Optimize Your Time by Outsourcing to a Virtual Assistant

This blog was originally published on the International Virtual Assistants Association website on March 17, 2014 at http://blog.ivaa.org/working-with-a-va/optimize-time-outsourcing-to-a-virtual-assistant

Do you know you need help around the office, but aren’t sure where to start?

Are you wasting time on tasks that consume valuable time when you could be meeting prospective clients, devising new marketing strategies, or developing new products?

Stop wasting time! Virtual assistants (VA) are here to help you gain back your valuable time while also minimizing your business’s overhead. How?

VAs help businesses and entrepreneurs by performing administrative tasks in an online, or virtual, environment. Working as a contractor, a VA is paid only for hours that they actually work, as compared to the salary of a full-time in-house employee working a 40-hour week. Not only do companies save on employee benefit costs, but there’s also no real estate or equipment to fund, no need to lease space for an extra desk or buy another computer.

Businesses also benefit from the valuable skill sets and specialized services that VAs offer. For example, Invisible Business Solutions specializes in administrative services, including transcription, bookkeeping, and data entry. Because we’ve honed our skill sets in these specialty areas, we are very efficient with our time, which in itself results in a cost savings to our clients.

Of all companies, small businesses and entrepreneurs are the most likely to hire virtual assistants. A small business does not necessarily need a full-time assistant, often having only enough work for just a few hours a week. This is the ideal scenario for both the business and their virtual assistant. Companies also gain from the flexibility a virtual assistant provides. Instead of being locked into paying for a set number of hours per week, a business owner can adjust according to the amount of work needed.

Not sure where to start? Here are a five ideas of how a VA can help you get back your valuable time!

5 Tasks You Can Outsource to a VA

# 1: Database entries

Updating a database with new business contacts as well as updating existing contacts is a crucial task provided by a VA. Clients can scan or fax business cards for inclusion into a current database or preparation of a new client database. Since contact follow up is key to business success, this is a vital service that can be provided by a VA.

#2: Email management

Most entrepreneurs and executives receive so much email it’s hard to keep track of everything. A VA can filter your most important emails to you as well as respond to the remainder on your behalf.

#3: Online research

Online research is a common service requested by clients. Whether it be researching potential business contacts or finding information about a certain products, a VA can do the research for you.

#4 Scheduling

Scheduling tasks can be completed by a VA, including scheduling appointments with clients, planning events, managing meeting invitations, and scheduling person appointments. With all of the current technology available, a VA can manage scheduling for multiple clients at the same time.

#5 Travel research

A VA can find you a great hotel, book airfare, and rent you a car. They can plan out your itinerary for your national or international travel.

 

Dropbox

Dropbox is a great tool to increase productivity.  Dropbox allows you to save and share files with your clients online.  When you sign up you instantly get up to 2GB of free space (you can also buy additional space).  I use Dropbox on my computer as well as my iPhone.  The iPhone app helps you sync and share files at the click of a button.  It’s great that I always know that I have all the files I need at my fingertips.

5 Things You Can Outsource to a VA

 Do you know you need help around the office, but aren’t sure where to start?

 Are you wasting time on tasks that consume valuable time better spent meeting prospective clients, devising new marketing strategies, or developing new products?

Stop wasting time!  Your virtual assistant (VA), Invisible Business Solutions, is here to help.  How?  Here are a few ideas of how a VA can help you get back your valuable time!

# 1:  Database entries

Updating a database with new business contacts as well updating existing contacts is a crucial task provided by a VA.  Clients scan or fax business cards for inclusion into a current database or preparation of a new client database.  Since contact follow up is key to business success, this is a vital service that can be provided by a VA.

#2:  Email management

Most entrepreneurs and executives receive so much email it’s hard to keep track of everything.  A VA can filter your most important emails to you as well as respond to the remainder on your behalf.

#3:  Online research

Online research is a common service requested by clients.  Whether it be researching potential business contacts or finding information about a certain products, a VA can do the research for you.

#4:  Scheduling

Scheduling tasks that can be completed by a VA including scheduling appointments with clients, planning events, manage meeting invitations from others, scheduling person appointments.  With technology in place a VA can manage scheduling for multiple clients at a time.

#5:  Travel research

A VA can find you a great hotel, book airfare, and rent you a car.  They can plan out your itinerary for your national or international travel.

We understand that it can be difficult to trust someone else with parts of your valuable business.  But, we also know from experience that we can get you back the time you’ve been wasting, plus extra.  How?  Because we enjoy doing these tasks and have found ways to accomplish them efficiently.

Think of something not listed?  Please contact us.  Invisible Business Solutions is here to help you!

Virtual Assistants Benefit Small Business

Companies have become more accepting of remote and mobile workers in recent years as online tools have made it easier to keep in touch with the home office and do clerical work remotely.

Virtual assistants are a small but growing phenomenon at companies looking to minimize overhead. Because they are contractors, virtual assistants are paid only for hours that they actually work instead of a guaranteed salary for a 40-hour week. Not only do companies save on employee benefit costs, but there’s also no real estate or equipment to fund, no need to lease space for an extra desk or buy a computer.

Of all companies, small businesses are the most likely to hire virtual assistants. A small business does not necessarily need a full-time assistant, often having only enough work for just a few hours a week. Companies also gain from the flexibility a virtual assistant provides. Instead of being locked into paying for a set number of hours per week, a business owner can adjust according to the amount of work needed.

Content Management Systems: Part 2

WordPress was our first venture into Content Management Systems (CMS), and it was a good introduction to the potential of a CMS. The main value of WordPress lies in its blogging features, because that is essentially its main function. Out of the box, WordPress comes with all the tools you need to get started with your own blog; you can post, comment, add users, use RSS feeds, and customize other features for your blog site. For implementing other functionality, there is a wide range of plugins available from the WordPress administrator panel. Changing themes and appearance are fairly simple to do, but it’s hard to get exactly what you want if you don’t know how to get into the PHP or CSS coding to confidently make changes.

Incidentally, most of the fixes for the shortcomings of WordPress involve hard-coding the solution into your themes or plugins. At this point, any problems that come up have already been experienced by someone else, and it’s pretty easy to find help on the WordPress.org forum. While there are usually experienced programmers who can tell you what line of code to change or what to change it to, it is still dangerous to do if you don’t at least understand what is going on to make the change work. In summary, if you want to create a small blog site, WordPress is the right tool for you, but if your goal is a fairly large and comprehensive site you should consider another CMS.

Content Managment Systems: Part 1

Content Management Systems (CMS) are some of the most commonly used web development tools. The value of a CMS is that it can put together a functioning, dynamic website in a few days. It writes code (e.g., HTML) and takes care of most of the heavy lifting involved in building a website. This can give the impression that using a CMS is an easier approach to web development than writing your own code, but that isn’t necessarily true. Proficiency with a CMS is an acquired skill only obtained through time and practice. While programming knowledge isn’t required to be able to use a CMS, programming is a valuable skill that makes using a CMS much easier. CMS are obtainable as products you buy, as well as open source software. In my next articles, I’ll explore some of the benefits and shortcomings of some of the open source Content Management Systems that I have used.

Year End 2011

 

As we count down 2011, everyone is thinking about what is going to happen in 2012.  I am definitely one of those people.  Sometimes my mind just won’t shut off.  I go to bed thinking about my business, my family, my friends, my dog :), and I wake up still thinking.  I’m sure it’s not good for me, but that’s how I’m wired.  I’m not one of those people that can fly by the seat of their pants.  I am a planner.  I like to be in charge.  I guess that’s why I own a business that helps people with their professional lives, so that they can focus more on other aspects that are important to them.  That is why there are different people in the world; the thinkers and planners (like me), and the dreamers and spontaneous (like…..well, not me).  Happy New Year!!  🙂

Archive Blog

Be Prepared

 
Over the last few days I’ve been around people who were not prepared for the events that were set to happen to them.  They knew ahead of time what was coming, but were still not prepared for what was about to happen to their lives.  They didn’t have a realistic plan.  I’m a firm believer in having a plan………but I also know that sometimes you just have to go with the flow.  Now I’m not saying that I don’t get cranky when my plan doesn’t come to fruition, but I have learned through the years that you can’t always be the one in control.  You have no idea how hard is it for me to say that!!!!  You have to give in to what is happening in the moment and go with it.  It’s taken me a long time to realize this as it is not something that can be passed on from someone else; it is something that you learn over time.

Notary

Posted on June 28, 2011
 
In my 13 years as a notary, I’ve found that most people wait until it’s absolutely necessary (or almost too late) to get their loved ones to sign legal paperwork.  Day after day I go to hospitals and nursing homes to notarize wills and power of attorney documents.  In most cases, the people are just now thinking about these necessary documents.  With these types of documents it seems to be the old……”out of sight, out of mind” mentality.  Nobody wants to think about actually needing one of these documents, but it is a fact of life.

Communication

Posted on June 22, 2011
 
Say what you mean and mean what you say.  That is what we were taught back in the day.  It seems that in this day and age (oh, jeez I sound like my mother!), it’s more like……say what is politically correct and still try to get your point across.  Everyone is spending more time trying to figure out what the heck a person really meant to say (interpretation can be tricky sometimes) instead of just communicating the point and moving on.

Website Edits

Posted on June 6, 2011
 
When you build a website, it’s not enough to just load it with content, it’s a good idea to have someone to review the entire site.  I know that some people are so happy to have the site done that they forget about a very important piece of the puzzle.  You should definitely have someone proofread and edit your content.  Every web master worries about broken links, but few worry about misspelled words or incomplete sentences.  I can’t tell you how many sites I’ve read that have poor spelling and bad grammar.  Remember, when you are trying to sell a product or even when you are trying to give information, you want to put your best foot forward!

The Written Word

 
Don’t underestimate the power of the written word.

People are constantly reading.  There are street signs, emails, Twitter® notifications, Facebook® messages, bills, subtitles… you get the picture.  There are different styles of writing, too.  For example, an email to your best friend, a text message, and a news article will vary considerably in style.  The punctuation in your email is used to convey descriptive expressions and feelings and may not necessarily follow the written rules for proper writing.  The text message may or may not contain whole words, symbols, and emoticonsJ; in text messages, grammar and spelling generally go out the window.  Now, when it comes to published works, such as articles or a thesis for your Master’s degree, getting the correct grammar, spelling, and punctuation tend to be more important.  Some extra proofreading for that resume can’t hurt either.  After all, first impressions are everything (okay, almost everything). 

I suppose I should have started this post with a disclaimer that I am not in any way, shape, or form an expert in grammar and punctuation as far as American English is concerned.  This is, however, the focus of this post.  I’ve learned American English by being immersed in it since I was born.  That just means that I understand how to speak and be understood and how to write and allow the reader to understand the meaning of what is written. 

Correct me if I’m wrong, but it can be confusing to read misused words.  Those are the sentences (or sentence fragments) that take three times to read and you still aren’t sure you understood.  Words and their counterparts that are most often misused or misspelled include:

  • your ↔ you’re
  • accept ↔ except
  • there ↔ their
  • are ↔ our
  • hear ↔ here
  • its ↔ it’s

If you’re unsure about grammar, spelling, etc., in something you’ve written, one of the best ways to check is simply to ask someone else to read it.   Even for the best writers, a second set of eyes can almost always catch a mistake you missed, if only because you’ve been reading and rereading and quite honestly your eyes and brain are tired of it.  Using the spell check function on your word processor can be helpful, too.  But use caution; word processors can’t read your mind and are apt to suggest changes that can be far from correct.

Ultimately, you want to make sure that your written words are understood as intended and that your words reflect well on you and your writing ability.  A well-written cover letter and resume may get you the job interview for your dream job.  If you’re pursuing a career in journalism or a related field, correct spelling may be what keeps the electricity on.  So do yourself a favor and read that paragraph twice and hit spell check before submitting.  You will thank yourself for it later.

Proofreading: Yes, it is important

 
Why do people think that proofreading isn’t necessary?  I see so many things online and in real life that should have been proofread.  Spelling and grammar mistakes make a lasting impression.  If I see a sign that has a misspelled word on it, I will remember it for a long time.  This also applies to the Internet.  If I am looking to have work done by a company, I always check out their website.  If their website is riddled with misspelled words and bad grammar, I probably won’t end up using their company.  To me it just says, “I don’t care enough.”  I know in real life it usually means “I’m too busy.”   My suggestion is to always have someone else look over your website content, sign text, or newsletter.  A second set of eyes can make all the difference in the world.

   

5 Weeks till Christmas

 
I can’t believe I just typed that.  Where has the time gone?  Where has the year gone?!  If you’re anything like me, you’re thinking…..it can’t be true, but in fact it is.  Right next to the Thanksgiving turkey at the store is the Christmas stuff.  They didn’t even wait until the Halloween candy was stale before they start shoving Christmas decorations in front of you.  I know it’s only a matter of time before the Christmas music is playing at ever mall in America.  Holy cow……at least wait until the kids get their costumes off before you dress them in their Sunday best and take that perfect family Christmas card picture. 

Time used to go slower.  Ok, so not really, but it sure felt like it.  Everything moves so fast.  Technology makes us want things quicker……quicker…..quicker.  I just want to sit and enjoy the fall weather before thinking about snow shovels.  I want to watch the kids in the neighborhood playing in the last leaves without having to think about putting up the Christmas decorations.

Camp Dirt

Posted on July 7, 2010
 
My niece is very excited this weekend and not only because it’s the 4th of July.  She does enjoy watching fireworks, having a barbeque with family, and watching musicians sing our nations songs.  But the thing she is most excited about is going to summer camp on Lake Roosevelt.  On one of her previous camping trips, the camp was dubbed “Camp Dirt.”  In preparation for going to Camp Dirt, there is a tent, sleeping bag, mosquito repellant, and many other items strewn across the dining room table and almost every other available surface in the house.  While the camp leaders thankfully provide a list of items to bring, organization is the responsibility of the camper (and anyone else she can persuade to help with packing). 

She’s been talking about the “pinecone game” they play the first day at camp, where the campers are divided into teams that race to see whose team can pick up the most pinecones throughout camp.  The game is a clever way of cleaning up pinecones from below bare feet (ouch!), but also gives the campers a chance to get to know each other . . . and to figure out what a pinecone is.  Later there’s deciding on sleeping arrangements—“you can sleep in my tent,” “point your head uphill,” “I’m on a rock”–before counselors call “lights out.”  Many other events fill the next few days at camp: swimming, singing, skits, pranks (of course, what’s a campout without them), crafts, and drying your dishes in a bag.

Camp is concluded as parents return to (reluctantly?) claim campers and associated dirty sleeping bags and clothes.  But you can’t depart without gathering near the lake shore on wooden benches to watch the campers act out skits they have been meticulously practicing.  After all, no camp is complete without a good skit about chewing gum or an invisible bench.

The ride back from camp and the weeks after are filled with many more stories, stories about friendship, discovery, first this’s and that’s, stepping on pinecones that were missed on Day 1, tree sap, and rocks.  Rocks also have a tendency to travel in pockets, which is often not discovered until that first load of laundry hits the dryer (thunk! clunk!).  Hooray for Camp Dirt!

Persistent Credit Card Companies

Posted on March 3, 2010
 
Why do companies insist on calling you more than one time for the same thing.  If I tell a company representative that I am not interested in their product that usually means that I’M NOT INTERESTED.  Credit card companies are the worst.  They insist on calling you several times to try to get you to sign up for whatever hair-brained scheme they’ve come up with this week to get you to pay them more money.  I had someone call me last week regarding my Mastercard.  If I just signed up for this new program I wouldn’t ever have to pay interest or late fees again.  Woohoo!  The only thing I had to do was sign up for a program that was going to cost me a specified amount every month.  What?!  I haven’t ever paid a late fee or really any interest costs since getting the card 3 years ago, but they want me to pay every month for the possibility of not paying the fees that I haven’t been paying the whole time.  Huh?  If the first phone call wasn’t enough I was called again today with someone different giving me the same song and dance.  Before she could get through the whole script I stopped her and told her that a representative from her company had called me last week and I had declined then and I was declining again now.  She just kept talking!  She told me that I didn’t understand what the program could do for me.  What?!  Now you’re telling me that I’m not smart enough to understand your schemes to get my money.  Hold on!  I again informed the lady that I was not interested and I did in fact understand the terms of the program.  She indicated, just like the other gentleman, that I would be receiving information in the mail to try yet again to get me to sign up for their stupid program.  Oh boy, I can hardly wait!

Administrative Professionals

 
Administrative Professionals…….yes that’s right, I said it and I meant it.  Individuals who perform administrative tasks for a living are just that…..administrative professionals.  Not just secretaries or assistants…..professionals.  They act like professionals, talk like professionals, but are most times not treated like professionals.  The old saying goes “anybody can type and answer the phone.”  Not only is that statement antiquated, but it is simply not accurate.  The administrative professionals at most businesses do much more than type and answer the phone.  These professionals are decision makers, mediators, sounding boards, creative thinkers, researchers, and problem solvers.  They take charge of situations that need to be taken care of with professionalism and are most times not appreciated for their input.  This is not to say that all companies are run this way.  Not by a long shot.  There are many companies out there that recognize that their administrative professionals are just that….professionals, and they are treated as such.  These companies know that without these people their companies would not run as smoothly and their clients would not receive the excellent customer service that they deserve.

Why do I need a virtual assistant?

 
Trying to earn a living is hard.  Many small businesses fail to make money because the owner is trying to wear too many hats.  That is, the small business owner is taking on all tasks of the business instead of focusing on the most important…..growing the business.  Hiring a virtual assistant (VA) can help you run your business more efficiently.

A VA can help you do just about anything you need done.  They can do your scheduling, make travel arrangements, organize and answer emails, type letters to clients, management your contacts list, or help you with that big presentation.  All those tasks that you hate to do and are spending too much time on a VA can help you with them. 

 

Hiring a VA gives you more time to devote to your business as well as your family.  Maybe you don’t need a full-time VA or even a part-time VA.  That’s perfectly fine.  Most VA’s will work on a single project basis as well as hourly or retainer.  Technology allows a VA to be just a phone call, fax, or email away. 

 

VA’s can not only help small business owners, but also college students, solopreneurs, real estate agents, engineers, architects, mortgage brokers, accountants, individuals, business coaches, etc.  VA’s have a large skill set and are ready and able to help you with all of your administrative tasks.

Using Search Engines to Submit URL

 
I’ve spent time surfing for search engines to submit the Uniform Resource Locator (URL) for IBS (http://www.invisiblebusinesssolutions.com).  Submission forms are easily found by searching from your preferred search engine (Google, Yahoo, Bing, etc.).   For easy reference, here are some locations where you can submit your URL:

 Ask.com doesn’t support URL submission because its robots crawl sites that are linked to each other.  More information can be found at:  http://about.ask.com/en/docs/about/webmasters.shtml

 This list is by no means inclusive.  You can easily use any one of these search engines to find more places and ways to submit your personal or business URL.  It generally takes a few weeks for a search engine to add a new URL to their index, but make sure you read individual submission guidelines.

Outsourcing and Virtual Assistants

 
When you hear the word “outsourcing,” what thoughts come to mind?  Does it imply a cost-effective solution that promotes business growth, or a cheap alternative to the labor and production costs of running a business?  Do you think about the stack of papers next to your computer and wish someone else could enter that data or make those copies? 

 I have known “outsourcing” to have negative connotations in the context of outsourcing manufacturing to locations where labor is cheap and profit margins are high.  Conversely, I have read articles and blogs where “outsourcing” is used to describe the process of hiring subcontractors for the purpose of reducing the overhead costs associated with hiring a full-time or part-time in-house employee. 

 What does outsourcing have to do with a being virtual assistant?  I have been wondering what readers think when they see the word “outsourcing” applied to virtual assistants and home-based businesses.  Virtual assistance seemingly fits the description of outsourcing.  After all, a virtual assistant (VA) works as a subcontractor to a person or company, not as an employee; he/she works from a home office (not at the location of their client) and may even subcontract to another VA.  I’ve seen VA’s and VA agencies promote their own business as outsourcing secretarial tasks, bookkeeping, web design, etc.  What does it mean for a VA to be classified as “outsourcing?”  Does it reflect negatively on the professional, reliable, quality services that a VA offers?  Or does your impression of a VA depend on how they present themselves and complete the tasks assigned to them?  Would you be more or less likely to inquire about or request the services that are advertised as “outsourcing?

New Year’s Resolutions

 
It’s the start of another year.  You know what that means……resolution time.  This is the time of year when people start making their New Year’s resolutions.  I’ve never been one to partake in this activity, per say.  I’ve always thought of things that I want to accomplish for the year, places I want to visit, things I want to do, but have never gone so far as to put them down on paper or announce them to anyone who would listen.  Most of my “resolutions” are usually about my business; while, some are regarding my personal life.  The business ones usually take center stage though.  I always think the same thing that probably every other business owner in the world thinks……I want to be more successful this year than last.  I want to get more clients, bill more hours, help my clients more, learn new things; basically be on top of my game.  You know the drill.  The good thing about my business is that I get to help people with their resolutions.  I get to help them be more successful this year than last.  What a great gig!

On Everyone’s Mind: The Economy

Posted on January 5, 2010
 
Let’s talk about this economy for a minute.  As many of you know the economy has taken a toll on just about every industry.  Some companies have had to make the decision to keep their “billable” employees and lay off their administrative staff.  This might be good for the budget on paper, but not necessarily for the good of the company as a whole.  Administrative staff perform the day to day tasks that keep the business running smoothly.  However, small and mid-sized companies are not able to pay salary and benefits for these individuals.  It’s not that administrative staff are less valuable than the “billable” staff; it’s just that many companies just don’t have a choice.  This is where virtual assistants like Invisible Business Solutions come in.  We are the choice!!!!  We are able to complete the administrative work that is needed by companies, but at a fraction of the cost of full-time administrative staff.  We work as an independent contractor; therefore, the company doesn’t have to pay benefits, taxes, vacation, training, etc.  We work from a fully functioning home office so you don’t have to buy additional equipment or make room in your office.  When you hire a virtual assistant, you get a highly qualified individual who is there to help your business succeed.

Welcome to Our Blog!

 
Ok, so here’s the deal.  We started our virtual assistant business about 5 months ago.  We went through all the steps: pick a name, business licenses, website, marketing, etc., but we kept putting off that one little thing “the blog.”  We seemed to be too busy with everything else to actually start the blog.  We kept reading about the blog, hearing about the blog, and talking about the blog, but never actually got around to creating the blog…..until today!  That’s right, we’ve entered the world of blogging here at Invisible Business Solutions.  It’s a momentous occasion!