Friday, 9 December 2011

Business case for hiring VAs

VAs will tell you they are good value for money and give you a whole string of reasons why, but you should decide for yourself before hiring one. Each situation is different and the importance of intangibles - the things you can't put a cost to - will vary, but here are the main things to consider.

First, be clear about the tasks and skills you expect of your VA, so you can make a like-for-like comparison. For example, an experienced PA costs far more (c.£20,000-24,000 pa) than a Secretary (c.£16,000-20,000) or an Administrator (c.£10,000-16,000 pa).

Then, decide how much time you require. Everyone over-estimates the amount of a VA's time that's needed as it's often far less than you would plan for an employee - try to find a realistic benchmark, ask around.

Once you've compared the direct hiring costs, consider indirect costs, such as:
  • Office Costs ...Providing office space, a desk, PC, telephone, etc
  • Training Costs ...Learning new business skills, PC/software training, etc
  • Management Costs ...Your supervision time, PAYE, sickness/holidays, etc
Now you have the full costs, overlay this with your list of intangibles, such as:
  • How the person sounds on the phone and interacts with customers
  • The quality of work and how the person adds to your professionalism
  • Dealing with employment problems, attendance issues and other hassles
  • Having all the necessary skills, precisely at the time when need them
  • The backup to handle surges in demand or deal with emergencies
  • ... this list really does go on and will be personal to you.
There are negative intangibles to consider too. For example: your ability to work remotely, not "owning" the VAs time, relying on technology, etc. You need to be comfortable with these and any compromises.

So, how does the case look now? I suspect your initial mental assessment is perhaps more convincing than you previously thought. If you'd like to see a case worked through, take a look at VA Comparative Costs.

For more ways to help you save time, money and hassle Search This Blog or visit www.office-lifeline.co.uk

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Capture your thoughts whilst driving

What do you do with your thoughts when you are driving, reach for paper and pen? ... I'd hope not. Or, do you hang on to them for hours, or pull over and make notes? If your head's always full of thoughts then you will either be losing a few or forever stopping.

Instead, why not call a voice message number and dictate your thoughts? We all call people from the car and leave voice messages, so why not leave multiple messages with your thoughts on the meeting that you just left or your latest idea for making a million. This way, your notes could be typed up ready for you when you arrive at your office or home.

Apart from the safety issue, getting your thoughts down on paper as they occur means you can move on to other matters and be more productive. Wasting time dwelling on thoughts, just so you don't forget them, is a thing of the past now that we live in the internet age.

For more ways to help you save time, money and hassle Search This Blog or visit www.office-lifeline.co.uk

Saturday, 8 October 2011

Low Cost Audio Transcription Options

If you produce large amounts of audio notes, such as interviews, meetings and dictations you'll need a low cost transcription service. There are several options to consider, from sending it overseas to jobbing sites and Virtual Assistants, but they all vary in cost, quality and reliability. So, here's a simple guide to choosing:
  1. Go East: sending audio files to India or China is low cost, but finding the ideal person is difficult. You are also likely to suffer from language issues and cultural differences - after all, who really likes dealing with Indian Call Centres?
  2. Go West: finding a transcription service in the US is easier and a little cheaper than the UK. There are fewer language issues - after all, they don't quite speak our language - but, the time difference is in your favour as the US is 5+hrs behind giving plenty of time to get your typing done overnight
  3. Jobbing Sites: If you require occasional transcription, it's worth looking at online sites like People Per Hour. Here, people who want to earn pin money or need fill-in work undercut each other in a bid to win your business. It may be cheap, but you take a risk... I wouldn't consider this a long term solution.
  4. UK Virtual Typist: The next best thing to an employee, with no language issues or time differences, and people who understand your business/profession. Its UK rates, but great service, often part of a range of Office Admin Services, and some have contacts abroad and turn typing around overnight too.
For more ways to help you save time, money and hassle Search This Blog or visit www.office-lifeline.co.uk

Friday, 16 September 2011

Options for typing professional reports

For many professionals, producing reports comes with the territory. If you are a Consultant or a Surveyor that can mean lengthy ones and lots of them, so what are your options when it comes to typing reports?

Basically, you either do it yourself or dictate and get someone else to type it for you. Some people prefer to type themselves, either because they compose or develop content as they go, others may just type fast. For most, it's a case of preserving our sanity and making better use of our valuable time - getting more done, generating more income - for which there are 3 main options:
  1. Hire Someone: you'll have their undivided attention, but you'll have to provide office space, equipment & IT, pay full employment costs, manage them and find cover for absences ... this option has a high fixed cost.
  2. Hire a Temp: you'll commit to blocks of time and have cover (albeit a different person each time) and pay a premium rate for someone who still may not be fully utilised and who's not committed to your business ... this option tends to be loaded with hassle and is the last resort if all else fails... see Virtual Temp alternative
  3. Hire a Virtual Assistant: you'll only pay for the hours worked with management or employment hassle and no fixed costs... this option gives you a professional, with the backup of colleagues as part of the deal, who prides themself on their efficiency and is committed to your success.
Hiring a VA is an increasingly popular alternative to hiring staff and Temps, especially for professionals and small businesses. Find out more by reading about how a Consultant Psychiatrist and Psychotherapist and Sheard Developments Services use digital dictation technology and VAs.

For more ways to help you save time, money and hassle Search This Blog or visit www.office-lifeline.co.uk

Sunday, 11 September 2011

What's a Virtual PA worth?

Well, that depends how you measure value.

If you are considering hiring a traditional PA to look after you and organise your life, then that's one thing, but if you are looking for someone to front your organisation when you're not available, adding to the image size and importance, then that's has a completely different value.

In fact, PAs are experiencing a resurgence after years of decline. I wrote a brief article about this based on my experiences of IBM and the life after - read my article called Virtual PA .... How did I manage without one? The basic premise is that PAs were seen as dispensable, which started during the 1990s as IT enabled Executives and Professional alike to do-it-themselves, and very soon everyone became self-sufficient. But, recently we've all realised that our time is better spent on high value activities, and now many of us are looking for good old-fashioned PA support. Low and behold, we've discovered that IT has enabled a new breed of Virtual PAs to emerge, just in time.

The Virtual PA, otherwise known as Virtual Assistant, Virtual Secretary, Remote PA or Remote Secretary, can perform a variety of business admin and personal organising tasks. If you would like to know more about what they could do for you, take a look at the range of Virtual PA tasks you can expect them to undertake.

For more ways to help you save time, money and hassle Search This Blog or visit www.office-lifeline.co.uk

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Setting up Google Calendar sharing

An easy way to share your Microsoft Outlook calendar with others for free is via Google Calendar. This will automatically synchronise with Outlook, so you do nothing once it's set up which is easy to do. Many clients use this to share their calendar with their PA, and allow their PA to add or amend appointments remotely, and here are the instructions and links I normally send then to help them set up calendar sharing:
  1. Register for a Google Account, so you can access Google Calendar... goto www.google.co.uk and click "Sign  In" (top right on menu bar)... then click "Create an Account Now" and follow instructions
  2. Once signed in to your account, click "more" (on menu bar) and then "Calendar" from the drop down list - you should now be in your Google Calendar screen.
  3. To synchronise Google Calendar with Outlook, you will need to download and install a small piece of software... goto the Sync With Microsoft Outlook page (you can also get there by clicking the gear symbol (top right on menu bar) and then click "Calendar Help" - "Sync" - "Sync with Microsoft Outlook")
  4. Follow the instructions to download & install the software. Be sure to select 2-way sync if you want your PA to add or amend appointments on your behalf.
  5. To share your calendar, at your Google Calendar page click "My Calendars" (if not already expanded) and click the little arrow to the right against your calendar... now click "Share This Calendar" from the drop down menu
  6. Next, enter the Google email address of the person you wish to share your calendar with and select the appropriate "Permission Setting" (ie. for them to view or make changes) from the drop down menu to the right first... now click "Add Person", then click "Save" and its done.
Finally, have a play with the Google Calendar to familiarise yourself with it and run some tests between you and your PA to make sure it's set up correctly and the 2-way sync works.

It is worth noting the blue/grey rectangular "Google Calendar Sync" icon in the System Tray (bottom right in the desktop tool bar). You can force the synchronisation after a test or at any time - rather than wait for the regular timed sync - right click the icon and then click "sync". You will also see "Options" in the list, which is where you can change the Sync directions and timing options.

For more ways to help you save time, money and hassle Search This Blog or visit www.office-lifeline.co.uk

Monday, 1 August 2011

Sales support for busy consultancy

When a busy consultancy firm offering business planning advice recently approached us for Sales Management support, we were able to offer a really neat and simple solution covering telephone answering, lead handling and opportunity management support.

The company's Director and Lead Consultant was run ragged delivering client work, and his sales efforts were constantly being let down by unavailability and patchy follow-up. As a result he was losing business and his efforts to grow the business, and feed his team of Associate Consultants with work, was floundering. The solution was a dedicated Virtual Administrator to answer the phone and deal with enquiries, together with a simple WebOffice environment in which to manage sales opportunities and store company documents.

Their Virtual Administrator now filters out sales calls and qualifies the genuine enquiries. These are entered into the WebOffice Contact Manager and Sales Opportunity Management database, and the Director is tasked with an appropriate actions (eg. calling the person back). Any follow-up admin tasks, such as, sending information and marketing literature or booking meetings is done by their Virtual Administrator, using the WebOffice document manager and calendar. She also updates a built-in Activity Log so there is always a record of the interactions for each lead.

As a result, the Director now has an up to date view of all the company opportunities, their status and the actions taken - he is fully in control, as a manager should be - from anywhere he happens to be, via the internet. He is emailed the tasks that he needs to undertake, and the Administrator monitors whether he has actioned these, ensuring that any important actions are not overlooked or forgotten. After all, keeping your promises is a vital part of selling and proving that you are trustworthy - its one of the few ways prospective buyers can judge how well we might perform in delivery.

Now, with sales admin under control, there is more time to spend on important selling activity, which is resulting in more lead conversions for new clients and follow-on work. Plans are afoot to expand the use of the WebOffice to manage Time Recording for Associates and other aspects of business admin support. This company is now well on the way to success.
 
For more ways to help you save time, money and hassle Search This Blog or visit www.office-lifeline.co.uk

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Leamington lady receives book of memories

A sweet old lady who wrote down the memories of her childhood and travels for her children was presented with a bound copy of her memoirs by Office Lifeline Director, Anna Isaacs, as a token of her admiration. The Leamington Courier was there to record the event and provide the public with some background... read the full article.

As we say, everyone has a story to tell, whether it's about their travels or their life in general, and this one was certainly interesting. If you would like help to get started on writing yours, visit the Writing Your Life Story page on our website to download your free guide.

For more ways to help you save time, money and hassle Search This Blog or visit www.office-lifeline.co.uk

Saturday, 16 July 2011

3 Key skills for VAs

A recent article by Darren Etherington at WebWorkerDaily highlights 3 core skills that all remote workers require, because of the nature of their job and the demands placed upon them in the workplace. It strikes me that this these are equally true for anyone providing remote admin and secretarial support, such as Virtual Assistants (VAs), and especially if they work alone, as many do. These skills are:
  1. Wide ranging technical skills and experience: absolutely true if working alone because you'll have to know about every aspect of the systems and applications your clients use, or be technically confident to quickly adapt and acquire the necessary skills on the hoof. If a VA operates as part of a team or, better still, has technical support to hand, then this is not such an issue. Having technical support to hand is ideal as PAs and Administrators tend to pride themselves of their organisational skills and efficiency, not their technical skills.
  2. Independently Motivated: this shouldn't be an issue with VAs because being self-employed and running their own business, they are naturally motivated to work and bill clients. However, problems can occur when a VA only works part-time or if they juggle work and childcare, and you have urgent matters requiring attention or tasks are date/time sensitive, relating to meetings and events.
  3. Excellent Communication skills: in the VA world, communication quality also means frequency and timing, to make sure you stay in contact over tasks, with the right balance of instruction and initiative, as well as keeping connected during periods of inactivity. Being part of someones virtual organisation or team, when perhaps you've never met your co-workers, is a skill in itself.
All of these points are important to know when selecting a new, especially for the first time. If you are considering  using a VA or in the throws of selecting someone, it's perhaps worth pitching them a few testing questions about their situation, skills and approach to the above points.

Read the original article, "3 skills that enable remote worker success" by Darren Etherington.

For more ways to help you save time, money and hassle Search This Blog or visit www.office-lifeline.co.uk

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Online file sharing for dummies

Here's a new online file sharing tool I came across recently, called Minus, which is free.

Minus is easy to use. You just go to the website and drag the files you want to share onto the browser window. These will be added to an online gallery and you are given a URL to share with colleagues or clients. Files can be downloaded individually, or the whole gallery can be downloaded as a ZIP archive.

No sign-in is required to share or download files, and its free to use. There is a limit of 50 files for everyone, although registered users get larger upload limits (5o MB per file, as opposed to 25 MB for unregistered users), a public profile and the ability to search their own and other users’ galleries.

Minus’ works on most PC and mobile device platforms, and its drag-and-drop simplicity makes it very easy to use for the less tech-savvy amongst us. The downside is that right now it's not secure, so it's not a bona fide business tool in our eyes. Whilst it may have its uses short term - dealing with occasional emergencies when you find you need to send someone a large file - I guess we'll need to wait for Minus to sort out their business model and pricing strategy to see if it has a future in the business community. This is bound to involve charging for secure sharing which is no bad thing.

PS. If you  want to share a file with colleagues or clients, but aren’t sure whether they have the necessary software to open it then give Dropdo a try. This is a free, simple to use, online file sharing service that has built-in viewing tools for many different file formats.

For more ways to help you save time, money and hassle Search This Blog or visit www.office-lifeline.co.uk