Prepare your business for the new year

20 ways to prepare your business for the coming year

Like August, December can often be a quiet time for VAs. Your clients are usually winding down for Christmas themselves and, although it’s great to have a couple of weeks off, if you spend some time during the gap between Christmas and New Year (Twixtmas / Chrimbo Limbo) putting your house in order, you’ll start the coming year way ahead of the game.

Things to do during the Christmas holidays to get ahead

Here’s 20 things you can do now to ensure you’re primed and ready for when it all kicks off again in January. You don’t have to do all of these things, but I promise anything you do now will stand you in good stead later.

1 – Assess and update your social media profiles

Google displays social media stuff in search results so go to every site where you have a presence and make sure your bio accurately reflects what you now do and that you’re using industry keywords.

You also need to check that your photo looks like your face does now, that the image displays well on small devices and that it’s the same on all your profiles in order to maintain cross-platform brand consistency and recognition.

It’s also a good idea to categorise, tag and cull your contacts/followers and put them in the right lists while you’re at it.

2 – Review and update your website

Add a WordPress broken link checker to see if all your links still work, add WordPress SEO by Yeost to make sure your website is completely optimised for Google search and add Google Analytics to see how your site is faring.

Your About Page will be one of your most popular pages so check yours is engaging and add testimonials that would appeal to your target client.

Also check Google Analytics and Webmaster Tools (you need Webmaster Tools so Google knows you actually have a website!) to discover how people find you and to see what pages on your site or blog are the most popular.   Then either write more blog posts on those subjects or improve/optimise your most-viewed pages.

If you haven’t got a website yet or want to move over to WordPress (cos it’s just the best one frankly), I have a really good beginners course so you can learn how to make your own.

3 – Sort your LinkedIn profile out

LinkedIn is an invaluable platform. People are on there solely to do business and if you’re not getting work from it then you’re definitely doing it wrong.

Make sure your profile looks incredible, is current, has recommendations, key words, case studies, rich media and a vanity URL.

If you have a LinkedIn profile that’s not bringing in work, consider having your profile audited by an expert so you can use it to get clients.

4 – Ask for testimonials

Get Recommendations through LinkedIn because you can copy and paste a testimonial from LinkedIn into your website but you can’t do it the other way around.

When you ask for a testimonial tell the client what you’d like them to say. Often people will just say how lovely and friendly a (woman) person is, when really you want to be known for being efficient and adding value.

5 – Do your expenses

Boring as hell but they need to be done. So pour yourself a glass of wine/gin and get them sorted so you can submit them online at the end of January. If this is the first time you’ve used the HMRC online system then you need to register to receive a Unique Taxpayer Reference activation card which can take up to two weeks to arrive.

HMRC are utter sods and will inflict penalties if you submit your return late!

6 – Learn new skills

Use this time to learn something new like SEO, online marketing, social media, book-keeping, Kindle publishing, WordPress, Excel, PowerPoint, YouTube vids, shorthand or even just update your skills in your own niche. Register your website with Webmaster Tools or add Google analytics to your site.

Use this time to get better and be better!

There are loads of training courses and free stuff on my Downloads and Training page to help your business grow and make more money.

7 – Specify your goals

If you’re specific about what you want then you’re far more likely to get it. So instead of saying “I want to earn more money next year”, decide how much then break that down into the amount of billable hours you’ll need to work to earn it then create a plan for how you’re going to make that happen.

So instead of saying “I want more clients next year”, specify how many. If you’d like eight more clients then you need to land a new one approximately every six weeks.

I have a free goal setting doc on my Downloads and Training page to help you with this.

8 – Update and cull your contact lists

Check that everyone’s details are up to date and add notes on where and when you met them. You can also export your LinkedIn contacts to your email client then get Twitter to search through your contacts to find people you might know. Group or label your contacts and cull anyone you don’t recognise.

Be brutal!

9 – Set up meetings

Leading on from the last point, I bet you have a ton of Twitter/LinkedIn/email contacts you’ve never met or haven’t seen for ages. Use this quiet time to set up coffee meetings (offer to pay) so you can get together, find out more about their business and challenges and see if you can help them achieve their new year goals.

It not only strengthens ties, but you’d be surprised at the mutually-beneficial things that arise from meeting someone face to face.

Remember that ‘people do business with people they know and people they like’.

If you know other VAs in your area then set about meeting them too. They’re not competition, they’re a valuable resource and can be your ally, teach you new skills and you can refer work to each other.

10 – Sort your paperwork

You don’t want to start the New Year with baggage from this one so get some sort of system going. Buy ring binders, folders, clear wallets and sticky labels (so fun!) and start archiving and creating an easy workable system for your paperwork and stationery.

11 – Get your head around Gmail

I’m a huge fan of Google products because they provide a professional, seamless and shareable way of working with clients and make tasks a billion times easier. Google gives you Chrome, Drive (formerly Docs), Gmail and Calendars which you can share and sync.

You can import numerous other email accounts into a central Gmail one and use it as a kind of email-management hub – I currently import five personal and client email addresses into my main Gmail one. Outlook is a dinosaur in comparison, so any time learning how Gmail works is time well spent.

I have a free video series on how to set up and use Gmail. Learn how to import other accounts and set up filters, labels, folders and more.

12 – Clean your computer

Don’t only give the screen, fan and keyboard a good clean, but get rid of most of the desktop icons as well. Hardly any of them are useful and you can pin them to your Taskbar, Quick Launch or Start Menu if you use them a lot.

Make sure your desktop folders are labelled correctly, archive old work, clean up your registry, schedule defrags and save disk space to make your computer run faster.

13 – Filter newsletters and updates

Set up email filters so your social media updates and other newsletters bypass your inbox. Better still, unsubscribe if you always delete them, change your settings to amend the frequency or create a new email address solely for business emails and updates.

Get in the habit of actioning, filing, archiving or deleting emails as soon as they come in and use coloured flags or stars to label emails (I made red labels for things I need to action, orange for things I’m waiting-on and blue for meetings).

I have a blog post on how to do all this and it’s also in the free Gmail video series I just mentioned.

14 – Create email templates

If there’s a particular email you write a lot then create a template for it. In Gmail go to Settings, Labs, and enable ‘Canned Responses’. Now when you write an email, you just insert the appropriate template and save yourself loads of time. This is also in the free Gmail video series.

15 – Sort your emails out

Another email one. Go through all your emails and either archive them, delete them or put them into relevant folders. Add labels, set up filters and make sure you know where everything is. Google how to do these things if you’re not sure.

16 – Schedule stuff

I firmly believe something is far more likely to get done if you put it in your calendar. Even if you then end up dragging it across to another day, it’s still a visual reminder of something you have to do. If you schedule client work throughout the week along with other personal and work commitments, you’ll also see whether you can actually fit it all in or not.

Other reminders I schedule are: downloading my bank statement to do my expenses, expiry dates of my web hosting, dates of other business direct debits, birthdays, meetings, reminders etc. I put everything in my calendar (I use blue for work and pink for my own personal stuff) or it just doesn’t get done.

17 – Assess your marketing

How many new clients did you get this year and how did you get them? Who are your favourite clients and why? Do they have anything in common?

If you know what type of client you want then it’s much easier to find more of them.

Take time to analyse your marketing efforts. What did you try? (Adwords, networking, email marketing, Social Media, Facebook ads etc) and how well did it work? See what marketing worked and what didn’t – and if it worked then do more of it!

Read everything I have on marketing and finding work here.

18 – Get more clients

I’ve honed the method I use to get clients and I now don’t need to use any other method to get work – Chrimbo Limbo is the perfect time to apply my system because your ideal client is almost certainly using this time to plan their year ahead.

They’re trying to work out how to scale their business so they can get more clients in – and you want to be the perfectly-timed answer to how they’re going to do it!

Here’s my guide on how I get new clients. I don’t use any other method as this works for me every time I use it.

19 – Assess your rates

As well as ensuring your website is perfectly suited to match your ideal client, check you’re charging according to your current level of expertise. If you’re quicker now than you’ve ever been then you’re losing money just by being better at your job!

Change the pricing on your site and let your existing clients know your rate is going up in the New Year. Here is a blog post on how to raise your rates – it even comes with a free email template.

20 – Evaluate, reflect and plan

By looking at the past year and evaluating what worked and what didn’t you’ll see what you need to focus on next year.

If you know when your quiet periods are and why then you can plan to use the quiet time wisely. If you know what tasks you enjoyed doing then you can adapt your online presence and marketing to get more of the same.

Look back so you can plan forward.

Conclusion

I know it’s the holiday season and whilst you should definitely chill out, don’t get caught out by being lazy. Business and technology move really fast and it’s rare to get an extended quiet period like this to get ahead of yourself.

Making time to reflect, focus and work on improving your own business is what separates an average Virtual Assistant from an outstanding one.

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