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5 Email Systems

There are so many different newsletter services out there, how do you choose one to use for your newsletter? How can you be sure it’s the right one for you?

Here is a list of a few features of five very popular services, to help you make your decision easier:

1ShoppingCart – 1SC is a great all in one solution for all of the things you will need as a VA, but it has levels of service for different prices that make it affordable before you need everything they offer. For just $29 per month you can get a basic email service that allows you to send HTML newsletters and set up auto responders (messages that are sent automatically when someone signs up for something that you have them opt in to). It’s easy to use, and allows you to set up templates to make sending emails a breeze.
You can also set up multiple lists with 1SC so you can keep your marketing projects separate when necessary. I always recommend 1SC when you start out simply because you can grow with it as your business grows – and then you can use the shopping cart and the affiliate software make up the professional package for $99/month, when you start selling things and working with partners and joint ventures.

Aweber – another very simple and popular email and autoresponder service, Aweber also allows you to set up separate lists for different events. Their templates for newsletters and opt in boxes are just great, and easy to customize. Aweber’s basic price is $19 per month, and I know many of my clients and colleagues like it because it is so simple to use. it doesn’t require a whole lot of technical expertise to send your own newsletter and that’s a big selling feature! It also integrates with your Facebook and Twitter easily, so you can reach your whole audience when you send out your newsletter.

Vertical Response – Vertical response is another good newsletter service that has an interesting feature – you can pay for it monthly or you can pay per email sent. It also offers great templates to build your email and is very easy to use. It supports multiple lists as well which is helpful if you work with events or if you work with partners. You also have the option to run surveys through Vertical Response, and it integrates with Facebook and Twitter as well. Vertical Response pricing starts at $10 per month or around a penny an email if you choose that option.

Constant Contact – many of my clients and colleagues started off using Constant Contact as their email provider. Some still use it and some have moved on to other systems (usually to a shopping cart system). Constant Contact is famous for being user friendly and they now allow you to set up autoresponders with your basic email marketing service. They also have optional add on services for online surveys and event marketing as well, which look very interesting. There is great functionality in using these services as they are designed precisely for what you need to use them for. They have a huge inventory of templates for each of their platforms and they really require very little technical skill to set up professional looking correspondence. Pricing starts at $15 a month for their basic services.

Mailchimp – I have not used Mailchimp in a very long time, but they have become very popular again lately due to their new list of features. I have heard great reports lately from people who are using it. It is also very simple to use, provides many templates, has a great deliverability rate (!) and also has some great ‘power features’ that you will want to check out. One of the features I would love to look at is the Google Analytics integration (I’m a Google gal, after all!). The coolest thing about Mailchimp… it’s free for up to 500 subscribers. Sounds like a pretty easy decision to me!

Whichever email service you decide to go with, be sure to try out a free trial. Most services offer a 30 to 60 day free trial along with tutorials so you can learn how their features work, and if they are the right fit for you.

Be Honest About Deadlines

We all know what it’s like to have a deadline looming over our heads.  We spend most of our time feeling like we’re being pushed, often unwillingly, toward the goal line of one project or another.  We also all know what it’s like to miss a deadline.  However, with time and effort you can reduce your stress and meet deadlines more efficiently.

The first part of meeting goals is setting them.  This part is far more important than it seems.  When setting goals, you need to be realistic.  Not only with whether or not you can meet a timeline, but also with whether or not you have the ability to get the job done - period.  Once you have an overall goal, set smaller goals and a calendar for achieving them.  Assign specific goals and duties and make sure everyone not only knows their part, but everyone else’s as well.  

Even if you’re setting realistic goals and deadlines, that doesn’t mean you’ll always meet them.  When setting up your plan of attack, it is important to realize that sometimes things go wrong.  One of your co-workers may call in sick, the copier might break down in the middle of a large print job, or bad weather might trap your supplier out of town.

You can’t prepare for every eventuality, but you can set up a Plan B in case of common problems.  This is often as simple as having alternate companies’ phone numbers on hand or making sure someone knows how to do a task if someone else is sick.  Occasionally, something is going to happen and you won’t meet a deadline, but you can still make this a rare occasion.

When managing a team, always set their deadlines well before the deadline for the final project.  Even if someone does exceptional work, you may end up with a bad final product because you were in a rush to get everything together.  If the people you work with spend a lot of time procrastinating, you may just want to set a deadline they need to have it done by and leave it at that.  If they don’t know the final project deadline, it may get their part to you sooner.  

For a team to meet a deadline, the leader needs to be involved in the entire process.  No, they don’t need to check up on everyone every step of the way, but they do need to see if everyone is on schedule and if they have any problems.  Often people will try to handle it themselves when they hit a snag, delaying their part and possibly the whole project.

When you’ve met a big deadline, reward yourself and your team with some kind of treat.  Depending on your options and on the importance of the deadline, it could be something big, like a group outing, or something small liking bringing in bagels one morning.  If you have something to look forward to, you’ll be more likely to get things done on time.  Plus, this will give everyone the energy boost to get started on your next big project.

To Track Time or Not?

Virtual Assistants need to have an effective and accurate time tracking system in place. It’s easy, but it can get out of control if you let it.

‘Losing time’ can not only set your schedule behind, lead to disorganization and late night catch-up, but it can also impact your revenue if you forget to bill for work done.

Here are a few answers to those questions you have about time tracking:

Why should I track my time?

First of all, because you need to know how you are spending your day. How much of your time is being spent on billable work? Non billable work? Wasted time? Things you dislike doing?

If you write it all down, it will be easier to assess where you can make adjustments to make your business more profitable .. and more fun too!

Also, as you start to get busier, the day can disappear right before your eyes. You want to be sure you are not losing out on billable time simply because you didn’t write it down.

When should I track my time?clock

Every day, every minute.

There are resources (see a few below) that can help you do this by using stopwatch to stop and start a timeclock, or you can do it the old fashioned way by writing it down.

I use a spiral notebook and record every task I do every day (even breaks, lunch, and my own business stuff). By using a spiral notebook, I have a record for every day. I transfer my written notes into my time tracking program for billing.

How should I record tasks?

In whatever way makes the most sense to you … whatever is easiest for you.

If you choose a complicated system or one that confuses you, you will run into trouble more than once.

My system is simple … I write my clients’ initials at the beginning of each line, and I record the task item I took care of for them beside it. I indicate the time I worked during the day. I record one task per line in my book for easy reference, and for easy transition to my time tracking program.

In my time tracking program, I have each client set up with their rate and I also have individual tasks set up for all of the things I do. I enter each client’s name and their task and the length of time I worked on it.

At the end of the month, I run my reports and can provide the detail if the client wants it.

I charge my clients on retainer (or by project rate) – I don’t need to track my time, do I?

Of course you do! What if your client goes over your budgeted time… or is way under? Even if you are working with someone on a project rate, it’s important to keep track of the hours you are putting in.

When you decide to revisit your rate package (which you should do often!) you will have an exact measure of how long projects are taking you to do.

If you are working with someone on retainer, it’s good to be able to keep a detailed list of what you worked on for them at the end of their retainer term.

Recording your time is helpful in both of these situations.

Any of these questions are easily answered just by developing a great system to keep track of how you are spending your time.

There are all kinds of resources out there (some free, some paid) that can help you manage this part of your business.

Myhours.com has a free level … it’s what I have used for years. Paymo.biz and Toggl.com are very reasonable and popular with VAs.

Freshbooks.com is a paid solution but also allows you to invoice your clients and track expenses. I use it in my business!

There are many other services and systems that you can use to track your time (just Google ‘time tracking software’ and you’ll see!). No matter which system you decide to go with, be sure that it works for you, and above all … use it! Your business, your client and your bank account will thank you!

If you need help to get your procedures in place, ask your colleagues what works best for them, or consider getting some help with yours.

And of course check out Your VA Mentor's free Time Tracking training session here!

Being Your Own Boss is So Great!

I recently hosted a free information session for Virtual Assistants.

One of the first things I ask anyone when they are thinking of starting out: why they want to start their own business.

I have heard a variety of answers to this question, but many times the answer is ‘to be my own boss’.

in-chargeWhen I start to work with someone as their coach, I ask them to look deeper into that statement. Why do you want to be your own boss?

There are always more underlying reasons that simply because you want to.

And we often talk about needed to understand WHY you want to be in business for yourself. Because some days are hard, and some decisions are hard.

Some days you will find yourself wondering if it’s worth it.

So why not start your whole business by considering that WHY, and building on it?

Why do you want to be your own boss? Think of the actual reasons.

Because it’s GREAT to be your own boss – for lots of reasons!

Here are some I have heard through discussions with other VAs:

1. I get to make my own decisions (good or bad!)
2. I can manage my own schedule.
3. I can manage my own workload.
4. I can choose the people who I want to work with.
5. I can decide which services I want to offer.
6. I can make time to fit in the other things I want to do in my life: kids’ field trips, travel, holidays, etc.

These are the normal responses that I hear.

Here are a few additional ones that you may not have thought of.

7. I get to decide what I charge, and how much money I make.
8. I get to claim some of my expenses on my taxes.
9. I don’t have to answer to anyone.
10. I can hire my own staff!
11. I can take a vacation any time I want!
12. I can make as much or as little money as I want to, anytime.

Being your own boss is a huge responsibility, but when you look at the advantages, it sure makes it easier to handle those tough days.

When you approach your business with a CEO mindset (you are not an employee, you are the owner and Chief Executive Officer of your own business), you will work better with your clients.

You will set boundaries and procedures to make things clear for everyone who works with you. Everything just becomes … easier.

Being the boss is great, as long as you act like one!

For more information about getting your VA business started, visit www.canadianava.org/va-training/

How to Find Great Clients

newcustomers

 

Being self-employed is extremely rewarding. It can also be a challenge.

Often the difference is the type of client you have.

The better your clients are, the more rewarding your business feels and the happier you are.

So, doesn't it makes sense to create a strategy to find great clients?

Of course it does!

Here are a few tactics to consider.

Network

One of the best ways to find people you enjoy working with is to meet them by networking - either local or online.

Sometimes you click right away with another business owner.

A simple, “I’d love to see how we can work together” may end up producing profitable results for years to come.

Networking both online and off is a fantastic way to find great clients.

In fact, you will likely find that networking is the best source of ideal clients for your VA business.

Spread the Word

Put the word out about your business.

Let your friends, family and associates know that you’re looking to add two or three quality clients to your schedule. (make sure they know what you do!)

You might be surprised at what you find.

You may end up with more quality clients than you have time for.

Referrals

When you find clients that you enjoy working with, ask them for referrals.

People tend to be attracted to like-minded individuals and clients referred from existing clients tend to be of the same caliber. In short, good clients refer good clients.

And often if you are working with a client you love, you learn quickly about their industry - and where more great clients are not far behind.

Consider offering a referral program for your business. Reward customers for their referrals by giving them a credit towards their own work, or even a gift card or a small gift. (I love Send Out Cards brownies!). Let them know you appreciate their referrals.

Partnerships

Consider forging partnerships with other business owners that you enjoy working with.

For example, if you’re a virtual assistant who provides social networking management you might partner with someone who creates social networking graphics.

Together you could offer a complete social networking package.

Before You Begin Searching For More Great Clients

There are a few steps to take before you begin searching for more VA clients. Taking these steps will ensure you’re attracting the type of client you want. It’ll also make sure you can accommodate their needs.

1. Make sure you have room in your schedule for them. If not, consider eliminating some of clients or tasks from your calendar. You want to make sure you can meet the needs of your new clients.

2. Identify exactly what you want in a client. What makes a client great to work with? What are you looking for? Are they easy to communicate with? Do they provide minimum instruction? Do they pay well? Define what makes a good client.

3. Take steps to make sure that your existing clients and any new clients know how much you appreciate them. Create a customer appreciation strategy. Finding those great clients is only the first step. You want to make sure to keep them too.

Finding great clients isn’t difficult.

Know what you’re looking for.

Don’t hesitate to ask for new clients.

Pay attention to the service you provide.

A good VA client can stick with you for years.

It’s worth the time and effort to show your appreciation.

Just Do It!

Steps to your Goals

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Do you have a wish list of things you want to get done in your business?

If you don’t, you should. You should have a list of short term and long term goals, and an even bigger strategy for your wish list.

If you do have a list, stop now and have a look at it.

How are you doing with developing or implementing the things you need to get done?

If you’re like me, you probably have a lot of things on the list. Maybe you don’t even know where to start.

I say, start at the beginning!

Just pick something … anything (something small would be best to start!) and get it
done.

Maybe you want to set up a blog.

Maybe you want to start a newsletter.

Maybe you want to update the content on your website.

Maybe you want to sign 3 new clients over the next month.

Whatever it is, just do it!

Set a workable plan in place. Give yourself deadlines and then make a list of what you will need to do to get it done.

If you’re not sure what you need to do, get help from someone who knows.

You will not believe the excitement (and relief!) that you will get by finishing something
that will make your business better.

And once you do one little thing, and bring it to completion, you can move onto the next
thing.

Here’s a little checklist for you:

1. Decide what you want to do.

2. Decide when you need to have it done.

3. Put that date on your calendar.

4. Determine the steps you need to complete your goal.

5. Determine when you need to complete each step so that you can do it in the proper order, or in the proper stages.

6. Put those dates on your calendar.

7. Look at your deadline dates and make sure that they are reasonable and logical, and that you have time to do the pieces you need to do.

8. Make sure your deadline dates are short enough to create some urgency, but not so much that you are working intensely (or you may find that you will drop the ball if you miss one!)

9. Tell someone what you are doing, and ask them to help you stay accountable to complete it.

10. Hang your calendar where you can see it, and work towards your goal,

Getting things done is just a matter of making them a priority on your calendar, and then knowing the steps you need to go through to get them completed.

It’s a process each time, and once you go through it once, you will find that it’s easy, and you will be able to implement the same procedure for everything you do. Just do it!

Ten Ways to Show Customers You Care

client careIf you talk to most customers, they're not really that happy with how they're treated by most businesses that they have to work with. It seems as if good customer service is a dying art. But, as a business owner, don't think for one moment that good customer service doesn't matter. Good customer care pays for itself. Here are ten ways to show your customers that you care.

1. Loyalty Discounts - You often see new customer discounts, but what about giving your long-term customers a loyalty discount? If just once a year you offer a few items at a deep discount to customers who have been with you at least six months, it will go far in making them feel as if you care about them.

2. Thank You Notes - Writing thank you notes seems to have gone out of vogue, but you'd be shocked at how much a nice handwritten note will mean to your customers. You will stand out to them and next time they need your products or services, they'll think of that note.

3. Remembering Special Days - If you've collected information on your customers such as birthdays, anniversaries or other special days, drop them a card in the mail. It's also a good time to give them a birthday discount.

4. Referral Rewards - Your happy customers will likely tell others about you anyway, but why not encourage the process by offering referral rewards. You can offer a percent off future services or a free gift; it's up to you. All will be appreciated.

5. Prompt Service - Another way to make your customers feel cared for is to offer very prompt service. Treat their work as if it's your sole priority and get it done on time or early. They will notice how you treat them.

6. Going the Extra Mile - You've heard the saying to "under promise and over deliver" before, but it cannot be said enough. If you can go the extra mile for your loyal customers, they will notice. Even if it's just something really small, they'll notice and feel cared for.

7. Personal Service - Don't treat your customers like an account number. Call them by name, and personalize all correspondence to them. By simply calling clients by their name, and making each service you provide feel special, your customers will definitely feel cared about.

8. Ask for Feedback - People love giving their opinions about things. But, often they will not do it if they're not asked. At least quarterly, send your customers a survey to ask them how you're doing and how you can do better. Then, if possible, implement something suggested.

9. Pay Attention to Detail - Very small details often go unnoticed by workers, but not by clients. If you pay attention to the small things, they'll notice - even if the small thing you paid attention to has nothing to do with the work. Perhaps you noticed an article in the paper about your client. Clip it, congratulate them, and mail it.

10. Be a Resource - Sometimes we can't be all to our clients. They need something we cannot deliver. Therefore instead of just saying no, say yes by recommending someone who can give your client what they need. When you become a resource to your clients, they'll become loyal to you because they know you care about more than the almighty dollar.

People have so many other options available to them today that they really don't have to patronize your business. Remember that customers can and will go elsewhere if they are not happy. It costs a lot more money to find a new customer than to keep one. Therefore, you should go out of your way to keep good customers happy by showing them that you care.

Fear Is Good ... Here's Why.

Guest Post by Tina Forsyth
www.OnlineBusinessManager.com

Fear is getting a bad rap.

Fear is often the reason a virtual support professional does NOT do something … versus the reason for them TO DO something.

Would you agree? As a Virtual Assistant, freelancer or other virtual support professional, you likely experienced some fear when you decided to officially open your business doors.

For me, fear is a big indicator that I need to do something. If I’m scared, it means I most likely need to go in that direction.

My personal believe is, that as human beings, we are meant to grow. We are meant to take on new stuff. Learning new things, supporting clients in new roles and new challenges – it’s natural to feel fear when you step into these areas – especially when you haven’t explored them before.

Fear itself can take many different forms, and will vary by individual and situation. Here are a few fears that many virtual support professionals face”: 

  • fear of looking like a fool 
  • fear of losing money 
  • fear of not making money 
  • fear of upsetting people close to you 
  • fear of not knowing if you can do what you want to do… etc.

Which of these can you relate to?

My previous mentor David Neagle calls this the “terror barrier”. The “terror barrier” is a natural part of life and growth.

We all come up against our own terror barriers – especially in business. And we have to decide whether we want to work through them or run away.

A word of caution - even if you run away from those terror barriers, they will follow you. And the longer they follow you, the bigger they get – darn them!

So, you may as well face the fear … right?

I’ve done my fair share of having to ‘stare fear in the eye’ and put plainly, it can suck at times.

For example, a few years ago when I decided to sign up to work with a mentor, that was a HUGE fear moment for me. I was terrified to take that step, as I knew it was a commitment to me and my business to play a bigger game. Quite honestly I didn’t know if I could do it.

Want to know what thoughts crossed my mind? You might be able to relate

  • Who am I to create a super cool and thriving biz?
  • What if I fail and lose oodles of money?
  • What if I suck at it and people point and laugh at me?
  • And many more other crazy thoughts

Here’s what I believe: Fear is an invitation. It’s an invitation for us to learn a lesson.

Whatever it is that we fear, there’s a gift waiting for you on the other side … but only if you’re willing to step into it. If you don’t step into it, you don’t get the gift. It’s as simple as that.

Facing fear is like building a muscle, the more we do it the more we are able to do it.

Fear doesn’t always get easier as there is always a s-t-r-e-t-c-h required when facing fear (and it can be uncomfortable!). However, I do believe that half the battle is actually resisting our fear – running away takes a lot of energy! If you stop resisting fear and instead step into it then the entire process could be much less painful in the long run.

Fear acronym positiveNow, when I reach that that “eek!” moment – that nauseous feeling in the pit of my stomach – I know it’s something that I need to do. This is the main indicator for me of what I need to do next in my business.

When was the last time you did something that scared the pants off of you?

What is it that you are most afraid of doing right now, in this moment, for you and your business? Please share your comments … I really would love to know.

Breaks Increase Productivity

take a break

Are you working and working but just can't seem to focus and get stuff done?  You might even be considering seeing a doctor, but the solution may be much more simple than that - just take a break.  Taking short ten minute breaks throughout the day can help you refocus and re-energize so you're more productive once you get back to work.  

Scientists and psychologists have actually done many studies that show how effective breaks can be.  In fact, many large businesses have now started adopting break times into the course of the regular day.  Employees are actually paid to sit at their desk and read, research topics they enjoy on the Internet, and do other things that interest them.  It's been shown that allowing these breaks actually increases productivity and employee satisfaction enough to compensate for the lost time plus some.  

To get the most good out of your breaks, try making your activities something that will help increase production when you return to work, rather than something that simply distracts you.  Some great options include aerobic activity or relaxation exercises.  They'll clear your mind, while producing chemicals in your body that will boost concentration when you get back to work.

If physical exercise isn't your thing, or you just don't have the chance to do it at work, there are other things you can do to relax and clear your mind so you can get back to work.  Meditation or other breathing exercises only take a few minutes, but can help you feel better mentally and physically.  Not only does it help you focus, it can also lower your blood pressure and help reduce the physical signs of stress.

The biggest danger in taking breaks is not getting back to work when the break is done.  A lot of people will try to skip breaks because they're afraid they won't get back to work and the work won't get done.  But when you skip breaks, you can significantly decrease productivity and actually end up getting less work done.  The key is setting a time limit to your breaks and sticking to them.  If you have trouble, try setting a timer when you take a break, or having someone back you up by making sure you get back to work.

If you've been pushing too hard and have reached burnout, a ten minute break just isn't going to be enough.  If you are finding yourself feeling sick, tired, and only ever in a negative mood, especially about work, you are probably burnt out by work.  In this case, you not only need to incorporate short breaks into your day, you also need to alter your how and when you work and may even need an extended vacation.

Breaks are an easy and effective way to increase your results and become more successful with very little effort.

How To Prove You Are the *Right* Person For the Job

Guest Post By Tina Forsyth www.OnlineBusinessManager.com

Over the last years I’ve spoken with a lot of business owners who are searching for a new virtual team member. One of the questions I get asked all the time is “Tina, how do I know if the person I’m hiring can actually do the job.”

Young Woman Working at Home, Small OfficeToo often, business owners jump into a relationship with a new virtual support professional after just two brief conversations. After a few short weeks, things start to crumble – leaving the business owner (1) unsure of how and why things started to crumble and (2) feeling a little ‘gun shy’ about working with virtual support professionals moving forward.

So how can you, the Virtual Assistant, freelancer, virtual support professional of any kind, prove that you are the BEST person for the ‘job’ and are worth hiring? If you feel confident in your skills and abilities, you know you’re great at what you do AND you can clearly and concisely communicate this – you will make it super easy for clients to make a decision to hire you.

Here are three things you can do that will help you prove that you’re “the one”:

Get Testimonials

Most virtual support professionals don’t do this enough. When you do great work for your clients, ask them for a testimonial that you can post on your website and use in other marketing materials.

Here’s a tip to make it super easy: Draft the testimonial on behalf of your client and give it to them to edit. Business owners will often have a tough time coming up with a testimonial from scratch … but if they have something to edit, they will realize what they really want to share.

Keep Track of Your Own Successes

What successes have you helped your clients create? Those are your own successes as well, and are proof of your contribution to the business.
Keep track of these successes so that you can share these stories/examples when talking to new clients. If you offer visual/graphic services, create a portfolio of your work so people can see what you do.

This exercise is also a great confidence builder for YOU. You will likely be surprised (and very proud) to see how much you actually contribute to the success of your clients.

Date Your Clients First

There is no better way to prove yourself then to actually jump in and do some work for the client.

Offer to help out with a project before you commit to a longer working relationship -- I call this ‘dating’ the client. Make it clear that in the dating stage there are no strings attached – either you or the client can decide to discontinue at any time during the dating stage without any hard feelings.

If things go well, you can both jump into a longer term relationship with confidence.

By implementing these three simple steps, you will not only boost your own confidence, but also the confidence of the business owners you want to work with.

I’d love to hear from you – what else can you do or have you done to prove that you are great at what you do and are worth hiring? Please share your thoughts.