Wednesday, December 28, 2011

5 Elements Of An Online Profile

People are talking about you online!  A simple Google search will reveal where your name is popping up, and you might not like what you read.  All self-employed individuals should engage in online brand management to influence what others are saying about them.  This includes having well-crafted profiles on several platforms where you will find your target audience.  Chris Kulbaba of LinkedIn Heavyweight explains it this way:

"Marketing is made up of the four "P's": Product, Price, Placement, and Promotion. With Social Media, you get the four P's leveraged for free, as well you get the two "T's": trust and transparency.  So, in the new world of business, 4P's + 2T's = customers buying your product!"

The first step to establishing an online presence is formulating a winning profile that will be consistent on all platforms.  This includes the following:

1.  Headshot: A good individual headshot is a clear picture of your face that is centered on a non-distracting background.  If you don’t have a professional looking headshot then get one immediately.  It should represent what you look like and how you want to be recognized.  People want to do business with people—not cute pictures of puppies, logos, or cartoons.  A picture creates trust in your potential customers.

2.  Bio: A well-written bio should be concise and presented in the first person.  It should answer the questions: Who are you?  Where do you come from?  What expertise do you have to offer?

3.  Job Title: A well-crafted job title summarizes what you actually do.  If you can’t be clear on what you can do, no one else will know either.

4.  Branding Statement: A branding statement is the one liner that you want people to think when they hear your name.  It’s your tag line: your purpose and mission all wrapped up in a few words. I like's formula for crafting one.

5.  Username: If your name is very popular (e.g., John Smith) you will have to come up with a way to make your username distinguishable from the many others out there (e.g., use your middle name or a pseudonym).  If you have a unique name, use it.

Once you have these items ready, it’s time to create your profile on platforms that will help you reach your target audience.  In my next posts I will discuss the two types of profiles (interactive and non-interactive) that you could use to establish your online presence and the benefits of each.

Miranda Vande Kuyt is a self-employed project and communications consultant. She is also the facilitator of the  "Look Before You Leap: Self-Employment Survival Strategies" online course through

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Seasonal Self-Employment

© Sam Szapucki
The holiday season is approaching and with it comes the spirit of giving, often disguised as that incredible urge to buy things for those we love, even if we can’t afford it. Many people blow their budget and feel the pain of their overspending when the credit card bills arrive in January; however, seasonal self-employment could be the answer. This is when you provide a service or product temporarily for the holiday season to help you bring in a certain amount of money. Although it’s a great way to bring in some extra cash to keep the holidays affordable and the bank account healthy, what opportunities are really our there?

Tap into your hidden skills, some self-employment ideas are:
  • Shoveling snow in the neighbourhood
  • Delivering flyers for local companies
  • Cleaning houses or providing a laundry service
  • Providing personal Christmas shopping
  • Babysitting hours that no one else wants (e.g., evenings and weekends) so the parents can attend holiday parties, finish Christmas shopping, etc.
  • Selling your unwanted things online through Kijiji, Craiglist or other forums
  • Working as a delivery driver (i.e., they are in high demand at this time of year)
  • Taking what you do for full-time work and picking up some extra jobs (e.g. hairdressing, personal training, writing resumes, small engine repair)
  • Baking Christmas treats
  • Making/Selling crafts (i.e., although enjoyable, be realistic, these often take more time than the income they bring in)
  • Decorating for the holidays or hanging up Christmas Lights
  • Planning Christmas/Birthday parties
  • Writing Christmas cards
  • Organizing and de-cluttering to get homes ready for holiday parties
  • Providing virtual admin assistant/data entry services
  • House sitting or pet sitting
Think about what products or services people need around the holiday season. Do some research online (e.g., Kijiji, Craigslist) to see what other types of temporary self-employment ideas that may work for you, and how much the going rate is in your area.

Having a money-making idea is just the start. Next you need a short business plan to help you accomplish what you intend (informal is fine). This should include:
  • Your income goal: It is best to start with the end in mind (e.g., if you need to make an extra $1000 to make it through the holidays you would need to find 8 houses in the neighbourhood to shovel for the month, or do a combination of jobs).
  • The time you will have to give to self-employment: How many hours (e.g., 10 hours a week) and when (e.g., evenings)?
  • Your target customers and how will you market to them: Keep it simple and your overhead costs low by trying free online sites such as Kijiji and Craigslist, or create your own free website through blogging platforms such as Wordpress, Blogger or Google Sites. Harness the power of your personal network face-to-face or through Facebook, local forums or meet-ups. If they don’t need your service or product ask them if they know someone who may. Think about where your potential customers hang out and meet them there.
  • The resources you will need to start: Keep your costs low, but do keep your receipts so you can calculate what you have really made. Instead of purchasing equipment, see if you can borrow or rent it for the season.
  • Licensing, registration, and insurance: If you keep your business simple and under a certain income you may not need to register it. Check with local bylaws to see what regulations are in your area, as well as the Canada Revenue Agency for the current allowable income. Ask your insurance agent if you need additional insurance for your activities. It’s also a good idea to write a simple contract of what customers can expect from you and what you expect from them in return.
  • Your budget: Keep track of your earnings on a simple spreadsheet so you will know how much you made after expenses (e.g., who, when, what, how much you brought in and supply costs).  This is also important to know if you plan to do it again in the future.
  • Who will support you: You will need your family’s support, and possibly friends as well. Depending on your skills and equipment, you may need to reach out to others for help.
The holiday season isn’t the only time of year for seasonal self-employment: summer, spring break, and anytime that you need to make some extra cash may be the time to take on some extra work. I’d love to chat with you about the ideas you are considering? Please leave me a comment or get in touch with me through my contact information below.

Miranda Vande Kuyt is a self-employed project and communications consultant. She is the facilitator of the "Look Before You Leap: Self-Employment Survival Strategies" online course through Life Strategies.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Are Social Buying Coupons Worth It for Small Businesses?

Social buying coupons have got consumers in a shopping frenzy this Christmas. Companies offer amazing discounts through social buying sites for their goods or services if a certain number of coupons or deals are purchased. At first glance social buying coupons seem like an effective way for local customers to get a great discount on gift certificates and products, and get their Christmas shopping done on budget this year. It also seems like a great way for small businesses to increase their sales. But do social buying coupons do what is intended? Sure the steep discounts attract a large numbers of new patrons initially, but do they create repeat and loyal customers? A recent article on the CBC website suggests they do not.

I’ve purchased several e-coupons through social buying sites such as Groupon, Living Social and Deal Find.  The more deals I purchased the less impressed I became.  My top complaint is the poor customer service I received, others include:
  • Long wait times for service (e.g. I waited 2 months to get an appointment at the salon because stylists didn’t want to work on “coupon customers”)
  • Could not communicate with service men that did not speak English (e.g. the receipt was even in a different language!)
  • Added fees when service men arrived (e.g. one totaled over $100 in extra fees for them to complete the job)
Of the seven deals I can recall buying, I would do repeat business with one of the companies.  Considering this, is offering gift certificates through social buying sites really worth it for small businesses?  Some questions to ask are:
  • Can I meet the demands if I sell a significant number of coupons?
  • Can I provide the service and quality I’m known for if I sell a significant number of coupons at a very low price?
  • How will I handle complaints?  
  • Can I afford to offer my services at a significantly low price or for free?
  • Will it attract the type of loyal customers I’m looking for?  
  • What specifically can I do to turn them into loyal full-paying customers?
  • How will I ensure that coupon customers are treated like real customers by all staff?
I’d love to hear your stories or questions about using coupons for small businesses.  Would you recommend selling them or buying them?

Miranda Vande Kuyt is a self-employed project and communications consultant.  She is the facilitator of the "Look Before You Leap: Self-Employment Survival Strategies" online course through

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Self-Employment: One Mom's Story

Many women want to be at home with their kids and make an income.  Could self-employment be the answer?  According to The Rise of the Disposable Entrepreneur, many moms think self-employment is an easy way to make money and stay at home with their kids, but they don’t really think it through.  Kids or no kids, self-employment takes hard work and long hours.  As a Career Development Practitioner and mom, I decided to find out more by speaking with Sandra Drygas, entrepreneur and owner of Beaches Fitness Inc in Toronto.

Sandra realized she disliked her job when on maternity leave with her second child.  She had always dreamed of running her own business and since the cost of childcare for two kids was more than her wages, self-employment seemed like an attractive option.

Three years ago Sandra started offering personal fitness training in her basement for moms, welcoming their kids to come and play too.  Now she has a successful business offering women-centred fitness with personal training and group fitness classes.  The business is expanding and is in the process of moving to a permanent location.

Sandra found a niche in the fitness market and a business structure that suits her life as a mother.  Currently, she is the only fitness provider in her area that caters to moms and their kids (e.g. clients can bring kids to class or personal training where there is space to play, while they work out).  Even though she always has a close eye on all the kids, she never seems to be too distracted to stop women from working up a sweat and there is a real community feel to the classes.  As a client of hers for over a year, I can tell you she works me very hard and she gets results.  My daughter loves going too!

Starting small and from home has worked well for Sandra, who has been able to build her operational knowledge as the business has grown.  The business is expanding much sooner than she expected; Sandra has put many hours into her business and is very hard working and determined.  On meeting Sandra, her passion, enthusiasm, and dedication to her work is apparent.

No small business can survive without good support and this is where Sandra’s husband comes in.  He is home from work early enough to take care of the children, shop, cook, and clean. More importantly, he tells her at night to stop working and pours her a glass of wine.

Sandra has been successful in reaching the local community and she attributes this to marketing through social media.  The most success has been from through a group she set up called “East End Parents”.  It is for any stay-at-home parent who wants to meet others.  She arranges meet ups in play centres, coffee shops, parks, and other child-friendly places.  She has been able to promote her business through this group and socialize as a parent at the same time.

Sandra advises anyone considering self-employment to make sure they have support, be self-disciplined, know how to prioritize, and be ready to risk a little.  If they have kids, she feels it is important for them to be socialized and not simply shoved in front of the TV.  After all, for her, setting up the business was about spending quality time with the kids and balancing work.

When asked what surprised her the most, Sandra said that she didn’t realize how difficult it would be to work with kids in the room.  Just then, her youngest walked in the room seeking to play ball with us.  I think that if it is something she finds difficult, she hides it well.

In watching her children, I can see they benefit from having her at home or being out with her when she works.  Her youngest is around a lot; when I asked her what mommy did for a job, she replied “the computer!”  She spends a lot of time with Sandra when she is working, but doesn’t really understand what she does as work.  I think that is because she hangs out with her mom, other moms and their kids; it’s more like one big play date.

As a stay-at-home mom of one, and another on the way, I too wanted to consider my career options other than just returning to work.  I love being at home, but I want and need a little more.  And why not?  We spend a lot of time building our careers so why should our careers suffer?  To explore self-employment further I took the Life Strategies Look Before You Leap: Self-Employment Survival Strategies course.  It was through one of my course assignments I came to interview Sandra.  Self-employment is hard work for moms and Sandra is a good example of how to be successful.  She has shown that it is hard work and there are many different roles and responsibilities to master and juggle, but with research, determination, and a lot of passion, it can be possible.

This article was contributed by Sinéad Keeley Howland, a Career Development Practitioner with experience working in the UK and Malaysia.  Now living in Canada and currently on maternity leave, Sinéad is working towards becoming a self-employed advisor with an interest in working with stay at home moms. 

Thursday, October 27, 2011

6 Questions To Ask Yourself Before Working For Free

What should you do if someone requests your services for free?  I recently followed a heated debate in the Resume Writers and Career Coaches LinkedIn group, where a majority of the 30 respondents thought it depended on the person asking.  What I’ve surmised from this discussion is that it’s best to set a policy about free services early on to spare yourself some strained relationships. 

© Hajime Nakano
There are two things to consider here: discounts and pro-bono work.  A flat discount for friends and family is one way small businesses address the issue.  If you are unsure about this, then use a decision-making framework to evaluate the risks and benefits of accepting or not accepting pro-bono work on a case-by-case basis.  Ask yourself the following questions: 

1.  How much can this person afford?
There may be people who simply can’t afford your services, but could really benefit from them.  They may be turning to you as a last resort and will most likely be really appreciative of your help.  Others are just looking for a deal or price break.  Those who truly understand how much of your time and effort will go into your “free” services, will gladly pay you what your services are worth.   

2.  How well do you know each other?
Are you really friends or merely acquaintances?  It seems like everyone is looking to save a buck anywhere they can.  We’re living in a world fueled by discounts where we’ve been trained that “it doesn’t hurt to ask.”  Keep in mind that there are risks to discounting your services.  Firstly, discounts may become an expectation by the person who has received it.  If you don’t offer the discount the next time, they may walk away wondering what they’ve done to offend you, feel hurt, and/or not return for future business.  Secondly, they may refer others to you by saying “they’re so cheap!”; consequently, promoting your business at fees that aren’t sustainable and not in line with product/service quality.  Lastly, once you do it for one friend or family member, how can you deny another?  How would others feel if they found out they didn’t receive a discount but someone else did? 

It’s best practice to share your regular rates with everyone before you decide to discount.   It’s even better practice to charge your regular rates to everyone, but provide exceptional value to your family and friends by putting in some extra effort on their projects or adding in something special.  If you choose to discount, don’t discount your rate, rather charge less hours to get the appropriate revenue.  That way you will never negotiate rate and you’ll appear very efficient at product delivery.

3.  Do I have the time?
Your time is precious.  Reality is that you can always make more money, but you can’t make more time.  Although offering products for free eats away at your bottom line, offering your services for free eats away at your free time, time that you may normally spend with your family, friends, or other priorities.  If you decide to provide free services during working hours it takes away from your availability to make an income.  Although some may get great joy from volunteering for worthy causes, it will not provide for the people who are counting on them for daily survival or cover their overhead business costs.  Some consultants work this out by setting aside a certain number of hours for volunteer work each month.  When your services are requested for free, consider how much time you have left in your schedule for pro-bono work. If you’ve used up all your time this month you can refer them to another professional with some availability, or tell them the realistic timeline of when you could get it done. 

4.  Do I owe them one?
We’ve all been there; helping a friend move or assisting them with some other daunting task, leaving you feeling that they “owe you one.”  Bartering or trading products/services with others is a great way for both individuals to get what they’re looking for.  It doesn’t have to be business-related, it could be much simpler like housesitting while you’re on vacation, babysitting, or dinner.  Go with your instincts; if you feel like you are both getting a good deal, then go with it.  If you feel you’re being taken advantage of then the deal is not worth the resentment that could eat away at your relationship.

5.  Do I really want this project?
Whenever a project is requested, you do have the right to decline it - especially if it is something you wouldn’t particularly enjoy doing or one that may give you a great big headache!  In that case, it may be best to respectfully decline the project and refer to another professional that may be better suited.

6.  Will this lead to other business?
Let’s face it, not all remuneration is monetary.  Many volunteer projects lead to amazing career opportunities.  When considering a project think about the extra benefits such as a great recommendation from a respected individual, referrals for new paying clients/customers, experience in a new area, an “I owe you”, etc.

When you receive a request to provide free services, your initial response could be something like, “I’ll have to take a look at my schedule and let you know if I have room for pro-bono work right now.” This gives you an opportunity to think about the implications of accepting the work or not and/or whether to offer a discount.

If you’re sure this project isn’t for you, Leslie Ayres of the Resume Writers and Career Coaches LinkedIn Group suggests, “I wish I could but my schedule is too busy to let me take on any more pro bono work right now, sorry!”  It would be helpful to then give them the number of another trusted professional.  Another response could be, “I wish I could, but considering my overhead business costs I am unable to do this for free.  I can gladly extend you my ‘friends and family discount’.” 

How do you feel about this topic?  What do you charge (or would you charge) your family and friends for your consulting services?  What other questions should be added to this framework?

Miranda Vande Kuyt is a self-employed project and communications consultant. She is the facilitator of the “Look Before You Leap: Self-Employment Survival Strategies” 

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

8 Time-Management Tips For Working From Home

© Andrew Finegan
Working from home can feel like a juggling act at the best of times.  It’s not easy to balance the kids, dishes, and laundry with a never-ending stream of emails, conference calls, and project assignments.  How do people that work from home do it?  After four years working from home myself, I can say with certainty that it is a dynamic juggling act that changes all the time. 
One of the first things I had to learn was time-management skills.  Making a to do list everyday just didn’t cut it.  I found I would work like crazy and still have a number of things left on the list, leaving me feeling incredibly frustrated.  I have since learned that every part of my day needs to be purposeful and I need to work smarter, not harder.  Here are some time management tips to consider if you’re currently working or planning to work form home:

1.     Set Priorities
This may seem like a given, but I found it very easy to loose sight of my priorities while working from home.  Many people choose to work from home because it is one way to stay home with their kids and still make an income.  Sometimes I feel my priorities of work and family are at war with each other.  What helped me was physically writing down all my responsibilities (e.g., home, family, work projects, volunteer commitments) and then organizing them numerically in order of importance.  This is also very helpful when juggling multiple projects.  I keep the list on a sticky note above my desk and rearrange it frequently when my priorities change.  It’s a constant reminder of what comes first.  This way I devote adequate time to my priorities.

2.     Write Down Routines
Setting routines for regular responsibilities is essential; it allows you to save your mental energy for more important tasks.  It may seem a little daunting at first, but once you actually write down your daily and weekly routines it takes the guesswork out of accomplishing them.  I got started with routines a couple years ago by following FlyLady for a couple of months.  Now I have routines set up for getting up in the morning, housework, afterschool, after supper, getting ready for bed, etc.  I have even created simple routines for my young kids using pictures to help them remember what they need to do at different times of the day, encouraging their independence.  Scheduling when these routines are going to happen allows time for undistracted office hours.  

3.     Maintain To-Do Lists
I imagine the to-do list is probably the oldest time-management technique available.  I’ve read lots of ways to write such lists and accomplish them.  I like Penelope Trunk's approach to doing daily tasks while still accomplishing long term goals.  Lately I’ve been using a free online tool called Wunderlist to organize to-do lists for several different projects.  I sit down at the beginning of the week and write down everything I can think of that needs to get accomplished.  I group like tasks and then schedule a day and time to get it done.  I track all of this through Wunderlist.  It’s also handy when I need to figure out all the tasks I’ve accomplished in the last month for invoicing purposes. 

4.     Minimize Distractions
When I first started working from home I found it very difficult to get anything done.  I would sit down at the computer and would get called away by a crying baby, a load of laundry, or phone calls.  It took me a while to figure out the best time of day to work without external interruptions.  Then I had to set consistent daily office hours, alleviating the pressure to be on the computer 24/7 checking for emails and replying immediately while trying to juggle my home and kids.  I could also confidently tell others, “Sorry I have to work at that time.”  If you take your work seriously enough to have office hours, others will begin to respect your time.

Office hours do not have to be the traditional 9 – 5.  You may find your best office hours could be early in the morning, during nap time (if you have kids), or in the evening after everyone else is in bed.  Figuring out the best time with the least external distractions is only half the problem, eliminating the internal distracting thoughts is harder.  I finally found a great time-management system called the Pomodoro Technique.  It helps me organize my time to minimize internal distractions and accomplish tasks one chunk at a time.

5.     Create a Schedule
Take your daily and weekly routines, your office hours, and other regular tasks, and put them onto a schedule.  Many self-employed people like to chunk their time.  “Chunking” is the opposite of multi-tasking; focusing on one task at a time so you can finish it faster and better.  Be sure to chunk in time to maintain your work life balance, including adequate sleep, healthy eating, exercise, relaxing activities, and time with family and friends.  Going hard on a project may seem heroic, but you’ll regret it when you feel burnt out with no energy to give to other projects or people.    Some find it handy to keep their schedule on them in a day planner or personal electronic device.  I spend most of my time at home, so I use a large magnetic fridge calendar and a pencil to organize everyone’s activities, appointments, and commitments.  The weekly schedule is also printed and hanging next to it.

6.     Schedule White Space
Leave margins in your schedule!  If you fill up every space with a task there is no time to deal with the unexpected, such as doctors appointments, pressing phone calls, and other opportunities.  Don’t leave yourself boxed in with no room for choices.  Be sure to leave some white space in your day for when “life” happens.  Remember you cannot add to an already full life.  When something new comes up you may have to let go of other responsibilities to make room. 

7.     Be Realistic
When you see everything you expect of yourself in black and white then you can determine if your expectations are realistic.  Try out your new schedule for a couple of weeks and see if it works.  A few things may require some creative solutions.  You’ll find as the seasons change your schedule will need updating as well as you add in new activities and projects and take away old ones.

8.     Try Outsourcing
If you realize you are not a superhero after all and you can’t do it all, then outsourcing may be for you.  It’s very difficult to juggle every task and responsibility while working from home.  It’s very important that every person in your family be on board with your plan to get everything done.  Take a look at some of your responsibilities and see if you can relieve the pressure by having family members assume some of the household chores or by outsourcing some tasks.     

As my life and responsibilities change so does the time management techniques that I employ.  I’m always on the lookout for new ideas and tools to help me accomplish more.  What tips help you juggle working from home?
Miranda Vande Kuyt is a self-employed project and communications consultant. She is the facilitator of the “Look Before You Leap: Self-Employment Survival Strategies” online course through

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Marketing on a Shoestring Budget

If you’re self-employed, like many small enterprises, you are unlikely to have an endless marketing budget. No one can down play the importance of marketing; however, it’s important to get the best value for the dollars you invest. Consider how you can market on a shoestring budget?

First off, implement some sort of system to track how new customers/clients are hearing about you (e.g., new client intake form). This will help you to calculate the return-on-investment for your marketing activities. Although a general increase is great, if you can’t track that back to a marketing initiative, you won’t have any way to know what’s working and what’s not.

Don’t continue with the same old marketing activities just because they’ve worked before. Instead, constantly evaluate what marketing activities are generating results. Revisit your marketing strategy on a regular basis (e.g., quarterly) and ask yourself what is the real benefit of what I’m doing.

Get creative with what you do have. Engage in marketing activities that have no “fees.” Gene Fairbrother, ShopTalk 800 Business Consultant, suggests joining social/networking groups, volunteering to speak to local groups, and writing articles and/or blogs; however, keep in mind that your time is money. If it takes 5 hours to write an article for free, this does actually cost the business. It’s 5 hours that you won’t have available to move other billable projects forward.

Create an attractive and clear online presence using social media, share tips and tricks with your customers/clients, and offer unique discounts or sales. Create a buzz and build your local presence by sponsoring a community event.

And lastly, be focused on maintaining the customers/clients you have already. Offer a referral program to encourage your existing customers/clients to spread the word about your company. Word-of-month is still a great way to grow your business.