Like the seasons, things change: how do we keep up?

There are so many changes affecting the property and small business sectors at the moment, it can make your head spin. So how are we all supposed to keep up?

On top of enforced changes like legislation, there are also the things that we decide we just need to do differently in our business. I found this when I started to expand my service offering for InLet Management. Juggling the transition period whilst, at the same time, keeping up with service delivery has been challenging. There came a point when I just had to get help because I couldn’t see the wood for the trees.

Constant change is now a way of life for all of us. Here’s a taster of just a few recent or up and coming changes from the property sector:

For small businesses in general there’s also:

Whether your business is in property or any other sector, the need to reach out for help from time to time applies regardless. Having a solid team of trusted people that you can call upon to lend a hand is important; especially if you don’t have the luxury of employing those resources in your business. Here’s my top 6 people that I think we all need to have on board from time to time:

  • Operations manager/administration support
  • Accountant/bookkeeper
  • IT expert
  • Business adviser
  • HR adviser
  • Marketing support

So as autumn gets in to full swing, and the leaves fall away from the trees, why not use this as an opportunity to get some clarity? Think about your team and see if you need to reach out and find one of the top 6 to help you to keep on top of the challenges in your small business.

Whether you have a property or other small business, InLet can help you with operations management, administration and marketing support, and HR advice. Feel free to contact me to find out more.

Thanks for reading, and if you think I’ve missed someone off the list of top people to turn to in your small business, please let me know!

Michelle

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Maybe today. Maybe tomorrow. What’s the hurry?

I’ve recently come back from a holiday on the Greek island of Lefkas. It was hot, sunny and very, very relaxing. In fact, I think the whole approach to life out there is ‘Manana, Manana….’.  Maybe today. Maybe tomorrow. No one’s in a hurry, and everything happens in its own sweet time.

This is an enviable way to live; at least, in some respects. Nobody I met looked stressed or harried. The general approach to life itself was so relaxed I’d go as far as to say it was, in fact, hazardous. Nobody bothered with motorbike helmets. Driving whilst using a mobile on treacherous single-track mountain roads was standard. Hitching a ride on the back of a bin lorry wasn’t cause to be flagged down by the police.

This laid-back approach was apparent in every walk of life and every small business that I came into contact with. Maybe because the resorts were so chock-full of visitors during the summer period, there were enough customers to fill the myriad of restaurants every single day without anyone really trying. There was simply enough business to go round and therefore trying to exceed (or even meet) a customer’s expectations was simply not a priorotiy.  Delivering food to all members of a party in a timely manner without leaving one guest waiting? Offering a drink whilst you waited? Really not important when you firmly believe that all things happen in the fullness of time.

We were staying in a tiny village high up on a mountainside. It was beautiful: picturesque and peaceful. Our nearest restaurant was 2 km away, down a very steep and winding, single-track road. It was packed out every night of the week. A real example of a traditional, family-run Greek Taverna. Tasty food and a very rustic setting. To enjoy your evening, you really had to leave all expectations at the door. Watch carefully and it was clear to see that there wasn’t actually any kind of consistent system to the ‘organised’ chaos. There was definitely a method (or, rather, multiple methods, dependent upon who served you), but it was subject to change and inconsistency at every turn. Ask for the bill at the end of the night, and only the Taverna owner could issue it to you: at your table, whilst at the same time asking you what you’d ordered. For someone like me who likes a clear, lean and obvious process for everything, this drove me absolutely crazy. Over-dinner discussions often centred around: how many more covers could they do if they had a proper system? How many items are missed off the bill because orders aren’t being recorded after the food had left the kitchen? WHAT ON EARTH IS IT DOING TO THEIR BOTTOM LINE?! One evening whilst having this debate (again) we were visited by a Praying Mantis. That definitely changed our topic of conversation, but it did seem to demonstrate that even the insects of Lefkas have that same relaxed and un-ruffled approach to life! It was an amazing creature, and I’ve uploaded a video of him here as a reminder of how we should all just take in the moment and live a little more slowly from time to time.

It’s safe to say that the culture and approach to life and business in Greece is very different. Admirable in lots of ways, but definitely different. I’d have loved to have got stuck in with implementing some processes in almost every business I visited, but I have a feeling that the staff and business owners wouldn’t have had a clue of what I was on about, and would probably have been quite offended! How refreshing to take time out and see life from a different perspective, though. That said, I can’t see this slow pace of life catching on in the UK. Can you?

Thanks for reading!

Michelle, InLet Management

PS: I can definitely recommend Lefkas for a truly relaxing break!

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Your opinion matters!

This month’s InLet Management blog is all about YOU. I’m in the process of developing my business, and whilst I think I know what our existing and prospective customers want, I don’t know for sure.

I’m asking for your assistance to help me to help you. That’s why I’m asking you to complete my 60 second survey about your single biggest business/operational challenge right now. The reason for doing this? Well: my customers matter and if I can help you with that challenge, then I’d like to be able to.

Before I devised our questionnaire I did some research and in this blog post, I wanted to share some of the useful information that I’ve gathered about the importance of customer care standards in small businesses. Because my main customer base is currently small businesses in the property sector, I’ve looked specifically at how customer care relates to landlords, letting agents and other property businesses. However, the principles apply to any small business and I’m hoping that my research will also help other organisations like yours.

This month’s InLet newsletter also focuses on small business customer care hints and tips. If you’re not already on our mailing list, you can join here to access regular free resources for your own business. As a taster, here are our top 7 key points gained from our research:

  • Show your customers that you care: have a Customer Care Policy that you share with them, reference on your website and in your marketing materials. If you’re a landlord with a small portfolio, a checklist of commitments that you strive to achieve for your tenants would work just as well.
  • Enable your customers to communicate with you. I love one tip about creating an on-line community just for your customers or tenants to raise questions or give feedback.
  • Communicate with your customers regularly, and proactively seek their feedback. Questionnaires are a quick and easy way to do this, and there are lots of apps that you can use to make the job even easier. I love SurveyMonkey.
  • Don’t be a jobs worth! If you can justifiably offer a little flexibility without breaking necessary rules or, more importantly, laws, and without opening the floodgates, then, why not?
  • Be responsive: what’s a reasonable timescale within which to respond to issues? Define this within your business and stick to it. Delays often frustrate customers, particularly if there is no apparent reason for them.
  • Get your paperwork in order! A chaotic or disorganised approach will be apparent to your customers. Document systems and procedures and ensure that they’re applied across your team. This will mean that all of your customers get an efficient and responsive service.
  • Business is about people: listen to what your customers say, particularly if they’re unhappy about something. Allow them to speak, clarify their points, reflect back your understanding and apologise where it’s clear things haven’t gone as they should have. Don’t blame!

As a landlord myself, I have tenant customers as well as business support and inventory clients. My top tip? Have a procedure for dealing with every aspect of your business so that you can be responsive and transparent. It also saves you time as you don’t need to re-invent the wheel every time an issue crops up.

Can’t find the time to write a customer care checklist or procedure, or to work though a system to create an on-line community? Give me a call for a no obligation chat on how I can help you with you business support and operational procedures.

Before you go: don’t forget the InLet Management 60 second survey. I’d really value your input on the types of things you need help with in your small business.

Thanks for reading!

Michelle

 

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Getting your small business ready for the summer holidays

The summer holidays are fast approaching, and if you’re beginning to worry about how your business will tick over in your absence, it’s time to start planning.

Most of us are so tied up in our day-to-day operations, that after the glow of having booked your holiday has worn off, and you’ve got stuck back in to the nitty-gritty, before you know it, your departure date is looming. Setting off on your holiday feeling drained and stressed because you’ve been running around at the last minute trying to get things organised isn’t a great way to start that rare period of rest and relaxation. You want to head off feeling accomplished and calm knowing that everything is going to run smoothly in your absence.

So where do you start? My recommendation is that you take half an hour away from the operational stuff, grab a coffee (or tea), a pen and a piece of paper and find somewhere quiet. With a clear head, you can start making a list; scope out what’s in the pipeline (or projected to be) during the period that you’re away. Get a feel for where the priorities are going to be.

This list will be your master plan for what needs to happen and enables you to do what needs to be done, delegate what you can (or engage external support) and identify what can wait until you return. The advantage of doing this is that on that first day back after a lovely holiday, you’ve already got the makings of a plan of action for those first few days to help to you ease you back into work.

If you’re struggling to prioritise what needs to be done, delegated or put into the pending tray until your return, run a quick risk analysis on a separate piece of paper. Think of your worst case scenarios and work back from the ideal solution that you’d put in place if these things happened while you’re away. Thinking of cost implications, reputational risk, sales figures, etc, will all help to identify the key areas for your plan. The additional benefit of this risk analysis approach is that in working through potential problems, you can also develop a contingency plan of what needs to happen in your absence if something goes wrong.

I also recommend notifying your key clients and customers of your holiday dates. It keeps them informed and shows them how valued they are. It also gives you a chance to explain who their key point of contact is while you’re away. If you’re intending to work remotely while on holiday, it also gives you an opportunity to identify in advance specific dates and timeslots when you will be available (eg) by mobile, email or Skype. Don’t forget to check WiFi connectivity at your destination if you’re indenting to keep in touch while you’re away.

Think about using tools that enable you to schedule things like your social media in advance, or out of office auto responders, telephone answering services, outsourced resource services, or other workflow systems that you already have established in your business. We love BufferApp for social media, and Asana for scoping out monthly tasks to help plan in advance each work stream. This makes it easier to identify what needs to happen, when, or what can wait until you get back.

I’ve devised a small business holiday planning checklist that you can access here to help you get organised and, ultimately, head off on your holidays ready to relax without the constant worry of what might crop up while you’re away. Use the checklist to build your contingency plans and ensure that everyone knows what they need to do while you’re not there.

Thanks for reading and enjoy your holiday! If you’ve got hints and tips to get holiday-ready in your small business, or stories of where you wished you had been, we’d love to hear them. Please do leave us a comment below.

Michelle

InLet Management

The Manifesto we believe you MUST read this election season

The General Election is now just days away. There’s simply no getting away from it, and the debate goes on as to how the result might impact the property market. However, after a recent book recommendation, I’ve been reading a manifesto of a different type: The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande.

I have to admit that, on first hearing the title, you could be forgiven for thinking that this is going to be a dry, boring read. Nothing could be further from the truth: with reference to plane crashes and surgical mishaps, it puts forward some sobering examples of where things have gone horribly wrong.

The Checklist Manifesto is a fascinating insight in to how some of the most complex professions in the world attain consistent high standards through the use of the humble checklist. From surgery, to air flight through to the construction of major multi-storey buildings, the lessons shared in this book demonstrate a convincing argument for using checklists in any business or profession.

Whilst none of the services delivered by InLet Management are life or death, one thing that we always strive for is consistency and high standards. Arguably this might be easier to achieve in a very small business, but on reflection a lot of what we deliver at InLet is already based on checklists. From business support services, to inventory provision, we use checklists to keep track of things and to accurately record vital information every single day.

Far from creating an onerous additional step to our daily routines, Gawande talks about the power of having simple, measurable and transmissible steps to achieve consistent results and high standards. Be it large-scale, multi-disciplinary construction businesses or investment financiers, he explores how any business can benefit from using checklists to reduce errors and significantly increase efficiency. Gawande believes that checklists enable us to free our brains from having to remember the routine, simple tasks that often get forgotten and, when they are, lead to errors, inconsistencies and reduced quality.

For some real-life examples of the power of checklists, you can take a look at one of the examples that Gawande references in the book. A video outlining the crash landing of BA Flight 38 flying from Beijing to London on 17 January 2008 can be seen here. You can also see a speech from Captain Peter Burkill, Pilot of the plane at the time, referencing teamwork and the procedures followed here. Pilots (like surgeons) use checklists every day and, without question, these checklists add immeasurable value to what they do.

Read Gawande’s book and judge for yourself how checklists might help you in your business. OK, maybe you won’t save a life (although you might if you offer services such as plumbing or electrical installation), but I bet you’ll create greater efficiency and, chances are, you’ll also improve your bottom line as a result.

If you’d like to know more about how we use checklists at InLet, or explore how we could help you to develop them for your business, then please do get in touch. Meantime, if you do read Gawande’s book, let us know what you thought of it.

Thanks for reading!

Michelle

How systemising a business is like running (& finishing) a marathon

On 9 April I took part in the 2017 Brighton Marathon. My first ever marathon. Injury during training meant that I had to revise my strategy and my objective. From initially aiming for a 4 hour 30 finish time, I had to accept that just finishing was the key objective.

In business, we all have objectives and strategies for how we will achieve them. From those objectives and strategies we then develop systems and processes to make it happen, and sometimes (just sometimes) those strategies have to be revised. It occurred to me that this was exactly what I’d done to get me through the marathon.

My marathon strategy went from ‘run as fast as you can for as long as you can’ to ‘Run Walk Run’. The proof was in the pudding. I finished, and I finished in 4 hours 55. Not that far off my original target, and, more importantly, the objective was achieved: I got over the finish line and I got my medal!

To get to that result took quite a lot of systemisation and the implementation of supporting processes. I had a comprehensive training plan of running and cross training. I had a rest and nutrition strategy that required diary management and planning. Checklists and shared calendars supported the processes so that family knew where I was, when I was training and what needed to be bought during the weekly shop. Communication was, of course, key to all of this working smoothly.

Keeping track of miles, pace and run/walk/run segments also meant I needed to have reliable systems to manage this while focusing on putting one foot in front of the other. I did lots of research and I identified some great apps for my phone to keep a track on what was, essentially, my running productivity. Guess what? I do exactly the same kinds of things to keep InLet running smoothly too.

My marathon prepAhead of race day, checklists were a must. Did I have my kit? Did I have my race number and timing chip? Did I know exactly how I was going to get to the start? If you do lots of races, you develop a standard checklist for this sort of stuff. This means you don’t need to reinvent the wheel. Your checklist just becomes part of a standard operating procedure for preparing for a race.

There’s always things to learn along the way. The main thing I took from running 26.2 miles? ALWAYS make sure your phone battery is 100% charged before you start! If you’re relying on it to manage all your systems and processes, it’s a bit of a nightmare when the battery dies at 24 miles. Worse still is when your system failed to include a back-up plan for finding friends and family after the race when you have no phone.

In short, I believe running and finishing a marathon is like systemising a business because:

  • You need an overarching strategy: it’s the ‘road map’ that points you in the right direction. Keeping an eye on that map helps you plan ahead if you need to change direction a little.
  • You need objectives: without a goal, how do you know where to aim for?
  • You need to implement systems and processes that enable you to achieve those goals in the most efficient way possible.
  • There’s always room for improvement. Capture the learning and review the systems and processes to achieve continued improvement. Never make the same mistake twice!
  • Enjoy the achievement and apply the motivational boost to the next big goal.

I’m always looking for systems that help to improve business productivity (oh, and my running too!). This means that I’m well placed to lend a hand to clients when they need some extra help with workload or want to explore implementing systems, processes and standard operating procedures in their business too. Get in touch to find out more.

Got your own tips on business (or running) systems and processes? Feel free to share.

Thanks for reading.

Michelle

 

The Data Protection Act and how it impacts your property business: don’t fall foul of the law!

The Data Protection Act is changing. In 2018 the General Data Protection Regulations are scheduled to come in to force. The Regulations build on existing legislation and will promote accountability and governance.

You may not be aware, but under existing Data Protection legislation, individuals and organisations that process personal information must comply with the law, and you may well need to register with the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) too. You can complete a self-assessment on the ICO website to find out whether you need to register.

In any event, if you hold the personal details of an individual for the purposes of your business, then you must comply with the law, regardless of whether you need to be registered. You can find a full definition on what personal means here.

All of the client groups that we work with at InLet are likely to be processing personal information in some form or another. Here are some examples:

INVESTORS:

You may obtain Land Registry data on property ownership that you then process for direct marketing purposes.

Alternatively, during the purchase of property or land, you may obtain sensitive personal information such as name, address, lender details, related to the vendor, that you then process & retain on file (paper or electronic).

LANDLORDS:

Even if you use a letting agent, you are highly likely to have personal information on file (paper or electronic) related to current, prospective and past tenants. This could include sensitive data such as date of birth and bank details.

PROPERTY AGENTS:

Agents have access to a whole range of very sensitive information related to prospective, current and past vendors, purchasers, tenants and landlords. In addition, you are likely to be undertaking regular direct marketing campaigns; an area increasingly under scrutiny by the ICO due to the number of complaints received.

If your records are held or processed on a computer, or if the records are held manually but in a structured way that allows easy access to details about an individual, then check your business systems to ensure that you remain compliant with the law.

Data breaches are big news these days, with some very well known corporates being caught out. You can help to safeguard your business by:

  • Assessing the risks within your current systems (see ‘Resources’ below for a useful Toolkit link).
  • Identifying who controls the data in your organisation.
  • Checking whether your organisation should be registered with the ICO.
  • Reviewing (or implementing) Privacy Notices to ensure that individuals know what data you hold, why, how you hold it and how you use it.
  • Considering your organisation’s approach to direct marketing, and checking that you are not inadvertently breaching the legislation.
  • Keep in mind that the Data Protection Act is changing. There is likely to be more emphasis on you in future to show how your business is compliant. Get it right now, and you will be ahead of the game when the General Data Protection Regulations come in to force.

Resources:

You can utilise a range of helpful resources through the ICO website. This useful Toolkit will help you evaluate, and, if necessary, improve, your compliance. More here.

There is also an excellent ICO webinar that goes through the requirements of Data Protection for small & medium-sized enterprises. More here.

About me:

michelle-at-exactitudeI’m a Member of the Chartered Institute of Personnel & Development. As a former HR professional within the NHS and Higher Education Research sectors, I have many years’ experience of dealing with very sensitive information. Data Protection is a particular interest area for me, and I have carried this experience and interest over in to my own property business.

If you need some help with implementing  Data Protection processes within your property business, feel free to get in touch. InLet management is registered with the ICO: Registration Number: ZA211544.

Thanks for reading.

Michelle

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