I regularly get people contacting me through LinkedIn to ask how I started being a virtual assistant (VA). In fact, the frequency and number of enquiries prompted me to write this blog post – after all, I’m all about boosting productivity and efficiency, which is why it made sense to write an informative post and direct wannabe VAs towards it.
First and foremost, before I started my VA business, I did huge amounts of research. I spent a lot of time online digesting as many free resources as I could and absorbing all the advice and tips I was finding – there was a lot!
Google is your friend
A quick Google search for ‘how to become a virtual assistant’ yields a whopping 8.4 million results (at time of writing). Even if you just take the time to go through the first page of results alone, you’ll glean a huge amount of relevant info (as I did more than six years ago).
It’s a great resource because it’s so easy to read. I couldn’t put it down once I’d started and read it from cover to cover in no time. It was definitely worth the cost as it contained information about things I hadn’t thought about.
With my interest seriously piqued and my passion to learn more in overdrive, I joined the Virtual Assistant Forums. Like most Internet-based forums, this one allows you to post questions and discuss topics with people who are virtual assistants already or working towards becoming one.
A great way to gain some exposure in such forums is by linking your blog and Twitter accounts, then adding real value to the conversations that are going on. People will naturally look at your profile if they see you as someone who knows what they’re talking about and may click through to your website/social media accounts as a result.
I then joined the International Virtual Assistants Association (IVAA). It’s a non-profit organisation dedicated to VA development, education and raising public awareness of what VAs do. There are several different membership categories, all of which boast a number of benefits. Check out the IVAA website for more information.
There are two VA directory sites that I’d recommend to anyone looking to start out in this industry: Virtual Assistantville and BeMyVA. They are great places to advertise your services and potentially secure your first clients. Be sure to check out the membership benefits of BeMyVA, as there’s a chance you could feature on their social media accounts and have your articles featured in their newsletter.
Twitter lists featuring virtual assistants are great; all you’ve got to do is find some. The easiest way to do this is by using the Twitter search feature to find out profiles relating to virtual assistance, VAs, etc. One you’ve started following some of the profiles you’ve found, go through their accounts and look at any lists they’ve created and been added to. Chances are there will be some relating solely to virtual assistance, which can join or retrieve more useful contacts from.
Hashtags like #VA and #virtualassistant are also a great way to find tweets and profiles relating to the industry.
Last, but certainly not least, are all the virtual assistant Facebook groups out there. There are so many, each with their own benefits, that I would never be able to review each one separately. However, I have compiled this list of groups to get you started:
As you’ll already (hopefully) know, my focus for 2017 is productivity and, more specifically, how we can all work in ways that make us more productive.
But changing the way in which we work is just one piece of the overall productivity boosting puzzle. Another piece of said puzzle – one that interests me immensely – is how we can utilise online tools and applications to make ourselves more productive.
In fact, I love online productivity tools and applications so much I created a Facebook group dedicated to them. And there’s one app in particular that I wanted to talk about which saves me a huge amount of time every day and boosts my productivity as a result – that app is LastPass.
Passwords have become a huge part of our lives today, with the majority of websites we visit requiring us to login for some reason or another. Internet banking, email accounts, social networks, forums, eCommerce sites, the list goes on and on.
Depending how good your memory is, remembering all these passwords can be nothing short of a nightmare. And if you forget one, it’s even worse! You’ve got to go through additional checks to verify that it is indeed you who’s trying to login and remember the answer to some security question you potentially configured years ago.
The problem for me, as a virtual assistant, is that I’ve got dozens of my own passwords to remember as well as even more for all my clients. Having them written down or saved in a spreadsheet isn’t exactly secure and the last thing I want to do is be pestering my clients for their passwords again, which is why I opted to give LastPass a try.
LastPass is much more than just a password manager
It’s true; first and foremost, LastPass is a password manager. But it’s also a lot more. It can help keep all of your digital life organised, accessible and secure.
All you need to do is create one master password and LastPass does the rest. New website logins can be added to your LastPass vault quickly and once you’re setup, you’ll only need to remember one password going forward.
LastPass even allows you to create secure notes in which you can store information about your most valuable documents such as your passport, birth certificate, credit cards, etc. Moreover, LastPass can store address information too, making ordering online seamless.
On an average day, I must use LastPass at least 30 times. That’s at least 30 occasions where I don’t have to reference a database to find a password, which saves me lots of time and hassle.
In addition, every single one of my and my clients’ passwords are stored securely. Data is encrypted and decrypted at the device level – so on your laptop or phone – and everything stored in your personal vault is kept secret, even from LastPass.
Best of all is the price. LastPass is free to use, with a premium option, which I’ve actually just signed up for myself. It’s only $12 a year and gives you a number of benefits, including priority customer support, unlimited sync across all your devices and the ability to easily share passwords with other people, plus more.
Got a Fitbit, Uber or Yelp account? You should probably change your password…
We keep hearing that our online passwords should always be unique i.e. never use the same one on different websites. But many people still have a tendency to do so anyway. That’s because it keeps things simple.
The problem, however, is that security breaches are occurring with frightening regularity nowadays. Just last week, for example, it was reported that web performance and security firm Cloudflare had discovered a software bug, which could have compromised the security of more than 5 million websites. Basically, anyone with a Fitbit, Uber, OkCupid, Medium or Yelp account should probably change their passwords immediately.
In response to this security issue, LastPass launched the LastPass Security Challenge. It identifies any websites affected by the Cloudflare bug and allows you to change your passwords for those sites effortlessly.
Are you already using LastPass or a similar password manager? I’d love to hear about your experiences if you are. If you’re not, why not head over to LastPass.com and signup for a free account. Who knows, you might find yourself paying for the premium version in the not so distant future…
How many of us drag ourselves out of bed in the morning? Drink coffee all day to try and make us more alert? Get stuck in the same old routine but not really achieving a lot?
I used to be like this, admittedly not in the last few years, but certainly when I was an employee and dreaded work each day. Since being my own boss I can set my own daily routine, when I get up, when I take a break and walk the dogs or even if I wanted to work into the night and sleep in every morning.
But have any of you ever looked into your chronotype to find out how your body clock can determine the ‘right time’ to do something? Me neither! In my productivity quest this year I added some books to my Amazon wishlist that I’d like to read this year, and one of those was The Power of When by Michael Breus PhD. In fact it looked so interesting I chose to read it first.
There’s a quiz at the start of the book (you can take this online here) which I decided to do online (it was easier than keeping track of my answers). It turns out I’m fairly rare, I am a Dolphin, only 10% of the population are dolphins. Some of the key characteristics of a dolphin are, they tend to be insomniacs (I’m not really, but my sleep is quite disturbed), introversion, intelligence, most alert at night, most productive in spurts throughout the day and strive for perfection.
The other chronotypes are Bears, Wolves and Lions. I’d be really interested to know what you are?
Here is the synopsis of the book:
The latest research shows that there is a right time for all of us to do everything, from drinking a cocktail to getting a flu shot. The catch? That ‘right time’ varies from person to person. Fortunately, as Dr Michael Breus proves in The Power of When, learning to work with your body clock to achieve maximum health and productivity is easy, exciting and fun. When we stop focusing on the ‘how’ and ‘what’ of our lives and start focusing on the ‘when’, we reveal our body’s natural schedule and unlock our hidden potential.
In The Power of When, Dr Breus presents a groundbreaking new programme based on the most cutting-edge research for how to get back in sync with your body’s natural rhythm. Filled with fascinating facts, true-life success stories, fun personality quizzes and easy to follow guidelines, The Power of When will teach you how to not only understand your own body clock, but the body clocks of everyone around you. After you’ve taken Dr Breus’s comprehensive chronotype (body clock) quiz (are you a bear, a lion, a dolphin, or a wolf?) you’ll learn to schedule your day for peak productivity and well-being.
Whether you are interested in the nitty gritty of body clock research or just want to follow the big-picture plan and learn how to be your best, The Power of When promises to help you achieve your goals.
This book fascinated me, I couldn’t put it down. In fact many of the suggestions for a dolphin like me I was already doing, for example my one and only coffee each day at 10.30am… not napping… doing more deep work in the afternoons… binge watching my TV shows at lunchtimes. I was really quite surprised that my routine was fairly accurate to what my body clock wants.
I haven’t changed a few things, because I don’t feel I need to. As a dolphin the ideal time to get up is 6.30am… yeah that will never happen, I love my bed. I also don’t jump out of bed at that time and do some light exercise, I walk the dogs at 10am and 4pm, other exercise doesn’t really exist, especially at 6.30am!
Some changes I plan to implement soon are changing my French lessons to around 4pm in the afternoon, that’s because this is the best time of day for me to learn something new. I’ve struggled with my French, so I am interested to see if this helps! I have also started to go to bed later, and I try just to read fiction at bedtime which is less stimulating. I’m also conscious of when I speak to my boyfriend (he’s a bear) about important things, 5pm is supposedly the best time.
Going back to the title of the post, knowing when the ‘right time’ do to things means you will certainly be more productive. Along with some other tips I’ve picked up in the last few months my days are proving to be a lot more productive.
If you do one thing after reading this post, take the quiz, Micheal provides some really great insights into your chronotype. At the end of the book there are four master clocks, one for each chronotype, they are a quick way of checking when the best time to do something is… drinking coffee might not be that important, but what about a job interview, or learning something new? Choosing the best time to do something puts you in control of what you want.
Don’t forget to comment here with your chronotype, I’d love to know!
When I first started my Virtual Assistant business back in 2011, I needed all the help I could get. Here I was running my own company for the first time and in a foreign country to boot.
At that time, business books were very important to me. They still are now, but back then in particular I gleaned a huge amount of information from them and was able to successfully build my own business.
Here are my top five must-read books for freelancers:
First up on my list of must-read books for freelancers is Freedom from Bosses Forever by Tony Robinson OBE.
Now I should start by telling you that it’s a satirical book. But that absolutely does not detract from the value it provides. In fact, for me, it enhances it. Think of it as a serious book about small business development written in a cordial and easy to understand style.
If you want honest, relevant business advice, which is straight to the point and easy to digest, I highly recommend Freedom from Bosses Forever.
As its name suggests, Get Clients Now! helps you get new clients. Even though I first read it awhile ago, I often refer back to it if I need to get some new clients.
The advice is easy-to-follow and genuinely works. So much so that I tend to follow it for a week or so and then put it down because I’ve already got all the new clients I wanted. It’s that simple!
If you’re an entrepreneur, solopreneur or micros/small business owner, Get Clients Now! should be your marketing bible. Because without clients or customers, your business isn’t going to be the success you envisaged.
I mean, it could be a diary, it could be an app on your smartphone, or it could just be a plain old notepad which you write things down in?
For the last two years I have spent a fortune on a lovely colourful life planner from Erin Condren, but this year the weeks have sped by so fast that looking back through it just now I realise I am not making the most of this expensive planner. Especially as I also use a plain notepad for my daily to-do list, what a waste of paper!
Earlier on this year I saw a Kickstarter campaign for the Passion Planner, it was right after I’d already ordered my expensive planner (which incidentally costs a fortune to post outside of the US!). As it’s coming up to the end of the year I decided that I would give this new planner a test drive in 2016…
It’s not quite as colourful, in fact it’s in black and white, but as you can see I can quite easily brighten it up on the inside. Plus this cost me around half of what I paid for this years planner (and the year before).
The Passion Planner is back on Kickstarter too, so if you fancy purchasing a sparkly gold version then take a look.
What do you use a planner for?
Going back to my original question, what was your answer?
One thing that I am hoping to use my new planner for is my daily to-do list, that should save on the notepad use. I also use mine for life and business appointments, although being virtual and living in France I don’t often have face-to-face appointments, just Skype calls.
There are so many planner alternatives out there, I must have used a fair few iPhone apps over the years, and don’t forget Google Calendar (which syncs with my iPhone). I still think that paper is the best way to get your ideas out of your head, although I do use my iPhone for noting things down on the go… it’s not like I want to lug a planner around with me when I’m taking the dogs out for a walk!
Share your planners with me, only a virtual assistant can get excited over such things.
As a Virtual Assistant, a considerable portion of my work is in managing my clients’ websites. When it comes to website administration, some types of website are easier than others. Inspired by a recent client’s clunky old custom Content Management System (the bit that allows me to make changes, upload new content, and add new features etc.), I thought I would delve into some of the most popular, modern CMSs and give a quick-guide on their pros and cons.
Choosing the system best for your purposes can be difficult, but it is an important choice to make. Most people will not want to change systems after they’ve started with one, so let’s take a look at these top five content management systems to see which one is right for you.
Best for beginners and small to medium sized websites, WordPress is the platform serving up most blogs and brochure style websites you see these days. An automated install on most hosting platforms makes setup a breeze and you can easily be up and running the same day you do the installation. Released in 2003 and now with over 68 million websites, WordPress boasts a huge and helpful community to turn to for support when help is needed and really is the world’s most loved blogging platform.
Easy to customise, user-friendly & SEO capable, WordPress loses some appeal due to its vulnerability to hackers, limited design options and plugins often becoming incompatible with platform updates, meaning if you’re going to update your WordPress installation you’d better be sure your installed plug-ins are compatible first.
A stable, no frills CMS for consumers and small to mid-sized e-commerce sites and education websites; Joomla, like WordPress has been around for a while (released in 2005) and boasts a robust developers community around it’s free and open-source platform meaning if you have questions or are stuck implementing it, you’ll be likely to find an answer before long.
Joomla falls behind in the areas of SEO capability, granular access control and it’s less intuitive than WordPress but nevertheless has over 30 million downloads and is in use on sites such as Linux.com and Cloud.com
Launched in 2001, the most difficult but the most powerful CMS, Drupal can fulfill the needs of high security, enterprise level websites such as whitehouse.gov and data.gov.uk where it’s currently in use. It’s very flexible but has a steep learning curve, few theme choices and lacks good free plugins. Like WordPress and Joomla, Drupal is open-source, free and developer friendly – if you’re already a capable php developer – while also boasting superior stability, scalability and capacity for proper SEO.
You’ll have to budget a lot more time setting up your site with Drupal than with WordPress or Joomla. Stay away unless you or your team are already capable with PHP… but if you are, this one is the best for when you’re asking a lot out of your website solution.
While ExpressionEngine differs from the open-source free CMS described so far, it can be compared to, and has a leg up on WordPress by including ecommerce and membership without needing 3rd party plug-ins. A paid-application which includes support in the purchase price, you can structure your EE the way you want, as well as allowing for unlimited content types. WordPress design is essentially limited to themes available, and installs with 3 content types (posts, pages, media) while with EE you can define as many as you need without knowing anything about coding PHP.
With excellent scalability and a noteworthy security record (cough cough @wordpress), ExpressionEngine touts a number of partners on their website like Adobe, Apple, Disney, Ford, Nike, and more showing it is a CMS that can not only give you more power and flexibility with your blog, but is trusted among huge corporations.
Built by a company that got started making high quality plug-ins for ExpressionEngine, Craft similarly starts as a blank slate allowing you to structure your site as you want it to be while offering a few advancements like more advanced functionality when it comes to entry creation and editing in the control panel.
Craft offers several pricing options to fit your needs and support comes with your purchase price. Like each of these CMS there is a supportive community but Craft, being the “new kid on the block”, doesn’t have quite the robust add-on library, yet.
In my experience, all of these are good systems. The most important thing is to choose the platform that best suits your business, your customers and your own internal structure. Not all businesses are blessed with the scope for an in-house webmaster, if it falls to you, be sure you have researched, and chosen, a CMS that you feel comfortable working with. If you end up hating the process of updating your website, you will likely find yourself leaving it to languish. Fresh, relevant content and a good user experience is king. If you have that covered, managing your website will be a piece of cake.
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