Category Archives: Worklife

10 Things to Outsource to a Virtual Assistant

DECEMBER 27, 2012

By Alina Diznik

Using a virtual assistant can shave hours from your workweek, but knowing which tasks to delegate can be tricky, whether you’re starting or growing a business. Most virtual assistants are contract or freelance workers who do their jobs from home and focus on administrative tasks that are similar to those of an executive assistant or secretary. Websites that specialize in contract workers, such as odesk.com and elance.com, have thousands of listings for virtual assistants.

With the number of virtual assistants are growing, their expertise now runs the gamut, making it easier to find someone who fits your organization, says Jaleh Bisharat, vice president of marketing at oDesk.com, which is based in Redwood City, Calif. In 2012, oDesk had 25,000 postings for virtual assistant jobs, compared to about 2,500 in 2008.

Entrepreneurs can use virtual assistants for everything from making vendor or customer service calls to sending out thank you cards to prospective clients. It’s important to build trust, just as you would with a permanent employee. “They become a team member who just happens to work remotely,” Bisharat says. Not sure where to start? Here are 10 ways you can use a virtual assistant to improve your business.

Bookkeeping: Keeping tabs on bills and other bookkeeping matters can be one of the easiest things to assign to a virtual assistant, says Kathy Colaiacovo, marketing director for the International Virtual Assistants Association, a Henderson, Nev.-based trade group. Many small businesses choose to share their bookkeeping systems with their virtual assistants who can then follow up on tasks such as outstanding invoices or unpaid bills. “You will need to hand over some control [including] passwords and access to accounts,” Colaiacovo says.

Online Research: You can easily farm out Internet research to virtual assistants. Common requests include finding information on corporate websites, exploring new products and vetting potential employees or business contacts, says Sue Kramer Harrawood, president of Peace of Mind Virtual Assistance, an Orland Park, Ill., firm that provides companies with virtual assistants. Be sure to send clear instructions, along with user names and passwords so assistants can get access to specialty search tools or paid websites. Tristen O’Brien, an eBay marketing expert in Westfield, Indiana, asks his assistant to help him find blog topics, as well as occasionally proofread his blog [link: http://www.theebayentrepreneur.com] on eBay selling. “She researches what is trending and reports back to me,” O’Brien says.

Database entries: Whether it’s a slew of new business cards picked up at a conference or updated information for existing contacts, keeping databases current is a suitable task for virtual assistants. Be specific about your needs and expectations, and make sure the virtual assistant has done this type of work before so there’s less room for errors, Kramer Harrawood says. “Follow up is a huge thing for business owners. Sometimes clients will fax or scan business cards to us, and [virtual assistants] will plug them into the database.”

Data presentations: Turning raw data into a clear PowerPoint presentation or summarizing research findings in a Word document can be a huge timesaver when prepping for meetings, says Rich Pearson, chief marketing officer at eLance.com, a jobs website for freelancers in Mountain View, Calif., who uses a virtual assistant himself. The data “comes back in a format I can share,” he says.

Managing email: To keep you from wasting time in your email inbox, some virtual assistants will filter your most important emails and respond to the rest on your behalf, Colaiacovo says. Such email management is easy to do remotely, but you need to provide guidance on how to pick out key emails and ask the assistant to copy you before sending out any responses to reduce the risk of errors.

Social tasks: Virtual assistants can be a good bet to handle tasks such as writing holiday cards or sending thank you notes, says Bisharat, who notes that social chores have become a very common assignment. Such tasks can become “all consuming” for business executives, she says, “but a good virtual assistant can take care of all of it.”

Travel Research: Virtual assistants are a great resource for finding hotels, booking airfares and mapping out trip itineraries both for business and pleasure, Pearson says. The assistants can take advantage of the growing number of travel research tools and review sites on the Web. They can also deal with the hassle of navigating time zones when booking or researching international travel options by phone.

Scheduling: Because many scheduling tools are available online, virtual assistants are managing the calendars of many clients, says Kramer Harrawood. Tasks include dealing with meeting invitations from others, scheduling appointments with clients and helping to plan events. “It’s about being comfortable and letting go of that calendar” to a non-staff person working remotely, Kramer Harrawood says.

Chasing business: Prioritizing potential business opportunities can be challenging, but virtual assistants can help with the process. When deciding what to sell on eBay, for example, O’Brien asks his virtual assistant to look around for products that can be profitable to resell. “I give them quite a few websites to visit, and they take it from there,” he says. “They look for clearance items and other types of products.”

Industry knowledge prep: With limited time to keep up with industry news, some small businesses have turned to virtual assistants to keep tabs on the most important happenings. Many executives then use the industry information to update their Twitter feed or bring up interesting developments in conversation with customers and prospects. This helps “executives appear to have timely news,” Pearson says.

via 10 Things to Outsource to a Virtual Assistant

Photo Credit: robotlizz 

Need to Reduce Employee Turnover? 3 Steps to Keep Your Best Employees Happy Reduce employee turnover in less than 6 months…even with scarce resources.

By Ben Fanning

High employee turnover can be catastrophic for the CEO and their entire organization.

Losing top talent increases your rehiring and retraining costs, plus it reduces employee incentive to stick around.

If unchecked, employee turnover can gain momentum and lead to a mass exodus of your best talent and eventually create a “brain drain” …where those who can easily get another job do so.

In response, executive leaders often default to throwing money at the problem or making big, radical changes. These approaches are often disruptive to the business and do not generate a significant return on investment.

So if you’ve got 6 months to reduce employee turnover with a limited budget, how do you approach it?

That’s where my recent interview comes in with JF (Jean-François) Goldstyn, Chief Learning Officer at SQS Software Quality Systems and who has an extensive background HR and long tenure at Harvard Business Publishing.

Step 1: Identify the root cause for those who leave and also for those who stay

It’s critical to determine the root cause of employee turnover before you take action.

Many organizations adopt exit interviews to determine why employees quit, but an even bigger opportunity is to understand why your top employee stays in the first place. Then you can build a plan to reinforce what’s already working.

JF suggests one of the most proactive ways to execute this step is through stay interviews. These are interviews for uncovering the reasons your top talent stays at your company, so you can effectively craft a strategy to retain your best and brightest.

Another bonus JF says from stay interviews is that it “allows you to do early detection of at-risk talent”. Just scheduling a few stay interviews with your best employees can go a long way in showing them you care.

In a stay interview, you can try questions like:

  • If you were contacted by a recruiter who offers same pay and title at a different company, what are the main factors why you would stay committed to your current job?
  • What elements of your job would you like to increase? What elements would you miss if you took another job?
  • What would you like to decrease? What factors make you sometimes dread coming into work?

Step 2: Implement a flexible approach based on the frustration of the employee

Once you identify the root causes for who leaves and who stays, you can begin to categorize and select an approach to address the biggest factors.

This allows you to vary your approach based on the employees’ main sources of frustration.

Here are three possible areas of focus to improve employee retention:

  • Lack of career opportunities: JF mentions “shadowing or job rotation”. This gives employees an opportunity to learn about a different area of the company and expand their purview beyond the current job. This can reinvigorate their interest in the organization.
  • More money: Review how they are adding value in their current position; then as JF says, “add job sculpting and new responsibilities and higher targets”. Collaborate with them to see how they add more value today and explain how that can lead to higher paying opportunities within the organization. You can also look beyond money and identify other forms of compensation like a more flexible schedule or additional training in an interest area.
  • Don’t like their boss: One of the most common reasons for quitting is that an employee doesn’t like their boss. You can equip the employee with strategies to deal with an unreasonable boss. You can also try “identifying a different reporting structure (within reason) or pair them up with a mentor”. Of course, changing the reporting structure isn’t always possible; but when you at least have the conversation it can generate more goodwill and prevent your best employees from taking that next call from the headhunter.

Step 3: Give Your Time to Your Most Valuable Employees

Often, the CEO only gets involved when there is a big problem–perhaps related to the biggest employee issues. However, an important employee retention strategy is to ensure an allocation of your time to your best employees. This can be tricky because there may be a real race horse in the “less than best” too.

Yes, your time is valuable. Many leaders use this as a reason to limit their interaction with individual employees; however, consider the cost of losing your most valuable employees–those who add the most “value” to your organization. You may realize that giving your personal time to key employees is the most effective and important employee retention tool at your disposal.

JF suggests, “getting your senior leaders involved with coaching at-risk talent”.

Remember when you were coming up through the ranks and an executive took a personal interest in your career?

This can take the form of mentoring, coaching, or informal Q &A session; but the bottom line is when a senior leader shows any interest, it makes a big difference.

via Need to Reduce Employee Turnover? 3 Steps to Keep Your Best Employees Happy | Inc.com

BENEFITS OF HIRING A FREELANCER

Some tasks or projects require extra hands or better yet an expert hand that may not be readily identifiable in your current employee pool. Hiring more employees even temps comes at an extra cost that your business may not be able to carry. This is especially true if yours is a start-up, sole proprietorship or falls in the small/medium category as naturally you as yet don’t have a big expense account. The budget is just not yet there to hire full-time staff nor do you want to make the kind of legal commitments necessary to do so at this time. But the work has to be done and you need someone to help you do it…SOOOO what do you do?

Well, why not hire a freelancer? Confused? let me explain. A freelancer is a like a contractor but for businesses. They are self-employed persons offering just about all the support a business needs and often to multiple clients at a time. These services run the gamut and include (but is not limited to) content creation such as posts for social media platforms, copywriting, proofing or writing, such as articles and blog posts or technical support, such as virtual assistance. Some freelancers offer after hours’ services too such as online customer service whether it is order processing, packaging, and shipping or by phone or email.

There is no rule that says an employee has to be static or even in-house certainly not today with the rapid advancements in technology and the endless resources available on the internet. According to instanshift.com hiring a freelancer is a quick way to outsource isolated projects; with the added ‘no strings attached’ advantage. What’s more, you maintain full control over the what, when, how much and for how long.

The business owner decides the specific tasks to be done and how it is to be done, the strict or flexible deadline as to when it is to be done, how much is to be paid for each task done or over the entirety of the project and how long and how often you’ll need the service for.

Sounds good, right? Here are five more pretty convincing benefits of making a freelancer apart of your business model.

ADDED RESOURCES BUT NO ADDED COST

Freelancers typically come with their own tools to complete the job, those tools could be specialty software, for instance, any worthy freelance graphic designer will more than likely have Adobe Premiere Pro or Photoshop. A freelancer will also have their own specialty equipment such as high-end laptop or desktops or internet servers with enough stamina to manage the task. They are also resourced rich in that they possess special skill sets such as the ability to communicate effectively, research, marketing and most importantly time and time management. Sure, you will have to pay for their services but there will be no lingering costs such as a light bill.

CONFIDENTIALITY

Nobody has to know you are hiring a freelancer, not your boss not your board, not your clients not nobody. It just may be that you need one off help with getting some of your tasks done or to free up some of your time. You may need someone who is available off-site, or mobile or flexible that can be available after hours to pick up where your day ends. A freelancer can be the silent partner that helps you get your business to the next level or to help you get that promotion.

EXTRA BUSINESS SERVICES

If you are thinking about moving some aspects of your business online or want to provide your clients/customers with online services available even after your regular business hours a freelancer can be that bridge. Online customer service has many benefits in and of itself the two biggest being improved customer retention and customer lifetime value (repeat sales). This could mean an increased profit margin and expansion, but what if you just don’t have may the resources or the in-house staff readily available to be able to offer this valuable service? This is where a freelancer with their own equipment and software comes in pretty handy, eliminating the additional overhead costs thus reducing the time it takes to get up and running.

SOCIAL MEDIA MANAGEMENT

It would take another full article to adequately explain the enormity of social media and how it could increase your business’s visibility reach. Think about this the three biggest platforms average over 2 billion active monthly users. Facebook alone surpasses 1.50 billion monthly active users, 945 million mobile users, and 757 million daily users, Instagram a mobile-driven app has over 600 million active users per month and the Donald Trump loving Twitter has over 320 million. Needless to say, that is A LOT of eyes and a ‘YUGE’ market that you could be tapping into. Here again, a freelancer could be the answer to your profit prayers, hiring an independent person to create, manage, update and market your social media platforms means neither you nor your employees have to.

INCREASED PRODUCTIVITY

According to Paperlessproposal.com hiring a freelance contractor can be a motivational tool to get the most out of your existing employees. They say that an employee knowing you can call on a freelancer at any time who will provide efficiency without compromising quality will motivate staff to work at as high a level especially if it means losing their jobs. That aside and in the meantime, the freelancer ‘can fill in the gaps as the employees continue to handle their current workloads. When you hire a contractor to do a job that is not going to be an ongoing position, you do not have to worry about firing or replacing them. They understand they are on the job for one purpose and will be gone when completed.’

A freelancer could really optimize your business making it more efficient, impactful and engaging, it also means you have the pick of the litter really as there are no geographical boundaries to hiring a qualified and experienced freelancer. Besides that, readily available online assistance is the modern cost effective way of having the additional resource you need to carry out everyday tasks and special projects. There are no strings attached, no residual expense and you can avoid the unnecessary legal complications associated with employment contracts. So, if you’re a busy salon/barbershop owner, garage, car wash or you’re a small/medium manufacturer, retailer, magazine for whatever it is you do a freelancer might just be the person for you (rhyming skills on point).

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