Looking to Become a Virtual Assistant? These Resources are Invaluable

Looking to Become a Virtual Assistant? These Resources are Invaluable

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).

Next, I looked to satisfy the avid reader in me and checked what books relating to becoming a virtual assistant were available on Amazon. There wasn’t actually that many (at the time), but one did stick out, so I placed an order. It was “The Virtual Assistant Handbook: Insider Secrets for Starting and Running Your Own Profitable VA Business” by Nadine Hill.

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.

VA Forums/Associations

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.

VA Directories

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

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.

Facebook Groups

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:

Two other Facebook groups I highly recommend are Freelance Heroes (great for general freelancing discussions and lead generation) and my own Online Productivity Tools & Applications group (great for insights into all the best tools and apps designed to boost productivity).

Over to you…

Are there any resources you use/have used that I haven’t mentioned? I’d love to hear about them. Drop a note in the comments or tweet me @JoHarris0n.

My Top Tips for Preventing Some of the Pains Associated with a Sedentary Desk Job

My Top Tips for Preventing Some of the Pains Associated with a Sedentary Desk Job

Those of you who are friends with me on Facebook and/or follow my Facebook business page will know that I’ve been suffering with pain in my neck and back for the past few months.

While I’ve had neck and back pain before on and off, it got to the point this time where I couldn’t even sleep, so I had to go see a doctor. The doctor said it was my thoracic spine that was the root of all my pain and discomfort, most likely caused by me being sat at my desk working too much.

Now it has been a busy few months and I’ve been spending a lot of time working. However, I thought that walking the dogs twice a day would be enough activity to keep me from killing myself.

The doctor referred me to a physio and I managed to get a cancellation appointment. I also made an appointment with an osteopath recommended by my mother.

After about 2/3 appointments with the physio and 1 with the osteopath, I was able to function without the strong painkillers the doctor gave me. It’s now only at night that I am in some pain and find it difficult to get comfortable.

Then, by a massive coincidence, a friend of mine who runs a gym/personal training business called Limelight Fitness advertised on Facebook about a new 6-week mobility course she was running. It focussed on helping people with, well, mobility problems, so issues with pain in their knees, hips, back, etc. I booked in with her straightaway and started 3 half-hour sessions a week, last week.

Despite the fact it’s pretty hard going, I can already feel as though my general mobility is getting better.

Unfortunately, it’s been a pretty stressful couple of months, what with physio and osteopath appointments 30 minutes away from my house (office). Trying to juggle my work and focus on getting myself better has been difficult – especially as I’m a routine freak!

Getting used to being out of the house at random times during the week – especially now I have started the mobility course – has been a challenge.

To try and arrange my days better, I have put a schedule together and blocked out times in my calendar by client/task.

Work Schedule

This has worked really well keeping me on task rather than jumping around multi-tasking and not really getting anything done. As well as turning off notifications during the times I’m working on a task, this has made a massive difference in my productivity.

Now that I’m on the mend, I thought it would be useful to share with you some of the tips given to me by the physio and the osteopath that have helped improve my condition.

1. Set a work timer

My osteopath suggested that I set a timer to go off every 30 minutes and have a 5-minute break every time I hear it. Admittedly, I have mine set for 45 minutes, but this has still worked well.

I’m using an app called Awareness that gongs every 45 minutes and records when you stop using your computer. Five minutes is actually a long time when you’re waiting to get back to your desk, so make a list of things you can do in those 5 minutes e.g. make a cup of tea, tidy your desk/office, pre-prepare your dinner, wash-up, whatever you like really.

2. Invest in some ergonomic kit

Repetitive strain injury is really common in the wrist/arm you use your mouse with. My osteopath suggested I get a vertical, ergonomic mouse. I did and while it took some getting used to, I must say I’ve noticed my wrist/arm pain is a lot better.

3. Exercise your upper body

I had always thought walking for about an hour a day was enough, and for activity purposes it is, but the upper part of my body was not getting any exercise. I now have a set of exercises from the physio that I do each day and with the mobility sessions, my upper body is moving as it should be. These exercises should also sort out my posture – after working at a desk for around 24 years, no wonder my body is finally telling me to stand up!

4. Standing desks

Have you seen them? They are a great idea, but only in small doses. My osteopath says that standing all day working is going to put pressure on your legs, so alternate between sitting and standing. I now have my laptop on my kitchen counter which I use a couple of times each day for around 15-20 minutes at a time.

Do you have any daily routines or top tips that help to prevent aches and pains while you’re sat at your desk working? I’d love to hear them!

My Online Productivity Tools & Apps Facebook Group Is (Almost) One Year Old

My Online Productivity Tools & Apps Facebook Group Is (Almost) One Year Old

I can’t believe that in just under four weeks’ time, my Online Productivity Tools & Applications Facebook group will be celebrating its first birthday. Wow! Where has that year gone!?

Even if I do say so myself, the group has gone from strength to strength. We’ve now got 342 members (at time of writing) and are getting new member requests on a pretty much daily basis.

If you’re not already a member (and why not?), the group is designed to be a place where people can seek advice, discuss and tell others about all the cool tools and apps they use on a regular basis to help them be more productive in their work.

The group’s got a great community spirit and positive vibe about it, with absolutely zero spam – something that’s a pet hate of mine, which I think ruins many great groups.

Group members are also among the first to hear when Phil Byrne and I release our monthly podcasts showcasing our favourite apps that have made a difference to our online lives that month.

If you missed our latest one, check it out now here. I talk about two Slack apps I’ve been using, one of which enables me to read and reply to emails, tweets and Facebook updates right from within Slack itself.

Talking of Slack, I’m also hosting a webinar dedicated to the tool on August 10. You won’t know about this unless you’re a member of the Facebook group.

The webinar will focus specifically on Slack Productivity Power Tips & Tricks.

In addition, I have created a bespoke Slack channel to complement the Facebook group, which I will use in conjunction with the upcoming webinar to demonstrate functionality.

There are a lot of people who use Slack on a daily basis and would be interested in being part of an ongoing Slack channel that serves as an extension to the Facebook group (as indicated by a poll we undertook in the group recently).

I envisage the Slack channel being an ideal place for people who aren’t on Facebook all the time to ask questions of the other group members.

If you want to join the Slack channel, please enter your email address below and a signup link will be sent to you.

Disclaimer: By submitting your email address you agree to receive my once-in-a-blue-moon newsletter, which you can opt out of at any time 😉

See you on August 10 for the Slack webinar!

Make Your Working Day as Productive as Possible with My Top Tips

Make Your Working Day as Productive as Possible with My Top Tips

If you’re like me and have a whole bunch of different clients you work with on a regular basis, your daily task list is probably pretty hectic – I know mine is! And while this isn’t necessarily a problem in itself, it sometimes means I can’t see the wood for the trees, which makes planning my day that bit more difficult and can (occasionally) impact my productivity.

That’s why I wanted to write this post and share with you some of the tips I use on a daily basis to keep my productivity on track.

Use a task management tool/app

Task management tools and apps – like Todoist (my current fave) – allow you to see at a glance all of the tasks you’ve currently got on your to-do list. They also enable you to sort them by priority and flag ‘must do’ tasks, allowing you to easily see exactly what you ‘have’ to do that day. But to use these tools effectively you have to remember to add every single task and flag/label it appropriately, that goes for non-work tasks too!

Don’t spend too much time on email

I always try and get a couple of tasks out of the way in the morning before I start replying to emails. It gives me a nice sense of achievement early on in the day, which puts me on the right track.

In addition, I use an app called MailButler (for Mac) that allows me to stagger (schedule) my email replies, preventing a deluge from coming in a little later.

Minimise client distractions

It can be hard, but try not to let your clients/customers distract you by constantly calling or instant messaging. Instead, set some time aside for having these types of discussion and ignore/turn off notifications at the times you really need to work.

Learn to triage and say ‘no’

A triage system for clients and customers that lets them know you can’t complete tasks at short notice can really help. It manages their expectations and reduces the likelihood of them asking.

If something urgent does crop up then decide if you can stop what you’re doing easily and assess how it will affect the rest of your day.

Also, remember that saying “no” sometimes is a fact of life. And even though it might cause some extra stress for your client, you need to look after your own stress levels too. Having a clause in your contract that says urgent work will incur a surcharge on their invoice may deter clients/customers landing you with priority tasks all the time.

Swap email for chat apps

Something that has worked well for me is using Slack with a couple of clients rather than email. All our projects are in different channels and it’s very easy to see what’s going on at all times. It definitely cuts down on emails, but do be careful with new message notifications and don’t get sidetracked chatting rather than working.

Save time (in the long run) by making templates

If you often get clients/customers asking you the same questions (I tend to with my author clients) a great way to save time is to either set-up an email template you can customise (MailButler offers email templates) and/or do a short video of your screen (I use Zoom) which walks them through the process. This saves massive amounts of time and lets you get on with the things you need to.

Spread recurring tasks throughout the week

Many productivity experts say you should batch similar tasks together in one day, but when you’re scheduling social media updates for upwards of 2/3 clients such an approach means you’d need to spend a whole day or more just doing that! I find spreading these tasks throughout the week means I get a nice variety of jobs each day.

Set aside some time for yourself

Try and have a couple of days each week where you’re not totally bogged down with tasks. It allows you to do things for your own business and not have clients on your case. For me, Wednesdays and Thursdays are my designated ‘quiet days’ where I can take a bit of a break (and publish a blog for instance – like today), but still be on hand if anything urgent crops up.

Over to you…

I’m always on the lookout for new tips to make my working days more productive. Do you have any you can share? I’d love to hear from you!

My Top Marketing Tip for Freelancers and Solopreneurs

My Top Marketing Tip for Freelancers and Solopreneurs

When I first started out as a virtual assistant in 2011, social media was my first port of call for marketing. Six years on and I still view social media as one of the most valuable marketing channels out there.

But it’s not for everyone.

First, let’s not forget why social media has become so phenomenally popular today. Its roots lay in providing a platform for people to effortlessly interact and be “social”.

Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and all the other social networks out there enable people to share photos, memories and life updates with the push of a button.

Now you might be wondering, what’s that got to do with marketing myself as a freelancer or solopreneur?

A lot actually, as it goes.

That’s because social media is a fickle beast when it comes to marketing. It was never designed to be full of brands bustling for attention and plying their wares in people’s news feeds.

That’s why you need to be smart and patient when looking to leverage social media for marketing purposes.

My top advice would be to get yourself on social media. In particular, the channels you think your target audience is on. Then, you need to spend time interacting with them, getting to know them and providing immense value in everything you share with them.

Share personal successes, images and videos. Show them who you are and what you are all about – do not try and sell to them directly! Then, and only then, will you have gained their trust and attention.

When people like you and see that you know what you’re doing, they will come to you! 😀

This blog post is part of the Freelancermap.com Book Carnival.

Be a Part of My Online Tools/Apps Revolution

Be a Part of My Online Tools/Apps Revolution

Online Productivity Tools & Applications

Those of you who know me will know that I absolutely love online tools and applications. I use them every single day and they’ve become a crucial part of my success when it comes to productivity and efficiency.

Now many of you may be thinking, I don’t use many online tools or applications, what’s Jo talking about?

But I guarantee you all use more than you might think.

That’s because you’ll have taken for granted many of the tools/apps you use on a daily basis, but without them your working life would be considerably different.

If you use an online email service, such as Gmail, for managing your emails and Facebook for elements of your online marketing efforts, you’re absolutely taking advantage of online tools and apps.

Monthly Online Apps/Tools Podcast

In fact, my huge fondness of online apps and tools is the subject of a monthly podcast with the lovely Phil Byrne, strategic director at Positive Sparks.

Each month, Phil and I discuss our top/favourite online tools and apps for the month.

Our latest podcast (link at the bottom of this post) focuses on some apps you might not have heard of.

For example, we discuss RSS tool Feedly, which I started using when Google Alerts was pulled, and has now become my go-to app for content curation. I won’t give too much away as I want you to listen to the podcast (obviously), but I will say that Feedly has transformed how I curate content for both myself and clients.

I also talk about an app that I signed up to ages ago, but never got round to using. It’s called Zapier and it’s an app integration platform that is similar to If This Then That in nature, which I’ve talked about in a past blog post.

I’ve so far created several ‘zaps’ as they’re known and it’s turning out to be a really useful tool. It integrates with loads of other apps that I already use and has bags of potential.

Phil also talks about YouCanBook.me and Niume, an intriguing content sharing system that I previously hadn’t heard of, but sounds like it could be a great collaboration tool.

Join my Facebook Group!

I try to share my penchant for online apps and tools with as many people as possible whenever I can because I know how many benefits some of them can bring. That’s why I recently created a Facebook group in which people can talk about just that.

It’s called Online Productivity Tools & Applications and it’s open to anyone. There are only a few rules, the main one being that no spam is allowed. Other than that people are free to post links to their favourite apps or online tools that they use and discuss the numerous benefits they afford.

I’d love for you to become part of the group because I really do think it provides a lot of value. Even if you learn about one new tool or app a month it will have been worth it.

You can find our favourite apps/tools for October podcast here. Be sure to subscribe to the channel so you don’t miss out on any in the future.

And here are the links to the apps we talk about:

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