Productivity: The Battle of the Inbox


I started the year off with a simple goal. I wanted to have a clean inbox. I’m a bit Type-A (by a bit, I mean totally and completely). I like order. Things have places and they should be in them. All of the time.

This compulsive tendency has been a challenge living with teenage boys who live in a world of self imposed chaos. Clothes on the floor. Sports equipment discarded everywhere. Backpacks where important papers go to die. Throw in a crazy little dog and my world of order is thrown into complete disarray.

One of the few places where I used to be able to achieve simplicity and order was my inbox. Neat and orderly folders each titled with client names sat in a pristine row with emails sorted as they came in.

A few years ago, I got really busy. The kind of busy where I had to write down “eat lunch” and “take shower” on my daily to-do list just to make myself remember those routine daily tasks.. That is often the challenge of being a freelancer - your at-home life creeps into your work and your work infringes on your at-home life.

Somehow in the midst of that constant hustle, my inbox got completely out of control. Client emails mixed with a constant stream of informative newsletters and market research alerts. Emails from my family sat alongside the latest sale announcement from my favorite stores. Every day I would sit down and think, I really need to clean out my inbox. Week after week... month after month… year upon year…. until I could no longer tolerate it.

In January, I spent two full days going through email after email. Sorting. Deleting. Following up. It was liberating. I was able to finally achieve Inbox Zero. What is Inbox Zero? That special moment when your inbox is completely empty. - beautifully, wonderfully empty. The stress lifted. I felt free. It lasts about one minute. The moment it is empty you will start to hear the dreaded “bing” of a new message arriving to clutter up your world once again.

Truthfully, I have not been able keep it completely empty, but it’s no longer so full that I feel overwhelmed. Once a week I try to take the time to clean it up so I can find information that I need. Next up will be unsubscribing to stuff that I no longer find useful as it comes in to cut down the clutter. The ongoing battle allows me to focus on emails that I truly value and need rather than get bogged down in the endless stream of new messages. I doubt I will ever maintain a completely empty inbox, but I’ve found a system that works for me.

About the author:    The Business Girl is Terri Sullivan Biehn.  I have been a professional business writer and management consultant for more than fifteen years.  As a management consultant, I work with entrepreneurs to develop business plans and other documents.  Through my consulting practice, I coach entrepreneurs and small business owners on their general start-up, marketing, financial, operational and management issues.

Startup: Keeping Track of Your Leads (aka Future Customers)


Leads are the key to startup success.  Keeping track of those leads is essential to your success.  There are lots of applications to help you keep track of all those leads. 

One of the easiest and most affordable options is MailChimp.  This free online option will help you keep track of all of those potential future clients in one place.  You can create a variety of custom lists based on specific clients and send email blasts from one central place. 

As you build your website, include a signup form to help you collect their contact information and send a "thank you" for sharing their info.

Startup: It's Time to Build Your Buzz

Once you have established your brand and taken the first steps in building your website, it's time to get social. 

By social, we mean it's time to embrace social media.  Start out with the biggest platforms - Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn.  Establish your profiles with as much information as you can and start building up your following with targeted posts. 

You don't need to join every social media platform.  Pick the ones that target your customer base.  Focus on the ones that your clients are most likely to hang out on and low prioritize the ones that do target your demographics.

Once you have your profiles established, it's time to start following others (especially people that you would like to follow you back).  Take time to schedule your social media posts using tools like Hootsuite.  This can help you make the best use of your time by posting at the times of the day when you will reach the highest volume of readers. 





Startup: Announcing Yourself to the World


You've decided on your business.  You picked a name.  You setup at domain.  It's time to dip your toe in the online pool. 

The first step to taking your business officially online is to create a pre-launch page.  It's not quite a website, but it's a teaser that shows the world that you are officially in business. 

This is the time to get people excited about your upcoming launch.  Create a one page pre-launch page with a countdown timer and an email signup to start building up your customer base.



Startup: Are You Ready to Launch?

The idea of running your own business sounds promising to many, but in reality most people aren't equipped to start their own business. Before you start down the path to opening a business, you need to ask yourself a few tough questions to see if you have what it takes to enter the world of entrepreneurship.

Leadership: Are you a leader or a follower? Am you decisive or do you second guess your decisions? An entrepreneur needs a certain comfort in making decisions and living with the outcomes.

Adaptability: Can you roll with the punches and take on a wide variety of roles? An entrepreneur needs to be able to take on a wide range of new duties and multitask. Being able to adapt and learn new function is a necessary skill for the successful entrepreneur.

Enthusiasm: Are you excited about the product or services you are offering? You've got to have passion for the service or product in order to successfully launch. You are ultimately the walking billboard for your business and have to be able to sell it to potential clients.

Uncertainty: Can you handle the uncertainty of not receiving a paycheck every Friday or the sudden inflow of a flood of orders? The one thing that is certain with every startup, everything is completely uncertain. You need to be able to adapt and have a certain expectation that things aren't always going to go as planned.

Time Management: Can you manage time well and keep a home-work balance? For many new entrepreneurs, the tendency to work 24/7 can be overwhelming. A successful entrepreneur needs to maintain a balance for the benefit of their business and lifestyle.

Startup: Hire a Writer to Put Your Business Into Words

There comes a time that most startups realize that there is a lot of writing involved with getting a business up and rolling.  The unfortunate reality is that not all entrepreneurs are great writers. 

Once you come to terms with the fact that there are a lot of other things you would like to do with your time than spin your wheels trying to put pen to paper, you will realize that there are professional writers out there who love to spend their hours putting your business into words.

Unless you are naturally good at writing copy, you will get more bang for your buck finding someone who can do a lot of the wordy work for you.  A writer can create the content for your website, draft your business plan, create articles / blog posts, develop presentations, and even manage your social media for you. 

A professional writer can help you check off all those essential documents from your startup to-do list while you focus on actually running your business.

Startup: It's All in the (Domain) Name



It's a reality in today's marketplace that you will need a website.  You can still startup offline, but getting online is a critical step to your overall success. 

Once you have settled on a name for your business, you need to secure a domain name that can help drive customers to your business.  The first step is picking out a domain name. 

In days gone by, a company would pick out a domain name that was the same as your product or brand name.  Today, it is increasingly difficult to find an available domain name so you may need to get creative at least in the .com realm.  You can start by adding some action words that complement your business.  Think strong words such as Get or Go

If having a strict .com isn't critical for your business, you can opt to go with an alternate hosting platform such as a .net, .io, or .org.  The downside to this option is that the traditional .com to our web searches so think about your audience before buying an alternative domain.



Startup: Determining Your Business Strategy

Once you have decided to start your own business and you've taken the first steps in determining what your business will be, it's time to get busy strategizing.  This is not the part where you figure out the step-by-step plan for your business, this is the part where you think in broad strokes about what you want to accomplish and a basic roadmap on how to get there. 

Mission.  Vision. Goals.  Targets.  Oh, my.....

The first step is to figure out what you will do as a business.  It is also the time to define what you won't do.  Brainstorm who your customers will be.  Determine how you will define success.  Decide how you want to grow and expand.

Setting the strategy is designed to help you focus on the items that are really important to you as a business owner and discard the items that are not.  It will help set the priorities on where you will distribute your startup budget and where you don't need to focus quite yet. 

The better you can define your roadmap early in the process, the easier your path to success will be.