How to Keep Your Client Work Organized

As a Virtual Assistant with 56 current clients, I have lots of work coming my way.

On any given day, new tasks can come to me as a result of a phone conversation, via an email request, or through the project management software system I share with my clients (like Basecamp or Teamwork).

Here’s how I do it:

  1. Phone Conversations: I take notes in Evernote when speaking on the phone with clients. I keep them organized by giving each client their own note in my RocketGirl Evernote Notebook. When I talk to them on the phone, I add the newest notes to the top so I have a running record of our conversations.

    I take very detailed notes for each task and add as much background information as I can. This is important because it might be a day or two before I come back to do the work and the details help me get it right. When I get off the phone I schedule time on my calendar to do the work so it doesn’t get lost in Evernote. Then I keep working though my notes, updating as I go.
  2. Email Inbox: Keeping your email inbox as clean as possible is a big part of successfully managing work that comes in that way. If your inbox is a mess, first get your email inbox under control. Click here to learn how.Then, as emails come in, I archive those I don’t need. This way, only emails that require my attention are in my inbox. A few times a day I “lump” the emails by client and respond and fulfill their requests.
  3. Project Management Software: I use Teamwork for client work that involves multiple steps (like sending a newsletter, for example). I also have several clients who want me to use their in-house project management systems. This can get tricky, of course, because there are lots of places I need to look! So I set up the systems to send me an email whenever a new task is added. In addition, I check each system once a day, sorting by due dates and taking care of the tasks that need to be handled.

Sometimes I feel overwhelmed while trying to keep everything straight as it comes pouring in. But by sticking to this system for years, I know I can trust it to keep me on track!

Why I Use Three Computer Monitors

When I first started working as a Virtual Assistant I worked on a simple laptop. I was able to get my work done, but it was often frustrating having to switch back and forth between browser tabs when copying and pasting information between programs.

Shortly after my boyfriend, Greg, and I began dating, he showed me his computer set up: two separate monitors that worked together – off of a single computer! – as if they were one. As he moved the mouse it “jumped” from screen to screen.

I loved it! So much so that right after I connected a second monitor for myself, I went out and bought a third. Together, they cover 70 inches of visual workspace across my desk.

Here’s how I use them while working, for example, on a client newsletter:

Screen #1: I have a Word document open with the text for the newsletter that my client has given me.

Screen #2: I have MailChimp open and I’m simply copying text from one screen over to the next.

Screen #3: I have my email client open so that when I send myself a test email I see it as soon as it appears AND I can easily compare Word Vs. Mailchimp Vs. email.

And that’s just one example. My three screens are attached to a screen stand which holds them at just the right height – and off of my desk so I can use the entire flat surface for other things.

I still have a laptop that I carry with me when I am away from my desk, but there’s nothing like having three screens for getting work done quickly and easily.  Give it a try!

Why I Accept Credit Cards

I’ve been getting paid by my clients via credit card for about six years now. Many people think that paying the credit card processing fee (usually 2.9% of the total paid) is crazy, but there are many reasons that I love getting paid this way:

  1. I know what’s going on. When someone pays me with a credit card on my website, I’m notified immediately. I know the amount, who paid it and when it will be deposited into my bank account.
  2. No more hanging out around the mailbox. Credit card payments are immediate. No wondering if “the check’s in the mail.” Clients can pay me on their computer, tablet or phone no matter where they are. Because it’s so convenient to them, I get paid faster.
  3. Clients have options. When accepting payments via credit card, my client can use a bank debit card (which is the same as writing a check), or they can use a credit card and pay it off at their convenience.
  4. Bookkeeping is easier. My credit card processing company (Stripe) is connected to my accounting software (Xero). Every time a payment is made an invoice is created with all the details of the transaction. This saves me hours every year in bookkeeping.

Start taking credit card payments. If your experience is anything like mine, you’ll never go back!

How to Get Clients

One of the biggest challenges for Virtual Assistants is getting clients – especially when you’re just starting out. You may love the work and be good at it, but none of that matters until you have clients to work with.

Here are a few tips for getting great clients:

    1. Be clear about what you do. If you can clearly articulate the work you do, others will be able to spread the word. For example, when someone asks what I do, I say, “I’m a Virtual Assistant. I work with solo-professionals – people who work on their own – like business coaches, marketing consultants and financial planners. I help them with all their administrative work – like updating their websites, setting up their newsletters, and helping them set up online courses.”

      And then I stop talking so I don’t confuse them with too much information. I say the same thing every time someone asks me what I do (I practiced saying it out loud until I could do it cold!).

    2. Be clear about how much you charge. One of the best things I ever did for my clients was to get clear about how much I charge. By being clear, clients can decide if they can afford you and you don’t have to spend time negotiating and wringing your hands every time someone asks you how much working with you will cost. Pick an hourly rate. Stick to it and raise it from time to time as your skills get sharper.
    3. Be clear about how to get started. I have 30-minute free consultations with many prospective clients. When the call is wrapping up and I think they’re a good fit for me, I’m clear about the next steps. I say, “I’d like to work with you. I’ll send you a link to buy your first set of hours with me. When you’re ready and once you buy them, I’ll be in touch to schedule a meeting with you and we can get started.”

Finding a stream of potential clients isn’t easy. But it begins with learning how to describe and talk about your work. With a little thought and preparation, you’ll be on your way!

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!