Taking a Time Out

June 12, 2013 by  
Filed under Blog, Feature Articles

 

Plan to step away from your business, gather your team and engage in a variety of activities that get your creative juices flowing. Last year three of us online instructors attended a teaching conference in Washington, DC. Because the conference had a long list of sessions to choose from – I focused on applied learning and online learning. Some of the direct and side benefits included:

  • Discovered we were already experts – I need to seriously look at preparing a presentation for an upcoming conference
  • Came away with some new ideas to improve our online teaching
  • Planned out changes for our certificate
  • Connected with fellow instructors from across Canada and the United States
  • Had time to tour, relax and re-connect with each other (two of us live in Alberta and the other in Ontario)

And finally, as we were wheeling our suitcases through the airport and I was describing a problem I had encountered planning a new course, my fellow instructor gave me the perfect idea.

Here are some tips for your next time out:

  1.  Have an agenda that includes the “must accomplish” items. So plan ahead to decide what you want to come away with. Do you need to develop new contacts, a revised business plan, marketing strategies, technical expertise, or a more cohesive team?
  2. Make a list of the fun activities and sites to see. (Yes, we made sure we saw several of the memorials and the White House.)
  3. Plan as you network to find those who have a similar business niche and those who are doing something totally different. You would be surprised where new ideas come from.
  4. Eat at some of the local “must eat” spots. In a relaxed location with stomachs full, plan to have great ideas pop up.

 

Bev McCrostie, M.Ed.

Do you do YouTube?

April 22, 2013 by  
Filed under Blog, Feature Articles

Unless you have been living under a rock somewhere with no internet access, you have no doubt heard of YouTube, Vimeo and Facebook. These sites allow users to upload videos with just a user account and a series of “clicks”. Once uploaded the videos can be viewed by anyone, allowing a golden opportunity for marketers, instructors and business people alike and opening up the potential viewing audience to billions worldwide. Previously a company would have to create a television commercial or advertisement with actors, sets and technical advisors, costing thousands of dollars. Now anyone with a webcam, video camera or even a video-enabled smartphone can shoot a commercial or instructional video within a matter of minutes at almost no cost.

Why make a video?

There are a number of reasons to put your face and sparkling personality out onto the internet, including:

  • Allowing new or potential customers to get to know you before they engage your business.
  •  Providing industry related tips and tricks to your clients while keeping your website up to date.
  • Increasing the traffic to your website and in turn your search engine ratings.

Not too sure how to make it all come together?  Sign up for the new VA 180 Technologies for the Virtual Office and discover how easy it can be to produce a video, placing the spotlight firmly on your business.

 

Lindsay, Current RDC Virtual Assistant Certificate Student

Owner of Administrative Innovations

Avoiding Online Purchase Peril

April 16, 2013 by  
Filed under Blog, Feature Articles

By this time I am sure that many, if not all, of you would have purchased something online at some point and unfortunately I am also sure that some of you have had credit card or payment information compromised. I had my credit card information stolen and I still have no idea how it happened but I found out very quickly how frustrating and time consuming it was to deal with. Luckily there is a solution to this online buying conundrum, PayPal. This service is now very well-known, is offered by almost every online retail outlet and is utilized by millions of users worldwide. It is extremely secure and offers a variety of services including sending funds (in many currencies), receiving funds with credit card payments or electronic transfers and even online invoicing.

Now, what does this have to do with the virtual assistant profession?  Well, have you ever invoiced a client and wondered if you were ever going to get paid for your hard work or if their cheque would clear? I have been in this situation a number of times throughout my career and it is a very uncomfortable place to be. As a business owner I would much rather have the funds sitting in my account prior to the work product being sent to my client. Previously this meant that I would have to get a certified cheque or money order (which now can both be forged anyway) but now with PayPal I can invoice my clients and wait until the money is sitting in my virtual account before I send that final draft out. Not only does this give me peace of mind but it also gives me a lot more control over my business finances.

Does this seem like a good idea to integrate into your virtual business? Find out how by signing up for VA180 Technologies for the Virtual Office and learn about incorporating online payment tools like PayPal into your business model.

 

Lindsay, Current RDC Virtual Assistant Certificate Student

Owner of Administrative Innovations

Where in Cyber World is My File?

April 8, 2013 by  
Filed under Blog, Feature Articles

Have you ever been out of your office and find yourself searching for that file that you thought was on your thumb drive? We have all had one of those panic moments searching, and usually searching some more, but to no avail.

What if it was just as easy as logging onto a website and remotely connecting to your desktop to transfer that file to where you need it? Sounds futuristic?! Well, the future is now my friends! There are a number of programs that can do this for you in just a few seconds. GoToMyPC is my favourite as it is quick and easy to set up and they offer a 30-day free trial. Once your 30 days are up, then you can choose to do a month-to-month plan where you pay $9.95 per month or you can move to a one-year plan for $99.00.

To learn more about the amazing abilities of remote desktop and file sharing programs and apps such as Dropbox, GoToMyPC and LogMeIn sign up for VA180 Technologies for the Virtual Office today. It is full of real-world tools to help you work more efficiently and provide your clients with the best service possible. Come and check it out!

 

Lindsay, Red Deer College Virtual Assistant Student
Owner of Administrative Innovations

 

 

The Illusive Work/Life Balance

March 26, 2013 by  
Filed under Blog, Feature Articles

Anyone who has tried to work from home for any amount of time will understand that challenges that it can bring. The last five years that I have worked from home have been very enlightening; I quickly learned that I no longer had the separation I once had from my work and that work had a way of invading my private life. At first I tried to balance the things I needed to get done for work each day with the things I perceived I needed to get done at home each day as well, as you can imagine this didn’t always fit. I found that I would start my work day well and I could easily be distracted by something more interesting, and possibly less challenging, but I also discovered that if I did not focus on my work for the day I would be letting down my clients and providing sub-par customer service. I made the conscious decision from then on to focus on my work during work hours and focus on my other responsibilities during the remainder of the time. I still often take short breaks to put in laundry or check the mail but I do my best to stay on task. I also find that breaking up my work periods during the day makes it more enjoyable and helps me to take advantage of some of the perks of working at home.

I have also been able to take advantage of another perk of being a work-at-home mom. My daughter was quite young when I started to work from home and she was often sick and therefore unable to go to daycare. I was able look after her when she was ill and still complete some work during the day. These days may not have been quite as productive as days when she was at daycare or school but I was still able to get something done. I have also have very few sick days as I am not rubbing shoulders and sharing close quarters with other employees who are basically forced to attend the office even when they are not feeling well; companies seem to demand that employees show up for work even while sick, spreading the illness throughout the office. While all of this would seem counter-productive it is the corporate culture.

While all positions may not be suited for working from home, such as nurses, factory workers or fire fighters, it can be a great way to attempt to achieve the illusive work/life balance.

 

Lindsay, RDC Virtual Assistant student
Administrative Innovations
www.administrativeinnovations.ca

Managing Social Media Can Be a Hoot

March 18, 2013 by  
Filed under Feature Articles

Knowing how time-consuming keeping up with social media profiles can be, I quickly clicked to read Amanda Jacobs’ recent post “Manage Social Media in 20 Minutes Per Day.” A few of her ideas that caught my attention are setting realistic goals, carefully selecting three of the more popular social media, using tools such as Hootsuite.com to manage the sharing of your content, and setting a specific day and time to post.

The most valuable for me was the Hootsuite suggestion. Even Oprah has a team that manages her social media sites. But if you can’t afford a whole team and would like to learn how to use Hootsuite, you may be interested in the new online course offered by the Virtual Assistant Certificate at Red Deer College: VA 180 Technologies for the Virtual Office.

Organizing your social media profiles with Hootsuite is just one of the many free tools you will learn how to use in this May 1 to June 17 Spring course.  For more information, click here.

 

Bev McCrostie, M.Ed.

Red Deer College

5 Ways to Freshen Up Your Business

December 13, 2010 by  
Filed under Feature Articles

A while back I came across an interesting article called “5 Ways to Go from Frumpy to Fresh This Week.” Great article, but I forgot to write down the source! I really want to share the ideas (plus add my own and others’ ideas), so I’m going to “put it out there” and see if the original author recognizes his/her work. 

  1. Change Your Business Voice Mail.  Make your message have some personality (you can do this and still be professional).My comment: I was reading an article by Paul Cherry
    and he recommends that your compelling message should focus on helping your prospects become better at, resolve, gain more control over, save time/money, or make their job easier. And be sure to keep your voice message to 30 seconds in length.
  2. Buy Some Cool Thank You Cards.  Corporate thank you cards are boring because they are all about you and not about me (your customer).Your logo on the front of a thank you card doesn’t mean a darn thing. However, put a picture of something fun or a great quote and now you’ve got my attention.My comment: Well, I like the idea of putting my logo on the Thank You cards – maybe not front and center but down beside my signature for brand recognition. I will think about how I can do it in a “cool” way. Perhaps including an intriguing photo that would be meaningful to my coaching clients. 
  3. Think of a Free Way to Promote Yourself Each Week.  Perhaps you can write an article for an association of your Ideal Customer; get a column in a weekly newspaper; ask for 3 referrals you’ve always been too chicken to ask for!My comment: Denise Wakeman
    recently had a contest where you could win one of two books if you posted on her Facebook Fan Page. A great example on promoting your business and your Facebook Fan Page.
  4. Create A Club.  Hmmm – how could you create a club of customers that want to meet with each other once per month?My comment: Webinars are ideal for gathering your clients either online or over a telephone line. Make sure the topics help your clients solve their problems.
    You might also want to start a networking group in your local area that brings together your customers face-to-face each month.
  5. Take A Valued Client For Lunch or Send Them a Gift.  OK – so you have these people who buy from you on a regular basis, spend big money and who refer you to others consistently. I think they deserve a Caesar salad at the very least don’t you??My comment: I like this idea. Lunch with clients who live close by and send a gift to clients who live at a greater distance away. So now you have five great ways for going from frumpy to fresh this week. Which one will you try first for your business?

 

Bev McCrostie, M.Ed.
Coordinator, Virtual Assistant Certificate
Red Deer College

4 Reasons to Write a Business Plan

December 13, 2010 by  
Filed under Feature Articles

The main reason for writing a Business Plan is not to obtain funding for your business.

Writing a Business Plan forces you to be more concrete and specific. Sure it is difficult and time-consuming. But as soon as you starting writing, you realize there are gaps in your knowledge of your target market, your competitors, your marketing strategies, and your financial projections.

Your Business Plan, will enable you to:

  1. Identify who your target market is. Can you describe them in detail? What are their hobbies and interests? What is their biggest worry in life? What do they read and watch? Why would they choose your product or service? Knowing your target market gives you clear insight into which of your business features and benefits they would love.
  2. Know who your competitors are. What are they good at and where are they weak? Can you provide quicker service, or give more for less money, or give better service for more money? As well, with so many businesses now online, you can’t say, “I don’t have any competitors in my town.” You will learn more about running a successful business from your competitors than anyone else.
  3. Describe what marketing strategies you will use. If you are like most small business startups, you don’t have a lot of funds to allocate to marketing. Social media sites (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn) are an inexpensive way of getting the word out about your product. Why not offer your product or service as a prize on one of the popular blogs read by your target market. Make sure you look around your local area for business networking groups – they provide a wealth of contacts, information, and support for new businesses.
  4. Chart out your revenue and expenses projections for Years 1, 3, and 5. As you set monetary goals for your business, put some stretch in so that you are motivated to achieve but not so unrealistic that you soon become discouraged. One of the first things you will discover is that you are not charging enough for your product/service. You will also discover that in order to reach your monetary goals between years 3 and 5, you will need to change, delete, or add to some of your business practices.

 Creating a Business Plan is like eating an elephant – easy if you do it one bite at a time. Start today by identifying who your target market is. Then move on to the other three until you have a clear Success Plan for your business.

Bev McCrostie, M.Ed.
Coordinator, Virtual Assistant Certificate

Red Deer College

“5 Surefire Ways to Keep Your Virtual Team Engine Humming”

August 24, 2010 by  
Filed under Feature Articles

Whether you are a “team of one” who is just starting out, or a “team of many” with subcontractors and/or employees helping you to operate your business, chances are you will be working virtually with some of your team members.

Operating a virtual team isn’t the same as working in a brick and mortar building where you can shout over the cubicles. I’m very fortune to have an amazing team who supports me from different areas of the country. It can be tricky at times especially when everyone is in a different time zone.

We don’t just make it work; we’re a fine-oiled machine that hums. And I often get asked how we do it. I give much of the credit to my COO, Liz, who started out as my first VA (virtual assistant) a decade ago. We’ve learned a lot along the way, and these factors have played a major role in our success.

1. Communication.

This one may be obvious, but it can’t be overstated. Staying in touch with your virtual team is vital, especially because you don’t see each other every day. Our team uses every means of communication to touch base including phone, fax, email, Google chat, conference calls, regular team meetings, and in-person meetings whenever possible. We use simple yet effective methods such as marking an email urgent (red exclamation point in Outlook) or adding “HOT” in the subject line as an attention-grabber for top priority tasks.

2. Delegation.

I’ve learned to delegate absolutely everything that I possibly can. If you are one of those who says, “I can do it faster myself,” and do, then you will be in trouble real fast. Delegating a lot of little things really adds up as a big time saver, and will help in the long run big time. Only do the tasks that no one else can do, and delegate the rest. As your business grows, those delegated tasks will be handed down to new team members, and ultimately you’ll have many with cross-trained capabilities who you can shift around as needed.

3. Systematization.

Examples of systemizing include: creating procedures (written, video, audio depending on the situation), approval processes, checklists, storing information in a central online place that is backed up, cross-training, moving tasks around, etc. Our team has used Webex, Box.net, and BaseCamp, to keep the work flowing and secure.

Create systems wherever you can for several reasons:

a. Increasing efficiency

b. Decreasing occurrence of errors

c. Ensuring quality control

d. Maintaining the integrity of the information

e. Backing up your intellectual property

f. Easing team training

When there is a bump in the road, analyze your system, and make changes as necessary to keep everything running smoothly.

4. Showing Gratitude.

We have a hard-working team of highly motivated individuals who are more interested in getting it right than just getting it done. They foresee obstacles and devise solutions before they occur. When they do have challenges, they present them with potential solutions and a recommendation. If you have team members like this, you need to treat them well. Find out what kind of appreciation they like most: cash bonuses? flowers? chocolate? You may find that it’s the least expensive forms of appreciation that will go the furthest…a phone call, a “thanks” on a fax, a thank-you email, or a hand-written card.

5. Only Team Players, Please.

I remember being in corporate America, where some women were their own worst enemies…meow! As the owner of my own business, I have the privilege of hand-selecting my clients, vendors, and team members. It is so peaceful and productive to work with women (and men) who work well together. Simply put, we only work with supportive team players who work hard and care tremendously about what we are accomplishing. Grouches, gossips, and divas need not apply, and should be ousted immediately.

© 2010 Ali International, LLC

Self-made millionaire entrepreneur and Inc. 500-ranked CEO Ali Brown teaches women around the world how to start and grow profitable businesses that make a positive impact. Get her FREE weekly articles and advice at www.AliBrown.com

Maintaining a Professional Image While Working at Home

April 20, 2010 by  
Filed under Feature Articles

One of the benefits of a home office is never having to wear a scratchy wool suit or pantyhose (unless you want to). The danger is that it’s easy to let that professional image slide if you spend the workday sitting on your couch wearing yoga pants and channel surfing in between conference calls. Follow these tips to maintain a professional image while working at home:

Stick to a schedule. True, working from home allows you to set your own schedule and gives you the flexibility to travel, take care of children, or otherwise tend to your personal life. But if clients never know when they’ll be able to reach you or if you sometimes sleep ‘til noon because you stayed up late watching movies, that can jeopardize your professional reputation. Your work hours will depend on the nature of your business and when you work best, but once you get into a schedule, try to follow it. And let your regular clients or customers know what those hours are. Being self-disciplined with your time means customers or clients can count on you and makes it easier to get work done.

Mind your social media use. Sites like Facebook and Twitter can be excellent tools for promoting your business and keeping in touch with old friends or colleagues. But if you get too personal or casual online, it can have an adverse effect on your business. Remember, anything you post online is public. Even if your settings are supposedly private, it’s easy for one of your contacts to take a screenshot or retweet something they find funny and/or offensive. Be friendly, but put on a professional face and always ask yourself how potential customers or clients might react to something you’ve posted.

Manage your incoming phone calls. If you use your cell phone for business and personal calls, remember to answer calls from unfamiliar numbers in a professional manner. Resist the urge to answer if you’re in a noisy bar or next to a screaming child. In fact, if you have young children, you should set up a separate phone line for your business and make sure you’re the only person who answers it.

Set up a separate workspace. Even if it’s a converted closet or a corner of your living room, having a space devoted to work helps you get into a business mindset that you’ll project to clients or customers. Having a designated workspace also helps you navigate issues of work/life balance. When you’re at your desk, it’s time to work. When you’re sitting on the couch watching TV, it’s time to relax.

Get out of the house when you have to. Sometimes it’s hard to feel like a professional when you’re surrounded by laundry that needs to be folded or toys that need to be put away. In those cases, it makes sense to work somewhere else, at least part of the time. It’s also smart to have a place outside of your home for meetings. Co working spaces often let you rent conference space by the hour or the day. You could also partner with another small business to share meeting or office space.

The bottom line? Maintain a professional mindset and create some separation (physically and mentally) between your business and your personal life.

© 2010 Ali International

Self-made millionaire entrepreneur and Inc. 500-ranked CEO Ali Brown teaches women around the world how to start and grow profitable businesses that make a positive impact. Get her FREE weekly articles and advice at http://www.alibrown.com/

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