Tag Archives: Business Growth

Save Time by Using the US Postal Service

I stopped by my local post office the other day to return some boxes I’d ordered and didn’t need. I was talking to a colleague while we waited in line, and he was unaware that you could order products from their Website for free. This prompted me to re-publish a previous post from last year.

The U.S. Postal Service can indeed help you be more productive.

 

Order free packaging from their Web site. I keep a supply of Priority Flat Rate envelopes and Flat Rate boxes with postage already applied. And their regular envelopes with the postage already on them come in handy too.

Keep various denominations of stamps on hand. I always have Priority Mail and other denominations of stamps with me when I travel. I keep them in a pouch with each type separated. When I’m in my office, I use my LabelWriter(TM) DYMO to print my own stamps in any denomination. I also use it to print shipping labels. It’s much simpler for me to do this than go to the USPS Web site, complete all the information, pay for the postage, print the label, then affix.

You can buy stamps at local businesses such as Office Depot, Staples, Wal-Mart, and more. Just look for the “USPS Buy Stamps Here” logo.

Have your letter carrier pick up your mail. If you’re shipping at least one overnight guaranteed, priority 2-3 day, international, or a return, the letter carrier will pick up your shipment for free. I use Federal Express and UPS drop-off, but I don’t ship enough to justify paying extra for pickup. With the US Postal Service, I schedule the pickup on their Web site,  and leave the package on my front porch. That’s it.

 

Mail it when you can’t fax or email. I have fax capability on my combo printer/fax/scanner/copier, but sometimes faxing is not practical (too many pages). So when I can’t email it or fax it and it doesn’t make sense to use Fedex or UPS, I mail it. It’s funny how people have forgotten about that option. (I  receive faxes in my email using a free service from efax (http://home.efax.com/s/r/efaxprint).

Wish List
There is one thing I wish the US Postal Service would offer: I’d like to be able to get self-adhesive, coded labels that track and bill my account. Then all I’d have to do is affix my shipping label to my package, and their computers would track the cost of the postage and bill me later.

The next time you’re standing in line at the post office, ask yourself why. I hope these ideas will help you increase your productivity and get the most out of your day.

Let me know what you think.

PEACE.

Peggy Duncan Personal Productivity Expert

Organize Your Receipts Before Tax Time and Beyond

When I started my business almost 11 years ago, as part of the Accounting section of my filing system, I had a folder for each vendor I spent money with regularly (e.g., gas, light, Office Depot, etc.). When I found myself sticking receipts in a To Be Filed folder, I knew my system was too tedious. I was procrastinating about filing everything, and that told me I needed to simplify.

Here is a simple solution that works for me.

  • Create a home for all receipts for each month. This can be a file folder, tray, basket, or whatever works for you. I have a drawer for Accounting and keep everything nice, neat, and out of sight.
  • Create a home for all pay stubs from clients. For all checks you receive for the month, keep these pay stubs separately and in the front of the folder for that month.
  • Keep everything with that month’s bank statement. When the bank statement arrives, use a jumbo paper clip to keep all receipts and pay stubs for that month behind it. When I reconcile for that month, I put a big R so I’ll know it’s done.

This system is simple so it’s easy to maintain.

One thing though, I had to figure out a way to quickly find receipts for higher-priced products in case I needed repair, etc. I created a contact in Outlook called “Big Ticket Items.” In the text area of the contact I have a 2-column table that is similar to the one below. If I ever need to find a receipt, I’ll know which month/year bank statement to pull.

Date Purchased Description
5/15/2008 HP Laptop, Best Buy
5/29/2008 Office Telephone, Office Depot – ATT
8/6/2008 Luggage at TJ Maxx
8/23/2008 Headset for ATT phone, Office Depot
8/29/2008 Took iPhone back and got BlackBerry, AT&T

What system have you developed that works for you? Let me know. If you’d like more training on how to get organized, visit my Website. I also have a before/after organizing story and a page of records retention suggestions on how long you should keep files before destroying.

PEACE.

Peggy Duncan, personal productivity expert

Promote Your Own Products and Services on Your Blog

I was in a meeting recently with a group of solopreneurs. We pulled up each other’s blog and talked about each one. The most important thing I walked away with was this: since the purpose of my blog is to share helpful information and not about making money from ads, I should create Web banners and promote my own stuff. And stop advertising my competition’s training (from Google ads).

I always had pictures of my books, but I hadn’t considered promoting my training (other than mentioning it in an article).

So I removed the few Google ads from my blog and used PowerPoint to create my Web banners. As you look around this blog, I’m advertising my hands-on workshops, Webinars, and consulting services. The banners link to my Website that has more details.

So if you’re just making pennies from Google Ads, try advertising your own products and/or services and see how it goes. Let me know.

P.S. Check out my PowerPoint class on how to use it to create marketing collateral.

It’s also available as a Webinar. And here is a blog entry “Create interesting art projects with PowerPoint.”

Peggy Duncan, Time Management Expert

A Green Office: How I Ran My Business Without a Printer for a Year

A sheet of labels got stuck in my HP All-in-One LaserJet printer and I tried pulling it out. I got it, but I destroyed the sensor that lets the printer know I have a cartridge. After finding out it was almost as cheap to buy a new printer as to fix the old one, I threw up my hands.

I considered buying another printer but I realized how rarely I printed anything. It dawned on me to try doing without one. Here’s how I managed without a printer for a year.

  • Documents I need to sign. My clients either send training agreements as a Word document or a PDF. Word Documents: When the agreement is in Word, I pop in my signature from AutoText, save a softcopy, and email it back. I had already scanned in my written signature and saved it as a graphic. In Word, I saved it in AutoText (display the graphic on a page, select it, click Insert, AutoText, New, give the entry a name. Every time I need to sign a document, I click where I want the signature to go, type in the name of the AutoText entry, and press F3.) PDFs: When the agreement is in a PDF, I have a Custom Stamp with this same signature graphic and insert it as needed.

UPDATE: Here’s a video I recorded on how to do this. It’s part of my new series for Suite Minute TV: tips that will save minutes or hours every day for people who don’t have a second to spare.

  • QuickBooks invoices for clients. I used to print my client invoices (created in QuickBooks) and fax them along with all the receipts. Without a printer, I create a PDF of the invoice, scan all the receipts and attach them to the PDF and email everything. (Since I lost my scanner when I lost my all-in-one LaserJet, I either asked every establishment for an extra receipt, or I scanned all receipts with either my business card scanner (Executive CardScan) or my NeatReceipts(TM) scanner.I use the CardScan when I have one or two small receipts. I use the NeatReceipts units when I have several by taping as many receipts as possible onto one sheet of paper and then scanning.)
  • Shipping labels for packages and envelopes.For shipping, I either handwrite whatever I need, but most times I print everything with my Dymo LabelWriter(TM) Twin Turbo that doesn’t require ink cartridges.
  • Documents I absolutely had to print. On very, very rare occasions when I needed a printed document, I saved it on a Flash drive as a PDF and either printed it at a friend’s office up the street (on my way out), or I’d wait until I got to my hotel and printed it at their business center. This was never an inconvenience. My friend didn’t mind because every time I stopped by there he had a list of computer questions to ask me.
  • Outlook Calendar details to use on travel. I put all the details of my trip in the text area of a calendar appointment. All of this information gets synched to my PDA, but I like having it on paper in case the PDA locks up and it’s inconvenient to boot up my laptop. When I had a printer, I printed all this. Without the printer, I had to handwrite notes with the main information I’d need (flight and hotel info, host phone, etc.).
  • Documents I had to mail but wanted to keep a copy. When I needed to keep a copy of a document I needed to mail (e.g., a rebate form), I simply scanned it (with the Neat Receipts scanner).

After a year, I discovered I was doing just fine without a printer. Then I purchased a new desktop computer that came with one. It’s an HP Color Deskjet and does everything but fax. It’s nice knowing the printer is here if I need it, but you can go broke buying ink. It’s been two weeks and I’ve used it once (to copy a receipt for a rebate) because, as usual, I have no intention of printing anything unless I absolutely have to.

So rethink how you use your printer and let me know if you have any success with not using it.

PEACE.

Peggy Duncan, Time Management Expert

How to Sign Mail Merge Letters

A financial planner sent me a letter that went into the trash the instant I opened it…without even blinking. Here’s why:

  • The letter was typed using the Comic Sans typeface. The typeface you select for your business correspondence should reflect the type of business you’re in. If you’re running a daycare center, a playful font like Comic Sans would be appropriate, but not for a financial planner who wants to be taken seriously.

  • She started the letter using “Dear Peggy.” Since I don’t know her, the planner should have addressed the letter with “Dear Ms. Duncan.” If we had met in passing or had talked on the phone at least once, or had our paths crossed at all, Dear Peggy would have been OK.

  • The signature was wrong. Real wrong. The financial planner was asking for my business and sent me a letter with a TYPED SIGNATURE! She didn’t even bother to sign her name! Never do this…regardless of how fancy the typeface is!

If you’re sending someone a form letter that you’re creating using mail merge, or you’re having something printed requiring your signature, do this instead of typing your signature:

  1. Sign your name as you normally would on a blank sheet of paper using a fluid writing instrument so the signature will be smooth and solid.

  2. Take a digital picture or scan it (if you need to scan and don’t have a scanner, someone you know does or perhaps your local office supply store or copy center…don’t buy one because you’ll probably rarely use it).

  3. Save your scanned signature as a graphic as you would any item. (I also saved this graphic as an AutoText entry in Word so anytime I need it, I type the name I gave it and press F3.)

  4. Create your mail merge letter as you normally would, and insert the graphic signature into the letter where you would normally sign it. Resize the graphic if you need to.

  5. Run your mail merge. Your original-looking signature will print out on every letter.

Direct mail experts say that a signature signed in blue ink has a better response rate (I don’t remember why but I think it’s to show it’s an original). So if you’re sending out a direct mail letter and you have a color printer, sign your name in blue ink and scan using the color option.

Peggy Duncan, Time Management Expert

Let's Not Take It Anymore!

“You called me. We met for lunch but your attention is somewhere else. Thumbing and talking on your cell phone. Oh noooooo buddy. I didn’t take time out from my business, get out of my pajamas, drive to this restaurant wasting my gas and adding wear and tear on my car just to sit here and watch you conduct your business. My cell phone is off. You have my undivided attention…”

Does this sound familiar? Let’s not take it anymore!

Say: “If you even glance at that X?!! BlackBerry one more time I’m leaving!”

Are You Wasting Time at Work?

Recent studies are proving what I’ve been saying the past ten years: the biggest time management mistake you make is not realizing how much time you waste. Instead of getting some real work done, here’s what’s happening.

Sporting News just revealed the results of a study about the possibility that sports is contributing to a decline in office productivity. [Among heavy enthusiasts, 45% either agreed completely or mostly with the statement “they probably spend too much time at work reading or thinking about sports,” while 74% indicated “they often talk about last night’s game with co-workers.” If their team is playing a late game, 79% of heavy enthusiasts said they will “stay up to watch it” and 67% indicated they regularly check sports web sites during the workday.] Now here is the kicker! Heavy sports enthusiasts spend on average over 31 hours a week following sports.

This is absolutely ridiculous. If you have achieved every goal you’ve set for yourself and have retired to live out the rest of your life doing absolutely nothing, then OK. But if you haven’t, let me be clear. You are spending 31 hours a week of your precious and limited time on this earth watching people who, early-on, set goals for themselves and struck out to live their dreams.
What have you done for yourself lately? Taken any classes lately?

There’s more.

In a personal productivity study of 38,000 people in 200 countries, Microsoft found that one third of employees’ time is spent unproductively.

According to a survey by America Online and Salary.com, the average worker admits to wasting at least 2.09 hours per 8-hour workday. And can you believe that Salary.com calculated that employers spend $759 billion per year on salaries for which real work was expected, but not actually performed.

What are People Doing Instead of Working?

The list of what people are doing instead of working is not a surprise and includes: personal Internet use, socializing with co-workers about sports and more, personal phone calls, instant messaging, running personal errands, planning personal events, running side businesses (on the cell phone), and more.

Another study found that 25% of the US work force reads blogs during business hours, and 75% of those blogs have absolutely nothing to do with work. In fact, the average amount of time people spend reading blogs during the week is 3.5 hours (you can read my blog because it’s about business and working smarter).

Years ago, studies proved that disorganization costs workers one to two hours a day…time lost from digging through piles looking for something. If you add the time it takes to backtrack to get something you forgot, helping other people find what they need, and looking for files on your computer, add another hour or two.

On the Other Hand
According to a study conducted by Life magazine, close to half of Americans (46%) take work home with them. Another study showed how email overload made people work an extra hour a day, either at work or when they get home.

This is crazy. On the one hand, you’re wasting time. Then on the other, you’re eating into your family time. Going forward this year, make a commitment to reduce the hours you spend at the office and reduce the amount of work you take home.

I understand that you’ll have to handle some personal business during the workday, but just don’t let it consume too much time. Make the commitment to put in a good, solid day’s work, stay focused on what’s important, and figure out ways to work smarter. You’ll get more done, and I guarantee you’ll be happier.

P.S. Use the calculator in the right sidebar to determine how much free time you have after doing all the things that MUST be done.

PEACE.

Peggy Duncan, personal productivity expert

One way to prevent identity theft…you can help

When I get credit card offers in the mail, the only reason I used to open the envelope was so I could shred the application.

I wouldn’t have to do this if the companies would stop allowing people to put a different address on the darn thing. All a crook needs to do is fill out the form with your name but give their address. This has been going on for years, and it’s one of the main methods identity thieves use to destoy lives that could take years to get back in order.

I’ve stopped destroying the application. Now I write a note directly on it asking the company to omit the option of changing the address. I send it back to them. I don’t know if it’ll do any good or not, but hopefully one day it will.

To be a country of so many smart people, we can do some of the dumbest, stupidest things…and we do it over and over.

Peggy Duncan, personal productivity expert

How to Create Buzz About You, Your Business

People say they “see me” everywhere. I am a solopreneur, but I have a powerful, international marketing machine in place.

I create buzz using the following methods.

  • My blog. I didn’t jump on the blog bandwagon right away because I’d been publishing a Webzine for years. Now I’m hooked. The best thing about the blog for me is that every time I think of something, I have somewhere to write and publish…unlike my Webzine that only comes out once a quarter. I installed a free widget in my blog that monitors traffic to my blog. Feedjit lets me know where people are coming from and what they typed in the search engine to find an article. I am delighted that people from all over the world are finding my articles.
  • Webzine (more free tips). I started a Webzine in 2001 and published regularly until 2008 because the blog works better for showing up in the search engines.
  • eSeminars (global training via the Web). I conduct seminars via the Web on getting organized and conquering email overload with Outlook. I’ve taught people in England, the Virgin Islands, and the U.S. Companies have also signed up for private sessions for their employees. I’m going to do more of these in 2008.
  • Article submissions to popular Websites. I’m a regular contributor to the stress-related site on about.com. When my site doesn’t show up in the search engine, my articles on about.com will. I also have articles published at ezinearticles.com (this doesn’t show up in search engines as my blog and about.com but it’s still worth it).
  • Media publicity. Journalists contact me all the time. I’m interviewed at least once a week. They find me in the search engines and other publications. I also respond to journalist queries. PRLEADS is a publicity service, and for $99 per month, journalist queries come to your Inbox, you respond, maybe get press. A free query service, HelpAReporterOut works too. I also train journalists and media executives so more of them know who I am and what I’m about. I also publish my own press releases. Note: it is important to show up in the search engines by your topic…not your name…they don’t know your name!
  • Seminars at national conferences. This is my main source of income (usually leads to corporate training gigs too). I love huge audiences and am enjoying building a national reputation.  Check out my schedule on my Website.
  • Workshops open to the public. As a computer trainer, I have to keep my skills up and nothing does that better than conducting hands-on workshops for busy people. I publicize these workshops on my Website and other event sites. I started these sessions to help small business owners who couldn’t afford to bring me to their organizations. As it turns out, corporate employees from companies such as The Home Depot, Hewlett-Packard, Estee Lauder, etc., are enrolling…works for me!
  • Association with credible organizations. I am a SCORE volunteer, and I teach classes at Georgia Tech for faculty and staff on how to get organized.

All these things boost my search engine rankings and help to feed the buzz. I love the fact that when you type in my expertise or training topics in any major search engine, I show up on the first pages. And I never paid one red cent to make it happen.

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Get quoted in the media

Peggy Duncan, personal productivity expert