Archive for the ‘Efficiency’ Category

How You Prioritize Sets You Apart

attentionThe best experiences I gained in prioritizing that helps me be a sought-out virtual assistant happened when I was an administrative assistant to 10 sales associates across two departments plus handled the marketing for this company. Being organized, being dependable were musts because in sales being able to respond in a timely manner with your quote could seal…or sink a deal. In sales, each associate felt their work was priority. But only one task at a time can be first. Who got the positioning?

What Gets Your Eyes First

Working from a to-do list helps to see everything at a glance. It’s difficult to prioritize if you don’t have a clear overview of all the projects, across all of your clients. Some make a list on paper or reach for their calendar while others like a formal project management system such as Basecamp. Any of these methods will work.

Three categories to consider for each task include:

Importance – Which task has the greatest value? Which task will produce the greatest results once completed? This is a factor for prioritizing multiple tasks for a single client. Those leading to the greatest monetary yield get preference.

Urgency – Where does this fall in the overall project timeline? Which deadline is nearest? This is a factor when prioritizing across many clients’ projects. Deadlines are often the tie breaker.

Effort  How much effort or skill is needed to complete the task?  How much time is needed to complete the task? This is the factor in managing your time. Intimately knowing how long something will take, even if you must do a time test to estimate total project completion will help.

Choose your favorite ranking method (1-2-3, high-medium-low, colors, or hot-warm-cold) to mark each item on the to-do for each category. Reorganize the list as needed and work through your newly prioritized list. Be sure to review that enough time is allowed for today or note which tasks will need to be carried over to the next day.

And most importantly, take pleasure in crossing an item off your list. As silly as it may seem at the end of the day looking back to all you’ve accomplished feels so good. Bask in it and then get to work in prepping your to-do list for the next business day before you shut down the office for the day.

If you need some help prioritizing feel free to click reply and tell me about it.

Save That or Not

organizationA virtual assistant can create a lot of documents in a single month. One of my clients is a trustee. It’s not uncommon to generate an average of 300 documents monthly for only this one client. Have you ever thought about how many items you create or handle on behalf of each one of your clients monthly? And the storage each requires? You should.

A virtual assistant is responsible to handle and create many digital pieces that support a client in their business. These pieces when completed should be returned to the client for final storage and retention or placed in an online cloud-based storage solution for shared access by the client and virtual assistant. I suspect that in many cases the reality is that virtual assistants, inadvertently, become storage portals for their clients.

Think back to times when a client asks if you have a document from 6 months ago or 1 year ago or even 3 years ago and you do! I know some heads are nodding because I’ve done it too. That was until I realized I was hurting my efficiency and storage solutions by being an unpaid storage provider instead of a service provider.

It is not the responsibility of a virtual assistant to keep track or and retain client documents. This is why we do the work and return the finished piece to the client. True, there are times when having a copy of the work saves the virtual assistant time and streamlines the course of work. For those times, I highly recommend utilizing a shared cloud-based storage provider such as Dropbox, Carbonite, or Mozy to name a few – there are many.

One of the best solutions to free up space on your computer is using a cloud-based storage site and placing desktop access on your computer. Working from the desktop drive you’ll quickly and smoothly be able to open, access, and retrieve documents as if they were on your own hard drive. Remembering to save to the cloud’s drive means your client always has the most current version of work at their fingertips. Plus you can work from anywhere – desktop computer, laptop, tablet, or phone and have the files you need at your fingertips without syncing a thing.

Folders can be set up in this interface so you’ll be just as organized and hardly know you’re working in the cloud.

What about all the emails you save because you may need to refer back to something? Convert the important ones to PDF format and tuck them in a folder on the cloud, too. Say good-bye to archiving 200, 600, or 1500 emails from a single client.

And for Skype chats? Copy the conversation to a Word doc and place it in another folder in the cloud.

The key is to get these pieces off your computer so your machine is running at top speed and racing car fast without being bogged down by your client’s documents, images, and other files.

Remember the old days when files were stored to disks? If this feels better consider burning the files to CDs and dropping the CD in your file cabinet. It’s easy enough to pop a CD in the drive when you want to recall a document 8 months down the road.

I get a ton of PDF ebook giveaways and audios from attending webinars and online seminars. Some have some great information that I want to keep but do I really need to have these as active documents on my computer? Not really. I burn these to CDs for reference when and as I need them.

A few years ago my computer was running slow so I contacted my IT guy to offer some solutions. He nearly fell over when he saw how many documents I’d saved just in those freebie PDFs and audios. I hated to part with them because you never know when you may want to re-read the info. After spending a couple of hours, yes, hours, burning CDs I’d reclaimed a third of my hard drive space. I think my computer literally sighed.

So, before saving to your own computer consider is another storage option is a better choice for the well being of your business. Remember service provider or storage provider, which is your role for each document you handle and create?

Finding Freedom in Systems & Procedures

directionI’m a planner by nature. Not everyone can say that comes easily. I’m here to encourage the non-planners towards benefits and creative freedoms found via documenting their business procedures and systems. For the most part, it’s a one-time thing with occasional updates as the business evolves and grows.

You may think being a solopreneur that it is not necessary to document or create procedures because you’re the only one working the day-to-day. You don’t have all of a large corporation counting on you but you do have your clients and family and your own expectations to safeguard.

Tell me, how many times do you refer to your policies when a client asks about this or that and wants to do something a bit outside the boundaries? Do you find yourself feeling pressed against the wall with out-of-the-ordinary requests? If you take a moment to document your policies, your what-if scenarios, those guidelines you plan to abide by in daily operations, than I can promise you it will be a timesaver AND a stress reliever later on. You will have already worked through the issues and have an idea of how you want to proceed when the pressure is off rather than be thrown into the boiling water and sinking deep in a murky scenario.

This freedom doesn’t need to come in a HUGE manual filled with reams of paper. It can be bulleted lists in a Word doc, an Excel spreadsheet, or files on Evernote. You’re building reference points to have at your fingertips. For example, having your procedures outlined for securing and processing payment for a late or non-paying client ahead of time will be a matter of following the steps for collection rather than scrambling and allowing more time to elapse without payment. Determining now, where your bursting point is will give you signs and symptoms to diagnose when your business is ready to add employees, add subcontractors, branch out into a new division, or open a second location. Documenting the steps for how to use a certain software or application that you use once quarterly will save time and ward-off frustrations.

Think through situations in advance and determine the path that’s most direct and results driven for your business model.

Documenting your procedures may feel overwhelming when you begin so here’s my tip: document as you go. Today, when you begin to work on a project open a Word doc (or grab a sheet of paper if you’re a pen-in-hand kind of person) and bullet point the steps for what you’re doing. This serves two purposes: 1) you have a how-to guide for when your business grows to the point of needing an employee or subcontractor and 2) should you take ill or have an emergency that calls you out of the office for an extended period of time your go-to, second-in-charge person can step in during the interim and keep the wheels of your business turning, seamlessly, following your quality control parameters.

Ah, that feels good (and freeing) doesn’t it?

Systems can be documented the same way or consider using a mind-mapping tool. You’ve seen these types of flow charts that include if-this-happens-do-this and if-that-happens these are your next steps with arrows pointing the way to the next step.

The freedom, efficiency, non-stress days, and creative juices you seek are a documented system or procedure away. When others are scrambling and looking for the way, you will have some paths through the madness mapped out.

I Have A Virtual Assistant For That: Ridding the Business Sniffles

Would you be surprised to learn that businesses get the sniffles too?

It’s true. Many times a virtual assistant is the cure.

Tell me if you recognize any of these business illnesses often experienced by solo business owners who are trying to do everything themselves:

LastMinute-itis: Symptoms include being frazzled by nearing deadlines, missing deadlines, and feeling overwhelmed by all the minutia of details. Trying to keep all the balls in the air can be exhausting. Knowing which system to implement to keep it all together can feel like scaling the side of a skyscraper without a safety harness. The answer is allowing your virtual assistant to select and compare project management systems based on your business model and working style. Together you’ll create procedures so nothing slips through the cracks.

Clingaphobia: Fear of letting go; Fear of delegating. This afflicts businesspersons who hold too tightly to minor roles that are better delegated to support persons. I get it. After wearing all the hats in a business for so long it’s hard to think of someone else doing something. Business owners should ask themselves if each task is a direct action to generating income. If the answer is “not directly” or “no” then this is exactly the type of work that should be delegated to a virtual assistant who will excel at keeping the behind the scene details in check and running smoothly.

Hover-osis: We’ve heard of helicopter parenting [a parent who hovers closely overhead, rarely out of reach, whether their children need them or not] but what many don’t realize is that this same type of behavior can crossover to business settings. Once a project or task has been delegated take a step back and allow the VA to work, knowing she’ll come to you with questions. Have scheduled progress checkpoints in place so everyone knows how the project is progressing and the communication lines are open. Be sure to work out the scope beforehand and things should hum along nicely. It’s very hard to do your best work when there’s a shadow over your shoulder and many changes coming down the pipeline.

Destination-epsia: Symptoms include not having a clearly defined goal in mind for the task or project. It’s important to know what end result is hoped for so the pathway for execution can be outlined. If this step is missing, how can it be determined completed and successful? There needs to be a guide for measuring the results obtained. Avoid getting caught up in the everybody’s-doing-it-so-I-should-be-to thinking. Many times I see Destination-epsia rear its ugly head and throw its slimy arms around a project when there’s no specific goal in mind as to why something is being done.

If you’re experiencing any of these illness or similar symptoms please take two aspirin and contact your nearest virtual assistant. You’ll find this trained professional will be able to bring calmness, instill efficiency, and build time back into your schedule. Ridding business stagnating illnesses is good for your business health plus will cut down expenses on tissues and Tums.

Proofreading Made Easy

The key to quality proofreading is to read, re-read, and read the text again. It’s not uncommon for a professional proofreader to read a text 10 times. Each time you’ll be reviewing the content with a different singular purpose in mind. If proofing your own writing try to allow 24 hours to lapse between the writing and proofing to give your mind’s eye time to detach from being immersed in the writing and refocus to editing and proofing. You’ll catch mistakes, misspellings, and grammatical errors more easily when you’re seeing it fresh the next day.

  1. Read the entire writing to determine the purpose of the piece and whether everything written supports that purpose.
  2. Search for obvious spelling and punctuation mistakes, watching especially for words with various spellings, such as “their,” “they’re,” and “there.” Check for grammatical accuracy. For example, make sure all the verbs match the nouns. Check the punctuation and capitalization. You may have to fix some sentences as well as have to rearrange some. Make a note of the errors, if you are fixing other’s work. The writer may want to get his original ones back.
  3. Print the document. If it’s practical based on the size of the document print it out and proofread rather than do this on the computer screen. You will find it much easier to spot mistakes on printed copy. If it’s not practical then copy/paste the content to another page in a different font style and size. After reading the text in Arial, font size 10 you’ll be surprised how quickly the eye will find additional mistakes when you re-read in Times Roman, font size 12. The new font style and size forces your brain to refocus and make errors glaringly standout.
  4. Read aloud. While your eyes may skim over a misspelling, your lips may stumble and help you catch a mistake. Similarly, pronouncing words carefully as you commit them to text will often help you get closer to the correct spelling so your spellchecker can more accurately guess the correct word. Regress to childhood and follow each word you read with your finger.  This will encourage you to look carefully at each word as you read it being able to hear how they actually sound.  This will help you to identify problems with sentence structure.
  5. Read from the bottom up. Read the document from the end to the beginning. When performing this type of proofreading, you are not looking for incorrect sentence structure (this should have been identified in one of the earlier readings), you are slowing down and focusing on each word in turn.  This will hopefully help you to look carefully at individual words and recognize spelling and typographical errors.
  6. Find a friend. Asking someone else who knows how to proofread to help you to check your work is a really good idea because a second set of eyes can be very effective.  If you can’t afford professional proofreading services, then ask a friend for help.  They will be able to take an unbiased look at what you have written and will be much better placed to spot mistakes.

Remember that it is harder to detect mistakes in your own work than in someone else’s! With these tips at your ready you’ll feel like you have an ace up your sleeve. Let the proofreading magic begin . . .

How To Get Your RFP Noticed (& Bring You Quality Responses)

Virtual professionals are familiar with responding to RFPs (request for proposals) to secure projects and partner with clients. Several virtual assistants have written ebooks about how the process works and provided endless tips for moving your proposal to the top of the list. With this being said, I’d like to talk with clients about how to get your RFP noticed and moved to the top of a virtual assistant’s list of action so that you’ll get responses pouring in giving you to highest yield of candidate businesses to select from.

For each RFP submitted be sure to include:

  1. Your name, business name, and website URL.  Businesses like to know which businesses they are partnering with. Virtual assistants are no different and you’ll discover that VAs will often pre-screen themselves to compliment your style and services. If you want to have a cloaked RFP then at a minimum include which industry your products and services serve.
  2. Include a listing of the services you require.  With the services listing be sure to indicate if the person responding must have knowledge of all of these services or if you’re willing to hearing from those possessing a partial list or if you’ll train the right candidate.
  3. Indicate the deadline for submittals and if decisions will be made after that date or at any time during the process. Basically, will you review each RFP submitted or if an interesting prospect comes through you may contact, interview and contract with that person before all RFPs have been received.
  4. Tell us what the right candidate will be like.
  5. Indicate if there are any benefits for the VA in partnering with you. Bold statement to consider, I know. What do you bring to the table to attract the VAs possessing the skills and experience to help you to the next level in your business? Afterall, VAs aren’t employees but other business owners who want to partner with mutually beneficial business owners. Who would be a good match for you to partner with?
  6. Will you answer questions from the RFPs respondents during this time?
  7. Will you notify each response with a reply?

I understand that sometimes RFPs are born out of desperation to get out from under the mounds of work and stresses to not having enough help, enough time, or enough knowledge in a specialized area. Before you hit the submit button please take a moment to review what you’ve written and ask yourself, ‘Reading this would I respond if this came into my business?’ If you answer, ‘No.’ Then go back and fill in whatever blank areas you’d want to see.