Mary Wu, Virtual Assistant

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Monthly Archives: August 2013

What’s Your (online) Backup Plan?

ID-100179303There’s a quote you may have seen on refrigerator magnets and coffee mugs: “Life is all about how you handle Plan B*.”

A few months ago the next town over had some major flooding. This brought to mind businesses (and individuals) that might not have a backup plan. If you lose your home and your computer and your external disk drive how can you retrieve all of the information you had?

There’s an interesting article from Popular Mechanics  about a test done to data where they took a hard drive and stuck it in salt water for a few days. They were able to send the data to a retrieval service to the tune of $1200 for a normal consumer.  When I look at my hourly rate and compare that to my overhead costs (and I don’t pay rent), I realize that $1200 isn’t really an item I want to make room for in my budget. So TODAY I want you to figure out your backup plan.

This week, we’re going to discuss online backup services, and next week we’ll talk about backing up at home. Something I’m hesitant to admit is that I was …… less than stellar in my backups in my personal life. *ALL* my photos were on my computer AND online in Picasa but everything else (documents, software, etc.) had haphazard backups at best. I’m not proud to admit it – but I realize it’s normal.

There is an ABUNDANCE of information on the Internet about Online Backup and Cloud Storage. Which one is best for you? What’s the difference between Online Backup and Cloud storage? I’ve put a few of the articles that I’ve found most useful at the end of this post. (Let’s appreciate for a moment the number of useless articles and one blatantly plagiarized article I had to muddle through to bring you 4 quality articles.)

But instead of rehashing those articles I’ll tell you what I use (in the online/cloud world) and why.

  1. Google Drive. I’m unabashedly a Google Gal. As I mentioned earlier my photos have been backed up online (for YEARS) in Picasa folders. Google Drive doesn’t only keep files online; you can also share files (with colleagues or clients or friends). For instance, a friend and I are planning a program coming up at our church. Within 5 minutes of planning that I started up a spreadsheet on Google drive and share it with her. It’s a convenient place to put notes and keep things scheduled. And it’s always available as long as you have an Internet connection.
  2. Dropbox. Another online service where you can share files with friends, colleagues, or clients. I’m assisting some clients with an event, and share files on Dropbox is very convenient. Things can be written by one person, proofread by a second person, and edited by a third person.
  3. Carbonite. I could tell you that I went to Carbonite because it ranks highly in most reviews (which it does). I could tell you I chose Carbonite due to the UNLIMITED storage (hard to resist). But what drove me to look at Carbonite was because I kept hearing about it (which either means that people are talking about it, or it means I spend too much time listening to podcasts like Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me or The Nerdist).  (OKAY — once I got there the unlimited thing was quite tempting.)

Next week we’ll talk about backing up your files at home, and there will be a call to action to do SOMETHING to protect your files.

*Me, I’m glad there are 26 letters in the alphabet – because sometimes in life I’ve gone well past Plan B

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Delegate

delegateLearning to ask for help is difficult for most people (and women in particular). Somewhere along the way we learned that it’s a sign of weakness to request help, but really it’s not.

Many years ago we adopted a daughter. The adoption process (just like having a child) is not necessarily an easy process. Between the time we were notified of our match and the time of travel, we were also in the process of starting up a new business. It was a rather hectic time in our household. One thing I did was realize that I couldn’t handle it all and I would have to delegate some jobs out, so I posted a note (and put it by the kitchen sink) that said “delegate.”  One simple word, one simple concept, one way to simplify everything.

Sometimes it’s difficult to determine what, exactly, you should delegate. A good rule of thumb would be to follow your strengths. If you’re a graphic artist and fabulous at making beautiful designs, perhaps you’d need help with bookkeeping or marketing. I have strong organizational skills and I’m great at document preparation, but when it came time to design a logo, I called a wonderful graphic artist.

If you’re a perfectionist, however, it is difficult to delegate certain tasks. After all, nobody knows your life or your business better than you do. While this is true, if you find the right person for certain tasks, you can guide them through your processes. “BUT” (you may ask) “how do I go about finding the right people to help with my tasks?” And that is a very good question.* If you are in networking groups, mention what you are looking for; one of your colleagues might know someone. Another tip for finding someone is to ask your friends. Facebook is a great resource for this. Just last week I needed a HVAC contractor and couldn’t figure out who to call. Within 24 hours I received 3 recommendations on Facebook. A great resource for professional services is LinkedIn. If you go to the search bar and start typing a term, you might get some hits that are 2nd degree connections on LinkedIn. You can see who your common connection is and ask about the service provider.

Cost is always an issue, but sometimes the costs have to be balanced against the return on investment. In some cases that might be easy to measure (for instance, if you’re not good at digging through the IRS code, a good tax accountant should save you money). Certain things cannot be measured in dollars and cents. Some things might ease your burden of time or allow you to focus your efforts in other areas.

Think about what you can do if you release some of the things that make your life difficult. No dollar amount can be placed on time with your family or on peace of mind.

*The other day a friend shared an article with me on some difficulties that might happen if you outsource overseas. You can read it at this link. Remember to look for good recommendations before hiring.

Tips and Tricks for August

Every month I will be doing a posting on timely tips and tricks.

It’s back to school time. I know people who recently started, some that are starting in a few weeks, and mine are going back next week. But what does this mean for you as a small business owner, entrepreneur, or coach?

$ALES$ That’s right, even if you don’t have kids, or your kids are well before or past the age of school, you can still take advantage of all those school supplies being on sale. You might not think that you need crayons but all those things that you need for your office are on sale. For example, mini staplers that can fit into a middle school locker can also fit in a purse or briefcase. Yesterday I grabbed some notebooks so that when I need to give a client a printout of a report or action plan, I can do so in an organized manner. Unless you have a locked office I’m willing to bet that sometimes your pens wander off your desk.* I plan to hit Target this week with both the family credit card and the business credit card in my pocket.

Sharing contact information for business partners. Did you know you can send someone’s contact to someone else if you have his or her cell phone number? Two different ways I’ve discovered to do this on my Android device are through the “message” app and through the “contact” app. In the “message” app (where you would normally send and receive text messages,) type in the name or the number where you’d like to send the contact. On the side (where you have the “send” arrow,) there is an “attach” (paperclip) button. Click on the paperclip and choose contacts. Search for the contact you wish to send and then select that contact, click “done,” and send the contact. Another option would be to go into your “contact” list, choose a contact, go to the “menu” and click “share namecard via,” choose messaging (or email or the best option), then (if you’ve chosen messaging) enter the name of the recipient. You should be carrying business cards of your power partners with you; but when you don’t have them, this is another way to easily share their information.

Just ask for help. The other day someone asked me how to do something. I didn’t know but told her I’d look into it. For this particular issue, I was fairly certain that someone on my personal Facebook page would know (I tend to know a few geeks.) So I posted the request to Facebook and had an answer within a few hours. I’ve also been known to post questions to virtual assistant groups or other groups I’m in.

Just give help. Last week at a networking event I was near a woman who asked a question about business cards (which was touched on in two of my earlier posts). When I got home, I sent her my posts on business card organization, both part 1 and part 2. Later that week I ran into her at (yet another) networking event whereupon she gave a rather complementary testimonial on how helpful and organized I was. This was well worth the 10 minutes of my time it took to send out an email with some links.

What are your favorite tips and tricks? Please share in the comments.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

*In The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams has a theory that ballpoint pens slip off to their own planet and live (the ballpoint pen equivalent of) the good life. For their sake, I hope it’s true, because the ballpoints never stay on my desk.

Business Cards Part 2: You’ve Got Them, Here’s What to do Next

ID-10041364In last week’s post, we talked about organizing business cards with 3 simple tools. The first thing you need to do is take the cards and enter them in some manner. You can use an Excel spreadsheet, Microsoft Access, Gmail contacts, one of the many iPhone/Android applications that make a contact list by taking pictures of business cards,* or whatever works best for you.  The important thing is to do something besides letting them sit in the bottom of your purse or in the back of a desk drawer. Personally, I like to use a Google Drive Spreadsheet, because then as long as I have access to a computer, I can edit my list (unlike Excel, where I’d need to be at my desktop).

You can meet many different people while you’re out networking, but let’s narrow them down to two types.

  1. Clients (or potential clients)
  2. People that you can help or people that can help you.

Chances are not everyone you meet will be a client or potential client. If you do meet someone that showed an interest in your services, make a note and contact that person within 24 hours. Ask to set an appointment time where you can get together to see if you’re a good fit. If you meet someone who did not specifically express a current interest in your services, you can still send them a note (within 24-48 hours) and let them know it was good to meet them and you are available to meet with them if they have any further questions. Invite them to look over your website or follow your blog or subscribe to your newsletter. You may meet many people that are not clients or prospective clients, but there might be some people that you can form a mutually beneficial relationship with. You may have clients (or friends) that need the service of someone you’ve met, and they might have clients (or friends) that need the service you provide. If you think that someone might be a referral partner or lead generator, contact them and ask if they’d like to meet for coffee or lunch.

Some business owners specifically choose to connect with one or two people. If that works for you, that is great, as long as you’re making a firm choice (and not avoiding contacting other people out of fear). I choose to touch base with most of the people I’ve met. I put their information in my database and send out *ONE* email basically saying “it was great to meet you, let me know if you have any questions, read my blog, subscribe to my newsletter.” Once is opening the door and being inviting; if you do much more than that you’re being a pest (and possible spammer). *NOTE: When using an app to make a contact list with business cards, you will need to make sure to check that contacts are entered correctly. One app I tried would not pull any information from some of the more unique business cards, and one app I tried decided one of my colleagues was an “alth” coach.  I have strong enough keyboarding skills that I prefer to type my business cards in. If you do a great deal of networking and need help entering business cards in a database, I do know someone that can help you.

Image courtesy of Ambro at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Business Card Organization: Make it Easy for Less Than $5.

Among business people and entrepreneurs and solopreneurs there are a few people that are highly organized in all matters. Then there’s the rest of us that struggle with organizing different projects (whether they be files on the computer, photos in the photo directory, or things cluttering the desktop).

In this post, I will not attempt to organize your entire life (though I do know some organization experts), but I will give you some hints on handling business cards. (One small step for an entrepreneur, one giant leap for your desk surface).

First, we’ll need some business cards. That shouldn’t be a problem if you’re out networking. You may have gotten 30 at the last speed networking event you went to.

Next we’ll need two simple items that you most likely have in your home, a Sharpie and some zipper sandwich bags. You might be wondering what these common items might have to do with organizing business cards, but bear with me.

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Before you head out to your networking event (or immediately when you arrive home), write the name of the event you are attending on the sandwich bag. For instance, you can write “Chamber Luncheon” or “Women in Business Breakfast.” While you are at the event (or when you leave), place all the cards from that event in the sandwich bag.

You might be asking, “Why am I putting these in a bag?” Remember what I said earlier about those of us that are less organized? If you are the type of person that ends up with a purse, pocket, or briefcase full of cards at the end of the week, and you don’t remember where they all came from (it happened to me in a former business venture), you will appreciate having them grouped by occasion.

Now that you’ve gotten home and you have all your cards in appropriate “files” (even though the files are, for now, sandwich bags), you can arrange them as best suits your needs. I have a Google Drive Spreadsheet file listing the name of the contact, all their information, and the event and date where I met them.* After you have entered all the information, you can take your business cards and put them in a small business card file, you could dispose of them (since you have the information), you can put them in an attractive basket on your desk, or you can do what I do and put them in the plastic shoe box. (Confession time, the reason I put mine in a plastic shoe box is because we use those for organizing many things in my household, so there’s always one or two extras around here; plastic shoe boxes are not required).

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There have been a few times when a number I don’t know has shown up on my caller ID, and a quick look at my spreadsheet has helped me identify the person calling.

Next week, we’ll talk about what to do with the contacts once you’ve entered the business cards.

*If you’re using an iPhone or Android app to “file” your business cards, it’s still a good idea to make a note of when and where you met a person.