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How To Stay On The Cutting-Edge In Your Business For FREE (6 Part Plan)

Michelle Dale - Tuesday, April 24, 2012
In this post I’m going to go through with you a solid plan on how you can stay current and up-to-date with the latest trends in online business when you’re restricted by both time and money. It’s kind of a Two-For-One post, because I am giving quite a bit of context at the start in the first half to help you understand why you need to really think carefully about your knowledge intake to focus on what really matters. Then the plan comes in the second half at the end.

Part 1 – The story that prompted this post.

This is not a post about social media, it’s about productivity, but I think it would help if I gave you a little background info. In February 2012, I attended the Small Business Summit from Social Media Examiner. I have always admired how they have been at the forefront of social media and I have to say I tend to ebb towards their blog when I’m looking for advice to help a client or for my own business, more so than Mashable now.

After studying all the summit material, seminars, videos, transcripts etc, the attendee can take an exam at the end to test their knowledge, it’s a test with around 70 questions. Fortunately I was able to pass this exam and obtain a certificate (the first academic style exam I have ever taken since I was 16!) So, I’m feeling pretty chuffed with myself.

The Certificate.

Something the summit confirmed to me, unrelated to social media, is to maintain a focus in a particular area of my business and have a plan. The summit did not cover multitudes of social media accounts, in fact, it focussed primarily on just 4 – Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Google +. This is a huge thing, because it tells you that those are the sites that matter, and if you are looking to start specialising in social media marketing, those are the ones that should hold your attention. I offer services to clients only on the sites where I know I can achieve results – these are Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, I am also now working on experimental marketing techniques and strategies with YouTube, Google + and Pinterest. All the other many and varied sites are not on my ‘to do’ list.

Why? Good question. Because at the end of the day, I am an online business consultant, I don’t just focus on social media, so for me to stay ahead of my game, I have various other areas of online business that need my attention, and because of this, I have to place my research and learning into manageable portions, therefore placing restrictions on my range of skills within a certain area. Yes folks, I don’t know everything nor do I claim to.

Prepare Yourself For Implementing The Plan That Follows.

So that’s a bit of background for you as to how much knowledge you really need to think about taking in when you want to stay ahead – don’t try and keep up with everything and become overwhelmed, keep your knowledge sources restricted to a certain degree. For example, on the subject of social media, if you’re a social media marketing consultant or assistant and that is all you focus on then you should have the time and the inclination to expand your horizons in social media and experiment and learn more techniques of marketing. If you also offer services such as administration, or website design and development, or graphic design, then you may find that you’re spreading yourself too thin, trying to keep up with the ever changing trends within all of these departments.

If you can attend a highly-focussed summit like the one I went to, then I assure you it saves a LOT of time, you get extremely valuable, undiluted knowledge from credible experts, and it’s well worth the investment, it’s not something everyone can afford to do though, so here is a plan you can use for keeping current and up-to-date within your services business, especially when you’re restricted by time and money.

Part 2 – A FREE plan you can implement now!

Follow these steps for a superb way to keep on top of your business online for FREE.

Step 1 – Know What You Must Watch Out For.

I segment my business into departments and within those departments, I list things which are changeable, for example, I offer administrative services, and work in a select number of systems, I list those systems and make sure I am always up-to-speed with the latest versions. I offer WordPress services, so I have a list of all my WordPress sites for clients and also myself and run updates when the latest version comes out, I update plugins regularly, and make sure I keep the technical side of things running smoothly and continuously functioning.

You need to know, and list or categorise every system, service or software you use, and then make sure than you are regularly monitoring the progress of those systems and services. I’ll show you how…

Step 2 – RSS Subscribe.

Get yourself a really good, robust RSS reader. Google Reader is fine, it’s free, or you could use an iPad or Mac App. Whatever you choose, make sure you can stream multiple feeds into it, and then be able to clearly label or organise them into the different departments of your business like I demonstrated above. e.g. Social Media, Website Development, Administration, Graphic Design etc…

You then need to go to all the sites which you work within, or need knowledge on, and subscribe to their RSS feeds to get the latest updates delivered to you automatically.

Step 3 – Newsletter Subscribe.

Then, create a separate email address segmented away from your normal email. If you use Google Apps you could make this an alias, such a news@yourdomain.com, then create a specific label for it in your Google Apps and filter all the email into that label, make sure you opt to skip the Inbox, you don’t want these updates coming into your main email stream as it’s going to be very distracting. If you are less disciplined and tend to check all your mail, create a free Gmail account so you can login separately.

Once you have your email account, subscribe to the newsletters for all the important sites (or you could subscribe to the RSS if they have one going to email if you prefer).

Step 4 – Expert Subscribe.

Once you get all the ‘functionality’ subscribed to, keeping you up-to-date on the things happening there, you then need to subscribe to the real experts in the different areas of your business, for example, do you do social media marketing? Find the TOP experts in that field, such as Social Media Examiner and subscribe to the RSS and newsletter. Do you do copywriting? Subscribe to the top copywriting sites such as CopyBlogger. Do you provide services online? Subscribe to me. Take whatever you can from the people out there doing all the hard work to stay at the forefront of their niche. One of the primary reasons I created this blog and also The VA Passport was so I could offer useful valuable content and information from my own business (that is in practise and works) which I know people really need in their online service businesses and could save them heaps of time.

If you’re using Google mail you’ll want to separate the experts out from the system updates, e.g. don’t mix your Subscription to the Freshbooks.com, or the LinkedIn blog with Mashable.com for example, keep ‘functionality’ and ‘experts’ separate using filters and labels. It will help you focus and separate the two.

Step 5 – Schedule And Plan.

Then, set yourself a plan, either daily or weekly, (I do twice weekly), to check your feeds and email. Depending on your time available you may want to break it down, and check RSS feeds on a Tuesday and your newsletters on a Friday… Whatever you choose to do, keep it consistent, and restrict it to looking at everything since the last time you checked in one time, I usually need about an hour a week to check up on everything.

When you incorporate a new system or service into your business, or if a client asks you to help them with a new system, make sure you add that into your subscriptions so it becomes a part of your schedule.

Step 6 – Manage The Randomness.

I suspect if you’re anything like me you’ll still do social media maintenance on a daily basis and will come across great articles or random bits of information which you think would be useful for you to know, but you may not want to subscribe to the feed. What I do with these bits of information, articles, images, blog posts etc… is I clip these to a system I use called Yojimbo which is an App I purchased from the Mac store, but before I switched to Yojimbo, I used Evernote, which works in a very similar way, and could easily be used for the random snippets of info you come across.


By following these steps, you can significantly reduce the amount of noise throughout your week from updates, but still stay on top of everything that really matters.

The most important thing you can do, and going back to my story above regarding spreading yourself too thin, is make sure that the information your are subscribing to is either “Essential” e.g. if you use Freshbooks, you should be subscribing to their updates because you actually use the system, or “Quality” – when I say experts in a field, I mean really good quality, credible sites, producing excellent relevant or specific content for you to learn from regularly.

I hope this helps with your productivity and staying up-do-date.

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Hi I'm Michelle, an entrepreneur specialising in virtual assistance, a digital and real world nomad, and a down-to-earth mother of three.

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