Thursday, 4 October 2012

Customer is King

The customer is always right. An old phrase bandied about for years and years. But you know why some sayings can stick around for a long time without losing their place?

Because they're usually right.

Looking after your customer is the key to any business. Whether you have 2 or 20 million. How you do this will depend entirely on your business and it's model but interaction is very important.

Take sport for example. I know this is the second time Ice Hockey, and more specifically the Coventry Blaze, has been referenced but if someone is doing something right then it's usually a pretty good example.

One of the things the Blaze have done exceptionally well over the last 12 years in Coventry is interact with it's fanbase. The staff know the names of their customers. The players talk to the fans. With the rise of Twitter this has become easier but even without it the players have always socialised with the fanbase after a game. This makes the stars they watch, week in, week out become real people.

I've said it before that people buy from people. If a supporter knows the name of the player, has met his family and this player has given them the time of day the support for the team increases.

The staff take it further than just putting A (the player) in front of B (the supporter) on a gameday. They have initiatives available for kids to be involved, they run events which encourage interaction. I appreciate the likes of Man United will get a full building whether Wayne Rooney ever acknowledges a supporter but minority sports, just like smaller businesses, have to try much harder.

Running events such as Bowling Nights where you get to bowl with your favourite player. This type of interaction will get you the buy in from the customer that you need. You're willing to give them something extra so they're prepared to do it for you, for the team, for the club.

Regular business is no different. We all need to be talking to and interacting with our customers. We need to acknowledge that this person isn't a number...they have a name. Social media has given customers more chance to complain yes, but it has also given businesses the chance to respond. To build trust. To earn respect.

If you follow some general rules your customers should not only be happy but should also be happy enough to refer your business to other. Word of way to gain new business!

Be Reachable
Don't hide away in an ivory tower assuming you are beyond touching. People want to speak to you, to interact with you and to hear from you. How you do this is entirely up to you but make sure your customers can get to you in some shape or form

Be Responsive
Never leave an email un-replied, an interaction ignored or a DM left. This person has taken the time to contact you so you can at least take the time to respond. The perception of a company who always communicates is very high.

Be Honest
If you've made a mistake then say so. Everyone is human and there is an expression 'human error' for a reason. Nobody's perfect. Coming out and saying so wont do you any harm whatsoever

Be Outgoing & Friendly
If people buy from people then they're going to buy from a friendly, outgoing, personable person who they want to buy from. Someone who is just a corporate soul is less likely to do well than someone who is real.

As long as you provide a good service, understand your business, understand your customer and their needs and interact with them then you have a good chance of increasing your business.

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

How to build a following on social media & grow your business

One of the first jobs I wanted to get sorted was my presence in the online world. The world of Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook etc

I know all about these tools and the power of them and wanted to ensure I was getting the most out of these, essentially, brilliant free marketing tools. As an individual I am a prolific tweeter and big Facebook user but I wanted to use them as well for my business. 

I am used to working with others on their own social media. I managed the Coventry Blaze feeds for quite some time and helped to grow their online presence. But that wasn't a difficult task. Blaze fans want a way to interact with the team and the Blaze staff need to be able to easily communicate with the fanbase. Tweeting press releases, event information, ticket info, fun facts. All of which are engaging and interesting.

Most recently even more of the players became tweeters. I cannot begin to explain what a difference this has made to the relationship between the suppporters and the players. Before players had even stepped foot on the ice or on UK soil they were carving their own reputation online. The fans were buying into the player as a brand, choosing who's shirt to pick, deciding who would score the most goals.

It was building excitement over the summer. In what used to be a quiet time traditionally, with little to speak of to the fanbase until the season began, now grew frenzied online activity.

Players were trading quips with other players, with the fans, tweeting pictures of themselves on their holidays, in the gym, having a drink, with their family. Everyone knows human interest stories sell, it's why reality TV shows are so popular and another reason twitter works. People like to see into the lives of other people. Especially celebrities.

To Blaze fans the players are celebrities. By interacting with the fanbase they had already built a solid foundation of support which would only grow once they began to play. As I always say people buy from people and the players were busy selling their product. Themselves. There were occasions when it wasn't used in the best way...but i'll talk about social media policies and their use another time

So, to my original quandry. How do you build an online persona which isn't just a corporate sales pitch and is engaging enough to get others following and know more about my product? I just wanted to share my usual route to building this in case it is useful to others.

Firstly - Look for local networking groups and online business groups. 
I was actually lucky enough to catch a tweet about a local Tweetup, Leamington TweetUp, which was happening that night and there had been a cancellation. #thepoweroftwitter)

Attend these events. As many as you can! 
I attended the event. I networked. I took down details, names and ideas

Find them on Twitter 
When I went back home and began to follow. I followed those at the event and engaged in conversation.

Follow Back
When someone followed me I followed back and made sure they knew I had been courteous to do so.

Don't be afraid to ask for help but be polite
I asked for RT from the groups to try and increase my followers and then I began engaging them in conversation. I went from 40 followers to 94 in just a few days and i've picked up a few leads

Keep the conversation going
Don't just have one conversation and fade away. Initiate conversation, join in debate, show people your expertise, share tips and support others. Especially others in the same industry as you. I have great relationships with other VA's and often pass on leads which I cannot accommodate and they do the same for me

Always Respond
It is good service to reply to any emails you get good or bad. The same applies on twitter and facebook. Always, always take the time to respond. It can instantly change someones perception of you and your brand

Put names to the faces - Keep on attending the events and make a point of talking to those you speak to online. People buy from people

Grow your 'friends and followers'
Every day you're online and engaging in conversation you will generate followers. If you keep your feed interesting, light, engaging and interesting and don't ram corporate sales pitches down peoples throats they'll continue to follow you. And then, one day when they're looking for the product you sell or work on, they'll hopefully think of you first!

Friday, 14 September 2012


Here we are at the end of week one working full time for The Intelligent VA Company.

It's been a great week, surreal in places, brilliant in others, productive, disciplined, fun...all of the things I expected and hoped it might be. Although I am sure few follow this blog at this current moment in time, being the well manner and apologetic brit that I am, i'm sorry its been a few days between posting. Life took charge a little

I've learnt many things this week.

1/ The broadband does not like it if we move the machine further south of the large ancient and original brick fireplace in the kitchen

2/ It as always good practice to have an overstock of coffee and tea in near reach for staff, meetings and general useage. Not good practice to run out

4/ The new office is light and airy with lots of windows. Which is great...until it rains. Then it is also dark and stormy

5/ Dropbox is brilliant

6/ You don't need 'ALL' notifications set as an email alert for Linkedin. (Full inbox already)

7/ The possibilities are endless if you work hard, believe in the business and want to achieve something

I guess the last one is the most important. It is certainly not going to be quick, easy or simple but if you believe in what you're doing then that's the thing that counts the most

More industry related posts next week I promise. Honest.

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Becoming remote...

My first full day working for myself as The Intelligent VA Company draws to a close. Today I was contracted to my previous employers, The Coventry Blaze Ice Hockey Team, and I spent the day generally completing tasks I had completed a thousand times over the last nine years.

However today was different. Today I was working remotely and today I achieved a heck of a lot more than I would normally be able to achieve on an average working day

Most people know about the benefits working remotely can bring but, as its part of what makes the business of being a VA (and therefore my business) unique, I thought it might be a good blog post to highlight them

Less Distractions. Ever been in the office and wound up covering the phones for colleagues whilst they go on hour long lunch breaks/shopping sprees? You type two lines of an email or a press release then you answer the phone. You spend two minutes taking a message or explaining that it is your colleagues area so you can't give them the answer they need but someone will get back to you. During that hour or two you've probably managed to work about 40 minutes...maybe less.

Your colleague has a story to tell about their weekend, you get called into a meeting about a meeting, its your turn to make the round of tea (fifteen minutes making 8 different drinks according to the chart on the wall explaining who takes what) or you just get distracted by other peoples conversations and join in with your own opinion.

Today I worked for eight solid hours. My phone rang twice, I made one pot of coffee and ate a sandwich at my desk. No distractions just me, my computer and my (undisturbed) focus

There are benefits for the employer as well though. No need to find more expensive office space, another computer, IT costs to hook the new computer up to the network.

The list goes on...
No recruitment or agency fees incurred.
No HR headaches like tax, nationaI  insurance or employee benefits.
Employees and temps are paid by you for coffee breaks, toilet visits and time taken for personal calls and issues.
You only pay for the work that is done - so if you only need six hours of marketing support a week (by an experience professional) that's all you pay for. No need to employ a member of staff for this role
You don’t have to worry about insurance, paid holidays, or other expenses of a permanent employee.
There's no expense or down time for training new employees - A VA has all the experience you need and more
VAs offer flexibility – they are available outside of normal hours, have no minimum hour commitment and are only paid for the hours they work.VAs have a vested interest in the success of your business, so client confidentiality is paramount and they will treat your business as their own. 
In a nutshell then.Today I had an extremely productive day on behalf of one of my clients. Being a VA allows me to offer experience, flexibility, professionalism and great service. 
Could be exactly what you're looking for?
 Remote working and using a Virtual Assistant. It's the future! 
Trust me...i'm a VA!

Monday, 10 September 2012

So first real blog post as Director of 'The Intelligent VA Company'. I feel, for my first post it should be something special, insightful...profound even. Unfortunately I feel this piece might fail miserably on all of the above.

My first post is going to talk about my day, my business and how I got to this point tonight, sitting here at 19.26 in my new home office while my daughter is in the bath with my husband.

Three and just over a half years ago my little girl Ella came into my world. She has been everything from a royal pain in the rear to the sunshine in my life (mostly the latter of course) and she was the catalyst behind this move to begin the business.

For 9 years I worked for the Coventry Blaze Ice Hockey Team. A hugely successful ice hockey franchise in the Midlands. When I began with the club they had a relatively small fanbase, little previous activity in terms of marketing, crm, communication and a small but passionate group of directors.

I worked with the Directors to help build the club. I helped devise systems, helped drive marketing and promotions, helped to grow commercial revenue, helped to put systems in for our customers to use as methods of communication, looked after the squad, helped to build a community foundation and tried to make the off-ice product as professional as possible. We did incredibly well.

We built crowds, reputation, commercial revenue and, importantly, trophies on and off the ice. We won the Elite League four times, the Challenge Cup twice, Play-Offs once and Knock-Out Cup once in just 7 years. We also won awards for 'Contribution to the Community' as well as 'Best Business' at the prestigious local Godiva Awards. These two awards are extremely special for me as, for the first time, we were also being recognised for our hard work off the ice.

Fast forward a few years and many, many hours later. Combine those hours with an energetic toddler and you get to the place i'm in today.

Its taken two years for this tiny bean of thought about a potential, viable business proposition to come to fruition, yet here we are, on day one, having spent a full day having fun (randomly including a trip to Ikea) with my daughter. Which was part of the point in the first place.

I am full of everything. Full of love and fulfilment for a full day a week plus my weekends back with my daughter & husband. Full of excitement, energy and pride for my fledgling business but mostly contentment and happiness for having the conviction and guts to go for my dream and make it something which will work for my family.

From now on this blog will be mostly business and industry related with a bit of me and my life (which makes my business real) thrown in for good measure. Hopefully it will always be interesting, relevant and (relatively) well followed but all great things grow from small seeds so we shall see

For the very few reading at this stage...thank you for taking five minutes out of your life, and I hope this post may inspire others to go for everything they've always wanted to achive.

And, for the record, I hope you all win.

Thursday, 2 August 2012

The Intelligent VA Company

The Intelligent VA Company was founded in 2012 by Sally Mahers, an experienced marketing and business consultant, with over 10 years commercial office and PA/Lifestyle management experience.  
Sally saw an opportunity in the market for a true “One Stop Shop” virtual assistant offering, for businesses of all sizes.
These days, more and more smart business owners are partnering with Virtual Assistant companies to provide flexible administration and consultancy services, and Intelligent VA can offer a full suite of services at very competitive rates.