the bigger picture, too. Tracking trends in your industry can help you see when cyclical dips and upticks tend to happen.

 

Keep Tracking Your Cash Flow

 

Tracking your cash flow is good, but a short-term view of cash flow can get you into trouble. Some business owners will see a high sales month as a sign that it’s a good idea to expand their expenses. Additional expenses may be fine as long as your sales are high, but not once you hit that low season.

 

To keep your cash flow consistently healthy, don’t add on expenses just because you have one or two good months. Track your cash flow by quarters and seasons, not week or months.

 

Prioritize All Expenses

 

Reducing expenses, is, of course, an effective way to help your business handle lean times; but how does one do that, exactly? First, make a list of all your expenses. Then arrange those expenses in tiers, or levels of priority, from 1 to 4:

1. Non-negotiable, uninterruptible expenses (rent and utilities and salaries).

2. Non-negotiable but interruptible expenses (inventory purchases).

3. Negotiable but important (marketing, fleet maintenance).

4. Negotiable, less important (supplies, seasonal decor, bonuses, training).

 

Don’t Reduce What Makes You Money

 

The biggest temptation during slow times is to cut out the biggest expenses. Unfortunately, these are usually the expenses that bring you income: salaries, inventory, and marketing.

 

Cutting the things that bring in funds might seem like an answer; at the offset, you will have greatly reduced expenses. You will also soon have even more severely reduced funds.

 

You can’t make money if you cut out the expenses required to make produce and sell. Reduce the expenses that don’t relate directly to sales. Maintain the expenses that drive your sales. Generally those are your employees, your products, and your marketing.

 

Do negotiate with vendors for better terms and deferred payments. If you’ve been a good customer with a good payment history, you should be able to get some wiggle room for a few months.

 

Do ferret out those overdue accounts and start collecting. Send a friendly but firm reminder to all past-due. Follow up with a friendly call a few days later to confirm that the reminder was received and the payment has been sent.

 

Do examine your payment process and look for ways to streamline it. The faster you get paid, the better off your cash flow will be. Be sure your invoicing process happens immediately after the sale. And if you can expand your payment gateway to include more options, do so.

 

Focus on What You Can Do

 

Spend time on the projects and improvements that normally get shoved to the back burner.

 

Focus on improving your business. How about organizing your inventory, improving your accounting system, or streamlining your follow-up process? Improve the parts of your business that help you run more efficiently, improve quality, and keep your finances on track.

 

Focus on increasing customer loyalty. Write that email newsletter. Read all the customer feedback you can get. Send out a survey. Talk to the customers who are around. Follow up with the customers who aren’t.

 

Focus on targeted, special promotions. Maximize your social media and content marketing. If you have time (but not money), you can research how to write a blog post, best practices for using Pinterest, and the optimum times to upd ate Facebook. Then you can start implementing what you learn.

 

Focus on training your employees. Spend the time improving your customer service practices, writing scripts and documents needed for daily use, dealing with common clogs in the workflow, and establishing the policies and procedures that you should already have in place.

 

Lean times aren’t fun for small business owners, but they can be productive. And if you use them wisely, they can help you to maximize the busy times when they do come around again.

 

Bitrix24 is a free Event Management and Planning Tool. Use promocode TIP10 when registering your free Bitrix24 account to get extra 10GB. 

 

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What you think you know about creativity might just be holding you back. 



The Left-Brain vs. Right-Brain Model Is Just Wrong 

We’ve long used the distinction of being a left-brain or right-brain thinker as a cute little way to show that a) we’re smart about brain stuff and b) we’re either creative or not creative. 
In our neurological model, the left brain was all about decisions and analysis, definitive thinking and action, absolutes and logic. It had nothing to do with the effervescent, visual, expansive, relational right brain of creativity. 

The only problem is that this particular model just isn’t accurate. 

Research shows, in fact, that creative thinking does not belong to any particular side or area of the brain, but can “call up” multiple areas from either side of the brain. It really just depends on what kind of creative problem you might be solving. 

This means, of course, that if you’ve always identified yourself as a logical, left-brained person, you are no longer off the hook when creative problems arise. 

Time Constraints and Stress Hurt Creativity 

Constant deadlines, high-pressure work environments, never-ending urgent emails, and an unending to-do list have a bad effect on creativity. 

Studies show that working under pressure and looming deadlines results in higher anxiety and lowered creative processing. Though we all understand that anxiety thing from experience, we might not realize how time constraints can hinder our creative thinking. 

We actually can come up with ideas or solutions or whatever is needed; it’s a survival response. But while we think we are being creative, what we are actually doing is pumping out mediocre responses in hopes of avoiding the perceived danger of missing that deadline. 

Not Working Really Helps Creative Work 

Taking breaks. Taking a nap or taking a walk. Grabbing a quick coffee and a chat. All of these things don’t look like creative work. They look like the opposite of work. But what they produce in the brain - dopamine - leads to an increase in creativity. 

According to recent research in the field of neuroscience, the more dopamine we have in our brain, the higher our creative drive becomes. So doing those things that release dopamine, like staring out the window at a beautiful sky, fitting in some exercise, or distracting yourself with a pleasant break, do help us in our creative work. It just doesn’t become obvious until the dopamine-inducing activity is over and we settle back into work, feeling strangely refreshed and full of ideas. 

How to Use the Science in Your Life 

How can the science help you to increase your own creativity or encourage creativity in your team? Here are three ways. 

1. Don’t dismiss analytical thinkers as “uncreative” people. 
Subscribing to the left-brain/right-brain stereotype might lead you to doubt your own creative ability, or to cut off creative input from team members who don’t fit a certain creative profile. Retrain yourself to be open to creative input from anyone, because there really is no personality type when it comes to creativity. 

2. Set soft deadlines on projects and assignments. 
A soft deadline gives you a time buffer, which is not only useful in case a genuine emergency does arise, but is also extremely helpful for creativity. Even when you are acting as if your soft deadline is the real thing, your brain knows it’s a front. This knowledge lets you relax and settle into creativity instead of tightening up under a deadline that is real and much too soon. 

3. Use a timer method for working and breaks. 
The Pomorodo technique, a popular timer method, is based on doing 25-minute work sessions followed by short (5 or 10 minute) breaks. Do focused work, then take a break. Repeat as needed for a workday routine that allows you to get stuff done while also giving your brain much-needed rest time. Use your breaks wisely (think relaxation and happiness, not cramming in another to-do or listening to people complain) and you can see those work sessions get more creative. 


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See also:

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The beginning of a new year is a great time for resolutions. Better than resolutions, however, are simple but specific changes you can make right now that will help you make this a more productive year. 


1. Think small, not big. 
We like to talk about big goals and big dreams. That’s not a bad thing, but when we only look at the big picture, we can miss out on the small actions that we need to take on a daily basis. 

You can work up your energy and motivation, and make a few great big leaps forward. However, it’s far more effective to cultivate the habit of small but consistent progress. 

Think of making regular bits of progress rather than huge surges toward your goal. You can’t maintain the focus and energy required for those all-out effort. You can, however, maintain a tiny, daily habit or a weekly step forward. Break big goals into smaller goals, and then into tiny actions that you build into your daily routine. 

2. Limit your to-do list. 
An overgrown to-do list requires you to spend your valuable time sorting, prioritizing, and shuffling tasks instead of getting important work done. 

It’s okay to admit your limits. The sooner you do, the sooner you can start completing tasks instead of simply moving and managing tasks. 

Limit your daily list to one to three important tasks that you must complete. You will gain immediate clarity. You know what you’re supposed to do, and you can focus on it and let other things fade out. There will always be unplanned tasks and questions that come up in your day. You will have to handle those, but then you can go right back to the important tasks on your list without any hesitation. 

3. Use your calendar, planner, and/or task management system daily. 
Your system can only help you if you use it regularly. All those task lists, scheduled events, meetings, ongoing team projects, work communications and updates should stay in your system, not in your head. 

Multiple daily check-ins allow you to see, review, and upd ate what you need to without giving yourself those mental burdens. Make it a ritual for morning, noon, and night. Let your system do to remembering, organizing and reminding, and free your brain to do the work. 

4. Set up a system for your recurring tasks. 
Whether it’s planning out work schedules or assigning project responsibilities or creating content, every time you complete a recurring task you go through the same steps, and usually in the same order. 

A simple system enables you to get through the task faster and ensures that you don’t miss any important steps. Your system might be as simple as a checklist, or it might be more complex and involve supplies, a schedule, or written steps that remind you what to do and how to do it. 
Bonus: once you systematize a task or event, you can easily train someone else to take it on. 

5. Choose your interruptions. 
We think of interruptions as things we can’t control: invasive people, important phone calls, unavoidable requests. It’s the daily deluge of the urgent, and most of us just handle it as best we can and try to get our work done at the same time. 

Change that, this year, by spending 15 minutes thinking about which interruptions are valid and worthwhile. An important phone call from your boss or client might be a priority no matter what else you have going on; but a schedule change, a product review, or a client email might not. You have to decide, and once you do, put those valid interruptions on a list and keep it in plain sight. 

When the interruptions come, and they will, check them with the list. If an interruption is not on the list, remember that you have opted out of it; all that is left is to convey that message, kindly but clearly, to the source of the interruption. That may mean closing your door, turning off notifications, moving to a quiet space away from other people, excusing yourself from a conversation, or asking to schedule a phone call for a later time. 

When you take control of your interruptions, you also take control of your productivity. Make the simple changes now that will allow you to be at your most productive this year. 

Bitrix24 is free collaboration software suite . Use promocode TIP10 when registering your free Bitrix24 account to get extra 10GB 

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Remote staff benefit fr om the flexibility and self-direction they have in their jobs; but they can also be at a distinct disadvantage if they feel disconnected. 

It’s important to make sure that your remote workers are not only equipped, but engaged and aware, fully part of the team. 

1. Hold regular team meetings with all staff. 

A regular meeting offers all the staff, both on-location and remote, a chance to stay connected with each other and with the team leader. If you want your team to work together well, this is not an optional exercise. Use the time to review goals, explain areas of focus, set agendas and timelines, get input and reports, and discuss any issues or ideas. 

Choose a regular time: weekly, bimonthly, or monthly could work. Set it as a recurring event so that everyone can put it on their calendars. 

Limit the meeting time: there’s nothing wrong with a bit of socializing (in fact, that’s kind of the point) but if you let the meeting eat up more than 60 - 90 minutes, people will start to resent the loss of valuable work time. Respect everyone’s time by setting a clear starting and ending point, and sticking to them. 

2. Set up virtual break rooms and command centers. 

What remote staff tend to miss out on are the “unofficial” interactions that take place, daily, in an office environment. Help them find a meaningful way to interact by setting up a virtual “break room,” such as an instant message service used by all team members. 

This kind of virtual social interaction keeps people in-house and away able to instantly communicate with the same ease that one cubicle mate can speak to another. 

Having a designated virtual “command center” is important as well, so that all team members know wh ere to go to find messages, important updates, needed documentation, calendar changes, and so on. You can set up separate messaging groups and command centers for separate teams, if needed, and have one central command center for all workers to find general work information important to everyone in the company. 

3. Check in with your remote workers just to check in. 

It’s easy for managers to neglect remote workers except when they need to give instructions, get reports, or otherwise “do work.” Yes, of course, work is the point. But good relationships make work better and more meaningful. 

Make it a habit, as a team leader, to touch base with your remote team members now and then… for no particular reason. Just say Hi. Check in. Ask how things are going. Give them a chance to ask questions, share ideas, or just get to know you better. 

Casual conversation gives you a chance to get to know your remote staff and goes a long way toward building trust and loyalty. If you don’t do it deliberately, however, it won’t happen. There are no ‘chance meetings in the hallway’ with remote workers, so be intentional about those small, open-ended conversations. 

4. Keep remote workers in the loop. 

If you’re working entirely with remote staff, you are probably in the habit of communicating via digital means. But if you have some in-house staff and some remote staff, watch out for the error of keeping some people informed and not others. If you make an announcement on-location, be sure the same announcement goes out (preferably very close to the same time) digitally to your remote staff. 

New happenings, staff additions, upcoming changes, promotions, and so on are all great information that people working in-house will pick up without even trying, while remote staff can completely miss them. Though the company news may not directly impact your remote workers, not knowing can definitely impact how connected and invested they feel in their work. 

If there is a lot of company news on a regular basis, put together a regular internal newsletter to keep everyone informed. 

5. Mandate occasional on-location times. 

If possible, designate occasional times for your remote staff to come to your office. If there is no “office” and everybody works remotely, then plan an occasional conference or retreat for all staff members. 

Camaraderie happens, of course, even in digital environments; anyone who’s ever met their mate through an online dating service can tell you that. But having face-to-face time builds a level of trust, understanding, and cooperativeness that makes team unity even stronger. 

Aim for at least an annual time together, and see the benefits carry out into the continued digital - but real - daily connection you have with your remote staff. 

Bitrix24 is free collaboration software suite . Use promocode TIP10 when registering your free Bitrix24 account to get extra 10GB 

See also:

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Holidays bring a general air of festivity and a whole list of traditions, fr om office parties to tree-trimming to gift exchanges, fundraisers, and community service opportunities. Then there are more vacation days than usual, plus, for many businesses, a huge rush in work orders and customer service needs. All the festivity can cause a lot of disruption to work getting done.

You don’t want to be a Scrooge, but none of us can afford to be unproductive for weeks even for the holidays. Try these tips to stay festive and stay productive.

1. Stick to your daily routines as much as possible.

When our schedules change, we tend to react to those changes by changing our routines. Sometimes that’s appropriate, but often those routines can help us find our place even in the midst of chaos. When you find your daily schedule getting crowded or interrupted, do your best to stick to your routines, even if you have to adjust them a bit.

The beauty of a good routine is that it doesn’t have to be time-dependent; even if you get a later start or an earlier cut-off time, simply go through your routine at an adjusted time. Shorten it, if needed, or eliminate parts of it, but stick to your basic structure. Keeping your routine in place will help you to get your mind in the work-groove and find your place of productivity.

2. Set a distinct focus and clear goals for the month.

You’ll have to deal with the chaos and change in your schedule during the weeks around Christmas and New Year’s. Plan to do so by giving yourself a very clear focus for work.

You can’t do it all at anytime, and when there’s upheaval due to holiday parties and travel plans it’s even more important to be realistic. Make it easier on yourself to get right back to work by setting realistic and measurable goals. Be specific about what you want to accomplish during this month, so you know what to focus on during work time and can make the most of those hours.

3. Choose the holiday traditions you love; skip the rest.

An abundance of holiday traditions does not mean that you have to participate in all of them. Choose the traditions that you love, the ones that mean something to you. Let the rest go.

You can love the holidays and participate in some festivities, but there’s no reason you have to participate in everything. By making deliberate choices about the traditions you will be part of, you help yourself to make the deliberate choice to focus on work during other times.

4. Have an alternative ready for invitations.

When you’re approached during your work hours with an offer for some sort of holiday festivity, extra break, or treat, have a statement at the ready with an off-work alternative.

The idea isn’t to avoid holiday fun, but to maintain productivity while also taking part in the holidays. So instead of agreeing to an in-office event that will eat up your work hours, make another offer. Say something like, “No thanks, I’m not going to take a break right now, but I’d love to do something after work.”

5. Take care of yourself.

With all the extra food, treats, parties, and festive occasions, it’s easy to let self-care slide. You’ll exercise later, you tell yourself. You’ll catch up on sleep later.

But failing to take care of your basic physical needs, while also expecting your body to handle all that extra fat and sugar and alcohol, is going to slow you down. Get your time in at the gym, and get that sleep you need. Drink plenty of water and eat well whenever you can. Your body will have more energy, your mind will be sharper, and you’ll get more done.

6. Leave yourself clear directions.

Because the holiday season does offer more disruptions and distractions, it’s important to leave yourself clear notes on what you’re doing and where you need to pick up when you get back to work.

Leave yourself detailed notes on open projects. Ins ert all the important information in to your task list. Send yourself emails or voicemails with clear directions on wh ere to pick up work and to remind yourself of what the current priorities are. That sort of “breadcrumb trail” will make it simple and easy for you to jump right back in to work without missing a beat.

7. Party when it’s party time.

Spend your work time on work, but when it’s time to enjoy the holidays, do so without guilt. Our minds need a break from thinking about work, and we come back more productive after a break. Do your best to be effective and productive during work time, but once the holiday party or family festivity begins, join right in and enjoy the time.

Bitrix24 is free collaboration software suite . Use promocode TIP10 when registering your free Bitrix24 account to get extra 10GB

See also:

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PHP Groupware
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