Having a team around you (even a virtual one) is a great benefit not only to your business, but also your health and state of mind. The fact I am in a position to delegate tasks to others is a great feeling, and achieving it yourself is not as hard as you may think.
When I first started my business, I struggled for a long time trying to do everything myself when, in fact, I should have been taking my own advice as a virtual assistant and outsourcing some of my work.
Now, having been in business for just over 8 years, I have been outsourcing work to freelancers for the past 6 of those at least, and I feel much better for it.
A few years ago I had a great conversation with a client on Skype about what can I offer to people that is unique. The conclusion was that not only can I provide services to clients myself, but I can also offer a team of freelancers who have additional skills and can go above and beyond the core services I offer.
My fab freelancers and I have found each other via lots of different avenues. For example, I used to use PeoplePerHour to look for freelancers and that’s how I met James (below), but nowadays I usually meet them on Facebook. I am part of a great group called Freelance Heroes and this is my first port of call when I am looking for some help with something I don’t have the skills for.
One of my clients also frequently tasks me with finding freelancers for him and his clients, and that’s where I head first. I also use some other groups, depending on the sort of person I am looking for.
Without further ado, I want to introduce you to some of the freelancers I work with as I think they are all fabulous.
My Virtual Assistant – Amy
I have been working with Amy for over 2 years now. We met through a client that we both work with (although I found her for my client and was so impressed I hired her too). We have an ad-hoc working arrangement, so I send her tasks as and when I need them completed. The tasks vary, from work for my own business, or helping me out with some of my clients’ tasks when they all have a lot going on at the same time. I am also teaching her the ropes on book formatting so she can start helping me out with this as well. I know that if I send a task over to Amy then it will be done within the given timescales and to a very high standard.
Ryan and I have been working together for a while now. In fact, I am having trouble remembering how we first got together. Ryan works mainly with book covers, but more recently started formatting as well. For my eBook formatting service this works really well as I can recommend Ryan to my author clients or pass him enquiries when I am too busy. Many of my clients use Ryan to design their covers.
Other things I have used Ryan for are my social media cover images, as you can see all my cover images are the same across my networks now, and Ryan did a great job at designing these for me. He has also designed cover images for one of my clients, which they were really pleased with.
As I mentioned earlier, I discovered James on PPH years ago. Since then, he has become my every day go to writer for both my own articles and for my clients. James helps to take away all my stress around writing by providing a fresh perspective and polishing stuff that I’ve written myself to make it sound that bit better. Without him, I would be a very stressed virtual assistant!
Do you find yourself having to convince your family or friends that you are working from home and not just hanging around the house?
Is your use of Social Media platforms in your online business giving out the wrong impression to your family?
Working from home opens up a lot of freedom. In many instances you can set your own work hours, you can be more flexible with when to take breaks or time off, you are less likely to suffer work-related stress… or are you?
Working from home comes with its own unique set of problems. It’s really hard in the early days of freelancing, for your friends and family to recognise that it is a job and you are working.
You don’t leave for the office, you spend so much time on your phone/laptop, you are constantly on social media. Maybe your business is in its infancy and you don’t have a lot of income to back up your claims of working.
If you’re tired of the arduous attempts at making your family or friends recognise and value that you are working at home, then you need to implement some of these top tips.
Define the value of your work
Your spouse, partner, parent or friendly neighbour may not even realise that they are interrupting your workflow. If they see you at home, on your phone or even sitting down it may appear to them as an invitation for chit chat. Meanwhile, it breaks your concentration, infringes on your time and devalues the effort you are putting into your work.
Start by having a conversation with those closest to you about what exactly your work entails. Why are you on your phone? How is Social Media important for your business success? What exactly do you do for your clients and why it is important?
A simple but clear explanation of how you work will help them know that you are not as available as they first thought.
Involving your loved ones in setting your goals and celebrating work-related achievements will add substance and value to what may be a far stretched concept for them.
Set Clear Boundaries
As well as knowing exactly what you do in your work, your family also need to know what you need them to do.
Set very clear boundaries about your expectations of them and what they can expect from you. What days and times will you be available to them? Is your work flexible for interruptions? Having a routine in place where you take regular breaks around the same time will help enforce that you are working.
This is also true for you. It’s easy to get caught up with sneaking in some work time when you are supposed to be with family. Keep the connection time personal and they will more easily see and respect the difference between work time and free time.
Illustrate your Financial Gain
Often the worth of a project is defined by what you are gaining from it. If your family feel like they are losing out on time with you but are not yet gaining any financial benefit from your work, it can be difficult to get them on board.
Make a graphic illustration of your work earnings and pin it on the wall so that they can see what everyone is gaining. Is your income paying for football club, dance classes, that extra holiday week your spouse is taking off? Colour code it to make it clear for them.
Job Sheets and Client Tasks
Make a list of clients and the weekly tasks that must be completed for each of them. If confidentiality is an issue then you can give them colours, silly pictures or simply client numbers.
Pin it to the wall alongside your “Daily Tasks” board so that everyone, including you, knows exactly what needs to be done on any given day, in order to get paid.
Make a Schedule
So you already have a Daily Taskboard related to your work but is that enough for everyone to know how life and work can co-exist at home?
Make a schedule with your family showing when you are working, when household chores will be done, when you will be home but available to them, when extended family or friends are welcome to stop by.
You can include any categories that make it more structured and easy to follow. This is particularly helpful if you have kids at home so that they know when you will play or stop for lunch, when they can go out with you or when they need to entertain themselves.
As an added bonus, you could make it on a dry erase board so that you can change it on the fly. After all, working from home is supposed to be flexible.
Sometimes interruptions are just inevitable, especially if you have kids at home. You can set all the boundaries you want, but there need to be times when everyone knows it’s OK to break your flow.
Make a system that everyone understands as to when it is OK to come into your workspace. You could pin a ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign on your office door, or wear a set of headphones to indicate that you do not want to chat with anyone. This sends a very clear message that you are not available.
If the door is closed they cannot enter unless the house is on fire or there is a medical emergency.
The door half open means you are busy but don’t mind brief interruptions to resolve issues – does your spouse need the credit card out of your drawer?
The door fully open means you are taking a short break or you don’t mind the kids popping in to show you what they’re up to.
Come up with your own system that everyone understands.
Sitting on your phone or laptop on the sofa isn’t convincing anyone that you are hard at work, regardless if it’s the truth. Let’s face it, it probably isn’t getting you into the most productive frame of mind, either.
Having a dedicated workspace is invaluable. If you can manage to section it off from the rest of the shared space, even better. It affords you some privacy and sends a clear message to everyone else that you are ‘at work’ rather than at home.
If you’re not able to have a private room dedicated to your work, it’s worth having a back-up option for days that just aren’t flowing how you need them to.
We all have a vision of our perfect environment but sometimes neighbours are renovating, noisily, visitors flock to your door, or indeed your own kids are having a particularly rough or loud day.
Life is chaotic and in these times it’s helpful to have a backup location that you can disappear to, to carry out your work with less distraction. The local library, coffee shop, co-working space or spare keys to a relative’s empty house are all considerations.
Have you implemented any of these strategies? Are they working for you or have you come up with your own innovative techniques?
However you have made it work, everyone in the family now appreciates that you’re working. They all value the time and effort that you’re putting in, and you’re all clear on the boundaries when you’re busy. Great 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.
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!
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! 😀
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.
The allure of answering to no one (except ourselves) and being “free” from the invisible restraints placed on us by working for someone else is what drives many of us to fulfil our dreams of becoming a freelancer.
But while freelancing affords a lot of benefits for many of us, like getting to choose our own hours; working from home when we feel like it; and being able to select our clients, unless we manage our time effectively, our long-term business survival could be placed at risk.
That’s why as freelancers, entrepreneurs, solopreneurs, whatever you want to call us, we’ve had to learn to work in a way that allows us to utilise our time to its fullest.
How many of these freelancer time management habits do you use?
1. Remain Focussed on Social Media
As a Virtual Assistant, social media plays a huge role in what I do on a daily basis. Whether it’s posting updates on behalf of a client; creating a new profile/page; or responding to messages, I need to logon to the most popular social media sites regularly.
However, as you’ll probably already know, social networks, like Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest, contain A LOT of potential distractions. The urge to just quickly check your own feed can lead to huge portions of your time getting consumed, and that’s why you need to stay focussed on the task at hand.
2. Remove Distractions
Social media is a great example of a digital distraction, but what about all the ones that exist in your working environment? Kids, pets (dogs and a cat in my case), a TV, and many other things can chip away at your “work time” unless you take a conscious stand not to let them.
It’s absolutely possible to achieve a better work-life balance as a freelancer (I’ve done it), but you need to be regimented and make sure your day is definitively split into work and leisure times.
3. Italian Tomatoes
Yes, you read that correctly: “Italian tomatoes”. Who’s heard of the Pomodoro Method? The term is thought to have been coined in the late 1980s, and works on the premise that having a fixed amount of time to complete a task makes us work more efficiently.
For example, how many of you have accomplished five hours of work in a four-hour time frame before? And how many of you, when given 10 hours to complete the same amount of work, have used all 10 hours? That kind of sums up the Pomodoro Method, which sees us work faster when constraints are placed upon us.
Try working for 25 minutes straight at a time and then having a five minute break; a break completely from your work – far away from your desk if possible.
Ever seen those tomato-shaped kitchen timers? “Pomodoro” is the Italian word for tomato 🙂
4. Learn to Say “No”
Pleasing people is in all of our natures, but unfortunately we cannot do it 100% of the time. If we can’t say “no” when we really need to, our relationships with our clients and our families both stand to suffer.
Promising a client something at short notice, when you’ve got lots of other work on, will often lead to one of your clients being disappointed. Likewise, if you overcommit yourself and literally don’t have enough hours in the day – even with the Pomodoro Method – your precious family time could be sacrificed.
5. Remember, You’re the Boss
The only way to succeed as a freelancer is to establish a system that works for YOU and inform all of your clients about said system, so that they know exactly what to expect when entering into a working relationship with you. If you don’t do this, your clients will expect you to work how THEY like to work and that’s not going to do either of you any good in the long-term.
If you don’t work weekends, tell your clients that from the very start. Failure to do so could lead to them expecting a reply on a Sunday night that they’re never going to get.
If you don’t manage your time effectively, it will slip away in front of your eyes. You wouldn’t be so careless with your cash, so don’t do it with your time.
Join my Online Productivity Tools & Applications Facebook Group!
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