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What kind of tasks can you give to your Virtual Assistant?

Well done, you’ve decided you need some help with your administration so you can focus more on running your business. You’ve researched and identified the lucky VA. But now you’re faced with a dilemma. What kind of tasks should you give her?
How to identify which tasks need doing
Sit down and make a list of all the administration tasks you need to do which aren’t making you money. Make an estimate of the amount of time each one takes then choose the top three most time consuming. These are the main tasks you need to outsource.  However, if you know you need some help but aren’t sure what with, most Virtual Assistants will offer a free initial one-hour consultation. If you’re unsure of what you want (but know you need some help), use that time to discuss the nature of your business with her, tell her how big it is and what it is you do. She will be able to help you identify the tasks that she can take off your hands to free up your time.

Or you can use this handy guide to give you some ideas.
Financial
Every business needs to keep on top of invoicing and credit control. You can set up your VA to run your invoicing and credit control online easily. There are some great online software packages available to help you do this. One of these is Invoicely which is great for small businesses, contractors and freelancers. If your business is bigger, you could try using QuickBooks or Xero which offer a larger range of options. Then if your VA is doing your invoicing she can also monitor payments and chase late-payers for you.

Your VA can also log your business expenses and keep a record of your receipts for your tax return. You don’t need her to be in the office, just pop your receipts and invoices into an envelope and send them over. Or if you’re local, she can drop in and pick them up.

Some VAs will offer full book-keeping services but please do check they have registered with HMRC before you engage with them.
Event co-ordination / management
Many VAs (myself included) will have had experience of organising company or team events in their previous roles. Most of us will have organised anything from a small team off-site to a large conference. These things don’t run themselves, and it’s not just a case of ringing a venue and making a booking. A VA can research suitable venues, negotiate prices, invite everyone from attendees to suppliers, speakers and guests, prepare and consolidate presentations, liaise with the venue and be there on the day to ensure everything runs smoothly. She can also help you with product launches and client events.
Executive Assistance
You don’t have to employ a PA or an EA full-time in order to have your business diary, inbox and travel and accommodation organised. A VA can do this just as easily as a full-time employee. Technology means that she can add your calendar to her own Outlook or Gmail and can manage your meetings and keep an eye on your inbox. She can also book travel and organise your itineraries including your meeting papers and any presentations you need to take with you.
Business Administration
There are so many small tasks a VA can help you with that come under this heading, it would be impossible to list them all here. However, the kind of tasks I enjoy doing include: building and maintaining your company website and adding SEO (Search Engine Optimisation – so Google will find you easily), planning and writing your social media presence, writing and sending newsletters and blogs or assisting with an office move, whether to a new building altogether or just a new office within your current building. She can also help with minuting meetings – this is a real skill in itself and not all VAs will offer it as many don’t enjoy it. Many VAs will have experience in project support. I myself have a lot of experience in this area and it’s something I really enjoy. She can also organise your end-of-project celebration if you like!
Personal Concierge Services
Many busy company owners just don’t have the time, or the support at home, to keep on top of the things that make their personal lives go smoothly. Or perhaps there are a few things you could use a VA to do which you can’t ask your other half for. Things like Christmas and birthday presents, a surprise weekend away, an anniversary meal, tickets to the theatre or a concert. A VA could also happily organise your family holidays, check on the house and keep on top of your mail while you’re away. Or it could be something as simple as collecting dry cleaning or ironing to ensure you always look your best.

Do check out my full list of services to see what else I can help you with to give you the time you need to focus on your core business.

 

Posted by elaineross1603
Christmas baubles sparklers champagne
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Christmas is coming….

Yep, I said it, the C word..! It’s a bit like marmite isn’t it? Some of us love it, some of us hate it but however you feel about it, you can’t avoid Christmas.

No matter what industry you work in, you know someone is going to mention the office Christmas party and if you have a Personal Assistant/Executive Assistant/Office Manager they’re very likely already planning it or may have already booked it!  But what if you don’t have that magical person who sorts out all of your party needs? The office Christmas party/lunch/dinner is an awesome way to end the year and thank your employees for doing a great job. But if you’re too busy running your company, you’re not going to have time to source venues, set budgets, provide entertainment, and invite the team and guests. And if you leave it too late, you’ll lose out because believe me, these things get booked up very quickly! If you don’t do anything, you’re left with disgruntled employees who think their boss doesn’t appreciate them enough to treat them at the end of the year. Do you want to be that boss…?

So what do you do? You can’t afford an Assistant and you don’t actually need someone full-time. But when these things come around it would be nice to be able to offload it onto someone else wouldn’t it?

That’s where I come in my friends. I’ve been organising great events my entire working life. I don’t cost nearly as much as an event manager and you don’t have to hire me as a full-time employee. No PAYE, no sick leave, holidays, having to buy me a computer, find me a space in the office and put up with me drinking all the tea. I have my own computer and office space (and tea) and I can organise your event from home. All I need is a few basic details and I’m off and running. And I LOVE doing it! You don’t even have to invite me (how weird would that be?) but I will be there before the event for a glass of champagne and to make sure it’s all going to plan. I will also be available on the phone should there be any queries during the event.

If you still think you can do it yourself, and because I’m such a decent person, I’ll pop a few hints and tips below on how to run a cracking Christmas do.

Set your budget – this must be your maximum price per head and it must be realistic. You won’t get a lavish party in London for £30.00 a head.
Source your venue. Where do you want to take the team? Do you want to stay near your office location, or further afield? Remember if you’re going to make your employees travel, they will hit you with travel and expenses claims so be prepared to either include that in your budget or take the hit. Are you providing overnight accommodation? Will your company pay or will you expect employees to? My advice is to research at least three venues within price range and location. Then call them up to discuss your requirements, what date and time you want to go and find out exactly how much bang you’ll get for your buck.
Once you’ve decided on your favourite, call the venue again to see if you can get them to come down on price, tempt them with the offer of future events and recommendations to colleagues etc. When you’re happy, confirm the booking, ask when they need final numbers by and pay a deposit to secure your venue. Make a note in your diary a week before you need to send final numbers to chase those who haven’t responded or are ‘tentative’.
Next, invite your attendees and include address, directions and possibly even a link to the venue website in the invitation. Then decide if you want to invite other colleagues who have worked with your team that year to show them your appreciation too. Decide who the lucky ones are and add them on. Then make a distribution list of the attendees in Outlook so you can email everyone easily without having to add them all individually to each email.
Most hotels and restaurants will want to know in advance what your guests want to eat so send a copy of the menu with the invites. You’ll need to chase people for this (a lot). This works well for lunches and dinners but isn’t relevant if it’s a buffet. Just check with the venue that they can cater for vegetarians, vegans, halal, kosher and the incredibly picky.
Decide what you’re going to do about alcohol. The norm tends to be to provide half a bottle of wine per head on the table, half red and half white or you might (for party nights) want to provide drinks tokens that can be exchanged at the bar. A word of advice here from one who knows. Do not provide unlimited alcohol, whatever your budget. I have witnessed far too many car crashes to mention when too much alcohol is involved. Don’t let yours be the Christmas do that everyone remembers for all the wrong reasons.
Make a spreadsheet of acceptances, declines and those tricky ‘tentative’ responses (so you can chase for a definite response nearer the time). On here you can include the menu choices of each of your attendees, which you can then print out and take with you so that when the universal cry goes up ‘I’ve forgotten what I ordered’ you can magically produce your spreadsheet as a reminder.
Now that you know where you’re going, who’s going and what they want to eat you should then consider what else you want to do. I always do a Secret Santa and a Christmas Quiz. These only work if you’ve got a private meal or party booked, they will not work on shared company party nights. Ensure you have a couple of extra gifts up your sleeve in case anyone forgets (they can pay you later) and ensure the guests who aren’t in the immediate team are included. For the quiz you’ll have to research questions and answers (Christmas related of course), do quiz sheets, an answer sheet and nominate the loudest person in the team to be the compere – or do it yourself. If you have a private party booked and the venue doesn’t provide entertainment you’ll need to decide what you want. Obviously, a DJ will go down well – you’ll need to research good ones, make sure they’re available, pay a deposit and discuss music genres with him or her. Then do you want something more? Magicians that go from table to table during the meal are always a hit, or comedians to do slots between courses. Again, all this will need to be researched and discussed and kept within budget.
As it’s an ‘end of year’ shindig to thank the team, you might want to organise some awards for outstanding contributions throughout the year. Ask your team leaders, supervisors and Managers for nominations and get them to write a short speech thanking the individual or team concerned. You’ll also need to buy some gifts to present, champagne always goes down well or big tins of chocolates for team awards.
Finally reconfirm your booking with the venue, let them know final numbers and menu choices, and check with them how they want the final payment to be made. Reconfirm your DJ, magician, comedian and anyone else attending.

Still think you’ve got time to organise your Christmas party…?

Posted by elaineross1603
time management
Howto

10 Top Tips for Time Management

Do you have issues with time management? Be honest, do you know how much time you’re wasting every week which could be spent on growing your business and making money? Probably not, because you’ve never really looked into it. I’d bet it’s a hell of a lot more than you thought…!

Being the helpful soul that I am, I thought I’d put together a list of ways to save time. I know these work, because I have used them in previous jobs or I’m using them right now. Even if you just use one of these, I’m convinced you’ll see immediate benefits.

1. Make a list – spend about 5-10 minutes at the beginning of each day listing what you need to do. Either hand write it, type it up on your computer, email it to yourself, make a spreadsheet, whatever works for you. Then prioritise it – either colour code it, number it, put asterisks next to the important things, again whatever works for you – you can even write it on post-it notes and throw them in the bin once they’re done – colour code them to your clients… Tick off things you’ve completed (or if you’re like me, add things you’ve already completed, just so you can tick them off…) You know what needs to be done today and what can wait until tomorrow, Friday or next week.

2. Before you get stuck into the large tasks of the day, get rid of a few quick and easy wins. That way you’ll not spend the day worrying that you’ve not made that doctor’s appointment, emailed the school about the school sports day, rung your mother about her arthritis…. Once you’ve done the small stuff, you’ll feel like you’ve achieved something and will make you feel more like tackling the large stuff.

3. If you are running to a tight deadline and your work environment is causing distractions, leave completely and find somewhere else to work i.e. a coffee shop, hotel lobby, internet café, specially designed office space.  It takes, on average, 8 minutes to get back into your headspace to work after someone or something has distracted you.

4. When things get really pressurised and you’re tight for time, switch off email, Facebook notifications, any other app notifications and phone completely. It’s incredible how much time we can spend browsing Facebook because someone liked or commented on our posts. Because once you’re in, you’re then scrolling through, watching videos of cats, or people doing funny things and before you know it, an hour has passed. Let’s face it, we all love to think someone is giving our posts attention, and it’s SO hard to ignore these things, we’re only human after all! But if your notifications aren’t coming up on your phone or laptop, bingo! Distractions removed. And let’s face it, it’s nice to log in now and again and get lots of notifications, rather than a drip feed of the odd one or two, isn’t it?

5. If you’re procrastinating, rather than getting frustrated or annoyed, simply ask yourself why you are procrastinating. Are you scared of the task ahead? Is it too difficult, too easy, or boring? Or do you just love to talk about how busy you are, without getting on with the job?

6. Take short breaks when you need them during the day to recharge and refocus. Research shows that workers who take regular breaks at work are healthier, happier and more focused. Doing something you enjoy during your break will give you that sensory boost you need to get down to it once you’re back at your desk. In the same way, never underestimate the value of taking an actual holiday if you can. I’m not going to suggest you leave it all behind, as small business owners we know we can’t ever do that. Take your phone with you and leave it in the hotel room. Check it twice a day, say once at lunchtime and once again in the evening and for no longer than an hour at a time. That way you’ll get to spend quality holiday time with your family, but also keep on top of your emails. You’ll also not have the nightmare of a huge inbox to return to which will make you wish you’d never gone away.

7. Only ever touch a piece of paper once. In other words, don’t pick it up, read it, get distracted halfway through, put it down, pick it up again (you get my drift). Pick it up, read it, deal with it and put it down or file it (or bin it). It’s done, time to move on to something else.

8. End your working day at a fixed time. Don’t let work creep into your entire evening. You can also have two finishing times. One for an ideal day, and one latest time that you won’t work past. If you do have to work late, make that the exception rather than the rule.

9. If you’re using social media for business, schedule some of your updates. You don’t have to be there all the time. Hootsuite is an excellent tool which will schedule your social media updates for you, and will post to Twitter, Facebook, Linked-in without you having to do anything other than schedule it. You can also use it to send out mailings so they land in inboxes overnight rather than you spending time doing it during the day. You can also use it to post while you’re having that holiday I was talking about…

10. If you’re doing a task where you’re likely to get distracted and spend longer than you want to on it (for example, on social media, email, or internet searching), try using Toggl which is a free time-management app. Once you’ve created an account, you then create ‘projects’ which you can time. You just need to remember to switch it on at the beginning and off when you’ve finished, or are taking a break. Keep an eye on it while you work to keep you focused on the task and to ensure you’re not spending too long on each one. You can also use Toggl to download a report of time spent on a project (if you invoice by the hour) to send to your clients with their invoices so they can see the breakdown of time spent. Alternatively, use Toggl to monitor the time you’re spending working on tasks that don’t earn you any money, like writing that blog, doing your expenses, writing a presentation… Add them all up at the end of the week. You might be surprised at how much time you’re spending doing tasks that aren’t making money or growing your client base.

If, at the end of that week, you’re horrified by the amount of time you’re spending on doing your administration, you might consider outsourcing to a professional. Someone who can do your admin and release that valuable time for you to get on with what needs to be done for your business. Call me on 07701 351686 for a free 1-hour consultation to see how I can help.

Posted by elaineross1603
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Tools of the Freelancer’s Trade

When I first made the decision to walk away from my well-paid, secure job that came with lots of benefits, I had absolutely NO idea just how many apps and tools there are out there to help the budding Freelancer. I had visions of me having to create my own invoices, do my own taxes, make spreadsheets to manage my clients and set stop watches to time how long I spent on each task (or just make an educated guess).
How naive was I?
Now that I’ve started, and my business is up and running, I’ve found a treasure trove of helpful and time-saving tools available online, and if you’re an individual with a fairly simple business, most of these are completely free!
Here are the main ones I use
1. Toggl. This is a very simple tool which you can use to manage the time you spend on your clients’ tasks or projects. There is no monthly subscription to pay, just create an account and off you go. Once you’re logged in you create your clients and can then split out each of the tasks or projects you’re working on so you can keep track of what you’re doing for each one. Then when you’re ready to start work, create the task under the relevant client, start the timer and off you go. Of course, you need to remember to a) start the timer first and b) stop it when you take a break or finish what you’re doing. This gives you an accurate view of how long you spend on each task which is great if you invoice by the hour. You can then download a report of time spent broken down by each task which you send to your client along with their invoice. Some clients may not feel they need this but I know mine really appreciate seeing how long it takes me to do each task. As a Virtual Assistant, this is important, because my main focus is to save my clients time by doing the things that need to be done but don’t make them any money.

2. Trello. This is an online organiser which allows you to create boards to which you add cards to manage project work for your clients. Trello has everything you need to organize projects of any size. Open a card and you can add comments, upload file attachments, create checklists, add labels and due dates. You can even manage your family holidays with Trello. If, like me, you enjoy using brightly coloured sticky notes you can do this electronically with Trello as reminders. This app is great if you have a project with a clearly defined list of tasks with deadlines like a product launch or an event. In addition, you can share the boards with everyone working on the project, so the whole team can see who’s done what and what remains to be done.

3. Invoicely. At the moment, I use this to invoice my clients. It’s a simple online invoicing system with which you create an account, set up your clients, then create invoices for them. Invoicely will send the invoice for you, or you can download it and send it yourself (along with your Toggl time report). It records the due dates of any invoices you create so if they’re overdue (you do have to manually mark them as paid) it will remind you to chase.
Invoicely is fine if you have a small business with just a few clients, but once your business starts to grow and you take on employees you will need to move to more sophisticated software. One such tool is QuickBooks Online. QuickBooks not only allows you to create and track invoices, but also allows the user to manage Corporation Tax, payroll, and VAT returns. It also allows you to send invoices from anywhere with their useful apps for tablet and mobile phone. You can also customise invoices, track real-time payments and schedule repeat payments. As a small business owner you will get paid faster and save time on your accounting.

4. I also like HelloSign. This is a great online signature tool which is invaluable to those of us who work from home and often never see our clients face to face. HelloSign means we can send a contract and have the client sign it online, saving a huge amount of time which would otherwise have been spent sending contracts in the mail, waiting ages for the client to sign and send it back, finding out they’ve lost it or the dog ate it, so having to send it again, waiting again (you get the picture).

5. My final recommendation is Hootsuite. Hootsuite is a social media management tool which enables you to monitor and schedule all your social media content from one platform. It allows you to see what people are saying about your brand, so you can reply immediately. If, like me, you’re an individual running your own business you can use Hootsuite with 1 user for free. If you wish to add users you do have to pay a monthly subscription but it is worth the money. Social media is such a massive influence nowadays you’d be crazy not to spend a bit of money perfecting your online skills.

So there you have it, my top tips for online time-saving or helpful tools. I hope you find them as useful as I do!

Posted by elaineross1603
Networking reaching out
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Networking… There’s an art to it

So Friday, 16th June I attended my very first networking event. It was a local one, run by Maidenhead Chamber of Commerce, jointly with Business Girls Network and Business Biscotti. I had NO idea what to expect, what to wear (yes it’s important to a girl), what to say or who I’d meet.

Anyway, I rocked up with a bag full of business cards and some printed postcards with a synopsis of what services I offer. You meet so many people at these events it’s easy to forget what they do for a living. I was ready for whatever this networking event had to offer.

I must say it was interesting. I walked into a room where everyone was already chatting to each other and immediately felt a bit shy. I didn’t know anyone there and had no idea how to get chatting. Fortunately, the head of the Chamber of Commerce spotted me and introduced himself and then introduced me to someone else.

Once I’d chatted to a few people I excused myself to get some food and a drink and ended up with no-one to network with. So I watched the room for a bit, and noticed that the norm seemed to be to gently infiltrate a group of people chatting by just standing next to them. After a few seconds someone would turn, smile and start chatting to the newcomer. I thought, wow, how easy is that? So I gave it a go and lo and behold, it worked! I worked the room like that for the rest of the session.

I came away absolutely buzzing. I’d made loads of new contacts, given out my card and my flyers and have at least two leads to follow up next week, including one woman who just said, ‘I need you’ while looking extremely stressed.

What I’d say to anyone who was feeling anxious about these types of event is, start small. This was a local event for local business groups with around 15 or so people there. Don’t be shy to go up and stand next to a group or couple of people who are talking. Everyone is there for the same reason, to make contacts, grow their own businesses and help other local businesses. They WANT to talk to you, otherwise they wouldn’t be there. Tell them how you can help their businesses, why they should hire you but also mention you want to grow your network and be able to pass on valuable contacts to your own clients in case you can’t help.

Go, have fun, be yourself and talk!

Posted by elaineross1603
personal concierge services
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Using a Virtual Assistant for Personal Concierge Services

When you run your own business and don’t have an Assistant, it can be difficult to keep on top of family life. Who will pick up the dry cleaning, make your restaurant reservations, book your holidays, organise your kids parties? I offer excellent personal concierge services which you can use to help your life run that bit more smoothly.

You know the scenario… You have that big presentation tomorrow and it’s just gone 5.30 and the dry cleaners have closed. You really wanted to wear your new suit to impress a potential new client. But it’s being held hostage and you can’t have it until they reopen tomorrow morning. Oh but tomorrow morning you have to prepare the presentation and there really isn’t time to go and get it. Can you wear the one you have on today? Nope, you spilled ketchup on it at lunchtime.

Your wife (or husband) is expecting a romantic meal out for your 5th anniversary. But you don’t have the time to research the best ones, read the Trip Adviser reviews and spend ages on the phone trying to get through to their booking line. Plus there’s the issue of the gift!

Your daughter’s 7th birthday is coming up and a traditional party at your home with cake and candles just doesn’t cut it anymore. It’s all trampolining, burger bars, go-karting and ponies nowadays with every parent trying to outdo the last one. But who has time to look for new ideas, price them up, check availability, invite her friends? Not you, you’ve got clients to meet, networking events to attend and work to do for said clients.

Well, worry no more, this is just part of a whole host of concierge services I can offer. If you’re local to the Maidenhead, High Wycombe, Slough or Marlow area, while you’re concentrating on writing your kick-ass presentation I’ll pop over to the dry cleaner’s and pick up your suit along with a clean shirt and even a tie. I’ll even drop it off at your place of work so you just need to nip into the bathroom to get changed and you’re ready to meet that new client.

Or I can book your romantic restaurant, research and purchase that special gift and book your taxi. I can even get some flowers sent so your wife knows you haven’t forgotten.

Birthday parties are a breeze, you can leave it all with me. All I need is a list of the children to invite and an idea of what your kids are into and I can do the rest.

Most of my personal concierge services can be done virtually, I just need to know what you want, and when by, and you can leave the rest to me.

Posted by elaineross1603
first home office virtual assistant
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My first ever blog!

Having never blogged before in my entire life, I’m somewhat nervous about my first one. I’ve spent the last few weeks worrying about what to put, if anyone will read it, if I have anything interesting to say, and typically putting it off while I waited for creativity to strike.

But there’s always a first time for everything, and like it or not, I want to blog and keep this website fresh and interesting.

As I’m sitting here pondering my decision to set up my own business, it did occur to me to wonder just what the heck I thought I was doing?

I’ve always opted for the safe bet, taking jobs working for good companies with a monthly salary and benefits (you know the ones) yet here I am, sitting in my home office with my brand-new laptop contemplating doing it for myself.

With Brexit just around the corner I’m also wondering whether I’m doing the right thing giving up my job and going it alone when the country faces such huge commercial uncertainty. The fact is though, whether you’re for it or against it, it’s happening and it will bring changes.

If you’re a small business owner, you are going to have to focus on planning for these changes meaning everyone will be busier and the day to day admin tasks could be forgotten or filed under ‘do it later’.

That’s where I come in. I can take those time-consuming tasks off your hands leaving you free to work on your business and planning.

I have around 17 years’ worth of experience in doing the stuff you need and even the things you didn’t realise you needed.

Why not have a look at the range of services I offer and see if I can help.  If what you want isn’t on the list, call me on 07701 351686 or email me at elaine.ross@freedom-solutions.co.uk and talk to me about what you need. Chances are I can probably do that too.

Posted by elaineross1603