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4 Tech Tips to Keep Ahead of the Game for New Entrepreneurs

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4 Tech Tips to Keep Ahead of the Game for New Entrepreneurs

    Thinking about starting a business or trying to make some cash out of the web? Technology can enable people and it can just as easily distract. We’ve got a few tips for you to consider to cut down on those distractions and costs and get more done, more efficiently and more effectively.

    These tips all center on one thing: technology, whether it involves a specific device or just the way you use tech, computers and the internet in general. Enjoy.

    Save time with Skype

    It’s becoming increasingly common advice: swap an expensive phone plan for a cheap – or free, if you do things right – Skype solution. And it’s true. You can save a whole heck of a lot of money thanks to Skype and solutions like it.

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    But while most people are talking about the money you can save, I think there’s something better for entrepreneurs to get out of Skype. The combination of instant messaging and VoIP allows you to control your communication methods better than any old phone line. Can’t or don’t want to take a call? It’s certainly not worth breaking your concentration if you’re on a roll.

    With Skype you can divert incoming calls to instant messaging and deal with requests and questions at a time of your own choosing. Corresponding via text allows you to focus on a main task while you take their message. But for those who prefer to talk by voice, deferring the call is still a good idea.

    Most calls take a while to get to the point; time that, even if minute from a perspective of quantification, is taking your mind further from the tasks and issues that you need to deal with. Shifting the mental gears is a time-expensive task. Filtering calls through instant messaging means the pretext for the call has been set and you can get right to the point and back to work.

    I personally prefer to communicate via text because it’s swift and doesn’t use as much attention quota.

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    Install a GPS Unit

    Install a GPS unit in your car or grab a PDA phone that has this handy technology built in. If you go the PDA route, make sure you get a mount for it installed in the car you’re most likely to use for business purposes. When you’re starting a business, you want – need – to deliver the best impression for potential, more established business partners. While being punctual is just something that all people need to do no matter what their level of experience or degree of establishment is, you don’t have a reputation to precede you and need to go the extra mile to develop one.

    By using GPS you guarantee that you won’t get lost, late and end up irking the other party, or even having the meeting canceled. Any technology that enables you to respect the time of others as fiercely as you defend your own is a good one.

    Get a Virtual Assistant

    So hiring a VA isn’t really tech, but it has the word “virtual” in it, right? The topic of virtual assistants has crawled its way into this article because you can free up hours of your time that would’ve been spent at the computer beforehand.

    Depending on who you talk to, virtual assistants can be hired from as little as $5 an hour and you can have them take care of a whole range of things:

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    • Monitor your emails and only send you those that need personal attention. You should set up another email account such as assistant@yourname.com and direct correspondence there, rather than giving anyone access to your own account.
    • Send standard form emails for you – fielding the same questions from customers, despite having a FAQ that covers them? You don’t need to cut and paste your standard “Have you checked our FAQ?” letter to them all when there’s a virtual assistant assigned to the task.
    • Research topics you need to be informed on, write or speak about.
    • Manage your calendar appointments and contacts, so that you don’t lose upwards of an hour each day just planning it.

    And there are about half a million other things you can delegate if you sit down and brainstorm the topic. This is the best investment you can make in technology – freeing up the time you have to spend with it (even if that just gives you more time to spend with it in less menial ways).

    Create a News Filter

    Keeping informed takes up huge chunks of time for some people. The most popular methods of dealing with information are the least efficient.

    The first thing you can do is see how much of the information you consume truly is important. For instance, let’s say that you’re the typical web-worker or online entrepreneur and you’ve subscribed to a whole bunch of feeds relevant to your field. You keep up with these feeds because if you don’t, you’ll miss something really important, but in between those occasional high-priority stories, how many are you consuming that aren’t important ‘just in case’ or ‘just because’ they’re there?

    Usually, the feeds you find necessary to subscribe to are simply those that are most popular and, via social proof, considered most important in your field. They may not be news-based at all. Or, they’re entirely news-based and thus conform to the 24-hour news cycle and deliver too much “news” that isn’t important and you don’t need to read about.

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    After you come to this realization it’s easier to cut down on subscriptions to only those that are strongly relevant, don’t publish with great frequency and don’t miss important news. This may mean gathering a few that sometimes overlap, but that’s better than a total overdose.

    The more technically involved way of creating a news filter via feeds is to use Yahoo! Pipes or a similar service to craft conditional feeds that only deliver entries based on a certain set of conditions. The most basic use would be to take a popular news site that covers only the most important news in a variety of fields and filter by certain keywords to extract just one field, or even better, by author where you know that he or she specifically covers one topic’s big news.

    The way you filter news is up to, and limited by your imagination (okay, and the technology), but as long as you’ve got a system in place to weed out most of the filler, you’ve used technology to reclaim a whole bunch of time.

    And a bonus tip: make liberal use of off switches. When it’s not essential that you keep your phone or computer on, do it – keep the work-life boundaries clear. This is where so many entrepreneurs go wrong; they can’t see the forest for the trees and decimate their home and personal life in pursuit of riches.

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    Good luck!

    More by this author

    Joel Falconer

    Editor, content marketer, product manager and writer with 12+ years of experience in the startup, design and tech digital media industries.

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    8 Simple Ways to Be a Better Listener

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    8 Simple Ways to Be a Better Listener

    How would you feel if you were sharing a personal story and noticed that the person to whom you were speaking wasn’t really listening? You probably wouldn’t be too thrilled.

    Unfortunately, that is the case for many people. Most individuals are not good listeners. They are good pretenders. The thing is, true listening requires work—more work than people are willing to invest. Quality conversation is about “give and take.” Most people, however, want to just give—their words, that is. Being on the receiving end as the listener may seem boring, but it’s essential.

    When you are attending to someone and paying attention to what they’re saying, it’s a sign of caring and respect. The hitch is that attending requires an act of will, which sometimes goes against what our minds naturally do—roaming around aimlessly and thinking about whatnot, instead of listening—the greatest act of thoughtfulness.

    Without active listening, people often feel unheard and unacknowledged. That’s why it’s important for everyone to learn how to be a better listener.

    What Makes People Poor Listeners?

    Good listening skills can be learned, but first, let’s take a look at some of the things that you might be doing that makes you a poor listener.

    1. You Want to Talk to Yourself

    Well, who doesn’t? We all have something to say, right? But when you are looking at someone pretending to be listening while, all along, they’re mentally planning all the amazing things they’re going to say, it is a disservice to the speaker.

    Yes, maybe what the other person is saying is not the most exciting thing in the world. Still, they deserve to be heard. You always have the ability to steer the conversation in another direction by asking questions.

    It’s okay to want to talk. It’s normal, even. Keep in mind, however, that when your turn does come around, you’ll want someone to listen to you.

    2. You Disagree With What Is Being Said

    This is another thing that makes you an inadequate listener—hearing something with which you disagree with and immediately tuning out. Then, you lie in wait so you can tell the speaker how wrong they are. You’re eager to make your point and prove the speaker wrong. You think that once you speak your “truth,” others will know how mistaken the speaker is, thank you for setting them straight, and encourage you to elaborate on what you have to say. Dream on.

    Disagreeing with your speaker, however frustrating that might be, is no reason to tune them out and ready yourself to spew your staggering rebuttal. By listening, you might actually glean an interesting nugget of information that you were previously unaware of.

    3. You Are Doing Five Other Things While You’re “Listening”

    It is impossible to listen to someone while you’re texting, reading, playing Sudoku, etc. But people do it all the time—I know I have.

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    I’ve actually tried to balance my checkbook while pretending to listen to the person on the other line. It didn’t work. I had to keep asking, “what did you say?” I can only admit this now because I rarely do it anymore. With work, I’ve succeeded in becoming a better listener. It takes a great deal of concentration, but it’s certainly worth it.

    If you’re truly going to listen, then you must: listen! M. Scott Peck, M.D., in his book The Road Less Travel, says, “you cannot truly listen to anyone and do anything else at the same time.” If you are too busy to actually listen, let the speaker know, and arrange for another time to talk. It’s simple as that!

    4. You Appoint Yourself as Judge

    While you’re “listening,” you decide that the speaker doesn’t know what they’re talking about. As the “expert,” you know more. So, what’s the point of even listening?

    To you, the only sound you hear once you decide they’re wrong is, “Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah!” But before you bang that gavel, just know you may not have all the necessary information. To do that, you’d have to really listen, wouldn’t you? Also, make sure you don’t judge someone by their accent, the way they sound, or the structure of their sentences.

    My dad is nearly 91. His English is sometimes a little broken and hard to understand. People wrongly assume that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about—they’re quite mistaken. My dad is a highly intelligent man who has English as his second language. He knows what he’s saying and understands the language perfectly.

    Keep that in mind when listening to a foreigner, or someone who perhaps has a difficult time putting their thoughts into words.

    Now, you know some of the things that make for an inferior listener. If none of the items above resonate with you, great! You’re a better listener than most.

    How To Be a Better Listener

    For conversation’s sake, though, let’s just say that maybe you need some work in the listening department, and after reading this article, you make the decision to improve. What, then, are some of the things you need to do to make that happen? How can you be a better listener?

    1. Pay Attention

    A good listener is attentive. They’re not looking at their watch, phone, or thinking about their dinner plans. They’re focused and paying attention to what the other person is saying. This is called active listening.

    According to Skills You Need, “active listening involves listening with all senses. As well as giving full attention to the speaker, it is important that the ‘active listener’ is also ‘seen’ to be listening—otherwise, the speaker may conclude that what they are talking about is uninteresting to the listener.”[1]

    As I mentioned, it’s normal for the mind to wander. We’re human, after all. But a good listener will rein those thoughts back in as soon as they notice their attention waning.

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    I want to note here that you can also “listen” to bodily cues. You can assume that if someone keeps looking at their watch or over their shoulder, their focus isn’t on the conversation. The key is to just pay attention.

    2. Use Positive Body Language

    You can infer a lot from a person’s body language. Are they interested, bored, or anxious?

    A good listener’s body language is open. They lean forward and express curiosity in what is being said. Their facial expression is either smiling, showing concern, conveying empathy, etc. They’re letting the speaker know that they’re being heard.

    People say things for a reason—they want some type of feedback. For example, you tell your spouse, “I had a really rough day!” and your husband continues to check his newsfeed while nodding his head. Not a good response.

    But what if your husband were to look up with questioning eyes, put his phone down, and say, “Oh, no. What happened?” How would feel, then? The answer is obvious.

    According to Alan Gurney,[2]

    “An active listener pays full attention to the speaker and ensures they understand the information being delivered. You can’t be distracted by an incoming call or a Facebook status update. You have to be present and in the moment.

    Body language is an important tool to ensure you do this. The correct body language makes you a better active listener and therefore more ‘open’ and receptive to what the speaker is saying. At the same time, it indicates that you are listening to them.”

    3. Avoid Interrupting the Speaker

    I am certain you wouldn’t want to be in the middle of a sentence only to see the other person holding up a finger or their mouth open, ready to step into your unfinished verbiage. It’s rude and causes anxiety. You would, more than likely, feel a need to rush what you’re saying just to finish your sentence.

    Interrupting is a sign of disrespect. It is essentially saying, “what I have to say is much more important than what you’re saying.” When you interrupt the speaker, they feel frustrated, hurried, and unimportant.

    Interrupting a speaker to agree, disagree, argue, etc., causes the speaker to lose track of what they are saying. It’s extremely frustrating. Whatever you have to say can wait until the other person is done.

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    Be polite and wait your turn!

    4. Ask Questions

    Asking questions is one of the best ways to show you’re interested. If someone is telling you about their ski trip to Mammoth, don’t respond with, “that’s nice.” That would show a lack of interest and disrespect. Instead, you can ask, “how long have you been skiing?” “Did you find it difficult to learn?” “What was your favorite part of the trip?” etc. The person will think highly of you and consider you a great conversationalist just by you asking a few questions.

    5. Just Listen

    This may seem counterintuitive. When you’re conversing with someone, it’s usually back and forth. On occasion, all that is required of you is to listen, smile, or nod your head, and your speaker will feel like they’re really being heard and understood.

    I once sat with a client for 45 minutes without saying a word. She came into my office in distress. I had her sit down, and then she started crying softly. I sat with her—that’s all I did. At the end of the session, she stood, told me she felt much better, and then left.

    I have to admit that 45 minutes without saying a word was tough. But she didn’t need me to say anything. She needed a safe space in which she could emote without interruption, judgment, or me trying to “fix” something.

    6. Remember and Follow Up

    Part of being a great listener is remembering what the speaker has said to you, then following up with them.

    For example, in a recent conversation you had with your co-worker Jacob, he told you that his wife had gotten a promotion and that they were contemplating moving to New York. The next time you run into Jacob, you may want to say, “Hey, Jacob! Whatever happened with your wife’s promotion?” At this point, Jacob will know you really heard what he said and that you’re interested to see how things turned out. What a gift!

    According to new research, “people who ask questions, particularly follow-up questions, may become better managers, land better jobs, and even win second dates.”[3]

    It’s so simple to show you care. Just remember a few facts and follow up on them. If you do this regularly, you will make more friends.

    7. Keep Confidential Information Confidential

    If you really want to be a better listener, listen with care. If what you’re hearing is confidential, keep it that way, no matter how tempting it might be to tell someone else, especially if you have friends in common. Being a good listener means being trustworthy and sensitive with shared information.

    Whatever is told to you in confidence is not to be revealed. Assure your speaker that their information is safe with you. They will feel relieved that they have someone with whom they can share their burden without fear of it getting out.

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    Keeping someone’s confidence helps to deepen your relationship. Also, “one of the most important elements of confidentiality is that it helps to build and develop trust. It potentially allows for the free flow of information between the client and worker and acknowledges that a client’s personal life and all the issues and problems that they have belong to them.”[4]

    Be like a therapist: listen and withhold judgment.

    NOTE: I must add here that while therapists keep everything in a session confidential, there are exceptions:

    1. If the client may be an immediate danger to himself or others.
    2. If the client is endangering a population that cannot protect itself, such as in the case of a child or elder abuse.

    8. Maintain Eye Contact

    When someone is talking, they are usually saying something they consider meaningful. They don’t want their listener reading a text, looking at their fingernails, or bending down to pet a pooch on the street. A speaker wants all eyes on them. It lets them know that what they’re saying has value.

    Eye contact is very powerful. It can relay many things without anything being said. Currently, it’s more important than ever with the Covid-19 Pandemic. People can’t see your whole face, but they can definitely read your eyes.

    By eye contact, I don’t mean a hard, creepy stare—just a gaze in the speaker’s direction will do. Make it a point the next time you’re in a conversation to maintain eye contact with your speaker. Avoid the temptation to look anywhere but at their face. I know it’s not easy, especially if you’re not interested in what they’re talking about. But as I said, you can redirect the conversation in a different direction or just let the person know you’ve got to get going.

    Final Thoughts

    Listening attentively will add to your connection with anyone in your life. Now, more than ever, when people are so disconnected due to smartphones and social media, listening skills are critical.

    You can build better, more honest, and deeper relationships by simply being there, paying attention, and asking questions that make the speaker feel like what they have to say matters.

    And isn’t that a great goal? To make people feel as if they matter? So, go out and start honing those listening skills. You’ve got two great ears. Now use them!

    More Tips on How to Be a Better Listener

    Featured photo credit: Joshua Rodriguez via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] Skills You Need: Active Listening
    [2] Filtered: Body language for active listening
    [3] Forbes: People Will Like You More If You Start Asking Follow-up Questions
    [4] TAFE NSW Sydney eLearning Moodle: Confidentiality

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