Our core skills and services

I recently wrote a piece on questions I think you ought to ask a Virtual Assistant before you contemplate hiring them.  Now’s probably a good time to start thinking about answering some of those questions myself, so you can get an idea as to whether Time Saving Heroes is the right partner for your business.

We might as well start at the beginning, so today I will be answering “What are your core skills and services?”

Organisation

Once upon a time I had a reputation for being completely disorganised.  I never handed my homework in on time (in fact, I rarely did it), I could barely remember what class I was meant to be in, I never had the right books with me and I’d invariably be late if I had to be anywhere.

Over the years it’s safe to say a few things have changed.  Yes, I grew up but also life experiences have meant I’ve learnt how to manage my time, and myself better.  The biggest catalyst for that’s probably becoming a parent.

Having five children definitely means you’ve got to be on the ball.  You have to know who needs what, where they need to be and when and how to predict disasters before they happen.

To say I’m quite organised these days is an understatement, and it’s definitely one of my core skills.

That means I’m able to prioritise my workload, ensuring a client’s tasks will get done, even if I have other clients I need to complete work for.

Logical

I’ve always been a details person, and that’s one of the reasons I ended up doing a Forensic Science degree. I am a scientific thinker. I enjoy being logical, and approaching things methodically. Give me a mess to sort out, and I’ll tackle it sensibly and get the job done.

It also means that I’m able to stay calm under pressure (again, the kids helped with that training) and pass this on to clients.  If they’re flapping or stressing about something, I can usually talk them down and get them to think about things calmly too.

Passionate

I’m really passionate about what I do because I love seeing other businesses thrive.  That’s my “why” in many ways.  I want a client to come on board, and whilst they’re working with me to see the impact it’s having.

That passion means that if you care about your business, your products, your customers then I’m going to.  I’ll care as much as you do. Like you, I will wake at 2am in the morning and have that wonderful idea that I simply have to write down.

You really do get so much more than simply someone who can do admin.

Social media and content

I absolutely love being creative, and adore writing. Anything that requires me to put thoughts and ideas down is really going to get me engaged, and that’s why content writing and social media are one of my core services.

I love doing them, and I’m good at them so it makes sense it’s the sort of thing I’m going to plug as much as possible.

Equally though I love inspiring other people to get involved.  I haven’t met anyone who couldn’t handle their own social media (apart from those who don’t have the time). Therefore showing someone how to do it, getting them to think about their own business and what they can post, and then seeing them let loose on it all really gives me a happy.

Virtual Assistance

Any aspect of VA work really interests me too. It’s a great way to see behind the scenes of a business and make a huge impact. No, maybe sending out invoices isn’t the most thrilling thing in the world, but it’s essential for cashflow. It has to be done, and contributing to the health of a business is a wonderful feeling.

I take a lot of pleasure out of establishing what needs to be done, making a list and then working my through it.

Maybe that makes me sad, but it also makes me a good VA.

 

 

 

It’s not about the money, money, money

When I was younger I had a number of customer facing jobs. For the largest part, I loved them; however, the downside was often the customer. Despite what they tell you at Front of House School, the customer is not always right. In fact, the reality is, on occasion, the customer is just a pain in the proverbial.

As is often the case when you are a lowly waitress, retail assistant or bar maid it is easy to imagine what it might be like doing a job where you aren’t directly at the coal face, having to put up with people’s bad moods and attitudes. Of course, it doesn’t take long to realise that actually, no matter where you are in the hierarchy, the chances are you’re going to have to put up with someone’s sh!t. That’s employment.

So then, when you decide to embrace the life of the self-employed bod, it can be tempting to think you’ve finally broken free of the shackles, and you really can tell people where to go if you feel like it. Of course, you can even if you are employed, though it’s safe to say you’re unlikely to be welcomed back for your next shift (and yes, there does speak to the voice of experience).

My point is, when you run your own business you can be forgiven for thinking, initially, that you are completely autonomous; but you’re not. At least, not if you actually want to earn any money, which is kind of the whole point. If you want to pay the bills, you need to be able to send the invoices, which means, for at least a while, you’re going to have to take jobs where you can find them.

They might be poorly paid, not really worth it jobs; they might be too time consuming or it might be that the customer is a complete and utter [insert word of your liking here]. We’ve all been there, and that’s just one of the realities of business.

However, it doesn’t have to be for long. I remember when I just started out, a much respected client of mine told me that the ultimate goal, for him at least, was being able to cherry pick the work he did, and the people he did it for. His plan was to be in a position whereby he wanted to earn the money his clients would pay him, rather than having to earn it.

I didn’t think much of it at the time, other than being pleased his goal meant he needed an extra pair of hands, and therefore secured me a regular income stream. Now though, over three years later, I completely understand what he meant, and confess to having embraced the ideology myself.

When it comes to my clients I have one job: to make their life easier. It doesn’t matter what task they need completing – social media, content writing, credit control, research – I’m there to save them time so they can get on with the more pressing aspects of their business. And I’m damn good at my job. Not being arrogant, it’s just true.

That said, I realised while I was great at helping other people out with their time issues, I was getting bogged down in my own. I’d be chasing after potential leads I’d been passed, and spending not insignificant amounts of times warming people up. I’d go over proposals with them, sketch out complicated editorial calendars, listen to their insane to-do lists and come up with plans to help them move forward.

I invested.

After chasing and chasing I’d invariably get to the point of securing the deal, and starting work. Then, the inevitable happened. The client, who was never 100% in to begin with, didn’t engage. Therefore they didn’t see the benefit, and when cash flow became the slightest bit of an issue (which it invariably did because they weren’t actually engaging), I’d get binned.

And my invoices would go unpaid.

And my emails would go unanswered.

I am a huge fan of trusting your gut, sometimes you just get a feel that someone is going to be a bit too difficult to work with. Don’t get me wrong, I love a challenge, and I have clients who do challenge me; however, that’s because of the nature of their work, or the tasks they need me to do, not because of their attitude.

While I understand the argument that you have to be consistent and relentless in your pursuit of particular clients, I actually don’t bother myself. If you don’t want to work with me, that is fine; I have no interest in forcing you and badgering you. There are other clients who do want to work with me and they are deserving of my time, energy and efforts, so it’s no loss to me.

Laid out bear on the cold digital screen I know I may sound a little bitter and twisty, but actually it’s not about that. It’s about knowing my worth.

Do you know yours? Ask yourself, honestly, how much time do you spend chasing down things that are genuinely a waste of time at work? Maybe it’s not leads, or clients, maybe it’s using the wrong social media platform, or not automating your invoicing. Perhaps you’re spending too long managing your email, or you’re not compiling effective to do lists. Are you mis-managing your time, or taking forever to write a blog post that could easily be outsourced to someone else?

Now is as good a time as any to ensure you are using your time more productively.

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.

Now you can Tweet-Tweet with double the characters

If you’re not a huge Twitter fan, then you might not be aware that this week there’s been a major shakeup in the world of the Tweet.  The strict 140 character limit has now been replaced by a new one – you now have 280 characters in which to share your thoughts.

Twitter announced their plans to increase this limit some time ago, and a select group of users have been trialling it for the last month or so.  The logic being that people will now be able to express more of their thoughts, without running out of room.  I admit, given what some people think about and deem worthy of sharing, I remain to be convinced whether this is a good thing.

Many have taken the news quite badly, suggesting the whole point of Twitter, and its great appeal, is the brevity with which points have to be made.  Increasing the character limit will, they argue, make Tweets harder to read as there is more to get through. Not only that, but in our experience, if you give people the option to say more, they will – just because they can, not because it adds anything to the discussion.

Of course, one of the biggest complaints about the increase is that it detracts from some of the more fundamental problems with the platform.  Twitter has long been associated with rampant abuse, harassment and bullying – hooray, now people can abuse people using more words!

The limited data that has been made available from the trial sessions indicate that, once the novelty had worn off, those with access to Tweet 280 characters, tended not to go much above the original limits.  Equally, those who could Tweet slightly longer thoughts received more engagement, and spent longer on the network than other members.

It is worth noting, however, that it was a single figure percentage of overall users that were able to trial this option before today’s launch.  So I guess time will tell on this one.

Twitter’s logic appears to be with the aim of making the platform easier for newcomers to use, and I definitely think it will help.  In my experience, many businesses seem to avoid using Twitter in their social marketing mix for fear of the Tweet limitations.  With the option to say slightly more, hopefully people will find a renewed interest in engaging.

Let’s watch this space.

 

 

5 Things You Need To Do Before You Outsource Anything!

Here at Time Saving Heroes we’re clearly fans of outsourcing.  If you don’t have the time, knowledge or inclination to do something, there’s no reason why someone else can’t take it off your hands, and that someone doesn’t have to be a member of staff.

 

Outsourcing specific tasks can be a great way to keep overheads down, and remove the stress of having to actually manage a workforce. However, we also know it’s now always plain sailing.  Many of our clients have come through referrals, and most have had bad experienced with Virtual Assistants in the past.

 

How then do you make sure whoever you’re outsourcing a task to (whether it’s a HR firm, VA or web designer) is actually up to the job?  Here are Lu’s top tips to minimise heartbreak down the line.

 

#1 – Google them

This one should be pretty obvious, but if you’ve been given the name of an individual or company, actually look them up.  Ideally a search will bring them up on LinkedIn, and show their website – but what else do they have going on?

 

Hare they on Trust Pilot or any other independent review site?  Do they feature in affiliated bodies or on industry sites?  Find out as much as you can from the get go.

 

#2 – Social proof

Social media sites such as LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and Google+ are great ways to find out more about a company and/or individual.  What does their LinkedIn profile say?  Do they have any recommendations or endorsements?  What’s their approach to social media like, and do they actively get involved with other people online?

 

These are all valid questions no matter what you’re hiring for, but definitely take that in to account when looking for a self-confessed social media specialist.

 

#3 – Time management

Everyone charges differently, whether it by the hour or per job.  You need to make sure you understand your partner’s pricing structure, and how that can impact you.  If they do charge by the hour, is it full or part of?  Will they keep a timesheet so you can see precisely where that time is being spent?  If you block-book time, can you be sure that time is being used, and do you have control of how it’s used?  If you have multiple projects, will they allocate time equally, or based on urgency?  Are you in danger of 20 hours being used on one thing, and having to buy more time to get the other jobs done?

 

#4 – Payment terms

This goes for everything – find out what the payment terms are!  Don’t assume it’s 30 days, even if that’s your company standard.  Equally, ask about VAT and any other charges you might be expected to pay.

 

Are phone calls free, within reason?  Or does every single bit of contact cost you money?  Make sure you know what the score is before you sign up so as to avoid any nasty shocks down the line.

 

#5 – Sign a contract

Unexpected invoices can quickly sour relationships, so it’s important everyone knows where they stand.  You might be as good as your word, but are they?  Have a contract signed at the start so there are no arguments later on as to what was expected.

 

If they don’t have a contract as standard, run a mile!

 

 

Remember, Time Saving Heroes offers a wide range of services from content writing to social media management and invoicing to document preparation.  If there’s anything you don’t have time for, Time Saving Heroes can help.

 

Give us a call on 0161 883 2024 or email hello@timesavingheroes.co.uk

An open letter to the Door to Door Sellers of LinkedIn

Hi

I hope you’re having a great day.

My day was going great until I got an invitation to connect from you. I admit I didn’t recognise your name so I went to your profile to see if I could find out anything helpful. It turns out we have various mutual connections, and for me, that provides you with a degree of legitimacy.

So, I accepted.

I’d barely clicked “accept” before I received another notification – you’d sent me an InMail.

Now, I’m a fairly realistic individual. I know I’m awesome to be around and am generally a good person, but even I know nobody is waiting with baited breath to get in direct contact with me. The speed with which that message comes through would give most people whiplash, which tells me one thing; you’re a salesperson.

Yes, I know we’re all “salespeople”, in the strictest sense of the word – why else be on LinkedIn in the first place? However, you’re one of those salespeople.

With trepidation I open the message and yes, there it is, the generic sales pitch.

Sigh.

Within 60 seconds of accepting your request I have already removed you as a contact. OK, so it’s a minor waste of my time, and a constant source of irritation but in all honesty, I just feel sorry for you.

Despite the fact you think you’re a hot shot with your 500+ connections, I assure you, you’re doing LinkedIn all wrong.

If you have to send a generic pitch to every single new contact without actually reaching out first, then there is something wrong.

This approach is exactly the same as the person who attends a physical networking event and spends the entire time collecting business cards and talking at other people. These people don’t get invited back for a second time, and people avoid their calls. The rest of us, who have mastered the art of conversation and relationship building talk about you when you’re not there, and warn other people to stay clear.

The simple truth is we should all treat our connections like gold. The people you spend time with, whether that be in real life or the virtual world, should be your tribe. They have your back, they cheer you on, they support you and you can learn from them. They are not simply people to sell to and then spit out once you’ve got your pound of flesh.

Spamming people on LinkedIn (and yes my friend, that is exactly what you are doing) is the modern day equivalent of traditional cold calling. I’m not naïve enough to think it doesn’t work, occasionally. For every 20 people that ignore you, one might bite and with your relentless enthusiasm you may well close a deal one day. However, I assure you there is so much more to gain by playing the long game and actually remembering to be social when using social media.

LinkedIn is a fantastic platform to build relationships, whether that be from scratch or to enhance existing ones. The only way to do that is to take your time, be useful to others and always be considerate and respectful.

If you can’t manage that, be quiet. And stay the Hell out of my inbox!

What to consider before you post that photo

Generally speaking I’m a pretty mild mannered individual; however, there are some things that really bug me. For example, the other day a Facebook friend I knew from my days as a playground Mum posted a photo of her daughter online. It was a great photo, and to be honest there was nothing wrong with it – apart from the comment she attached to it.

Essentially, she had asked her daughter for a photo, despite the fact said 8 year-old child wasn’t comfortable with it because of the outfit she was wearing. The daughter had agreed, apparently reluctantly, as long as the Mum didn’t share it on social media.

And yet, here I was, looking at the photo of an uncomfortable young girl, whose privacy had clearly been violated.

I won’t lie, it made me feel physically sick and really, really angry.

Then of course I calmed down, and realised it was an opportunity to blog – and that made me happy because I like feeling inspired (and getting on my soap box).

Everyone knows that when it comes to marketing, visual content sells. As social media marketing has taken an ever stronger hold more and more businesses are finding ways to reach out to their audiences and make a bigger impact.

If you sell a product, no matter what that is, there’s plenty of opportunity for you to take photos and create content around that. To make things more personable though, you may want to showcase images of your customers or clients using your products, or even pursuing your retail store.

However, there are legal ramifications involved in doing this, and it’s really important you think about the images you are taking, who they are of and what those peoples’ rights are, before you start sharing them as part of your online marketing strategy.

Admittedly there are laws that allow you to take photographs of people in public, but it’s important to realise these laws change when the person taking the photographs represents a business. Taking a photograph of a large crowd is one thing, but that’s unlikely to be an option for smaller businesses. This means that any photographs you take are going to be of people who are easily identifiable, and people may take exception to that.

I’ve said it before, and I will no doubt say it again, but what happens on social media stays on Google forever. You might post a picture of someone once, and whilst it will temporarily be on your timeline or appear in someone’s newsfeed, it will remain online forever. If you don’t have someone’s express permission, you could be in trouble.

What you need to think about it:

If you are taking photographs of people, and you want to use these as part of any marketing efforts, then you are using them for commercial purposes.

  • Reasonable expectations of privacy – even if someone is in public, if they are having what they believe is a private moment when you unexpectedly take their picture, you may not be able to use the generic public laws when it comes to photographs.
  • Consent – to avoid any confusion, it is always best to get people’s permission before you either take, or certainly use, photographs of them for any reason. In an ideal world, ask people to sign a consent form which you can keep as part of your ongoing records.

If you want to avoid any potential snags with customer photographs, there are some other options you can consider:

  • Why not set up a selfie board in store, and encourage your customers to come and have their photographs taken? You could enter them in to a prize draw so they could win something if they do.
  • Ask customers to send in photographs of them using your products on specific social media channels. Make sure they tag your account, and identify a specific # for them to use. This will help increase exposure as well.
  • If you want to avoid all legal pitfalls, why not just hire a photographer to take images of your products? You could even use images of your staff at work, and having a great time (as long as you have their permission first, of course).