Matthew Stibbe - Guest Blogger

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Ten Business Things You Didn’t Know You Could Do Online

Advertising online? Check! So what else can you do with the web? Here are 10 time-saving, fuss-free online tools that make your business life a little easier and your brand a little better:

  1. RescueTime. Find out just how you are spending your days with this quiet but ruthlessly honest little app. It monitors the active active on your computer; it can differentiate between different tabs on browsers and gives each program and site its own productivity rating. Use it to track down and eliminate your biggest time thieves.
  2. ViaPost or PC2Paper. Whether in you are in the UK or the US you can send direct mail using just your computer. These sites print your documents out at the relevant sorting office and have them packaged and posted for you.
  3. DocuSign. Create and securely sign binding documents without ever touching a piece of paper. This app means you can approve contracts on the move and set reminders to makes sure clients sign their part too.
  4. Turbine. Manage time off requests, purchase orders and other office administration online. This system lets employees submit requests from any device, and means managers can approve and action requests without the need for countless forms and never-ending filing.
  5. Square or mpowa. Take credit and debit card payments on the move with a smartphone or tablet. These apps send you a small plug-in device for swiping cards, which then takes payments, connects to your accounts and sends receipts via email.
  6. HARO. Help A Reporter Out lets you put your expertise to use in marketing your company. Journalists send out requests for interviews or information, categorized by subject or specialisation. You receive relevant queries by email and immediately have fantastic, free PR opportunities.
  7. eFax. Send and receive faxes by email. Route your fax number so that any fax sent to you is sent digitally to your email inbox. Send documents from email and have them arrive in hard copy through the recipient’s fax machine.
  8. Sparked Community. This new app helps you manage your company’s social responsibility commitment by facilitating micro-volunteering. Your employees use their skills to complete tasks posted by charities or other not-for-profit organisations. You can track participant numbers, hours completed and the financial equivalent of time donated.
  9. TimeTrade. This app tracks your calendar and when you need to arrange a meeting it automatically offers available slots to clients or colleagues. It doesn’t share the details of your diary, only free time, and then updates your calendar with the slots the other party selects.
  10. Evernote. This is an incredibly handy way of keeping your ideas, documents, images and anything else you want to remember in one place. The app syncs between all your devices and lets you easily search by keywords, tags or even handwriting in images.

Matthew Stibbe is CEO and writer-in-chief at Articulate Marketing, where he helps high-profile clients such as Microsoft, HP, Symantec and NetJets communicate clearly with their customers. He is also the founder of TurbineHQ.com, the easy way to take care of office paperwork online, including an employee database, expenses, holiday and sickness management and other admin chores. He blogs about business and technology, Bad Language, and about flying on Golf Hotel Whiskey and the Forbes Aviator column. He has a commercial pilots licence and flies a Cirrus SR22, holds a degree in modern history from Oxford University, is a member of the Business Superbrands Council and a Fellow of the RSA – Simone

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How to Enter your Business for Awards

Everybody likes winning prizes, but when it comes to your business, entering awards can be surprisingly profitable.

Consider the benefits if you win:

  1. You might get a prize. For example, an office makeover.
  2. Good for staff morale. Including the owner’s!
  3. Good for PR. Definitely a reason to send out a press release.
  4. Good for SEO. Get back links from the award site.
  5. Good for sales. You can put an award on your website and stationery. It’s objective proof that you’re a good business.
  6. A moment to reflect. Writing an award submission is surprisingly thought-provoking.
  7. Lifelong hype. Now you’re an “award-winning” business. Forever.

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The Bing Ads Blog won in the ‘Best Blog’ category at the UK Search Awards this November-

Pretty nice!

And if you lose? You lose the time you put into completing the application form and perhaps a small application fee. Nothing.

I definitely found this in my own experience. I entered Turbine in the Internet Business Awards last year in a relatively uncontested category and won. Not only did it make me and the team feel pretty chuffed but it gave us some external validation right at the launch of the business and so we put it front and centre on the website.

So, how do you go about applying for awards? Easy:

  1. Research potential awards. For starters, consider The Queen’s Awards for Enterprise, regional awards, Startups Awards, Nectar Small Business Awards, Growing Business Awards, Smart 100 Awards and this list of different awards.
  2. Write some standard copy that you can reuse in your applications, for example to describe your business and your back story. This will make it quicker and easier to fill out application forms.
  3. Look at the website and previous winners to get a better idea of what the judges are looking for and to understand the entry criteria
  4. Get a friendly critic to review the entries for typos and so on.
  5. Apply early and often. Be organised and disciplined about your schedule so you have enough time to complete the forms on time.
  6. I’m a writer by choice and vocation so I don’t find the thought of writing an award application daunting in any way; but if you do, consider getting outside help. For example there are specialists in the field and a PR company could also help.

Matthew Stibbe is CEO and writer-in-chief at Articulate Marketing, where he helps high-profile clients such as Microsoft, HP, Symantec and NetJets communicate clearly with their customers. He is also the founder of TurbineHQ.com, the easy the easy way to take care of office paperwork online, including an employee database, expenses, holiday and sickness management and other admin chores. He writes about writing, business and technology on his blog, Bad Language, and about flying on Golf Hotel Whiskey and the Forbes Aviator column. He has a commercial pilots license and flies a Cirrus SR22. He has a degree in modern history from Oxford University, is a member of the Business Superbrands Council and a Fellow of the RSA – Simone

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Ten Questions to Ask any Marketing Copywriter

Bad writing is expensive. You can spend a lot of money building a great website and ruin it by lousy copy. Spelling mistakes alone are thought to cost online UK businesses millions each year in lost revenue. I know how to use a paint brush but it would be a disaster if I tried to paint my house. It’s the same with writing. Just because we all know how to write, it’s easy to think that we all know how to write well. In fact, it is usually cheaper and more effective to hire a professional to do your writing, especially for copy that your customers will see. Before you hire a writer, however, you need to ask a few key questions to make sure you are both speaking the same language.

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  1. Can I see some examples of your work? They do not need to have covered your industry before; a good writer will be able to research and write on any new topic. They do, however, need to impress you with the style and clarity of their previous work.
  2. Do you have references?Ask for them and check them out. Always.
  3. How’s the chemistry? If you want a writer to communicate your ideas and your brand in a way that makes you happy, you need to both be on the same wavelength.
  4. What do you know about my company?Any good copywriter will research the company they are pitching to and will have read beyond your homepage.
  5. How do you work? Writing involves more than sitting down and typing. A copywriter will need time to research, conduct interviews, write, edit and proofread. Get an idea of a writer’s working method so that you can both be happy when creating expectations and deadlines.
  6. Can you provide a written quote? This benefits both of you. The quote should contain a breakdown of your brief and the work involved. This means any road bumps or changes to the brief or cost can be managed fairly.
  7. What do you need from me?Give your copywriter everything they need to do their job: style guides, marketing plans, product specifications etc. This also includes a detailed brief – the clearer you are, the more likely you are to get what you want.
  8. Can you back that up?Quality copywriters will keep notes, record interviews and back up any claims with independent sources.
  9. Can you send all work directly to me? Really this is an instruction for you. Copywriters work best when there is a single editor giving feedback rather than a committee pulling in lots of directions. If other people in your company need a say, gather their ideas together and then present the copywriter with a single and cohesive brief for revisions.
  10. Can you tweak that? You should not have to fight with a copywriter’s ego. If you want changes, explain why and give details. If you’re being reasonable, the writer should be happy to get your feedback. (But be fair. Don’t expect free rewrites if you change your mind about something you agreed in the brief, for example.)

Matthew Stibbe is CEO and writer-in-chief at Articulate Marketing, where he helps high-profile clients such as Microsoft, HP, Symantec and NetJets communicate clearly with their customers. He is also the founder of TurbineHQ.com, the easy the easy way to take care of office paperwork online, including an employee database, expenses, holiday and sickness management and other admin chores. He writes about writing, business and technology on his blog, Bad Language, and about flying on Golf Hotel Whiskey and the Forbes Aviator column. He has a commercial pilots licence and flies a Cirrus SR22. He has a degree in modern history from Oxford University, is a member of the Business Superbrands Council and a Fellow of the RSA – Simone

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Managers and staff need new ways of working together even when they’re working apart.

Matthew Stibbe is CEO and writer-in-chief at Articulate Marketing, where he helps high-profile clients such as Microsoft, HP, Symantec and NetJets communicate clearly with their customers. He is also the founder of TurbineHQ.com, the easy the easy way to take care of office paperwork online, including an employee database, expenses, holiday and sickness management and other admin chores. He writes about writing, business and technology on his blog, Bad Language, and about flying on Golf Hotel Whiskey and the Forbes Aviator column. He has a commercial pilots licence and flies a Cirrus SR22. He has a degree in modern history from Oxford University, is a member of the Business Superbrands Council and a Fellow of the RSA – Simone

  1. It’s all about time. Set deadlines. Book phone calls and chats using instant messenger (IM) software & Skype. Set yourself a reminder.
  2. Know your team. Make sure you spend some face-to-face time with your team, both at work and informally.
  3. Share documents. Microsoft® SharePoint 2010makes it easy to share documents over the internet and for remote teams to collaborate.
  4. Measure. Find ways to monitor and track work that people are doing. This will build trust and replace the more informal, face-to-face supervision.
  5. Delegate effectively. Set objectives that are SMART: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-boundRespect people’s personal time. Don’t fall into the trap of treating remote workers as if they were on call 24/7 simply because you can contact them outside ‘normal’ office hours.
  6. Take pictures. Post pictures of your team members or people on a conference on a website or pin board so that you can visualize people when you talk to them.
  7. Listen. In an office, you can see when someone is upset, angry, or bored. When they’re on the end of a telephone, you need to listen actively and ask questions to find out how they’re doing.
  8. Trust and be trusted. Trust builds when people do what they say they are going to do. As a boss, you need to set the highest standards of consistency and reliability. When you say you’re going to do something, do it.
  9. Take turns. Let other people run meetings occasionally.
  10. Get objective feedback. Use 360-degree appraisals (consider including employees’ families) and customer or peer surveys to make sure your virtual team is working well.
  11. Keep a schedule. Use Microsoft Outlook calendar feature to book meetings and share your schedule with your team (and vice versa).
  12. Be a role model. Set an example with your own punctuality, commitment, reliability and availability.
  13. Give recognition. It costs nothing to write a thank you note or to give praise where it is due. Recognition is a powerful motivator.
  14. Change your management style. Switch from managing by input (time in the office) to managing by output (goals met).
  15. Avoid second-class citizens. Once you’ve proven the concept, everybody should get a chance to work flexibly (unless their job prevents it). Don’t give one person a notebook while chaining a colleague to their desk.
  16. Training. Train managers and employees about the challenges and techniques of flexible working. Don’t assume that everyone knows how to do it well – they don’t. Individuals may need extra help with, say, writing reports or using IT.
  17. Don’t isolate people. Encourage regular visits to the main workplace, include flexible workers in company social events; and have more of those. Put procedures in place to monitor for stress and counteract it.
  18. Over-communicate. Many remote and home workers use VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol, or using the internet as a telephone connection). Many HP Notebooks include a built-in webcam that makes it easier to do video conferencing.

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Long Lunches and Daytime TV: 10 Myths of Flexible Working #business

Matthew Stibbe is CEO and writer-in-chief at Articulate Marketing, where he helps high-profile clients such as Microsoft, HP, Symantec and NetJets communicate clearly with their customers. He is also the founder of TurbineHQ.com, the easy the easy way to take care of office paperwork online, including an employee database, expenses, holiday and sickness management and other admin chores. He writes about writing, business and technology on his blog, Bad Language, and about flying on Golf Hotel Whiskey and the Forbes Aviator column. He has a commercial pilots licence and flies a Cirrus SR22. He has a degree in modern history from Oxford University, is a member of the Business Superbrands Council and a Fellow of the RSA – Simone

Flexible working boosts motivation, makes your staff more productive – and you can try it without spending thousands. Sceptical? Read on as we demolish the top myths about working flexibly.

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  • Myth #1: Flexible workers are less productive because they can get away with it.
    Research shows that working from home can boost productivity because it reduces the number of distractions and interruptions.
  • Myth #2: People can’t work effectively in a noisy environment like a cafe or bar.
    Sure, it’s not always appropriate. But a change of environmentoften helps people to think more creatively and look at problems in a different way.
  • Myth #3: It’s hard to work as a team when people are in different places.
    Not as long as you have the right tools. You can share ideas with collaboration software, communicate fast in teleconferencesand answer questions via instant messaging.
  • Myth #4: It will cost a lot to buy the equipment we need to work effectively.
    You might need to invest in some new technology, like notebook computers. But you can make big savings in other areas, like office space and travel costs. But sometimes it pays to invest in longer-lasting, reliable equipment. This is especially true of computers where a consumer PC might not be suitable for serious business use. See how to choose a reliable Notebook PC for more information.
  • Myth #5: Flexible workers mainly watch daytime TV and take boozy lunches.
    Have some faith. The responsibility of flexible working motivates many people. Your employees will respond well when you treat them like grown-ups.
  • Myth #6: Flexible working is a slippery slope leading to a ruined work-life balance.
    It doesn’t have to be that way. Be disciplined, set clear boundariesbetween work and personal time – and turn the technology off at the end of the day.
  • Myth #7: I need everyone in the office in case something goes wrong.
    It’s easy to make sure someone’s in your building at all times. In any case, flexible workers are a phone call away. If a problem’s really serious, it probably won’t matter where they are.
  • Myth #8: If I let the sales team work away from their desks, we’ll miss opportunities.
    Not if you use call-forwarding to pass enquiries to the right people, and have an online tool so employees can indicate when they’re unavailable.
  • Myth #9: Flexible working’s not right for our business.
    Most businesses can benefit from some kind of flexible working. For instance, employees may appreciate the chance to vary their hours, arriving late to avoid the rush hour.
  • Myth #10: It’ll be a big effort to start working flexibly. Most mobile phones can send email and access the internet.

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