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 Two

With the festive season almost upon us, everyone is rushing around to finish the last minute gift shopping and get all the presents wrapped and hidden from those family members who like to prod gifts to try and guess the contents.  Of course, there is also the last food shop to plan as well, making sure you have everything you need for entertaining over the festive period.  Hopefully, this will provide a spot of light relief from all the rushing about.  So sit down, kick off your winter boots, and settle down to Part Two of the Tale of Santa Claus’ VA.

If you thought you were busy trying to get all your work up to date so you can take a few days off over Christmas, just spare a thought for poor old Santa Claus.  He has only 12 hours to complete the tasks for which he is famous, and has to do so come rain, hurricane or snow.  He has to keep his clothes and beard tidy and clean even whilst flying faster than the speed of sound in an open sleigh through all kinds of weather, towed by Reindeer that don’t much like rain and aren’t afraid to mention this a few hundred times during the journey.  He certainly earns his mince pie and whisky that’s for sure.

I reckon that the only way Santa can be ready for his one triumphant and hideously busy night is to have the support of a flexible team of Rock Star VA’s and Freelance Office administrators working to support him throughout the year.  So this post looks at a few more of the tasks that Santa Claus might need completing by a VA or Freelance Administration specialist.

Correspondence VA’s answers all the letters from children, taking careful note of the spreadsheet of naughty children to ensure they don’t promise gifts to those children who don’t deserve them.  The correspondence VA’s have a KPI of one week in which to reply to the letters and use template letters which they amend to show the correct gifts or to state what specific acts of disobedience have led to the child being undeserving of a gift.

Estate Management VA manages the repair and maintenance of all the workshops, offices and of course the sleighs, to ensure they are all well maintained, safe and effective.

Social Media VA manages Santa Claus and the Elves presence on various platforms and ensures that all posts are positive, brand appropriate, and effective, paying close attention to analytics and ensuring fresh content is posted regularly to maximise engagement.

Organisational VA plans sleigh routes, checks the SatNav on the sleigh, plans the most effective layout for the warehouse to minimise walking, creates filing systems for the letters and assists in the day to day management of the workshops and offices to ensure that all processes run smoothly and in a time-efficient manner.

Events management VA’s organise public appearances by Santa Claus at the North Pole as well as managing the staff Christmas party, the latter taking place in January after the big event has happened.  The office party is a particularly raucous affair as everyone lets off steam after a hugely busy December.  This inevitably leads to HR VA being exceptionally busy throughout January sorting out the usual fall out from office parties ranging from who snogged who, who took a photo of it and put it on Facebook, whose bottom was it on the photocopier, and who threw up in the yucca plant.

Sales and Marketing VA keeps the CRM up to date following Santa’s undercover visits to trade shows across the world. Santa visits selected shows alongside the Research VA as he finds this is the best way to deflect attention from himself.  The beard seems to be a bit of a giveaway and he gets mobbed if he visits alone.

HR VA provides minute taking for Disciplinary meetings because elves can get a bit giddy and inappropriate at times and this has led to a number of complaints ranging from bullying (the elves like to play “Pin the Tail on the Reindeer” on the live reindeer whilst they sleep).  Failure to follow safety rules, including the now famous ChairGate when a chair race around the warehouse had terrible consequences.  Elves have a wicked sense of humour and there have been a number of cases of shoelaces being tied together, whoopee cushions being placed under staff and tools being superglued to the workbenches.

Health and Safety VA  ensures that all the Elves have taken part in the mandatory training for Manual Handling, Working at Height and that the specialist elves have the relevant certification in Workshop Safety.

General Admin VA creates effective filing systems and manages Santa’s diary throughout the year to ensure that he always has a good work-life balance and can return home to Mrs Claus on time every night except, of course, THE night.

Reindeer Diary Management VA arranges the schedule for the reindeer, ensuring they have the right transport, documentation and equipment for their various pre-christmas public appearances around the world.

Research VA attends a variety of trade fairs throughout the world, including the Toy and Gift Fairs in Harrogate, to identify the ideal toys for children throughout the world.  She provides detailed information to Santa Claus presented in folders by type of toy, age of likely recipient, safety record, cost, choice of colour/outfit etc.  Santa Claus will then notify procurement VA to pre-order the items he has chosen.

Training Management VA tracks all the training and development needs of the office staff, elves, reindeer and of course Santa Claus himself.  It is she who updates the master training plan and ensures that everyone completes their mandatory safety training at the correct time.  She also tracks staff CPD courses, carries out annual Training Needs Analyses for all staff and updates Santa Claus on a monthly basis.

Technology VA tracks the latest technology throughout the year, attending all the major technology shows to find out what tech is likely to be requested by children. She reviews everything electronic and computerised, tracking the popularity of computers, laptops, mobile telephones, games consoles and AI devices to ensure the right gadgets can be purchased, in the right quantities, at the right price. This is a particularly difficult job as technology moves so rapidly, the manufacturers cannot always prioritise Santa’s order, or manufacture sufficient numbers to meet Santa’s order,  and unfortunately, this is the reason why some children may not get the latest iPhone for Christmas.

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

You can see the range of services that I offer here, and if you are thinking of streamlining your admin or outsourcing some of the more time-consuming elements, then go here, to see the ways in which I can help you to create more time and revenue for your business in 2018.

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.

5 Tips for Great Content

Content, Content-Creation, writing, blogging, blogger, content-marketing

Creativity Can’t be Coerced

It is important to understand when you are at your most creative.  For some people, this might be late at night, for others, first thing in the morning.  You will have your best chance of creating great content if you play to your strengths and write, or plan, at a time when you are feeling at your most creative.

I am sure some people can decide to sit down every third Tuesday between 10 am and 1pm, write for three hours and be very creative indeed.   But for others, inspiration cannot be coerced in that way and will come from interaction with people and ideas.  Ideas that resonate with you, challenge existing beliefs, or create an emotional reaction, these are the things which are likely to spark creativity.  Many ideas come whilst you are doing something else.  This is why I am seldom far from a notebook and pen.  Keeping a folder of content ideas can be helpful.  I keep a folder to which I add notes and ideas as they occur to me.  I find this useful for kick-starting the creative process when I am ready to write.

Begin in the Middle

Blank white paper and brand new Word documents can kill inspiration.  I start with an idea from my inspiration folder and run with it to see where it takes me.   Starting from a note, draft or idea fools my brain into thinking I’ve started already, so I don’t get that blank page paralysis.  It can be helpful to just start writing somewhere.  Have an idea where you are going of course, but there is no law that says you have to start at the very beginning.  This post formed the middle section of a post about something else entirely.   The trick is to just get your thoughts onto paper.  You can tidy them up later.  I’ve found that telling myself the document is a draft that I can tweak and tidy up reduces the pressure to create startlingly amazing content in one draft.

Don’t be a Butterfly

Commentators in the fields of both Psychology and Time Management tell us that concentrating on one task, or set of related tasks, is highly efficient.  Switching between different types of task breaks concentration.  Once concentration is lost it can take a while to get it back again.  We’ve all had that situation where we are in the midst of drafting the most impressive document ever and there is an interruption.  A colleague has a question.  The phone or doorbell rings.  We go back to the task and find we can’t remember what we were going to write next.

Setting aside a time to concentrate fully on content creation, without interruptions, is therefore worthwhile.  You will get more done and ultimately be able to create more content if you can minimise distractions during the time you are writing.

Getting all your thoughts out onto paper in one single session can be a great way to create pieces of related content.  The draft might be very rough at the end of your writing session but you can set aside time later to review and polish the content for publication.  It is easier to see the areas that need improvement if you leave the draft to sit for a few days without looking at it.  You bring a fresh eye to it and can see where the text can be improved. If your writing has accidentally gone off on a different track part way through, then you can remove that part and keep it as a draft to be incorporated into another piece of related content.  Often it is easier, and quicker, to write this second piece of content because you have already partly thought through your argument and know the direction you want to take it in.

Be Human.  Be You.

Writing is just speech in written form.  Just be you.  Make your content flow as though you are talking to the reader.  The more you write, the more your unique voice will make itself known in your writing.   If you find that difficult on paper or on the computer screen, you could try recording your content using your phone’s voice recorder app. Just chat away and then either transcribe it yourself, send the recording to your VA or use a specialist transcription company.  I offer transcription as part of my package of services so if this would be helpful to you, please get in touch .

Tell a Tale

People love a story.  If you can make a narrative flow then you will draw your reader into your world and allow them to learn more about you and your subject.  It can be a challenge to make a story out of everything, and some subjects may not lend themselves to this approach. However, at the very least there should be a progression in the argument which takes the reader on a journey and draws them in, making them want to know more about the subject matter.  A logical progression in a narrative makes the reader want to learn more.  In more factual content, breaking up the text into sections will increase readability.

There are some great content creators out there who have the knack of creating memorable content.  Often they are doing this by using their own unique voice in their content, or by telling stories in a way that is memorable and effective.  Whilst you don’t want to be copying others, you want to create your own voice, it can be helpful to look closely at the structure of content which you find attractive and examine the methods the author has used to draw in their audience.  This can help you to hone and improve your own work as well as work out how you can use your unique voice to create content that others will want to emulate.

10 Simple Tips for Proof Checking Success

proof checking success 10-simple-tips accuracy

Whether it is your business cards, website, flyers or blog, proof checking errors can give a poor impression of your business.

It is actually quite hard to proof check. A number of psychological experiments have been carried out which show that we tend to see what we expect to see. One well-known example is this one.

psychology proof checking failure optical illusion

This effect seems to be worse if you try to check something you created yourself. You will almost certainly read what you think is there because you know what you are trying to say. Your brain will compensate and skip over the error.  One way to reduce this effect is to let some time elapse before trying to proof the copy.

To ensure your business documentation always shows you and your company to the very best advantage, here are a few tips for checking your work more effectively

1.  A spell checker

This is a great starting point, but cannot be totally relied upon since it won’t take account of context. As a result, you can find yourself “Barley able to continue yourself at the thought of attending the concert”. 

2.  Grammarly

This is a free web based tool that will check all of your online work. It doesn’t work with offline tasks but is marvellous for blogs and websites. I have it installed and find its suggestions very helpful at times.

3.  Read Aloud

Reading it out loud as well as silently is a great way to check whether the words flow well.  You will also find ultra-long sentences as you will run out of breath part way through reading out your sentence.  Reading aloud also assures you that the text makes sense, is well phrased, and points haven’t been missed out.

4.  Print it Out

By all means, proof check on the screen first to identify glaring errors.  However, proof checking on a screen is quite difficult and it is easy to overlook mistakes. Since mistakes are much easier to locate on a hard copy document you will get a more accurate outcome if you proof check the hard copy document.

5.  Multiple Checks

Don’t try to find every proof checking mistake at once. Read the document once to find spelling errors. Then read the document again to search for grammatical errors. Read it a third time to find missing or additional spaces, and so on.

6.  Phone a Friend

If possible, ask someone to help you. Take turns reading the document out loud to each other whilst the other person follows the text to try and catch any proof checking errors. This method is brilliant for proofing numerical information because numbers seem to be easily transposed.

7.  It’s the small things that matter

Don’t overlook the little words. “Or” and “of” are often used in place of each other in error.

8.  Vary your Route

When checking tables, it can be easier to read down columns to check information, especially if you would normally read across the rows when using the data.  Some people also like to read the document backwards, particularly when looking for spelling errors since the sense of the information is disrupted and you are less likely to skip over something because your brain has “filled in the blanks”.

9.  It’s not just the words

Check your photos, illustrations and figures are the right way up, captioned correctly and any captions or numbers match the text.  Any numbered lists should be checked to ensure the numbers are sequential.  If you are using references and footnotes, ensure that everything is correctly cross-referenced, and accurately numbered.

10.  Fresh Eyes

Sometimes all that is needed to catch that last little error is a fresh pair of eyes. Because our brains are programmed to see what we expect to see, it can be very difficult to spot errors if you are too close to the project.  Someone who has had no input into the document may find proof checking errors which you have overlooked.

If you want to ensure your business documents are as accurate as possible and would like to avail yourself of my fresh eyes, please get in touch with me here.