You may have stumbled across this blog post or you may be responding to one of our ‘Do you need help? (Or just cheering up?)’ messages.
So what sort of person responds to the question ‘Do you need help?’?
We could probably all do with help in one way or another but perhaps you are stressed, fraught, overworked, frustrated, you feel like there aren’t enough hours in the day / days in the week. Perhaps you’ve lost sight of your cause because you’re caught up in the daily grind of trying to achieve what sometimes feels like the impossible. Perhaps you can’t see the wood for the trees and need help to refocus. Maybe you feel like your standards are slipping because there just isn’t enough time to be as meticulous as you’d like to be. Perhaps you’re struggling to concentrate because you’re overwhelmed by STUFF.
Perhaps you feel none of the above but still feel like you Just. Need. Help.
We should probably say at this point that we’re not qualified in any way to advise you. We’re not therapists, business advisors, or fluffy ‘group hug’ types. But we’ve felt all of the above at points and want to share some practical pointers that help us to ‘get over it’, attempt to cheer you up, and, of course, tell you about how we are qualified to help you. Basically we hope this post helps you in some way, even if you just take one point from it.
So don’t see reading this post as procrastination; see it as a valid part of your working day! Which leads us to our first pointer…
- TAKE TIME OUT FOR INSPIRATION
The best time to take time out is when you’re overworked, overwhelmed, feel like there aren’t enough hours in the day etc. I know, I know, you don’t have time to ‘take time out’. If you can’t see the wood for the trees take a step back. Just take half an hour. Don’t use that half an hour to think, to plan, or anything else that you probably actually do every day anyway; do something different. Watch inspirational videos on YouTube – type your biggest issue into a search engine and get inspired to resolve the issue. Read inspirational blog posts. Learn from people who’ve resolved the same issue. We all need external input – none of us know everything about everything.
We don’t mean to sound patronising – we’re sure you already prioritise – but perhaps there is a more effective way to do so? We have used the same to do list system for 15 years – it works for us. I print it out and carry it around with me everywhere and use good old pen and paper to fill it in.
I put EVERYTHING on this list – and I mean everything. Anything I think of; ideas, urgent stuff, recommendations, contacts, everything. Then in the ‘priority’ column I put L, M or H for low, medium or high.
When I switch off (which isn’t often!) I really can switch off because when I switch back on I can literally pick up where I left off and have a written record of where I am with everything.
This method dramatically reduces the ‘Sh*t, I forgot to do that!’ moments, which is really important because those ‘Sh*t, I forgot to do that!’ moments make us competent, perfection seeking, control freaks feel incompetent, inadequate and out of control! The method also means that if you have an idea when you’re apparently switched off you can just add it to the list and deal with it when you switch back on.
We put a red tick in the ‘Done’ column and a red ‘D’ through the L/M or H when an element’s done and when the list has lots of red on it we start a new list.
The lists provide a good historical record of what’s been done too.
This method may not work for you but is there an alternative method that may be more effective than the one you’re using currently?
- GO TO NETWORKING EVENTS
‘I haven’t got time to network!’ I hear you cry!
Aside from the obvious reasons to network – to gain valuable contacts / customers etc., there are many other benefits.
The first thing people will ask at a networking event is what your organisation is and what you personally do for that organisation. It sounds bizarre but many of us forget this – or at least have a skewed idea of – when we have our head in detail – like spreadsheets. Telling people about your organisation and your role helps you to refocus and reminds you why you’ve had your head in a spreadsheet. It gives you a renewed vigour and a sense of purpose – often lost in the melange of making something work in one way or another.
Networking events also make you realise that you’re not the only one feeling the way you feel. Whilst this may not be helpful in itself, it can help you to get a grip – some perspective. There are likely to be people who are not coping as well as you are and people who are coping much better than you – both can provide a valuable lesson for you and subsequently your organisation.
Networking events often have inspirational speakers and people who present the opportunity to change how you do things in order to be more effective.
They also provide the opportunity to spend a day (or a few hours) focussing on your business rather than in your business, which is hugely valuable – see point 4!
- FACTOR IN TIME TO WORK ON YOUR BUSINESS RATHER THAT IN YOUR BUSINESS
If you feel like you’re continually fire-fighting you just need to stop it! You need to take time out to get you out of a reactive, fire-fighting approach and to prevent it from reaching that stage in the future. A different method of prioritising for example. Or it could be something very specific – perhaps you always leave your tax returns until the last minute and then have to spend a month sorting them out every year. Why not instead use that time to create a system that enables you to easily process each receipt as you have it. That are many other examples we could use here but basically if something isn’t working and it stresses you out, don’t stick a plaster on it, fix it for the long-term, so that you don’t need a huge box of plasters!
- ACCEPT THAT EVERYONE MAKES MISTAKES
No-one is perfect. Berating ourselves (or others!) for the mistakes we make is a pointless exercise. Apologise, learn, move on, put procedures in place to avoid the same happening again.
There is nothing worse than those cringe moments when you realise you’ve done something wrong. I sent an email to the wrong person once which had potential to end in disaster. I wanted to climb into the computer and haul it out with my fingernails whilst simultaneously burying myself. As neither was an option I simply sent a humourous email to the unintended recipient being very honest about my mistake and telling him that I was drowning in shame. He replied to say that he’d deleted it without reading it and that it was nice to know he wasn’t the only one who made mistakes like that.
Don’t assume that everyone is 100% professional 100% of the time. Every organisation is ran by humans who make ‘human errors’.
- GET SOME PERSPECTIVE
Whatever anyone says, and whatever you think and feel, you can only do what you can do in the time you’ve got. If you know you’re doing your best why stress about it? We know that’s easier said than done but think about it. Get some perspective and stop giving yourself a hard time.
- PICK YOUR BATTLES
Some things are worth getting stressed about. Some things are genuinely pretty bad. But some things are easily resolved – whether this involves a ‘head down hour’, the introduction of a new process, an apology or a lesson learned.
Whenever you start to feel that rising feeling of stress, ask yourself if it is a battle worth fighting.
I have re-read things I’ve written when I’ve been particularly stressed and been shocked at how I’d over-reacted to things that in hindsight feel like minor situations. I now often ask myself ‘how bad is this situation really?!’
- REMEMBER THESE POINTERS FOR PEOPLE YOU ENCOUNTER
If you want people to show humility when you screw up, do the same for others. Allow staff time out for inspiration and accept that there will be days when they are not on top form.
Help your staff to prioritise or share methods of prioritising with colleagues if you think they could benefit and will be receptive!
Allow them to go to networking events – ask them to come back with three contacts, three bits of inspiration and three action points. This will both help them, and evidence to you that they’re not just off on a jolly!
Involve staff in working on the business – they are likely to have great ideas for how processes can be improved, deserve to be involved, and will be empowered by the opportunity.
Accept that they will make mistakes; ensure they have the same perspective – an awareness of what really matters. And ensure that they treat their peers in the same way.
- NOT EVERYBODY’S GOOD AT EVERYTHING
I outsource anything I can that I’m not good at – why not? I accept that some things just aren’t my greatest asset and I know I’m good at other things so I stick to them.
Again, none of us are perfect and we can all learn from other people. We are a bit biased because we’re consultants but the reason we set up a consultancy is because we met lots of people who were struggling with things we are good at – which is no doubt detrimental to businesses. Why not ask a professional for help? Asking for this kind of outsourced support is an investment and whilst it may cost you, it will quite probably cost you less than it will cost you to struggle through it yourself – in terms of money, time and stress.
In addition to outsourcing, make sure you have the right people in the right roles. Don’t just consider people as ‘manpower’. Is the right person handling your social media for example? It is sensible to continually assess and review people’s workloads and task-lists, and to compare these with their skills. Also, what do people like doing? We all have to do things we don’t like but if our dislike of something means we don’t do a very good job of it, can it be transferred to someone else?
- DO THE THINGS YOU HATE WHEN YOU’RE HAPPY
When you’re feeling positive, happy, and at your best, you may be drawn to the tasks on your to do list that will keep you feeling that way! However, it makes a lot more sense to tick off a load of tasks you don’t like when you’re at your best – you’ll do a better job of them and ticking them off will maintain that positivity. For example, I enjoy writing these blog posts but sometimes I sit down to write one and I’m just not in the mood. So I do something else. This isn’t an invitation to procrastinate – it’s knowing yourself and your mood which result in how productive you’re going to be. I guess what I’m trying to say is, again, stop giving yourself a hard time. If you’re reading this you’re probably a competent business person who is sensible enough to realise when you’re at your most productive. We’re just saying go with it.
- ACTUALLY GET SOME HELP
Paying a consultant to enhance and improve your business, as covered in point 9, can save you a lot of time, effort and salary.
As well as getting support from consultants, if you are a not-for-profit organisation, do you utilise the support of volunteers and voluntary interns? If not, why not?! And if so, are you maximising the potential of this? Again, do you have the right people in the right roles? Do the ‘right roles’ actually exist? I.e. do you just have volunteers as ‘manpower’ or do you have discreet, tangible roles that not only mean you receive support in every area you need support, but also open up opportunities to a wider audience and avoid alienating people. For example, if you run a charity that helps ailing horses and you tell people ‘we’re a charity that helps ailing horses and we need volunteers’, you’re likely to appeal only to people who have an interest in horses. If, however, you say ‘we’re a charity that helps ailing horses and we need volunteers to help us market the amazing work that we do’ you immediately open up the opportunity to either people who have an interest in horses or an interest in marketing and perhaps both. Being more specific actually opens up opportunities to a wider audience.
On this note, we would say don’t be precious about it. Does the person really need to have an interest in horses to effectively market the organisation? Or is that an ideal scenario that you may have to admit is idealistic rather than realistic. If you need someone to market your horse charity it is far more important that they’re good at – or at least interested in – marketing than horses.
Decide whether you need volunteers or interns or both. There’s a big difference. The most simple way to explain it, we feel, is that internships are half way between a volunteering role and a job. People who undertake internships are usually seeking work experience therefore the role needs to provide this in every possible way – whilst realising that this is a voluntary role and maintaining the boundaries of that.
As we are volunteering consultants, we could obviously go on and on here but if this section interests you please get in touch with us for more information.
- REVISIT AND SIMPLIFY YOUR ELEVATOR PITCH
I recently worked with an organisation and when I was doing my research prior to meeting them I found a quote on their website which summed up precisely who they are and what they do in one sentence – 18 words. It was very refreshing and it made me realise how lots of other organisations get this wrong.
The sentence is simple, crisp, uses language that everyone understands, doesn’t use jargon or sector-specific psychobabble (such as ‘sector-specific’!)
Sometimes I research an organisation for ages and still don’t know what they actually do. I can meet with clients and ask them and they’ll tell me and I still don’t know. You need a one sentence, simple pitch that describes who you are and what you do. Say it to people. Ask them ‘if I tell you something about my business can you tell me if you understand what I do afterwards?’ If they ask you to clarify anything then you need to change it and then try the new version on someone else.
Why is this an important exercise and why is it relevant to this blog post? We sometimes need a reminder of what we actually are and what we actually do. As mentioned, it’s important to refocus on a regular basis. In addition, if your business relies on any external audience, which we’re pretty sure every business does, you really need to nail what you actually are and what you actually do. Don’t use any jargon or sector-specific language. By sector-specific language, we mean terms that you use within your organisation or within the sector you work within that may not make immediate sense to the outside world. This includes acronyms but also simple terms like ‘service user’ for example. It’s obvious to those of us who have worked in roles where that is what the ‘customer’ is referred to as but it sounds jargonistic to a lot of other people and a complicated way of saying something simple.
The more complicated you make your message the more people you’ll exclude from understanding it and subsequently to signing up to it in any way. It is tempting to use long, complicated words to convey what you do because it makes you sound professional and like you know your stuff but does this alienate any external audience that you actually want to attract? Do you need to sound professional and clever to the audience you’re trying to attract – or do you need to sound like you have a product or service they may want?
We’re obviously not suggesting that your audience isn’t professional and clever (!) but we are suggesting they may be as busy as you are. Why should they have to work out what you do? Why can’t you just tell them?!
This is something we at Finders Keepers are continually addressing and revisiting and we’re not suggesting we’ve nailed it. The specifics of what we can offer are actually pretty complex but ‘volunteer recruitment and retention’ does cover it. Our strapline used to be ‘volunteer services in Cornwall’ which I’m now very embarrassed of! For a start we’re based in Cornwall but we work with clients all over the UK (and beyond sometimes!) And what are ‘volunteer services’? We don’t even know! Our elevator pitch is ‘we’re a consultancy that helps organisations to Find and Keep great volunteers’.
- SPREAD THE LOAD
Does the success of your project rely on one or a few sources? Does this make you anxious? Think about how you can spread this so that you don’t have all of your eggs in one basket.
I went to a marketing conference where the speaker gave an example of working in a marketing agency, who had the opportunity to take on a huge contract, which at the time was very exciting. However, they realised that if they took on the contract they would be spending a huge percentage of their time working for one client, meaning that they wouldn’t have the capacity to take on other clients and would subsequently be reliant on retaining that one contract.
Anything that puts you in a vulnerable position like this needs careful consideration, whether this is one big client, or one main funding stream.
That’s it for now! I really hope something within this post has helped you in some way. But if not, why not just have a look at one or some of the websites below which may cheer you up!
Please do get in touch if you would like any further information.
WEBSITES THAT WILL CHEER YOU UP