Virtually Anything

That Evil Thing Called Procrastination

Posted by collinsadmin on June 3, 2008

It’s time to be honest with yourself.  How many of you procrastinate? My guess is we all do it at one time or another, and for one reason or another.  I know I do it occasionally.  

I don’t procrastinate with my clients work because I love what I do and I know that my clients are counting on me to get it done quickly and efficiently. However, I do procrastinate my marketing a lot.  I always think of an excuse as to why I can’t do it.  Anywhere from I don’t know how all the way to, I need to do something else at the moment (non-marketing related).  It’s especially bad for me around the holidays (Christmas and New Years) and this time of the year because it is getting so nice out that I don’t want to be stuck behind a computer.  There are a few things that I have recently been doing to try and get past the procrastination and I am going to share them with you.

Find An Accountability Partner

This can be a friend, a colleague, a family member or anybody you know in general.  I just recently found myself an accountability partner, she happens to be a great friend as well as a colleague.  I tried to have my husband do it but he’s too laid back and because he is my spouse, I would just get annoyed and then pout for a little bit (who knew at 31 yrs old I would still be pouting).  Anyways, the accountability partner that I found is somebody whom I respect a great deal and I know that she will give me that extra kick in the pants when I need it.  Basically, I email her a list of my goals for the week and she tells me if she thinks they are reasonable and then she may brainstorm with me.  Then on the following Monday, I email her a list of my accomplishments and my new set of goals and if I didn’t get something done, she will gently but assertively prod me to get it done.  So far I think it is a good thing (after all I am writing a blog post, which was a goal for this week).

Review Your Business Plan

Pull out that 20 page business plan that has been sitting in your desk just collecting dust.  Take a look at what you wanted to accomplish and where you wanted to be at this time when you wrote the business plan. Make some changes if you feel your goals have changed.  If there are things in that business plan that you wish you had accomplished by now, focus on them and you will feel re-energized.

Understand Why You Procrastinate

 This is also a good time to sit back and think about why you are procrastinating.  Is it because you hate it, because you’re afraid of it, because it is so nice outside, or because your mind is wondering? If you are afraid of it, that is where the accountability partner can come in, not only do they hold you accountable but they can also help you get past your fears by just talking about them. If it’s because it’s nice outside, take a quick walk or if you have a laptop, go sit outside and do the work from there.  If it’s because your mind is wondering, you must realize that whatever your mind is wondering to whether it be vacation, time with friends, etc, if you don’t get the work done sitting in front of you, you won’t be able to enjoy the time you have doing those things because you will be stressing about work that didn’t get done.  If it’s because you hate doing the thing in front of you, outsource it.  If it’s marketing, outsource it.  If it’s designing your website, outsource it.  If it’s administrative, outsource it.  If it doesn’t have anything to do with business but it’s personal, like cleaning the house, hire a housekeeper.  If it’s cooking dinner, go out to eat.  There are a number of ways that you can handle things that you don’t like, just use your imagination.

We have all been there when it comes to running a business.  We procrastinate, we lose motivation, etc. We are all really gung ho when the entrepreneurial bug bites us but then we realize it’s not as easy to run a business as they portray it on the internet and even on TV but once we stop procrastinating and start doing, we will reap the rewards of being a business owner.

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What Not To Do When Running A Business

Posted by collinsadmin on May 14, 2008

We all make mistakes when starting our own business.  Yes, some of them are mistakes to be ashamed of but nonetheless they were honest mistakes.  As long as you learn from your mistakes, you can be successful in running a business.

I have made my share of mistakes when dealing with clients so I am sharing them with you so that you don’t make the same mistakes.

OverHyper

In the past, I have had potential clients contact me via phone.  This is great news right?  Not always.  At times, I have been so excited that I allow my emotions to take over and become as giddy as a high school girl who realizes her crush feels the same way. Of course, once I get off the phone I then have the opportunity to sit back and realize what I did wrong.  So no matter how badly you need the business, do not let your emotions overtake the conversation. Be yourself but be professional as well.

Trying To Be Someone You Are Not

We’ve all seen it on the internet, in advertisements, in conversation etc.  It’s that ever so popular saying “be professional”.  Dress professional, act professional, speak professionally, etc.  Professional is open to interpretation.

Now I’m not saying go out in public wearing holey clothes, run around public places acting like you are a monkey, or using words of the English language that you wouldn’t want your mother or children to hear, but I am saying be yourself. You don’t have to have a masters degree, you don’t have to be a genius, you don’t have to use big words to look professional.

That was one of my major hang ups and I am gradually getting to the point where I can be myself.  See, I am a very laid back type of person but I was trying to be uptight (for lack of a better word) and all that was doing was making me feel nervous, anxious, and just not myself.  I also realized that by taking on this mindset, I was attracting the wrong personality trait that I am interested in working with.  Remember be yourself and you will attract the people that you are most compatible with.

Never Be Afraid To Ask For Payment

I remember one of the biggest mistakes I ever made in running my business was being afraid to ask for payment.  One of the very first potential clients I had contact me, wanted some information about my services.  We discussed how I could help him and what he needed done then it came to giving him my rate. It all went downhill from there.

I actually said “This is the part that I have a hard time with, my rate is $25/hour.”  Once I got off the phone I said to myself, what the heck was that. To be honest with you, I have no clue what I was thinking at the time.  I was very afraid to ask for payment but I have since realized that I am worth every penny that I charge.  My time and expertise is precious and I work hard for every penny that I earn.  Remember, never ever be afraid to ask for payment   If you think you are charging too much sit back and re-evaluate your business and what you feel you are worth and change your fee accordingly.

Always Know Your Limitations

This happened as early as the beginning of last year, I have definitely learned from this mistake, and lucky for me my client was very understanding and has since become my best client.

I  received an email from a potential client asking me if I could do a database for him (in Access). He told me what he wanted and I told him sure there would be no problem because I knew Access (at least I thought I did) and I was in need of some business.  I told him it would take a couple of days.  Well once I got more into the project I realized I was in way over my head.  Luckily for me, I found a person from the UK via an Access forum who was gracious enough to hold my hand and walk me through the whole creation.

I pushed my pride aside and told my client that I was in over my head but that I said I would do it and I would work at it until I had it to his satisfaction.  It took me approximately 2 months to complete the whole database but my client was happy with it.  However, I would not ever do that again.  If it is something that I have never done, I tell the client up front and then they can decide if they still want to use my services.  I will never take on a project unless I am 100% sure that I can handle it or without telling my client that it may be beyond my expertise.

If you aren’t 100% sure that you are able to help your client with his/her needs tell them upfront.  Do not say that you can just to get business because you will get more respect from a potential client if you are honest with them than you will if you sugar coat things.

So here are the top mistakes that I have made in my business and I hope that if any of these mistakes are ones that you have found yourself doing you will learn from them.  I also believe that if one person learns from my mistakes before they make them, then this article has served its purpose.

 

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Is Honesty Too Much To Ask Anymore

Posted by collinsadmin on May 5, 2008

Recently it seems that my trusting nature has gotten me nowhere but the shaft. I guess anymore you should expect to be taken once in awhile (which is very sad) but what gets me the most is the type of people who are doing it.

Recently I was giving something away for free and I had a short form where all I wanted was the email address and the name of the person and company who was asking for it (nothing extravagant just something to keep track of where it went) and wouldn’t you know it, I got somebody who left some pretty vulgar names in the form. Now I am not one to get offended easily but what irritated me most was that I put my time and energy into this item without asking a penny for it and I had somebody who was ignorrant about it. I don’t always expect to get real email addresses or names but I do expect to get respect.

I let that pass and just chalked it up to somebody who was just plain ignorrant (there is always one bad apple in the tree). Then, again within the last couple of months somebody on a forum was looking for somebody to make a form for them. They had many people who tried to create the form like he wanted but for whatever reason the people didn’t know what he was asking for. So I decided since that is one of my services that I would offer to do it for him. I told him it would be $10 and since my policy is that I make sure the client is happy before I charge them, I created the form and sent it to him for his approval.

A week goes by with no response, so I figure he’s busy and wait for another week. I then email him and ask if he was satisfied with it. Again no response. So I wait another week and email him again and he emails me back that he has been extremely busy and hasn’t had the chance to look at it and that he would get back to me as soon as possible. Needless to say, I haven’t gotten a response. Sure I could keep hounding him but I have better things to do with my time then track somebody, who obviously doesn’t have common courtesy, for a measly $10.

One of the things that I have learned from this experience is not to be so trusting (although I really hate to feel this way). Just recently I got a request from somebody who wanted to review an excel sheet that I created (which I am selling) but instead of me just emailing him the excel sheet that does all the calculations, figuring if he was interested he would pay me, I put it in a PDF format and emailed it to him. Had it been a few months ago that he asked me for the sheet to review, I would’ve sent him the regular one but I’ve been burned too many times and unfortunately, I have to keep my guard up all the time.

My question to all those reading is; Is honesty in this ever-changing technological world gone? Is it only going to get worse with the advancement of technology due to the anonymity it gives?

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Friends are the backbone of society

Posted by collinsadmin on May 2, 2008

Recently I had a death in my family, it was expected but also a shock, and I took it kind of hard but I had a great friend who was there to help me through it. No it wasn’t my next door neighbor or somebody close to my location it was somebody clear across the country. Her name was Laura Wheeler from Firelight Web Studio. 

She listened to me when I felt I needed to talk and she offered as much support as she could.  Now, I know that she has a busy business to run but she took the time to respond to my emails and just offer me support. To me, that is a great friend.

With the advancement of technology and how busy peoples lives are we often forget to sit back and think about all the non-material things that we have in our lives. What I mean by that is family and friends. All too often you find people who are more concerned about themselves and the latest gadget that came on the market instead of taking 5 minutes to listen to somebody who needs a shoulder to cry on. I guess that’s why it means so much when somebody who you haven’t ever met face-to-face (and you probably never will) takes the time to hold out their hand and say I’m here and I will help wherever I can.

My hopes in writing this post is that you will take a couple of minutes and sit back and think about what you have in your life besides all the gadgets, money, material things etc and thank god that you have it. If you have somebody close to you that you haven’t called or told them that you love them, now is the time to do it because you never know when that person will be taken from this earth. Remember, without friends and family you are just another person on this land trying to carry the weight of the world on your shoulders and you don’t have to be.

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Excuse Me While I Jump In The Nearest Hole

Posted by collinsadmin on March 12, 2008

Has this ever happened to you?

You’re deep in thought either working on something or just off in LA LA land daydreaming, the phone rings, your forget your home number is your business number so you answer it simply by saying Hello.

To your embarrassment, you realise that it is a potential client and you are quickly snapped out of your thought process just in time to get all flustered and ready to jump in the nearest hole.

It’s okay, it happens.  In fact just today, it happened to me.  I was diligently working and the phone rang and I answered it simply by saying hello.  The person on the other line quickly says I’m sorry I must have the wrong number, I was looking for Collins-Admin Services. Before I get a chance to apologize, he simply hangs up the phone. That wasn’t even the worst part of it. The worst part was that his number came up private name, private number on my caller ID so I can’t even call him back. 

Needless to say, I wanted to jump in the nearest hole because of my embarrassment. I did however dwell on it for a while thinking about how stupid I was but then it was a mistake (hey, I’m only human) and there is nothing I can do about it now except hope that if it was a potential client, he calls me back.

Another thing that helped was a good friend/colleague of mine, Laura Wheeler, gave me some great advice.  “If you beat yourself up over it, you’ll harm your ability to function.” Words to live by.

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Big Idea from Small Town Wyoming

Posted by collinsadmin on March 10, 2008

A new trade association launched on the first of March, 2008, for MicroBusiness Web Service Providers. Conceived of from the middle of Wyoming, the new MicroWebmasters Alliance has lofty goals.

Why Wyoming? “Because Wyoming is all about MicroBusinesses,” says the association co-founder, Laura Wheeler. “Most businesses out here are MicroBusinesses. It has required us to think about web services differently. We then realized that those differences exist all across the world, for every MicroBusiness.”

The MicroWebmasters Alliance seeks to accomplish three primary goals:

1. To educate MicroBusiness owners in what they should be able to expect from a web service provider. “Too many MicroBusiness owners are getting ripped off because they don’t know what they need, or what they can expect to receive.” stated Kevin Wheeler, also a co-founder of the association.

2. To train MicroBusiness Service Providers in the differences in working with MicroBusinesses. Many service providers who target this arena do so because they lack experience to compete with corporate providers. “We need people who specialize in this arena – who have learned how to serve this clientele professionally, and who have learned how to do so profitably.” Laura said. The Association provides tools and training for MicroWeb Service Providers to learn to provide services more efficiently, and more affordably for the site owner, while still maintaining a healthy profit for the service provider.

3. To establish ethics and standards for MicroBusiness Web Service Providers, and to define MicroBusiness Web Services as a separate specialization from Enterprise Web Services. “The needs are different.” Kevin said, “The cost/benefit breakpoints are completely separate, and working with a MicroBusiness owner is not at all the same as working with a larger corporation.” The organization is gathering volunteers and members to work toward this goal, and has already published a set of Ethics standards for their membership (available to the public through the Association website).

MicroBusinesses are a fast growing market sector, one that is often challenged by low web budgets, and high needs. Their needs, though, usually do not require the higher end features of those that are commonly recommended for enterprise solutions, and with intelligent scaling, they can be met on a surprisingly low budget. Many service providers do not know how to prioritize well in scaling down their services, which frequently leaves MicroBusiness website owners with less function than they needed, wondering why their site does not work.

The MicroWebmasters Alliance may be found online at http://www.microwebmasters.com. The association is a division of Firelight Business Enterprises, Inc., located in Medicine Bow, Wyoming. Kevin and Laura Wheeler are majority shareholders in the corporation, which also has a web services division under the name of Firelight Web Studio.

“Wyoming is a good place to start a business,” Laura said, “but it is hard… you have to learn to do business in a new way. That taught us to really see the needs of MicroBusinesses, and then to develop strategies to meet them. If we hadn’t lived here, it is likely that this association would never have been thought of.”

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Working With A VA-Third In A Three Part Series

Posted by collinsadmin on February 26, 2008

Working with a VA – When It Doesn’t Work Out 

There may be occasion when the client or the VA feel that there is a major compatibility issue between them and when/if that time arrives it should be dealt with professionally. If compatibility is a problem then both the VA and the client will feel increasingly frustrated, and work will be impaired – this can be harmful for both the client’s and the VA’s business.

If it doesn’t work out, the following standard of professionalism should be observed:

  • Both parties should give each other a reasonable amount of time to discontinue working with one another.
  • The client should pay any remaining fee pertaining to work that has already been done by the VA.
  • Once payment is received, the VA should return any and all materials provided by the client, and when necessary, facilitate a smooth transfer of needed information to another VA.
  • Emotions should not overcome either the VA or the client in which either party starts to spread rumors or complaining publicly about either one.  This is both unprofessional and may result in legal action if harm is done to the business of the other.
  • The client should seek out another VA if they believe that those types of services could benefit them.  

No one wants to have a business association that just does not work out. But sometimes it does happen. Keeping things professional, and following through on the details helps to avoid personal trauma, and potential legal liabilities due to harm that is caused to the business of another.

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Working With A VA-Second In A Three Part Series

Posted by collinsadmin on February 26, 2008

Working with a VA – Once The Contract Is Signed

All VAs should have a contract outlining their processes, their liabilities, their confidentiality pledge, what is expected of the client, warranties, return of materials, terms of the contract, payments and any other issues that are necessary for that particular situation. The VA should then go over the following with their clients:

  • Instructions on how to get files from point A to point B.
  • Any usernames and passwords that are required for back office access.
  • If necessary, begin learning new software required to manage documents and projects.
  • If required, invoice for first month’s retainer. Retainers are standard in the industry, and may be required for many months.
  • Ask if there are any questions, comments or concerns.
  • A contract WILL contain legal language. It cannot protect your interests if it does not!  

The First Work Assignment 

Once the contract is agreed upon and signed by both parties and the necessary information is given, now is the time for the actual work to begin. By following the next set of procedures, it helps to ensure a long, successful partnership with a virtual assistant.

  • The VA and client should be prompt in returning phone calls and emails (24-48 hours).
  • The VA should be willing to send updates on projects when/if it is requested.  The client should also be willing to send updates quickly if they require additional or different information than previously discussed for that particular project.
  • A VA should be able to supply clients with some type of documentation showing exactly when and how long a project was worked on, when requested.
  • A VA should address any concerns, comments or questions promptly with the client should the need arise.
  • Both VAs and clients should take suggestions with an open mind from either party. A good VA will make suggestions to help you, while still listening to how you do business. 

The first few assignments are a time of getting to know one another, testing the waters, and learning a new way of working, for both parties. Patience with one another helps to facilitate the process of growing into a strong working team.

Once a VA is found to satisfy your needs it can become an extremely profitable and smart business move. Working with a VA not only relieves your stress, it also helps take some of the anxiety away that comes with running a business and being a solo-preneur.

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Working With A VA-First In A Three Part Series

Posted by collinsadmin on February 26, 2008

Working with a VA – Before the Work Begins 

Many business owners do not understand how to work with a virtual administrative assistant (VA) – it is a fairly new industry, and involves fairly contemporary use of technology.  While many different variables can occur with each process there are some standards within the industry for working with a VA.

Before work can even begin, a virtual assistant should offer a consultation.  This consultation should be about learning about the potential client as well as giving the potential client the ability to learn about the VA.

 What a VA hopes to achieve 

  • Information about the potential client’s business such has what type of business, how long been in business, where the client would like their business to go, etc. This helps the VA offer more personalized service.
  • Challenges that the business is trying to overcome such as marketing, competition, administrative etc. This helps the VA know what services will benefit you most.
  • What the business owner expects from their virtual assistant. This information helps the VA meet those expectations more precisely.
  • The client’s personality type and compatibility, so the VA can work with the client more successfully.
  • Closing the deal – the last point of this meeting is generally an agreement to work together, if such a decision has been reached.

     What a consumer should hope to achieve 

  • Information about the VA’s background such as business, experience, history, client satisfaction, etc. This may have been given earlier, but here you have a chance to ask specifics.
  • How to work with a virtual assistant. A VA will let you know if they have an online back office for your convenience, whether project documents are typically emailed, and how, or in what manner project specifications are delivered and returned.
  • What to expect from the VA such as communications, project updates, etc. They may have a policy for deadlines, and usually have a policy for issuing updates or reports. You’ll also learn their billing and retainer policy.
  • The VA’s personality type and compatibility. You’ll learn whether you can work with this person, or if they just drive you nuts.
  • Getting the biggest bang for your buck. A good VA can offer suggestions for streamlining the work to keep it as affordable as possible.

Once the initial consultation has taken place it is then the VA and the clients’ responsibility to decide if the VAs services can benefit the client, if working with a VA is a right step for a client, if the clients needs are something that the VA can address and provide solutions for and most importantly if there is compatibility between the client and the VA.

Compatibility between the VA and the client is extremely important because if there is an issue of trust, micromanagement, or just two completely different personality types there may be issues in the future and then both the VA and client will be frustrated and nothing will get accomplished.

An initial consultation can take place over the phone, in person, or occasionally, by email. It is an important first step in beginning to work with a VA.

Working with a VA is not just a quick 10 minute process. It takes planning, consideration and dedication.  VAs are there to help businesses succeed for the long haul.

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Client/Investigator Privilege

Posted by collinsadmin on January 21, 2008

Investigative professionals and associations have very strict codes of ethics.  In general they are the same with a few additions and/or a few deletions but what seems to always remain the same is confidentiality. All investigative professionals whether it be private investigators, judgment recovery, bail enforcement agents, collections agencies, or repossessors have the obligation to provide client/investigator privilege. So where does the breach of client/investigator privilege end and normal everyday business begin?

Some would say unless the person who knows anything about the case is licensed in that field, it would be considered a breach of privilege.  This is a legally untenable position, which, if applied to all situations, would have the majority of professionals in trouble. It would eliminate the possibility of all of the following situations:

  • Unlicensed office secretaries, receptionists and assistants.
  • Unlicensed internet service providers.
  • Unlicensed photo developers.
  • Unlicensed sub-contractors of any kind.
  • Unlicensed computer repair techs. 

The standard consensus about breach of client privilege is, as long as somebody is doing work for the investigative professional, it is not a breach of confidentiality.  Sometimes business owners need to seek the help of outside professionals. It is both ethical, and good management to do so. The key is to select outsourcing professionals who are trustworthy, and who understand and respect the client confidentiality standard. 

Here are a few tips for increasing security when working with third party professionals:

  • Do a thorough background check on those whose services you utilize
  • Check references
  • Interview the person
  • Go with your gut feeling – often this is based on subtle, unexplainable reactions to body language, verbal inflection, or wording that you cannot pinpoint, but which all originate from legitimate informational sources.
  • Start with small tasks which are not highly sensitive. Work up to more confidential tasks as trust develops, and not before.
  • Create a good contract, which spells out your expected level of confidentiality, and their status as your representative for the tasks in question (so you have legal proof that they are acting on your behalf in the jobs in question). 

Ultimately, investigative professionals as well as other small business owners need to do their own due diligence before hiring anybody.  If the company being considered for hire won’t allow any type of “investigation”, run as fast as you can in the other direction.  If they won’t let potential clients do reasonable background checks (in relation to the confidentiality of the job in question) then they have something to hide.

Confidentiality is a serious issue. But the law provides for assistants and other helpers. Choose wisely, and your business can grow smoothly through any phase, even when the amount of work you need assistance with is small.

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