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Peter Pan: Pretty Smart After All!

November 14, 2008

I’ve been a believer in the “Law of Attraction” since long before The Secret came out or Abraham was being channeled. I knew it worked because I was so very good at removing myself from situations I didn’t want to be in; often to my own detriment!  When I worked for a major micro-manager and I knew I didn’t want to work for this man anymore, I quickly found myself bounced out the door before I was ready with a good exit strategy.

Lately my road has been a bit bumpy.  I realized it was of my own making and made a conscious effort to turn things around.  I’ve been reading blogs and attending seminars that deal with the subject of the “Law of Attraction” and trying to change some old thought patterns.

I had an epiphany today – actually, I’ve had one “brewing” for several days. You know how you get a song stuck in your head and it plays over and over and over?  It’s really annoying!  Well for the past week I have had part of a phrase from Peter Pan running around in my head; I have to find my Happy Thought.  Well today it hit me.  If we have our “Happy Thought” in front of us, experiencing the joy of it, then our dreams take flight. 

Who knew Peter Pan was so very smart?

What is your “Happy Thought?”

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What is a Virtual Assistant?

October 14, 2008

When I tell people that I am a VA I tend to get one of three responses:

1.  “Oh, do you do websites and bookkeeping?”

No, that would require a web designer or bookkeeper.  I am a Virtual Assistant.

2. With head cocked to one side, looking at me as though there is a strange protrusion growing out of the center of my forehead.  Virtual Assistant?  What is that?

Invariably this person thinks that it is a side job or a hobby.  Something to bring in a little extra pin money (see my eyes rolling up in my head).

3.  Oh!  A Virtual Assistant!! Wow, that’s great, I don’t know what I would do without my VA

God I love these people! Only problems is they tend to have their own VAs and are not looking for another.  I give them my contact info and ask them to pass it on to friends that need a VA.

But what is a VA?  The traditional definition is that a Virtual Assistant, or VA is an administrative professional providing across the board administrative (and sometimes personal) services in long term, collaborative relationships. 

Simple right?  Well part of the problem is caused by folks in the corporate world expecting their administrative staff to be anything and everything, jumping on the hamster wheel, while being paid peanuts.  This mentality bleeds over into the Virtual Assistant world.  Clients bring this mentality to the table, and so do VAs that have not stepped out of the employee mindset.

On the other hand, there are many so called Virtual Assistant Industry Leaders that are leading the public, and VAs astray telling them that VAs should do all and be all.  That anything done virtually that can be considered providing assistance is Virtual Assistance.  Honestly, that is hogwash!

Virtual Assistance is it’s own industry with its own branding.  Do you call a librarian a bookkeeper?  After all, she does keep books.  And so do bookshop owners, boutiques, and publishers.  But we would never think to do that!  Why?  Because bookkeeping means ONE THING.  It is an industry in and of itself. 

Virtual Assistance is no different and the name should not be co-opted by folks doing other things.  Honestly, it’s not in their best interests and it only confuses the market.  If you happen to be a VA that also does bookkeeping and/or web design (or any of a myriad of other things that many toss under the VA umbrella) by all means advertise that you are a VA.  Then, separately advertise that you are a bookkeeper or web designer.  The latter often commands a higher price than Virtual Assistance, so why sell yourself short? 

Can you inform a bookkeeping client that you are also a VA, OF COURSE.  Can you create “Packages” that include these specialties in your VA offerings, again, yes!  But by treating them as separate and individual business offerings your marketing message is clear, you have a broader base, and people can find what they are truly looking for.

Using the Librarian analogy, how many of you would Google Bookkeeper to find a librarian?  Why do you expect potential clients to find a bookkeeper Googleing Virtual Assistance?  Let’s keep our message neat and clean so we stop confusing our market.

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Thinking Of Upgrading Your Software?

September 10, 2008

Think Again! 

No, I don’t mean “don’t do it” I mean think about it once again. 

Why do you want to upgrade and who will it affect? I recently had to make that decision myself as to upgrading from Office 2002, so I am sharing my own thought processes.

5 Things to Consider:

1. Others 

Will others be affected by the change?  Will employees, vendors, customers, clients or service providers, have difficulties interfacing with you?  Remember, if you make it difficult for people to work with you, they may choose to go elsewhere!

2. Compatibility

Are there programs that you simply must use in the course of your business? Will the new software be compatible? If file sharing is something you do, will others that share your files have problems accessing what you have done with their older versions of the same program?

3. “Buggy” Software

Some software is notoriously “buggy” when first released.  Others work like a charm.  Do your homework.  If the one you are considering is one that has a tendency to be “buggy” do you have the patience to work through the problems until a service pack is provided to address those issues?  If not, you may want to wait until those issues have been addressed. 

4. Opinions

If you belong to a network of people in your industry, ask their opinion.  Get a consensus based on people with your same skill level and level of patience. Is this something you can quickly pick up on your own, or are you going to need to take a class or e-course to bring yourself up to speed?

5. New and/or multiple computers

This is the one case where it is more important (from a financial standpoint) to determine if you should downgrade the new computer or upgrade the old, or perhaps run both versions on different computers.  Think long and hard how you can best serve: Your customer base, your patience level, and your personal learning curve.  If you have one or more computers running on an older platform it may be financially sound to consider a downgrade for the newer computer.  On the other hand, having the ability to switch back and forth from older to newer might make it a win-win.

Ultimately, the decision is yours! 

As for myself, I made the decision to go with the newer software. This decision was made because I had to replace my desktop and my laptop within a few months of each other.  Both computers came with Vista.  I asked my colleagues for their advice and several of them have said, once they got used to it, they preferred Office 2007 to older versions. Fortunately, my client base is such that an upgrade will go unnoticed. I considered taking classes through the local Adult Education, but have set that on the back burner for now.  I know from past experience this is a great resource for bringing my skill level up to date.

Community Colleges and Adult Education: Great ways to increase your awareness and update your skills. Using your favorite search engine, type in the name of your city and either “Adult Education” or “Community College” to find a school close to you. Most will have the curriculum online and many offer online courses as well.

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What Kind of Business Training is Best for You?

August 19, 2008

While the content should be something that will enhance your business and help you increase your revenue, skills or happiness; the way in which you learn should help you determine how those skills are best processed by you.

Essentially there are 3 different Learning modalities:

Visual – You find writing things down, or highlighting them to help you best to recall the information.  Diagrams, photos, video or even cards with notes on them – remember flash cards in math?  All of those are helpful for those that process things visually.

Auditory – You learn best by closing your eyes, blocking out the world and listening.  Word Association is an effective tool that you use to remember things.  Tapes and teleconferences are fabulous ways for you to increase you business acumen.

Kinesthetic – You learn best by jumping in and doing it.  You are the one that glosses over directions and fiddles around with things until you know how to do it.  Lessons that include games, role-playing and props (or physical examples of something you can touch) make a much bigger impression on you.

Most people do not have just one modality.  I learn best kinesthetically, but I also learn well visually.  Sitting still through a lecture or teleseminar is difficult for me, no matter how interesting the subject matter.  To counteract this tendency for my mind to wander in situations such as teleseminars, I tend to doodle about what the person is speaking about or take notes.  If the speaker is referencing things from the web I will bring them up on my computer.  I do have to make an effort not to become too involved with whatever is on the web so I tune out the speaker.  I know the point of my doodling or surfing the web is to keep my mind engaged on what the speaker is saying.

The most important thing to do is think about the ways you process information best and then choose the classes or lessons that work with that modality.  If there is a class or seminar that you want to be involved in that is not your strength, think of ways to incorporate your learning modality.  Someone who is auditory might want to record a seminar to listen to later.  Someone who is visual might choose to take notes and go over them with a highlighter later.  A kinesthetic person would choose to jump in and try out whatever it is they are learning to see how it feels.

Play to your strengths, while still being aware of your weaknesses.

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Are YOU a Virtual Assistant?

August 7, 2008

Get Thee to the 2008 Virtual Assistant Industry Survey

Adsurvey The 2008 Virtual Assistant Industry Survey is underway and if you are a Virtual Assistant, you are personally invited and encouraged to participate!

Every August marks the time of year when Virtual Assistants can contribute to the statistics and body of knowledge that is improving the industry’s understanding of itself and the education of its market. Sponsored by the Virtual Assistance Chamber of Commerce, over 10,000 Virtual Assistants from around the world are invited to participate.

Created by Virtual Assistants (the folks who know the industry best!), the Virtual Assistant Industry Survey is the most comprehensive and in-depth survey in the Virtual Assistant profession. With 101 questions, the survey includes detailed cross-sectional data that offers unprecedented information about individual and business demographics, market data and services. Other survey topics include:

  • Education, experience and credentials
  • Employees and subcontractors
  • Clients and target markets
  • Hours and services
  • Pricing and income
  • Training and continuing education
  • Marketing and networking
  • Success, profitability and entrepreneurship
  • Standards, Ethics and Educating the Public

This year’s survey focuses on how the media portrays our industry, what they’re getting wrong and what they’re getting right, our qualification standards and the issues that give a black-eye to the profession. Our collective voices can be heard and have a very real impact on properly educating those who work with us and write about us. That’s why it’s so very important that each and every Virtual Assistant take a moment to participate, be counted and have their say.

The 2008 Virtual Assistant Industry Survey is open to all professional Virtual Assistants. A copy of the 2008 Virtual Assistant Industry Survey Report will be provided at no charge to every participating Virtual Assistant at the end of the survey period August 31.

You Can Help Spread the Word!

By participating, each and every one of us makes a difference in shaping our industry. You can help us in the effort of giving every Virtual Assistant a voice by helping spread the word. Hey, it’s a great excuse for a blog, Twitter, Facebook, MySpace or LinkedIn post, and if you belong to other Virtual Assistant forums and listservs, please tell everyone you can.

Feel free to copy and paste text and graphics as you like from any of these sources:

Office Press Release:
http://www.virtualassistantnetworking.com/releases/2008/080208.htm

Gritty VA Blog Post:
http://www.grittyva.com/the_gritty_virtual_assist/2008/08/get-thee-to-the.html

Survey Page:
http://www.virtualassistantnetworking.com/survey.htm

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Credibility on the Web

August 4, 2008

(Part 2)

Since so many business owners are popping up and creating their own businesses from templates I will add a few do’s and don’ts about designing a website. Any good web designer should know this, so use it as criteria to evaluate their web designs or in designing one yourself. If you can afford a web designer – don’t do it yourself! There is much behind the scenes “stuff” that will be missed in a templated site.

Business websites should have a consistent theme or feel so the viewer knows they are still on the same website. Templates provide this – however there are a whole slew of sites out there that just scream that they are templates. If you must use them do so, but plan to have a professional designer do your site as soon as practical. And make sure that whatever domain name you choose you can take with you, that it is not the property of someone else.

Spelling, punctuation, grammar and font choice are all very important. The web is no place for typos. Have as many fresh eyes as possible go over your site and critique it.

Many people are fond of a particular font or like to change things up. Limit your website to no more than 2 fonts. It should be noted, however that for legibility on the web, a non-serif font is best. This would include Arial, Verdana, Trebuchet, Tahoma and Calibri to name a few. If you use a different, more decorative font, limit it to Titles and headings. By using it sparingly it says more – also realize if you use a lesser known font, it will not necessarily show up for all users as the font you want. Prepare for this contingency.

If this is a strictly business site, leave off the advertisements and web banners. If you do use them, make sure it is clear that it is advertisement separate from your site. Likewise if you include Links or affiliates, be sure they are appropriate to your industry and your audience and leave them on a page labeled Links.

Make sure the content is fresh and updated on a regular basis. If it shows “old news” it quickly loses credibility. An example happened to me recently. A friend decided she wanted a German Shepherd Puppy. I Googled German Shepherd Dog Breeders in her area and came up with several possibilities. One site stood out above the rest, until I read about the most recent litter of puppies born just last week. The date on the photo was 14 months earlier. I passed and moved on. If you don’t care about your site, you don’t care about your customers.

Creating a web presence that has credibility is the first step in creating credibility for you business. Websites have become the platform that most people use to research a business. Make sure yours stands out, is believable and creates the image that you can be proud of.

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Credibility on the Web

July 23, 2008

(Part 1)

Most business owners in the 21st Century recognize the need for a web presence. However, in an effort to put yourself out there, be sure you build in credibility as you build your site. Here are some guidelines for building your web presence.

Purchase your own Domain. Don’t be http://www.YourCompany.AnotherDomain.com. Having your business at it’s own domain is best. Avoid hyphens if possible. If you use them (as I did) you will need to tell everyone your web address is ch(DASH)enterprises.com If your business domain name is taken use your own name (if you are a solo entrepreneur providing a service), use an acronym like GMC.com, or use something uniquely descriptive of your products, “GizmoGuru.com” (Since GarysGizmos.com was taken).

Use an email address of YOU @ YourDomain.com (net, biz, tv… what have you). If you prefer receiving your web based mail on AOL, Yahoo! or Gmail (or any OTHER address – have the email forwarded). Always send business correspondence from your domain. In many cases you can do this from your web based email. For example my email provider is AT&T and my web email interface is through Yahoo! I can also send from within Yahoo! With the “from address” being Cheryl @ ch-enterprises.com.

Having a physical address and phone number gives you credibility. People may not even be aware that this is important when they look at your site. Even if you are a completely virtual business, it is exceedingly important from a business standpoint to include a physical address and phone number. If you are a solopreneur working from home you may want to invest in something like Ring Central switchboard with the ability to forward to your home or cell phone. You can even have VOIP service and take your phone with you in the form of your laptop. Answering services like Ruby Receptionists provide state of the art receptionist, giving your small company a big company feel.

Provide a real, up to date picture of your business, yourself and/or your officers. Include at least a short bio about who you are in and out of the office. This gives readers the sense that they are relating to another human being just like them.

Business websites should be no frills, fast loading, and easy to navigate. These websites are not the place to show-off the cool technological things you can do on the web. Even if that is the type of business you have, keep that sort of thing to a minimum and on a separate portfolio page.

I recently visited a website that was supposed to be fun put together about these authors of fiction novels. Initially the site was intriguing, the premise inviting. But the fancy page turning java script got in the way of what was being presented. With rare exceptions (and always with a clear option to turn it off), business websites should never include music or other loud sounds.

If you have articles or others have written about your business, site them. A business website is not the place to show off all your cool friend’s websites. It’s a business space as much as your office is. Be sure to only connect with credible sources.

Think of your website and email addresses as business tools. How do they look to someone that knows nothing of you or your business. Stay professional, be consistent and project credibility.

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