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Bethan Trueman has been a virtual assistant specialising in design and digital marketing for five years. Here she talks us through the life-changing benefits of employing a VA and why you may not have realised you needed one – until now.

“For many of us trying to build a business or career, time is the one thing we’re short of. And, in the midst of trying to juggle work and life, we can often feel overwhelmed. 

Imagine having someone else to take some of the pressure off by handling some of your workload or the personal tasks that drain your brain and your time. This is where a Virtual Assistant or VA comes in. By outsourcing your tasks, you can free up valuable time in order to do what you do best and focus on the bigger picture of your life and business. 

A virtual assistant can help with a lot more than just admin tasks and diary management. They can play a huge role in your business and life, offering skills such as business management, accounts, marketing, graphic and web design, social media, book keeping, IT support, organising travel, and even managing your personal diary and the family calendar (all those school dates? Imagine them inputted and sorted immediately.)” 

How to find the right VA for you  

“There are an array of highly experienced VA’s to choose from with a huge spectrum of skills and backgrounds who are proficient in a variety of different industries and professions.  

You can either go directly to an independent VA operating as a freelancer or business owner, or use an agency (Bethan works through Time Etc and has her own business, TEG Virtual).  This way, you are using the services of another business and therefore establish a B2B relationship with your assistant. The alternative is to employ an in-house VA, which of course comes with extra responsibility, and potentially less flexibility than outsourcing. 

Not only can a virtual assistant offer all of the support an in-house assistant would, they offer increased flexibility and often come at a fraction of the cost. And don’t think that just because they work from home that they are any less motivated than an in-house assistant would be – they are responsible for managing their clients and also themselves so tend to be highly organised and driven individuals.” 

How your virtual relationship works  

“With remote working on the rise, the demand for virtual assistants is growing fast. They can support you with anything an in-house person would, but instead of working face-to-face you simply communicate digitally, whether it be via email, Skype, Zoom, WhatsApp, or over the phone.  

Assistants can be hired on an ad hoc basis, or you can choose to work with them long-term. Some might bill by the hour, per task or project, in blocks of time, and others might charge a monthly retainer.  If you work with a VA through an agency you will probably pay a monthly retainer for a certain number of hours. How the assistant works and invoices should be established during your consultation, so that you understand the working process from the beginning and to ensure that you are a good fit for one another.  

The relationship between a virtual assistant and their client should be mutually benefitting; the role of a VA is an incredibly rewarding one, and assistants often learn from their clients just as much as their clients can learn from them. 

From the outset it’s important to discuss with your virtual assistant how much time you require of them, and how you would like that time to be managed. Your assistant should work with you to devise a schedule that works for the both of you, whether that involves weekly calls, blocking out hours or splitting hours over the weeks in a month.” 

What a VA could take off your plate 

“You can find a VA to help with almost anything. A virtual assistant might specialise in a specific area such as marketing, or website management, or offer their help with a broad range of administrative tasks. They can also respond to emails and take phone calls for you, essentially acting as an extension of you, on demand. But their skills don’t have to stop with just your business – VA’s can take a lot off your plate in your everyday life too. Have them act as your family assistant, organising travel, holidays, repairs, receipts, and diarising events such as your children’s school dates and occasions.  

If you’re a busy mum, you could even hire a VA to help out with booking appointments, planning events, and even online grocery shopping. Personally, as a VA specialising in design and digital marketing, one thing clients particularly love is that they get all of the services they need in one place – there’s no need to find individual PA’s, graphic designers, and social media managers.” 

The Do’s and Don’t of hiring a VA  

With over 5 years experience, Bethan can sure share a thing or two that might help you in your quest for hiring a VA. We asked her as well as top Virtual Assistant business AVirtual for their  ‘do’s and don’ts’

DO your research

You can find virtual assistants via an agency, on social media (LinkedIn and Instagram are particularly great for this), by placing an ad or simply doing your own research. But if you do choose to work with a VA who hasn’t come recommended or through an agency, be sure to do your own due diligence before going ahead. Things to look out for include examples of their work, testimonials, their insurance and terms and conditions.” We at 35Thousand have worked with Time etc and AVirtual with great success.  

DON’T think that you’re the only one who can do the job

“Many people resist outsourcing at first, reluctant to give up even the tiniest portion of their work for fear others can’t do it as well. Your business is your baby, and I get that, and trusting someone else to manage your social media, communicate with your clients, and manage your inbox can be rather scary. However, letting go of your task list and letting someone take the reins for you is often one of the best decisions you can make. Of course, you need to make sure that you hire a trusted individual who is the right fit for you and your business, which is where the due diligence part comes in.” 

DO establish your communication preferences

In a virtual world, communication is most definitely key. Good communication will be a determining factor in the health of your relationship between you and your VA. To avoid any mishaps, it’s good practice to establish your communication preference during the onboarding process. Do you prefer to use Whatsapp, email, a cloud-based project management tool, or have weekly calls? Make sure your assistant understands how you prefer to communicate, and how often.” 

DON’T underestimate the time a job takes

“It might feel like a weight has been lifted off your shoulders once you start outsourcing but that doesn’t mean the task will be completed within half an hour. To avoid uncertainty and potential frustration, establish a time limit with your VA per task, and check with them whether the allocated time is feasible before they begin work.” 

Virtual assistant business AVirtual says “Entrepreneurs and business leaders tend to work at lightning speed, but assistants are not mind readers. That job you sent through may require a bit more information. Especially in the beginning stages, it’s important to include too much information rather than too little. Ask for questions and make sure they are aware that you are expecting more questions along the way.”

DO be realistic with your expectations 

Obviously it depends on the size of the job, but in virtual assistant land, anything within one week is considered a fast turnaround, and you might find that some VA’s charge ‘rush fees’ for any tasks that require completion within 5-7 days. VA’s usually work with multiple clients and need to manage their workload accordingly.”  

DO always check with your VA what other skills they might offer

Before spreading out various tasks between various employees, check with your VA if they have the skills and capacity to help you first. For example, you might have a VA working with you on social media management but they may also be able to help you with the graphics and video content for your website as well. And if they can’t help you with a particular skillset they may well be able to find someone else who can.” 

Do invite them to be part of your team

AVirtual recommends that you treat your assistant as part of your work posse if it’s appropriate, “Adding your assistant to your inter-company networks, such as Facebook, Slack Groups, etc. will make him or her feel part of the action. Scribing meetings is a sure way to increase industry knowledge. Invite your assistant to join off-site and company meetings remotely.”

DON’T refrain from sharing feedback 

As with any profession, it’s important to receive feedback in order to improve and provide a better quality of work. If you feel that your VA isn’t quite on the same path as you, it’s important to have a constructive conversation about what you’d like to achieve and how they can better support you. Also remember that feedback goes both ways, so if you’re assistant is doing a great job, tell them.” 

“Everyone likes a pat on the back when they have worked hard” say the team at A Virtual

DO provide your assistant with everything they will need 

As part of the onboarding process, you should provide your assistant with anything they might need in order to complete work for you. This includes logins and passwords, email access, shared folders, etc. If you’re hiring an assistant to do design work for you, whether that be a website, flyers or social media graphics, make sure you give them your media kit including brand guidelines, logo and font files.” 

DON’T expect your VA to be at your every beck and call 

Understand that a good VA will be in demand. Although we are very efficient, we do have other clients and each task needs to be managed and prioritised accordingly. Please do not expect your VA to reply to every email within minutes of you sending it. Your VA might consider a reasonable response time to be within 24-48 hours during busy periods, but you might think otherwise. This is why it is important to establish these expectations during the onboarding process, so you can set up your working relationship for success.” 

DO organise yourself 

“Finally, have your business processes and systems ready to set your VA up for success. By investing in an assistant the right way, you’ll be able to see the value of your investment. Get those ducks in a row and it’ll make the onboarding a smoother process.”

Take a look at Bethan’s website here and her company here.

Time etc and AVirtual both offer highly skilled VA’s with a variety of skills as well as maternity cover and temporary staffing. 

If you love reading this article then you will also be inspired by our feature ‘How to Boss your Work Appraisal’ here

Appraisals leave you cold? You’re not the only one. Global companies from Accenture to Adobe to Deloitte have ditched the annual performance review model in favour of more frequent one-to-ones and conversational feedback sessions, with increasing numbers of businesses and bosses following suit. (If you are an employer read our ‘Guide to Giving a Great Performance review’ here)

Whether your company has transitioned to a more flexible performance review schedule or is sticking to the yearly thing, an appraisal can be a golden opportunity to steer your career in the direction that most lights your fire while also receiving valuable intel on how to excel in your role (or nab another one). With these perks in mind, performance reviews are something that you can learn to love, actually. Just take the following steps to turn the review process into a meeting of minds rather than a combat exercise. 

Avoid ‘recency bias’

Normally scrabble together your year of professional highlights reel at the last minute? A bitesize approach to performance review prep will not only prove far less stressful but it’ll also evaluate your hard graft in the very best (and most accurate) light. 35 Thousand founder, CEO and executive coach Misty Reich explains why timing is everything:

“Recency bias is the phenomenon of overweighting the work that you’ve done not long ago while neglecting to consider earlier work, for better or for worse. This tends to be more of an issue when we leave it to the end of the year to reflect on and assess our performance.”

Nip recency bias in the bud by adopting a more on-the-go approach to career progression, setbacks and learnings. Misty breaks it down (quite literally):

“Start making notes in your phone at the beginning of the year, bullet pointing your goals and objectives. Drop in at regular intervals (every fortnight or monthly) to add notes about significant achievements or struggles. Be sure to capture any quantitative data as you go so that you can easily cite key numbers when your review does come around.”

A chronological account of your performance since your last review will help to get both you and your boss on the same page from the get go and ensure that you don’t forget any of your stellar accomplishments. It’s tortoise over hare, every time. 

Seek critique

Market research is powerful, especially when you apply it to yourself. Gathering feedback from your peers will help you to see the wood from the trees when reflecting on your performance. Here’s how to go about it according to Misty (sidling up at the office party is not the one):

“It’s a natural human tendency to believe that our truth is THE truth. This is never riskier than when we’re looking inwards and evaluating ourselves. 

“Commit to regularly seeking real-time feedback from colleagues around you throughout the year to make your self-reflection as objective as possible. It’ll make you much more comfortable when it comes to unpicking and analysing anything that went wrong in your actual performance review as you’ll be more likely to approach tricky issues with an open and constructive mindset. It also gives you time to course correct and solve problems that you might not have been aware of before your review even comes around.”

Foraging for feedback needn’t be a painful ordeal either – keep emails, messages and notes of praise from colleagues and clients together in a folder for both easy performance review prep and a daily boost. 

Ask the right questions

A Q&A session could very well unlock the key to a coveted promotion or pay rise, but as ever, strategising and drilling down on the specifics will go further than vague endorsement. Misty has a few starters for ten up her sleeve to help you on your fact-finding mission:

“Identify a few peers who have a good line of sight of both you and your work throughout the year who you would trust to give you honest feedback. Then ask them a few questions, perhaps every quarter, to get a scope of how things are going.

“Questions to pose could include:

This kind of intelligence gathering is especially important if your company doesn’t implement a 360º feedback review process in Misty’s view – there’s nothing stopping you proactively exploring where you stand, how you’ve progressed and how you could tweak your performance to the benefit of the business, your wider team and crucially you as an individual. Put the same questions to your boss and you’ll be even more enlightened – just don’t go in on the defensive…

Let your guard down

Whether you sense that a touchy topic could come up, or if you’re looking to raise a potentially awkward issue yourself, go in with grace and keep things neutral. Even if you feel that your boss’ criticism is unjust or unfounded, Misty advocates gleaning the nugget of truth within what’s being said, disregarding the delivery or framing of the situation if it’s exaggerated:

“Bear in mind that managers could be just as nervous about having these discussions as you are – as a result they may choose their words poorly, or they simply may not have had adequate training in how to deliver constructive feedback.”

Relate what you think that your boss is trying to communicate back to them in more objective terms to clarify their meaning and try to focus on the call to action, letting any spiky comments roll off you if you can. That said, Misty emphasises that there’s a line when it comes to poor line management:

“If the situation becomes inflammatory or gets out of hand, look to a trusted HR specialist for support and counsel. If you don’t have these resources available to you within the company and/or the scenario doesn’t improve, work towards finding another role within or outside of the company. Don’t stick around until it becomes an intense stressor if you can navigate yourself into a far more fulfilling position.”

If it’s you that’s broaching a sensitive subject, Misty advises first examining your own motives to make sure that you’re bringing an issue up for the right reasons. “If you’re essentially trying to take a colleague down a peg or two, it’s probably best to get to the root of the problem in a different setting”. If you do put it out there, be sure to seek out the broader context of any conflict first and actively welcome your boss’ point of view. Don’t expect an immediate response or solution either – it’s likely that your manager will need to reflect on the information that you’ve shared to best handle the matter at hand. Misty recommends not carrying the burden beyond this point. Passing on the baton allows you to let it go, at least until the next follow-up. 

Know your worth

Doing your homework prior to any conversation about pay is essential, not just in terms of your personal position but also that of the company. Presenting a forward-looking ‘business case’ for a promotion or pay rise is as vital as selling your strengths and achievements thus far – Misty highlights that your boss wants to know how you plan to troubleshoot and continue to improve in order to co-create a path towards your ultimate career goals. 

Consider also where the business is at:

“If your company is struggling for cash it could be the case that a pay rise isn’t possible right now, so consider motivating factors aside from financial rewards too. Be prepared to offer ideas – chances are that there’s a real desire to retain your talent so they might be only too delighted to hear your suggestions.” 

Still not getting your dues? Ask your manager for a roadmap:

“Rather than demanding an answer or outcome on the spot, ask your boss about any specific gaps or opportunities that stand between where you are now and where you want to go. Request to work collaboratively to craft a plan to get you there.”

If you loved reading this, then ‘How to rock your LinkedIn profile’ may also be one for you. Read it here

Whether you are in the market for a new job, are thinking about moving, are promoting your business, or are happily employed, nearly everyone has a LinkedIn profile these days. In fact we would go as far as saying it’s as important as your CV or Resumé. Like a digital shop window for you or your business it’s there for all to see 24/7 and is incredibly important to get it right to maximise its’ far-reaching potential. How you write your profile and what you write can increase the number of potential new bosses/ connections it reaches. 

Here at 35Thousand we’ve been on a mission to find out how to create the ultimate LinkedIn profile, and because we don’t mess around, we went straight to LinkedIn themselves (no one knows better than them right?). Here, Lauren Jolda, Senior Manager at the ‘Rock your Profile Program’ at LinkedIn spills their secrets.

Craft a standout headline

First things first, LinkedIn gives you the option to add a ‘headline.’ This, says Lauren, is important “Because it’s the first thing your audience will see when they search you on LinkedIn, before they click into your profile.” And if you don’t update it then it will just default to the latest position in your work history. It’s your chance to promote your brand, write something really compelling that represents you and your unique talents.

You can learn how to customize your headline  here. But the key elements to include are as follows:

Think of your ‘About’ section or ‘Summary’ like an elevator pitch

“It’s a personal way to introduce yourself to people who visit your profile,” says Lauren. “It’s a great place to summarize your professional story and also share what you’re looking for.”

However it’s important not to ramble or write an essay of your life. Attention spans are short so make sure your story is to the point. If you can Keep your summary to about 4-5 sentences,” says Lauren. “Consider including relevant skills and keywords featured in descriptions of jobs that seem interesting to you – this can boost your visibility in searches. Make sure you focus on your career aspirations and accomplishments.”

Bear Lauren’s following points in mind when you are putting your summary together:

Do not leave your profile picture blank

You may be in introvert or shy away from social media but LinkedIn research shows that adding an image of yourself will help you receive up to nine times the amount of connections than those that don’t one. “Your profile photo represents you, and is a simple way for your colleagues, friends or former classmates to recognize and discover you on LinkedIn,” says Lauren. 

Whilst it’s probably not a good idea to add a holiday snap of you in a bikini (unless your business is bikinis) you also don’t want your image to be lifeless. Lauren has the following advice “Make sure your profile photo embodies who you are as a professional, but also makes you approachable and shows a bit of your personality.”

These are her three top photo tips:

Breathe visual life into your profile with a background image

Your background photo is another visual element that runs across the top of your profile. It’s a great way to showcase your product if you have one, or the brands you work with, or you could add your logo.  Lauren says “It’s a great way to customize your page and show a little bit about your interests and passions.” If you are feeling artistic, you could create a layout here that fits with the colours and images of your brand.

Always be authentic

Obviously you can ‘enhance’ the truth on LinkedIn as you can on a resumé, but authenticity is obvious, especially if you have the experience to back it up. Lauren says that,  “A great way to add authenticity to your profile is to use the first-person narrative when highlighting your career, accomplishments and skills. This helps you to own your professional story and build credibility,” she says. She also flags that the language you use will reflects who you are as a person,” Make sure that you use language that tells your professional story accurately, authentically and represents your personal brand.”

Don’t fall into the buzzword trap 

Depending what industry you work in there are particular in-the-know buzzwords and lingo that your tribe use. Lauren’s advice is not to use buzzwords for the sake of it but to use the language that you genuinely use on a daily basis. “There are a lot of buzzwords out there, but my recommendation is to always describe yourself, your experience and your goals authentically. In your ‘experience’ section, talk about your strengths, accomplishments and the value that you added to your team and company.”

How do I grow my network? 

LinkedIn is all about the network – about connecting with others, showcasing your work to your following, posting about company news etc. If you are new to LinkedIn or you don’t have much of a following, Lauren has the following pointers:

Focus on quality connections, not quantity

Whilst great to have a community of followers on LinkedIn, it’s important you don’t get carried away with befriending everyone that tries to follow you. “You get to determine how you build and leverage your community on LinkedIn” says Lauren.“We recommend building a network of quality versus quantity so that you have a professional community you can tap into when you need help and give back to when you can.”

Hone your skills…

Lauren says “Members with five or more skills listed on their LinkedIn profile are discovered up to 27X more in searches by recruiters. That’s why, it’s important to list your skills — both hard and soft — on your profile. You can showcase your proficiency for hard skills with Skill Assessments and earn a badge which gets added to your LinkedIn profile. Our data shows that members with a Skill Assessment badge on their profile are 20% more likely to get hired.” 

…but keep them relevant 

The problem however with having too many badges (especially if you are looking for a job) is that you may be spreading your talents too thinly. “The key here is relevancy,” says Lauren, “I would make sure you set aside time to review your skills on a regular basis and list the ones that are relevant to your experience. 87 percent of recruiters consider skills to be a critical factor when it comes to vetting candidates. So, list skills that you’ve picked up in past roles or currently have and are aligned with jobs that you are seeking. In addition to your primary job, it’s also good to think about skills you’ve acquired through projects at school, internships or volunteer work that could be applicable for a particular role – like communication or adaptability – and list them on your profile.”

Be SEO savvy

There are particular insider tricks and tips you can do on LinkedIn to make sure that you are ‘discoverable’ in searches. Here are Lauren’s top tips

Endorsements count

“Once you’ve added a skill to your profile, your skills can be validated by 1st-degree connections in your LinkedIn network to reinforce their weighting. These are called skill endorsements, which are different from recommendations. When a connection endorses your skills, it contributes to the strength of your profile, and increases the likelihood that you’ll be discovered for opportunities related to the skills you have.”

Fill in the featured section

If you click on the top of your profile you can choose to add a ‘Featured’ and ‘Publications section’. ‘“The ‘Featured’ section is a new area on your LinkedIn profile where you can showcase examples of your work that you’re most proud of,” says Laure. “The Featured section enables you to showcase posts that you’ve authored or re-shared, articles you’ve published on LinkedIn, and even external media like images, documents and links. All this helps bring your work to life,” says Lauren.”

It’s important however not to confuse this with the activity section, “Which highlights all your activity for the past 45 days, ordered by recency. This includes your articles, posts, comments and likes on other LinkedIn posts. If you choose to enable it, you’ll find your Activity section located just below the Featured section on your profile or under your Dashboard.”

Promote your Publications 

Another way to showcase your skills is to utilise the ‘Publications’ area. “This is part of the ‘Accomplishments’ section of your Profile and allows you to add any articles, books, news or other media you have published. It’s a great way to highlight your key professional achievements,” says Lauren.

Be a multimedia maverick

Don’t just fill your profile with text, the more you vary it with multimedia, the more interesting it will be explains Lauren. “Rich media helps bring your story to life and connect your audience into what you do. You can add photos, videos, articles, website links or even presentations that help tell your career story. Pin work samples you’re most proud of at the top of your profile in the ‘featured’ section or simply add it to your work experience.”

And finally…

“Use your profile as an opportunity to tell your story, showcase your accomplishments and highlight your skills. Remember, it’s different than your resumé and should be more like a digital portfolio that constantly changes as you evolve and grow in your career. Make sure you set aside time to update your profile on a regular basis to bring your career story to life.”

LinkedIn is also offering more than 600 LinkedIn Learning courses for free to help members build skills for in-demand jobs and hone fundamental soft skills needed to navigate the challenging work environments many are currently facing.

If you enjoyed this article then you will love reading about “6 of the best podcasts for entrepreneurs” here

They inspire dread in managers and employees alike but performance reviews can in fact be a gift for all involved – here’s why, and how to make reviews rewarding (really)

As annual treats go, a performance review (either giving or receiving) wouldn’t exactly be at the top of anyone’s list. Despite this, career coach Elizabeth Houghton is of the opinion that “feedback is a gift” – it just needs to be packaged and delivered correctly by both parties. Whether you’re due to give a performance review yourself or are nervously awaiting one, the following expert insights will make you see the often feared process in a whole new light. Follow these golden rules for giving great reviews and there will be no cowering by the kettle ever again. 

1. Abandon annual reviews

This seems like a very counterintuitive starting point, we know, but the stats bear us out. A study by employee experience platform Kazoo reveals that workers whose managers engage in regular, “real-time coaching conversations” are 67% more likely to feel that performance reviews lead to better professional outcomes compared to those that only received annual reviews. Employees aren’t machines and a yearly MOT won’t cut it according to Elizabeth:

“It doesn’t make sense to wait months to give feedback – it’s most effective when it’s timely. Performance concerns or positive feedback should be given in the moment; this will ensure that feedback is more impactful. Why delay supporting the growth of a colleague? Why not support their improvement, now?”

Quite. Checking in regularly also removes a great deal of anxiety, build-up burden in terms of admin and assessment on both sides and the possibility of any unexpected topics coming up. 35 Thousand founder, CEO and executive coach Misty Reich stresses that, if there are any surprises at the end of a performance review, you’re probably doing it wrong. Keeping it regular is the key to reviews that garner results according to Misty:

“I would say the ideal timetable would be to schedule quarterly performance calibrations. If your company still utilises an annual review model, that ‘final’ meeting should be a culmination and tally of what the year added up to in terms of goals achieved and expectations.”

Company leaders assess finances by quarter, at the bare minimum, so it only makes sense to check in with the employees making up your balance sheets at least as often. Jo Clare, senior consultant at business and career development organisation The Oakridge Centre, affirms that a shift away from annual performance reviews reflects the nature of modern working culture too:

“Companies are moving away from annual or bi-annual performance review meetings as there’s a need for all of us to be more agile and flexible. We’re working in an increasingly ever-changing, fast-paced world, so on-going dialogue is essential.” 

2. Prep like a boss

Because, you are one, and it’ll make appraisals far smoother from start to finish. Planning ahead has the potential to turn a scenario akin to pulling teeth into a literal meeting of minds if you adhere to a few key preparation precepts. 

As well as regularly and honestly noting employee achievements, targets and areas of growth, Misty advises giving your direct report the time and space to reflect on their own performance prior to any formal appraisal.

“Ask your employee to send over a summary self-review in advance alongside any data or metrics that they feel is relevant to their performance. This will give you a hugely helpful insight into how to frame your discussion most effectively.”

Compiling a self-evaluation form with open-ended questions that encourage your report to give feedback on how they feel that they are performing as an individual and within the team at large will prompt meaningful, productive conversation and help you to tailor your agenda beforehand. Once you’ve gathered all the goods (and growth areas), set about structuring the meeting. Misty’s blueprint keeps things simple:

“Divide your thoughts and comments into two categories: ‘what I appreciate’ and ‘how you could be even more effective’. 

“Begin walking through what you appreciate about your employee and their results – most of the time the positives far outweigh the ‘opportunity to improve’ elements’ and helping them to identify and continue doing the things that they are doing well is as important as course correction in areas that aren’t quite where they need to be yet.”

Whichever category you’re focusing on, Elizabeth recommends “Frequently revisiting how you would like to receive the feedback you’re delivering; ensure that you’re empathetic and supportive throughout.” Speaking of which…

3. Go 360º

Rather than top down assessments where you play judge and jury, senior consultant at The Oakridge Centre Judith Fraser emphasises that it’s vital to establish a “feedback culture” so that all members of your organisation feel heard. Rather than making assumptions about an employee’s performance or behaviour, prioritise asking questions and seeking feedback on your own management style and how you can best support your workforce. Two-way conversations take the guesswork out of expectations and tricky scenarios in particular, plus they foster respect. Misty notes that this is the cornerstone of effective communication, which in turn leads to rewards all round:

“Build an authentic, trusting relationship with anyone you will need to give feedback to in the future – everything is easier when it’s coming from a place of trust.”

Happily, the CIPD Good Work Index 2020 found that, among a sample of 5000 UK workers, 76% reported having a positive relationship with their immediate boss, proving that the majority of office alliances not only survive performance review meetings and the like, but thrive on them. We’re not denying that sticky issues can’t arrive, however. 

4. Don’t drop bombs 

The absolute worst way to deliver less than glowing feedback? Elizabeth calls it:

“Never just drop a bomb like ‘You’re not performing to the required level in x’ and then end the conversation or walk away. Your job as a leader is to support your team member’s development. Be clear and get straight to the point, but always in a constructive, empathetic manner.” 

Misty agrees that “Making sure that your heart and head are in a good place before you go into the meeting” is fundamental:

“Few of us enjoy being evaluated by authority figures so if your team member does get upset or angry, my best advice is to create space for this. 

“Don’t fill silences or rush your employee and, particularly if you anticipate that a subject could cause tension, perhaps adapt your approach and ask in advance how your report likes to receive feedback. This will make them feel more in control of how messages are delivered and how they feel in the meeting and in turn it will give you insight of how they might respond to points raised.” 

We’re not always going to be on the same page personally or professionally, and that’s okay according to Elizabeth:

“Make room for dissent, disagreement and diversity of opinion. Be transparent, always explain your reasoning but above all communicate feedback as a development opportunity and express your ideas with warmth and compassion.” 

5. Money talks

Finally, Misty advocates taking a clear-cut approach to talking cold, hard cash when initially scheduling the review meeting:

“Manage expectations from the off by stating that you will be discussing how the year went in terms of performance and what can be anticipated in regards to pay and reward, or that you will be discussing how the year went in terms of goals and and will arrange a separate, follow up meeting to speak about any salary changes or bonuses.”

Either way, Misty states that “It’s always beneficial to do your homework beforehand so that you know exactly where your team member stands in terms of compensation in comparison to peers”. If or when money comes up, Misty emphasises the importance of listening and, above all, being honest:

“Never play games – be as transparent as you can possibly be. People may not always be happy with the answer that they get but if you hear them out and communicate authentically then they’re highly likely to respect you and trust that you have their best interests at heart.”

In short, be fair, big up strengths over weaknesses (Jo encourages an 80/20 ratio) and do it all again sometime soon. The gains could just be huge for everyone. 

If you enjoyed reading this article then you will definitely enjoy reading ‘How to win at difficult conversations’ here

As the debate around returning to work continues, this much is clear: working from home as ‘the new norm’ is undoubtedly one of the most significant lifestyle changes to come out of this year’s global pandemic. In some form at least, it appears this shift is here to stay. So, how do we ensure our home office encourages the same productivity as our former work environment? And how do we combat low motivation levels without the camaraderie of colleagues? With negative vibes and poor energy flow believed to have a significant impact on performance and subsequently, success, the answer might just be Feng Shui for your office.

A key pillar of ancient Chinese philosophy dating back some 6000 years, Feng Shui is the practice of cultivating equilibrium and positivity in everyday life through the specific arranging of spaces. Priya Sher is a London-based Feng Shui consultant with an impressive corporate and private client list (she counts the Cloud 12 Spa in Notting Hill and the Macquarie Bank in London’s historic Moorhouse building amongst her many career accomplishments). Explaining Feng Shui, which literally translates as “wind water”, she says, “All living beings need water and air to survive. The key of Feng Shui is that we live in harmony with our environment”. Its aim, notes Priya, “Is to achieve balance in your living and working space, maximising your potential for success in all areas of life.”

Priya Sher, Feng Shui Master

Awarded the prestigious title of a Master, Priya has nearly 20 years of experience and is well-versed in the benefits of Feng Shui. On a universal level, “If the Feng Shui of your home is good, it enhances your life, supporting both health and prosperity”. It’s natural, she explains, that you’ll absorb the energy of any space you spend time in, “Therefore it’s vital to optimise the energy of these spaces so that they support you”. Priya observes that “Feng shui is a very intricate practice that takes years to learn and includes having a thorough grasp of the Lopan Feng Shui compass” (this is a Feng Shui compass – above – that determines the exact direction of a place or structure.). However, by following a few thoughtful steps, she believes we can all improve the energy in our home office, whether we’re working in a cramped area under the stairs or an airy room with large windows. “These tips may seem simple,” says Priya, “But they’re incredibly effective”. 

Easy steps to Feng Shui for your Home Office
Go Green

To begin, Priya recommends having light green present within your work set-up. “The colour green relates to the element of wood, which is associated with learning and growth, and is energy that rises upwards. This makes green a particularly good colour for business growth”.

Light right

Priya also stresses the importance of good light, suggesting“Lighting that is gentle on the eyes and always avoiding tube lighting as that is too aggressive” she says.

Layouts for leaders

Next, consider the layout of your home office. Where possible, “The desk needs to be positioned so that the back of your chair has a solid wall behind it. Priya advises against “Sitting with your back to the home office door or having a window directly behind you,” you should, she says, “Have a good view of the full room”.

In Feng Shui, this is known as the “command position” which enables you to take ownership of the energy of the space and retain a heightened awareness of what’s happening in it. In turn, this boosts performance and allows you to achieve your very best. If your home office is small, try positioning the desk diagonally from the door, whilst in large rooms, aim to place the desk more centrally, always keeping a wall behind it as a strong backing and for protective power.

Light a woody candle for personal growth

To further enhance the energy of the room, Priya advocates lighting a gently fragranced woody candle at the start of each working day. “Wood is springtime energy and directly correlates with new beginnings and freshness. It is about new ideas and projects”. What’s more, wood links back to trees which Priya says “Grow upwards but have roots firmly in the earth”. She states that we want to mirror this in our home office and work life, where strong foundations are important for good growth.

Add plants for workplace wellbeing

Plants are important too; a Peace Lily placed directly on the desk is “Great for soaking in electromagnetic stress” says Priya. As the name suggests, a Money Plant (Pilea Peperomioides) will support your finances if located diagonally opposite the door. This specific position is a pulse point for wealth, so avoid putting clutter or a wastepaper bin here. For indoor plants check out www.patchplants.www.patchplants.com.

A Peace Lily o your desk will absorb electromagnetic stress. This one is from patchplants.com
Declutter for an uncluttered mind

To maintain balance and calm, Priya proposes clean desks with minimal objects and papers. “As soon as you finish a project, file it away, make sure there’s no clutter and archive all old files”. This promotes greater focus and clarity of thought. In your haste to tidy away however, “Don’t place paperwork or books on the floors as it will reflect a deterioration in business or one’s career”. 

If your space permits, you can add a small table-top water fountain in the southeast corner of your home office. This will boost wealth and create a calming vibe.

Add work structure

Finally, “Stick to set hours, take regular breaks, keep work within your designated office, and avoid bringing it into other areas of your home,” says Priya. A clear separation will help you to rest and fully relax.

Following these principles will empower you to successfully Feng Shui your home office, encourage a continual flow of good energy and sustain high output levels.

You can book a consultation with Master Priya Sher via her website, priyasher.com; for visual examples of Priya’s work, follow her on Instagram@priyasher.

If you are working from home and enjoyed this article you will also like 15 ways to add more balance in your day

For many of people, (especially those who are non-confrontational and introverted), the idea of having a difficult conversation with a boss, employee or a colleague is positively terrifying. Yet the tsunami of the Corona-crisis will undoubtedly leave many companies in chaos over the coming year and there are going to be many difficult conversations to be had.

You may be an employee and wish to change the way you work for example, you may feel you aren’t getting paid enough (are you doing the work of two people whilst they are furloughed?), or you may have a new desire to work partly from home having done so successfully for the past three months. On the other hand you might be a boss and have to make the very stressful decision of restructuring your team.

Whichever situation you find yourself in, at some point over the coming months you may have sleepless nights about a necessary but awkward discussion that you can’t avoid. We spoke to the founder of 35 Thousand and top executive business coach Misty Reich to find out how to tackle these conversations with confidence.

SHIFT YOUR MINDSET – How to move your mind from a state of fear to a state of calm confidence

Know that everyone finds these conversations difficult

When we have something stressful to discuss, we can often berate ourselves over the fact that we are finding it difficult and can even question how capable we are. But according to Misty, nobody finds these situations easy. “Unless you are one of the miniscule percentage of people who don’t have any empathy, you should know that these conversations are difficult for almost everyone. They just show that you have a heart and you have empathy which is a good thing because it means you connect with people.”

Once you recognise that you are not alone in this, you may stop layering fear on top of the important conversation you need to have.

Preparation is key

It’s probably true to say that most of us spend more time getting ready for a Zoom party than we do preparing for an important work conversation. However, it’s just as important to prepare for these chats as it is an important interview. “It’s a real skill and it takes proper preparation,” says Misty. (See  the below ‘toolkit’ for ways to prepare)

Question that tape playing in your head

Misty explains that we can all have ingrained tapes in our head that replay over and over because of past experiences. “Some people for example, may have grown up believing that it’s not right to highlight issues,” she says, “Whilst others fear that the person they are speaking to won’t like them, or perhaps they are scared at the thought of upsetting others.” Many people she coaches feel they are not qualified to be having the conversation they need to have for example.

Misty explains that it’s a good idea to question these negative beliefs, and to ask if they are in fact valid. She suggests pausing also to ask yourself why this conversation is important to you and what is triggering your beliefs over it. Through this process you can then reframe your thinking to something much more positive.

Shift your mind from a place of negativity

If you have to deliver bad news to a colleague then it’s important that you shift your thinking away from the negative. “You have to instead speak from a place of love and positive intention,” says Misty. She suggests that instead of telling yourself that you are doing this ‘to them’, to remind yourself that you are doing it for a bigger purpose/ for your integrity/ to improve a working relationship.

This also works if you have requested a conversation with your boss – ask yourself the reasons why you want this conversation and let that good reason drive your attitude in your meeting.

YOUR TOOLKIT – Practical tips for conversation confidence

Get a coach or counsellor

Firstly Misty says if the conversation is really important, then not to think twice about asking a coach or a counsellor for advice. Often two heads are better than one and a fresh perspective can really help to shape your own.

If in doubt, write it out

Many of us assume that most people are good at having difficult conversations. That’s not the case, but the people who are best at it have often prepared in advance. Misty suggests journaling out the conversation and writing down what you want to say. ‘If you are really worried about how it’s going to unfold,” she says, “Play through the conversation. If the conversation took one direction, how would you respond, and if it took another, how you might respond to that?” This can help you to feel prepared for anything that is thrown at you, plus “The act of doing this takes some of the hot air out of the balloon in your head” says Misty.

Roleplay the conversation

If it helps, then find someone that you can trust and go through the conversation with them.

CONVERSATION CURATION

Misty’s tips on diplomatic phrases to use
For when you will be having a two-way dialogue…

If Misty is going into a difficult discussion and it’s going to be a two-way dialogue, she will start with “I want to share something with you that’s happening for me. I want to then hear what’s happening for you and discuss a good way to move forward.”  By saying this, you are implying that somehow you can move forward together, and that you want to hear their side of the story. This will also prevent the other party from feeling immediately defensive.

If you have to make someone redundant…

‘There are some discussions,” says Misty, “That are not a two-way conversation, such as a job elimination.” If this is the case, then Misty starts off as follows: “I want to share something with you that’s happening and a decision I’ve had to make as a result. I then want to talk through what that means for you.”

By saying ‘I want to share something that’s happening’ you are taking the conversation away from being their fault, but by saying that it’s a ‘decision’ , this implies that there will be no back and forth.  

For diplomatic negotiation…

If you are in a situation where you think that your colleague or your team can improve on something then Misty uses the following equation: Appreciate/ More effective

This means that you can frame up your wording so that you tell your team that you appreciate what they are doing but then go on to say how we could be more effective.

This also works if you are negotiating something with someone more senior. For example:

“I just want to say that I hugely appreciate how supportive you’ve been to me, but I feel like going forward, my roll could be even more very effective if…”

Specific conversation advice

When you are negotiating money…

It’s not the best idea to bulldoze into a meeting telling your boss that you deserve more money with no justification of why. Misty says the best way of looking at this conversation is to put yourself in the company’s shoes and ask yourself how they might see you. Ask yourself how valuable are you to them? Then you will be in a position to say “Here’s why I think this makes sense for the company, you and me…”

Misty also thinks it’s a great idea to think creatively about whether there’s anything else you can take on and can you offer as part of the discussion. For example, “I’m seeing that my pay isn’t what I want it to be and I have brainstormed some options and thought of some things I can do in exchange for that.”

If you fear not being able to get your point across

If you are terrified of an important conversation because you are worried about getting tongue-tied or not getting your point across properly, then you may be an introverted thinker. Misty says that for these people, the preparation is absolutely non-negotiable. “Give yourself the chance to practise,” she says. This means making notes, going through the conversations as above and really mapping out the key points you want to say.

If you are scared of your boss

We’ve all been there with an intimidating boss who makes you feel you don’t know what you’re talking about. Here Misty suggests doing some journaling about that boss and what makes them feel comfortable and confident. It’s important to remember that despite their important role, they are only human – just like you –  and in that respect you are perfectly equal.

There’s a remote working revolution afoot – here’s the expert guide to working remotely. How to boost everything from productivity to morale to work/life balance when your work style is more nomadic than office-based, by Anna Lao-Kaim.

Working from home is no longer bookended by sarcastic “bunny ears” or considered a euphemism for a raging hangover – thankfully, and not before time, global companies are recognising the economic, social and environmental benefits of implementing flexible working policies. In light of the coronavirus pandemic, there’s also a clear and urgent health rationale for remote working too.

Working remotely is far from a temporary measure or transient trend for many of us, however, as the dab hand freelancers, entrepreneurs and contractors among us will recognise. Global Workplace Analytics’ analysis reveals that the numbers of employees working at home has soared by 173% since 2005. Remote working is now so popular that 37% of workers would be prepared to take a 10% pay cut if it meant that they could continue working from home or away from a traditional office setting. That glossy corner office setup simply doesn’t carry the same kind of cachet that it used to.

With the emergence of efficient new tech not to mention sky-high rents and congestion levels in inner-cities, the industrial revolution 2.0 is go, only this time we’re taking business back to the kitchen table, enabling greater gender equality, commute-free flexibility and enhanced productivity (a 2019 report by Owl Labs found that remote workers are 24% more productive than office staff). Now that WFH is a respected acronym, how do we go about the ‘making it really work’ part?

Here’s how the pros get the job done…

Zoom

If you’ve not yet discovered this seamless video conferencing app, your virtual meetings with colleagues and clients are about to become Oscar-worthy productions. It works at a low bandwidth without making you sound like you’re dialing in from under the sea, functions well on mobile when you’re out and about and allows cloud recording so that you can catch up on meetings if you’re on the run or in another time zone. It’s also invaluable for 1:1s and really appreciating how your team is getting on both in terms of workload and wellbeing. Let’s face it, Whatsapp et al. don’t always tell you the full story, but slick and speedy Zoom puts the soul back into catching up with fellow solo workers.

Krisp

On the subject of video meetings, having the entire family plus dog audibly crash your crucial online AGM is never ideal. Download Krisp to quite literally cut the noise – the app allows you to both remove background noise when calling others and cut interference from the callers’ end when they speak to you. You can use it for calls, video conferencing, recording and even to create a noise-free online classroom if you’re a teacher, which will be no doubt quite the revelation for most educators.

Rocketbook

This smart notebook is an innovation that fell straight from the pages of a Harry Potter novel. Whether you love to sketch, are partial to a mind map or just love the feel of ye olde pen and paper, Rocketbook allows you to jot to your heart’s content on durable, reusable and recyclable kraft paper with a digitally enabled pen. The Rocketbook app then scans your pages to create JPGs, PDFs, GIFS and all other manner of digital files. From there you can wipe your pages clean with a microfibre cloth and begin a new masterpiece. It saves both trees and time, not to mention stops you from going square eyed in front of a screen all day long. One that’ll appeal to the arty remote workers in particular.

Slack

I conducted a wholly unscientific wisdom whip-round of work from homers and Slack was overwhelmingly the first app named as the key maintaining effective day-to-day communication and #watercooler chat. More concise than email with built in Zoom and GIF-sending functionality, it allows you to easily divide topics and tasks into channels and you can let people know if you’re on a call, having a day off or hunkering down to the task with the click of a button.

Trello

A tool that allows you and others to keep on top of to-do lists, work fluidly through project stages to make deadlines and upload collaborative files from cloud based apps such as Google Drive and Dropbox. Beats post-its and panic texts, hands down.

A JBL Bluetooth Speaker

Portable, waterproof, compact and with some seriously silky sounds, a JBL Clip speaker looks more like technical climbing gear than the boomboxes of old (the carabiner ‘clip’ can be attached to pretty much anything). A built-in microphone allows you to answer calls even if your phone is AWOL and the battery life is nothing short of epic. It pairs with all smartphones – for the perfect ‘hustling at home’ backdrop use it in tandem with the Brain FM app, designed to create the ideal ‘functional’ musical backdrop to whatever you’ve got on your plate.

exerpt guide working remotely JBL Clip 3 Portable Bluetooth Speaker
Portable bluetooth speaker with integrated carabiner clip to attach to belt loop or bag.
Freedom (and a pair of trainers)

One downside to remote working is often the lack of a concrete divide between work and home – use the Freedom app across all of your devices to block out digital distractions according to your schedule. Also, seeing as you won’t participate in a mass office exodus during the lunch hour or have the ‘stop working’ impetus of Simon leaving the office at 5pm, keep your trainers by your desk as a visual trigger to go for a stroll and get some fresh air and freedom IRL.

Follow Anna on Instagram

One of the toughest things you can ever do (besides parenting) is start a business. Unfortunately (like parenting) ,there’s no manual for a new business, and whilst one of the best things you can do is listen to the advice of other inspiring businessmen and women,  very few people have a mentor who can be their guide or know where to find one.

Thankfully, there are now a host of podcasts that focus on entrepreneurs and their real life experiences. Starting a business isn’t just about a good idea, and there are so many factors that come into play, from choosing a team, to leadership skills, to resilience, to managing workload, people and suppliers. 

Here are our favourite podcasts, that feature some of the best business people on the planet.  Not just for entrepreneurs, they are also helpful for anyone anywhere in the workspace whether freelance, part of a bigger company, in creative or more corporate industries.

How I Built This

Podcast duration: 30mins to 1 hour

Probably one of the most well-known podcasts on the planet, How I Built this with Guy Raz, delves into the stories behind some of the world’s best known companies and entrepreneurs. Creating a narrative story in every interview, Raz speaks to innovators, founders and idealists about their personal start-up journeys and the movements they have built. From Andi Puddicombe, the monk who created the app Headspace, to Emily Weiss founder of cosmetics brand Glossier, to John Foley creator of Peloton, Jen Rubio co-founder of Away Luggage, and Anthony Caselena whose website tool business Squarespace is now valued at $1.7 billion.  Hear how Joe Gebbia of Air BnB started his business thanks to a chance encounter with  friend as a way to pay his rent, and how Sara Bakely, founder of Spanx was selling fax machines before she started her seamless underwear brand that is now a household name or how Michael McKelvey started WeWork when he convinced a friend to share an office space in Brooklyn. Fascinating listening.

Build Your Tribe

Podcast duration: 15mins to 1 hour

Whether you are a seasoned entrepreneur or desperate to quit your day job, this show by New York Times bestselling author, business coach and TV presenter Chalene Johnson and her son Brock will have something for you. Each straight-talking podcast drills down into the a subject related to business building such as ‘My personal strategy for content promotion’ to ‘How to manage young kids and build a business’ and ‘The difference between a mentor and coach.’ Whether you’re looking for top tips to build your social media, want to know how to grow your email list, how to build your following on Instagram, how to work on a budget or need to develop digital marketing strategies but don’t know where to start, then Build your Tribe can help. With lots of practical tips, back-to-basics advice to take away and fascinating interviews, one of our favourite sections is Quick Tip Tuesday where they give lots of practical in-depth tips on a particular topic in under 15 minutes.

Monocle 24: The Entrepreneurs 

Podcast duration: 30 minutes and under (some are just 9 minutes)

Monocle magazine was launched in 2007 to provide an intelligent briefing on global affairs, business, design, culture and much more. Their podcast, The Entrepreneurs is aimed at anyone who is starting up or is running a business. Short and succinct, each podcast is under 30 minutes long and consists of insightful interviews with entrepreneurs that you may not always have heard of but who always have a fascinating and inspiring story to tell.  Those companies include AllPlants, a vegan delivery service in the UK, Vivobarefoot the lightweight running shoe brand, Dishoom who have modernised the Indian restaurant in the UK, the beauty entrepreneur Jo Malone,  and the wonders of streetwear label Folk. In each interview you learn as much about running a business and their reasons for being, as we do about a fascinating new subject you didn’t know about before.

EntreLeadership

Podcast duration: 40 minutes to 1 hour

Hosted by business coach Alex Judd, the Entreleadership podcast features lively discussions and tips on leadership and business by some of the cleverest minds in the world. Every week is a different subject matter with a different interviewee such as ‘Are you Indispensible?’ with Seth Goldin, ‘How to celebrate your team’ with Chris Hogan and ‘Studying Failure’ with Jon Erwin. Whether you want to scale your business, manage your team better or sort out your finances, there is a podcast here that can guide you through it.

The School of Greatness

Podcast duration: 5 minute Friday sessions to 1.5 hours for longer interviews

Lewis Howes is a NYT bestselling author, former pro athlete and world record holder in football. His career as an athlete was stopped short by a devastating injury. Howes’ aim in the School of Greatness is to share inspiring stories from the most brilliant business minds, world class athletes and influential celebrities on the planet and to therefore discover what makes the great people great. With awe inspiring interviews from the likes of the late Kobe Bryant on ‘Life, Love and Legacy’, Gabby Bernstein on ‘Healing Trauma and Spiritual Freedom’ and hypnotherapist Derren Brown on ‘Mindset and Persuasion’ Howe has also created an amazing library of podcasts where he anchors each chapter with a lesson he learnt from his own teachers. This podcast is life enhancing for anyone in business but is packed with life lessons for outside of the office too.

The Tim Ferriss Show

Podcast duration: 30 minutes to 3 hours

The Tim Ferriss podcast is often the number one podcast on all apple podcasts and it is the first business/ interview podcasts to succeed 100,000,000 downloads. Ferriss himself is an early stage tech investor/ adviser and the author of 5 bestselling books including The Four Hour Work Week and Tools of Titans which documents the tactics, routines and habits of billionaires, icons and world-class performers. Selected as the best of Apple podcasts for 3 years running, in each episode, Ferriss interviews world-class success stories from various eclectic areas including sports, investing, business or art.  Ferriss is a master at extracting the tools, tactics and routines they use to make themselves successful . These could be morning routines, books they read, exercise, time management tricks and so much more. With past guests including actor Edward Norton, burlesque dancer Dita Von Teese, former CEO of Google Eric Schmidt and athlete LeBron James, it is a fascinating deep dive into what makes people tick. There are also business targeted podcasts such as ‘Two Questions every entrepreneur should answer’ and Howard Marks on ‘How to invest with Clear thinking’ is unmissable.

Startup Microdose

Podcast duration: 50 minutes to 1hr 20

Start-up Microdose is a hugely inspiring podcast that focusses solely on entrepreneurs, giving us a chance to learn from some of the brightest brains in the business. Set up by Ed Stephens who is Global Head of Brokerage and Partnerships at Angel Investment Network who has helped some of the UK’s best entrepreneurs raise money for their businesses, and host Oliver Jones who is Head of Marketing at the Angel Investment Group, this is the world in which both inhabit daily. Each episode focusses on a new entrepreneur from the likes of Julien Callade, co-founder of interiors company Made.com who gives a meticulous account of the Made.com journey from concept to success, to Will Harris founder of Entale Media on revolutionising the podcast industry and Lord Karan Bilimoria who is CEO of Cobra Beer. Split into chapters, it gives the listener a chance to skip sections or go to the chapters they want. Each episode is also filmed and added to the Start-up Microdose YouTube channel if you want to put a face to the names behind the interviews.