Virtually Anything

Transition Is Complete

Posted by collinsadmin on September 2, 2008

I am proud to say that the transition of my blog from wordpress.com to my own hosting is now complete.  Here is the link to the new blog.   In the transition of this blog, I also decided to give it a new name and tagline.  Hope you all like it.

Tracy

Posted in CAS News | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Please Bare With Me

Posted by collinsadmin on September 1, 2008

To all my blog followers:

First I want to thank you for reading my blog. Second, I am in the process of transitioning my blog to my own hosting service so if there isn’t much updating in the next few days don’t be alarmed, I will be back up and posting shortly.

Posted in CAS News, Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »

Oh No, I Don’t Know How To Quote This!

Posted by collinsadmin on August 27, 2008

We’ve all ran into this from time to time, a potential client contacts you about a project and you aren’t sure how to quote the price.  That’s okay, no matter how long you have been in business there will always be times when somebody needs your assistance and you aren’t sure how to quote it because you’ve never done it before, you have never quoted it before, or there are so many variables that you don’t know how to quote it.  Here are a few steps to get you through it:

Step One: Breathe. Don’t panic.  Panicking will only get you to make irrational quotes that are way underpriced.  If the client is really interested in using your services, they will wait for your quote.

Step Two: Look at it from a rational point of view.  Do you still need more details? Are all the variables there or do you need more?  Potential clients will not have a problem if you need to ask more questions to get a better understanding of what they need.

Step Three: Consult with somebody.  If you believe you have all the details and variables that you need to be able to make an accurate quote but you are still unsure, talk to somebody.  Go to a trusted friend or family member (preferably somebody who is business savvy), explain to them what was asked of you (without breaching client confidentiality), and get their input.  They may bring up something that you might not have thought about.

Step Four: Go with your gut.  Once you have sat down and analyzed what is needed from you, go with your gut.  If you think it’s too high, then lower the price.  If you think it’s too low, then raise the price.  But always tell the potential client that that quote is good for only that project and that the price is subject to change should they need a similar project done.

Step Five: If you don’t get that particular client, do not be concerned.  It may not have been that you were unprofessional or that your quote was too high.  It could just be that they decided to do it themselves or the project got pushed back because something more important came up.  In business, the trick is to not take everything personal, it’s just business.

With these few steps, you can create a professional and correctly priced quote that will be both beneficial to your client as well as your pocketbook.

Posted in business, Quoting | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Business Tips

Posted by collinsadmin on August 22, 2008

Welcome to the newest category of my blog, business tips.  This category is where I will post a weekly tip about anything from general business tips to tips on different software that is used.

For the first tip, I would like to show you how to search for duplicates in excel when you are unable to sort your document.

Open your document:

Highlight the column that you want to use to test for duplicates

Click on Formats

Click on Conditional Format

Where it says “Cell value is” Change to “Formula is”

(Assuming you are using column A) In the box to the right, type in the following formula:

 =COUNTIF(A:A, A2)>1

Click on the button that says Format

Another box opens that says Format cells.

Click on the patterns tab

Select the color you wish for the duplicates to appear in, click ok

Then on the conditional formatting box, click Ok.

Scroll down and you will see all instances of duplication are highlighted in the color you chose.

This tip comes in handy when you have a large spreadsheet that you know has duplicates but you do not want to spend the time going through each one manually.

Next week: Removing the conditional formatting

Posted in Business Tips | Leave a Comment »

“Yes, A Virtual Assistant Has a Contract.”

Posted by collinsadmin on August 19, 2008

Recently I read a blog post about virtual assistants.  This person wanted to know if anybody has used one and what they thought about it.  There were some positive posts about virtual assistants but there were also some negative posts and of course, the negative posts stuck.

One of the comments was that virtual assistants had contracts that needed to be signed and they didn’t want to sign them.

Yes, virtual assistants do have contracts but they don’t only protect the virtual assistant, they also protect the client. A well written contract will protect the rights of both parties in a balanced way – you really DON’T want to work with a VA who does not use a contract (unless the work involved is a very small amount and non-sensitive in nature), since it is both unprofessional, and risky!

Some common contract clauses:

  •  Intellectual property rights and copyright protection clauses. This protects the client because it is in writing that the VA will not use or sell any material belonging to the client.  If this is not included, virtual assistants would be free to use and sell any material that their client provides to them. That means trade secrets, articles, etc.
     
  • Most contracts state that the VA will return all materials to their client should there be a reason that they no longer work together. If this was not in the contract, the VA could hold those items “hostage” – this can happen with an unethical assistant of any kind, including in the office, if you do not have the requirements legally spelled out.
  •  Many contain confidentiality assurances. This protects you and gives you a legal option if your information is carelessly shared with others.

Another commenter said that it didn’t work out not only because the client didn’t take the time to plan what needed to be done but also because the VA didn’t take the initiative to do anything without detailed instructions.  When you do an initial consultation with a potential VA, you need to have a list of what it is that you don’t believe are the core tasks of your business and what you really don’t like doing. If you don’t have a list, you need to be able to explain what a typical day entails for you, then a VA can help you figure out the best things to outsource.

Working with a VA is the same as working with an in-house employee, neither can read minds so they need to know what it is that needs to be done, at least at the beginning.  Once you have worked together for any length of time, the VA will be able to get a routine going and know when you like articles done, or when to backup your website, etc.

Communication is essential – a good VA will remind you occasionally, or ask questions to clarify, but YOU must state definitively what you need to have done, and how you want it done. Again a VA can not read their clients’ minds, and if you want the job done completely, and correctly, you must give clear information about what that means.  If you send them a spreadsheet with no specific instructions, it is just a spreadsheet.  VA’s are there to make their clients’ lives easier and to do the work the way the client wants it done, or to find a way to do the same task more efficiently without compromising the results. You can’t just send them a file with nothing else.

Over time, a VA will get to know how you want many things done, and will be able to lessen the amount of instruction needed for routine tasks. If instructions have been given, and the work is still not done without prompting, then you may be working with a VA who lacks motivation. If that is the case then by all means “fire” them and find a different VA that is a better match.

Another person stated that they need more of a relationship with people they work with. There may be VA’s who prefer to be professionally reserved, and everything is work, work, work with them but there are VA’s who really like to get to know their clients personally as well as professionally, you just have to find the right match.  To do this, when you initially consult with a potential VA, talk about business but also ask them about themselves personally. If the VA tends to shy away from talking about themselves and you can’t carry on a casual conversation with them, then that VA might not be right for you.

Just remember a VA can not read your mind, they have contracts so they can protect themselves as well as their clients, and as in all industries there may be a few bad apples but for every bad apple, you will find a dozen good apples. Also remember the most important tip of all, you get out of a VA what you put in, so take the time to build the relationship, convey your wishes clearly, and you can build a working relationship that benefits your business for years to come.

Posted in business, Virtual Assistance | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »

Social Networking Sites for Business Do’s and Don’ts.

Posted by collinsadmin on August 11, 2008

With the internet comes all types of different ways to reach potential clients both far and near, along with this comes social networking sites. Social networking sites have been a great asset to having a successful online business. However, the networking sites and how to utilize them confuse many people. Below, you will find a list of my favorite networking sites for business and what you should and shouldn’t do on them.

For each different site there is a couple of general rules to follow such as do not post a picture of you in a bikini, swimwear, speedos etc. Do not post something to just spark an argument or if there is an argument going on, don’t add flame to the fire it will only look bad on you. Don’t forget, your posts and profiles will be indexed by the search engines and if you are seen as argumentative and non-professional it will hurt your business. It only takes a short time to get a bad reputation and a lifetime to regain a good reputation.

Facebook– This is a site that was started mainly as a personal networking site where you can find old friends and classmates it has since also become a great business networking site. You can keep your colleagues up to date about what you have been doing so that they can get to know you better. It does take some time to fill out a profile and find some “friends” to connect with but it is very useful. Do update your status consistently that is one of the only ways that people get to know you. Don’t add every single application that is available on the site such as hugs, kisses, gifts, etc only add the ones that you feel will be beneficial to business. There are still people on slow connections that if your profile doesn’t load quickly, you may have just lost your best client because they won’t hang around or come back to get to know you better.

Ryze-This site has always been a business networking site. This site is unique because it has many different networks and much more interaction between members that makes it easy to get to know people and their business. You can sign their guestbooks, participate in conversations etc. Do participate as much as possible. Do fill in your profile and make it look professional but also put a little something in there about yourself personally. Don’t private message somebody with a business opportunity unless they specifically ask for it on one of the forums. Don’t spam guestbooks. A simple hi and comment on something about their profile or one of their posts will suffice.

Twitter– This is one of the easiest social networking sites there is. You simply answer the question, what are you doing and update it periodically throughout the day. You find other people you may know and become “followers” of their posts. This gives you the opportunity to get to know about their business and what they are doing. Do talk about your business without spamming. Do not just say hey, check out my website. Give them a reason to go to your website.

Front Porch Folks-This is a very new business networking site. They have featured members, a forum, marketing lessons, brainstorming sessions, and awards given to members for doing extraordinary things. This is a free business networking site (for now) where you can connect with other like minded people and post in the forums and learn about marketing at your own pace. Since this is such a new networking site, it has not run into any of the problems that the other sites have. No matter though, always follow the general rules for social networking sites.

So here you have a list of some of my favorite business networking sites. If you follow the general rules for every social networking site and some of the rules specific to each site, you will have a successful and lively business ahead of you. So, happy networking to you all!

Posted in business | Tagged: , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Stop Passing The Buck and Blaming Everyone Else

Posted by collinsadmin on August 5, 2008

Have you ever realized how so many people/businesses are willing to put the blame on somebody else before they will take the blame themselves?

Recently I was involved in a friendly debate about a certain big box retailer,  that we all know, setting up shop in towns all over the world and closing down all the mom and pop stores.  While this store may be responsible for a few of the little stores closing up shop, I do not believe that they are to blame for all.  It was said that this large store comes in and sells all of the items for really cheap and the small stores are not able to keep up with them so therefore they are going out of business.

Now here is the problem that I see with this statement and I am sure I will be getting some flak for this but that’s okay-if the large store is selling the exact same thing that you are selling but for a cheaper price, why not change the items you sell?  Now before I get everybody yelling at me about  “why should I change what has worked for me for years just because somebody bigger comes in”, hear me out.

Having a business and being successful is all about meeting the needs of consumers or other businesses.  What may have worked for the past 20 years may not be working anymore.  Take for instance McDonald’s, for years they have been selling happy meals with fries and fountain drinks but now all of a sudden everybody is on this big health kick so they needed to meet the needs of the consumers so now people have the option of having the basic fries and fountain drink or opting for the healthier version of apples and milk.  That is good business. They found a need and they fulfilled it.

I have made several mistakes in my business but not once did I blame it on somebody else.  Instead, I sat back and took a long hard look at why the mistake happened and what I can do to fix it.  People are so reluctant to admit defeat or failure or even accept change but in business, the needs and wants of consumers are constantly changing and you have to change your business along with them.  Take a look at technology, the personal computer is no longer all that consumers want or need.  Now they want, portability, speed, pictures etc  had the technological companies not met the needs of their consumers, they would have closed in a heartbeat.

So as you can see if somebody is encroaching on your “territory” you need to take a look at what you can do to compete with that particular business and still meet the needs of your clients.  So stop blaming the world when the solution to the problem lies within you.

Posted in business | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Don’t Be Bullied In Business

Posted by collinsadmin on July 28, 2008

We have our house up for sale and recently we got an offer that we accepted.  However, the buyer of our house thought that since the housing market being what it is today, he could bully us into doing what he wanted. Well needless to say, the deal fell through which is okay.

Some of you may be thinking, what the heck are you doing?  Getting a house sold right now is a great accomplishment.  I would tend to agree but I would rather live in my house than be bullied into something that I don’t believe in.  This whole ordeal was a huge awakening for me in what I perceive about myself and business.

Too often, business owners are bullied into doing something that is either against their personal principles or what they want for their business.  They do this because they believe that in order to get a client they need to submit to the demands, but that is not the case at all.

One thing that business owners need to take into consideration is that while the client may be providing your business with an income in the short term, in the long term this particular client will be more trouble than they are worth.  You will be babysitting more than doing what you love.  You will be bending over backwards just to keep him happy and is that really how you want to run your business.

Customer service is a big issue and from the time we get our first job until the time that we decide to think for ourselves, it is pounded into us that the customer is always right.  For some things that is true but not always.  As a business owner we need to stand up and stick to our guns about how we want our businesses ran.  Running a business does not mean that we need to put our principles and our beliefs to the side just to make a client happy.

We will all meet this dilemma at one time or another. A client who is overbearing, tries to micromanage everything you do and somebody who will find fault with everything you do. It is at this time that it is best to just cut the ties.  In the long run, your clients will appreciate the fact that you have principles and you will not set them aside just to make somebody happy.  You may lose that bully of a client but you will see that you will be much happier running your business as you wish and your clients will appreciate you more for not selling out just to make a buck. Not to mention the fact that business owners who love their business and love their clients are more successful than those who feel anxious or like the clients are running them.

Posted in business | Tagged: , , , , , | 1 Comment »

The Economy and Small Business

Posted by collinsadmin on July 8, 2008

Due to the status of the US economy right now, many small businesses are having a hard time with sustainability.  Even though the price of gas, food, and other necessities are rising, small businesses are reluctant to raise their prices.  They don’t want to put any more of a hardship on their clients but yet they also need to be able to run a business that is profitable. 

 Raising prices for products/services should be a last resort.  A few things can be done to cut corners without compromising the service to clients. 

  1. Do you really need the newest gadget? In a world of cell phones, laptops, computers, blackberries, Iphones etc who wouldn’t want the newest greatest gadget to go with the technological world that we live in?  This is when you have to really sit back and think, do you really need it?  Are you losing time and productivity because of the technology that you have now? If the answer is yes then by all means if you can afford it, go out and buy it, but if you just want the latest, greatest, coolest gadget out there for the prestige, walk away. If you do feel that you need new equipment, check out sites like www.ebay.com, www.amazon.com, and www.woot.com for low-cost alternatives.  If you use Ebay, just be leary of what you are purchasing and make sure they have good feedback from previous customers. On Amazon, you can read reviews, and often choose between new and used. Always test a trial version of new software before you buy.
     
  2. Do you really show your clients that you care? There is more to customer satisfaction than just getting their work to them by the deadline. Your clients need to know that you care.  This doesn’t need to cost anything.  It can be something as simple as talking to them and finding out about their problems and then finding a solution for them. I don’t mean selling them more services/products, I mean actually listening and offering a solution. Doing small and thoughtful good deeds can mean the difference between retaining a client or losing one.
     
  3. Are you flexible in how to get more clients? With the economic woes, people are going to need different types of things than they once did.  People need to be more cautious about how they spend their hard-earned money.  Do you have a plan on how to capitalize on this?  At times, this may mean offering different types of services/products at different prices.  I don’t mean a lower quality but I do mean a lower price product. For example, if somebody only needs a letter tweaked, instead of charging hourly, just charge a flat rate or don’t charge at all unless it is intensive tweaking.  Are you willing to barter, will you help someone with a custom solution, and can you revise your product or service to meet a new need? You will gain more clients by showing that you care about them and their needs.
     
  4. Can you outsource any of your business tasks? Outsourcing does require you to spend money but it can also help you to receive money. Some people may think they are saving money by handling everything themselves from administrative work to website design and everything in between. If you are one of those people, next time you start working on your website or you administrative work, make a mental note as to how much time you are spending on these things and what you could be doing in that time to help increase your profits. If you are spending 5 hours doing a task that a pro could do in 1, you are losing money at it – if you charge $45 per hour for your time, and a pro charges less, you are losing money even if you can do it in the same time. If a pro can help you avoid costly mistakes due to inexperience, it also makes more sense to hire it out. 

Being a small business in hard economic times is doable it just depends on what you do to create the sustainability factor. It may require thinking outside of the box a little bit but it can be done in a wildly successful way.

Posted in business, Customer Service, Virtual Assistance | Tagged: , , , | 3 Comments »

How Are You Keeping Your Clients Happy?

Posted by collinsadmin on June 10, 2008

Recently, I had to drop a service that I have had for 5 years. The main reason was they didn’t have all the features that I needed and I found something a bit cheaper that has the features I wanted.

Once I contacted the company to cancel my service, I received two phone calls from them offering a free month service as well as some other features. I know this is how corporate America works; the question is why? Had they offered me those same incentives while I was a client, I would have been more apt to deal with the inconveniences and the slightly higher price, but they didn’t. They waited until I canceled my subscription.

More and more, corporate America is more interested in getting rich than the needs and wants of their clients. They are forgetting about the clients that made their pocketbooks as fat as they are today. For instance, look at the gas prices. We all know the prices are high and it is hurting the little guy, while the oil companies are making record profits (but I digress).

As a small business owner, we have to make sure that we are keeping our clients happy. I’m not saying to go out and decrease your profits by offering free services constantly, but maybe send them a thank you card with a gift card in it for a local restaurant, offer a discount on their next month invoice, something just to let them know that you care about them and their needs and wants. Do this at other times besides Christmas. Your clients will really appreciate the fact that you are thinking of them and you appreciate them.

If you don’t have the finances at the time to do this type of thing, contact them once every six months or so and ask them if they are happy with your service and if there is anything that they are unhappy with. Sure, this might be tough to hear at times but your clients will appreciate the fact that you value their input and you value their business so much that you are willing to get their opinion. Also, if anything that they are unhappy with is something that you can fix or change without costing a fortune, do it. They will appreciate it.

Some customer service follow-ups can be automated. Look over your website, and see what it can be doing to help keep your customers happy – from providing easily accessible support, to automating customer awards, or collecting customer feedback.

Make sure that if you are in a business where service or product fees decline over time, that you keep your older customers up with the current pricing. Nothing is more distressing to them than to look at your website and realize that you are offering a higher service for a lower price to new customers, while the existing customer service package has not changed. Customer incentives need not be expensive to work – they just need to be meaningful and sincere. Some examples are:

 Create an award such as client of the year, client of the month, etc

Send Out Cards (www.sendoutcards.com)

Greeting Card templates to print your own

Ezine Director (www.ezinedirector.com)

SugarCRM (www.sugarcrm.com)

National Pens (www.nationalpen.com)

My Contact Form (www.mycontactform.com) for feedback from clients

Also, if you created/maintain your own website, do a client spotlight once a month or so. Have a link to their website, a write-up about them and their business, why you chose them etc. Just make sure that it is okay with your client first.

In conclusion, once you start making a comfortable living doing the business of your choice, don’t forget your current clients. If it wasn’t for them, you wouldn’t be where you are today.

Posted in business, Customer Service | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »