Do you struggle to do it all? We choose to be in business for many different reasons - but whether we choose to admit it or not we are doing it to make money!
For some people this honesty might be uncomfortable. As business owners looking to survive there are many more things than working with clients, whether providing a product or service. The unseen aspect of running a business is time consuming and at times stressful.
You are your own IT department, Bookkeeper, Customer Service Department and Social Media Manager, while also working in your Business Development department. This is as well as delivering the products or service.
Along with this you are also trying to balance this with your own life, whether as a partner, parent or carer or more frequently a combination of all of them.
Outsourcing the things that you hate or feel overwhelmed by can make your life a lot easier and you a more pleasant person to be around. I say this from a personal point of view and my daughter would certainly agree! This frees you up to concentrate on the things you enjoy doing, rather than the things you feel you have to do because there is no other option.
This isn't a new idea, if you read Chillpreneur by Denise Duffield-Thomas she advocates this from early on in your business journey.
For me, I outsource my bookkeeping & accounting. I am comfortable preparing my invoices and uploading my expenses but anymore than that, means I am then way out of my comfort zone. My lovely accountant knows this and is always patient with me. She must despair at times, I know I certainly do! Even though I am organised you can never find one piece of paper when you really need it (it is usually in the right pile but in the middle of it)! One year in the (hopefully) not too distant future, I will surprise her and not have to spend time looking for something. To make her life easier I now scan everything as it comes in.
Everything else I do in my business (with some assistance from my teenage daughter). Interestingly I having spoken to a few other Mums recently we have all co-opted our teenagers - willingly or not into working in our businesses. A tip for any teenagers reading this is that you can't pick & choose what you do, in the working world everyone hates some aspects of their jobs but you can't choose not to do them!
And it is the same for business owners, we don't get to choose which part of our jobs we don't want to do - but that is always why, if you are in the position to do so, outsourcing is a good option. It limits the chaos (and removes the parts you really have an issue with - such as my accounts book-keeping), and allows you to really focus on doing what you enjoy.
Often weekends are spent working on my business and I know I'm not alone on this. My next plan is to get a cleaner (Covid permitting) - so that's one thing off my always growing to-do list. In the meantime if this post resonates with you and you feel like you are drowning, work out what you dislike doing & think about outsourcing.
Recently I had an altercation with a car, but what does that really mean? The reason I ask the question is because what you think you said, what you said and how people interpret what you said might be completely different.
When I advised my clients of this their interpretation was different to mine. They assumed incorrectly I had been involved in an accident when driving. The reality was very different, I had been knocked over by a car! You are probably wondering where I am going with this.
Basically in my head I had been clear (admittedly still shocked when I sent my unambiguous message), but I wasn't which led to the confusion.
When my clients actually realised the reality they were shocked but please I had only sustained minor injuries. For me, who is usually clear and coherent in my communication it made me think about how sometimes, we see and read what we think is there.
If you are reading or listening to this using adaptive technology and my story is resonating with you and you regularly find yourself in a similar situation, where your messaging isn't getting across or people misunderstood what you are trying to say, then hiring a Virtual Assistant can help you get your ideas across, in your voice.
As a Virtual Assistant I work with you in the way you are most comfortable with. If voice messaging works for you then great - one of my clients sends me voice messages all the time and I write his emails for him using the recording he has sent to me. If you prefer to video call we can set up a regular time, and you can call me to tell me what you would like doing. As after all, that is the whole point of a Virtual Assistant.
This year I decided to try something different. I still love my logo & branding, but decided on a fresh approach to my social media. It is very easy (almost too easy) to get caught up and imitate other people's websites. As they say the best form of flattery is imitation. To date I have never seen anyone imitate me, thank goodness.
Maybe to some the imitation is a compliment, but business for me, has always been about being authentic, being me and making no apologies for it. Being unique and honest, and not trying to be something I'm not. I am me, and refuse to apologise for my love of pink.
The real me, is an introvert and will never be the noisy one in the room. I dread networking, but underneath the quiet persona is a sense of fun. I am calm, patient and passionate about everything I do (ok, maybe not the housework)!
I decided I wanted to ensure consistency across my social media and the channels I use. So hopefully you will see more consistency in what I am doing, while letting my personality shine through with the new templates that I now have to work with.
You might be wondering where I've been going with all of this, and honestly, if there is one thing you take away from this, I hope it is that to be in business does not always require corporate design. Be authentic, and be you, and let your business reflect that - no apologies are required.
With the introduction of the second lockdown last week for those in England I thought it was time to share my top tips for survival.
Recently my daughter had to have a COVID-19 test, which thankfully was negative. She had a sore throat which made her cough. In previous years she would have gone to school but that is no longer an option, as the school would have been rightly concerned & insisted she was tested.
During the first lockdown I found it easy to cope, mainly because as an introvert I am very happy staying at home. But as soon as you throw into the equation the possibility that she may have COVID-19 it becomes a totally different ballgame. The panic set in of what if (just to put this into perspective, I wasn’t convinced she did have it) but that little nagging doubt did creep in, thankfully her results did come back within 36 hours and our sense of normal life returned.
Anyway, back to my top tips.
Plan your day
Get up at a regular time, try to set a routine. Although I get up at 6.30 am for my morning commute – yes just down the stairs! I am not able to eat breakfast at that time, so will often have my breakfast at around 9 am. Make it work for you. As a creature of habit, I like to eat at regular times and this routine helps me break up the day.
Set up your workspace
Working on your sofa is not a long term option. Someone even told me they were working from their bed, although this one was a little hard to understand when they told me they had a table they could use! In an ideal world you would have your own workspace, but any decent table will do for now. Tips I have seen is getting a big box and packing it all away at the end of the day. I dream of the day when I can have a dedicated office but for now, I have my own space in an alcove, set up with everything I need to run my business.
A good chair is essential. Like shoes, chairs, take time to get used to. Over the years I have gone through a number of different ones and my current one is a fabric office chair with arms and is adjustable in height and the back mechanism tilts. The week I bought this chair I also bought my daughter a different one, by the end of the week I felt like I had a degree in interpreting awful diagrams and non-existent instructions! There were tantrums (from me) & bruises from trying to carry the parts upstairs. Who knew how heavy a chair can be even when it’s in bits?
For me noise cancelling headphones are a must. I own a set for my computer but also for my phone. The ability to type or write and avoid a frozen shoulder from holding phones under your ear are underrated. You don’t need really expensive ones but read the reviews. Last year I bought a set but they were so heavy they ended up going to the local charity shop as they were not comfortable.
I am very short-sighted and needed varifocals (christened by my 7 year old at the time as fairyfocals) very early in my 40’s, getting the lighting right has probably been the hardest thing for me. What works for a few months changes regularly. At this time of the year when some days are very dark I use a different combination to the height of summer. Ideally natural light is the best and sitting by a window is ideal. I don’t have that luxury so have mimicked day light above my desk, with bright white light and then I have a daylight lamp attached to my computer, which allows me to vary the brightness and change the intensity of the light as I need to. At the moment this is working but when I start to get headaches I check my lighting and adjust it until it is comfortable again.
Dealing with Monotony
Last lockdown it was spring into summer – we had hope and bright sunny days. This time we are heading rapidly to the shortest day. This feels gloomy, so when I am doing the same sort of tasks I try to break them up, I add in taking time to go outside – it is usually only to put the washing out but it still helps. I am also a someone who loves to snack, so will reach for snacks (not always healthy ones)!
Staying Warm & Comfortable
I hate being cold with a passion, so the key for me is layers – the more the better. Yes, I wear thermals to keep warm. I know of people who wear fingerless gloves when they are working & woolly hats, anything to avoid putting the heating on in their office! I am also a massive fan of slippers. I spend more on slippers than the average person and depending on the season as to what I am modelling! Not that you’ll ever know as you will only ever see my top half on video calls! I also keep a heater where I work for those cold days – why heat the whole house when it is only you.
This time, we can leave for as much exercise as we want. I am a fair weather exerciser. You will never find me willingly leaving the house on rainy days. I love to exercise at home and have a Personal Trainer – the only person who gets to tell me what to do and when, & I don’t complain!
I am a pacer and when I am on phone calls will happily walk around. Who knew you can do over 4000 steps just walking around the inside of your house? The downside to this is you can’t do it when you need to take the minutes for a meeting!
As someone who has worked at home for over 10 years this is my least favourite time of year and to get me through the next month I am ordering small things like seeds as something to nurture and look forward to next spring.
The Disappearing Interviewee
One of my client's asked me to do some initial telephone interviews, I've done both face to face and telephone interviews before, as a candidate and also as a potential employer & I am used to people not answering their phones, rude but we know people don't attend in-person interviews, so what hope is their for a phone call. (Note to self do not test your new headset when you are trying to do interviews)!
I've also had people after I outline the role requirements tell me the job is not for them and that is fine. In my opinion it shows courage & honesty. But never have I started an interview and have someone cut me off when I ask them to expand on an answer. We all know that phones can do this but when you try to call them back twice and message them, that is plain rude. Their research on the client was poor at best and overwhelmingly diabolical at best, they told me all about the client, but it wasn't the same client that I recognised!
Everyone I spoke to was stunningly shocked by this. I gave the candidate a couple of hours to come back to me, but nothing. This was through a well known employment website. I gave the website feedback, but not the candidate, as I decided that I would not waste any more of the client's time or money.
My advice to the young candidate is be honest, people will think far more of you if you tell the truth, if you are struggling please ask for time to restructure your answer. As a person and interviewer I am not trying to trip you up. I want you to succeed and please do go and get yourself some interview practice. Also do your research thoroughly.
Back to the drawing board for both of us then! If you are desperate to work in this field please revise your attitude and manners, it may only be an initial telephone interview but you need to treat it like any other interview and more so as other things like body language are absent and you need to create even more of a positive impression. My client's response after they stopped laughing at my indignant response was we had a lucky escape!
The case of the Disappearing Fire Blanket!
Most tenants would be happy to have a responsible Landlord, who put a fire blanket in the kitchen of their shared apartment. Not this one, numerous emails from the tenant complaining it didn't look aesthetically pleasing and the removal of it from its' designated place! Really I am not joking and of course the wasted hours spent explaining why it needed to be there and then having to physically send a member of the team to the property to check it was where it should be.
In the end having been on holiday and returning over 2 weeks later to find it was still a problem, I wrote to the tenant formally on behalf of the Landlord advising them they would be liable for any damage, caused by fire due to the removal of the fire blanket. I then receive an email from the tenant saying it is where it should be, which was strange as the Maintenance Manager was there at the time and couldn't see the fire blanket .
The outcome of the tenant's behaviour - weekly checks (even though they aren't mandatory and photos to confirm it is where it should be.
It's a fire blanket it doesn't matter what it looks like, it could save your life!!
Managing Tenant Expectations
As I specialise in property managing tenant expectations is a large part of the roles I have previously undertaken and to do this day do.
Often what people want and demand are totally unrelated to reality and what they can realistically expect. As a tenant while you would love your Property Manager to act as a Fairy Godmother, when the heating breaks down in the middle of winter during a very cold spell, you are unlikely to get a heating engineer out that day, whether you are a homeowner or a tenant.
I know of Property Managers who have been called at 1 am in the morning because one of the other tenants has had a drink.
My personal favourite this year is the tenant demanding we buy them new socks because the washing machine door has jammed and their socks are stuck in it and they haven't budgeted to buy socks. They were advised to visit the local supermarket (just 5 minutes walk)!
Along with the what ifs in life. I have responded to all of these this year as a VA. The fact people think you are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week is incredible. As a team leader for one of my client's I regularly remind the team I don't expect them to respond to things late at night, for their own sake, as it creates a precedent.
I have actually had to block tenants from my phone, so that they ring the office, as what they deem urgent on a Sunday afternoon or at 10 pm at night is not necessarily urgent. On more than one occasion I have had my weekend disturbed while trying to spend time with my family. There are times when my daughter has threatened to throw my phone in the nearest lake/ river. More recently while sat at an airport I received an email from a tenant, that was the impetus I needed to delete the inbox and add it onto my phone when I returned from holiday.
If you are a tenant, and I am, please consider what you do and when you need to contact your Landlord/ Property Manager/ Letting Agency. Everyone is entitled to their time off.
Like all jobs there are ups & downs, funny things and also things that make you reflective.
These are all based on true stories, identifying features have been removed. These are shared with you as tongue in cheek instances collected over a period of time.
After a career in Nursing and a period living abroad I secured a job as a telemarketer. To be honest telemarketing was not for me long term, but by chance I found a job working from home, term time only and surprisingly I discovered I wasn't too bad at it (sometimes)! However, since that time I have revised my opinion. Just to confirm I was never the irritating person who called you as you sat down to dinner or were trying to put your children to bed. Personally I can't think of anything worse! I worked in the B2B sector. There were projects I loved and projects not so much so, one project that gave me nightmares and kept me up at night and reduced me to tears.
This is the main reason I became a VA as I believed I was better suited to organising and admin, rather than sales. As someone with a dry sense of humour certain instances have remained with me and still make me laugh when I recall them, although at the time laughter wasn't always my reaction. So sit back and share some of my stories over the next few months.
We all juggle in our lives, but how do you manage when the unexpected occurs in your business? I don't mean technical issues, but personal issues.
As a Virtual Assistant, I pride myself on my time management skills and organisation. I always meet my deadlines, whether self-imposed or set by the client. The majority of my work is time sensitive and requires rapid responses.
This week I had my work plan sorted, or so I thought. What I hadn't factored into the equation was my teenage daughter coming home from school very unwell. Usually, we get on with it - go to the chemist or the GP, but unfortunately on this occasion she needed to go to A&E. Three visits later, she is finally on the mend, I am a little greyer and certainly we are both exhausted. As a mum, the priority is always my daughter. My clients were understanding and all of them have checked back to see how everything worked out.
While sitting in A&E it made me think about what I need to do when I can't work. I have never been a fan of having work emails on my phone, but I did have enough time to add them, just in case I needed to work or notify my clients.
For the first time ever, I was unable to meet a deadline - to write an editorial for one of my clients. However, I was able to email him and explain why. I promised to get it to him by the following lunchtime and made the deadline with four minutes to spare!
Do you have a contingency plan?
Is there someone you can hand over to in an emergency?
Mine is in my head, although admittedly that relies on memory and being able to do it myself.
One of my clients has gone further - she has a written plan (locked away securely) in the event that she is incapacitated or worst case scenario dies. It involves details for her family of who to contact regarding her business. As her VA I am one of the two people she has identified and then we will take care of the business side - notifying clients etc.
We all tend to rely on family, but is it fair when your family are stressed to expect them to deal effectively with your business? Perhaps like a will, where we identify executors, we need to identify business executors to notify our clients in the event we are unable to work, and lodge the plan with them so they can follow our instructions. Obviously, there are GDPR implications, but storing it in a secure electronic format can overcome these.
How many times do you sit in meetings and wonder why you are there? Do you ever find yourself clock watching and thinking that rather than discussing it you could be doing the work. How often do you attend meetings about meetings?
I know some meetings are essential but can recall times when I have been asked to attend meetings that are a total waste of time (this is not just in my former jobs but also to make a team appear bigger and make the coffee)! As a business owner, I have met people who seem to spend a lot of time attending meetings, to such an extent I wonder when they actually get down to doing some real work.
With the advent of applications such as Zoom life has become easier. No more travel time and the ability if you are the host to record the meeting. Today I was on a work call from the UK with us situated in various parts of the UK, with others in India and California, with the associated time differences, we were all in the same 'room' at the same time.
Even virtual coffees (or wine), depending on the time of day are a great way for meetings both for business and social purposes. From a business perspective It reduces the need to travel, I am certainly a fan of them, as it gives me a chance to build working relationships
Of course, there are times when face to face meetings are the best way forward and I too love a good chat and cup of coffee with a real person.
However, I do believe it is a fantastic opportunity to embrace the technology and enables you to 'meet' people that perhaps you would previously have had to travel to meet.
My top tip is to practice first with a friend as like all new things it can take a little time to learn how to use it and research the market to see what options are available and the most suitable for your requirements.
I am a small business Virtual Assistant and run my business freeing people up to do what they do best, while loving the paperwork you hate!