Posted by: thepersistentassistant | April 9, 2012

Overcoming Procrastination

As published in the 1.11.12 issue of The Woodstock Independent

Procrastination can be a major problem in both your career and your personal life. Missed opportunities, resentment and guilt all come from the effects of “putting things off”.

Everyone procrastinate sometimes. Those that consistently avoid difficult tasks and deliberately look for distractions are true procrastinators. Most people procrastinate because they are stressed, overwhelmed, lack discipline or motivation or are just plain lazy. Some procrastinators say they perform better under pressure, but that’s just one of many excuses they tell themselves. Since procrastinators are made and not born, it’s possible to overcome procrastination—with a lot of effort.

To combat procrastination, try these helpful tips to keep yourself on track:

Start small. Attack smaller tasks of a large project one at a time instead of trying to get your arms around the entire thing. You will be better able to focus on that one task rather than thinking of the larger project all at once.

Seek advice. If you’re working on something that is out of your area of expertise, go to other professionals for information and advice. You’ll be amazed at how willing people are to share their knowledge with you. Your second option is to eliminate the task all together by hiring a professional to complete the work.

Ask yourself, “Why?” We often procrastinate because we don’t like to do specific tasks. Discovering why you don’t enjoy doing something helps you identify obstacles so you can move the task forward.

Chart your progress. Some respond better to visual stimulation. Physically checking off an item on your “to-do” list will keep you motivated.

Give up on perfection. The overtime you put into a project that only requires minimal time doesn’t automatically make it better. You can accomplish more with less if you remain focused.

Develop a reward program. One of the best ways to stop procrastinating is to reward yourself. Celebrate your small accomplishments on a larger project each step of the way.

Position yourself as a professional. Putting off procrastination can reward you in your career. You will be viewed as reliable and responsible.

Most of these tips will be challenging to implement, but they can be effective. Overcoming procrastination takes initiative and perseverance. The upside to tackling this problem is that it yields tremendous personal growth. You’ll become more disciplined, more driven and more focused-benefits that will become hugely significant over your lifetime. Although painful through the process, overcoming procrastination will have its many rewards.

Laura A. Witlox is the Communications Coordinator of the Crystal Lake Chamber of Commerce and Proprietress of The Persistent Assistant and can be reached at laura@thepersistentassistant.com.

Posted by: thepersistentassistant | October 23, 2011

Changing the Outlook of Email Marketing

As published in the 8.31.11 issue of The Woodstock Independent

Changing the Outlook of Email Marketing

In my opinion, email marketing has become overused and abused by a lot of business organizations.  Even the best email newsletters have the essence of spam.  They are sent too frequently and with weak content that is of very little interest or irrelevant to most people.  Adding to the annoyance, is the almost invisible unsubscribe button, over even worse, non-existent.  Another faux pas, is not using an email marketing company.  Small businesses will make the grave error of not blind carbon copying their contacts and therefore end up sharing them with the world.

So, when should email marketing be used?  For larger corporations, employee newsletters delivered on a weekly basis can be useful in communicating rather than the company’s own website or blog.  Detailed information can remain privately communicated within the organization and topics like special meetings and events will peak the staff’s  interest.  Additionally, it allows for the team  to remain aware, organized and on schedule.

Event notifications are another acceptable form of email marketing.  Local and regional emails sharing event information for concerts, farmers markets, parades, free seminars, etc. are extremely beneficial and typically wanted information.

Business to client direct communication can be imperative at times.  Whether it’s a new product update, new contact information, a relocation, a recall on a product, special event, or any type of communication that is not overly frequent, content rich, very specific and is not a direct sale is welcome to a regular client of your business.

So why are companies using email marketing so frequently?  Perhaps it’s an organization’s habit.  The concept of, “we’ve done it for so long, why stop now…” or new ideas of how to promote one’s organization are almost non-existent.

What should a business be doing instead?  Social media/networks have evolved, blogs and RSS feeds (Really Simple Syndication) have really taken off.  Although they have been around for years, even decades, social networks provide a means to more effective sharing of promotional content.  Twitter is useful for promoting blogs, events promotions, ditto for Facebook, however that’s about it in my opinion!

Using your client base to market to is a smart move indeed, as you know they are already interested in your products or service. What makes or breaks a campaign are frequency expectation and quality of message. If people know who you are, don’t hear from you too often, and expect quality messages products, e-mail marketing campaigns can be highly successful.

However, I challenge you to consider more creative solutions in your marketing plan.  And remember one thing, think before you hit “send”.

Laura A. Witlox is the Communications Coordinator of the Crystal Lake Chamber of Commerce and Proprietress of The Persistent Assistant and can be reached at laura@thepersistentassistant.com.

 

 

Posted by: thepersistentassistant | August 2, 2011

Decreasing Stress Levels Increases Your Profits

As printed in the 7.27.11 Issue of The Woodstock Independent

Decreasing Stress Levels Increases Your Profits

Why are we working harder than ever and yet being less effective?  Stress.

With so many businesses downsizing, work can pile up and most organizations do not have enough employees to accomplish the necessary workload.  Many organizations are short-staffed and employees are often asked to “do more with less”.  Employees may then feel overwhelmed in trying to accommodate the additional workload, while fearing the loss of their job, if they don’t.  This additional stress can take a huge toll on an employee’s productivity level and diminish morale in the workplace. Additionally, this can cause reduced profitability and a consistently frustrated workplace.

Management and employees typically will tend to become reactive in this environment.  They will respond to the most recent task at hand, and then have difficulty returning back to what they were working on.  An actively engaged individual is now scattered and anxious, adding to the stress level.

What can an organization do to offer support in an over-loaded work environment?  Allow your staff to create their own deadlines and manage their own projects whenever possible. Giving your employee the reigns gives them the ability to manage their time and a sense of balance.

What can management do to help employees manage stress?  Meet with employees regularly and discuss the manageability of workloads.

Take the initiative in encouraging wellness. Perhaps offering a health club membership, massage gift certificate or simply an extra fifteen minutes for a walk after lunch, are small ways to motivate staff to take time for themselves in a healthy way.

Have fun in the workplace. Cater breakfast or lunch once a month and encourage employees to take a break and socialize with colleagues. Reduce hours on Fridays, allowing staff to start their weekend earlier.  Offer a “sleep-in” pass as a reward for a job well done, allowing an employee to come in late.  Fun at the office boosts morale and decreases stress.

Management that understands and truly wants to remedy their employees’ stress will result in more appreciative and engaged workers.

Employees need to take the initiative to go to their managers when they are facing a heavy workload that is too hard to handle. In addition, employees can take control in staying organized, creating and following a detailed to-do list every day and setting appropriate deadlines can all help to reduce stress levels.

Following these tips will help to create a happy, healthy, and stress-free workplace environment. When employees know how to take control of their stress, thinking about work should not cause anxiety. Employees can once again feel the excitement for work they felt their very first day on the job.

Laura A. Witlox is the Communications Coordinator of the Crystal Lake Chamber of Commerce and Proprietress of The Persistent Assistant and can be reached at laura@thepersistentassistant.com.

 

Posted by: thepersistentassistant | July 30, 2011

Working Smarter in a Down Economy

As printed in the 5.26.11 issue of The Woodstock Independent

Working Smarter in a Down Economy

Times are tough and we are all feeling the pinch in some way or another. There is definite belt-tightening going on at all levels, from corporate to consumer. As the economy continues to slow, businesses will consider several methods to reduce cost in sourcing, labor, marketing and advertising. Here are some areas that you can focus on to remain valuable to your employer, prove your worth and ultimately keep your job.

Come prepared to meetings with ideas about how to cut costs and increase revenue. Review what is really important to your company’s survival, rather than keep doing what you’ve always done.

Demonstrate that you can assist in guiding the business by sharing your insights on ways to enhance services/products, grasping the understanding of current market trends. Being valuable is more important than being important.

Remain visible at the right times and places. In a slow economy, demonstrating your value and being seen will assist those around you in recognizing your worth. If your work is unnoticed or you are not connected to an important project, it won’t matter if you are truly valuable. Make sure people understand what you do and how you add value to your organization.

Pitch in and pull together. Now is not the time to refuse an assignment. As the organization gets smaller, there’s still a significant amount of work to do. People who are willing to pitch in and stretch themselves are the ones who will be retained. Employees who have a very narrow skill set that seemed valuable in the beginning but can’t assist beyond their current role will likely be the first candidates to go.

In an economy like this, good people with good skills could end up out of work just as often as people who never added much value, therefore you should keep your skills up to date. Stay active in your networks. Remain efficient and effective in shifting from simply keeping busy, but actually achieving results. That’s working smarter.

Laura A. Witlox is the Communications Coordinator of the Crystal Lake Chamber of Commerce and Proprietress of The Persistent Assistant and can be reached at laura@thepersistentassistant.com.

Posted by: thepersistentassistant | June 25, 2011

Kick Start Your Business

As printed in the 4.20.11 issue  of The Woodstock Independent

Kick Start Your Business

We are almost half way through the year. Hopefully your taxes are done, your winter blues have subsided and you are ready to bring new life to your business.

Join a professional organization. Talk to other business people to spark new ideas, refine old ones, and make contacts. Whether it’s a group specifically designed for networking or an organization dedicated to a particular type of business, make the effort to be a part of an organization and it could energize you and your business.

Chambers specifically serve a diverse membership that is interested in networking, educational opportunities, business-friendly legislative initiatives and the promotion of their businesses. Does your local Chamber have a mission statement that fits your values and business plan? Is it active in offering a variety of programs and networking groups to provide you with solid resources for business contacts and information? Whether your choice is to join the Chamber where your business exists and/or where you do the most business, Chambers are great organizations to help you energize your business. Get involved by attending events, joining a committee or taking a seminar. Remember, you will only get out of it what you put into it. woodstockilchamber.org or clchamber.com

Rotary is a worldwide organization of business and professional leaders that provides humanitarian service and encourages high ethical standards in all vocations. Here you can easily become more involved in your community and simultaneously provide aid to other parts of the world. Learn how to get started at rotary.org.

Sometimes our favorite recreational activity is the best avenue for building business. A golf league is a relaxed, casual environment where business deals naturally happen. Check with your local Chamber or golf club for opportunities.

Many contractors swear by the benefits they receive in joining a trade association. Gaining industry knowledge from your peers and staying on top of new products, laws and benefits available to your particular trade creates value in your membership.

Join a professional business women’s group. They typically welcome employed or retired business women that support the objectives of their organization, are interested in serving within the community and promote education for women.

By joining a professional organization you will surely kick start your business.

Laura A. Witlox is the Communications Coordinator of the Crystal Lake Chamber of Commerce and Proprietress of The Persistent Assistant and can be reached at laura@thepersistentassistant.com.

Posted by: thepersistentassistant | March 24, 2011

Find A Cause That Matters To You

As Printed in The Woodstock Independent: Minding Your Business 3.23.11

Find A Cause That Matters To You

Now that spring is finally in the air, utilize your renewed energy to stay on track with your business resolutions and become a volunteer! Give back to your community. Find a cause that matters to you, and give what you can. Make this the year that you serve on a committee, be a mentor, volunteer, or make regular donations to the groups in your community that make where you live a better place.

Investing in your community is a great way to give back to those who have helped support your business. There are tangible benefits to giving back to the community. If you give enough, you’ll have a solid deduction. Giving back to the community can raise your business’ profile and even bring you more clients.It doesn’t always have to be about money.

Consider offering your skills or company goods. Seek out an organization that’s a match for your business’ interest. The United Way of Greater McHenry County Volunteer Center is an excellent resource for local opportunities to get involved. You can peruse many options at volunteermchenrycounty.org.

If you are a business owner, offering opportunities for your company to volunteer together, promotes team building. The Crystal Lake Chamber of Commerce celebrates Earth Day by organizing Community Clean Up Day on Saturday, April 23rd this year. Join area residents and business people in socializing, networking and “greening” up the community. For more information visit clchamber.com.

Perhaps you would like to give of your time or money in a more corporate environment. Centegra Hospital – Woodstock Auxiliary is a great opportunity to not only serve in the hospital but much help is needed in raising funds to provide the best medical care locally. Contact the Auxiliary through centegra.org.

The arts are always in need of donor dollars and your professional skills. Two of my favorite organizations are The Friends of the Woodstock Opera House and The Raue Center For The Arts. Assisting in planning a charitable event or simply being a sponsor is a great way to guarantee the arts continue to enrich the community. Visit woodstockoperahouse.com and rauecenter.org to find out where you can be of assistance.

Progressive former President Woodrow Wilson once said, “You are not here merely to make a living. You are here in order to enable the world to live more amply, with greater vision, with a finer spirit of hope and achievement. You are here to enrich the world, and to impoverish yourself if you forget the errand.”

Giving back to your community can boost your personal satisfaction, improve your interpersonal skills, and increase business opportunities.

Laura A. Witlox is the Communications Coordinator of the Crystal Lake Chamber of Commerce and Proprietress of The Persistent Assistant and can be reached at laura@thepersistentassistant.com.

Posted by: thepersistentassistant | February 23, 2011

Creating a Marketing Plan

As printed in The Woodstock Independent: Minding Your Business 2.23.11

Creating a Marketing Plan

Month two into the new year and I’m sure some of you have let your business resolutions fly out the window. I’m back to keep you on your toes and focused.

“Promote your business regularly and consistently. Make promotion a priority. Hire a marketing expert, or take the time to create a marketing plan on your own and follow through.”

Business owners can often find themselves on a shoe-string budget, forced  into  a situation of trying to manage every aspect of their business themselves, including marketing, and sometimes they save that for last. This can be the first mistake. Instead,  determine your marketing budget and stay as close to it as possible. Hire a marketing expert to strategize with. If your budget is zero, think of dollars as hours, and write a plan on how you are going to spend them. There are low cost ways to promote your business regularly and consistently.

Networking. I am reminding you of it again, however, remember to cultivate relationships and give referrals. Qualify, not quantify.

Become an industry expert. Trade magazines, websites, and  e-zines are all hungry for good content.  Simply writing one good article per month and submitting it to hundreds of publications, could easily generate more traffic to your website if published.

Write a newsletter. Keep your name consistently in front of your existing clientele and prospects. Be sure to provide valuable information to keep them entertained and retained.

Present a seminar. Often Chambers, community groups and organizations are looking for speakers to present brief seminars that benefit their members. Don’t  give away all relevant information about your product or service.  Provide a taste that will keep them  interested enough to come back for more.

Offer a guarantee. Potential clients usually have their own network of “experts”.  However, even if they  may be somewhat interested in doing business with you, they may not want to take the risk. This concern is easily eliminated by simply offering a guarantee – no questions asked.

Go viral. Link your website to those that you do business with and trust. Submit press releases on a monthly basis to local and national publications that relate to your consumer. Many print publications now offer online versions where you can upload your content yourself. Use testimonials from clients and product photos to enhance your content. Create a social media presence when appropriate. Setting up an account without contributing content and communication on a regular basis is ineffective, and could be damaging. Use it, or lose it.

New ways to market your business in a low cost/no cost way are around you. When you do discover a few more, send them my way.

Laura A. Witlox is the Communications Coordinator of the Crystal Lake Chamber of Commerce and Proprietress of The Persistent Assistant and can be reached at laura@thepersistentassistant.com.

Posted by: thepersistentassistant | January 30, 2011

Increasing Your Network

As printed in The Woodstock Independent: Minding Your Business 1.26.2011

Increasing Your Network

Last month I suggested a list of business resolutions for the new year. Typically, the tradition with resolutions is for one to begin with gusto, but then tend to peter out by week three. Try visiting a health club the first week of January, and then a few weeks later. You will see what I mean.  My hope is to keep you motivated and on track.

“Increase your network. Get out and get to know more people. Explore new connections – find out what they do, how they do it and what skills they use to be productive. Share your abilities in return. There may just be a mutual benefit.”

No, this doesn’t mean increasing your bandwidth, sitting at home or in your office and “friending” the universe. It means scheduling time each week to get out, and do what I call, “shaking hands and kissing babies.” One easy way to accomplish this is to join your local Chamber.  Chambers already have a calendar full of mixers, breakfasts, luncheons, seminars, leagues, committees and so much more that you can get involved in.  It’s a no-brainer, one-stop shopping for any business minded person. Not ready to jump in head first? Most Chambers allow you to “test” the crowd by attending a mixer or two as a guest or paying a non-member price to attend a luncheon or workshop. It’s a small investment with a big return.

There are other opportunities to network that happen naturally. Remember Sesame Street’s, “Who are the people in your neighborhood?” Throughout our daily activities of running to the bank, post office, gas station, grocery store, grabbing a cup of coffee, getting an oil change, we see people all of the time.  The question is, do you “stop and chat”? I can’t remember a time when I didn’t talk to the person in front of me in line at the grocery store. Perhaps you consider approaching a complete stranger awkward or rather a skill of a social person.  If this is the case, simply compliment the individual on something.  Watch how the conversation unfolds. It doesn’t always mean whipping out your business card, however if the opportunity arises, go for it!

If you are getting out and socializing, what begins to happen naturally is what I call, “love connections”. No, I don’t mean filling up your dance card for the weekend. There will be a natural progression of you being able to connect the people you have met to other people with a need or similar interest.  You will be astonished as to how often you will now hear yourself say, “I know someone who could help you with that.”  The reward? Kudos to you and but most importantly, being remembered.

There are several key points to successful communication. You can buy a book to brush up on your skills with that. However, just ask any seasoned and successful salesperson.  The only one to remember each and every time is to stop talking about yourself.  Ask questions, stay interested and focused in what the other individual has to say. Get to know them. Silence about yourself will speak volumes.

For a great networking opportunity, try out the Crystal Lake Chamber’s “Spring Scramble 2011” multi-chamber event. Non-members are welcome.The Scramble takes place, Thursday, March 10th at the Crystal Lake Holiday Inn.  www.crystallakescramble.com

Laura A. Witlox is the Communications Coordinator of the Crystal Lake Chamber of Commerce and Proprietress of The Persistent Assistant and can be reached at laura@thepersistentassistant.com.

Posted by: thepersistentassistant | December 22, 2010

Business Resolutions for the New Year

As printed in The Woodstock Independent: Minding Your Business 12.22.2010

Business Resolutions for the New Year

Work smarter. Identify areas you can be more efficient and effective. Shift from being busy to achieving results. Are you spending too much time on social media and not enough in face-to-face communication? Do you spend more time returning emails than making phone calls? There’s something to be said for personalization.

Increase your network. Get out and get to know more people. Explore new connections – find out what they do, how they do it and what skills they use to be productive. Share your abilities in return. There may just be a mutual benefit.

Join a professional organization. Talk to other business people to spark new ideas, refine old ones, and make contacts. Whether it’s a group specifically designed for networking or an organization dedicated to a particular type of business, make the effort to be a part of an organization and it could energize you and your business.

Take a seminar. Learn new techniques, tools and concepts relative to your field – gain new perspectives. A seminar may be the very stimulus you need to revitalize your career and increase your job satisfaction. Innovate and iterate.

Improve work relationships. Take the initiative and meet with someone you haven’t quite been in sync with at the office. Realize their talents and capabilities and understand that you both are there to accomplish the same goals – success and job satisfaction. Speak less and listen more.

Promote your business regularly and consistently. Make promotion a priority. Hire a marketing expert, or take the time to create a marketing plan on your own and follow through.

Give back to your community. Find a cause that matters to you, and give what you can. Make this the year that you serve on a committee, be a mentor, volunteer, or make regular donations to the groups in your community that make where you live a better place.

Make business planning a weekly event. Take stock of what worked and what didn’t work and set new directions or adjust old goals. Set aside time each week to review, adjust and look forward to help you avoid costly mistakes and stay on track. You’ll feel more focused and relaxed.

Meet with yourself. Take time to recharge and refresh; All work and no play is a recipe for mental and physical disaster. Consider it an investment in yourself.

Drop what’s not working and move on. If a technique, product or a business relationship isn’t working for you, stop using it. Don’t invest a lot of energy into trying to make the unworkable workable. Move on.

Happy New Year!

Laura A. Witlox is the Communications Coordinator of the Crystal Lake Chamber of Commerce and Proprietress of The Persistent Assistant and can be reached at laura@thepersistentassistant.com.

clchamber.com

Posted by: thepersistentassistant | November 25, 2010

Shop Local First

As published in the November 24, 2010 edition of The Woodstock Independent

Initiatives through local government, Chambers of Commerce, public and private organizations all across America over the last several years, have been campaigning, “Shop Local First”.

Why shop locally owned independent businesses first? For starters, far more of the money spent at local businesses is quickly reinvested into your own community.  Local shops and restaurants are who employ our community.  By shopping local, you are taking a personal initiative in maintaining the social, economic and environmental health in your very neighborhood.

As we head into the holiday season, I’m sure you are reviewing your personal budget, streamlining holiday wish lists and setting a plan of action to make every dollar work for you.  The temptation to conveniently sit at home and shop online is hard to suppress. Free shipping offers and other online incentives peak our curiosity and tug at our wallets.

Yet, independent stores offer so much more than online shopping, retail outlets and big box stores – they are gathering places for neighbors to meet. Why a good, healthy, “stop and chat” could be an opportunity for a new connection, an informational tidbit, or simply a moment that your very presence brightened someone’s day.  It’s also a chance for you to make a connection with a small business owner – let them know what your interests are and what you would like to see their shops carry.  Have them search for a hard to find item, or suggest one for that person on your list that has everything.

Shopping local creates traditions and memories. Participate by attending community events sponsored by our very own shops and restaurants.  Merchants right here in Woodstock are hosting open houses, extended late night shopping and offering special promotions all week, and during, Woodstock’s winter tradition, Victorian Christmas and The Lighting of the Square on Friday, November 26th. Local women are saluted every year through Ladies Night Out, which falls on December 2nd this year.  Shop merchants from 5:00pm to 10:00pm and “help bring the holiday season home to friends and family”.  Leave the chores at home and enjoy a day with your children on December 11th from 10:00am to 5:00pm at participating stores in and around the Square. Look for fun activities and events for your family to enjoy. What a great way to celebrate community!

Keep money and character in our own neighborhoods. Take pride in your community.  Local independent businesses are what make your hometown a more interesting place. They are the heartbeat of your community. Help build a thriving local economy. Shop local first, today!

Laura A. Witlox is the Proprietress of The Persistent Assistant and can be reached at laura@thepersistentassistant.com.

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