Does the Weather affect your Work?

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Here in New England, we have a unique phenomenon. We not only have four distinct seasons, but we have several changes of weather within those seasons. As we crawl out from a long, arduous winter with more snow than we could have imagined; we look forward to open windows, springtime smells, and much warmer temperatures.

To Do List

 

As I sit here making my list of “springtime things to do”, I realize that my work habits change with the seasons. Incidentally, on my springtime list, I have an outdoor and indoor list of things to do.

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In winter, I focus on keeping warm, sleeping as long as I want to, spending time on my computer, reading, and eating comfort food. My outside chores include shoveling snow and bringing in wood for the fireplace, and scraping the snow and ice off my windshield. Winter is a simple time and a time for me to catch up on archiving emails, taking online courses, and listening to podcasts and webinars as well as working for my clients.

Spring

Spring is a time of great expectation for me. Somehow I believe that all of the outdoor chores will be completed before it gets too hot and humid. The inside chores are a problem for me, because I don’t want to spend time indoors like I did during the winter. Instead, I want to open the windows, go outside, and do things in the sun. The new weather outside tempts me during the spring time. If I go outside, I can watch the grass turn green, check out the new weeds growing where they’re not supposed to grow, and just sit outside and relax. This is a season of conflict for me and it takes all spring season for me to develop a new schedule. I have my clients on the one hand that demand my attention and time, but the change in season makes me want to stretch myself and include both indoor and outdoor activities.

Summer at the beach

By the time summer rolls around, I’ve got my schedule down. I wake up much earlier than in winter. I’m a morning person, so I work for 4 – 5 hours in the morning. It’s amazing how much work I can get done when I put my mind to it. I actually enjoy eating a salad for lunch, because the ingredients are so fresh. I don’t have to bother with a jacket or sweater, so I’m free to just go for a walk or cut the grass. In the afternoons, I run errands or do some gardening.

I get a lot of exercise in the summer months and I find that I network more. Because the weather is so mild, I want to stop and talk to people. It’s easy to strike up a conversation when the wind isn’t howling and the snow is hitting your face or the rain pelting you with hail. Farmer’s markets and yard sales are great places to meet and interact with people and who knows, you may get a new client from just talking to people.

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Fall is a sad time for me. The brilliance and warmth of the summer is gone and things start to shrivel and fade away. I find that the colors of things change, too. The shed looks so white and clean in the summer, but in the fall, it just look old and faded. I have a schedule change in the fall, too. Due to the change in the weather, I don’t always go for a walk. Instead of cutting the grass, I start to put things away for the season and prepare for the next season. I spend more time inside on my computer, so I catch up on things that I’ve been putting off all summer.

I’m happy with the change of seasons, because it adds balance in my life and in my work. My clients NEVER suffer, because I always put them first. The season changes keep me alert and focused on what’s at hand and what will come, so it’s a natural way to stay on track, get tasks completed and project what will happen in the future. It also provides me with exercise and a change of scenery.

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Since I started my virtual assistant business, Virtual Colleague LLC., I’ve had time to do more, learn more, and accomplish more, because I’m free to create and adhere to my own schedule, while still remaining accountable and responsible to my clients.

I like living in New England and I don’t think I would be happy anywhere else. I can’t imagine the fall without the leaves changing, the winter without the snow and cold, the spring season never really contrasting a snowy winter, and summer 365 days a year!

 

How do you feel about the changes in the seasons? Does it affect your work?

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HOW TO ADDRESS YOUR CLIENT?

2 women talking

I always find it awkward, when addressing my client for the first time. While everyone seems to think that addressing someone by his or her first name is the norm, I’ve found that assuming that’s how the client wants to be addressed is not always true.

I’ve worked with several clients since I started my business Virtual Colleague, LLC in 2013. When I network or speak to a potential client on the phone, he or she lets me know how they want to be addressed by how they introduce themselves to me.  I always use both of my names and let the client decide how he/she wants to address me.

Business Card

For example, my company slogan is “partnering with the client”, so if we’re partners we should address each other by our first names. Right? Some of my clients do not feel comfortable doing this, especially because I do not work in their offices, so they feel we have an extended connection. Although they’re very satisfied with the work I do, they don’t feel a close connection or bond. Therefore, they address me as Ms. Plante.

I don’t really care how my clients address me. I am in partnership with them and I let them decide how they want to interact with me and how we address each other. I want them to be comfortable working with me and sharing ideas and information. As long as we connect on a business level, I let them dictate how we communicate (emails, phone calls, Skype, etc.) and how they want to be addressed.

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I’ve found that sometimes my clients’ titles call for a more formal tone. For example, some clients prefer to use their professional titles: Doctor, Vice-President, Director, etc. If they ask me to use those titles, it’s usually to distinguish themselves from the others in their fields and usually I’m asked to use these titles, when working with larger companies.

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One rule of thumb: I NEVER use nicknames. I believe they can be demeaning and show a lack of respect for the client. On the other hand, if my client’s name is Richard, I let him tell me how he wants to be addressed: Rich, Richie, Dick, or Rick. If he or she asks me to use a more familiar name like the ones I mentioned, then I would do it, but I would still refuse to use a nickname.

Even though I want to work with them, I also have my own business and reputation to think of. If I’m too casual with my clients, they may not see me as a true professional and my business would suffer. In addition, getting too close or familiar on a personal level with my clients would change our business relationship and the lines of communication may start to blur. It’s important to strike a balance between professional courtesy and personal involvement in business.

What are your thoughts on this topic?

 

Click on Virtual Colleague, LLC to find out how I can help your business grow.

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LEARNING NEW TECHNOLOGY FOR FUN OR NEED

I feel I’m proficient in the technology I use as a virtual assistant, but there’s so much out there that I don’t know about. For example, Infusionsoft. This is something that so far none of my clients use or need. Some of my clients have other systems they use.

Infusionsoft

I’ve never used Infusionsoft, but I’m curious about it. I’ve got a busy schedule as a virtual assistant and I am also an author of Christian fiction. I’m working on my second book, so time is valuable and I have to use my time wisely.

I want to sign up for a course about Infusionsoft, but I don’t want to spend the time to learn something that I may not use and I could use that money for other things.  I’ve always said that no one should stop learning. Life is a lesson in learning, so this may be something I should do. I’ve heard so much about CRM and how it helps clients, but right now, my time is limited to doing work to meet my deadlines.

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On the plus side, I should continue to learn just to exercise my brain. If I learn this technology, I could offer it to my clients, enhancing what I have to offer. Maybe I could use it myself for my own business, Virtual Colleague, LLC.

On the minus side, the course is expensive and it is time consuming. It lasts for 6 weeks with homework and online classes. Even if I learn this technology, my client may use another type and I may have to spend money and time to learn that one.

I guess it boils down to priorities and needs. I need to complete the existing projects by their deadlines that I’ve committed to. That a priority. I need to schedule all my tasks, so I will accomplish that goal, but I also need to do something for myself. All work and no play is no good.

Perhaps I can contact the instructor to lock in the price, even though I may not start the online course for several weeks. I don’t need any more stress, so this seems like an option. In the meantime, I will poll my clients both past and present to see if any of them are interested in using this technology. That will help me decide to take this course or maybe look into something else that my clients will use.

In the meantime, I have to research this instructor and company to make sure they’re legitimate and see if I can find the same course for less money or a better schedule. As technology continues to develop, I need to keep searching for what’s out there and what I may need. I try to forecast what skills I need, but part of that assessment has to do with my clients’ needs.

For more information on Virtual Colleague, LLC and what I can do for your business, click on www.VirtualColleagueLLC.com.

 

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WORKING FOR A FRIEND

Finance

I’m invited to a business event for a friend. I have known her for several years and she invited me to be there at her special event. She is in finance, so that’s the theme of the event. She is an extremely capable person and has a lot of insight into investing and managing funds.

The sticky part is that she has asked me to assist her with this event, by mingling with the crowd. When I go to a networking event, I usually bring my business cards and sales pitch. In this case, the focus should be on her and her goals for this event.

Goals

I believe she asked me to go, because I am a friend, but also I think she wants to learn from me. I wish she had hired me, which I suggested she do, but she said she wanted me for “moral support” only.

I’m getting better at networking, but it took a lot of time. I’m struggling between promoting my own business, Virtual Colleague, LLC  and her business. I don’t know much about the financial world and I don’t follow the stock market, so I really can’t make small talk with her guests about financial affairs. On the other hand, I can talk about my business, Virtual Colleague, LLC and what I have to offer. I can discuss how I can help them to save money and get their projects completed. I want to be able to give out my business cards and hopefully get some clients, but our friendship seems to be putting a stress on this event.

Business Card

She hasn’t address these concerns with me. Instead, she’s just planning and getting her presentation in order and practicing her speech. I can’t help, but feel torn between being there for her as “moral support” and passing up the chance to “promote my own business”.

I guess I will have to play it by ear and see what kind of crowd she attracts. If her event is a disaster, then maybe I can convince her to hire me for the next event. If it’s a success, then maybe I can quietly promote my own business and she won’t be offended. I hate this kind of dilemma. I’m mostly a black and white kind of person. I like to get all the issues and problems on the table and then take them one at a time and fix them.

She’s a very professional person and I know she’s totally focused on this event, so she might not realize the conflict I’m feeling. On the other hand, other guests may use this opportunity to do a little marketing of their own.

 

How would you handle this dilemma, if you were in my place?

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DOWNTIME BETWEEN CLIENTS

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I don’t know about any other virtual assistants, but in my business either I have several clients at once or a gap in clients. I try to systematically advertise, so this situation will not occur, but most of my clients only have projects for me to do at intervals, so I don’t have the luxury of setting up a schedule and keeping to it and having a constant cash flow.

This creates downtime for me and I’ve been struggling to find a way around this. Sometimes I feel stressed working for my clients, because I have so many deadlines and so much work to do. I thought about sharing the workload with another virtual assistant, but then, I need to keep the money for my own business.

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After reviewing my business plan for 2015, something I do every year, I realized that I was not utilizing my time efficiently and that is the cause for my stress. I’m trying a new tactic. When I’m not engaged with a client, I schedule to do the following:

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Archiving emails – going through ALL of my emails and only keeping the pertinent ones, archiving the others. I have three separate email accounts, so this is good time to go through all of them and save or delete them.

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Storing files and deleting any documents I won’t use – even though I use the cloud, I still have so many documents and sometimes they’re difficult to find, so backing up files and storing them in a secure location is a great help and it makes finding them much easier.

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Taking inventory of my supplies – I don’t print that much, but I do use some office supplies and there’s nothing worse than running out of something you need, when you’re in crunch time. Even if I use the supplies for my clients, I still need some marketing materials on hand at all times. Business cards, handouts, and giveaway items should be ready to take with me and use at an event.

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Staying up to date with my accounts – bookkeeping was never one of my best skills, but I’ve set up a spreadsheet for my business transactions this year and I keep track of every transaction. Whether it’s purchases, income, travel, education, or credit card payments and banking, I have each transaction on my spreadsheet, but I need keep them up to date. It also helps at tax time.

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Cleaning my work area – I mean physically cleaning all of my equipment including the office furniture, window, my keyboard, any peripherals, the walls and floor. I also clean my computer software by using disk defrag and disk cleaner and other cleaning software. I take care not to mix or spill chemicals on my computer or any parts of it.

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Taking online courses and webinars in areas of need – Without client deadlines looming, I have the opportunity to attend webinars listen to podcasts, and take a few simple online courses, so I can keep myself current and learn something new in case a future client needs that expertise.

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Reading about networking, technology, and social media trends – I’ve downloaded so many eBooks on topics I’m interested in, but never have the time to read them. During this downtime, I schedule time to read for a specific period of time. I catch up on my reading and can pursue any topic that interests me.

This is how I spend my time between clients. Oprah Winfrey once said, “You can have it all, but you can’t have it all at one time.” She is right, so I’m organizing my time to get the most out of my work and my personal growth.

 

To learn more about me and the services I offer, go to www.VirtualColleagueLLC.com.

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GIFT BASKETS: PART OF NETWORKING EVENTS

almond-milk-chocolate-dessert-giftbasketEveryone likes freebies or at least the chance to get a freebie. That’s why I always offer a raffle item, when I’m an exhibitor at an event. As a virtual assistant, I have so much to offer businesses with regards to completing projects and saving them money. I just need to get their attention.

Exhibiting at an event is a great way for me to present my business and stand out from the others. I really enjoy thinking of and creating the perfect give-away prize. I don’t repeat what I’ve already given away. In my opinion, it displays a lack of creativity. How can I convince business owners to give me a chance, when I can’t even get creative with a give-away prize?

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Virtual is a concept and not a concrete form, so in one way, my creativity can flow in many different directions. On the other hand, I do want the prize to somehow mirror or explain what I can do for their businesses. I’ve come up with a few ideas that I will share.

My business name is Virtual Colleague, LLC, so I want to capitalize on the “virtual” and “colleague” aspects. For the virtual aspect, I offered a pair of men and women’s sunglasses. They were stylish and I presented them in gift boxes. People asked me what that had to do with my virtual assistant business and I told them that the sunglasses allow people to look at the world with ease and eliminate any glare. The sunglasses assist them virtually, so people are comfortable using them and get great results. I’ve also given away smaller items like keychain flashlights that don’t require batteries, those purse-size little note pads with matching pens, etc. All of these items are small, inconspicuous, but produce great results.

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For the colleague aspect, I always thing in two’s, pairs, or groups. The most expensive prize I’ve ever given away is a massage for two people. I’ve also given away movie ticket packages for two, a few different his and hers gifts to signify that the colleague part of my business is a partnership and not just boss and worker each doing their own thing. A few times, I’ve given away group gifts such as coffee and donuts for their office, a pizza party, or lunch for the office.

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These give-away prizes can be expensive, but I’ve found that the contacts I make and the interest they generate in my business more than make up for this cost and some of this cost can be used as a tax deduction.

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If I’m just networking at an event and I’m not exhibiting, then I make sure I create an exceptional business card. The quality of the print, color, size, and paper quality are important. I use both sides of my card to put out as much information as I can and I give them to everyone I meet. Some may just throw it away, but many hang on to it as a reference and that’s how I get many of my clients. I achieve great results through networking, demonstrating style and professionalism, and showing the uniqueness of my business.

 What type of give-aways do you have at networking events?

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AM I VIRTUALLY HEALTHY?

It’s been several weeks since the holidays and most of the things I planned to do are not done and probably will not get done. I’m always overly optimistic about doing things and I have a “can-do” attitude. I think I can do it all, but sometimes I fall short. I always make a small list of things I want to do or changes I want to make.

One thing that I continue to work on is “virtual health”. I divide health into 2 categories. The things that crop up that I have to take care of: dentist appointments, mammogram, annual checkup, etc. These things are necessary, but there doesn’t have to be a medical problem to get them taken care of. I call these things “routine health”.

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My second category of health is “virtual health”. What is this? This is my day-to-day health and habits. For example, what I eat or not eat? How much rest and sleep do I get per night? What type of exercise do I do and how much time do I spend doing it? How much stress is in my life right now?  Am I a caregiver for someone? Am I in a good relationship with the people around me and the people I love?

All of these things affect my health. Virtual health, in my opinion, is the daily things I have to do to keep myself in good health. If my daily lifestyle isn’t balanced, I won’t be in good condition to ward off colds, the flu, arthritis, and aches and pains.

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Using the same comparison with my virtual assistant business, the two go hand in hand. I have to be fit for work. Learning new technology, working and meeting all project deadlines, and then making time to network and promote my business, Virtual Colleague, LLC.

My virtual health has to be in good condition, so I can get up every morning feeling refreshed and ready for a full day’s work. I need to take vitamins or any other medication that balances my system and allows me to feel well. I also need to be able to work under some pressure and deal with sudden changes in my life. This is not always easy and can send my business reeling, if I can’t recover quickly.

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Like networking, I must find the time to practice yoga and go for walks to refresh my mind and body. Yoga calms me and regulates my breathing and walking provides natural exercise and clears my head. It also allows me to think things through without interruption.

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Virtual health is important, but most of us rarely pay attention to it. We only notice it, when we feel sick or think there’s a health problem. Although I have regular hours for my virtual assistant business, virtual health is really 24/7.

So how do I master virtual health? The same way I handle my business. I schedule time to do specific things. I take time to learn new skills, which strengthens my concentration. I schedule breaks and lunches, so I will have at least a half hour away from my desk. No eating at my desk and working at the same time. That’s counter-productive. If it’s a nice day, I may even take an hour for lunch and walk for half of that time just to stretch my body.

I’ve found that a quick walk at lunch time renews my energy and I can accomplish as much in the afternoon as I did in the morning. I am a morning person, so I schedule the difficult tasks for the morning. In the afternoon, I continue with the day’s work and create the schedule for tomorrow. In that way, I know exactly what I have to finish today and what I will do for tomorrow. All deadlines are met in advance using this method and it’s less stressful.

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That’s the virtual health plan I use to stay healthy and active, while achieving a good work/life balance. What do you do to keep virtually healthy?

 

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Virtual Assistants are the Bread of Businesses

When I think of networking as a virtual assistant, I think of making bread dough! Both contain basic ingredients and are not easy to handle, but can turn out excellent results. You never know, if it will turn out as planned.

Sandwich

Bread dough is basically flour and water. Networking is you, the virtual assistant, and the event. Great care has to be taken to get good results. For the bread dough, fresh ingredients, a clean working surface, the determination to massage and finesse the dough to the right consistency, and time and patience. These are essential to getting good results.

Sliced loaf of bread

Virtual assistants are basically administrative professionals that have advanced skills and talents. They need to attend social events to promote themselves and their businesses. Virtual assistants have to take care of their own businesses by preparing for these events. They must look professional, have great social communication skills, and be able to gently extract pertinent information from potential clients, so they can initiate a meeting or set up some type of communication with them.

Networking

While making bread dough requires physical strength and coordination, the virtual assistant has to stimulate conversation and stretch themselves skillfully to attract new clients. In the bread dough, the yeast is the essence of the bread. This is a process of using just the right degree of warm water and yeast. The yeast has to sit there and “work” until it’s ready to be put into the bowl and allowed to rise to its full potential.

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Virtual assistants go through the same formula. They have to have the right mix of skills, learning capacity, and they have to give themselves time to “mature” and be ready to formulate their own business and be successful. They’re ready, when they have mastered several skills and they’re ready to jump into the competitiveness of the business world.

What if the bread dough doesn’t rise or is too sticky or lumpy? We all make mistakes and sometimes things are just not meant to be. Learn from your mistakes. The greatest chefs in the world burned toast and failed many times before achieving success. Learn from your mistakes and keep on trying. You will not make as many mistakes as you think you will and you will become better at your craft, the more you do it.

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The bread dough, if prepared and handled properly, will yield a delicious loaf of bread. It will look enticing, taste incredible, and compliment any food that’s served with it. So too, for virtual assistants, they must continue to grow and develop in many ways, while they’re preparing themselves for business ownership.

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When they’re ready, they will present a professional presence by being able to speak about many topics, act in a professional manner, and connect with their potential clients on several levels. Their expertise will impress their new clients and reinforce their business relationships. Virtual assistants and their businesses or brands will have a far reaching effect. Most of the clients will automatically promote their virtual assistants and their skills. Virtual assistants, if skilled properly and ready for a challenge, should complement any business.

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So the next time you sit down to eat any type of bread, whether it’s fancy, spicy, with seeds, crusty, thin-sliced, or hearty, think of the bread-making process and how long it took to get to what it is right now in your plate. Think of the work, the hours, and the care that made this bread what it is. Look at it and then taste it and feel the results of someone’s hard work, talent, and patience.

Bread Basket

These same principles should be applied to any virtual assistant business and if anyone is thinking about becoming a virtual assistant, I say “go for it”. Start right now to develop your skills and abilities, start working on your business plan, develop your professional brand and remember that time and patience yields a good harvest.

Check out my website Virtual Colleague LLC.

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