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Assessing Client Needs for Business Growth – The Smart Way!

We don’t do much of the “fill out this form”, “how did we do today?”, or “rate our services online” stuff for my businesses.  We usually go for more of a personal touch.  When we ask for feedback, it’s more direct through emails or phone calls with clients.  So, how do you gather that feedback as data to assess client needs and the future of your business?

Today I want to talk about those changing needs and determining direction.

crunching numbers business accounting

1. The Numbers Don’t Lie

Track your expenses and income.  Hire an accountant if you’re not great with numbers and/or don’t have the time yourself.  And don’t forget about that bottom line.  If you’re spending too much on a service or offering, and people aren’t paying enough for it (or not enough people are interested in it), then you know something’s wrong.  Maybe you can cut some of your expenses and rebuild that offering in a way that makes sense financially.  Or, hey, maybe that offering is done and it’s time to move on to something else.  I know I’m painting this as very black and white, but it really does help to take a step back, look at the numbers, and determine whether an offering is worth it based on the revenue (or lack of revenue) that it’s bringing in.

One of the tricky parts here is timing.  I’d love to hear your experiences and thoughts on this in the comments as well.  Personally, we track and review numbers across all teams weekly.  If something is outside of the safe zone, we talk about it in our weekly business meeting.  If that continues for a few weeks, we talk more seriously about it.  If a few months go by and we’re clearly wasting our time and resources, it’s time to make a drastic change.

Obviously I can’t share our spreadsheets here, but you’ll need to create a document with your own financial goals in mind that can be updated on a weekly basis.  Include sales and analytics as needed for your business.

So that’s one objective way to see whether your service/offering or product is working for your clients.  But how do we see it coming before wasting that time and those resources?

2. Create Products/Services Based on Repeated ‘Custom’ Client Requests

I can use Content Refined as an example here.  Content Refined is primarily a content marketing company that works on a monthly subscription-based content creation cycle.  Madeleine, our Co-Founder and Business Manager, was finding that she was getting a lot of “custom” requests for upgrades to existing content on clients’ websites.  These clients had content already on their site that they needed someone to go through, clean up, and ‘refresh’ to help it rank higher.  So, that request came in enough times that Maddie thought, “Hey, we need to make this a real offering, not just a special custom thing we do when people ask for it.”

We figured out our pricing needs and built the system around ‘content upgrades’.  Now it’s front and centre on the home page of Content Refined’s site.

Word of warning: you do have to take all requests with a grain of salt.  There’s a fine line between being flexible and bending over backwards.  Custom requests only work if the numbers work.  So you have to be careful at how far you bend your standards to meet client needs.

Which brings me to my next point.

 

assessing business needs

3. Dominate Your Field Before Expanding Out

It’s extremely difficult to expand out to new service offerings when you’re still working on mastering the original one.  Until you’ve got a great system worked out for your business and you’re handling everything on your plate really well, don’t try to start something new.  Pretty reasonable, right?

To be a master in your field, you’ve gotta stay on top of the trends and news in your industry, and really do your research.  Especially in the digital world, things are moving so quickly that it’s hard to stay relevant.  Check out what’s going on in conferences, and get in the networks with the top players in your field.  This way you can figure out what you should be offering before your clients are even looking for it.

To continue with our example of Content Refined, we constantly look at trends in the content marketing world.  With anything SEO related, you really have to look at the data and figure out which tools and methods are the most effective.  Last year around this time we did all kinds of data analysis on all the content that we had created for clients.  Then we had a statistician go through everything to confirm our findings.  Right now we’re in the process of going through everything again to renew those findings and update any strategies as necessary based on the results.  By continuing to evaluate our business with the actual data, we’re able to stay focused in our field while maintaining great results for our clients.

Final Thoughts

Assessing client needs is super important to keeping your business relevant and growing.  It can take your business in new directions that you may have never foreseen.  Have you had experience with something like that?  Leave me your stories in the comments!

Keeping Connected with Remote Employees and Freelancers (4 Tips from Experience)

I work in-house with a really fun and committed team of employees, who work with me on several projects and businesses.  However, a lot of the people behind the scenes here work remotely.  From part-time VAs paid by the hour or by the task to full-time salaried employees, I’ve had to develop some strategies on managing and keeping connected with remote workers.  After all, we’re living in the age of digital nomadism, and if you’re able to travel the world while staying committed and efficient with your career, all the power to you!  I love that entrepreneurial hustle.

So here are some of my top tips for making remote work, work.

Step #1: Weekly Check-Ins

I do this across all my businesses and it is quintessential to getting stuff done.  Weekly 1-on-1 check-ins with team members, and weekly check-ins with the entire team together.

Say you have 3 people plus the manager (in this case, myself) on a team.  You could create a spreadsheet like this one to keep track of their weekly efforts on your end.  

FREE Weekly Score Card Template

business management weekly meeting

I also encourage my team members to keep track of these check-ins on their end as well, to stay organized with their weekly tasks and progress.

For the full team meeting, it’s a more developed document which includes going over the business values and goals, weekly numbers, and weekly tasks and goals across the team members.  This gives everyone a chance to speak freely and stay focused and on track.  If you’re checking in and truly evaluating goals on a weekly basis, there’s way less risk of letting things slip.

Step #2: Get on the Phone

Yes, we do probably 90% of our communications via email.  And some people, especially in the digital media world, are introverted and get anxiety thinking about talking to other human beings.  But actually getting on the phone with somebody is invaluable.  It leaves no room for hesitation or shuffling of the truth.  When you speak directly with people, you’re automatically way more connected.  With remote employees, I mainly use Skype or Zoom to make free calls on the web.

Step #3: Get Together When You Can (Staff Parties!)

Encourage your remote team to come visit whenever they can.  Depending on how far away they are, it may be once a month, or only once a year, but it’s huge for keeping people connected and happy.  We’ve done some fun stuff over the past few years, from a simple pizza party in the main office, to a bowling outing, to brewery tours around the area!  It’s always good to take a break from the laptop life and do something fun to relax with everyone.  Plus, it gets people chatting and becoming closer, which helps to build the team up with more trust and respect.

Of course, for some really distant freelancers and VAs, this is a lot harder.  But generally maintaining a happy and friendly tone with your trusted team members goes such a long way.

staff party

Step #4: Be Available and Responsive

No one likes the unapproachable boss.  You want a boss who, in addition to good news and successful progress, you can come to with issues, concerns, and questions.  My core team members have my cell number and know that they can text or call when they need to.  Now, that’s not to say that there’s obviously a limit to expectations.  I can’t be expected to pick up the phone at 3am or be on call 24/7 when I’m taking vacation time.  But making sure you’re responsive to issues from your team when they need you is important.  In my experience, mutual respect in these situations is ideal.

Final Thoughts

Working with a lot of remote employees means overcoming obstacles like time differences and varying schedules, as well as the lack of face-to-face communication.  These are a few of the core approaches I’ve taken to keeping everyone connected and communicating well with each other, while staying on top of goals.

Have you had similar experiences with remote workers?  As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

Guide to Publishing Articles on WordPress

Whether you have a bunch of sites or just one, it’s always an easy task to outsource your publishing to a VA. The one main reason why most VA’s fail is because they don’t get clear or proper instructions on the tasks you are looking for them to complete. In order to help you out, we are going to share with you the SOP that my team uses when  uploading the content to my money sites.

We also have a template of the document we send to the VA to ensure each step by step is taken that you can download.

FREE VA Step by Step Template

 

Step 1: Login

  • In order to get to the login page for any site using WordPress, you need to add /wp-login.php to the end of the site url unless you have created a custom login link for security reasons.
  • You will then be brought to this page:

 

Step 2: Adding a new post to the website

  • Once you are on the sites dashboard page, you will need to go to either the left hand side and click on Post —> Add new post

Step 3: Inputting the article into the post

  • Enter the title of the article
  • Copy and Paste the content from the article into the body section

 

Step 4 : Editing articles

  • Before the article is uploaded to the site, we always like to run the article through MarketMuse to see how it compares to the other articles ranking for that keyword. If you don’t know how to use MarketMuse, we have a good tutorial here.
  • After we run it through MarketMuse, we then upload it to WordPress.
  • Ensure all subtitles are formatted to Heading 2 and any heading sections underneath each of those headings a Heading 3 and so on.
  • Ensure article is grammatically correct.

 

Step 5: Adding Images/Charts/Videos

1.Create images that are copyright free and that go with the article (use google free for use and modification images or photo stock service)

  • You will want to add 1-2 photos related to the article. You can use Google Image search and filter for “free for reuse”.
  • When adding the photo make sure you rename the title of the photo.
  • You will want to add your keyword as the Alt tag when uploading the content.

***** We have now switched to using photo stock images as sometimes these photos are labeled for reuse but have some fine print that states otherwise so please be careful.

 2.  Please embed comparison tables using HTML and/or plugins

  • If you are comparing products or are creating a “5 best…” type articles, it is always best to add in a comparison chart.

3. Find and post relevant videos to the article if applicable

  • Most times there won’t be a video that needs uploaded but we add this in just in case. Sometimes if I am creating a review article, I may find a video of someone using that product.

Step 6: Add Internal and External Links

1. Finding authority sites in the same niche and link externally

  • Find some relevant popular terms in the article to link to authority sites. So for example, in this article we could link the keyword “graffiti” to the wiki page for graffiti – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Graffiti
  • You can do this with different sites such as About.com, ehow, yahoo answers or any other general authority sites.
  • You will also want to add any monetization links that you have if applicable.

2. Link internally

  • Link internally to other article on the site. Don’t force it, it should be a natural link.

 

Step 7: Other Important SEO Work

1. Bold Keywords

  • Throughout the article you will want to bold the keyword. If the keyword is used a lot of times, stick to only bolding 2-3 times.

2. Add Tags

  • Add tags for the post
  • Use 2-4 tags that are related to the article.

3. Meta Description (SEO Pack or YOAST plugin)

  • Copy the Title of the post into the SEO Title Box
  • Add the first 1-2 sentences into the description box. Ensure that the keyword is near the beginning and that the sentences make you want to learn more.
  • In the keyword box, input your keyword you are wanting the article to rank for

4. Categories

  • IF there is a category, select the category (sometimes they won’t have one)

 

Step 8: Publish or Put into Draft Mode

  • Once you are done you can either publish the article or if you have a VA doing the work you can ask them to save it into draft mode for you to review before publishing. I do this for the first few when I hire a new VA to double check their work, but after I become confident in them I will tell them to just go ahead and publish.

Conclusion

I know when I first started off I was publishing all my content because I wanted it to be done properly and didn’t thing that a VA could handle it. After a while I found that it was eating up my time, time that could be spent focusing on other aspects of the site such as link building or other outreach strategies. I decided I would test out a VA and for the first few, they just weren’t doing what I was expecting them to do, however after I created the SOP for them, they were easily able to pick up the skills I was looking for and was able to execute perfectly. This showed me that a lot of tasks can be outsourced if an SOP is created.

What task would you love to outsource? If it is one I have created a procedure for I would be happy to share!

5 Tips for Managing Writers

Building up any website takes a lot of working with writers to get the most useful quality articles possible.  Across all my money sites, I work with a team of writers to keep the content new every week and to keep the organic traffic numbers growing.

As you can imagine, that’s a lot of writers to manage.  So this week I thought I’d share the best ways to hire and maintain a team of solid writers, keep them organized, and keep on track with what everyone is doing.

In addition to these practises I have developed over the years many of these lessons have been learned via ContentRefined.com where we have produced over 1,000,000 words/month for clients!

1. Hiring Writers

I’ve talked about this beforebut hiring freelance writers shouldn’t be taken lightly.  You want a native English speaking, strong and competent writer with solid experience.  I always ask them to do a test assignment before bringing them onto the team. Here’s an example job posting from UpWork.

hire freelance writers

To check for grammar, I always ask the applicant to fix a couple of grammatically incorrect statements.  That’s a quick way to check whether they’re legit English speakers or not. If they provide some examples of their work, that’s a good way to quickly check them out as well.  But the best way is to assign them a test article to really see their chops.

2. The 10% Rule

I stole this rule from Jack Welch, former GE CEO, about maintaining the best teams.  In a nutshell, he says that you should fire the bottom 10% of your staff every year.  I apply this (in a way) to writing teams to make sure that they’re always stacked with the best writers.  Say you have 10 writers on a content team. Every month or so, I cut out the 1 bottom performer and replace them with someone new.  Constantly refreshing teams like this has worked well for making sure that writers are on their game and not getting lazy.

3. No Second Chances

Another tip with freelance writers: don’t give second chances.  It’s happened a few too many times where I’ll give somebody the benefit of the doubt for a mistake or a late assignment, and sure enough they go out and repeat that bad behaviour every time.  When you depend on sticking to a schedule and you really need writers to be on the ball, you can’t let anything slide. If they screw up, move on and hire someone new. You don’t have to be rude about it.  Just let them know the problem(s) and why you can’t continue to work with them. It’s not personal; it’s business.

4. Keeping Organized: Spreadsheets!

A master spreadsheet that shows the status of team members has been the most effective strategy for keeping track of everybody.  I check in with a spreadsheet like this one pretty much every day to review the work in progress.  If I’ve assigned something and haven’t heard back from the writer for a day or two, I’ll follow up.  If there’s still no response, those articles need to be reassigned.  This simple spreadsheet will save you the huge headache of confusing emails and trying to mentally keep track of everybody.  Just be sure to actually update it and don’t let things slip by, because that will make things confusing really quickly.  Especially if you’re dealing with 10 or more writers, and various writing teams across different businesses, you want to make sure everything is well-organized.

managing writers spreadsheet

I also always have an editor go through every article or piece of web copy that I have written.  It’s great to have a second set of eyes on any text to help with spelling, grammar, flow, and readability.  It’s usually this editor who I also get to run every piece of text through Copyscape to check for plagiarism.  So in this master spreadsheet, you can keep track of what’s on your editor’s plate at the moment too.

5. Consistent Payments

Some freelancers will want to stick with UpWork for payments for security, but more often than not our writers ask for PayPal.  It avoids the UpWork fees.  No matter which way your writers want to go for payments, I recommend that you stick to a consistent pay schedule.  Every week at the same time of day is ideal.  Let your writers know when they can expect to be paid, and keep track of the work they’ve completed on a week by week basis.  Here’s an example of what that payment tracking spreadsheet can look like.  In this example, payments would ideally be made on Sundays, because the weekly tracking goes from Monday to Sunday.  So writers know that if they hand something in on a Monday, they won’t be paid until that coming Sunday.

paysheet timetable

Final Thoughts: Keep Your Writers Happy

Consistent work, positive reinforcement, and clear communication are probably the three main things that have helped me keep some awesome writers around for a long time.  When you’re working with someone primarily through email, it helps to have a friendly tone and to be as clear as possible with direction.  Mutual respect and trust is the goal.

What have you found to be the most effective way of managing writers or content teams?  Are there any tools you use that I should be checking out?  Let me know in the comments!

Benefits of Using a VA and Our Top 4 Uses for them!

When I first started off in the online world, I was working full-time at my day job as an Engineer. I would then come home each night to eat dinner and spend the rest of the night working away at my computer. My time was very limited to spend online so I had to make the most out of every minute. I quickly realized that the small tasks that were lower level were eating up my (very limited) time, and set out to find a solution to offloading some of those tasks away from me. I had used Upwork (Formerly ODesk) in the past with another job so I decided I wanted to find a VA on here that could help me.

If you haven’t read my post before on how I hire VA’s, you may want to take a look at that before setting out on this task.

This was a pivotal move in my online career that allowed me to free up my time to focus more on pushing businesses forward and doing the higher level tasks rather than holding the business back and pushing through the lower level activities on my own. This allowed me to work smarter, not so much harder. If anyone who is working online finds themselves doing a lot of repetitive tasks that could be offloaded with the use of a simple SOP to a VA, I highly recommend it.

I know a lot of people have had a hard time finding good VA’s and find that they are spending the same amount of time on hiring, training and handhold as they would to complete the task. But what they may not know, is once you find a good VA, the relationship gets easier, the ability to assign them more is fantastic and if you need to hire more down the road, that VA can train them. However, there are a few main points that will help you with being more successful when hiring a VA.

  1. Hire and fire fast – when hiring a VA, hire a few, give them a small task to see how quickly they do it and the quality in which they provide. Keep the top and fire the rest. Never hire just one VA and give them a big tedious task without measuring their ability on a smaller scale first. This will save you both time and costs. Here is an article I created in 2013 but has been update over the years on how to hire a VA.
  2. SOP/Training is key – Before even hiring anyone, ensure that you have an SOP or good training instructions for the VA to follow. This is like throwing them into the deep end without giving them instructions on how to swim. Most of the time a VA fails and it is preventable is due to inadequate training.

My Top 4 Uses for a VA That Saves Me Hundreds of Hours Each Year!

Data research

This is one thing I use VA’s for all the time. Wether its scoping out a niche I want to go into, gathering data off the internet and putting it into a Google sheet or any type of easy research, I highly recommend using a VA.

Publishing

While putting together content plans, I use VA’s all the time to help me with managing my blog posts across all my sites. Adding images, creating tags, dealing with formatting is all time that could easily be done by a VA and allows you to be more hands off. Yes you uploading one blog post here and there isn’t too big of an issue but if you are looking at uploading 5+ per month, save yourself some time and hire/train a VA to take this task off your hands.

Here is an SOP that we use when we hire new VA’s to upload content.

Sending Client Invoices

Another part of my business that I found I was spending time on was creating invoices for clients (my current billing system doesn’t automatically generate these). They often would take only a few minutes to do each but as more and more were needed, I desperately needed to find a way to offload them to someone else so I create a simple SOP on how to fill out the proper details. Now all I need to do is send him an email once an invoice is needed.

WordPress Support

As with many people who are in the online space, there is some aspect of web development or WordPress that you could use a little hand with. Whether it’s installing plugins and themes, site maintenance or troubleshooting, a VA that has some skills in this area is a definite bonus. With having so many sites, it’s hard to keep track of them all and ensure they are all running smoothly, so having a VA going in to check on each site is a great way to not lose out on

Conclusion

A VA can be a great fit for people who find themselves struggling for time by freeing up some of your workload to allow for some bigger important tasks to have your attention. If you use a VA I would love to hear more about what tasks you use them for. If you don’t use a VA, I would love to hear why.

If you have never used a VA I HIGHLY recommend starting the process of hiring fast and firing fast until you have only the best on your team!

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