Success in 60 Seconds

Success Copy-Writing Content-Writing Elevator-Pitch Content

As a society, our attention span is shortening considerably.  Whilst not yet a society with the attention span of a gnat, we do expect pages to load quickly, posts and articles to be short and people to get to the point in a conversation or email without a lot of padding.  The success of our business can depend on it.

Whether you are looking at creating a blog, social media posts, or the notorious “elevator” pitch for business networking, you need to make it memorable, attractive, concise and most importantly, clear, if you want it to be a success.  If you don’t people will move on to consider the next person, business or piece of content.

So how do you achieve that?  Particularly with the elevator pitch which is very short and needs to fit into 40 or 60 seconds.  How do you encapsulate your whole business, who you are and what you stand for, into such a short time frame?  The answer for some people is to create a story.

Storytelling

Because there is a storytelling tradition in all societies, we grow up understanding how they are structured.  Stories can be used to form shortcuts that allow others to fill in gaps and understand more in less time.

Use the right words and you can conjure up pictures in people’s minds which contain feelings, assumptions and social norms that ensure the words have a greater impact.

Trick the Brain

Using a word that has strong associations with something different can work well.  I have a popular pitch that starts “I cure piles”.  Everyone who hears it for the first time sits up and pays attention.  It always raises a laugh, but most importantly, it also ensures that I am remembered.

The reference to piles works because our brain uses shortcuts and makes connections based on what we already know, our lived experience, and the things we have been socially conditioned to expect.  Using a phrase that is more commonly associated with a different sphere makes people sit up and take notice because their brain has already made the most obvious connection.  If someone stood up and said “I shoot people for a living” what would you think?  Hitman?  Armed Forces?  Photographer?  When you do find out, you are going to remember what that person did for a living.

Become a Character

Our story-telling tradition includes characters and these are another convenient way to get your point across.  Create a character and explain how you solved their problem.  If you can also keep to a theme this will make the posts or pitches even more memorable.  It gives your posts a coherence that helps people connect with your content, search for the link, and look forward to reading, or hearing, more from you.

Long-form content can also benefit from this type of approach.  People are undoubtedly reading your content to gain insight into the subject matter.  They are also considering whether you have in-depth knowledge of your subject and may be considering whether you would be a good choice to work with them on a project related to the content.  There are a lot of long-form posts available, often on the same subject.  Injecting some personality into your posts, or taking a different approach to that of other writers can help your work, and you, to stand out.  As with the shorter form posts, clear and concise is the road to success.

Alongside my work supporting clients with administrative and organisational tasks,  I also help them to present their business effectively via the written word, whether this is routine emails and letters, documenting processes, or creating social media posts and blogs that effectively tell their business story.

If you are struggling to tell your business story, get in touch with me for a chat here.

The Art of Managing Change

The Art of Managing Change

Changes.  David Bowie wrote about it, and we all experience it.  Whether you find it scary or exciting, change is a fact of life.  The pace of change picks up with every passing year and the ability to successfully negotiate, and be flexible in the face of, change, is a critical business skill.

Changing your habits generally forms part of any change.  Habits take a while to change.  I did try to research this but there is conflicting information about how long it takes to form a habit.  It takes at least 21 days.  Many people say it takes longer.  It can take as much as 66 days.

Changing things not only takes time but it can also take real concentration.  So is it any wonder that things like changing a job or setting up a business are seriously challenging?  So many habits need to change at once.   In this circumstance it can be helpful to list the changes you want or need to make and then prioritise them.  Start with the first change and get comfortable with that.  Get that change bedded into your day to day routine before you take on a new change.

The same is true if you have a team of people.  There will be some who are more resistant to, or afraid of, change.  Introducing change slowly, or waiting until people are comfortable with the first change before introducing another one, is a great way to implement changes successfully and ensures that your team remain on board.    Not everyone can embrace change well and for some, even a small change can be very challenging and they may need more support to negotiate that change successfully without becoming stressed and upset.

Explaining the reason for change is also a key part of successfully steering a company through a period of change.  Most children hate those parental expressions, “Because I said so” or “Because I told you to”.  They would rather know why they must do whatever it is you are asking of them. So why, as managers, do we sometimes expect to keep our staff moving through changes without telling them why those changes are necessary?  Treating them like children who cannot be told the reasons for a change displays a lack of trust.   Not being open about things can lead to all sorts of destructive rumours as people try to guess the reasons why change is happening.  Destructive rumours can then lead to real dissent in the workplace, affecting relationships and ultimately productivity if the dissension becomes entrenched.

Where the change involves carrying out an activity or part of a role in a different way, it is very important to provide both face to face training and supporting documentation.  People learn in different ways so a mixture of visual and written information can be helpful in both the documentation and the training materials.    Providing a written crib sheet, step by step reminder sheets and similar can be very reassuring for people.  Many of us don’t want to keep asking for clarification and managers may not always be available to answer questions as they arise so crib sheets are generally welcomed.

Change can also arise due to the expansion of a business.  When a business expands very rapidly, it can seem as though processes and procedures can wait until the situation has settled down a little.  However, if you are taking on new staff but they are not sure of your processes, then they won’t work effectively, might feel unsupported and then might not stay with the company.  For these reasons, prioritising the creation of processes and procedures can be a great investment in your business expansion.  There are a number of companies who specialise in helping businesses to create processes and in the area of HR there are some excellent independent consultants who can deal with this side of the business expansion for you in a sensitive and time-efficient way.  I work with a number of HR consultants who offer this service.  They are experts in designing processes that protect your business and ensure your staff get the training that they need.

I work with HR Consultants and small business owners to save them time and money.  Part of my service involves examining admin processes and habits for small business owners, suggesting changes which will help them to have more time to implement their business plans, and of course, documenting these changes for them.  Get in touch if you’d like to find out more.

Accounting For Receipts

Accounting For Receipts

Receipts for business expenditure.  They are small and they often go missing.  Do you know where all yours are?  If you had to complete a tax return tomorrow, could you provide your accountant with a carefully recorded, tidily managed pile of receipts for them to work from?  Or would you have to hand over a shoe box or plastic bag full of documentation that has little or no organisation to it?

As a sole trader, finding time for all the varied tasks required of you in business can be a challenge, particularly if your business is booming and you have no administrative assistance.  However, the time it will take to unravel records which have not been kept up to date will be considerable at tax return time so it is worth having an ongoing system that will avoid you having to spend three days with your receipts spread out across the living room carpet, scratching your head and cursing the cat for walking over the piles you have created.  You could hand the entire thing to your accountant to sort out, but the bill would be quite considerable.  By planning ahead you can avoid all the pain.

Have a System

You don’t need a complicated system when you are first starting out.  A set of well labelled envelopes for the receipts and an Excel spreadsheet for the accounts themselves will do for many smaller businesses.

Every transaction has its own unique reference number and this should be written on the receipt and the accounts spreadsheet so they can be matched up easily.  Any transactions that will go through the bank are treated in this way.

Keeping it Together

Keep all receipts for credit card transactions together in one plastic envelope, ideally in date order.  Then, when the bill comes in, you can number every line on the bill sequentially.  It is then possible to match the receipts to the items on the bill, recording the relevant number on the receipt itself.  I find that it is credit card receipts that tend to go walkabouts, and by reconciling the bill in this way every month, you can more easily search out the errant receipt before it goes into hiding and, like Lord Lucan, is never seen again.

The settled credit card bill and its lovely set of numbered receipts can be placed in an envelope with the date marked on it, and filed with the rest of the receipts for that month.  Obviously when you have paid the credit card the transaction is entered on the accounting spreadsheet so the bank account remains correctly balanced.

Don’t forget your petrol receipts if you are accounting for these.  One client keeps these in the car in a small folder and then hands them to me every couple of months for recording.  If you get in the habit of putting the receipts in the same place each time this can make a real difference and massively reduce those awful “dig through every possible drawer to find that receipt” moments.

Finally there are those pesky online bills.  Don’t forget to enter these to your spreadsheet and either save them with a clear reference number (in line with your chosen naming process above) on a memory stick that you can send to your accountant, or print, add the reference number, and then file in the relevant envelope.

Still Need a Hand with those Receipts?

If you struggled to get the supporting information for your tax bill organised for the last tax year and vowed never to go through that again, why not get in touch?  I can help you to set up a process that works for you so that your accountant doesn’t hide from you during tax return season.

Business Processes: The Blueprint for Success

Business Processes

At the beginning of a new year our thoughts tend to turn toward making improvements in our business which will increase its size and revenue.  Often when a business grows rapidly, information about tasks and processes are held entirely in someone’s head.  If they leave the company this can leave a knowledge gap that can be difficult to fill.  New staff come in and are not sure what the business processes and procedures are and this can lead to problems with motivation, accuracy and speed of learning.  Even if your staffing is relatively stable, people get sick or go on holiday, leaving someone to temporarily carry out their tasks.

As a business grows, written business processes to govern how tasks are carried out, by whom and within what timescale will become increasingly necessary to ensure a consistent quality outcome.  Written processes also give a benchmark against which performance can be measured and a hand over plan when staff move on or change roles.

steps, steps to improve, steps to increase

The first step when documenting a process or task is to break the process down into steps.  Identify who is responsible for each step in the process, what the outcome looks like at each stage and what order tasks should be completed in order to arrive at a consistently high quality outcome using the minimum effort and resources necessary.  Look at the stages of the process and identify any areas where tasks are handed between people. Ensure that these areas are particularly clearly documented and state who is responsible for each area of the outcome.  Add any milestones or targets required for timely completion.

checklist, GDPR checklists

List everything that you think could go wrong.  If appropriate, ask another person if they can see any areas where a failure might occur.

Write it all down but then put it away for a day or two.  When you go back to read it again, try to follow the steps.  Would you add new steps?  Do you understand what you wrote?  Could you express the task more clearly?  Would a diagram, screen shot or better explanation help?  What would you clarify?

business procesesses project planning project management

Ask someone you trust to follow the process as  you have written it.  Can they follow it easily?  Do they understand it clearly or do you explain some elements more clearly?  How do they think it could be improved to make the outcome happen faster or more efficiently?  What input can they give which will help the overall process to move smoothly?

business processes project planning project management

Provide links to all supporting information.  This might be a “How To” guide for a task that forms part of the whole, a manual that governs company process, legislative rules, or a related instruction that is already in place.

Include the locations of any files or forms that must be used.  If your documentation changes infrequently, example forms are fine to include.  However, if you can store the form on-line and publish a link in your process document this will make your documentation more future proof.  If the form is updated, your manual will remain applicable.

Contact details for all the teams involved in the process are also critical.  Using a link to the company contact list is helpful here.  Again, it future proofs your documents, reducing the number of amendments required.

If you must use jargon or acronyms, please explain it in a footnote.  It is particularly important to avoid these in induction manuals since your new team member will think they’ve landed in outer space without knowing the language.

Before a process is released into the world it should ideally be tested to identify any missing steps or incorrect information.   If you can, ask a representative of all the teams involved to look at the process to make sure it will work at every step in the process.

All business processes are live documents and should be subject to regular review, particularly when there have been major changes in the organisational structure.

An outsider can often view business processes more clearly than those who are within the organisation.  They come in with a fresh eye and new questions that you might not have thought of.  It can be a challenge to “see the wood for the trees” when you are so close to the action.  A new perspective can also help clarify priorities for change where there seem to be a lot of issues to resolve at once.  If this is an area you are struggling with, then do get in touch.  I have experience in setting up and improving processes and would be glad to help.

VAVA Voom: Value Added Virtual Assistance

Virtual Assistance, Virtual Assistant, Administration Support, Value Added Service

Something a client said recently really made me think.  Not that my clients don’t make me think regularly you understand, but mostly it’s about how to do things quickly and efficiently to save them time or how I can improve the way I provide my Virtual Assistance so that clients get even better value.

My client, let’s call her Sue, had a phone enquiry.  A few minutes into the call their enquirer asked what it was Sue actually did.  You see, they’d decided that they needed what Sue provided but hadn’t really been clear on the value that this would add to their business once they had engaged her services.

So, today’s post is not about what I do, but about the value Virtual Assistance can add to a business.  The value is more than the sum of the tasks after all.

As my strapline says; I create time for business.  I give you back the time you’ve lost trying to juggle multiple roles as a small business owner.  This is the single most valued outcome of working with me according to my client feedback.  A desire for a better work-life balance is often the reason people initially approach me for assistance.

Rescue your relationship.  Yes, that did happen.  Discretion forbids detailing it though.

Help you to see options to move forward with tasks that you are stuck with.

Suggest different ways to tackle tasks that will make them quicker and easier or will create a better outcome.

Organise tasks and even people when you don’t have time or energy to think about doing so.

Pick up the routine stuff that could get lost in the heat of battle.   The stuff that in a corporate environment you would just ask someone to help with….  Those “Can you just…?” and  “Would you be able to…..” type tasks that your colleague might pick up for you.

Give you a helping hand with the things that are taking up too much of your valuable time.

Make sure things that need to be remembered don’t get forgotten.

Ensure accuracy.  Whether that’s your documentation, appointments, blog posts or the notes of that disciplinary meeting.  Done right, done fast and done the way you like it.

Make your business look good.  A VA answering your emails and organising your diary gives a great impression of an organised and efficient business.

Contribute expertise on the administrative and time management aspects of any new business ideas and expansion plans you might have.

Virtual Assistance is about working in partnership with you, supporting you in achieving the business goals you are striving towards.    I actively look for ways to make your life easier, and implement them (with your permission of course). Sometimes that’s a big thing like suggesting a re-organisation of the inbox or creating some graphics or a video for your business, sometimes it’s a tiny thing, like just going into your InBox and tidying out the rubbish that you really won’t ever read.

I work with you.  If you tell me what you are trying to achieve, I’ll do my best to help you realise that.  I can’t know everything.  There will be areas I can’t cover (finance and cold calling being two that spring to mind) but in my chosen field of HR Support, I am, though I say it myself, pretty good at what I do.  If you were inclined to disbelieve me, I have the testimonials to show it.

If you would like to add this level of service and value to your business, then you can click here to find out what other people think about working with me and here to start the conversation.

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.

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.

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.

5 Spells to Streamline your Time Management

spells halloween time-management time management, save time, VA, admin help

Soon it will be Halloween.  Then it will be Bonfire Night.  Then we are on the countdown to Christmas.  There are costumes and candy to buy for Halloween, Fireworks to purchase, bonfire night parties to arrange, then the Christmas planning is upon us.  The thoughtful gifts, the stocking fillers, and creating a cake early enough to allow it to be fed an entire bottle of brandy without it turning to mush.  The latter is not only possible, but it is also delicious.   The list goes on and on.

Time, always at a premium, doesn’t stretch to accommodate all the extra tasks you need to complete at home or in the business.   We all sit down some nights and wish we had a magic wand that would allow us to stretch time so we could get more done in a day.   Most of us don’t have a magic wand but these time management tips can help you to make the most of the time you do have available.

Multi-Tasking: Please Don’t.

Although it is tempting to tackle several things at once to get things done quicker, your brain is not set up to work that way.  It works best if you allow it to concentrate on just one task or group of tasks.  By minimising your brain’s need to keep switching tasks, you feel more in control and your brain works more efficiently, allowing you to get more done.

Avoid Interruptions

Interrupting your work to read notifications breaks your train of thought.  Daniel Leviton, author of “The Organised Mind” calls the desire to read notifications and Emails “The Novelty Bias”.   It can take several minutes to recover focus following trivial interruptions and over a whole day, those tiny interruptions can add up to quite a bit of lost time.

If you struggle to ignore notifications there are apps that will block access to Social Media for set periods of time so that you won’t be tempted.  Or, do as I do, leave your phone downstairs when you are working upstairs.

Is it the right time?

If you set aside particular times of day to work on tasks this can really add to your productivity.  Working on complicated or creative tasks when you are feeling fresh will ensure they get done more quickly.  Most of us experience a post-lunch dip in energy and this can be a really good time to check Emails and do routine housekeeping tasks in the office.  Knowing your optimum time for creativity and making the most of this time is a great way to make the most of your time.

Planning:  It’s not just for Project Managers

Have a goal in mind for each week and create a plan for each day.  If you plan out your week and list the key tasks you will complete each day in order to achieve your end goal, this is a great way to ensure you are making progress and stay on track.  Each task on your list should move you nearer to the goal you have in mind, whether that is planning an office party or gaining more business.

Having an accountability partner can be helpful as well.  They can ensure you stay on target by challenging you to complete the tasks you have set yourself that week or month.  Choose someone who will have the confidence to give you a kick if you aren’t meeting the goals you set yourself.

Environment

Whilst some people undoubtedly work well in a messy environment, I’ve seldom met anyone who worked well in a disorganised one.  Those who work with messy desks always have a hidden method of organisation that is not apparent to the casual observer.  They can always lay hands on the thing they need, and that’s the key.  Nothing wastes time like a fruitless search for the pen you had a minute ago, the stapler you know you had last week, or that critical document that you didn’t file away.  The document is probably somewhere in the pile of documents in the corner of the office. Unless it is somewhere else of course.  If this is something you struggle with, you can read tips on how to alter your environment to aid improve both time management and productivity  here:

witch broomstick help admin help time management

Finally, if you are struggling to cast these spells effectively, why not call in an expert?

If you need some heavy duty spells cast over your admin, working with a VA might be the answer.

If you would like me to fly to your rescue, then you can contact me here.