If you weren’t already using a range of digital communication tools at the start of 2020, you sure will be now. The Covid-19 pandemic led to lockdowns around the world, an acceleration in home working and a desperate scramble by businesses to find the best ways to keep in contact with employees, collaborators and clients alike.
But what are the best digital communication methods and what have we learnt about how to use them effectively? We’ll explore that in this article and let you know which business apps you should download and explore to make working from home a more streamlined and effective enterprise.
What Happened to Digital Communication During Covid-19?
Digital communication went BIG in 2020. A study by the University of Zurich in Switzerland looked into changes in the way America consumed digital communication in April 2020, with 43% of respondents admitting to texting more, 36% saying they made more voice calls, 35% using more social media and 30% increasing their use of video calls.
Cloud communications firm Twilio crunched the numbers and found the pandemic had forced a faster take-up of communication apps around the world. Companies in the UK had accelerated their digital communications strategy by 5.3 years! More than three-quarters of UK enterprises increased their digital budget, with a third of those doing so “dramatically”.
The twin challenges of keeping a team running in unison as well as maintaining an excellent level of service to customers have certainly taxed business owners throughout the pandemic, but the solutions they have found are well and truly here to stay.
What Small Businesses Learnt About Digital Communication Tools During Covid-19
If you are used to seeing your small team regularly in person, or you spend your life on the road attending face-to-face meetings, you might not have used that many digital communication tools before. 2020 changed all that!
Here are some of the big game-changers from the coronavirus lockdown and what we learnt about harnessing their power to drive small businesses forwards.
Zoom and Other Video Calling Tools
Video conferencing app Zoom may well have had the best lockdown imaginable. Despite so much competition in the field, it is the brand that seems to be talked about the most. When you become a verb – “to Zoom someone” – you know you are onto a winner. In fact, many people use the word ‘zoom’ to mean any kind of video call now, and that can only be a positive for that company.
In order to keep in contact with colleagues and network with clients, video conferencing boomed. Zoom saw its daily users jump from 10 million in December 2019 to more than 300 million by the end of April 2020. Microsoft Teams went from 75 million daily users in April 2020 to 115 million in October 2020.
Here are some tips for video conferencing we have learnt during the pandemic:
- Utilise the waiting room feature when hosting a call. This helps you vet who is joining. It also allows you to acknowledge an attendee and show them that the meeting is about to take place, even if you are not quite ready to talk to them yet.
- Turn video off and mute the microphone by default. This gives you time to assess the meeting and ensure everything is ready before you go live. You don’t want people to catch you fiddling about with cables and leads etc.
- Be wary of distractions. Make sure your background is as plain as possible to help other users concentrate on what you are saying, rather than on the contents of your room.
Embrace Productivity Apps for Maximum Digital Communication
Productivity apps are useful tools when you all work in the same space, but they really come into their own when you are working remotely. Programs like Slack, Trello and Asana allow you to collaborate, set action points and keep track of the progress of projects. Everyone has access to the areas they need to know about and they keep people focused on the job at hand.
In small businesses in normal times, where people work in the same space, you can get by using emails and spreadsheets to run projects if you really must. But working remotely offers different challenges and this is where cloud-based apps come into their own.
They ensure everyone is working on the latest version of the document. With an Excel document, you have to save and send it to your collaborator. All it takes is someone to miss an email and you could throw the whole process into disarray. With Google apps such as Docs and Sheets, you can all hop into the file at the same time, leaving comments, making edits and offering suggestions that instantly update to all users.
If you have not been using these tools previously, it is likely that you will take these new processes forward, even when we are all allowed back into the office.
Here are some productivity app pointers that many of us learnt in lockdown:
- Always be professional when leaving comments on productivity app documents and projects. Not only does accurate and precise wording avoid any vagueness about the action points, you also avoid any embarrassing moments if clients have access to the doc too.
- Check your app at set times or once you reach certain milestones, like when finishing a blog. It is tempting to keep an eye on developments as they change, but it is also important to concentrate on the task at hand without distractions.
- Customise your notifications. As an extension of the previous point – you don’t need to know everything as it happens. Keep notifications for anything urgent and business critical, but switch them off for functional updates. You can catch up on those when you check in later.
Social Media Tools
With social media use on the rise across the generations thanks to people having more downtime, it has never been more important to leverage your online presence. At the start of the first lockdown in the UK, for example, Instagram saw an increase of 22% in terms of impressions on sponsored content from the previous month. Thankfully, there are a host of amazing social media tools that you can employ as part of your digital communication strategy.
From design apps such as Canva to scheduling programs like Buffer, you can create engaging and effective content and deliver it to your audience when they are most likely to be online. You don’t have to remember to post it at a certain time or take time out of each day to think of new content. Simply, set aside a few hours to craft a number of great posts that you can then schedule for the week ahead.
Here is some social media advice based on what we have learnt from lockdown:
- Check your analytics to see when your followers are scrolling, either in the dedicated app or on one of your social media tools. One result of lockdown is that people use social media during working hours far more than they used to. If you are still working on a pre-Covid schedule, you might be missing out.
- Research shows people are using social media to find updates and news. Amongst your content, make sure you keep followers informed about what you do, how it is different during the pandemic and how you will meet their needs.
- Be relatable. Every single person has been affected by Covid-19 in some way, it would be strange not to mention it. Tell your story, show your human side and you will engage followers.
There are so many great digital communication tools to help your business. Even if you have only just started using them in lockdown, you can still take advantage of the time and cost-saving benefits beyond the pandemic. Necessity may have sped up our adoption of these tools, but they will transform small businesses from now on in a truly positive way. We have all had to adjust to new ways of working, and the willingness to learn and adjust will stand you in good stead for the future.
Check out our guide to 60 digital tools to supercharge your business and make sure you sign up to our mailing list to gain access to a whole host of fantastic business resources.
The perfect time to get organised is at the beginning of the year for maximum productivity. Now is a better time than any to re-evaluate and make a fresh start, put new processes in place and set you yourself up for a leaner and more efficient new year. With UK offices losing a million hours a week as workers hunt for misplaced documents, according to a report by office product firm Fellowes, allowing yourself the time to get organised can save you money, time and a great deal of frustration too. That is why we present this guide on how to get your small business organised for a productive year ahead.
If you run a small business, this is invaluable information. Particularly if you are working from home and trying to juggle home life with your new enterprise.
Why is it Important to Get Organised?
When you run your own business, any time that you waste through disorganisation eats into your bottom line. If there is just you, or you have a small team, you cannot afford to lose time during the day, particularly if it is avoidable.
The Fellowes research found that hunting for lost documents hit the profits of businesses in the UK by a mighty £20 million per year. But, with a fifth of workers admitting they have documents dating back more than five years on their desk, you can see why.
Organisation also helps your mental state. When you know where everything should be and can rely on the fact that it will be there when you look for it, it can be extremely calming. This goes for home life as well as work life. Clutter adds to feelings of stress and anxiety.
If your diary or contacts list is disorganised, you can miss meetings and other important appointments. This can lose you vital opportunities in business and can really hack off your friends in your personal life too. All of these are major reasons why you should get organised.
How to Get Organised
The first thing to do on your quest towards organisation is to declutter. Clear your desk of mess and you will find it a more pleasant place to work. Some people use the excuse that they want everything close at hand for the clutter that takes over their workspace, but with the correct systems in place, you will be able to find them within seconds, without having them take up valuable space in your eyeline whilst you work.
For help decluttering, download our FREE office declutter guide and checklist in the Resources Portal.
Decluttering works as a great first step when organising your home too. In the words of designer William Morris:
Sort Your Filing System
Sorting your filing system may seem like a daunting task at first, but once it is up and running, it will help make your business run so much more efficiently. Use the cold, dark January days to knuckle down to this task. It’s not like you would be spending much time out and about anyway, is it?
You can look at fine-tuning both physical and digital filing systems so that everything you need is within easy reach. For digital documents, create a naming convention that is intuitive for you and the type of work you do. Whether it begins with the date, the topic, the client or anything else, really give some consideration to how you can most easily find the files you need in a hurry.
You should also look at managing your email inbox too. Create folders to group together important messages on certain subjects or projects. You can set up automations to perform this task for you and to filter out important communication that requires instant action from informal chats that can wait until you have a spare five minutes.
Automate as Much as You Can
On the theme of automation, there is so much that you can automate. There are simple but effective processes to revolutionise your invoicing, for example. These systems send automated reminders for late payers, meaning you don’t have to waste time chasing clients up. You can also automate expenses by scanning receipts on your phone, schedule blogs and social posts and so many of the processes you undertake every day and which take up time.
Use a Productivity Tool to Get Organised
It is possible to keep track of projects using email and Excel, but there are powerful productivity tools out there to help you really get organised at work and home. Apps like Asana help you manage your team and any freelancers you utilise, breaking down your projects into individual tasks that you can distribute to the relevant parties.
All of those involved can keep track of what they need to do and when they need to do it by. You can take an overview of the whole project, receiving notifications at every step. Asana also uses automation technology to assign tasks when previous jobs are complete.
There are a number of other tools such as Trello and Google Keep that you can implement into your business to collaborate with others on important tasks.
Hire a Virtual Assistant to Help you Get Organised
A virtual assistant helps you get organised at work. Supportal Business Services provides a wide range of different specialities to take on the tasks that bog you down and take up your time and concentration. We can help get your filing system up and running, manage your email inbox, run your blog, turn your social media into a selling machine, revamp your website and everything in between. This frees you up to drive your business forward.
We can also take on tasks that help your home life too. If you need birthday reminders, travel arrangements or general lifestyle support, we are more than happy to take on the responsibility.
Organisation is so important to the smooth running of your business, as well as your mental health. Putting in some effort during January to get organised will pay off multiple times over as you enjoy a more streamlined way of working and living. If this still seems like a daunting task, remember that you don’t have to go at it alone. Even if you know how to get organised you may want some help and Supportal is there to provide that assistance. Just one of the many key benefits of outsourcing to a virtual assistant.
Book in a free consultation to discuss your individual needs and to find out how we can help.
Of the 500 million daily Instagram users, around 250 million follow at least one business. In addition, 130 million of those tap on at least one tagged product to discover more details about it. This is what makes Instagram, and in particular the Instagram Shopping feature, a key aspect for the sales strategies of businesses both big and small.
If you want a piece of the Instagram Shopping action, keep reading to find out what Instagram Shopping is, how to set it up, why you should set it up and how best to display your products to your potential customers.
What is Instagram Shopping?
The Instagram Shopping feature allows you to tag your products in your posts and stories, as well as making them available for customers to find them through the app’s search function too. Once a customer sees a tag on a product they like, they can click through to see an image of the item, a description, the price and a link to your website so they can buy it.
Rather than you showcasing a product in a post or story, and then driving customers back to your profile to find the link to your website, from where they will have to search for the exact item, Instagram Shopping takes them exactly where they need to go. It cuts out a number of steps and increases the chances that they will make that purchase.
Instagram Shopping: How to Set it Up
When it comes to taking advantage of Instagram Shopping, how to set it up is the first thing you need to know. Instagram has some strict rules about who can and can’t get involved, in an attempt to ensure only legitimate brands can advertise through the feature.
In order to work out if you are eligible for Instagram Shopping, here are some of the stipulations:
- You must be in one of the many approved countries. Thankfully, the UK is one of these.
- Your profile needs to associate with a Facebook catalogue for your goods. You can set this up through your business page or on Facebook Business Manager.
- You should mainly sell physical products.
- Your Insta account must be a business account.
- Accounts with age or country restrictions are not permitted.
If you match all of these factors, the next step on how to set up Instagram Shopping involves submitting your account for review by Instagram. This might take a couple of days to process, but you will soon have your answer and, hopefully, be ready to get going.
How to Add Instagram Shopping Tags
People can see all your products at your Instagram Shop, where you display them all in one place. But you can also send people through to the shop by adding Instagram shopping tags. These show up on your posts, signified by a shopping bag icon in the corner of the image. When a customer taps such a photo, a pop-up appears by each product which shows the prices of the item and creates a direct link from your post to the product page on your shop.
There is a limit of five Instagram Shopping tags on a single image and up to twenty on a carousel post. To add Instagram Shopping Tags, you simply:
- Upload your image.
- Adjust the filters, location data, hashtags and caption.
- Once you land on the Share screen, tap the option to ‘Tag Products’
- Enter the product name in the search box and select the correct product to tag.
- When you are finished tagging, hit ‘Done’ and share the post to your Instagram profile.
If you want to add Instagram Shopping Tags to your stories, add your image or video and then hit the ‘Stickers’ button and add the ‘Product’ sticker. Add the correct product from the choice in your catalogue and move it to the position you would like it in the story.
Benefits of Instagram Shopping For Business
There are a host of great benefits of using Instagram Shopping for business. The convenience it brings your customers is key. As Insta becomes more and more popular, it is attracting users from Facebook and Twitter. However, it has not traditionally been a good app for sharing links. Whereas Facebook and Twitter posts can send users to exactly the right page, the only link you could add in Insta before the Instagram Shopping feature was a single link in your bio. This was no good if you wanted to showcase a range of products.
Now customers can see your goods in action and discover exactly where to buy them in seconds. The amount of custom you could lose when you expect users to travel to your bio, to your website, to your search facility and finally to the product is potentially huge. Instagram Shopping makes it simpler and, therefore, converts better for you.
The feature allows you to show off your products in a natural, non-pushy way. Instagram posts show customers how your products work and look when in use as part of the flow of their feed, rather than sticking out as being too commercial. This feels much less of a hard sell than taking out a traditional advert, which many will appreciate.
Instagram Shopping also helps with influencer marketing. Rather than using influencers in your sphere simply for brand recognition, you can have the influencer provide a direct link to your product and drive sales directly.
If you want help setting up Instagram Shopping and building your brand on the most exciting of all the social networks, book in a free 20-minute consultation
The Covid-19 pandemic has been disastrous for thousands of small businesses across the UK. With entrepreneurs having to close their shop doors and shut down their offices for a second lockdown, the future is looking uncertain, to say the least. However, there are some steps you can take to try and offset some losses and you can even find out how to grow your small business in the midst of the gloom. Keep reading to find out more.
Yes, it is true that face-to-face transactions are taking a massive hit. If you own a physical shop, rely on pitch meetings to bring in work, run in-person classes and so on, that is out of the question during the coronavirus lockdown. But there may still be opportunities to build your small business.
First, let’s start with a trick to help stem a leaky cash flow.
Offer Credit Instead of Refunds
Whether people have bought physical items from you or booked an experience that can’t now happen, the sad fact is that some customers will want refunds. That’s well within their rights, but it can seem scary to you when you have bills going out but nothing coming in.
One option is to offer customers credit as an alternative to refunds. If you give them the choice, you will find that many choose this option. It means the money stays in your business and the customer simply takes a different product that they are happy with or they come back when all this is over to take part in their experience. You don’t earn any more, but you keep that customer, you can make them happy and they may well provide you with return business in the future. You also keep hold of their money.
Some will still take the refund, but it is worth seeing if they are interested in taking credit instead.
Sell Gift Vouchers
Even if you can’t provide your regular goods or services, that doesn’t mean you can’t sell them. By selling gift vouchers, you earn the cash now with the promise to complete the transaction later. This brings money in at a time when you need it most.
There is a growing movement to support small business and buying gift vouchers serves a dual purpose for those who are part of it. Firstly, they help you to grow your small business in a crisis, and secondly, giving a voucher as a Christmas present allows the recipient to choose their own gift post-coronavirus, meaning they get something they will definitely like.
Organise an Online Shopping Event
2020 has been the year of the curated online shopping event. From online vintage fairs to craft marketplaces to luxury shopping experiences, the concept is basically the same. Sellers get together, post their goods on their socials between designated times using the same hashtag, and support each other by sharing other vendors’ posts. For the user following the tag, it is almost like wandering through a real marketplace and browsing the stalls.
Get together with a few other people in your niche or in a similar field and combine the power of your social media to promote the event in advance, build up excitement and then launch it. You need to agree on a hashtag or set of hashtags and it is often useful to have some consistency through the images everyone uses. Perhaps using a frame or template that anyone can easily edit. Canva is particularly good for this kind of task.
Improve Your Website
Many small businesses found themselves caught out by the initial lockdown. They were the businesses who didn’t have their online presence up to scratch. Being searchable is evermore important anyway, but especially so when you find yourself unable to trade from your physical location.
If you are wondering how to grow your small business while you wait for normality to return, tackling your website is the perfect start. The content should be Google-friendly, allowing anyone searching for what you have to offer to find you high up the rankings. Adding SEO-focused blogs offers a wider array of text for the search engines to analyse, and can position you as an authority in your sector.
You could build an eCommerce shop to allow your customers to purchase items 24 hours a day from the comfort of their self-isolation. In addition, make sure that the navigation of the website works smoothly and that it looks on point.
If you don’t have the skills for these tasks, you can outsource to a virtual assistant. We can look after the content for your website and blog, create your online shop and sort out your website design. The benefits of an optimised website in bringing in new custom are huge.
Concentrate on Social Media
If you can’t talk to your target audience in person, make sure you do so on social media. Lockdown is the time to truly overhaul your socials and build your small business presence.
Networks like Instagram and Twitter are great for interacting and engaging with current fans and enticing in new customers. People are scrolling on their phones more than ever, with far fewer other distractions to stop them. This is your opportunity to snare them in and direct them to your online shop.
You need to optimise your feed. For example, you might want to use an Instagram theme that looks stunning when people land on your profile. Add to that stunning visuals and text that hooks people in and compels them to click where you want them, and you can really take advantage of these powerful sites.
There is a big support local business campaign on social media, so get out there and capture them. If you need help, we can look after your socials and make them sing!
Now You Know How to Grow Your Small Business During Covid…
Follow these tips and you can really grow your small business during the Covid-19 lockdown. We are here if you need help and we would love to hear how you get on facing one of the biggest small business challenges of all time.
Please Note: Affiliate links are included in this post
It is not unusual to have some concerns if you have never worked with a VA before, but there is no need to worry. When you outsource, you can enlist the help of someone who can free up your time, fill your skill gaps and generally make your life easier. We have compiled a list of six common fears before you outsource to a virtual assistant, along with the reasons why you do not need to worry.
Maybe you have experienced one or more of these fears when considering things to outsource to a virtual assistant. If so, we hope you will change your mind by the end of this article and start a beneficial relationship with a VA soon. Honestly, there are so many reasons to outsource, you will never look back!
Can They Perform the Tasks as Well As I Can?
Professional VAs are trained in a range of skills that are beneficial to your company. They bring a wealth of experience from their previous work to your tasks and carry them out to a high standard. If you are concerned about them not performing duties in the way you would like, mention this at the initial meeting with your VA. They will take the time to understand the way you do business.
Discuss which tasks they will take on and any business-specific ways of working you would like them to adhere to. One of a VA’s skills is to adapt to each client and carry out their tasks as if they were a permanent member of staff, tied to that brand.
If you are on the same page when it comes to which tasks to outsource to a virtual assistant and how you want them completed, the VA will ensure they meet and often surpass your expectations.
The chances are that you will not be an expert at every aspect of running a business so, if you don’t want to trust anyone else with a certain duty, keep hold of that for yourself and charge your VA with performing the roles that don’t fit your skillset as neatly. After all, it is all about teamwork and playing to your strengths.
How Can A VA Be an Expert At So Many Different Tasks?
When you see the sheer number of potential tasks to outsource to a virtual assistant listed on their website, you might be concerned and wonder if they are a “jack of all trades, master of none”. But a good VA surrounds themselves with experts in a range of fields that they can call on when needed.
They may have a content expert, a social media whizz or a graphic designer, amongst many others, available to carry out their relevant jobs to provide you with the most rounded and full service possible. When you outsource to a virtual assistant, they bring access to all manner of skills that you might not currently have at your disposal. That has to be great for your business, right?
Will it Be Expensive?
Right, we do need to talk about money. Indeed, a VA will probably ask for a higher hourly rate than you would pay an employee. BUT…there are many ways in which outsourcing to a VA pays you back.
Firstly, it frees up your time to invest back into the business. You are the driving force and the more you can concentrate on building your company, the more profit you can make. Secondly, you don’t have any of the associated costs of employing someone.
A VA works remotely so pays for their computer, internet connection, heating, light, electricity, tea and coffee. You don’t have to invest in larger premises, provide benefits, sort out tax, pensions and NI, advertise and interview for their role or pay them sick or holiday pay. All in all, you save money, time and hassle in the long run by hiring a VA.
To give you an idea of the expenses that you save, the Association of Professional Virtual Assistants (APVA) found in a recent survey that “a VA working 30 hours per week and charging £25 per hour was potentially only ‘taking home’ £18.03 of that hourly rate, as the rest needed to be set aside to cover essential ‘business necessities’”.
Will They Take a Lot of Training and Supervision?
Of course, you will need to spend some time onboarding your VA, but a good virtual assistant can hit the ground running and almost instantly make your life easier. This is a key attribute of a VA, once they know how you like to work, they can blend seamlessly into the business and complete their tasks without fuss.
If you find you have to supervise them more than you had hoped, the chances are that they are not the VA for you. Check reviews and testimonials before you hire a VA to make sure you are working with one of the vast majority of efficient and professional assistants. Also, make sure that they belong to a trade body, such as the APVA. We are proud to be an approved member.
Will I Have to Give Out Confidential Information?
When you have tasks to outsource to a virtual assistant, occasionally they will include private and confidential information, such as your passwords and sensitive data. Whilst this can be a worry initially, ensuring you have a confidentiality clause in the contract is key to easing these fears. No legitimate VA will breach your privacy and betray your trust, but having that legal backing adds an extra layer of confidence for you.
There are programs available to allow you to provide access to sites and accounts, without revealing the actual passwords. We use LastPass with our clients, which works perfectly. The business support site KoffeeKlatch endorses these kinds of programs, referring to them as “a robust and resilient system that you can control.”
How Do I Know They’re Working Efficiently?
Letting a virtual assistant get on with your tasks remotely may seem like a leap of faith, but it needn’t be. You can keep tabs on their work progress using all manner of productivity tools. Programs like Monday, Asana and Basecamp are all designed to keep you up to date on where your projects are and you can use them to set deadlines and check that the VA is sticking to them.
Many virtual assistants also use a timer app to show how long they took to perform their tasks. You might pick a program such as Toggl or Clockify to designate projects and apportion time to them for your VA.
Ready to Outsource to a Virtual Assistant?
If you are ready to outsource to a virtual assistant then contact us for a free consultation. We can tell you more about the wonders of working with a VA and how we can save you time, stress and money. Let’s chat today.