An Easy Solution for Video Conferencing

 

When working virtually with clients, sometimes it’s important to see each other and share screens during working sessions. For that, I rely on a wonderful tool called Zoom.

Zoom has changed my business by making it much easier to work and give my clients an “in person” feeling, even though we may be physically far from each other.

Here are my three favorite things about Zoom:

  1. Location Doesn’t Matter. Last week, I needed to speak with a client who’s spending some time in Switzerland. I don’t have an international cell phone plan, so calling her would be prohibitively expensive. With Zoom, the call was included in my monthly fee.
  2. Sometimes it’s good to put a face with a name. Most of the time a phone call does the trick when working virtually. Sometimes, though, especially when I’m working out a problem with a client, it’s very beneficial to see their face. I can tell when they’re writing or thinking and not wonder about a silence that might otherwise be awkward or misinterpreted.
  3. It’s easy to screen-share. Screen-sharing has revolutionized my work with clients. No more trying to explain where they should go, look or click. And it makes it super-easy to show examples of work I’ve done that might relate to the issue we’re working on.

Zoom is easy to download, free for sessions shorter than 40 minutes and only $14.99 a month for unlimited use. It’s a small investment that lends professionalism and ease to any virtual work you might be doing!

How to Easily Track Your Time

As a Virtual Assistant, there are many ways to bill for your work – I charge by the hour.

That means keeping track of time, of course, so when I first started out, I kept everything in a spreadsheet. I quickly realized, though, that spreadsheets are not the right tool for the job!

If you get paid by the hour, you need a rock solid approach to tracking your time. It needs to be accurate, of course, but it can’t require too much effort either.

That’s why I love (LOVE) Toggl. I have been using it now for about seven years and it’s terrific.

Toggl is a cloud-based application and it costs just only $9/month for a single user. You can use it on your phone, tablet or computer so it’s always with you, no matter where you’re working. There’s even a browser extension that works with tons of other applications.

To get started, I set up my clients and assign projects to them. Since I “lump” my work according to client, I look at the clock when I begin working, make a note on my scratch pad, and get working.

When I’m finished, I look at the clock, calculate the time I’ve worked and record it in Toggl, along with a description of what work was done. (You can use the Toggle timer as a stopwatch for tracking your time if you prefer.)

The reporting is great and I make a habit of reviewing my billable hours at the end of every week to see how productive I’ve been. Also, since I’ve assigned a billable rate to each project, I can see at a glance how many dollars I’ve earned.

Finally, for those clients who like to have an accounting of how I spent their hours, I can easily create a report just for them.

Check out Toggl. You won’t be disappointed!

A Checklist For New Clients

 

As a Virtual Assistant, it’s important to be as professional as possible with new clients. And, it’s important to start off on the right foot.

To stay consistent, efficient, and ensure that each new client relationships gets off on the right foot, I follow a simple checklist to get them started:

  1. I send my “Welcome” email. This contains valuable information for my clients. It lets them know how to get in touch with me, what hours I usually work, how to schedule time with me, and more. I use the same one every time.
  2. I send my W-9. Before I began doing this, every year around tax time, clients would be asking for it. So now I’m proactive and send it to them in the beginning.
  3. I add them to my contact manager application. I make sure I have all the important information I need: Phone number, physical address, email address, etc.
  4. I add them to my time tracking software. Toggl. Easy to use, very efficient.
  5. I send a gift. It’s a pen in the shape of a rocket (my company is called RocketGirlSolutions). I include a handwritten note and a warm welcome.
  6. I send a referral gift. It’s a bottle of fancy olive oil which I send to whoever sent me my new client. Again, with a handwritten note.
  7. I connect with them on LinkedIn.
  8. I add them to my newsletter subscriber list.
  9. I create a project for them in Teamwork, my project management software.
  10. I create a folder for them in Dropbox.

All ten of these steps take me just 15 minutes. And, thanks to my checklist, I never forget any of them!

How to Schedule Meetings More Easily

As a Virtual Assistant who does a lot (a lot!) of complicated meeting scheduling for clients, I’ve found a few tools that help me get the job done. Read on below for a look at three that I rely on the most!

Here are my “go-to” tools for keeping on top of the many, many meetings I schedule for my clients:

  1. Time Zone Converter 

    It’s hard enough finding a convenient time for three or more people to meet. Now toss in the fact that one is in Australia, one is in London, and one is in New York City, not to mention that one or more may be observing Daylight saving time, and there’s the potential for lots of confusion and crossed signals.In the old days, I used to count the hours on my fingers. Now that I have Time Zone Converter, I’m a pro at getting meeting times right, no matter where the participants are. I use this amazing tool almost every day and have it as a pinned tab in my browser.

  2. Google Maps 

    I schedule meetings for my clients in cities that I’ve never been to. Google Maps helps me figure out travel times and routes between meetings, so I can make sure that the itineraries I set up work.

  3. Microsoft Word 

    Of course, when I make appointments for clients, I enter them on their calendar. But when I’m scheduling a multi-day trip, across different time zones, it helps for them to see everything the old fashioned way: In “itinerary format,” on a single page, with all times in the zone that the meetings will happen. That way, even if it says 11:00 AM Eastern Time on my client’s calendar, I can see at a glance that I haven’t scheduled a breakfast meeting during rush hour in LA!

These are just three of my favorite tools for keeping meetings running smoothly. Reply to this email and share one of yours with me!

What to do When You Feel Overwhelmed

Being a Virtual Assistant can certainly be overwhelming at times: Tasks can pour in from email, clients can make last minute requests, details can start to feel overpowering.

Sometimes when it’s really busy, it’s difficult to know what to do first. The five suggestions below will help you keep calm and carry on!

When this happens to you, here’s what I recommend for getting your feelings under control:

  1. Remove the clutter from your desk. Too many notes, paper or random stuff can contribute to feeling overwhelmed. Clear the decks, that helps immediately.
  2. Minimize your distractions.Close the social media tabs in your browser, turn off notifications on your cell phone, and focus only on your work for a period of time that you can commit to – even if it’s just an hour or two.
  3. Prioritize your to-dos. Make a list of what you need to do to meet your deadlines for the next few days. Then prioritize your list. Sometimes starting with work that you know vs. jumping into a new project can give you a feeling of momentum. Work on only one thing at a time.
  4. Quite the noise. If there are things that are buzzing around in your head that are not work-related tasks, write them down so you can stop thinking about them. You’ll have them to go back to later.
  5. Take a break. Go for a walk or a run, make a cup of tea, or just sit quietly. Take a deep breath and step away from the computer to clear your mind.

Remember, this is a temporary place. Do what you can to move through it and get back in your groove!

Get a Handle On Your Inbox

As a Virtual Assistant, having an email inbox that’s out of control can be very stressful – and keeping it clean can feel like a full-time job.

But when emails are coming in all day long, filled with valuable information that you need in order to do your work well, it’s important to get a handle on this electronic beast!

3 Suggestions:

1. Archive. All day long, as emails come in, I archive those I don’t need. This way, the only thing in my inbox are emails that need my attention. And since everything else stays in the archive folder, I can easily search for every email I’ve ever received if needed in the future.

2. Folders. I use folders to keep emails that I’ll need in the future. For example, I have a folder for my client Michelle. Let’s say I get 7 emails from Michelle today. Anything that’s just informational or that I can respond to immediately goes into the archive folder once it’s handled. Only emails that she’s going to ask me about when we speak or that I need to reference for a project I’m working on go in Michelle’s folder.

I have another folder called “Quick Follow Up.” Here I keep things that I want to look at again – but that aren’t “inbox worthy.” This is my way of not tripping over these emails again and again, but stashing them in a safe place where I can review them quickly as a group when time allows.

3. Lumping. Now that I only have important and actionable email in my inbox, several times a day I “lump” them by sorting them by sender name. That way I can review them one at a time, focusing on just one client at a time.

One last thing. If your inbox is currently out of control, I recommend that you begin by archiving all of the emails that are older than a couple of months. Start with the newer emails and put them into a system that works. If time allows (and if you find that it’s ever necessary), you can always go back and tackle these older emails.

Create a system and stick with it!

Are You Getting the Most Out of Your Cell Phone?

As a Virtual Assistant, one of my most valuable tools is my cell phone. It allows me to work from remote locations and be available when I’m away from my desk.

But lately I’ve noticed that not all VA’s use their cell phone to full advantage in running their businesses.

Here are some tips for putting your best foot forward with your cell phone:

    1. Set up your voicemail and make sure it’s never full.There’s nothing worse than listening to the voicemail greeting and planning what you’re going to say, only to get the message, “The mailbox is full.”
    2. Record a greeting that’s cheerful and professional. Mine says this:“You have reached Belinda Wasser of RocketGirl Solutions. Please leave a message and I’ll call you back.”

      This ensures that there is no confusion about whether or not they misdialed the number – they know it’s you. Check your greeting every six months or so to make sure you still like it.

    3. When someone leaves you a voice mail, call them back the same business day, if at all possible.
    4. When you have a scheduled client call – call them exactly on time. It shows them that you respect both your time and theirs and that you pay attention to details.
    5. Have a good quality headset so they can hear you clearly and you can use your hands during working sessions when you need to be using your keyboard.

All simple and easy to do, following these tips tells your client that you mean business!

Do’s and Don’ts of a Productive Work Day

When you’re a Virtual Assistant – a person who sells time – it’s essential to get a handle on how you spend your days.

This is hard enough if you work in a traditional office. If you work at home, things can be even more challenging. Distractions are everywhere you look and it’s easy to be drawn in.

For starters, it’s important to think of your working time as “your job.” As a guideline, you can ask this simple question: “If I worked for someone else in their office would I be doing this right now?” More specifically…

Here’s a list of what I DON’T do during my work day when I’m at home:

  1. Laundry. While it’s easy to “throw a load in,” before you know it, it can turn into laundry day.
  2. Clean the kitchen. When I eat lunch during working hours, I put my dishes on the counter to handle after work. No dishwasher emptying either.
  3. Talk on the phone with friends or family. Don’t worry, after a while they’ll stop calling during the day.
  4. Make the bed. If my bed is not made before I sit at my desk, it stays that way all day.
  5. Pay personal bills or shop online.

Here are some things I DO during work:

  1. I start my day pretty much the same time every day.
  2. I start looking at emails that have come in overnight and prioritize them into my day, before I jump into any project.
  3. I block time on my calendar to work on specific projects.
  4. I work on one task at a time, when at all possible.
  5. I have a system to track what I’m working on.
  6. I plan to be at my desk all day, almost every weekday.


All of this can be difficult at first – especially getting family and friends onboard! 
But once you see how productive you can be by staying focused on your work, you’ll never go back.

How I Use Evernote to Manage Client Information

Eight years ago, when I first began working as a Virtual Assistant, I used spiral notebooks to track my notes from client calls and meetings.

They were easy to store on my desk and with just five or six clients, I was able to have a different color cover for each one.

But as my client list grew to more than 20, there just weren’t enough colors to go around! There was no way notebooks could do the job anymore.

That’s when I started using Evernote. After I opened my account, I created a Notebook called “RocketGirl Notes.”

Now, each time I start work with a new client, I create a new note using their first and last name as the note’s title. While speaking with clients on the phone, I type detailed notes so I can remember our discussion, what they have committed to do, and what they have asked me to do.

When the next round of notetaking starts, I create a line across my notes to separate them from the last conversation and start typing at the top of the note. That way, the newest information is always at the top.

Here’s an example of the set up I use:

If a client takes a break from working with me, I move their note to my “past client” notebook. I still have my valuable information on file, in case our work together starts up again.

It’s a simple, searchable system and one that keeps my thoughts organized. (And removes all those scraps of paper from my desk!)

Start Sending Professional Emails

As a Virtual Assistant, it’s very important to look polished and professional. One great way to do this relates to your email.

Read on for specifics regarding the use and set up of email.

And here’s what makes it stand out:

  1. My full name and my business name are in the “from” line, making it easy to quickly identify who the email is from.
  2. My email address is using the domain name of my company belinda@rocketgirlsolutions.com (not rocketgirlsolutions@gmail.com)
  3. My logo is in the signature, something that builds awareness for my company and makes the signature more attractive.
  4. My location lets the reader know that I’m on the east coast, in case they want to call me or suggest a face to face meeting.
  5. My phone number is easy to read.

These details are easy to set up and give the (correct!) impression that you’re in business for real!