I regularly speak to small business owners, on both a personal and professional level, and if there’s one thing they all tell me it’s that when they first started out they tried to wear too many hats. In other words, they bogged themselves down with tasks that they really shouldn’t have been doing and ultimately lost focus on what they should be doing: building their businesses.
Unfortunately, this is one of the pitfalls of running a small business. It’s only when the owners realise that by trying to do everything themselves they’re actually hindering their businesses that things start to change.
But as we all know, hindsight is a wonderful thing and we can all learn a lot from it. That’s why I wanted to share with you some of the tasks that I carry out for my clients. While you will undoubtedly know about most of them, there are a few that may surprise you.
What I want to do is get you thinking about which of the tasks you’re currently doing yourself that could be delegated to someone else. Even if you manage to reclaim just five minutes of your time each day by delegating or outsourcing a task or two, I’ll feel as though I’ve done my job.
Here are just some of the duties I perform for my clients:
Project management – most business owners have got lots of nice little projects they want to undertake, but overseeing them all personally is often a time-consuming nightmare and something that detracts from the overall value of the project.
Newsletters – this newsletter didn’t write itself and yours won’t either. That means you’ve got to spend time thinking about what you want to include and then even more time compiling it. Time that could perhaps be spent doing something more constructive.
Social media management – we keep being told that our businesses need an online presence and one of the easiest and most cost effective ways to achieve this is via social media. But unless your business pages are updated regularly and your audience kept engaged, your social media efforts will fall by the wayside.
Blogging – Like social media and newsletters, blog posts are another necessity for most businesses today. And, like social media and newsletters, blogs are at their most effective when they are regularly updated with fresh content. Can you give your blog the time and attention it deserves?
PA services – general admin duties need to be done, but it doesn’t have to be you who does them, right? Even if they’re mundane, there’s someone out there who would willingly help you with them.
Email management – how many emails do you receive each day that warrant a reply, but not necessarily require a personal response from you? Responding to emails consumes a lot of time and unless those replies produce leads or sales, your time may be better focused elsewhere.
Calendar management – okay, so it’s similar to email management in its nature, but nevertheless it’s still a crucial part of running a business. Much better you concentrate on preparing for client meetings than organising them.
Research – conducting research is something that every small business does from time-to-time. And while the Internet has given us an overload of information at our fingertips, wading through the sea of resources to get to the stuff that matters can take hours.
WordPress management/maintenance – WordPress updates seem to be released on an almost weekly basis nowadays. Couple this with the constant plugin changes that also occur and maintaining even a basic WordPress site can be time consuming. That’s before you’ve even thought about making any content updates.
Data management – as your business grows, so too will all its data. Nothing is more frustrating than not having the information you need to hand. The technology exists to make it so, but all those documents and files still need to be put in the right places.
Did I give you any ideas? I really hope so…
Need a bit more inspiration? Drop me a line and we can talk about it in a bit more depth.
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.
A VA can take a huge weight off of your shoulders and help you with those tasks that bog you down when you should be focussing on other areas of your business. However, hiring a VA is not quite the same as hiring an employee and there are different considerations to make when taking this route. It can be a huge advantage to hire someone for only the hours and skills you need, without the commitment in terms of budget and hours that you might have to consider with an employee.
Here are some pointers on how to start a successful VA relationship and avoid some common pitfalls.
1. Ensure you are ready to handover to a VA
A common mistake when hiring a VA is not being ready to pass on your work. The best tasks to hand over are the repetitive ones. This means you don’t have to train your VA on lots of new types of work and you will be free to concentrate on other things. Using a tool like Asana, I can see which tasks come up regularly and then easily assign them to my new VA once the workload looks like a viable amount. By reviewing those tasks before hiring, I can also see what skills and talents my new VA needs.
2. Create a repeatable process
Giving a successful handover often relies on your processes and systems being thoroughly nailed down before you start. I don’t give any work to a new VA until I have a tried and tested method to share with them. Creating a training document or video for the tasks you want to outsource is a great way to make the handover less painful. It also means that should your team grow, any new team members will be able to pick up (and run with) that same task with minimal interference and input from you or anyone else.
3. Hire as carefully as you would an employee
Introducing a new person to your business data and contacts is a sensitive process. Whether you are sharing your Social Media logins or your company books, ensuring you have a reliable and trustworthy VA is of paramount importance. Check references as carefully as you would with an internal employee and consider a short Non-Disclosure Agreement for anyone handling confidential material.
4. Agree on timescales
When working with remote VAs, you may have multiple people working across different time-zones. This can have an impact on turnaround times. It can also be an advantage if you need round-the-clock-cover, as a VA on the other side of the globe can work while you sleep.
Something else to bear in mind is that you are a client, not an employer. You are probably not the only person who the VA works with. Treat the relationship as a partnership and consider a Service Level Agreement to help keep your workflow on schedule and easy to manage. Setting expectations early will help avoid any frustrations for both parties.
5. Agree the payment structure
There are many different types of VA solutions available, from individual sole traders to large Virtual Assistant businesses with multiple employees. Each business has its own payment structure and pricing. Hourly pricing might appear to be the simplest option, but you might get better value from a retainer or package based model (in which a set number of hours are sold in bulk).
Aside from payment models themselves, make sure you understand the payment terms and how you will be invoiced, especially with the smaller or solo operations.
If you’ve not yet considered hiring a Virtual Assistant, read more about why working with a VA can benefit your business, save you time, money and help you to accomplish more.
For some time now there’s been one aspect of my work that has really frustrated me and I thought, why keep moaning about it? Much Better to write a blog post on the subject!
So here goes…
In my capacity as a VA, I have to carry out tasks for a range of clients situated all over the globe. That means working with individuals who are often in a different time zone to me, which can sometimes make communication that bit trickier.
Of course, modern technology has enabled me to work remotely on a full-time basis and I have plenty of tools to help me communicate effectively and efficiently. However, despite all this connectivity and all these communication channels, I hate it when I have to bother my clients unnecessarily – especially if it’s to ask them to complete a minor security check so I can carry on with my work.
You see, I often have to login to online systems and applications using the accounts of my clients and while this approach means I can happily and efficiently carry out my duties, it can also throw a spanner in the works when a security check pops up.
I have a list of applications and online services that do this, but the ones that immediately come to mind are Mailchimp, Hootsuite and LinkedIn.
For example, I was using Mailchimp the other day to create and schedule a newsletter for one of my clients. This is something I do on a regular basis and usually have zero trouble with. However, on that particular day Mailchimp decided that it would prompt me to setup some security questions – literally out of the blue and wouldn’t grant me access until I had.
I had to contact my client and get them to login to their Mailchimp account, setup the security questions and then give me the relevant information for future use. While this wasn’t really an issue, it still wasted some time (which I hate being a VA) and could have led to further delays had I not been able to contact my client immediately.
Don’t get me wrong, I am absolutely all for security and when you think how many cyber-attacks and hacking incidents were witnessed last year alone – a record number by the way – you realise just how careful we have to be online nowadays.
What I’m proposing is a way for the primary account holder to appoint another individual to utilise their account on their behalf. The account would still obviously be owned by my client and I would effectively be using it in a kind of ghost capacity. Every account management decision, every payment requirement and every personal information update would still be up to my client, but the day-to-day stuff I could just happily get on with.
Location-based security checks are fantastic and undoubtedly add another vital layer of security to the whole process. But when you’ve got a few minutes to input a code that has been sent via a text message to your client and the two of you aren’t in direct communication at that moment, frustration isn’t the word.
Then begins the logistical nightmare of trying to get another code sent; your client to read the message; and pass the contents on to you before the short time window expires. Furthermore, the fact that these kinds of security check seemingly appear at random makes the chances of me catching my client at the right time even slimmer.
By providing a way to fully secure accounts and add users ad-hoc, companies will certainly make my life easier and reduce the need for me to bother my clients whenever a security check decides to appear.
My fear is that the situation at present doesn’t lend itself particularly well to outsourcing and as a result companies may be less reluctant to do it going forward. We now live in a world built on global outsourcing, remote working and effective collaboration, but if the systems and applications we utilise don’t enable us to operate unhindered, what could the future potentially hold?
Hello and Happy New Year from Writer’s Block Admin Services! I hope you all had a fantastic Christmas break and welcomed the arrival of 2015 in a suitably memorable way.
And with a New Year comes the inevitable resolutions. Things that you’ve been putting off over the last 12 months, but really should start abiding by.
For most of us, New Year resolutions involve lifestyle changes that serve to make us healthier. Losing weight, quitting smoking and going to the gym more are all classic examples. But Christmas will have undoubtedly involved some major spending and as a result, it’s our finances that could do with some TLC this January.
With that in mind, I’ve taken it upon myself to compile this virtual assistant’s survival guide to saving money. Hopefully, you’ll pick up some useful tips and get your New Year off to the right start financially.
Leverage Social Media for Exposure
Ever stopped and wondered why every huge brand you know encourages you to like their Facebook page or follow them on Twitter? It’s because they want to leverage the superb advertising opportunities that social media affords.
Clicking ‘like’ or ‘follow’ means you are signing up to receive all their future updates and while many of those may be useful or entertaining, there will inevitably be sales pitches thrown into the mix too.
Traditional advertising mediums, like TV, radio and print, are expensive and very much one-way in their nature. Social media allows for proper audience engagement and is as cheap as advertising gets in today’s world.
Outsource Wherever Possible
There’s no denying that the lifeblood of every business is its employees. But people costs can consume a large proportion of a business budget and if you’re a start-up that can significantly affect your chances of growth.
It’s no surprise then that more and more businesses are looking to outsource their tasks to skilled freelancers and virtual assistants like me. You’ll only pay for the services you use and ultimately save money on recruitment costs, physical equipment and training, to name but a few.
By keeping just a core team of staff and outsourcing everything else, companies can free up their employees’ time to focus on the jobs that really matter and drive real business value in the long-run.
Take Advantage of Tools and Applications
Nowadays, there are tools and apps to help us with almost anything. And while some may involve a small investment, the productivity gains you’ll realise as a result far outweigh the cost.
I even wrote a post outlining some of my top productivity tools, all of which make my life a whole lot easier on a daily basis.
The beauty of tools and apps is that they are often very intuitive and you can start reaping the rewards right away.
One example, off the top of my head, is Skype. Traditionally, meetings involved travel costs, hotel costs and a lot of time. With Skype, you can hold a constructive meeting virtually and incur very little in the way of costs.
Going green can not only save your business money but it’s also great for PR.
Now while many of us aren’t in a position to construct a state-of-the-art new building which incorporates the latest energy-saving innovations, we can make a few small changes that will all go some way to saving money and the environment.
Simple things like switching off computer monitors when they’re not in use, dimming lights or turning them off completely overnight and printing double-sided will all save you money in the long-term.
Reducing your energy consumption will in-turn reduce your energy bills, waste and pollution. It’s a win-win situation all round. Make 2015 the year in which you implement a greener mindset.
If you like what you’ve read then you should also check out my virtual assistant’s guide to saving time while you’re here.
One of the many things I have been meaning to do since starting my virtual assistance business is to put together a manual for clients, to give them as much information they may need when working with a virtual assistant. I don’t mean to suggest that everyone needs step by step instructions on how to delegate tasks to a VA, but I have found that many past and present clients could do with some guidance when working with a VA for the first time.
I have put together my list of the 5 top tips I think every Virtual Assistant would love their clients to take note of:
1. Use Project Management software
I have lost count of the number of times I have mentioned the PM software that I use with some of my clients. Asana is great, and it keeps both myself and my clients on track with tasks. I also use Asana with my own freelancers who I delegate work to. What I love about Asana is how I can have a conversation with my client (or team member) on a particular task and not receive a single email.
I wish that all my clients would use Asana, it would make my work day a lot easier to schedule. I would highly recommend anyone who works with a virtual assistant to stop sending emails and use project management software instead – it not only keeps your inbox from being bombarded with emails, but it also keeps everything nice and organised which makes it extremely easy to go back and search through older tasks.
2. Ensure tasks are clear, concise and with deadlines
If you’re already using PM software, then this may not be a problem. If you are still assigning tasks by sending an email, then ensure these three things are included. Make sure the task you have set is clearly and concisely written so minimum questions need to be asked about how the task should be handled. What I find most people do not include when assigning me tasks is a deadline… do they need it today, tomorrow or in a month’s time? This is really not helpful when I am trying to schedule my working hours. If I have clear deadlines for work then I am able to set out my day each morning (or evening) and make sure that all tasks are completed on time.
This is another reason I love Asana, my clients can quickly assign a task to me and give it a due date – simple!
3. Send 1 email instead of 5
I don’t know whether this is just something I prefer, but rather than sending a different email for each different task or query, I would rather 1 email with all tasks/queries in one. That means I only get 1 email in my inbox, and only have to reply to 1 email rather than 5 (or sometimes more…).
It’s very easy to separate 1 email so that it’s still clear, you can use numbers or bullet points to distinguish between tasks/queries or even use a horizontal line or similar so it’s clear tasks are not related.
This tip (and in fact all of these tips) not only benefit the virtual assistant, but they also benefit you as the client… who wouldn’t prefer less emails to respond to?
4. Appreciate you may not be their only client
Virtual assistants don’t necessarily work for just one person (or business), although I am sure many do. Most VA’s also own their own business, they are business owners and not employees. That means that they will most likely have more than just 1 client, in fact I can be working with up to 10 different clients at one time.
When delegating tasks to your VA be aware that they may not be able to drop everything to complete your urgent task. In my terms and conditions I have a clause explaining that work needed to be done within 24 hours may come with an extra charge. I have never yet had to charge anyone, but if your VA is working for multiple clients, you are not going to know how big their workload is for that day, like you would if you employed someone who worked in your office.
5. Micro managing is not needed
As I said above, most VA’s own their own businesses, they multi-task clients and manage their workload themselves. We don’t need micro managing in the way that full-time employees may need. If we are given clear, concise tasks with deadlines, we will come back with any questions and then go away and carry out the task. Any problems along the way we will keep you informed and updated.
I have been very lucky and not experienced micro managing from my clients, but I do know some that have – many of us start our own businesses to get away from this sort of thing and become our own boss.
Do you work with a virtual assistant, what tips would you give to people and businesses who are looking at working with a VA for the first time?
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