Why Hire a Virtual Assistant (and why I became one)

Tuesday, 13th December, 2016

It is traditional, this time of year, for virtual assistants to remind others of the value of virtual support. I did it myself at the start of December, on my Facebook page:-

"If you're struggling to see the wrapping paper for the paperwork, or wondering how you'll find time to eat, let alone do the Christmas food shopping, you probably need to outsource some of your tasks...."

The irony being, I couldn't remember where I'd put last year's wrapping paper stash at that point. Although the salmon had been ordered (priorities).

Most sole traders and SMEs appreciate the value of outsourcing tasks or chunks of their work to someone with the time and knowledge to get the job done, efficiently and cost effectively. A former boss once told me, "You don't have a dog and bark yourself". It was lost on me at the time... but the penny soon drops once you start your own enterprise and time becomes a precious (and expensive) commodity. In order to expand and grow a business, you need to create the time and space to apply your energy to that goal, which you can't do if you're struggling to do everything yourself.

It is easy to lose sight of why we do what we do, amongst all the busy-ness of the day-to-day.

This crazy last week of my daughter's school term has been a reminder of why I do what I do. The end of term bugs, the activities... at least there is no school disco this year! I don't think either of us could find the energy.

Some days it seems like working for someone else's business would be the easiest option. You know those days when being the boss isn't as fun as it usually is? Regular salary, nice desk, office hours and banter with colleagues all seem marvellous. Banter excepted, the lack of these is the reason I love doing what I do!

I can work from wherever I need to (have laptop and mobile, will travel); I can manage my workload around my daughter's needs; I can use a quiet period to take Mum somewhere she wants to be, or meet with a fellow lone worker for coffee (let's call it networking!). Ok, I might have to pull a few late nights now and then, but I'm at my most creative while others are sleeping, so it's a win-win situation all round.

And let's not forget, when you work for yourself you are working towards your goals and dreams, not someone else's.

"What is she doing? This isn't selling her service to me!"

Bear with me...

Each virtual assistant has his or her own story, their own reason why they do what they do. They are most likely self employed, like many of their clients. They understand the need for flexibility, the need to "just get it done", but also in budget.

A virtual assistant may have their own commitments or family. They will understand your need to create time to spend with yours.

I hope you are able to take some time for yourself and your loved ones this festive season, whatever you are celebrating, and wish you success and happiness for 2017.

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Networking: Childsplay?

Tuesday, 9th August, 2016

We are off to a breakfast meeting in Abingdon this morning. I say we, I mean my 8 year old daughter and I. The networking event is held in a cafe, so it's business as usual for any working parents. Refreshing for me and an exciting trip out for my own Girl Wonder. No, seriously!

My daughter is quite clued up about what I do. I don't dumb things down, but explain how and why I do what I do, as and when she shows an interest. She is also amazingly perceptive and understands a whole lot more about the grown-up world than I often give her credit for. This, and her father and step-mother's roles in organising their local festival, probably contribute to her frequent role-play as a PA-come-event-organiser. The level of detail involved in these games is impressive and beyond anything I would have dreamed of at that age!

We had a chat over tea and cereal about what a networking event might be, so she knew what to expect. I needn't have worried.


Do you know what a networking event is?


It's all about communicating.


I'm no wall-flower, but sometimes attending a new breakfast meeting/networking event (call it what you will) can be daunting. If you don't know anyone it can be easy to find a reason not to go, and then who's missing out? You!

What are you afraid of? Why should you make the effort?

Are you worried about saying the wrong thing? Don't know what to say to strangers? Afraid to meet potential new members of a team of like minded individuals to take your business forward? Afraid of sharing your own network of amazingly skilled businesses and individuals with a wider audience?

Before you know it, going seems a complicated and scary thing to do.

I think the simplicity of the 8 year old mind is the answer. What do children do at break time in school? They network. They build relationships, some of which will last and continue, inside and outside of school, others that just benefit them in that moment. And they do it through communication.

Ok, so I won't be asking anyone to join us in a game of hopscotch this morning, but at the very least I'll get to talk to some new and interesting people. As will Girl Wonder.

Happy networking!

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Are you cautious with copyright?

Monday, 23rd November, 2015

It's a bright, sunny morning but too chilly to sit outside. Instead, I'm cosy and warm in my office, coffee in hand, trawling the internet for royalty free images to use for a client project. Glorious, full colour pictures of roast dinners, lasagne, jacket potatoes.... really do love my work!

Following a conversation with someone last week, I realised that not many people are cautious, or in some cases even aware, of the copyright laws covering images and other intellectual property available on the internet. Just because it comes up in a search does not mean that you can, or should, use that chosen image willy-nilly on your marketing material/Facebook/Website. There are certain protocols to observe if you don't want to land yourself in hot water, legally speaking.

You can get more detailed information and advice on the situation in the UK here: https://www.gov.uk/using-somebody-elses-intellectual-property

Copyright prevents people from copying, distributing, renting, lending, adapting or putting work on the internet that isn't their own. The artist/owner of the image (their intellectual property) does not need to display a copyright symbol on the work for this to apply.

To be safe, use photographs you have taken or own yourself or images from recognised royalty free sites. Check the terms and conditions of use; you may be required to reference where the image has come from or the creator, but not always. Also, make yourself familiar with the copyright protocols of the originating country. The US and UK are fairly similar, but I am not a lawyer and would always aim to check the situation before using someone else's intellectual property.

I obtain most of the images that I use through http://Pixabay.com, although there are other similar sites out there and you may have your own particular favourite.

Uploaded images on Pixabay are released under Creative Commons CC0 and the uploaders have waived their copyright and related or neighboring rights to those images. There are caveats, of course, regarding possible third party copyrights and use of images of identifiable people, but so long as you are cautious and aware, you should be covered. If in doubt, don't use it!

Another helpful site is http://Bing.com/images. You can search for what you want and apply license filters to the search, depending on what you want to do with the images. For example, "Free to modify, share and use commercially" should bring up a quantity of images that you can do just that with. However, do be aware that it is just a search engine. You should do all you can to ensure that the owner of the photograph is indeed giving others carte blanche to do as they wish with their image. Be cautious and, if in doubt, don't use it!

What if you do use a copyrighted image in a way that the owner/creator of that intellectual property is not happy with? Are all creators going to spend time searching the internet for cases of infringement? Possibly not, but I know that I would rather be cautious with copyright, than caught.

(Image courtesy of McLac2000 on Pixabay.com)

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Friday Afternoon Funk, Monday Morning Mood (Or 6 tips for overcoming potential periods of procrastination...Friday, Monday or any day!)

Friday, 2nd October, 2015

It's Friday! Yay!

Friday mornings whizz by, don’t you think? It's so easy to feel buzzy and motivated when you know you have something to look forward to! But from lunchtime on the day seems to take F.O.R.E.V.E.R!

I am the world’s biggest procrastinator when I’m tired or out of sorts. Staying focused and concentrating on the job in hand can be a little tricky. Would you agree that motivation can be a big problem when you work from home?

Do you procrastinate? Or concentrate?

By Friday lunchtime the energy levels are flagging somewhat and the afternoon just DRAGS! It’s really hard to find the motivation to keep going. You know there are things to do…but it’s REALLY HARD when all you want to do is put your head on your desk and SLEEP! Or go for a walk, or cuddle the cat…whatever it is you’d rather be doing instead!

And don’t get me started on Monday mornings! Although it’s getting started that’s the problem.

SO! What are you going to do about it?

Here are my top 6 tips to get around a Friday afternoon funk or a Monday morning mood.

1) Set yourself small goals and reward yourself for achieving them.

Dip into your to do list for something that will take less than an hour to do. Pick just one and concentrate on that one thing, then REWARD yourself when it’s completed! Whether it’s a cup of tea and a biccie, a walk round the block or a cuddle with the cat! If you work from home by yourself there’s no harm touching base with others in the same situation. You can motivate each other to get back to it and dig in until the end of the day!

2) Set aside time for refreshment breaks; elevenses, lunch, afternoon tea.

When you break for lunch, give yourself time to eat something tasty and digest it; go for a walk – Outside if you can! – or watch something amusing on social media. Maybe, like me, you enjoy the odd funny cat video? Laughter is the best medicine after all! It’s a break and totally different to spending all morning on the ‘phone or typing, whatever it is you do for a living. If you have that break, have a giggle, some exercise, it will refresh you and release those endorphins to make you feel lighter in mood and more able to sit down and get back to it.

3) Set yourself blocks of time to complete tasks/take breaks.

Don’t fall into “I’ll just do this….and I’ll just do this…”! GIVE yourself a time scale because it focuses your mind. Don’t beat yourself up if it takes longer than 5 minutes to make a cup of tea - I believe that a little procrastination does you good, especially if you’re creative - but do try to keep to that timescale.

4) REMIND yourself what your ultimate reward will be at the end of the day.

Whether it’s putting your dressing gown on and vegging on the sofa with a takeaway, or a night out on the town, that doesn’t matter, it’s YOUR reward and you can give yourself that reward IF you’ve done the work you need to do.

5) Ask yourself, “What do I want on my desk on Monday morning?”

Friday afternoon is a good time to write a “to do” list. Plan what you will need to do Monday morning. Work out how long it will take to do each task, factor in breaks, and resolve to do just that. Monday morning can be hard work if you’ve not prepared for it on the Friday. You sit at your desk thinking “where do I start?” and end up writing the to-do list! Not focused.. not motivated. If you prepare, you will be in the zone on Monday morning.

6) Don’t get sidetracked!

Monday morning for me is checking social media and e-mails time. It can be easy to get lost looking at motivational pictures with words on… cat videos?....what my friends did at the weekend?.... sometimes having social media accounts for business is a bit of a curse, but you need to focus and concentrate, not procrastinate (says she)!

I just wanted to share these tips with you in the hope that it might help you get over your Friday Afternoon Funk or Monday Morning Mood. If you have any you can add let me know – I could use the help!

Enjoy your weekend and have a great week next week!

(If you'd like to see the video version of this blog, please visit: https://youtu.be/RHdSo71zxIk )

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Problem Solving and 70s Disco - Avoiding Avoidance

Monday, 14th September, 2015

I was going to write a very dull post on problem solving and how there is more than one way to skin a cat (which, apparently, is more to do with swinging from a bar by your hands than doing awful things to feline friends). It might have also included a bit on procrastination not helping when it comes to solving problems.

However, as I sat typing (keeping Mother company while she watched the television), I noticed some very enthusiastic shapes being thrown at a disco dance in Yorkshire and became completely sidetracked! In stark contrast to the pedantry style of my original posting idea, many sparkle-clad guys and gals leapt, twirled and arm flailed to the strains of popular 70s disco dance hits. I confess I knew them all, thanks to a childhood spent listening to Mum and Dad's vinyl collection. Boogying is in the genes you see (Mum was disco dancing the nights away not long before I was born)...as is procrastination. But that's another story.

I digress! What was I talking about?

Oh yes, problem solving. We both know there is no point in putting it off. Whether it's a seemingly insurmountable mountain of a problem, or a minor frustration that bugs you relentlessly, with a bit of creativity and some help YOU CAN DO IT!

You'd like an example? Of course, delighted to provide one!

Problem: Hand written jumble of notes that need to be typed up into a clear, concise, chronological report of events. Only you are exhausted, your hands hurt and you know it will take forever to get your head (and fingers) round your word-processing software.

Solution: Contact a friendly VA you happen to know of. Have a quick chat on Facebook. Take pictures of said hand-written notes with the iPad and send them to said VA via Facebook message. VA types them up, clarifies a few points, e-mails the final version back to you.

This really did happen and I was very glad to be able to help. It wasn't a huge project, or a huge problem, but having someone else do the bit that WAS a problem made life so much easier, without putting it off for another day.

It is also a much more succinct way of explaining what I was going to explain before that chap in the gold lamé started high-kicking his way around the screen.

Now, where did that Boney-M album get to?

(The writer is, of course, well known amongst friends and family for procrastination. The smaller the problem, the greater the procrastination. These days things are a little different...with the odd exception...otherwise this post would never have been written. We are only human!)

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