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Workaholics, It’s Time to Get a Life!

March 5th, 2009

While working hour upon hour may pay off where your bank account is concerned, it’s sure to wreak havoc on the rest of your life. Success is meaningless if it doesn’t touch all areas of your life. Who wants to be rich if it causes the rest of your life to be empty? Being a success isn’t only about being at the top of your game in your business life, it takes into account all areas of your life.

For workaholics, it’s a hard prospect to consider: taking a step back from their business lives. Often they feel that if they let go of any part of their work, they stand to lose everything previously gained. In reality, slowing down doesn’t mean giving up on achieving your business goals, it simply means finding ways to work smarter to give you balance in your life as a whole. It means getting your working (or shall we say “over-working”) habits under control and optimizing the time you do spend working in order to get more done in less time. The following are some tips that are sure to help you curb your workaholic tendencies:

Keep an agenda. Use it to schedule your day. Plan your work time, family time and whenever possible, schedule some time for R & R. Remember that overextending yourself is sure to result in burnout. The goal here is balance, not adding more hours to your day. Foregoing sleep is unlikely to make you more productive in the long run.

Allow yourself to forget about work for a while. For workaholics this step is easier said than done. Time with friends and family can become stressful when your mind is swimming with all the things to be done at the office. A conscious effort to forget work is needed to break this habit. Remember, someone that is distant and distracted does not make for a fun companion and will likely damage their relationships.

Learn to delegate. Studies show that successful individuals are not those that bury themselves in work,  they are the individuals that simply know how to delegate to make the most of their time. Many workaholics have a hard time with this, believing that the best way to get a job done well is to do it themselves. This belief could actually damage your career instead of helping it. For example, when a business owner takes on non-incoming earning tasks such as research, data entry, fielding the company`s incoming emails or calls, and micro-managing employees, he or she is losing time that could be spent on the money earning aspects of his or her business. Delegating these tasks to an in-house employee, or outsourcing to a virtual assistant to save costs, would free up the entrepreneur’s time to earn more money for the business.

These are just a few of the many strategies that you can use to find the balance that is needed to become a success in all aspects of your life.  The key is stepping out of your comfort zone and away from those workaholic tendencies to see what works best for you.  I guarantee you will be glad you did.

For more tips on working smarter instead of harder, register for my monthly e-zine “Business Simplified”  on the column on the right of your screen and receive your free mini e-book “How to Add 2 Hours to Your Day: Lessons in Efficiency”.

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The 5 Ws of Newsletter or Ezine Publishing

February 23rd, 2009

You have a website that sells a product or service. You have decent traffic, but most of the visitors are unique visitors, meaning, they visit once and then leave and possibly forget that your business even exists. One of the single most important things that website owners should do, but all too often do not, is capture the names and email addresses of visitors to their site. Obviously it’s not usually possible to capture the information of every single visitor to your site, but that is really ok, because you don’t want every name. What you do want to capture is the information of individuals who visit your website, are interested in your product or service and either, want to learn more from you, or want to hear about deals or specials you may offer. But how do you get this information? The simple answer is with an Ezine or newsletter. To help you decide whether to develop such a tool, here are the 5 Ws of Newsletter or ezine creation:

(1) Who should publish newsletters? Just about any online business can benefit from distributing a newsletter or ezine. There is no better way to promote your business with little expense than by sending an ezine to your opt-in list.

(2) What kind of content should my Ezine include? The key to any successful Ezine is great content. Your readers have subscribed because they have an interest in your industry or area of expertise. The information you provide to them should therefore be relevant and fresh. Topics can include anything from product reviews, industry news, useful resources, tips and tutorials and specials or promotions. The content can be written by you, by a ghostwriter or obtained through some of the hundreds of free article banks on the internet (as long as proper credit is given to the author).

(3) When do you send a newsletter? This depends on a few things. First, how much time do you have to put into it? If you don’t have much time, you might consider sending a quarterly newsletter to at least get your name into people’s consciousness four times a year. This may however, give readers too much time to forget about you. With quarterly newsletters, there is always the danger that by the time newly subscribed readers receive your newsletter they will have forgotten you. Sending an ezine monthly or bi-monthly provides a higher probability that your readers will remember you, but won’t feel that you are monopolizing their inbox.

(4) Where do website visitors opt-in? There are various ways that you can have your readers opt-in to your newsletter. Some ezine services provide you with code to add a pop-up window to your site asking visitors to opt-in as they arrive at, or leave your site. Although these methods have proven successful, many fear that their visitors will be annoyed by these tactics and opt for a simple sign-up form. Placing your form so that it is immediately visible to your visitors when they arrive on your site is likely to gain you more subscribers, as will having an opt-in incentive such as a free e-book or a discount on a product or service.

(5) Why distribute an ezine? An ezine or newsletter is an incredible way to develop a relationship with your website visitors. As you probably already know, repeated exposure to a brand promotes familiarity and usually encourages positive feelings towards that brand. The more familiar consumers are with your product or service, the more likely they are to buy from you rather than from one of your competitors. By sending your readers information regularly, you are establishing yourself as an expert in your field, thus increasing your readers’ receptiveness to your products or services.

For most, the benefits of putting out a newsletter well outweigh the work that you will put into creating it. Every online business should have a means to capture visitor information and ezine or newsletter distribution is a great way to do just that.

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7 Signs That You Are a Workaholic

February 20th, 2009

While most of us have professional goals and ambitions, the way we go about achieving them differs greatly.  For many, the drive to succeed leads them to work long hours, lose sleep, and generally neglect their personal life. Others achieve success by prioritizing, delegating and organization.  So, which type of achiever are you?  If you suffer from any combination of the following symptoms, you just might be the former, otherwise known as a “workaholic”.

1.    You work evenings and week-ends in addition to your regular work hours.  Determine what impact these extra hours are having on your family life, and decide whether it is really worthwhile for you to be missing out on family and friends.

2.    You seldom take vacation and when you do, you work. Everyone needs some time off to recuperate and refresh their mind.  In fact most of us work better following a vacation because we feel less stressed and more focussed upon our return.

3.    Your thoughts are consumed with work. You can’t make it through a school play, or an evening out with friends without checking your email, voicemail or blackberry.

4.    You are missing out on the lives of your family and friends. Do you know the name of your child’s much-loved teddy-bear, or your spouse’s favourite book or television show? When was the last time you had dinner with your best-friend?

5.    You don’t have any time to relax.  When was the last time you took a bubble bath, read a book, or went to a movie?  Without taking time for yourself on a regular basis, all you are sure to achieve is burn-out.

6.    Relaxing stresses you out.  When you do decide to read a book, or see a movie, you find you can’t relax because you feel that you should be working.

7.    You are having family troubles because of your persistent absences. If your spouse or children resent you because you aren’t around, it is time to make some changes.

Workaholics are in reality not more likely to achieve success.  They are in actuality much more likely to reach burn-out status before that happens.  In fact, experts agree that the vast majority of successful individuals are not workaholics, but that they have learned how to prioritize and delegate.  If you are a Workaholic, it’s not too late to change.  Letting go of some of your lower priority tasks does not mean the end of your work-related ambitions and in fact may just help you to attain the goals that you have been striving to realize.

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Copyrights, Trademarks and Patents, Oh My! Understanding Intellectual Property

February 2nd, 2009

You are a business owner with a web presence.  During a routine Google search for your page ranking, you discover something disturbing.  There is another company out there with a name very similar to yours and almost identical content on their website.  What do you do?  Is your company name and website content automatically protected by copyright law?  Should you have registered your company name as a trademark?  Can you demand that they change their name and dismantle their website immediately?

Intellectual Property can be a confusing topic, and one that all business owners should know about.  Sadly however, many entrepreneurs simply don’t.  Intellectual property is in very simple terms an idea that legally belongs to somebody, be they a company or an individual.  Only the owner of that idea, or somebody the owner has a legal agreement with can use the idea.  Generally, the owner of the idea is usually its creator unless someone paid them to create the idea, in which case the idea’s owner is the person who paid for the idea.  There are different kinds of intellectual property, but for the purpose of this article, we will focus on copyright, patent and trademark.

Patent – A patent protects the creators of new inventions.  An invention can include anything from a new product or business method to a recipe. If you decide to patent your invention, there a few things you should know.  First, you will need to apply for a patent in every country where you would like your invention to be protected.  Secondly, getting a patent is going to cost you a pretty penny.  You will have to pay thousands of dollars to patent your idea and it will take a minimum of 2 years (probably more) before you are granted a patent.  Also, your precious invention will no longer remain a secret since your patent application will be made public once your application is submitted.  If all of this wasn’t enough bad news, patent protection generally only lasts for twenty years from the date of your application.  Phew!  On the up side, once your patent is accepted, you can sue anyone who tries to manufacture or sell your invention.

It’s worth mentioning here that another method to keep your invention protected is to keep the method of manufacturing it a ‘trade secret’.  If you choose this process, of course, in order to manufacture your product, you will have to tell somebody.  You would have to have anyone who would learn your secret sign a confidentiality agreement.  Consult a lawyer if you plan to use this method.

Trademark – Trademarks are the marks used to distinguish one company’s products or services from another’s.  They can include a product name, a slogan, and any other mark that is deemed to be unique to a company such as a logo or unique packaging.  As a rule, you can’t trademark descriptive words, geographical names or a person’s name.  You also cannot register a business’ name.  You can however, register part of a name used to identify a product or service.  For example “Kellogg’s Company” is the owner of the “Kellogg’s” trademark and the “Rice Krispies” trademark.  You cannot register a trademark similar to one that is already in use by another company.  Beware; a trademark does not have to be registered in order to prevent others from using it.  If a company is using an unregistered trademark in your geographical area, they can still prevent you from using it.  You could perform a search in a trademark database and find later that you are using another company’s unregistered trademark. If you find another company in a completely different industry using your unregistered trademark, you probably won’t be able to do anything about it if they are not your competitors or if they are not in your geographical vicinity.  Protection of a registered trademark however, is much stronger than an unregistered one, and once you have a registered trademark, you can prevent competitors from using it, or confusingly similar ones anywhere in the country in which your trademark is registered.

Copyright – Any written text, artistic work, or computer program is automatically protected by copyright.  Anything you or I write, be it published, online text or unpublished, handwritten text, is copyrighted.  Also anything we draw, paint, photograph, film, or compose is also protected by copyright.  Copyright can be registered, but it doesn’t have to be in order for it to be illegal for individuals to copy someone else’s work.  Copyright also lasts for an extremely long time.  Usually it lasts the duration of the author’s life plus fifty years at which point it becomes a part of the public domain and can be used by anyone.

Factual information cannot be copyrighted.  For example, this article is based on fact.  Although you cannot copy my article and claim to have authored it yourself, you can take the facts included in the article and use them in your own written material.   If you would like to use a very small portion of someone else’s written work, this is usually acceptable as long as you credit the author.

Finally, what do you do if someone uses your work without your permission?  Your first step should be to contact the individual.  You can usually either go to the contact page on the offender’s web site or go to www.whois.com and enter the offender’s domain to find contact information.  If your initial communication doesn’t get results, you should then send a ‘cease and desist order’.  For sample orders, just perform a search on ‘cease and desist orders’.  Finally if still no action is taken by the offending party, contact their web host and advise them of the situation and finally, contact search engines and make them aware of the situation.  These actions should render the offender’s website useless or in the very least give them enough trouble to convince them to remove the copied material.

For more information on intellectual property in Canada, visit the Canadian Intellectual Property Office at http://www.cipo.ca, for the U.S., visit the United States Patent and Trademark Office at http://www.uspto.gov and for Europe please visit the European Patent Office at http://www.european-patent-office.org.

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How to Work with a Virtual Assistant

January 28th, 2009

One of the first questions I get when speaking with new or prospective clients for the first time is “how does it work?”.  Although every virtual assistant or “VA” works differently, there are a few basic guidelines that you can follow to optimize the benefits of working with your VA:

1. Delegate, delegate and delegate some more!  Create a list of tasks that either take you away from the money earning aspects of your business, or that you simply don’t like to do.  Review your list with your virtual assistant and discuss how he/she might be able to take some of those items off of your plate.

2. The basis of any good client/virtual assistant relationship is communication.  When you begin working with a VA, let them know how you prefer to communicate and what your communication style is.  How will you be contacting him/her? Will you call, email, use a chat service? Do you plan on being in touch frequently each day, once or twice per week, or a couple of times per month? Some virtual assistants set a schedule for communicating with clients in order to remain efficient and may not be able to respond within your expected timeframe, while other answer calls at any time throughout the day.  These are all things that should be discussed up front in order to prevent any surprises down the road.

3. Once you and your Virtual Assistant have worked together for some time, you will both know what is expected of you.  In the beginning though, it will be a learning process for you and for even the most seasoned virtual assistant.  Until your VA learns your working style, it’s best to give clear, concise instructions.  He or she might not feel comfortable taking the reins (so to speak) on project ideas when they don’t know how much leeway they have.

4. Discuss task turnaround time.  If you hire a virtual assistant and expect that each task given will be completed the same day, you might be in for a surprise.  Unlike an in-house assistant, you are not the only person a virtual assistant is working with.  He/she may have to juggle numerous clients and thus numerous projects each day.  If you have a deadline, discuss it with your VA to be sure they have the time to get your job done on schedule.

Working with a virtual office assistant is a great way to grow your business without the stress, hassle and cost of hiring an employee.   Ensuring that you and your assistant are on the same page is an important way to make certain that not only will you begin the working relationship on a positive note, but that you will also improve the chances of a successful long term association.

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