How to Track Time While Working With Distractions

This post is the first in series, “Services that Help My Business Go”, wherein Tia shares some of her behind-the-scenes secrets.

 

The other day I had a meeting with a business mentor at SCORE and we were discussing time management and discipline. My mentor, a man with a lifetime of professional management and consulting experience, is a wealth of counsel (for FREE!) on how to continue to articulate my business mission and plan for each stage of growth.

At one point, we were mutually commiserating on how difficult it can be to keep track of time while working from a home office. It’s true any time one works around people, actually.  There’s lots of coming-and-going, stops-and-starts, plenty of distractions as it appears you are available to whomever needs you…when in fact, your job is to “put your butt in the chair and work”.

I’d hit the ceiling of “now, where was I” one day when I googled Time Tracking App’s and discovered  life-and-invoice-saving Toggl. They aren’t kidding when they call it ‘insanely simple”. I create my projects, hit the button, and it begins tallying my time spent. I can bump it when I need to get up or am distracted by another request. It sync’s with my phone. More than once I’ve been at the grocery store and gotten a notification that my time clock was still running…. and so right there between Produce and Seafood I can stop and adjust the cut.

When it’s time to do month-end reports and invoices, it’s all right there. Billable versus non-billable time. How much time each stage of the project really takes. (Oh, and doesn’t that make the next projection easier! No more guess work!)

One day in May I was sitting at favorite local breakfast spot, The Metro Diner, where I’d met with Annika from the Toggl team. Toggl and Teamweek are based in Estonia and she was in the states meeting with their users to gather feedback. I almost wished I had some sort of complaint to offer, so she’d have something to take back with her under, “things we can work on”. But no, all I had was near-shameless gushing. Toggl pretty much saves my butt every month and I love it. I get up from my desk, or stop to take a call, or answer someone’s urgent question a zillion times a day. I would have NO WAY of honestly accounting for time spent without  a tracker and it HAS TO BE EASY.

And so I gushed and she took notes and then told me some truly fascinating things about her country and Estonia’s progressive culture. What happened next is that I tweeted her quote…

The hashtags led to some interesting new Twitter activity

The hashtags led to some interestingly broad Twitter activity

….and I caught a quick glimpse of how sometimes the simplest ideas can become the most empowering.

The fact is, having a business idea is one thing; running a business is another. There’s a minefield of entrepreneurs who focus entirely on their product or service but then fall apart in the background because they fail to spend time “on” the business. As a creative, that is a constant temptation. Administration is not where the fun and excitement hangs out! And yet, administration is exactly what will kill a business faster than you slap a tick. My SCORE mentor certainly confirmed this- he sees people with ideas, people who want money, people who are at all levels of understanding of what it takes to start a company. Even with all his years of experience, he confirmed for me that time tracking and management is at the heart of success, no matter who you are.

Once I have my time tracked and my reports generated (with a single click!), the next step is invoicing. I’ve found a KISS method for that one too- stay tuned for Part Two.

Memorial Park in Riverside, WWI Commemoration

Memorial Park in Riverside, WWI Commemoration

Client Spotlight: RW Wealth in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida

Growing up, the rule was, “Leave a room nicer than it was when you found it”. I like applying that principle to my projects because it gets results. It’s gratifying to make improvements that do what’s intended and empowers a client’s goals. In that spirit, I want to share a recent before-and-after, with all the goodies in between.

Today’s client spotlight shines on Dan, Hal, and the accounting team at RW Wealth, CPA’s in Ponte Vedra Beach. They came to me with a mixture of the ideas they had for growth and an openness to how they might get there. They knew ahead of time that their current website and brand identity needed an update and they wanted to provide an easier interface to their clients. These are professionals who make it a lifestyle habit to have their fingers on the pulse of the market. Sensitivity to change is imperative- staying “locked in” to an idea means your progress will do the same: lock. I quickly learned that the mindset in the RW Wealth office is one that looks ahead: they are progressive, rational, understanding, professional, measured-yet-relaxed. Being located so close to the beach lends a sunny atmosphere that they match in attitude.

One thing both RW Wealth and Hired Scribe Media have in common is a desire to make decisions based on evidence. While it might be easier to just say, “we need a new website”, we find it a lot more valuable to know WHY first.

  • What do you want the new website to do that the current one does not?
  • What is your current website doing wrong, or poorly?

This does not have be subjective and should never be reckless. We started with research and metrics to compile a complete baseline report. This was a revealing process that went a long way in explaining why their old website wasn’t offering the results they wanted. The industry-specific framework had once been an easy entry point for a first website, but offered a limited amount of customization with few access points for search engine activity. A vertical design and side menu maxed out with just a few options, making it very hard to expand the site’s SEO. It did offer client portal access but not for as many services as RW Wealth provides. The keyword research revealed an amalgamation of all of these issues: it’s difficult to optimize for the best phrases when a site’s code and structure makes it almost invisible online!

The old site limited client and search engine access.

The old site limited client and search engine access.

The project scope that resulted was customized around improving the current environment to address the specific target ahead, line by line. Phase Two of the project began with new, fresh logo design. RW Wealth had just recently moved their offices farther down A1A, from Solana Rd to near the TPC Village at Sawgrass, next to Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse. The new logo needed to be eye catching and bright but also communicate the solid approach to fertile financial growth the firm emphasizes. We wanted it to be location-relevant and look great on all print materials, including embroidered options. The sign on the street has a black background, giving us a great opportunity to maximize visibility from the road frontage. The design process was collaborative and energetic- ultimately, it provoked a lot of good conversations on identity and strategic outreach.

The New RW Wealth Logo

The New RW Wealth Logo

My criteria for the new website was a mixture of what they needed fixed from their old pages as well as what it takes to be poised for growth by today’s standards. I didn’t want them to just have a brushed up design and some extra writing: they need this site to last a few years and have some growing space. This meant the new site would:

  • be mobile-device responsive, including tablet use
  • be built with HTML-5, offering cross-browser compatibility and ready for any future changes to the web
  • support graphics, including video, for their extensive client-education products
  • have a lateral, user-friendly design with tiered menu’s and sub-menu’s
  • integrate a blog with scrolling content
  • prioritize security
  • load for speed
  • have clean, light code that allows for full search engine access
  • allow for multiple client portal access points
  • be thoroughly meta tagged on every page

The build included an office-wide photo shoot, over 50 pages of SEO writing, and a client portal that offers quick and easy access to tax documents, investment account log-on’s, and business bookkeeping platforms. RW Wealth provides cloud accounting, wealth management, payroll services, investment and retirement account management, and a full range of tax services. Their new site has been constructed to fully support all of these service offerings, as well as empower their new expansions into start-up and small business consulting-  a hot market in the greater Jacksonville area as we nationally attract attention as one of the best cities in America to be an entrepreneur!

The new RW WEALTH home page!!

The new RW WEALTH home page!!

Phase Three is all about content generation, connection, client education, and growth. The RW Wealth Blog is a place where they can publish relevant financial news, educational information, and community connection. I’ve been consulting business owners on blog integration for over a decade and the platform is not stale when it’s done correctly. It remains one of the most powerful ways a website can boost it’s search presence, social media connectivity, and project the sound of the company voice. Phase Three is meant to progress in stages that work for the long term and also tackles Google Authorship, CRM Email outreach campaigns, and an entirely new site as part of the expansion of service: RW Payroll.

The last phase of any project scope is the tracking of results. They already knew they were seeing a better ROI because of the verbal feedback they’ve received. But earlier this week I was assembling the slides, metrics, and maps that show the progress we’ve made in numbers. Their site traffic is up 40 times what it was, with 58% of that traffic being returning visitors that are staying and using the site multiple times. This means they have a good balance of being found by new contacts and nurturing their existing clientele’s needs. The heat maps are especially exciting as they directly confirm the popularity of the company’s growing cloud accounting services for business owners. Seeing improvements work never gets old! Mission accomplished!

I’ll repeat the analytics process throughout the coming year and recommend adjustments based upon those results, as well as periodically address site updates and additions. I consider this team model clients, representing a collaborative, creative, ongoing working dynamic that makes me want to keep going. The story doesn’t end here-  they are so fantastic in everything that they do that I also now rely on them for my own business accounting needs, and will be sharing that more in a series of posts about the Services That Help My Business Go.

 

sea oats and ocean, just down the street from RW Wealth

sea oats and ocean, just down the street from RW Wealth

 

Why You Should Care About Having a Better Business Blog

Would you, or do you, yourself ever read your own company blog? Be honest. Or, is a better question, “When was the last time your company blog was updated?”  Virtual cobwebs on the site much? Time stamp from the last administration?

“Maintaining content is a top pain point” said over 59% of B2B’s and B2C’s (report compiled by Ascend2 and Research Underwriters). These are businesses who understand the need for content and an online presence; they are the proverbial choir who doesn’t need another sermon on why they should have a blog in the first place. They understood the need for construction and made it happen. Checked it off the list. And then….

It’s a bit like a body, actually. Your body needs fuel and it has a stomach and mouth so that you can feed it. So you make it a meal. If you feed it a few meals and leave it alone for a really long time, it will starve. It doesn’t really matter that you fed it a long time ago! If you feed it junk that won’t perform, it will be weak. You’ll keep shoveling resource into it and not seeing a return, like trying to run a marathon on corn chips and diet soda. And many companies are guilty of either starving or junking their blogs.

It wasn’t on purpose! They didn’t mean to! They simply (and often innocently) fell for a few common snares.

  • they told their secretary to do it. (Or, replace secretary with anyone in-house who already serves another role). This person has a job to do and you just dumped a major pile of invisible to-be-done work in their lap. They don’t have time for it and most often, don’t know how to create content that performs online. As soon as something more visible comes up, the web content needs sink to the bottom of the list.
  • they outsourced and shopped lowest price. Look, I’m going to say it as gently as possible: When it comes to writing, you get what you pay for. Machine generated and poorly translated copy is cheap and available. No one will read it and chances are it won’t even help your site. There are more enjoyable ways to waste your money.
  • they got a blog because they thought they should, and now they aren’t so sure. This happens when the ROI is bad. You don’t see the results you expected so you question the justification of resource. Here’s a secret:  I believe that not every business should have a blog. Maybe you should scrap it; let’s talk about that. But I also believe that if you have a blog, its saying something about you, good or bad, and you have an obligation to care about that. I care about it deeply (I despise wastefulness. Make it work well or Cut. It. Out).
  • the best laid plans… Sometimes you have a good plan and even better intentions. It’s on paper even! A posting schedule and preliminary keyword research and perhaps even a topic list. You didn’t cast it off to someone unqualified. You understood poorly written content might harm your reputation and didn’t fall for it. But your blog still isn’t current. It’s not performing. And frankly, you are too busy to chase down the reason why.

Don’t lose site of the priorities:

  1. You need a regularly updated blog site, written well enough to be read by people and optimized for search engines. 
  2. You need this to be completed with the same quality and integrity as the rest of what you want your business to be known for having. 
  3. You need this done by someone else because you have other things to do. 
  4. You need a blog site that is part of a correctly built website, so that nothing behind the scenes can sabotage your success. 

Good business blogs become an asset, a cog in the wheel that does it’s part. They aren’t designed to carry the whole load themselves, just in case your performance expectations are too high. But if they’re broken, they also compromise the strength of the entire strategy. Your online reputation matters. What does your blog say about you?

Photo taken on the dock of Mandarin Park @Julington Creek after a perfect summer rain.

Photo taken on the dock of Mandarin Park @Julington Creek after a perfect summer rain.