How a VA can make you a better networker

For the last few weeks I’ve been talking about how a VA can be a huge help when it comes to sorting out an overwhelmed inbox. This week I thought I’d look at other ways an extra pair of hands might be able to help you run your business more efficiently.

Let’s look at networking, one of my favourite things about being a business owner.

One thing many people struggle with is making the most of their networking activities. It’s all very well finding the time to actually attend a networking meeting either weekly or fortnightly, but doing it right can be all too time consuming for some.

Networking isn’t simply about showing up and passing business cards around. You need to take the time to think about what it is you want to say – you only have 60 seconds to get your point across and make people remember you. Equally, you also need to commit to the follow up. If you’re not going to make the most of any connections or leads that have come your way, you’re totally wasting your time rocking up to an event in the first place.

I have one client who attends, on average, six networking events a week. All, bar one, are morning meetings which he likes because he can get them out of the way before most people have started in the office. However, he came to the realisation that he wasn’t keeping on top of everything effectively, which meant he was essentially wasting his time, and money, by going to all these different events.

In order to help reduce the strain on his time, and ensure that he is being as efficient as possible with his networking activities we have put a few things in place.

60 Seconds

Once a month we have a 10 minute phone call to brainstorm ideas and catch up on what’s been happening in his business. From this chat, and from my general day to day knowledge of what he’s been up to, I am able to write his 60 seconds/elevator pitches for him to use.

He prides himself on not using the same information over and over again, as he wants to keep things interesting for the rest of the people in the room. Thankfully I have a great system set up whereby I know what he has said in which group, and when so there is not likely to be any repetition.

CRMs

When a new member joins one of his groups, or a visitor has attended, he will send me a picture of their business card via WhatsApp. I will then add their details in to his CRM system, along with information of what meeting they attended, if they have been before and if he has set up a one to one meeting with them.

One to Ones

Before you think it, no, I do not attend one to one’s on his behalf! We did talk about it once, and I managed to talk him out of it. However, what I will do is liaise with people to book the one to one’s in the first place, and send confirmation of the appointment once it has been made.

He then records his one to one meetings on his iPhone, and sends me the audio which I will transcribe. From this I complete a “file note” for him, which will be attached to the individual’s record on his CRM and forwarded to them as well. This is to allow them to confirm that he has understood precisely what they do in their business and what sort of opportunities or referrals they are looking for.

I will then add their details in to a database so that in 11 months we will make contact again to arrange another one to one.

Referrals

When he is handed a referral or lead he will always pass me the details so that I can make the initial contact. I will find out precisely what is required, and pass over any information that the prospect needs to be able to make a decision.

If a meeting needs to be arranged, I will schedule it.

From there, the client handles everything else himself.

This is an approach that works perfectly for him, but might not be ideal for everyone. However, I hope it gives you some idea of how outsourcing some tasks could take the pressure off you, and allow you to be more efficient at work.

If you want to have a chat about how you could improve things in your office, why not give me a call on 0161 883 2024 or email lu@timesavingheroes.co.uk

Case Study: Email and Diary Management

Over the last few weeks I’ve been talking about how you can outsource your inbox to a Virtual Assistant, as well as providing top tips for how to better manage your email yourself. This week I wanted to give you an example of the work I do for one of my clients, and how it’s helped.

Jon runs a hugely successful property management business in Essex. To keep his overheads low he runs a virtual office, with the vast majority of tasks associated with the business either being undertaken by himself and his wife, or outsourced to experts.

He has a marketing firm handle all of his branding and social media, his wife Reenie manages the admin, a bookkeeper comes in twice a month and then there’s me. I’m in charge of Jon’s email and calendar.

So, what exactly do I do?

Although Jon has his own email, only the members of his team know what it is. Every other email comes to the generic “office” email address, which I manage. On an average day we can receive anywhere between 50 and 120 emails per day.

My job is to whittle this number down significantly. Ideally to less than 10.

Every morning I therefore filter the emails and delete any obvious spam. Any newsletters that might be useful in terms of content production I forward to the marketing team, and then delete.

I then answer any obvious queries, for example, requests for information on when work will be completed, or a property will become available again. The answers are all easy to find, thanks to the processes we have already put in place, and it just takes a few minutes to grab what I need and send it over to the enquirer.

Next I focus on meeting requests. These can be 121’s from his various networking activities, meetings with existing landlords or new ones, property visits etc. To save email exchanges taking place I tend to pick up the phone and call people to book them in there and then. There is nothing worse than suggesting a time and date, only for Jon to have filled that slot himself in the time it’s taken the person I am speaking to to get back to me.

Finally, I forward directly to Jon any emails I am unable to deal with myself. Usually these will simply be brand new contacts or potential prospects, as he always likes to be the first contact. Over the last two years, I have never sent him more than 8 emails in one day. Everything else I save him from, which saves him an insane amount of time each day.

The process is repeated during the late afternoon, at which point I also check his calendar and confirm any appointments he has for the next day to avoid wasted time.

Where necessary I also arrange travel, both domestic and international, and send invitations to his database for viewings and any events he is speaking at.

The time he saves in not having to deal with the mundane day-to-day management of his inbox is worth far more than what he pays me to deal with it on a daily basis. He’d be the first to admit that he was sceptical about it all at first, but after working with each other for a few weeks, we got in to a great routine, and he’s never looked back. Most people know that it’s me they’re going to be hearing from, and none of them realise I am not based in the same area (though, my accent probably helps out with this a bit).

 

If you want to find out whether outsourcing your email could bring benefit to you and your business, please give me a call on 0161 883 2024, email lu@timesavingheroes.co.uk or send me an InMail. I am always happy to discuss your options, or provide tips to help.

Ask Me Why I Love My Job

Every week I write a blog about what it means to be a Virtual Assistant, how you can use one to benefit your business, and what you can outsource to one.  This week though I thought I would do a piece on why I love being a VA.  To be honest, there’s a bunch of reasons but here are my top 3.

# 1 – The clients

Anyone who has ever worked with me in any of my many customer service roles will probably find this a bizarre thing for me to say, but I love my clients.

I’ve always been quite infamous for my dislike of customers (FYI, they are NEVER right when you work in retail), and I’ve never tried to hide this fact from employers (or customers, for that matter).

However, there is something very different about the people I work with and for these days.

My clients are professional business people, they are driven, they are enthusiastic and they are forward-thinking.  Yes, there are some exceptions to those rules and I have come across a whole new level of not nice people (trust me, those are not the words I am using in my head) but generally speaking, my clients are all kinds of ace.

One of the best things though is the fact that I get to work with them over time, which means you can build genuine relationships with them.  Whilst I do offer an ad hoc service, and sometimes it may be months between working with someone, over the years you build rapport and you get to know them, their families and their interests.

I may work alone, quietly from my office, but I definitely feel like I am a big part of their team, and I adore that.

# 2 – The variety

Being a VA means you have a tendency to take on a wide number of roles for different people.  For some clients I just manage their email, for others I do research, book venues, source suppliers, do data entry or chase outstanding invoices.

On top of the regular work I do for people, I get random requests from one-off clients, or people who only plan to use me for one task.  The things I get asked to do can range from the mundane to the downright bizarre, and I love the sheer variety.  I never know what’s going to land in my inbox from one day to the next, and I think that’s quite exciting.

The most bizarre thing I’ve been asked?  Well, that’s a whole other blog!

# 3 – The challenge

Being an assistant of any kind is a challenge, being a VA is even more so.  Some of my clients I have never met face-to-face, in fact, some I’ve never even had a telephone conversation with, we just communicate via email.  That can be a huge challenge in some ways, especially when you consider how easily things can be misconstrued in text format.

Equally, juggling the various demands of multiple clients, all of whom have different deadlines to work to and (rightly) expect to be your priority is difficult, to say the least. However, I thrive on that level of challenge, and no, I don’t always get it right, but the vast majority of the time I do.  Most importantly, I learn from the times that I don’t.

On top of just doing my job, I am actually running my business, which means I have my own invoices to send and debts to chase, research to do and marketing to stay on top of.  I think that makes me well placed to genuinely understand the time pressures my clients are going through, and at times that means we find ourselves lamenting just how bloody hard it all is over a glass (or three) of wine.

Top Tips for Managing your Email

I recently wrote about outsourcing your email management to a VA, and why this can be hugely beneficial. While I am a great advocate of this approach, I am also a realist and I know for many people this is just not something they can consider, let alone get on board with.

With that in mind I thought it might be an idea to share some of my tips for getting on top of the Inbox Hell so you can work towards Inbox Zero.

# 1 – Set limits

If any of you have emailed me over the last few weeks you will have noticed I have an auto-responder set. Essentially it explains that my inbox is not monitored constantly, and is instead checked at specific periods throughout the day.

I find this is a great way to manage other people’s expectations. Some people when they send an email, expect an answer immediately; however, others are happy to wait up to 24 hours. For the largest part it depends on the precedent you have set, but also the urgency of the email itself.

Personally I find checking my inbox repeatedly throughout the day is a huge distraction. It is also a great way to procrastinate. If I have a task I don’t want to do, or am struggling with for some reason, you can bet anything I will just hit refresh to see if anything has snuck in that demands my attention. Nine times out of ten, even if it isn’t urgent, I will deal with the new email before tackling the task I’m avoiding.

Even I have my imperfections it would seem!

I know I can’t just change the way I am, so I have to remove the temptation full stop. Instead of spending a day with my inbox open (and therefore easily accessible) I close it throughout the day, and only open it at my pre-specified times.

This can be a great way to ensure your inbox doesn’t rule you, though I admit it can take some getting used to. How often you choose to check your inbox, and when those times are, will greatly depend on you. I have opted for three – early morning, mid-day and approximately 4pm. These times might work for you, or you might prefer to add in a couple of extra ones as well.

The point is, allow yourself time away from your email so you are not being dictated to constantly, or distracted by new requests.

# 2 – Introduce “One Click”

If you have adopted tip 1 you have suddenly drastically reduced the amount of time you have to spend on emails per day. This means you have to be far more efficient when it comes to actually dealing with them.

Over the years I’ve found many people handle their inbox very badly. They will open it up, see a number of new emails and then proceed to browse; perhaps opening a few, reading them, and then moving on to the next one. They might even hop around, cherry picking what they want to focus on. This is a complete waste of time as nothing is being dealt with, which means, at some point, you will have to go back and re-read an email to actually action it.

Stop the madness!

The One Click approach is simply that. Open an email and then click on just one of these buttons – reply, delete or archive/move.

Force yourself to do something with that email.

Does it warrant a reply? If so, provide it there and then. If it’s not your job to handle it, then forward it to whoever it is and CC the original sender in. Get it out of your inbox and in to someone else’s.

Is it simply for information purposes? Is it junk? Is it completely irrelevant? Then delete it! Just get rid of it and move on.

Maybe it’s not something you need this second, but will do later, in which case archive it. Hopefully you will have suitable folders set up so that you can assign such information to the right client, job, category etc. so it’s easy to locate at a later date.

# 3 – Keep it short and sweet

This is actually my favourite tip, and it concerns what to do when you are replying to an email.

Keep your reply as short as possible. In an ideal world, no more than three sentences! If your response is likely to be wordy, and therefore time consuming to produce, you are better picking up the phone and having an actual conversation. Remember those?

Not only is a lengthy response difficult for you to compose, it is also difficult for the recipient to read. Long emails tend to be skip-read, which means important information is lost, and valuable time is wasted. Why take all that time for no benefit?

Complex scenarios and concepts are often much better explained in real time, via an actual conversation. You are then better placed to answer specific questions as and when they pop up, and clarify anything in more detail if required. If you don’t have the time to explain it there and then, make an appointment for either a telephone or face to face meeting.

Get off the email merry-go-round and take back control.

Hope these help, feel free to let me know how you get on, or if you have any tips of your own that help you stay on top of your inbox!

Social Media Platforms: The Pros and Cons

Over the last few weeks I’ve been giving you top tips on trying to find the ideal social media platform for you to launch your digital marketing. I think I’ve made it pretty clear during this time that you’re unlikely to just randomly stumble on the perfect mix – it is something that takes time and will require your attention.

That said, in true Time Saving Heroes style, I have pulled together some quick fire bits of information about various platforms to help you make your decision.

Facebook

Started in 2004 Facebook has the benefit of being a real powerhouse in the digital world. As a result they are a real leader when it comes to innovation and listening to their users. Incidentally, reports indicate there are 1.65 billion active users of Facebook per month, so there’s a good chance your audience will be logging on at some point.

Thanks to how long it’s been operating it’s likely that most people will have a personal account, which means it can be a great place for someone to launch their business presence from. Business pages operate in much the same way as personal pages, and are all pretty intuitive. New features and options are always being added, and you can now include live video and information on particular products and services.

However, over the years Facebook has become more of a pay-to-play space, with businesses being subjected to an increasingly complicated algorithm for generating reach. If you don’t have a lot of money to spend on targeted ad’s or don’t want to constantly test out best posting times etc then Facebook may not be for you.

Equally, if your primary audience are teens or millennials, then you may find that they are starting to head elsewhere these days. Younger audience appear to be preferring to use Instagram and Snapchat instead.

Twitter

Slightly younger than Facebook, Twitter still has a wealth of experience and lots to offer. However, while it is growing as an ad platform, the algorithm timeline means you are likely to end up experiencing the same drop in reach as counterparts do on Facebook.

That said, it is a fantastic platform to use if you want to provide instant updates and keep people involved and up to speed with a particular event or product launch. The one drawback may be that user numbers are stalling compared to other networks, and those who are new to the platform don’t necessarily hang around.

Instagram

When you think of Instagram, you immediately think of photos – which makes it a fantastic place to go if you have a visually appealing product to sell. Great content can gain almost instant traction and huge levels of engagement, helping you to reach your audience.

However, as with other networks, algorithms are likely to have an impact on future performance, and increased advertising is sure to see organic posts falling when it comes to reach.

LinkedIn

The oldest social network site of the bunch, LinkedIn is the go to place for professionals, and entirely dominates this space. It is a fantastic place to make genuine business connections and seek out thought leaders in your industry.

However, low numbers of users are actually active (in comparison to other platforms), and as such you often need to post content multiple times to ensure it is seen. The down side is that LinkedIn can become very time consuming, though the rewards for genuine interaction and relationship building are undoubtedly worth it.

 

Pinterest

My personal problem with Pinterest is how addictive it is, but then, that is kind of the point. From a marketing perspective it is a great place to target women, even though it is starting to gain more traction with male audiences.

The ability to add a Buy Now button is fantastic for direct commerce, however, it is essential you have quality photographs of products, and may need to spend money on a commercial photographer. The site can also be a bit confusing at first, and does not lend itself well to those who want a quick-fire way of reaching people.

 

Snapchat

As mentioned previously, Snapchat is becoming increasingly popular with younger audiences, so if this is your target, you’d be daft not to consider this platform. However, it can take some getting used to and the downside is that it can be very hard to track the actual performance of snaps, so you’re never quite sure whether what you’re doing is working.

While content curators are moving in to this space, and will continue to do so, it’s fair to say that Snapchat does still have quite the reputation for being a sexting app.