How 30-Minute Free Consultations Get You Good Clients

Several years ago, I began offering potential clients a free, 30-minute call phone call with me to talk about their business. No sales pitch, no pressure, just a 30-minute conversation about anything they wanted to talk about.

I make it easy for people to sign up for these sessions. All they have to do is click the link in the footer that’s on every page of my RocketGirl website, shown here:

There’s another link to sign up on the Contact page of my website. When I speak at events I hand out a paper with the option to sign up for these sessions, too.

When they set up their time, I ask them a few simple questions: name, email address, their website address, and who referred them to me.

After spending 30 minutes on the phone with someone, I know:

  1. All about what kind of business they’re in
  2. What they want me to help them with
  3. If what they need is something I like and know how to do
  4. Stories of who they’ve worked with in the past and how that went
  5. Whether or not I like them

And, they have a chance to get to know me too and decide if I can help them before hiring me.

The result? By the time the work begins, both of us are confident and comfortable with each other. It’s a great way to start a long-term relationship (and filter out the problem clients in the process!).

Drop That Extra Space After a Period

Back in the dark ages, when I first learned to type, I was taught to add two spaces following every period. Today, decades later, it’s a reflex almost like breathing.

In the digital age, the reason for that second space no longer exists. In fact, and because that extra space now “counts” as a character, it can lead to some unwanted spacing issues, one that I see often on web sites and in newsletters.

The problem is that sometimes, the extra space “character” occurs at the beginning of a line, making it look like a mistake (think sloppy). Because the screen shrinks and grows depending on the size of the screen of a given device, it’s impossible to predict when and where this will happen.

To correct this before hitting the send or publish key, use the search function that’s a part of your browser:

On the PC hit CTRL F; on the Mac it’s Command F. This will open a window for you to search the text. Sometimes the search box is at the top of the browser, sometimes at the bottom, so you might need to look around to find it.

Here’s what it looks like in Firefox on a PC:

Then type . (period) 2 spaces in the search box and Highlight All. Here’s what you’ll see in this sample block of text:

You can then move through the document and delete the extra spaces.

And by the way, don’t forget to check for those unnecessary additional spaces after “, ?, and !, too, using the same method!

How to Properly Format Text in WordPress

I post to WordPress websites almost every day. Clients send me the text in a variety of forms – Word documents, Google Docs, sometimes they ask me to pull the text from a MailChimp or Constant Contact e-newsletter. Pretty straightforward, right?

But here’s the problem: the underlying formatting of the text from the original application sometimes comes along with the words. That can affect how the post is displayed on the website, messing with things like text size, color and paragraph spacing.

In order to let the WordPress “style sheet” take over and display the text the way it was designed for the site, we need to remove the embedded formatting before we post. Read on for simple instructions.

Here’s how:

  1. Copy the text into a text editor (Notepad for the PC or TextEdit for the Mac). This will remove the formatting, leaving just the words.Then copy and paste them into the WordPress post.
  2. If there are bullets or numbers in the post, remove them and then add them back using the bullet and numbering tools inside WordPress.
  3. Next click the “text” tab for the post and see if there are any <div> tags. These can impact word spacing on the page and need to be removed.You can find and remove these easily by clicking CTRL A to select all the text, CTRL C to copy the text (including all the code), and CTRL V to paste it into your text editor. Click Edit in the top menu of Notepad and then click Replace.

Enter <div> in the “Find what” field and leave “Replace with” blank. Click Replace All.  Then Change <div> to </div> and do the same thing.  Then copy the text back into WordPress on the Text tab.

(Note that If your <div> tags are more complex, you might need to remove them manually by deleting them one at a time.)

There you go!  Nice, clean, beautiful text in your WordPress website!

Communicating Your Time Away From Work With Clients

Summer is right around the corner and so are summer vacations. That means different routines for us, the kids (if you’ve got them), and our clients.

So a key question is: What’s the best way to let clients know about an upcoming schedule change?

When it comes to time for myself, if I’m still going to be at my desk and available during the day for calls and emails (even with reduced hours), I don’t say a word.

If I’m leaving for more than a day, however, I let them know in advance. How far? For clients who are mid-project or rely on me every day for routine work, weeks. Everyone else, one week.

In all cases, I send an email (using the bcc field) like this:

Hello Wonderful Clients!

I’m sorry about the bulk email, but I want to let you know that I will be out of the office and away from my computer entirely for three days: Wednesday, April 25th – Friday, April 27th.

Please plan accordingly and if you have an emergency please call my cell phone at 617-755-6010.

Thanks!

Belinda

It’s friendly, clear and sets expectations.

Remember, you don’t need to work 24/7 and vacations are important. But if you’re going to be gone, make sure you give plenty of notice and leave nothing to chance!

Your Friend – And Mine – Organization!

Organization is a BIG part of becoming a successful Virtual Assistant. You’ll quickly find that many of your clients, despite how capable they may be in other areas, are unbelievably unorganized! These people will count on you to whip them into shape.

Not only that, imagine how impressed your clients will be when you’re talking to them on the phone and can say, “I have that right here” vs. “Hold on a minute,” as you search and search for whatever it is they are talking about.

Here is the simple but effective way I keep my files organized.

I use Dropbox so that the files on every computer and device are synced. That way, no matter where I am, I have access.

  1. I have a folder called “clients.” In there goes ALL the client work (no exceptions), with each client having his/her own folder with their first and last name as the title.
  2. Inside the folder, I organize the files according to what they are.

    Like this:

    From time to time you’ll need to make another, sub-level of folders. For example, in the presentations folder, if there is more than one draft or additional files for one presentation, I create a sub-folder for that presentation to keep everything related together. Add the date of the presentation so you can easily find what you’re looking for.

  3. Download attachments from your emails. Every time a client emails me an attachment, I download a copy and save it to their folder in Dropbox. That saves me hours of searching my inbox for past emails when one of these is needed.
  4. Create file names that are meaningful. For example, when saving this newsletter the file is called, “May 2018 Newsletter #1”. When I get it back from my editor it’s called “May 2018 Newsletter #1 Edits.” Once I approve the changes it’s called “May 2018 Newsletter #1 – FINAL.”
  5. Create an Archive. When you finish a project with a client and it doesn’t look like there’s going to be more work, move them out of your current client folder and add them to a folder called Z. Archive. Adding “Z” to the front of the name moves the folder to the bottom when sorted alphabetically. Just drag the inactive client folders to the archive for safe keeping. I’ve had clients come back after 4 years and I was happy to have all their records at my fingertips.

If your files are currently a mess, start by creating your Clients folder and then sub-folders for each client within. As you use files, save them in the new system and use it faithfully going forward. It may not be perfect, but at least you’ll save time in the future. When you have some downtime, go ahead and start organizing the old files too.

Remember, efficient systems save you time and allow you to earn more money, more easily!

Don’t Skimp On Your Work Space

I’ve been friends with Lisa for years. Decades, actually. She’s a rock star real estate agent in Boston and wow, she sure can sell houses.

The funny things is, despite how long we’ve been friends, I’ve hardly ever been to her house. We almost always meet at a local restaurant for dinner.

The other night, though, and since I don’t live locally anymore, I stopped by her house before we went out. I was immediately surprised by what I saw in her kitchen: Her computer, files, stapler, pens, and lots of paper were strewn across the kitchen table.

I knew she worked out of her house, but I guess I never gave any thought before to where exactly it all happened!

So I asked if she liked working in the kitchen. She said no. She explained that she’s constantly moving her stuff around to make space for meals and she gets distracted all the time by her family. Plus, she wastes a ton of time and energy getting newly settled whenever it’s time to work.

For anyone who works at home, not having a dedicated space is simply a bad idea. You don’t need to an entire room for your office, but you do need to have a dedicated place where everything you need is at your fingertips and where you can leave work in progress.

I’ve had my desk in lots of different rooms over the years – a bay window in my dining room, an alcove in my living room, and now, a partitioned section off my bedroom. You don’t need a lot of space (my set up is only as wide as the Ikea dining room table I work on), but it needs to be your own!

Here are some tips for setting up your ideal VA workplace:

          1. Find a quiet, permanent spot. Yes, the family room may be empty during the day. But often, as a VA, you’ll need to do things when others are around. The guest room is tempting. Unless, of course, you have guests, which will throw you off your game completely.
          2. Make sure your desk can handle your work. I use a dining room table as my desk for a couple of reasons. One is that it’s really deep, so I can have my monitors at the back and still have room for my keyboard without feeling cramped. The dining room table I chose is wider than a standard desk, giving me lots of room on either side for spreading out my notes, my perpetual cup of tea, and a few photos of my family that make me happy.
          3. Keep supplies at your fingertips. This means you don’t keep the tape in your daughter’s room, the stapler in the kitchen, and the index cards in the basement. Whatever you use for work needs to stay handy, even if it means duplicating what’s already in the house. Then let your family know that these things are off limits. (I jokingly call my desk my “money-making cockpit” and I guarantee no one would ever imagine taking anything from my desk.)
          4. Plan for paper. Even though my office is about 98% paper free (yay!) I do have some files I need to keep.You don’t need a big filling cabinet – but you will need a system for storing these. I have a dresser in my office with three drawers.The top drawer stores my supplies and the 2nd and 3rd my paper.

There you go. Easy, but efficient. And, maybe most important, it’s all yours! You’re in business now, so make sure you set up yourself – and your space – for success.


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Tips and Tricks: Padding and Margins

Ever wonder why some images you see in email newsletters have text right next to the image and others have a nice space around them?

In Constant Contact it’s called padding and in MailChimp it’s called margins.

    

 

To add more space around an image In Constant Contact, click on the image after it’s inserted in the text and then click the settings wheel. You’ll see Padding -> increase. Repeat until you have your desired padding.

 

 

MailChimp provides more control over the space around an image allowing you to use pixels to choose how much space to create on each side.
 


To add margins, double click on the image after it’s inserted, click “show image style options” and then assign a margin to each side of the image.
Small thing – big impact. And it can make the difference in the professionalism of your client’s e-newsletters and e-blasts.