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My Needs Expand Beyond My Business (Part III)

Hopefully by this point, you’ve realized just how demanding your lifestyle has become and that your next intelligent step would be to hire a Virtual Assistant (VA) that best fits your business needs or busy lifestyle. In this three part series (see part 1 and part 2), we’ve learned how to create task lists of our most important (and not-so-important) duties or business related functions. These lists have been categorized into home/work/social, etc. and prioritized into those we can easily accomplish on our own and those which would be best to hand off to someone else.

Next, we learned methods to manage these task lists, from simple post-it notes all over your computer monitor, to more advanced syncing functions with your PDA. Some devices required extensive training of software applications, while others were as simple as sending personal reminder emails.

In this final segment, we’ll discuss the delegation of your tasks to a Virtual Assistant who is the best fit for your demanding lifestyle. One who can accomplish your given tasks in the most productive, cost-effective manner and will allow you to flourish in your own business and personal successes.

As we learned in Part II, a Virtual Assistant is generally someone who is:

Self-employed.

• Providing professional administrative, technical, or creative (social) assistance to clients remotely from their own office.

• An independent contractor.

• Responsible for their own employee-related taxes, insurance, and benefits.

What’s important in hiring a Virtual Assistant?

• Cost – You will want to choose a VA that you can afford within your own personal budget.

• Reliability – Are they credible? Do they offer references? How long have they been in the business? If you intend to use the VA for a more long-term purpose, you may tend to do more research on their work history. The more years of experience they have usually indicates a more knowledgeable person, although their costs may also reflect their extensive experience.

  • Location – This may be a factor if you choose to delegate more personal chores/tasks in which they will travel to your home or business to perform work. Otherwise, VAs tend to work from their own office and this is a non-issue to the immediate success of your delegated tasks.
  • Specialty – You will want someone specialized in the tasks which you wish to have completed. For instance, if you had Real Estate forms that needed to be filled out on a consistent basis, you wouldn’t want to hire someone that has no credentials/background in Real Estate. It’s important to remember that the more specialized the VA is, the higher their fees may become.
  • Personality – You will want to search for a VA that you can interact with in a positive manner versus one that will create a constant conflict of interest.

Now that we know what is important in researching a competent VA, where do we look to hire them?

  • Impact Virtual Services – Yes, my business can help! www.impactvs.com I’m not just trying to advertise for my own business, but rather I’m trying to make a very logical point. When you choose from a creditable business such as Impact, we’ve already done the research for you and because of this, are able to provide VAs that offer extensive specialties, credibility, and work history.
  • Online. Another obvious choice that can offer solutions is to perform a search on the internet to help you resource VAs (Craigslist, Google searches, etc). The negatives of choosing from Craigslist is that your background checks are all at your own time and expense. You definitely take on more of a personal risk when using such search tools.
  • Word of mouth. If you have a referral, this is always a great choice. It usually means the advice is trustworthy and already worth your investment in time.
  • Newspaper ads. Again, comparative to Craigslist, but if you are aren’t an online person, this is another route. And shows you really need a VA to take your business to the net!

You now have all of the tools available to make the executive decision of hiring a reputable Virtual Assistant. Look for affordability based on your budget and needs, credibility in their references and work history, and ultimately, someone that can accomplish a given task based on your demands and time restraints.

Ultimately, if you choose to hire a Virtual Assistant based on the tools I’ve passed along in this three part series, you will be taking the next step in making a positive investment in the future successes of your business and personal lifestyle.

 

My Needs Expand Beyond My Business (Part II)

As you’ve previously learned how to define your master list of tasks (Article - Part I), let us now take a further look at how we can manage and track such tasks. There are many ways to manage and track lists of tasks, all depending on what is going to best suit your needs or temperament. Here are some ideas to get started with your task management mission.

Just a warning…if you start feeling overwhelmed just trying to figure out how to get started, you just may find that a Virtual Assistant will be the best route to handle most of your concerns!

  • Free web-based to do list managers.  Examples are ToodleDo (our personal favorite!), Ta-da List and Voo2Do.  Some of these applications provide project management capabilities for software scheduling and tasks organized by project.  Downfalls with this…. do you have time to learn more programs and software applications, or are you looking for an easy hand off for someone else to do this for you?
  • Task lists integrated within your desktop computer or online calendar.  Yahoo and Gmail offer simple task list incorporation, as well as Microsoft Outlook and Entourage, and Mac’s iCal software.  Again, easy management, but you will ultimately be responsible for checking and organizing.   Another reason to justify an easy hand-off to someone else.
  • Word processors or spreadsheets, desktop or online.  Microsoft Office or OpenOffice are great tools.  You can create task lists, print them out, and scribble off completed accomplishments.   Online versions (Google Docs and Spreadsheets and Zoho Office) allow sharing capabilities, a benefit if you want to send to a Virtual Assistant, co-worker, family member, etc..
  • Sticky notes.  This is the “old school” version!  They’re great to get projects started or for simple reminders, but to keep your clutter to a minimum, keep your sticky notes to a minimum!

The list can go on and on.  PDA applications, fancy notebook and pen to write and track your best creative moments, a to do widget list, mind mapping, online wiki services, and something just as simple as daily emails can all track and manage your task lists.  Find one that works for your needs and your desired mode of working, and put it to good use!

Another big thing to consider is if you have time to complete all of these tasks or if you foresee your time being better spent elsewhere.  If you feel the answer is elsewhere, that is where I highly encourage you to consider hiring an outside source to assist you in the “simple things in life.”  Are you looking for an extra hour of free time? Would you like to be able to go to the gym at the end of the day?  Are you just plain tired of a certain chore that could be performed by someone else?

If you find yourself thinking “yes” to these questions, then I think it is time you consider hiring a Virtual Assistant.  A “what” you ask?  Well, a Virtual Assistant is generally someone who is self-employed and provides professional administrative, technical, or creative (social) assistance to clients remotely from a home office.  As they are independent contractors, clients are not responsible for any employee-related taxes, insurance, or benefits.

Depending on just what the tasks are that you wish to hand off, this just may be your perfect solution.  In my final Part III of this series, I’ll show you how to search for the Virtual Assistant that best fits your needs in order to maximize the success of your business, or even better yet, your personal life!

This list is a great place to begin your task management, and it may be something you love to do!  If not, you may soon come to the conclusion that a Virtual Assistant is the best route to assist you in accomplishing all your priorities.

Are You Targeting the Wrong Social Network?

By Melissa Goodman, Social Media Specialist at IMPACT So many small business owners have the mindset that if we capture tons of followers on our social media networks, that will be the key to a greater success for our business, but is this necessarily true?

Take, for example, your Twitter account.  According to Courtney Rubin, from a post on Business Writers, a 37 year old female is the target audience for Twitter.  If that is not the market that you are trying to reach to market your product, then chances are there is a better social network out there for you to utilize.

I recently read a study performed by Pingdom, a website monitoring service.  They surveyed 24 of the most popular social networks, including Facebook and Twitter.  The results from these studies said a lot about the target audience on the different sites.

  • More than 55% of Twitter users are older than age 35.  So, if you want to capture women in their mid-30’s, you should create Twitter posts that capture this audience’s attention.  Such topics as motherhood, careers, family, and beauty are all great topics for this type of account.
  • The youngest users, under the age of 24, found DeviantART.  This actually surprised me, as I would have thought Facebook was the leader.
  • LinkedIn had the highest percentage of users over the age of 55.  It is great to know that this generation is utilizing such networking services.
  • Tech-focused sites tended to be heavily male dominated, which is generally the rule of thumb.

Overall, it was found of the 24 sites, the majority of users were female (51.25 percent vs. 48.75 percent male).  It comes with no surprise that Pinterest was the most female dominated site.  I guess we have finally proved how much we love to eat, decorate, and shop!

What is the point to all of this?  Well, there tends to be a target audience for all social networks.  If your small business is more tech-savy, you may want to learn more about Slashdot.  If your audience is more artsy/creative, you may want to research Pinterest more in depth.

Have any of you noticed a difference in social networks?  Do you see the same members across the board or is it easy to differentiate?  Sometimes the key is not to have thousands of followers, but to connect and really engage those who are truly interested in your product.   I think it definitely pays to research if you want to reach a target audience specialized to your products.  It’s especially important with year-end approaching and the sky rocket sales that are usually predicted in the holiday season.

Branding for Small Businesses

As a business owner one of your top priorities is how your company is perceived to your prospective clients.  Careful crafting of your brand matters, no matter how big or small your business is.   You could have the most innovative service or product, but you need to make potential clients aware of it before you can turn it into a success.  Unfortunately marketing your business isn’t as easy as just placing your logo and a sales message on a postcard or flyer and mailing it to prospective clients.  Marketing is about branding your business so potential clients have an idea of what your business is about, what it may be like to work with you, and how you are different from your competitors.

Simple Works How is your business different from your competitors?  What makes your services or products unique and original?  What aspect of your business is the most attractive to the client?  These are just a few of the questions that should be addressed by your brand.  It should be conveyed in a smooth, easily understood, uncluttered way that is tailored to you audience.  Simple and direct.

Give Your Words a Voice Often times communicating with your prospective clients is done through a series of direct mail pieces, emails, newsletters, or your very own website.  Creating a unified “voice” that can deliver your message in addition to producing an overall image for your company will set you apart from competitors and take your communications from passive to active.  Aligning your message and brand across all channels such as print, website, blog, and social networking will further strengthen your voice.

Consistency is Key Sometimes a small tweak in your overall image is necessary to get a buzz going.  Changing a font here, a color there, or a new image to represent your brand could all help in highlighting your business in new, exciting, and different ways to the same audience, or help in attracting a completely new one.  Once you have identified which tweak or series of tweaks generates the biggest response stick with it and modify all your communications and client accessed websites to reflect that voice, message, and image.  Committing to the change once it is made is the most crucial step.  You may not get the desired results immediately, but scrapping all the work you’ve put in will only be a waste of your time and money, as well as confuse potential clients.

Building your brand can be a labor of love.  If you put in the work and let your individuality pour into your business and let it shine through your communication pieces this will truly set you apart from your competitors.  Your current and potential clients will see your products and services as genuine and attainable.  Branding is all about perceptions, so build the perception you want them to have!

How To Blog for Your Business

Using a blog for your business is certainly not a new thing, but it is one that has seen tremendous growth in the recent years. Businesses that provide a service can stand to benefit the most by keeping a blog. It is a tool to expand the social media footprint, highlight your brand, or establish and build your credibility and position yourself in your area of expertise. Social media can be an invaluable tool to drive traffic to your site but a blog will be most useful in building a platform for your business. Here are some tips to get you started and keep you going.

Introduce Yourself Potential customers want to know about you and your business. Take some time to share a few things about yourself and talk about how you started and built your business. This accomplishes two very important things – it gives the reader a glimpse into who you are and what your business is about and it provides credibility and paves the road to start building a level of trust.

Share Some, Not All, of Your Knowledge and Expertise Create a section, or a weekly post that shares some of your knowledge or expertise in your field. Yes, this will be free information, but it provides clients and prospective clients a chance to gauge your command of your specialty. This is also a key component in trust and relationship building. Be mindful not to give away tips, tricks, or secrets you would normally charge for.

Respond to Questions You’re the expert in your field, so show it! Allow for clients and guests of your website and blog to ask questions and make sure you respond to them in a timely fashion. This will boost your credibility and generate more content for your blog.

Tutorials Similar to answering questions, providing tutorials can only add value to you and your business. If you’re an electrician offer a quick demo on how to change a fuse or what tool someone might need to use in order to change a recessed light bulb. These would seem small and insignificant to you, but to the average homeowner these could be huge timesavers. Again, be mindful you aren’t demonstrating anything you would normally charge for.

Blogging can be a huge help in expanding your online presence, but it is often quite time consuming. Before you create and launch your blog make sure you have the time to nurture and develop it. Pay attention to your spelling and grammar, or hire a copywriter to browse your content if you’re worried about it. Finally, you’ll have to be willing to give away your best content for free and engage with your audience for it to pay off for your business. Keep at it long enough and it most certainly will.

5 Tasks a VA Can Do To Help Your Business

Think of a Virtual Assistant (VA) like any assistant, but with lower costs, no overhead, and more capabilities.  Anything you could wish for an assistant to handle for you, a VA can handle too.  Here are some great items that you can easily hand off to a VA.

Think of a Virtual Assistant (VA) like any assistant, but with lower costs, no overhead, and more capabilities. Anything you could wish for an assistant to handle for you, a VA can handle too. Here are some great items that you can easily hand off to a VA.

  • Repetitive/Daily Tasks - We all have them. Each business and individual is different, but there are certain tasks each of you do every day for yourself and your business. Think about your day and write down tasks you find yourself doing day in and day out. These tasks are IDEAL for a VA to do for you. With a little direction, you could be saving a few hours each day and maximizing the time you have to work on other tasks.
  • Correspondence – All of us correspond with our clients/customers and potential clients/customers daily. Much of this correspondence is basic, template, and very repetitive. We also have many questions to ask our clients/customers each day. This correspondence takes time and can be a process. Both of these types of correspondence can be easily outsourced to a VA. Let the VA know what information you need, who you need to contact, and send them on their way. Some good examples of correspondence are:
    • Follow up on billing related issues
    • New project start questionnaires
    • New client information
    • Project or task related questions with clients
    • Calendar coordination and planning
    • Drafting and formatting letters and emails
    • And much more!
  • Website Maintenance & Monitoring – Do you have changes to your website pages? Want to post new content and/or images? Need to promote an upcoming event? If you can update your website, so can your VA. Giving your VA insight into your business and interests can help them craft content for you, investigate content areas your audience wants to hear, and ensure content is kept up to date, so you don’t have to! Do you have a contact form on your website? Your VA can monitor that too.
  • Social Media – It is hard to find time every day to send out tweets, update your Facebook page, respond to messages and discussion threads, accept or reject LinkedIn invitations, create and post blog articles, and generally interact with your clients/customers online. Keeping all the social media outlets up to date takes time. If this is something you don’t have, or you find yourself falling behind, having a VA control your social media can be key for you. Don’t lose the opportunity to connect, but instead trust someone to manage those connections and keep you informed with what is going on.
  • Finances/Billing – Often I hear people complaining that their receipts are in a pile waiting to be sorted, they need to file an expense report, or need to follow up on outstanding payments from customers/clients. These are simple tasks that a VA can do for you.

All of this doesn’t mean you may not be involved in these activities, but often it takes a few simple questions from your VA, some training on what you and your business are all about, and the desire to want assistance. In the end, you’ll save time and make more money by focusing on what you do best, and not focusing on the nominal day to day activities that bog you down.

Read more about the benefits of a Virtual Assistants.

...and how VAs can save you money!