e 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.
This month I have been challenging myself to learn new skills, not necessarily to offer to clients, but for use within my business.
For me, I thrive on learning new skills and it helps to keep me motivated. All my learning is online based, so it fits in around the rest of my workload, so whether it's 15 minutes, while I wait for a response or an hour in the evening it is about adding value to my business.
I have noticed that all the challenges I have found suggest the bite size approach, with this in mind I decided to undertake a 5 day challenge. Days 1 & 2 went well and so was day 3 until every parent's challenge occurs - the call from school, telling you your child is unwell. That saw the end of the challenge for that day. Days 4 & 5 - no point doing those until I completed day 3. So on day 5 I started day 3 and then didn't finish it as paid work was a priority.
No problem the weekend arrives, I had a couple of days to catch up on days 2,4 and 5. Again I was caught up sorting out paid work. Reassuringly the videos were still available for another week. Monday morning arrived - I had a little quiet time, so caught up with days 3, 4 & 5. Hooray finished! I loved it and despite a couple of moments of worry - experts always make it look easier (they have had lots of practice) but the feeling of something new was brilliant and now I am putting those skills into practice.
I love routine and order, in my work life. Anything outside of my normal day to day activity makes me slightly nervous. Imagine my horror when my teenage daughter announced in May, she had been invited to visit Liverpool and due to the nature of the visit it was midweek.
Usually, I would have said fine and taken the time off - but knowing that we were going away to visit relatives for 3 weeks, I was unsure how my clients would react to another couple of days off. Yes, I hear you shout I am a freelancer and can do what I want. However, when one of my clients sounded surprised about my extended break I decided another couple of days off so soon wasn’t a great idea.
Being the organised person, who always works at her desk, surrounded by everything you can ever need and having moved away from a laptop last year, I knew this might be a challenge. Out came the laptop – which recently needed a factory reset, the dongle, notebook, pens, cables and everything else you might ever need. That all worked perfectly at home. Then came the packing my daughter’s comment 'we’re only going for one night do you really need all this?' Yes, of course, (I like to cover all eventualities - even if we are only going out for a few hours I am known for packing everything except the kitchen sink) - I love a large handbag!
I negotiated that on arrival I would need an hour to catch up before we went exploring. We arrived at our hotel, the dongle wouldn’t work, panic set in – it worked at home. Our room wasn’t ready – great! Finally, we got access to our room, the dongle worked, I calmed down checked everything I needed to do, did it and we headed out for a few hours. After exploring etc. we went back to our hotel and I did some more work. By this time, I had calmed down and was enjoying the change of scenery.
The following morning, I dropped my daughter off and went back to the hotel to get another couple of hours work done. By the time I picked her up at lunch time and headed back to Lime Street, I realised I had done something so different to normal and loved not only our break but working elsewhere. Admittedly it was quieter than usual work-wise, as it was the end of August. I did work most of the way home on my phone, but the pleasure of seeing my daughter achieve her dream was worth every minute of stepping outside my comfort zone.
That feeling of actually doing something different was amazing. Yes, we will be going back to Liverpool but next time I am taking the time off and intending to spend more time relaxing, but just pushing those boundaries has made me realise I can.
I challenge you the next time you immediately think no – try it – you never know what the result might be! You might just enjoy it!
Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash
I love quotes and love the way they make me feel, when you need that piece of inspiration. For me I can usually find one which lifts my mood just when I need to.
This week I attended the Elevate Virtual Summit aimed at Virtual Assistants and full of inspirational speakers organised by VIP VA. I for one was brimming with ideas at the end of the day.
Going forward and reflecting on the day I realised that many of us as small business owners forget about self care - whether it's drinking enough water, eating or just moving. I am guilty of all three, so going forward I am intending to use my inspirational quotes on my social media feeds to inspire not only me but also other people, so if you can spare a few minutes please have a look.
What is GDPR?
It stands for General Data Protection Regulations and is EU wide legislation. It comes into force on the 25th May 2018.
Having recently attended a seminar and followed various threads on Social Media there still seems to be a lot of confusion and uncertainty around the concept of GDPR. Providing you have stringent policies in place for the Data Protection Act (DPA) GDPR should not worry you unduly, as it builds on what you already have in place. Some of the questions I am seeing are around how do I manage the data I already have? Other comments include I am only a sole trader, so it won’t affect me.
To me the former will depend on how you signed people up, did you pick up their business cards and add them manually or did you get them to sign up to a newsletter using a double opt in?
Perhaps more worryingly is the comment I am only a sole-trader, so it won’t matter. In response to this would you leave your children unbelted in the car? No, I thought not, so why take a chance with this? There are plenty of resources out there, both paid and free as well as people claiming to be experts. Personally, I don’t sign people up to newsletters, but many small businesses do. For me, consent jumps out. There is a much greater emphasis on how you gained consent and the need to record how you gained their consent and the rights of the individual.
I have read plenty on the subject but for me the ICO guide Preparing for the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) 12 steps to take now jumps out as my go to information.
This is what I have been using to prepare myself and the organisations I work with. However, clarity is still required for certain aspects and I for one will be looking out for updated information.
My strategy for GDPR is don’t panic and look around for the answers you need. The ICO have recently set up a dedicated helpline for small businesses.
With Christmas fast approaching and the year drawing to a close, I tend to be in a reflective mood. I have previously written about the Highs and Lows of being a freelancer, in my personal blog The Emerging Flower https://judithhealy.wordpress.com/ However, this year I decided to concentrate on my work blog on my website, as well as writing some ghost blogs for other people.
After building up my portfolio of clients over a year it felt like my working world collapsed around me in June, through no fault of my own. One of my clients and I don’t blame them in anyway decided to move their admin support in-house leaving me with a large gap in the hours I worked. No problem I thought – a change is always refreshing, I have gained some valuable experience in new fields, so I can easily (as I have done before) find some new clients. The reality was somewhat different, I applied for everything I thought I could do, using the various platforms I have used before. By this point we were approaching July – I spent hours reading articles online, making decisions, about logos, a website relaunch and braving it out the house to networking and tried to remain optimistic, while watching my bank balance diminish. I have a policy that whenever anyone does any work for me I pay them immediately, because the number of small businesses that fail due to late payments is high and having worked for people that take up to 6 months to pay I don’t appreciate people doing it to me so why would I treat someone in that way.
Anyway, to cut a long story short, I was fortunate to have a holiday, purely because my parents live abroad, I’m not sure I was much fun. My teenage daughter tells me that I was miserable when we were away and even worse when we got home! I believe her because she has to put up with me.
With September dawning and having worked my way through my savings, as any freelancer will tell you, you work when the work is there and save for the lean times. It was time to make some decisions. I discussed with my daughter the possibility that I would close the business down and look for a job. I also made one of the hardest decisions ever, to claim help again and on my daughter’s first day back at school I went to do this. However, then I turned a corner, all the jobs I had applied for back in July started contacting me for interviews and in the space of 10 days I turned it around and took on 5 new clients.
Note to self - gaining new clients is fantastic, but scary at the same time, especially when they all want you to start within 3 days of each other. There was a lot of juggling, late nights and very early mornings, to get to grips with what needed doing and perhaps less cooking than usual!
Having completed the initial trials with these clients I feel that things are on the up, I have more than doubled the number of clients – my ambition was to have 10 and at times I have worked with 12, so mission accomplished or maybe not. There is always room for more, as some projects naturally come to a conclusion.
However, this has been a major learning curve, it is not the first time I have worked with one major client and then the work has dried up and left me in this position (although that was when I first started out 7 years ago). However, I didn’t expect it to happen again. I can hear you shouting at me – why were you so stupid? I asked myself that as well. My confidence was knocked, and I questioned my capabilities, both personally and professionally. I wanted to prove to my teenage daughter that I was a good role model, but felt I had let her down.
Now as year-end is approaching not only am I working with a number of clients and feeling more confident, both personally and professionally, I am volunteering for a local charity, as well as running a Single Parent Gingerbread group in my local area. So, my advice to anyone in a similar situation is you can turn it round with perseverance hard work and determination.
I would like to thank all those people who have supported me both knowingly and unknowingly over the last 6 months and most of all the biggest thank you is to my beautiful daughter.
Merry Christmas & a Happy New Year – I hope the new year brings you everything you want.
Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash
If you are a sole trader, freelancer, a small business or an entrepreneur, then the daily grind of completing the administration can seem like an additional chore.
You are obviously very good at what you do and want to focus on that. By freeing up your time and concentrating on the actual business rather than drowning in admin you can grow your business.
We are all familiar with the mountain of paperwork that results in running your business. How many times have you heard the phrase when are you going to stop working? Are your weekends filled with the stress of trying to complete everything you didn’t get done in the week? Missing out on what you enjoy?
Then it’s time to think again. For just a few hours per month you can start to shift your work life balance.
The advantages of hiring a Virtual Assistant include: -
However, you do need to consider what you want from your Virtual Assistant. Do you just want to hand over a pile of paperwork and let them get on with it? Is it important that they are local to you or are you happy communicating via email, Skype, instant messenger or telephone? This is dependent on the type of person you are, the type of work, and whether local geographical knowledge is important. Virtual Assistants are professional, flexible and will work with you to establish the best ways to work together. Some clients I speak to regularly, while others prefer to communicate by email.
Are they a general VA or do they work within specific sectors? Do they specialise in certain tasks or are they an all rounder?
Communication is the key to a successful relationship with your Virtual Assistant. The principle of the crystal ball doesn’t work, believe me I have been on the receiving end of that one! We all forget things sometimes, but you do need to communicate effectively like you would if they were sat in your office. No Virtual Assistant minds the occasional lapse, but repeated forgetfulness, missing catch up calls or choosing to exclude them from information may result in difficulty retaining or recruiting Virtual Assistants. So please be honest with yourself a Virtual Assistant is not for everyone.
Also check your chosen VA’s availability as well as agree timescales for delivery of your work. Many VA’s work with a number of clients. The joy of being a VA is working the hours you choose but there are horror stories of clients expecting VAs to be available 24 hours a day, regardless of time zone. I always say to my clients feel free to email me things over the weekend but I won’t see it until the Monday.
Remember, by investing time (sitting down and working out what you need from your Virtual Assistant and what both of your expectations are) at the outset, this can lead to a more successful business for you, freeing up your time long-term.
One of my clients who I started off working just 2 hours a day (and ended up working way beyond this), grew their business to such an extent that they realised that they needed someone in their office to provide full time support.
Like wearing in your favourite comfortable shoes hiring a VA and learning to work together takes time!
As September dawns are you feeling blue about the end of summer and if you are a parent or grandparent, the school holidays or do you feel rejuvenated by the thought that you can finally speak to people and concentrate on your business rather than just marking time?
For those of us who have been lucky enough to have a break away from home, we may already have settled back into our routine, or for others waiting until the world re-emerges, from the August slump.
I love spending time with my family, I am lucky enough to have family living abroad. I enjoy the thought of getting away from it all, but I tend to do a lot of thinking about what I want to do next strategically. I even took my logos on holiday to decide on my final choice and considered doing a poll of all the passengers on my flight!
I also enjoy the fact I don’t have to get up quite so early when I return to the UK, although I am always at my desk by 8.30 am!
While I’m not keen on the darker mornings and the evenings I look forward to September, as I see it as a time for renewed vigour. For me this means putting into practice what I have been learning during the quieter summer months. This year I learnt more about Social Media marketing by doing some blog rewrites for a client and another client took the opportunity to start teaching me the accountancy software Sage, for my own use. Now all I need to do is put all this into practice.
If you are feeling invigorated and want to concentrate on growing your business then contact JH Admin to assist you with your admin needs.
So you've been business networking. What do you do with the business cards you collect? Have you sorted them into an orderly fashion and filed them electronically or even better spoken to the person or people and set up a meeting?
Perhaps this is one of the jobs you save for later but time to sort them never comes because you are too busy running your business. Rather than keep them in your drawer, or a pile on your desk what do you actually want to do with them.
When you collect the cards what are you intending to do with them? Are you intending to use them for networking in the future - do you want to use their services or are you going to use them for marketing purposes?
Sophie, one of my client's had attended various networking events and had over 60 business cards from different sources. When we met she asked me to sort them firstly into excel spreadsheets and then upload them to Insightly (her CRM - Customer Relationship Management software of choice). Once completed I uploaded them to Mailchimp (an email marketing platform), so that Sophie could tailor her marketing to the specific groups.
For a small amount Sophie was able to maximise her time and target her marketing more appropriately.
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!