Posts Tagged ‘distractions’
This can be far from ideal, and I often find myself sandwiched between Alison from accounts and Malcolm in Marketing (*names changed to protect the innocent).
Now whilst it can be good to rub shoulders with other people (saves going stir crazy at home), one of the problems that a busy freelancer can face is the distraction of office talk. Who is going out with whom, what happened at last night’s party, and what happened in the program that was on TV last night.
All of this can be very distracting when you are desperate to complete a project and get the invoices raised.
One solution of course is to plug in some headphones and code/write/design to the sounds of your favourite tunes. But sometimes concentration is required, so having the Spice Girls tell you what they really (really) want can be equally off-putting.
Sounds of Nature
So let me suggest to you, the sounds of nature. Rather than having 9-inch nails, Nirvana or Girls Aloud screaming at you, why not drift away with natures ‘white noise’.
As I type this, my ears are filled with the pleasant sound of surf on a tropical beach. There are birds in the distance, the sound of the breeze stirring trees– it’s all nice. It is calming, soothing, blocks the sounds around me, and best of all, it does not distract from what I am doing.
It’s a perfect solution. And you don’t have to stick with the sound of waves. Rain (with thunder) is great, as are the wild animals of Africa or crickets in the grass – there is lots of choice.
Give it a try – for FREE
Want to give it a try? Well I am providing you with two 20 minute tracks for free (from a copyright free source) – one track of the surf and one track of the rain – both are very good. Download the free natural audio tracks here. (zip file containing media files – about 57mb)
Going One Step Further
If like me, you find that your concentration levels go up when listening to the sounds of nature, than I would also direct you to a site which offers very high quality and very good nature sound collections (reasonably priced). Listening Earth is an Australian small business formed by a Husband and Wife team, who travel the earth recording (and photographing) nature. Their downloadable CD collections are what I now listen to whilst working – they are very good.
And I am all for supporting interesting small companies such as these, regardless of what they do as a business, or where they are based. Recommended.
At the end of January, I carried out my companies year end. Using the small business accounting package (Freeagent), I was able to complete my year end accounts in less than an hour, and passed the figures to my accountant for sign off and submission. Job done! Then once everything was complete in my year end, I did some detailed year end analysis, looking for trends, costs which could be reduced, small profits which could be nurtured in the new financial year, and any other changes that I could make for the better.
Once my analysis was complete, I then did something which I have never done before – I fired 4 customers!
You see, by using the timesheet analysis in Freeagent and comparing the time spent on the customer against the revenue they had brought in, I worked out that these 4 customers were costing me money to support them. The effort of support, answering emails, quoting for new work (work which was never taken up) and other day to day maintenance did not meet the invoices I raised against them. Put it another way, each of these 4 customers was a drain on my company.
Worst than that though – not only were these 4 customers costing me money to support them, but they were actually taking up the most expensive commodity I had – time. Every moment that I spent on their maintenance, was hours and days which I could not spend on new or more profitable customers.
So one at a time, I called up the principle contact for each of the customers, and as I say, I fired them. In a nutshell, I said “Sorry to trouble you, but I have been going through our records and it appears we haven’t done any real business in the last year or so. It also appears we are spending a lot of time providing free maintenance for you in the way of emails and other support, so I regret that we have reached the point we need to terminate our relationship”. Yes, I know – fairly heartless right??
The effect of the conversations was as follows:
One customer got really upset. They was some name calling, they hung up on me, and I have never heard from them again.
The next two customers said they understood, they could see my point. They said that their finances did not allow for any new purchases, so there was nothing they could do. They asked for a hand over meeting (which I provided free of charge), and they were happy to call it a day.
The final customer of the four was shocked. He didn’t realise that his staff called on my company so much, and was very apologetic. He asked for a figure to provide the support to them for a year, and promptly raised a purchase order. They remain a customer – and I now get paid to answer their query emails, to raise quotes and attend meetings with them.
But the point is, by removing the non-profitable customers from my customer pool, my company has gained some 180 hours or so of extra time a year which can be directed to profitable customers and projects, with no impact on my balance sheet. Now you can say that maybe I should have held on to them until a new customer came along to replace them, but then where would the 180 hours come from to allow me to deal with the new customers?
I am also in the process of firing a pet personal project – a project which I spend a little time on yet doesn’t generate any revenue or return. It’s not easy because I have invested time, money and effort into this project, but it’s important not to get emotionally attached to customers or projects. If they are not working. Much better just to cut the ties and move onto something which is more fulfilling, responsive and ultimately profitable.
Don’t you think?
Emails are a bit like a virus; every day you get more and more of them, they sort of breed and multiply. Before you know it, your intray is full every day not only with work related emails, but also from those ‘useful’ notices from vendors that you may or may not have bought something from in the past, and now get regular emails with their special offers.
If you are anything like me, those emails can be annoying. Yes, it’s fairly easy to hit the delete key and remove them, but imagine how many deletes you have to press over time, how much time is wasted on the purging of those emails, and the wasted thought process of going through them every day.
As I move towards my annual ‘big holiday’, I move into what I call my email purge week. For one week, every time I get an email I actually stop to think about whether it adds value. If it doesn’t, I don’t just delete it, but I remove it for good. Either by using the ‘unsubscribe’ button at the end (if they have one), or replying with a ‘stop emailing me please’ email of my own, or finally, adding them to my black list so that the sending is blocked from the email address forever.
It is especially useful when you go abroad with a smart phone for checking on your business emails. You pay to receive emails, so there is nothing more annoying than paying the few pence/cents to download some sales spam from a frequent spammer telling you there is 10% off a product you purchased 5 years ago for your mother on her birthday.
When you return from Holiday or after the purge week, your email box will be a lot cleaner, and you will have more free time with dealing with real work rather than email weeding. Yes, the emails will build up again as you purchase more things on the internet, but that’s why I email purge every year.
Back in the dark old days of being a permi, one of the things that I used to hate, above all others, was office politics. Manager to worker, Manager to manager, customer to supplier, everywhere I looked political games were being played – and there was never ever any winners to this game – just people with different degrees of loosing.
So when I switched to being a contractor/freelancer, I thought I had left all of the politics behind. However, human nature being what it is, its so hard to avoid being dragged in to the game, with people asking my opinion, asking what I would do, how I would play a situation and so on.
However, I am really trying my hardest to avoid this game. It’s why I got out of being a permi in the first place. Thank you, but no thank you. If somebody wants to play office politics to get a better desk, a bigger office, a pay rise, a promotion, to see somebody fired, to see a company eat itself – well that’s up to them. As for me, well I am just a temp – for a day, for a contract, for a year – I am just a temp.
So I have no axes to grind, no plots to plan, no desires for a pay rise or a promotion because… because I am a temp, and it doesn’t effect me. When my contract is up, when the project is delivered, I am out of there.
I am doing my best to sing the mantra of ‘it doesn’t concern me’ as I go about my freelancing and contracting work. It means I can work on my business, on my project and move onto the next thing – but as I say, sometimes it’s just so hard to avoid the office politics game.
How do you deal with office politics?
A man who insists on walking up stream against the flow of water, will only realise his mistake once he is drown.
A list of old technology for you: Cassette tapes, floppy disks, modems, walkmans, arcade games, VHS tapes (and recorders), Black and White Televisions, pagers, fax machines, Visual Basic (v4, v5 or v6) and Compact Disks. Ok, so maybe CDs are not dead, but the time is coming when they will be a thing of memory.
As the news filtered down that the iPAD was selling at 3 every second, and apple are selling even more of the 4th generation of the iPhone, we can all imagine the land fill that will be created as everybody sells the iPhone 3’s for the new sleeker, sexier, faster iPhone. Change is a certainty, progress is optional.
As a fairly old freelancer, I have watched lots of technology come and go. All of it served its purpose at the time, but now none of it is used, and in time nobody will remember it. When change occurs, whatever the form, there will always be people who are scared because, well, change can be scary. Whether it’s the latest phone, a change in direction in your work life, a change in your personal situation, or a change of health. But change can sometimes be good.
As the old Chinese proverb teaches us, we can fight change all we want, but sometimes (more often than not) by the time you realise change is happening, it is too late to fight the change. Best go with the change, otherwise you will end up drowned.
But there is a third way. Rather than fight the change, or be swept along with the flow, the other option is simply to move out of the path, let it pass you by, and look for the solid ground where you can create your niche. In Freelancing, landing the customers is all about have a niece, where you stand out, excel and don’t try to fit in. If you are just another programmer, or writer, or marketing consultant, how can you be spotted amongst the throng?
Seth Godins always good at spotting the third way, so let me leave you with some of Seths thoughts on the iPAD revolution….
Steve Jobs reports today that Apple is selling an iPad every three seconds. This is a pretty urgent moment for my friends on the Kindle team….
…..You either become the best and only platform for consuming books worth buying or you fail. And the only way to create that footprint in the face of an iPad is to make it so cheap to buy and use it’s irresistible.
I saw a two-year old kid (in diapers, in a stroller), using an iPod Touch today. Not just looking at it, but browsing menus and interacting. This is a revolution, guys.
Let me run some names past you…… Hoover – what do you think of? Cleaning the floor? What about Frisbee? Are you thinking about playing catch in the park? How about a nice Coke? Ready for a drink? Kleenex? What do you think about? If I was to ask you to Google it – what would you do?
All of these are classic examples of products which are or were brand leaders, which we now view as the name for the generic product – regardless of the manufacturer. There are lots of Hoovers, even if they are manufactured by Dyson or Panasonic. A pepsi is viewed as a Coke. You can google things in Microsoft Bling, and Frisbee is no longer making Frisbees – a company in china is.
It’s important to be first – first is where the money is, where the recognition is, and where the returns of more sales over time are. When the original hoover came out, there was no competition, so everybody bought their hoover from… Hoover.
Now what has this to do with the iPhone App store? Well, when the app store was first introduced, lots of people reported making thousands and even millions from applications that people downloaded and paid for. Why? Well the app store was new, and the content was limited. But now, the app store has thousands upon thousands of applications covering every possible handheld application use. Think of a possible use, and there will be an application to cover it – and most of them are now free.
I know 5 or 6 people who are still gazing into the stars, and dreaming of the day when they place their iPhone app on the store, and it starts generating money for them. Yes, it may happen, but the people who got there first have already got the downloads, so their apps appear at the top of the list, and the new products are right at the bottom, not selling or at least not selling sufficient numbers to cover the cost of the initial development. The story is going to be the same with the iPAD – anybody thinking they will be developing the killer money making life changing app is going to be disappointed.
Being 1st with a new product, service or benefit is so important. But trying to do it via the iPhone app store is not the way to go.
You might have noticed that here in the UK, we are having this election thingy in a couple of weeks. The 3 main parties will be slugging it out at the ballot boxes, and the leaders of the 3 main parties are all trying to win us over with 3 television debates. So far, two of the three debates are over, and I am already bored of the whole election thing.
Twitter is full of tweets about how Gordon Brown is losing, or Nick Clegg is a surprise winner or David Cameron is shifty/strong – everybody has an view on who is the best leader. There is even talk about a hung parliament (no overall control, so all 3 parties have to slug it out on a daily basis for the next 3 or 4 years).
But you know what? In the end, it doesn’t really matter who wins. And it’s all a bit silly when you think about it. After all, who ever wins, whatever the result, we all loose.
For the last 2 years, the UK (and most of the developed world) has been spending money like it’s the end of the world – money that the countries just do not have to spend. Yes, they may (or may not) have reduced the impact of the recession, but now the spending time has to come to an end.
We are left with a debt so huge, it’s almost impossible to put it into terms. But let me try:
- In the UK, the national debt is more than the total borrowing of all previous UK governments in all of history combined (including when the country was run by the royals)
- The amount of debt is equal to 1.2million borrowed ever day since the birth of Christ
- The national debt equates to every man, women and child in the UK owing just under £50,000 each
- The interest payments on the national debt current stands at £75bill every year – we pay more on interest on the national debt than on policing, schools and defence combined
Clearly we can’t go on like this. If this was your own personal responsibility, your own bank account, you would not be going out and spending more money when you owed so much money – you would be sitting down, looking at your finances and working out where you could cut back on spending to pay the interest off.
Whoever wins, however they paint it, they will have to cut spending – public spending, private spending (through raised taxes and higher interest rates), and reduce costs. Therefore, there will be less money flowing in the economy, and at some point, this will hit small businesses.
Some people are asking the question of small business – what are you planning to do in the post recession world to springboard into more sales. I would ask a different question – as a small business owner, freelancer or contractor, what are you going to be doing to protect yourself from the hard times which are sure to hit us all in the next few months?
Things used to be so simple in Business. You had a product, you sold a product. You would have salesmen, they would produce flyers, this aided in the sales process. If you were really flash, you would possibly exhibit at an exhibition, or even advertise in magazines for your trade.
Things have moved on, thanks to the internet. Now there are more methods of marketing than you can shake a stick at. Everywhere you read of things you are supposed to do to market your company, your products, services and even yourself. Create a blog, do SEO, create business twitter accounts, adword links, email mailshots, create articles on web sites, participate in forum discussions, the list is never ending, is constantly growing, with everybody having a different idea on which is the most important.
But all of this detracts from the main thing – which is running your company, selling your products and services, and gaining customers. OK, people may say that in the modern world, you have to do all of the above to make sales and gain customers – but do you? Do you really?
I was listening to a radio show on BBC radio4 (the Bottom line) and one of the business people were talking about this very thing, and came up with the quote: The main thing, is to make sure that the main thing is the main thing
Think about it – it makes sense. Your main thing is your product, your service, your sales value. This is your main thing, and this is the thing that should consume the majority of your time. Anything else should just be the gap filler that you can do when you are not busy on your main thing. If you spend too much time on ‘other stuff’ then you just may find that your main thing is no longer what your business is about, or you don’t have a main thing to sell in the first place.