Mary Wu, Virtual Assistant

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Tuesday Tip – It’s that time again

ID-10079666It’s almost August – which means it’s almost BACK TO SCHOOL TIME!!!

Some people that read this blog have school kids and look at this as an opportunity to start spending more time on their business. Some people reading this might go “OH DARN” that means traffic …

But most small businesses forget one really special event at this time of the year.

Girl Writing Back To School As A Symbol For Education

Girl Writing Back To School As A Symbol For Education

BACK TO SCHOOL $ALE$

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. There might be some back to school items you don’t need, but most “office” supplies are covered in the back to school sales. For example, mini staplers that can fit into a middle school locker can also fit in a purse or briefcase. Unless you have a locked office, I’m willing to bet that sometimes your pens wander off your desk. (Okay – even if you’re the only one that touches your desk I’m still willing to bet ballpoint pens disappear – see note below*). Every time I give a client a report or a contract, I put it in a two pocket folder. I rarely pay retail for those (they are either $0.10 or $0.15 during August). I know some consultants (I’m looking at YOU Michelle Smith at Z & B consulting) that often make use of colored markers and easel pads. Even if you don’t explore every sales flyer to find the “best” deals, you can’t walk down a school (office) supply aisle at this time of year without deals jumping off the shelf at you.

Staples Back to School Deals (moneysavingmom)

“Tips” 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.

5 Days of Celebrating Small Business #4

May 4-8 2015 is National Small Business Week. SBA_NSBW2015_FINAL_v2

I’m going to mark this occasion by posting some business tips (for small businesses) and articles each day geared toward small businesses.

 


Thanks and giving all year long.
Another tip from my own archives. Some tips for thanking your clients.

  1. ID-100113560Be specific. At a minimum, send out a note that says, “Thank you for your business this year.” But for special clients, if you’ve got the time, you can be more specific. “Thank you for allowing me to work on your project. I enjoyed learning more about Acme Widgets.
  2. Give a social shout out. If you have a client or service provider you’ve enjoyed working with, it’s a good idea to send them a note of thanks. It’s a GREAT idea to put that note of thanks in public view, whether through a shout out on their Facebook page or a testimonial on their LinkedIn page. If you do send a specific thank you note, be sure to let the person know they are welcome to use that information on their website or on LinkedIn. Give them permission to quote you in advance.
  3. Pass it along. If you have a service provider that has gone above and beyond for you, or if someone you know is always willing to help out or give just a little extra, don’t keep that secret to yourself. Your colleagues or friends might also be able to use their services.
  4. Go old school. Often it’s fairly simple to toss off an electronic thank you. Written thank you notes are even more appreciated. We all have mailboxes full of bills and junk mail. Send someone something that will brighten their day.
  5. Be authentic. When it comes time to send a thank you, be authentic. Your thank you note will mean more if it’s honest and heartfelt.

 

Related articles

Related songs 

Image courtesy of Naypong at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The Best Laid Plans

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The Best Laid Plans (or Drop Back Ten Yards and Punt)

“Each problem that I solved became a rule which served afterwards to solve other problems.” Rene Descartes

“A positive attitude may not solve all your problems, but it will annoy enough people to make it worth the effort.” Herm Albright

Many business owners have plans. You can have a business plan, you can have action steps, and you can have detailed descriptions for every aspect of your business. Sometimes, of course, things don’t go as planned. I have two examples from different business owners I know that had “glitches” in the past week and how they overcame these.

5169634I’m in a Mastermind group run by Michelle Smith at Z and B Consulting. We meet once a month for this group, and we were scheduled to meet on February 2, 2015. A few days before our scheduled meeting Michelle looked at the weather forecast and, well, the forecast didn’t look real pretty. As you can see from the attached photo (or from the photos many of my friends took out of their window over the weekend), it does look REAL PRETTY – but not very travel friendly.

Michelle, using the information she had available, decided that our monthly “meeting” would be held “virtually” using Fuze. I look forward to seeing and working with this fabulous group of people every month.

Meanwhile, in a completely different corner of the country (where snow is never an issue), another friend was preparing for a client call. This woman works with many of her clients virtually so often all she needs is a quiet place (like her home office) and a good Internet connection.

Of course, if she decides to upgrade her service (to BETTER help her fabulous clients) and there’s a “glitch” with the upgrade, this leaves no Internet connection for her client call (which she records as part of her best practices).

After discovering that the issue was with the upgrade, she managed to negotiate a free cellular Hotspot connection until the upgrade was completed on Tuesday.

We’re all going to run into glitches; let’s hope we all handle them as well as these two business women.

Photo courtesy of Amanda Wu at Amanda Wu, Photography, Copyright 2015

 RELATED ARTICLE

Yesterday I met a new person at a coaching event, and glanced at her blog. One of her articles:

Mistakes … Or Are They? Tashony Nalyse at tashonyalyse.com

I guess sometimes we all need a lesson.

 

Thursday Tip – The Why and How of LinkedIn Recommendations

If you’ve done business with a person and are extremely satisfied, you may want to tell the world. There are a number of ways to do this:

  1. You can pick up a megaphone (which will only tell a few neighbors).
  2. You can pick up a phonebook (that might take a while – heck in 2015 it might take a while to FIND a phonebook).
  3. You can post on their Facebook page (which will soon disappear further down on the timeline).
  4. You can post a recommendation on their LinkedIn Page. This will be permanently on their LinkedIn Profile page and easy to find for anyone wanting to use their services.

Click here to go to a page (on LinkedIn) that gives details on how to give a recommendation.

Let’s say you’ve given a colleague a recommendation but there’s something you want to change. Perhaps you’ve done more work with a person and you want to change some details, or maybe you were looking at their profile and noticed that you made a typographical error.

Click here to go to a page (on LinkedIn) that gives details on how to EDIT or REMOVE a recommendation.

NOTE: Olike-elements-glossy-icon_zy7r0hIdn the above link step 1 reads “go to your profile” and step 2 reads “scroll to the recommendations section.” This is missing step 1.5 which is “enter edit your profile mode.” If you go straight to your recommendations without entering “edit” mode you will not be able to edit.

Whether you want to give your colleague some “stars” or a “thumbs up,” LinkedIn is the place to go.

 

 

3 Tips on Who To Delegate To

Yes, I’ve talked about delegdelegateation before. It’s a topic that comes up often. The other day I was reading a Facebook Status from a friend that has a spouse in the construction business.

“Watching all these shady contractors on the news ripping people off makes me sick when there are good guys out there like ____________ who follow all the guidelines and have insurance and proper registration and do a great job for their customers and lose jobs to these clowns that rip people off. If the bid is low, there is a reason. You get what you pay for.”

Sometimes we think it’s hard to find the “good guys,” but if you do your research ahead of time, you’ll save time and frustration in the long run.

Here are three tips that should help you whether you’re looking for a plumber, a lawyer, or a virtual assistant:

  1.  Just ask. Ask everybody you know. Ask your friends, ask your neighbors, post a request to Facebook. Rest assured, if you don’t know somebody, you know somebody that knows somebody.
  2. Do background checks. I’m not talking about the background checks that go with hiring bank employees or Sunday School teachers*. But if you do a Google search on a name, look at a service like Angie’s List, or look at a person’s profile on LinkedIn, that will give you an idea of their professional persona.
  3. Interview. Most reliable service providers, in any area, are more than willing to sit down and talk to you for some amount of time for free (or at a greatly reduced rate) so that you can see if a working relationship is possible.

I honestly can’t think of a single time I’ve made a decision based solely on cost that I’ve been happy with that choice. On the other hand, I’ve often been happy with work done by people that have come with strong personal referrals.

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.

No Secrets (Carly Simon album)

No Secrets (Carly Simon album) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 *As an adoptive parent what I often tell people is that if I had any skeletons in my closet, they would have been found during the background check process. I’m like Carly Simon and I have no secrets.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Branding and Popeye

How do these three things relate?

English: Popeye Village in Anchor Bay, Malta, ...

English: Popeye Village in Anchor Bay, Malta, scenery of Popeye film. Deutsch: Popeye Village in der Anchor Bay, Malta, Kulisse des Films Popeye – Der Seemann mit dem harten Schlag. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

  1. A 5-part blog series on small business owners
  2. Branding
  3. Popeye

They really do relate and I’ll get to that in a minute.

Recently a graphic designer I know wrote a blog post about logo design and how you shouldn’t be afraid to make it personal. (You can read it here).

Before I started my business, I took a virtual assistant course at the local community college. One of the topics covered in the course was logo design, and as part of the assignment I came up with the butterfly idea.

Six months later, when I met with my graphic designer, I realized that I was really tied to my butterfly. They represent (to me) freedom and growth and “becoming” what you truly are. This is what I want not only for me and my business, but for my clients and their businesses.

Someone once pointed out that there may be people that think that the logo is less than “professional” looking (and sometimes it’s a good thing to point out pros and cons of any business decision when someone is consulting you), but I knew that this had become such an integral part of my vision for my business that if someone was bothered by it, they probably wouldn’t really want to work with me. And that’s okay (I’m always meeting new Virtual Assistants and if someone wants someone else to work with I can arrange introductions).

This brings us to the two introductions I want to do for my series on small business owners.

Beth Tomas is a graphic designer and the person that posted the blog post that got my mind going in this direction. Beth’s tagline (I love Beth’s tagline) is “I turn your dreams into pretty pictures.” She will sit and she will listen to you and try to get to know you and create a logo (or web images or brochure or flyer or …) that best represents you and your business.

Melissa Noto is another graphic designer. I’ve seen some of the cards and flyers she’s created for other business owners I know and she does a fabulous job at representing you and your business.

Yes, I’m promoting two different people in the same field, and yes neither of them is Suzanne Wills, who I wrote about last year. I have seen work from both of these women and they both do a fabulous job.

The important thing when working with any service provider is to find someone that you are comfortable working with and who can best relate to you and tell your story, because when it comes to telling your story through your brand. You want to person that can best understand your story.

(You may now ask “Okay Mary, what on EARTH does any of this have to do with Popeye?”)

One thing Popeye always says is, “I am what I am and it’s all that I am” (except he says “yam” sometimes.) Be who you authentically are and you will soar like one of my butterflies.

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How to Prepare your Business for your Vacation

Guest Post (with minor edits) courtesy of Evie Burke at One Insight Closer. IMG_2099a

Whether it’s spring break or summer vacation or winter holidays, we all need a few days off, or even a vacation (!) to have some time to relax.

Sounds wonderful right? But then you start to think about all those things that you want to or should be doing for your business right now – and suddenly taking any time away from your home office sounds less wonderful and more stressful.

On some level though, you know you need the time away – a time to rest and not think about your business. You just don’t know if that’s possible.

Let’s take a step back and remember having a JOB (play with me here). Remember going on vacation then? If your job was anything like mine, going on vacation meant that you had to set aside some extra time before you left to tie up any loose ends, to let clients and/or co-workers know you’re going to be gone and to update anyone who was going to be handling some of your responsibilities while you were gone (and maybe letting them know how to reach you in an emergency).

You know that that process was? A system, even if you didn’t call it that or think of it that way, it was the system that you, or the business you worked for, setup to make sure that things ran relatively smoothly while you were gone.

Let’s step back to today. What is your system for taking time off in your business?

Okay, I hear some of you laughing (or sighing) that you are your business and if you’re not there things don’t run. Nothing happens when you’re not in the office – or worse, if you’re not in the office things start to fall apart. Well, that might currently be true, but there are probably a few things that you can do before you leave or set up to happen while you’re gone to make sure nothing falls apart and that things run smoothly when you return.

  1. Let your clients know you’ll be out of the office
    Just give them a heads up. This could be a quick phone call and a follow-up email so they have the dates and other information at their fingertips. And let them know how to contact you if you’re in a business where emergencies happen and they might need you now. Let them know how to handle that.
  2. Tie up loose ends
    If you have any projects or communications that have under 15 minutes left on them, finish those up. These things will take longer to do if you wait until you return, because they won’t be fresh in your mind.
  3. Decide what can wait until after you get back
    If you’re anything like me you’ve suddenly decided that those two bigger projects that you put on the back burner should really be DONE before you leave. Because you don’t want to think about it when you return. You want to have time available for those great new ideas that will pop up when you return from vacation.This is where I remind us both (you and me) that some things will have to wait until after vacation. Trying to cram too much in before you leave will result in frustration and the temptation to take work with you on vacation (don’t do it!). Instead, decide ahead of time what can wait. Make a list if you need to and then you can schedule those things when you return.
  4. Out of Office email reply
    Most email programs have this. Set it up for the dates that you’ll be gone and let them know when they can expect a reply back from you.
  5. Update your voice mail message
    Again, let people know you’re out and when you’ll get back to them.
  6. Set time aside for replies and phone calls when you return
    Set aside a couple hours on your first day back in the office for returning emails and phone calls (and cleaning out your inbox).
  7. Plan the first couple days you’re back in the office
    This one is really important for me. Last year I didn’t do this when I went on a two week vacation. Actually, I “planned” on planning my first week back on the airplane ride home. Yeah, so on the airplane ride home I think I slept, talked with my husband and maybe read a couple of chapters of a fiction book. So, my first week back “in the office” I did catch up on email and send my newsletter, but that was about it…I realized that first week back would have been a lot smoother, and more productive, if I would have planned a few tasks to be completed that week. I could have gotten back into the swing of things a lot faster.
  8. Write and schedule your newsletter in advance
    If you send a newsletter, you can write it in advance and schedule it to go out while you’re gone. And if you have a VA you can write everything in advance and pass it along to her early.
  9. Enjoy your time off!
    Allow yourself to mentally unplug from your business and enjoy your time off!

You deserve some time off! Put it on your schedule and start planning for it!

In the comments below share what else you do to prepare for vacation or even a day away from your business.

(Additional note on #8, if you don’t have time to write a weekly blog post, remember to ask if someone wants to do a guest blog — Mary).

Photo by Mary Wu, on a previous vacation.