Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Free your time! Ten Admin tasks to outsource to a Virtual Assistant

Let's face it. Life can be very hectic. Your 'To-Do' list is getting longer by the day and, before you know it, you're working 14 hour days on the treadmill of life but not really achieving what you REALLY want to.

Wouldn't it be great if you could pass on some of this work to a trusted professional to give you the time back to focus on working ON your business whilst someone else takes care of the tasks that take your all time and just tie you down.



Take back the control!

In a few simple steps you could be outsourcing some, or all, of that tedious admin work which ties you to your desk. A Virtual Assistant will work with you to come up with a step-by-step plan of what you can delegate and how long it would take. 


Remember, what might take you a few hours to do (whilst you are answering the phone, replying to that pinging email sound & sorting staff conflicts out) could take a VA half that time saving you time and money!


So...what jobs could you contract out to a Virtual Assistant?



Top Ten Admin Tasks to Outsource

Copy Typing


A good virtual assistant can take all your typing work straight off your hands. Whether it is a batch of official letters or documents that need typing up. What about those letters to your Associates? Perhaps you would really love to become better at communicating with your shareholders but, at this point, it is just a 'Nice Idea' as you really don't have the time. We can take the workload and professionally type all your documents as if you did them yourselves while you use that time to work on the business


Filing Expenses


Often top of the list for people's admin woes and a big reason executives employ a PA. It is boring, tedious and repetitive. Because of this is it often put off...and put off...and put off again. Leaving it hanging over your head to be charged through at the end of the month or the end of every six months one evening 'when you have time'. Any jobs which remain on the to-do list until you HAVE to deal with them make you less productive. Delegate it and outsource it and have those hours back to do something MORE productive


Preparing Presentations


Writing the content of a presentation can often be quick and simple. What takes the time is making it look great. Making it look engaging. Making it something you are going to be proud to stand up and deliver to a room full of people. Whether you provide the content for a VA to produce a perfect looking presentation or work with them on Skype to do it together it is simply another job you can outsource to a professional with the time to focus on JUST THAT JOB for you.


Email Management


Do you have a full inbox and the emails slide to page two before you even have chance to read them, prioritise them or reply? This is the one of the biggest things we could do to help you. We can file the emails, unsubscribe from irrelevant ones (you know the ones you don't remember subscribing to which you delete as it's quicker than un-subscribing...but that wont stop the next ten emails coming in from them) , prioritise, reply, send holding emails and help you to operate an EMPTY INBOX policy.


Diary Management


Your virtual assistant can manage your diary, book appointments, send reminders, send through agendas, book travel, meeting rooms, catering. Even take minutes virtually through trusty programmes such as Skype. 


Lifestyle Management


If you have ever sat in a meeting trying to focus and suddenly remembered a birthday you've forgotten perhaps you could should consider using a Virtual Assistant for Lifestyle Management. A VA can source Birthday and Christmas presents, send cards, diary reminders, book restaurants, research and find the best hotel to stay at or restaurant to take your new client. They can even book your holiday for you! With none of these things playing on your mind you can't help but become more focused on the really important aspects of growing your business


Online Research


Are you thinking of setting up a business or trialling a new product? A virtual assistant can take on all that boring online research for you. Compare prices, check out the competition, set up surveys and collate the results. Fail to prepare, prepare to fail as the old saying goes. But do you have time to prepare? No? Then outsource it.


Data Entry


Everyone's favourite job. Maybe you have been busy collecting email addresses to build a super efficient marketing database. You've got the emails but not the time to build the list. Whatever data you need entering a Virtual assistant can take it off your hands and return it in the time frame you require with no hassle and no fuss. More time for you to get on with other things.


Recruitment


You need an employee but haven't the time to recruit. We can help you with your recruitment. We can produce advertisements, field calls, create a shortlist, sift through CV's and sort into piles. Book interview dates, type interview questions, take notes during interviews, contact the clients, sort contracts, produce relevant paperwork.  And much, much more!


Cost Cutting Audit


This is a common contract for Intelligent VA. Are you paying too much for your supplies? Your IT support? Your office bills, your rent? You've always used the same supplier but are they the cheapest? A virtual assistant can do all the leg work for you. By paying a VA for a few hours to audit your outgoings you could ultimately save the business hundreds, if not thousands, over the course of a business year


Of course, this is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of services a Virtual Assistant can provide to a business however, in our experience, the list above are the TOP TEN tasks you could outsource to a trusted professional to allow you to get back to doing all the things you really want to do but don't have the time.



Want to make the most of your time and use it wisely? 
Why not give us a call? We could be the answer to your prayers!

All our details can be found here. http://www.theintelligentvacompany.co.uk/contact.php

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Top tips for setting up a Virtual Assistant business

Whilst I was sat, thinking about what the next blog post should be, I received an email. It came from a former colleague of mine who now lives in America (nice for some!) with his fiancée.

His fiancée was looking at the next step in her career and considering whether setting up as a Virtual Assistant was a good option for her and her skill set. She essentially wanted to 'pick my brains' for some advice or tips.

This got me thinking about a new blog post. It isn't the first time i've been asked about setting up on my own and it is also something I did when I was doing my own research. So I sat with my notepad and pen and decided to write my 'Top Tips for starting out as a Virtual Assistant'

1/ Do your research - Seemed an obvious one to start with given the nature of the blog! As with any business plan or idea it is vital you do good, intensive research into your business model to see whether it is viable and sustainable. After all, we're talking about your future here.

  • Ask an expert - I found a local established VA (Helen Francks http://www.hfva.co.uk/) and dropped her an email asking if she wouldn't mind having a chat about it. She could not have been more helpful. There is more than enough business for everyone out there so don't think of other VA's a competition. Think of them as colleagues.  Many times i've had referrals from other VA's when they have been busy and vice versa . Not every VA has the same services either so, if I get an enquiry for a service I don't offer but I know a VA who does i'll always pass on the details
  • Understand your industry - I spent a lot of time on forums, asking questions and checking other Virtual Assistant websites. I wanted to know how everything worked, how others did things and what charges were the norm across the industry. The website for the 'Society of Virtual Assistants' (http://www.societyofvirtualassistants.co.uk/) is the best resource out there. Not only can you ask questions to hugely experienced Virtual Assistants on the forum the website is crammed with knowledge, tips, blog posts and ideas to help get you started
2/ What are you good at? - A Virtual Assistant can offer services in most areas of a business. You need to definitively set out what services you plan to offer right from the start and be confident in them
  • Jack of all trades, master of none - Be very careful not to offer too many services. You need to choose services you really excel and specialise in. Just because, at some time in your past you have worked on a particular project that included sales calls for example, does not mean you need to put Sales Generation as one of your skills. Know your strengths and use them. 
  • Let people know - Make sure it is obvious on your website and in your marketing what services you offer. Many people searching for a VA think they mainly offer admin or PA services and are pleasantly surprised to find out you can also support their Marketing for example. Make it obvious from the start
3/ Get your branding right - This is your one chance to create a lasting impression. There is no point in setting up a quick fix website with a rubbish brand just to 'get you started'. Remember, you never get a second chance to make a first impression
  • Make an investment - Your website is SO important. Don't go for an 'off the shelf' static, generic website, you need one which has the ability to show off your business and something which can change and grow with the business as you grow. Make sure it is SEO friendly..you need people to be able to find you. This is your chance to really show off your business and the website is your shop window so spend some time and money on it and think of each visitor as someone who needs to go on a journey. Can they do that on your website? Oh, and lose the jargon...just use real words.
  • Work with an expert - I did not know what I wanted as a brand to begin with and I really needed some help. I worked with a terrific designer (http://johnpears.co.uk/about/) who came up with a choice of designs and really helped me to define my brand. It took a long time to get my brand and website how I wanted it but I think it is worth the time to get it right. It's too important to get wrong
4/ Define your market - You really need to understand who your customer is before you start. Do you even have a market out there to sell to? Unless you can answer these questions there is little point even setting up

  • Who would use you? Seems obvious?! Take a look at why people use Virtual Assistants and for what reasons then make a list of who those businesses are. All you need to do then is get in front of them.
5/ Marketing - Have you got a plan? It's fine having a business and having the skills but you are now responsible for putting that business in front of your market.
  • Social Media - Social Media is free (except for your time of course) and a terrific way of putting your business in front of a huge audience. Get yourself out there. Understand who you want to talk to and have a strategy. You can put your message out there but there is no need to spam people. Start conversations and relationships and offer referalls. As with everything if you are helping others they will help you and if you are honest and available you will soon build a reputation as someone others want to deal with
  • Networking - There is nothing better than putting a face to a name and getting to know other businesses in your area. Networking events are set up to promote businesses. Go along, meet new people, arm yourself with business cards and start to build your network. Referalls are the name of the game but, as with the online world, you need to build a reputation as someone people want to work with
  • Testimonials - Ask everyone you've ever worked with if they would mind giving you a testimonial or recommendation. DO NOT make anything up! The first thing many people do on Amazon before buying a product is read the review and it is exactly the same when people are researching a company to work with. If you have a long list of satisfied customers people are more likely to trust you can provide a service
6/ Use your contacts - In the business world you will have worked you will, undoubtedly, have worked with a huge amount of businesses. Why not use them? 
  • Contact...but do not spam - There is absolutely nothing wrong with contacting people you have worked with to let them know about your new business. A friendly email explaining what you're doing and where you're going is fine for most, it will depend on each relationship as to how much further you might go with these conversations. Just be conscious of professional ethics. Never tread on the toes of your former employer for example
7/ Set Realistic Targets - You need to know you wont be making a fortune (unless you're very lucky!) in month one. Or month four most probably. Set yourself achievable and realistic business goals. This will help keep you grounded and focused.

8/ Going forward...Set out your stall - I was adamant I wanted a business guarantee on my website. I wanted to set out our stall from the off so people knew we were a business we could trust
  • Deliver when you say you will - If a job will take three weeks, let the client know. As long as both parties have agreed to a timescale then both parties are  happy but let a client know IMMEDIATELY if someone happens to derail this plan. Most people are perfectly fine as long as they have been communicated with and not left hanging
  • Don't take anything on if you're not comfortable - There is a temptation to take a contract in an area which is not quite in your skillset but you 'might' be able to deliver it. Just don't bother. It will stress you out and there is always the chance you wont deliver and that will really affect your reputation
  • Don't take on too much - Pound signs can sometimes see us all get a bit greedy and think about taking on more contracts than we can handle. It will affect the level and quality of your work. I'd far rather deliver 3 contracts to a high standard than 6 to an 'okay' standard. Always think about your reputation

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

So... what EXACTLY is a Virtual Assistant?

If I had a pound for every time I have been asked that question... I'd probably have about £20! It is a common one though, especially when I attend networking events.

This blog is going to attempt to succinctly answer that question and, hopefully, will have lots and lots of views from people who may have heard the phrase but do not know, as yet, how a VA can help their business.

To put it simply a Virtual Assistant (or VA) is a person who  provides support for your business virtually. The range of services a Virtual Assistant will offer varies from VA to VA. Some offer just secretarial or admin support. Others, like me, offer a range of services... marketing support, PR management, social media support, sales support and admin support to name just a few. The services offered depends on each individual Virtual Assistants experience. 

So why would I need a VA? Couldn't I just employ someone?

Of course you could employ a new member of staff to take on any of the areas you need support in. But employing someone costs you money, where a Virtual Assistant can actually save you money 

Essentially using a VA can save all those HR headaches and costs which come with hiring an employee. When you contract a Virtual Assistant you don't have to pay any tax or NI costs as the VA covers those, and you don't have to think about finding them a desk or a parking space - or a computer either.

You also don't have to pay recruitment costs and you only pay for what you use! How many productivity hours might be lost on an employee on tea breaks, lunch hours, chats round the coffee machine, toilet breaks, personal calls etc?

So what could they do for me?

Well, that's the beauty of a Virtual Assistant. It depends entirely on you and your business needs.

Project Support? Perhaps you have a huge project coming up and need an extra pair of hands just to support you during that short period of time. Step forward a VA. They're a safe pair of hands with all the industry experience you need in the areas they specialise in, and they can help to take the pressure off you during that stressful period.

Drowning in paperwork?  Is it preventing you from actually getting out there and growing your own business (this is actually the case for a very new client of mine) but you can't afford a member of staff?A Virtual Assistant is well placed to take the workload off you for a few hours a week, giving you back the time to focus on your business

And they do it virtually? How does that work then?

A Virtual Assistant is 99% virtual. A good VA will come and meet you to understand your needs and devise a solution to your problem. Then they will take that workload, in whatever form it may be, and work on it as an employee for you - but from their own desk.

File sharing - Most Virtual Assistants use online storage facilities to file share such as DropBox or GoogleDrive.
Keep in contact - Good VAs keep in regular contact with clients using programmes such as Skype and GoogleVoice.
Hour tracking - VAs document their hours using online software such as My Hours (my fave) or Paymo so you are always aware how much work they are doing and, importantly, how much you're paying for. This offers complete transparency for the clients' comfort and reassurance.

In a nutshell, a VA is a safe, experienced pair of hands you can turn to when your business needs support. And they can help your business grown whilst they save you money. Can't be bad, eh?!

For the huge list of all the ways you can save money by using a VA click here and, if you think a VA can help your business you can contact us HERE.




Thursday, 6 June 2013

We have all the time in the world? Effective Time Management

Time is so precious...24 little hours in a day. Have you ever considered if you are using your time effectively?

It is something I always used to wonder about when I worked in an office and there were more distractions to take you away from the task in hand. When I began as a VA I actually blogged about the benefits of working from home with no distractions and how this lends itself to better time management here...Here

With that in mind, however, not everyone is able to work from home on a regular basis.

Recently my workload has increased quite significantly and I have had to really work hard to make sure I am utilising every hour available to me as effectively as I can. There are many things you can do to really make the most of your working hours as manage your time efficiently

Map it Out - As with everything it always helps to be able to see how things unfold. This will help you plan. To do this you need to be able to clearly see what you need to achieve.

  • I always just use a simple 'Brainstorm' or 'mindmap'
  • Write down EVERYTHING you have to achieve. Then write down anything that might, can or you know actually does, get in the way. 
Once you can see what you need to achieve and what can stand in your way you can start to eliminate those things. Some of things might be...

Procrastination - We are ALL guilty of procrastination at some point or other. The key is realising why you're doing it.

  • Why are we putting it off? - We procrastinate (I love that word!) for loads of reasons. Maybe we are scared of the project and don't want to face it. You might think a project is too big so it overwhelms you or it's just simply TOO BORING.
  •  Face up to why you're putting it off . It isnt going to go away and the more you find reasons to do something else the more stressed out you will get. The best advice I can give is to break it down into manageable size pieces and tackle it one bit at a time and stop putting it off!

Can we have a meeting? - Another reason for bad time management are meetings for the sake of meetings. Meetings in the diary every week simply because that's what you do...even if you have nothing useful or new to report from the following week. Don't get me wrong, meetings are really important in business. But just look at the quality and quantity of those meetings.

  • Stick to a time limit, an agenda and action list and work through that. 
  • DO NOT go off list and go off on a tangent, as exciting as that thought that has just popped into your hear may be it isnt what you're there to discuss. 
  • Make a note and discuss it another time.

Lists, Lists, Lists - I cannot manage without my list. I work from one master list every single day.

  • Use an APP to help -There are lots of great little apps out there to do this electronically. WunderlistTeux DeuxProducteev to name but a few. 
  • One List and one list only - Whether you use these programmes or a simple sheet of paper you HAVE to keep it updated. Everything you must acomplish should be ON THAT LIST. Once you have crossed it off start a new list and make sure new tasks are added as well. 
  • Leave no stone unturned - It is important to put EVERYTHING on there you need to achieve (I have a weekly list) that week. That includes booking that doctors appointment and paying that bill. Why? Because if you do not address the fact that they need to be done and put them down to ensure you DO get them done they will just play on your mind and make you less productive
  • Prioritise - Make sure you have everything you need to achieve in order of importance. It will help you focus and plan the next two weeks.

Make your email work for you -

  • Empty Inbox - I operate an empty inbox policy. By the end of the working week my inbox should read 'Zero Emails' else I get cross! Once an email has been actioned it is moved out of my inbox into a folder. The only time I have email in my Inbox is if it hasnt been actioned and hasnt been transferred onto my master Task List. Once it has been moved to the To Do list it can be filed. Not being faced with 100's of email can really help take the pressure off and help you to really focus
  • Set aside 'Email Hour' - I always try to action all my emails in one go. Again it helps to focus on what I need to get done that day/week. Email can really affect your productivity as it is always there lurking in the background. Set aside that time then don't check again till later. If someone really needs you they have your number
  • No email 'Out of Hours' - Try and limit how often you check your email 'Out of Hours'. How often have you been getting ready to get away and relax when you read an email which then plays on your mind? If you are managing your time properly there is nothing which should happen when you are not readily available to deal with it
  • Out-Of-Office - before you have period away from your business make sure everything you have to do is done or hand it over to others to deal with. Then put your Out Of Office on and don't keep checking. 
  • Pick Up the phone - There is sometimes no better way to save time than to pick up the phone. That email conversation turns into Email Ping Pong with 20 emails whizzing back and forth. Think of all that time spent writing emails when a five minute conversation would have sufficed?

Great Expectations - People always have expectations. Just make sure their expectations match what you can deliver.

  • Be Honest, Always - If something will take three weeks then tell them it will be three weeks. If a project you said would take a day hits a bump get on the phone right away and tell them. Then take that information and stick it on you Master List to get done
Be a filing machine! - You cannot work effectively if you can't find what you need. You have to regularly file and have a system YOU understand.

  • Folders - Whether on your computer or in your filing cabinet make good use of folders. How many of us open a download from an email and save to the desktop? This not only clogs up your machine making it run slower but it also isnt effective. Put it into 'To Do' folders then you can action them. And make sure you put all documents relating to all projects in specified folders. Not in a pile on your desk. That way when you get to that point on the task  list you can easily get to the relevant files
  • If it's complete, File it - Once something is done file it into 'Actioned' folders. It can be satisfiying to do that and it is also easily accessible if you need. Always have a 'To do' folder and an 'Actioned' folder for every project you're working on

Calendar - Use of a calendar is the best thing you can do to keep control of your life. There are loads of online versions available which you can sync to your phones and tablets and always be able to check what you have coming up.

  • Remind me - Set alerts and reminders relevenat to your task list or, sync your calendar to your task list. 
  • One Calendar, One life - Some people think it is better to have a work calendar and a social calendar. It is far easier to see and plan ALL your time by having every appointment in your life, be it work or social, in one place. It also helps to relieve stress and you can see everything accounted for in black and white

Using your own version of all these methods will mean you are Always in Control which will make you a much more efficient and relaxed person at work

And if all else fails...find youself a good VA who can do it all for you ;-)

www.theintelligentvacompany.co.uk


Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Mums in Business - Can you have it all?

It's been some time since I blogged (embarrassingly so in fact) and it prompted me to think about why this was.

I mean, best laid plans and all that, I had over 30 topics at the start of September I planned to write about yet I've managed only six posts since August?

I put it down to the transition of settling into my new role running my own business whilst trying to spend quality time with my family. The whole driver behind becoming a Virtual Assistant and setting up The Intelligent VA Company was to be able to spend more time with my husband and four year old daughter Ella before she started school
I'm not going to lie, setting up a new business is hard work and can be a scary prospect but it is by far the best choice I ever made. It has allowed me to do what I previously hadn't managed in my old role, maintain a Work/Life Balance

I'm from a family of hard workers. It was never an option for me not to be working in some capacity and I always wanted to demonstrate an example to Ella. I wanted her to understand that if we wanted to go on holiday, throw her a birthday party, buy her that favourite toy for being good that we could do so because we went out there and worked for a living. 

That being said, I also wanted to be there as her mum. I wanted to be able to drop her off at school and pick her up. I wanted to be able to bake cakes with her, teach her to write her name, do silly dancing in the living room and read her all the stories I loved as a child. 

But could I do both? Could I be a good mum and run a business? 

The answer to that question is Yes - You Can. I'm not saying it's been easy but it is possible and i'm going to go through how I made it work for me
  • Set your boundaries early on. - Set the time you are going to not work at all and spend it being a mum. This is my time to do all the things with my family I couldn't previously do working in my old job. I wasn't prepared to compromise that and I have stuck to it.
  • Set your work space and your family space - My office is where I work. As far as Ella is concerned all the boring stuff goes on in there and she knows to leave me to it. 
  • What's driving you? - I've been lucky enough to generate some great new contracts and lots of interest. However taking on lots and lots of contracts would jeopordise my time with Ella. Sure, they'll make the business more money but I lose that time with her. I said at the top of the blog what drove me to start this business, I always keep focus on that. 
  • Manage your time - If you take your work in blocks of time it is easy to schedule contracts in. Be realistic about how long a job will take and if it is going to compromise your allotted, important family time then think carefully about it's worth. 
  • Delegate Dad - If you're lucky enough to have a partner ask for their help. My husband is incredibly supportive but we talked at the start and began dividing household tasks and childcare so everyone knew what they were responsible for. 
  • There are 24 hours in a day - Many contracts may not need to be completed in the conventional 9-5 workday. Utilise evenings, early mornings, nap times. Again if you plan contracts as blocks of time and be realistic you could create extra working time for yourself
  • Plan, plan, plan - You can't plan for everything, especially with children but you can do your best. What happens if you are sick or your child is unwell? I always end the previous week with a list of the bare minimum tasks which need to be completed the following week. If you are struck with illness try to stick to that list
  • Keep your promises - If you do have to work at times you planned to be with the family set a limit and stick to it. If you promise something because you're working that bit longer at times make sure you stick to it. Kids are like elephants...they never forget!
  • Talk to your children about your job - I've always told Ella from the word go what I was doing and why. If she is asked why I changed my job her immediate answer is 'To spend more time with me' and she's right. It makes it easier to explain when I am a little busier when i'm at home sometimes and why it will be worth it
  • When it's family time, be present - On more than one occasion I have been caught on my phone and not giving Ella my whole focus. This is a tough one as you do have a business to run but will it really matter if you don't answer that email there and then? Always put your Out-Of-Office on if you are away for more than a day or so and set aside an hour in the evening to return anything pressing. It really doesn't need to be done while you're at the park with your little one
  • Stay Healthy - No more 'sick days' any more! You need to try and stay as healthy as possible. I take vitamins, eat healthily and exercise for at least 20 minutes every day. Anything I can do to try and keep me healthy to be able to make the most of every spare hour
  • Set aside some 'You' time - Being a mum can feel like a full time occupation anyway. Combine this with actually running a business and times can get quite stressful. Setting aside some time where you do neither is really beneficial. I like to get out and go to the gym, go for a run or a walk or just take a bath with a good book. And there is time..24 hours in a day, you only need one of those to get away from everything. 
So, in summary if you plan your time wisely and use it well you really can 'Have it all' and, whilst I can't promise it'll be the easiest thing in the world you'll ever do, I can promise it'll be worth it!