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.
I took part in a Podcast with one of my clients last week, it had been in the pipeline for a while, so really pleased that we managed to get it done before the New Year. It’s all about the tools and apps we’ve been using in 2014. As you know from my blog, I love testing out new tools so this podcast was right up my street. I got to talk about my top 3 apps/tools/resources I’d been using for the last year, some golden oldies and a new resource I hope you’ll all check out.
If you’re like me then the thought of having to create images for social media, blog posts and websites is not one that fills you with joy. After all, some people have artistic flare and others don’t – that’s life.
However, there’s a tool that I’ve discovered which is absolutely perfect for people like me (and you – if you’re the same). It’s called Canva and basically lets non-designers create beautiful images using drag-and-drop tools.
I’d always wished I was proficient using design tools like Photoshop but when I tried it all just seemed far too involved. Who wants to spend a small fortune on expensive software to find out that it’s complicated and you need a design degree to use it.
That’s why Canva is so revolutionary! It lets you easily create images from the ideas in your head using simple tools that slowly build a picture. Furthermore, you can create designs for just about anything from online publications to invitations.
Let me outline some of my favourite aspects of Canva:
Online-based & free to use
Canva is online-based which means you can login from anywhere that has an internet connection and access your previously created images and design preferences. Moreover, Canva is totally free if you just want to create an account and take advantage of the free images and templates that they provide.
Perhaps the most appealing feature of Canva is that it is literally drag-and-drop. You can start out with a blank design and add elements of your choosing quickly and using a real-time visual editor.
This allows you to build images piece-by-piece and remove certain aspects should they not fit with your overall design. Your design can start from a blank canvas or you can utilise one of the many standard design templates that are available.
Built-in photo editing
How many times have you wanted to create an eye-catching social media image using an existing picture but the quality hasn’t been quite right? Canva’s built-in photo editing tools allow you to apply preset filters and adjust the brightness, saturation, tint, contrast and blur of every image.
Canva say that there are “more than six quadrillion options” when it comes to image editing. I’m taking that with a pinch of salt but then I haven’t discovered them all, so I won’t dispute their figure just yet.
This is in addition to the thousands of free pictures that Canva provide for you to use. A simple search brings up literally pages of results that you can add to your designs – often for free.
It’s not just images…
Design software often allows you to add images and manipulate them in an effective manner. However, the ability to add text can sometimes be lacking. With Canva it’s certainly not.
Text can be added wherever you like and there are hundreds of different formatting options to choose from. Plus, the ability to overlay text on an image makes the whole design process seamless.
When you’re done, you can select the exact format that you want your final image to be and download it or publish it accordingly.
Canva has made designing online images for people like me an absolute breeze. Obviously if I want anything really involved creating then I consult my designer but otherwise it’s Canva all the way for me. As an example, I recently created a new Facebook cover image for my business page using Canva.
Have you tried Canva yet? If so, what do you think of it? Also, if you use any other free software I’d love to hear about your experiences.
Last week, I gave you an insight into my top 5 productivity tools. Whittling that list down to the final 5 was actually quite difficult and I’ll tell you why… When I started planning the post, I soon realised just how many tools and applications I use on a day-to-day basis!
In fact, it could have quite easily been “My Top 10” or “My Top 15” but I felt that that would detract somewhat from the overall impact and meaning of the list. That said, there was one other application that nearly made the list but didn’t – and there’s a reason for that.
You see, when I was composing the other post, I was in two minds about whether to include Spokal or not. In the end I chose not to, but promised myself that I would write a separate post on it.
Spokal – for those of you who haven’t tried it – is quite simply, brilliant! Basically, if you want a fast and easy way to create highly effective inbound marketing campaigns then Spokal is for you.
It works in unison with your existing WordPress website/blog and a host of other applications such as Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ Facebook and Mailchimp. From my point of view as a virtual assistant, the best thing about Spokal is that incorporates so much functionality into a single tool, which saves a huge amount of time and immensely boosts productivity.
Spokal has many features and I can’t begin to go into them all. Therefore, I’ll outline the three that I find the most useful – which was difficult to determine as every aspect provides real value.
You’ll no doubt understand the importance of great content as part of an inbound marketing strategy and Spokal makes creating it not just easier but also more fun. That’s because Spokal features a content editor that is predominantly drag & drop.
Therefore, you can create exceptional pieces of content in just a few clicks using your imagination. Spokal even serves up a variety of Creative Commons images, from sources like Flickr, which you can use royalty-free and the relevant photo attributions are automatically created.
Also, the real-time SEO advice is great for anyone who is looking to really optimise their content for the search engines – aren’t we all!? It provides an SEO overview for your post as you create it and offers tips on how to improve your post’s SEO score.
The Twitter integration is really powerful and allows you to literally drag relevant tweets right into your content to add extra depth. Spokal will display a list of relevant tweets and you can choose the ones you want to include.
Social Media Sharing
With your high-quality and engaging content created, Spokal then enables you to schedule it in a highly efficient way. Basically, Spokal will automatically share your content based on a custom schedule that you define.
Again, the social media calendar is drag & drop, which makes the whole process much quicker. You can start building a comprehensive schedule in a short period of time. Once configured, Spokal will take care of the rest and you can concentrate on doing what you do best: running your business.
Furthermore, the Feedly integration allows you to curate content from other people in the same calendar, thus saving you a lot of time.
We all know that social media is no longer an optional extra to boost marketing. In fact, it now represents a significant part of our marketing arsenals and, when used correctly, can drive traffic, create more business and allow us to really engage our customers and potential customers.
Spokal’s Twitter builder is perfect for those of you who want to tackle the social network but aren’t sure where to start. It’s designed to get you leads and traffic more quickly than you would alone.
It’s designed to help grow your Twitter following on autopilot with genuine followers who have an interest in what you have to say. This allows you to forge new relationships and steadily engage more people to boost your brand’s reputation, ultimately driving more sales.
I’d love to hear if any of you have tried Spokal – or any similar tools for that matter – and if so what your experience has been.
Strictly Necessary Cookies
Strictly Necessary Cookie should be enabled at all times so that we can save your preferences for cookie settings.
If you disable this cookie, we will not be able to save your preferences. This means that every time you visit this website you will need to enable or disable cookies again.
3rd Party Cookies
This website uses Google Analytics to collect anonymous information such as the number of visitors to the site, and the most popular pages.
Keeping this cookie enabled helps us to improve our website.
Please enable Strictly Necessary Cookies first so that we can save your preferences!