Schedule Directly To Facebook Business Page

How to schedule posts to your facebook business page; Facebook Scheduling; Social Media Tips

Did you know that you can schedule posts directly on your Facebook Business Page?  Facebook have, I think, made this feature a little less obvious recently, but it is still there and it’s a useful thing to know about.  It can be used in place of scheduling software, or in addition to it.  I tend to use it in addition to my regular scheduling software.  It’s great for scheduling things to pages you manage though doesn’t seem to be available on the main timeline, just on pages.

To start, go into Facebook to write your post as normal.

Add a photo by clicking on the photo/video button on the left below the coloured background choices.

Facebook Facebook Scheduling Social Media Scheduling Social Media Tips

Posts tend to perform better with photos than without them and posts with videos perform even better, though that’s a subject for another day.

Facebook now gives you quite a wide choice of photo options.  For a normal post, just choose the top option “Upload photos/Video”.

Facebook, Facebook Scheduling, Social Media Tips, Facebook Tips

Photos will be resized automatically to the correct size for Facebook.  This works better when Facebook shrinks your larger image.  Very small images will pixelate and look bad when Facebook sizes them up.    I am deliberately not giving actual photo sizes here because Facebook changes things regularly.  A quick Google search will tell you what the right size is this month.  I tend to use 800 x 800 which is the generic Social Media template size on Canva.

Social Media, Facebook Scheduling, Social Media Tips

Here you can see I’ve added a photo to my post.  This is one of the photos I created in Canva so it is 800 x 800 pixels.  At this point you are ready to post or to schedule your post.  Except, Facebook doesn’t appear to have an option to schedule does it?  You have this huge “Share Now” button and no evidence of a scheduling option anywhere at all.

However, if you go to the News Feed button you can see “Post options”.  Click the blue wording and you will get the option to Share.  The word Now has a down arrow next to it.   I’ve highlighted it in the photo below.

It does make it look as though if you click the word “Now” it will set off and share your post, but it doesn’t.  Click the down arrow next to “Now” and you will get a drop down that will give you the options to schedule, backdate or save as a draft.  It defaults to Now but you just click the one you want to use.

When you click on Schedule you will get this scheduling box on the screen.  Just choose your date using the drop down calendar and alter the time to suit your post.

Social Media, Social Media Scheduling Social Media tips

Click the nice blue “Schedule” button and your post will go off into the wings to wait quietly for its moment in the spotlight.

You can schedule quite a few posts using this method. I’ve done 25 at one sitting without a problem but it does seem to work only on pages, not on the main timeline.

I hope you found this helpful but if you still feel uncomfortable with scheduling to Facebook, or just don’t have the time or patience to post regularly, then please get in touch with me here and I’d be happy to help.

Delegation:  The Rocket Fuel for your Business

Delegation

The Oxford Dictionary defines delegation as “entrusting of authority to a deputy”

In practice, this means breaking down responsibilities into discrete tasks and allocating those tasks to the most qualified person.  By delegating you ensure the task is done quickly, effectively and correctly.  Most importantly for the small business owner, delegating the tasks you aren’t good at, don’t like or take a long time to do will free your time to complete more of the revenue generating tasks that will move your business forward.

Delegation can be a worry and some people experience barriers to delegation which can feel difficult or even insurmountable.  However, the benefits for your business can be huge if you push through the discomfort and learn to delegate effectively.

Here we are discussing delegation of tasks to outsourced service providers rather than the problems of delegation within a large organisation.  They share some challenges but delegation to outsourced providers arguably has fewer problems because there are fewer, if any, organisational barriers in place.  The small business owner can choose from a range of outsourced providers and pick the one most suitable.  They are not constrained by the pool of talent offered by their department as they would be within a corporate setting.

The 7 most commonly experienced barriers are discussed below.

I like doing the task

Although you love doing it, do you do it quickly, effectively and well?  Can you complete the task in the same timeframe as an expert in that field?  If it is an enjoyable task but one which takes up a lot of your time, can you break down the task, remove and outsource the part that takes a long time, and keep the part of the process you really do enjoy?  This would save you some time, still allow you to gain enjoyment from the task.

I can do it better myself

If you really can, then don’t delegate that.  But if you can’t then it may be you fear the results of handing over the task to someone else in case they don’t do it quite how you would like it.

Getting over this is down to trust, training and communication.  Choose your service provider very carefully.  Be sure that you feel comfortable communicating openly with them about what you need.

Be very clear about what you want the outcome to be.  Communicate clearly about details, deadlines, layout, format etc.  If there is an area you have concerns about, ensure you are particularly clear about your expectations in that area and the reasons why this is important.  Be open to answering questions from your outsourced service provider so they can understand your needs and meet them first time.  A good service provider will welcome feedback as it allows them to complete the task quickly, accurately and effectively.

I can’t explain what I want

Oddly enough, this isn’t always the insurmountable issue that it might seem to be.  Because you are delegating to someone who has expertise in the area, they will also have experience of the problems and pitfalls of what you are trying to do.  This reduces the amount of explanation that is needed.  Take the problem to them.  See what solutions they suggest.   You may be surprised.

I’ve worked with people who have rung me up and said “Help.  I am drowning.  I don’t know what I need, but I know I need help.”  With a few carefully placed questions I’m able to identify a place to start that will make a difference quickly, make some suggestions for medium and long-term solutions we can work toward when time allows, and quickly get them from drowning in the deep end to swimming strongly toward the shallow end where they can sit quietly and catch their breath.

No one can do it the way I like it.

It is very rare that this is true.  It is almost certainly going to be possible to train someone to do things exactly the way you need them to be done.  Take McDonald’s as an example.  They train thousands of people to turn out the exact same burger, in the exact same timescale, cook it for the exact time, for all I know they add the exact same size piece of gherkin (which most people throw into the exact same bin).

Yes, if you like things done a certain way then you may need to spend a little more time training your outsourced service provider initially.  However, just think how brilliant it will be when you can delegate that task and your provider can turn out the equivalent of those burgers within your business day after day, week after week, same level of detail and just how you like it.  At less money per hour than you charge out at.  Meaning you save money every single time they do that task.  How cool would that be?

I have no time to spend on telling someone else how to do this.

See above.  The time invested in training will pay off later.  Also, of course, if you are delegating to an expert, they won’t need to be told how to do the task properly… and they might have some fresh ideas that will save you even more time, and money, as well as making your life simpler.

I don’t know who I can trust.

Ask for recommendations and check reviews and testimonials for the people you’ve had recommended to you.  Most, if not all, outsourced service providers will have testimonials on their website and LinkedIn profile.  Some will have reviews via Google My Business or Facebook. I am very proud of the testimonials I’ve gathered and they are all viewable here.

The testimonials, together with the rest of the website, will give you a great idea about the person, the business, their skill set, the things that drive them to excel and the tasks they have completed for others successfully.

Once you have a shortlist of people whom you think you could work effectively with, get in contact with them and arrange to meet for coffee and a chat.  Meet with several people so you can find the one that you will work most effectively with.  I am always really pleased when a potential client tells me they are looking at several possible VA’s so they can find just the right one.

I can’t afford it

Say you charge out at £75 an hour.  And you decide that you won’t outsource your admin because VA’s are charging out at £25 an hour on average and it’s just admin which you can do yourself.  So you spend on average 7 hours a week on your admin.  A whole day.  That’s £575 a week that you can’t bill for because you are busy doing admin.  You are only working on your paid tasks four days a week.  Or maybe you do your admin on a Sunday so it doesn’t interfere with your billing of work during the week and get grief off your family for doing admin at the weekend.

Even if your VA can’t do the work any faster than you could, delegating those 7 hours to her would cost you £175 for 7 hours work.  Admittedly you’d have one day a week where you billed only £400 a day and not the full £575.  But you would be free to bill for five days work every week and not four days.  Running at full capacity you could potentially make an extra £400 a week after you’ve paid your VA.  Assuming that you take a two week holiday every year, this means that over a full year you would be able to bill a whopping £20,000 extra a year. What could you do with that?  Pay for the two-week holiday?  Change your car every other year?  Private school fees for your children?

The question then becomes, can you afford not to delegate. 

To talk to me about the admin and organisational challenges you are facing in your business and discuss the ways I can support your business growth plans, please click here.

Holiday Planning for Small Business Owners

Holiday planning for small business owners

For the small business owner, the summer holidays can bring challenges.  It also brings with it an interesting dilemma:  do you or don’t you book a holiday. 

The sun is out and your thoughts turn to holiday planning.  You want to take the family away for a break.  You need to relax and unwind.  You are tired.  You’ve read all those articles about burnout and stress and the importance of a good work-life balance.   So, spurred on by your family, who are eager to see you for more than five minutes a day, you book the holiday.  Then the worrying starts.

How will you manage to find time to actually take the holiday.  And enjoy it without worrying when you do get there.  There is just so much still to do.

Planning ahead is the key to a relaxed and relaxing holiday.

holiday small business planning

I’ve booked my holiday

As soon as you have booked your holiday, work back from the date of your holiday and create a list of your commitments, tasks and deadlines.

Move meetings and renegotiate deadlines that fall within, or two days either side of your holiday.

Plan to meet project milestones early so that they are completed before you go on holiday and are not in the back of your mind, niggling at you, whilst you are on holiday. Or agree to move the milestones so they fall after you return from holiday if that is possible.

Let clients know about your holiday dates in plenty of time.  That way they will know when you will be unavailable.  You can discuss alternative deadlines for tasks and agree on a plan that will work for you both.

Schedule your marketing ahead of the holiday.  Write some extra blog posts or social media posts as you think of them during the year and keep them in reserve.  Bring them out and dust them off, tidy them up a little perhaps, and then schedule them to go out whilst you are sunning yourself on the beach.  This will keep your business front of mind with your clients.

Book your pet’s holidays too.  Book the pet sitter or kennels.  Arrange for a family member or neighbour to pop in to feed and check on caged animals if you aren’t sending them away on holiday to a pet care centre.

With one month to go before your Holiday

Write a list of things that still need to be done before the holiday.  Just list the things you have to complete, deadlines that must be met and the tasks that you have left to do that will impact on your paid work.  Leave the “nice to have” stuff for after your holiday.  For more information about harnessing the power of lists to plan your activities, go here.

If you haven’t already done it, schedule your marketing items so you aren’t trying to do that at the last minute.

Keep your diary clear for two days before and two days after your holiday.  This will feel strange but if a super urgent task comes in at the last minute it gives you wiggle room to deal with it without stress.   It also gives you time to pack and get organised for the holiday itself.

The two days after the holiday allows you to come back to work, deal with things that have come in during the holiday, clear down your inbox and get back into the swing of work in a measured manner.  Knowing you will have space to do that on your

return will mean you don’t spend the last three days of your holiday panicking about what you are going back to.

Plan the domestic things into the diary so they don’t end up being a mad rush the day before the holiday.  Fridge emptying. Suitcase packing.  Foreign currency purchase.  Find your passport.  Arrange a time to take the pets to the kennels.  Buy a new bikini and some sunscreen.  Get your prescriptions filled.

Just Before the Holiday.

Ask your VA to keep an eye on your inbox and social media, reply to any routine enquiries, and send a daily update of any items that need your urgent attention.

Finish your last minute tasks.  Use your two spare days if you need to but ideally try to keep that last spare day for actual holiday preparation.

Delegate the tasks you want your VA or your team to do in your absence.

If you have a team, check everyone knows what they are responsible for.  Do they all have the information they need to complete the tasks you have delegated to them?  Are they clear about deadlines that must be met, calls that are expected, and work which remains outstanding?

Set the out of office reply to your Email telling people you are away.  Explain who will answer emails in your absence, or, detail your return date.

Set an out of office message on your phone.

On Holiday

Yay.  You’ve done it.  You’ve got away.  Hopefully, you are feeling relaxed and calm as you step into the car to drive to Norfolk for that narrowboat trip.  Or you are feeling free as a bird as you fly off to sunny Spain.

One final suggestion.  A digital detox is always a good idea during a break.  Don’t check your email and social media constantly.  Plan to check once a day.  If you’ve left staff running your business, or your VA is keeping tabs on things, agree a time when they will email you an update so you don’t feel compelled to check every five minutes to see if it has arrived yet.

If it makes you feel more secure, agree on a method which a trusted staff member or your VA can use to contact you in an emergency.  I use WhatsApp with my clients if they are abroad and text them when they are in the UK.

Enjoy your holiday, secure in the knowledge that you have planned things so that the business will survive for a week without you.  Have fun.  Make memories.  Sleep a lot.  Eat and drink well.  Relax.  Don’t think about work.  It will be there waiting patiently for you on your return.  None the worse for your absence.  And when you do return you will feel relaxed.  Refreshed.  Productive.  Enthusiastic.

So, what are you waiting for?  Book that holiday.  You won’t regret it.

If you’d like to learn more about how a VA can support you before, during and after your holiday, please get in touch here.

Plan to Succeed: Using Lists to Save Time

Brain Dump Lists; Save Time; Succeed

Our lives are so busy now.  Just keeping up with technological change, new ideas, apps and methods can be a full-time job.  We have so many things to juggle on a daily basis and so many calls on our time.  It can be difficult to track it all. Many of us turn to lists to help us to manage everything, but a Brain Dump type list alone is not enough.  You need a system in order to succeed.

A system is exactly what David Allen’s brilliant book, Getting Things Done; The Art of Stress-Free Productivity (ISBN 978-0-349-40894-1) provides.  It’s a great resource for learning how to list, organise and get a grip on all the various tasks that you have to manage in your life.  This is part two of the series and focuses on the day to day use of the system to achieve better productivity. If you have missed the first part of the series, you can read that here.

For this part of the method, you will need a planner, diary, Filofax or similar.  Paper-based or electronic, it doesn’t matter.  It’s your system and should be designed to fit your needs.

One of the first things to do is to examine your brain dump list and put any time critical tasks into the diary or planner.  Appointments, deadlines, meetings, project goals, insurance due dates, social events and so forth.

Another category that you need to note in the diary is dates by which others must deliver their part of a shared project upon which your own tasks are dependent.  If you can’t start until they have finished, then you need to know when to check the delivery date with them or ask about any changed priorities that might impact on your diary planning.

David Allen suggests that you should use the diary only for the time-critical framework and not place your To Do lists into the diary.  I take this to mean that a time-critical task from my To Do list can go into the diary but the entire list should not.

The diary forms a framework that will be central to keeping you on track and feeling organised. By checking your diary regularly to identify upcoming events and deadlines, you can ensure that you allow enough time to prepare for them.  Working backwards you can place tasks on a list for each day that will move you nearer to the target in your diary.

Next look at the remaining items on your long brain dump list.  Add the most critical tasks to a To Do List for the week.  These will be things you need to do to meet the commitments you put in your diary as well as things which you have decided to complete that week.   The latter will be driven by the larger business goals you’ve set yourself.  If one of your goals is to re-write the copy on your website by 20th March you can break the goal into separate tasks, for example, tackling a page a week, and allocate the tasks to different weeks in your planner between now and the deadline.

By breaking large tasks down into smaller ones with measurable outcomes they feel more manageable. You can feel a sense of satisfaction that you have completed a step on the journey to completing the whole task.  If a task is too large and you don’t break it down then it will feel too difficult and you will put off doing it.

Having a long list of tasks with no real feeling of urgency (beyond that awful feeling of having too much to do and not knowing where to start) can lead to things being missed.   Creating a set of daily To Do Lists works much better as you have a much shorter list to get through, and this feels more manageable, and you are therefore much more likely to actually succeed in completing the items.

Choosing too many tasks for your weekly list leads to feelings of overwhelm which will negatively impact your productivity.  Having only one piece of paper for the list is one way to keep the list manageable.   Be realistic about what you can achieve in a day or week.  Three to four main tasks per day is a good number to choose.  You can always go back to your list for more if you finish quicker than expected.

Small related tasks can be chunked together.  Dealing with related tasks in one go can save time as your brain doesn’t need to switch tracks too sharply.  The brain isn’t great at switching rapidly between disparate tasks and takes a while to get back into the concentration zone.   If you plan your week so that similar tasks are done back to back, you will often get more done.  You could write more than one blog post in a particular session for example.

If, whilst doing a task, you think of something else you need to do, just make a note, and then return to your original task.   This will be less disruptive to your concentration than thinking you will remember the new task and write it down later.   At the end of the day or week, you can then add the various notes to your main brain dump list.

By concentrating on only a short list of things and having all the time critical elements noted in a diary, you have a plan for the week which allows you to calmly progress through your week, regularly referring to your list and planner to ensure that you are always engaged in the task that you should be doing and moving to the next task in a timely manner.

If you find that you still have too many tasks that fall into the critical category and you are not able to fit them all into your day, one option is to delegate some of the tasks.  I will be examining delegation in more detail in a future post and it is often the answer for those time consuming but essential tasks such as data input, research, sourcing images for social media, proof checking and filing.  If your lists include time-consuming admin tasks that you just don’t have the time to do, then just get in touch.  I’d be happy to help you to get it all under control.

8 Ways to Harness the Power of a Voice Recorder

Voice Recorders are useful for so much more than the traditional task of dictating letters, memos and reports. 

Here are eight ways to harness the power of the voice recorder in your business.  Doing so can save you time, and as we all know, time is money.

 Content Creation

If you have lots of ideas for content but all your ideas run away screaming at the sight of a blank screen or blank sheet of paper, then recording your content on a voice recorder can be a great way to get over that block.  Send the resulting recording to your Virtual Assistant.  They can turn it into a document that you can upload to your site with pride.  They will ensure the grammar and spelling are correct, source appropriate photos and create graphics to use with the post so that it looks polished and effective when you upload it to your site.

Send your VA the audio file from a video.  Great if you need a written version of your video for a handout. Very useful if you want to sub-title your video.  Brilliant for creating a blog post from your video content.  Re-using content in new ways is a wonderful way to increase reach by allowing your audience to consume content in the way they prefer.

Process Planning

Record all your ideas for innovations within your business and send the recording out to be transcribed.  Workflows, process documents, induction manuals and many other documents can be planned easily in this way.  Once you have recorded it all, your Virtual Assistant can transcribe it and, if necessary, organise the information into a logical sequence. The result is a bespoke document that fully reflects your business.

Business planning

If you suffer from Blank Page syndrome and just can’t think when faced with a computer screen, why not create your business plan using a voice recorder and have your transcriptionist organise your thoughts into a plan that will help you to keep your business on track.

GDPR

This will bring changes to your business and you will need a written document which outlines how you will handle things like access requests, requests to be forgotten and of course, the all important plan for how you will store, manage and protect the data which you hold.  Tell your voice recorder all about your plans, the methods you will employ, and the safeguards you will put in place… your transcriptionist can turn it into documentation.

Focus groups.

Never miss anything in your group again.  Record it all and have someone transcribe it.  Don’t forget to ask people to talk one at a time though. You may miss valuable content if you let people talk over each other.   I do have experience in transcribing focus groups and if this is something you would be interested in, then please contact me.

HR consultants.

Within HR, the advent of the smartphone voice recorder has transformed meetings.  So many attendees surreptitiously record potentially difficult meetings on their smartphones that some HR consultants choose to openly record these types of meetings on dedicated voice recorders in addition to having notes taken longhand.  This two-pronged approach can help to ensure people feel they have received a fair hearing.   There is little room to dispute what has been said and the participants can agree on whether the minutes or the verbatim transcribed recording should be used.

Using a dedicated voice recorder rather than a smartphone is recommended in this case because the recording is higher quality, will catch more of the discussion accurately and will be easy to download and send to your transcriptionist.  An excellent quality recording will also ensure greater accuracy in the transcription as everyone will be heard clearly.    I provide both minute taking and transcription services, and with a background in HR, have the knowledge and experience to ensure the meeting is recorded effectively and accurately.  Click here to learn more about my services.

Reminders.

If you are feeling overwhelmed with things to do, one option is to use your voice recorder to just list all the stuff you need to do.  You can just listen to it when you are planning your day.  A better idea is to send it to your VA for transcription.  Not only will they transcribe the information, but they may well be able to help you with some of the items on the list.  This will create more time for you to tackle the things on the list that only you can do.  Your To Do list will shorten instantly when your VA takes some of the routine tasks and admin items off your shoulders.

Authors and Researchers.

Whether you are writing fiction or non-fiction, a voice recorder can be your friend.  You can record ideas, chapters or even entire books if you choose, and send it all out to be transcribed.

If you are researching a subject it can be helpful to voice record ideas (quietly if you are in the library) from any sources you have consulted.  It’s also a very convenient way to keep track of your bibliography to ensure you don’t forget anything.  Just record each source on a single, dedicated audio file and send it out to your VA or transcription expert when you are ready.  They will transcribe it into your chosen layout as well, saving you endless hours messing about with the tab key and swearing a lot.

If your research involves interviewing people, you can use the voice recorder rather than taking notes, allowing you to fully concentrate on the person whom you are interviewing.  Your VA can then transcribe it all for you to review at your leisure.

If you are keen to try out the wonders of the voice recorder, keep your eye out for my next blog post, which will help you to choose a suitable recorder for your needs.

2017 Review of the Year

Review, 2017, blogging, video, Virtual Assistant, Harrogate

Feels Like The First Time

2017 was the year that JJB Office Services turned one year old and there have been a lot of firsts this year.
First recorded video in June, and more recent, and considerably more nerve-wracking…. My first ever Facebook Live.
I also did my first presentation to a professional audience. I’m not a confident public speaker but I was reasonably happy with my performance and the content was well received. So much so that I’ll be creating a series of blog posts on the subject in the new year at the suggestion of a couple of the audience members.

Although I’ve been blogging about my leisure interests for a number of years I started blogging for business for the first time in 2017 which somehow felt very different.

The top five performing blog posts for 2017 were:

Organisation is at the Heart of Productivity

Is your Email GDPR Compliant?

Running an Effective Meeting

5 Tips for Great Content

Read more in Less Time

By far and away the most popular video was the first one I ever recorded, on GDPR and Email Marketing, which you can watch here:

Computer Love

My tech necessities for 2017 were my transcription software and MS Office. It is tempting to take the Office Suite of products for granted and just talk about shiny new tech. However, without MS Office my job would be literally impossible.

The tech that I’ve really been able to have fun with was Canva (https://www.canva.com) for graphics and photo collages, and Lumen5 for cool videos (https://www.lumen5.com). If you haven’t checked out the Lumen5 videos on my YouTube channel and website then do have a look at them. It’s a great tool to use and the results look so professional.

Goin’ By The Book

Being an avid reader, it is perhaps no surprise that my first year in business included reading a number of business books. My top three from this year were:

  • Business Networking for Dummies by Stefan Thomas.
  • The Success Principles by Jack Canfield.
  • Be A Free Range Human by Marianne Cantwell.

With a Little Help From My Friends

This year I learned a huge amount, some from training courses, but by far the largest amount from the small business community, both locally and further afield, who have been hugely generous with their advice and support. Thank you to every one of you. You all know who you are.

Everything I do…. I do it for you.

No review of the year would be complete without mentioning my lovely, lovely clients. All wonderful to work with and I have been privileged to help and support them in their business journey. I have loved every moment of working for each and every one of them and am looking forward to helping them achieve even more in 2018. I must admit I feel incredibly lucky to be doing what I love, working for myself, and being able to really see the difference I’m making.

Santa Claus’ VA Team – Part One

VA, Santa Claus' VA, VA work at Christmas, Virtual Assistant, Christmas tasks for VA

With the festive season coming up, I thought this would give a bit of light relief from all the rushing about organising presents, food, office parties, visits to relatives, Christmas tree purchase (and the inevitable argument over where each bauble ought to be placed and how much tinsel is too much tinsel on one four foot tree).

It is a busy time of year for everyone, particularly small businesses and HR consultants (all those fallings out over Christmas party misbehaviour and who ate the last mince pie in the communal fridge).  However, if you thought you were busy trying to get it all done whilst also handling your marketing, accounts, invoicing, admin and day to day work, spare a thought for Santa Claus.  He has to get the main bulk of his annual work done in the dark, in a twelve-hour time slot, whilst keeping his lovely red coat and white beard immaculately clean despite entering homes via the chimney.  He certainly earns his mince pie and whisky that’s for sure.

I reckon that the only way Santa can get all this done is to have a flexible team of Rock Star VA’s and Freelance Office administrators to help him throughout the year.  So this post looks at the kinds of tasks that Santa Claus might need completing by a VA or Freelance Administration specialist.

General Admin VA helps Santa’s Behavioural Review Elves to create and update a spreadsheet which can filter out naughty children, giving reasons why they may not receive any gifts.

Information Management VA keeps the spreadsheet of gifts requested by children fully up to date.  There are always a significant minority of children who change their mind about what they just before Christmas. It is the Information Management VA’s role to inform Procurement, Warehouse, Workshop and Warehouse, on a two-hourly basis, throughout December, of any changes to requirements.  Luckily, if Santa already bought the gift for the child, there is usually another child who does want the gift.   This is a huge task and there is more than one VA dedicated to this task during November and December when the television toy adverts start.

Project management VA’s plan and manage all the deadlines and sub-projects necessary to ensure a smooth-running process on the night.  Using Gantt charts to track every part of the process, they ensure that the time leading up to the big night is well used and that all project milestones are met on time throughout the year.

Warehouse VA’s manage the stock control for gifts and ensure that there is sufficient warehouse space, the shelves are properly labelled, and safe handling rules are published and observed.

Health and Safety VA ensures that PPE and uniforms are provided for all Elves, VA’s and of course for Santa Claus.  Safety boots are specially ordered for elves using the exact Pantone shade of green and even the steel toe caps are green.  Santa Claus has patent leather safety boots and needs two pairs a year.  These are specially made for him and have a lovely sheepskin lining.

Reindeer Management VA ensures that the reindeer are well cared for throughout the year and have the right mix of moss, reindeer food, and water to keep them healthy. She also ensures they follow their allotted fitness regime to ensure they are in peak condition with sufficient stamina to make the long journey on the night.  The reindeer carry out regular practice runs with the weighted sleigh and these are timed to ensure they will be able to meet the strict timings needed to get everything delivered on time.

Procurement and Stock Control VA work together to manage the regular incoming orders for the standard gifts that all children like to receive such as chocolate, sweeties, books and DVDs, and bicycles.  These are ordered in bulk ahead of time, based on previous year’s figures averaged but delivered on a monthly basis throughout the year to allow manufacturers to average out the demand on their machinery throughout the year.  A final order is placed in late November based on the actual quantities requested.  Some items are on a sale or return basis.  Being based at the North Pole, all edible gifts are kept so cold that they can be safely stored for a year without detriment.

Santa’s personal PR VA handles his personal appearances throughout the world, ensuring that his travel schedule is managed effectively to make the best use of his time during the run-up to Christmas.

A team of Mail VA’s handle the letters from children and update the spreadsheet of gifts requested to ensure that there is a clear overview of items required.  The spreadsheet is available to the finance and stock control VA’s via a shared DropBox folder so that they can collaborate to ensure that sufficient gifts of each type are going to be available on the night.

Procurement VA’s handle the purchase of gifts on behalf of Santa Claus to ensure that the best value for money is obtained when purchasing in bulk.  They work closely with the Research VA’s and Finance VA’s to provide a fully rounded service.

Research VA identifies toy trends across the year and forecasts likely quantities of each toy so that procurement VA can pre-order items to avoid disappointment.

Reporting VA manages the incoming information and produces weekly management reports for Santa Claus regarding types and quantities of gifts required as well as liaising with Stock Control VA to ensure that demand is not going to outstrip supply.  These two teams of VA’s work closely together to ensure that Santa always has the most up to date management information possible to allow him to make effective purchasing decisions.

Finance VA team manage the payment of bills as well as credit control and budget management, regularly reporting to Santa Claus who reviews the costs to ensure they are within target.

Most of these things are tasks that a VA or Freelance Administrator could do for a less exalted personage than Santa Claus.  I am not sure there is much call for a Reindeer Management VA outside the North Pole.  However, if you have an admin task that is taking up time, time that could be more productively spent with clients, creating revenue, or being with family and friends, then do get in touch here.

Read More In Less Time

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Limited Time to Read?  

I spoke to a business owner recently who was struggling with a business book.  She really wanted to read it but like all business owners, she had limited time to read.  She needed ways to get at the key themes of the book quickly and easily so she could read the full text with more understanding.

This is an issue that also arises in respect of complex reports, lengthy guidance documents and a whole host of other documents.  In today’s fast-paced world, getting at the key information quickly and easily is critical so I’ve put together a few ideas to help with this.

Skim It

With any document skimming the contents page first is a great start.  If you are dealing with a report that has an executive summary, read that next as it will cover all of the main points and conclusions quickly and easily.

Unpack It

To gain more information, move on to the introduction and conclusion of the report, or in the case of a book, each chapter.

If you are reading to gather particular information, for example, a report that you need to read ahead of a meeting, or a book from which you are researching a specific issue, then read only those sections that relate to what you need to know.   You can go back and read the rest later if you wish to, or find you need to.  The contents, introduction and conclusions should guide you to the right places.

You can also flick through the book to see if it is helpfully laid out with “Key points” and “action points” type boxes or other ways in which the author has signposted key content.  These make skim reading for understanding very easy as you can find the bits you need to read in more detail very easily whilst also getting a good grasp of the whole book.

Laser Targeted Searching

If it is a book and you really do only need to know about one very specific thing, then go directly to the index at the back, note down all the pages that relate to that thing, and read only those pages.

Views and Reviews

If these tips don’t speed things up enough for you, or you are still struggling and would welcome the views of other people on the book to see what they made of it, then try an internet search for the book precis or review.  Often this will bring up enough information to get you back into the book and reading actively or it may answer your query entirely.

If you are not sure whether a particular book will include the information you need to know, you can look on book review sites to find out more about the contents, how easy the book is to read and how useful people have found it.  Good sites for this include Amazon and Good Reads.  On Amazon you can sometimes look inside the book.  This often includes the contents page, allowing you to find out whether the book really will include the information you need.

Did you see the Movie?

If you are not a reader but really want to learn more from business books, there are YouTube videos which provide animated precis of key business books.  Really great if you are visual learner.

A Quick Word in your Ear

Finally, for those people who love to learn on the go, there is Blinkist, which for a small fee, allows you to download a fifteen minute precis of thousands of business and other non-fiction books so you can listen as you run, drive or go about your daily routine.

And if you still don’t have time to search for the content or information you need, get in touch, I’d be happy to help.

Running An Effective Meeting

Running An Effective Meeting

According to HR Grapevine, workplace meetings are causing anxiety to employees.  Direct Blinds carried out research which shows that just over 48% of UK employees feel anxious about meetings.  In addition, most of us have had that sinking feeling as we have realised that today is THAT meeting.  The one where everyone rambles on inconsequentially for hours.  The one that is used by certain staff to grandstand and by others to moan. The one-hour meeting that takes two hours.  The meeting that results in no action points.  The meeting from which you exit no wiser than you entered.

It doesn’t have to be this way though.  Meetings can, and should, be an effective use of time.  Here are some tips to make sure your meeting is not the one that your staff are dreading attending.

Purpose

Meetings should have a purpose beyond allowing the lazy to sleep and the malcontents to trumpet.  They don’t need to be called just because there is always a meeting on Thursday.  They should have a clear aim and a purpose and there should be a goal and a measurable outcome for each point on the agenda.  And yes, there should be an agenda.  And minutes so that everyone can recall what was said and who has agreed to action each task.  Ideally, the minutes should be taken by someone who is not participating in the meeting since it is not possible to present to the meeting whilst also writing notes.  It is worth asking someone with experience of the task to take minutes to ensure that all the key points are properly recorded.   If you do not have someone within your organisation who can carry out the task for you, there are freelance PA’s and VA’s, including myself, who can provide this service for you.  Contact me to find out more.

Suitable reasons for calling a meeting include:

Disseminate information to many people at once.

Review progress on a joint project

Plan tasks involving multiple teams

Consult staff or teams about an issue that will impact all of them.

Team building activities.

Information gathering.

But wait, before you call a meeting for information gathering purposes, is it necessary?  Do you really need to have a meeting or would it be more appropriate to gain the information you need via a phone call?  Could you request the information via email?  Would a quick face to face with one key member of each team get you the information you need?

You still need to get everyone together to discuss the issue?  Then call a meeting.

I really do need to hold a meeting. 

Great.  So you are going to hold a useful meeting that won’t waste time.  Key to achieving this is to invite only people who need to be there.  If someone only needs to provide a small piece of information, could they brief another attendee who can then bring up that point on their behalf?  This means only one person from that team needs to attend.

What about the person whose specialist knowledge is critical to one agenda item?  If they don’t need to sit through the entire meeting, can that item be discussed early in the meeting, allowing the person to leave at the coffee break?

Preparation

Please send around an agenda so people know what is going to be discussed.  Include supporting paperwork with the agenda.  In general, the more supporting paperwork you have, the earlier you should send out the agenda and meeting pack.   A good meeting requires well-prepared delegates. Sending the agenda and a forty page discussion document one hour before the meeting is setting yourself up for an unproductive meeting.

Timing

Please be clear about how long the meeting will take and then stick to that timing.  Many executives will be attending a number of meetings each day.  If your meeting over-runs, this will either impact subsequent meetings (in which case you will probably have an annoyed administrator on your case) or the individual will need to leave, possibly at a critical point in the discussion.

Don’t be tempted to allow “a bit of extra time in case things over-run”.  If there is time to fill, it will get filled, not usually efficiently.

Please stick to the agenda.  It is up to the chairperson to move the discussion along at the right speed to ensure all items are discussed.  If a discussion looks as though it is going to run and run, the chairperson should suggest that this is discussed in detail at another time by those who have the greatest involvement or scheduled for further discussion at a future meeting following further information gathering.

Purpose

At all times the Chairperson should be mindful of the aim of the meeting and ensure that all discussion contributes to that aim.  If the discussion veers off into another area, it should be brought back to the matter in hand.

Any Other Business

The “Any Other Business” section of the agenda can cause Chairperson’s hearts to sink.  This tends to be the point in the meeting where the chairperson needs to be particularly ruthless in controlling the meeting otherwise this section could end up longer than the main meeting.

Any Other Business is designed to cover items which arose in the time period between the agenda being sent out and the meeting happening.  It is NOT the place for grandstanding, raising grievances, frustrations or complaints, scoring points over other teams, or ambushing the meeting with an idea which you have already been told cannot be progressed in the hope that raising it in front of higher management will somehow allow you to get the idea agreed.

Addressing the meeting.

If you are presenting to the meeting, keep it short and to the point.  No grandstanding, waffling or blinding people with science or acronyms, please.  A short point, well presented will carry more authority than a lengthy and slightly waffly answer.  Your point will also be much easier to minute, allowing your pearls of wisdom to be properly recorded for posterity and allowing everyone who receives the minutes to clearly recall what your argument was and what actions they might need to take to assist you to move your project forward.  Speak as clearly and concisely as you can.  And if you don’t have anything useful to say… just keep quiet.  It is never necessary to speak for the sake of letting others hear your voice.

And on that note, I will end this post.

Six Key Considerations when hiring an Assistant

Six Key Considerations when hiring an Assistant

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So, you are thinking about hiring an assistant.  At least, I am guessing that is why you landed here on my blog.  But you find yourself a bit torn.  A bit unsure.  You know you need some help.  You know you have been spending way too long on your admin.  There have been those comments from family about never seeing you.  And you are always tired.  The admin is starting to feel like a total chore, and it’s getting in the way of your “real” work.  And yet.  You still aren’t sure.  It’s a surprisingly emotive thing, hiring an assistant, isn’t it?

Some common concerns are listed below, together with some ideas that may help you to decide if the time has come to invite an assistant into your business, and if so, how best to do that so that your business gains great value from your investment in an assistant.

1.  Letting Go

Do you feel you should do it all yourself? Or feel you are the only person that can do it right? Yet you still have that sneaky feeling that you do need some help?  If so, you are not alone.  To see if you are ready to take on an assistant, try looking at the areas where you do not feel you have the high-level expertise or the inclination for the task and consider whether you could outsource these areas first.  It is often easier to let go of tasks you dislike or find difficult.

For example, If you aren’t particularly organised, then managing your business documentation may well be a time-consuming chore that in the hands of an expert could take half the time.

2.  How do I know I can Trust my new Assistant?

Are you concerned about letting someone into the business?  Being able to let go of tasks does require trust, but you can build that trust with your assistant by being very clear about what you require of them.  I won’t lie to you.  Trust will take time to develop, but if you are clear about what you need to be done then your assistant will be able to provide the right result in the timescale requested.  I offer a test task to any clients who request it and always suggest something routine which won’t impact on the business itself but will save you some time.  Tasks such as data input of business cards to Excel, transcription, minute-taking or copy-typing are all popular starter or test tasks which can help you assess whether your potential assistant will be discreet, accurate, meet deadlines, and communicate with you effectively.

3.  What tasks can I Outsource?

Well, pretty much anything that needs doing which is not illegal or immoral.   One of the greatest advantages to using a freelance staff is the ability to access a wide range of specialist expertise on a per hour or per project basis.  There are assistants for most tasks, from general VA’s who tackle varied tasks, through to specialist VA’s who tackle areas as diverse as Pinterest, Medical Transcription, HR, Social Media, Marketing, Events and Website Builds.  Whatever you need, there is a VA for it.

4.  Surely a Freelance will be awfully expensive?

If your assistant charges out at less per hour than you do, then you will make money by handing over work to them.  Virtual Assistants vary in cost depending on experience and expertise but remember that your time is money, and every hour you spend on admin is an hour when you aren’t working with your clients.  And of course, there are none of the overheads such as tax, National Insurance, Pension, Holiday pay and so forth to stump up for.  When your VA tells you their hourly rate, that is all included.  There is very little admin involved in working with a VA as well.  Just an invoice at the agreed time, so no messy payroll issues to manage.

5.  How do I know if my assistant will be reliable?

A good Virtual Assistant will be reliable because their business depends on it. We are business owners too, and we understand the critical importance of reliability.  Nevertheless, it is prudent to ask around amongst your business contacts to find out which Virtual Assistants have proven reliable for them.  In addition, most Virtual Assistants will include a testimonial section on their website which will give you an idea not only of their reliability but also of the type of work they have done in the past and their skill set.

6.  How do I find an assistant I will be comfortable working with?  

I won’t lie to you.  It takes time for an assistant to fully integrate into your business and for the relationship to develop to the point where support is completely seamless.  If you have never had an assistant before, it may take you some time to adjust too.  But with clear communication between you, a good assistant will soon understand your way of working and provide the support you need.  Naturally, you will meet with the potential VA’s you are considering, either in person or via Skype/Facetime and during those discussions will gain a fuller understanding of their personality and whether you feel it will complement yours and they will be someone you would be comfortable working with.

Every assistant/business owner relationship is different and both you and your assistant will, if you work at it, create a way that works for you both which supports your business in the way you need.  A good assistant will adjust to how you want to work because we want to make things as easy as possible for you. After all, that’s why we do what we do.

If you feel you may be ready for an assistant, then please get in touch.  You can contact me via any of the methods listed here.