Personally Virtual Blog

There is a special triangle that I like to pull out when someone says “Ooh, I could get that much cheaper elsewhere” in relation to any product or service offered by a local small business:


The three corners on the triangle are labelled ‘Good Quality’, ‘Low Cost’ and ‘Fast Turnaround’, and from my extensive experience working as a small business and with a variety of other small businesses, it is virtually impossible to get all three when you are looking for a product or service.

Have you ever seen one of those articles about people who buy their wedding dress off eBay for £15, and it arrives from China and when the bride-to-be tries it on she resembles one of those retro toilet roll holders (or much, much worse)? That’s the analogy that I like to use when it comes to ‘cheap overseas labour’ – it might sound like THE answer to all of your prayers and mean you get a whole day’s worth of support for the price of a single hour of UK or EU based support, but in the vast majority of cases, you are relying on a completely unknown and untested entity to produce work of a good quality in a timely manner so that your business can be the ‘beautiful bride’ rather than a Halloween-esque monstrosity.  Particularly following the introduction of the GDPR, if you are asking someone to work with your data (or worse, the data of one or more of your customers), how can you be sure that the data is being handled and managed in a way that is compliant with the regulations?

Of course, the magical triangle above isn’t the only reason that I think people should look closer to home for a virtual support team for their business, there are lots of other reasons too:

Supporting your local economy – when you work with a small local business, you’re helping a local individual or family to support themselves in a flexible way.  The employed 9-5 is fast becoming a thing of the past as more and more people choose to work for themselves doing jobs that they are skilled at and passionate about.  If all of your customers chose to take up ‘cheap overseas labour’ rather than work with your business, how long would you be able to stay in business? It’s the same for all other freelancers. 

Recognisable qualifications, insurance and accreditations – If you need a freelancer to have a certain level of knowledge, experience or understanding about a specific topic, it’s likely that British/European qualifications (professional and academic) are going to be far more recognisable than some international awards.  Your business insurance and contracts can also be rendered invalid in certain cases if you choose to work with people outside of the UK or EU, so make sure you check the small print and seek advice from a legal professional if you are unsure.

Language barrier – Though the vast majority of the world’s population speak better English than some of their British counterparts, it’s worth making sure that a freelancer’s written and spoken communication skills are up to the standard you require, particularly if they are going to be in a customer facing role and dealing directly with your customers (even if it is only by email).  Grammatical and spelling errors on a website, in an email or in any of the documents that you produce for your business can have a negative impact on the perceived value of the work that you carry out for your clients. 

Issues with working hours – Do you need emails responding to within traditional working hours (9-5pm)? Do you need to be able to communicate promptly and efficiently with your freelance team? If so, an overseas worker may not be the right fit for you, particularly if they are online in the middle of the night UK time and your email system is going haywire when customers and suppliers are asleep!

Reasonable re-imbursement for your workforce – £5-10 per hour might sound like the ideal price point for a workforce, but could you live on that income with your business AND household expenses? Even if you had a relatively low cost of living, is that a fair price to pay someone for the work they are carrying out for you? If the work requires a skilled and experienced individual to complete it, then that individual deserves to be appropriately reimbursed for their skill and expertise.  What’s the lowest price you would work for? How do you feel if someone tells you that your product or service is overpriced and offers you significantly less for it? Before you exclaim ‘Oh, but I could get that much cheaper somewhere else!’, stop and think.  Even if you do think it is overpriced, why not ask why that is the hourly price-point, and whether there is a discount for a package of hours/retainer? During the discussion stage of a business relationship, you haven’t committed to working together so can walk away at any time if the product is not priced at a level that is economically feasible for your business at the present time. 

So when you are looking for a freelancer or team of remote staff to support your business, why not start by looking closer to home? Cheap, unskilled labour may seem like a good deal but can be a real false economy and have a negative impact on the perceived quality and value of your business in the long term. The UK has an incredible pool of talent who can help you deliver the quality and service that your business is renowned for, so why not contact them first when you are considering outsourcing aspects of your business to help you work more efficiently and effectively?

Outsourcing aspects of your business to an external business support professional can be hard, especially when so many business owners you speak to at networking events seem to have horror stories about unskilled, unreliable or unscrupulous freelancers causing problems for their business.

Here at Personally Virtual, we have first-hand experience of some of these issues – both when we’ve been looking for support with the running of our own business, and when we’ve been trialing new ‘associates’ to help deliver work for our clients.  Over the last five years, we’ve met a number of people who have been unable to provide reasonable quality work to appropriate deadlines (or at all!).  As a business that prides itself on our professionalism, quality of work and open, honest and timely communication, we want to ensure that the businesses we work with share our values and ideals so that we can work efficiently and productively together.  If we can’t trust the businesses we outsource work too, then we aren’t working efficiently – we may have to check and edit or correct the work they have completed, or we may find that the work is unusable, meaning that we are paying out for a service and not receiving anything in return…  not really a financially viable business model!

We have addressed this risk in our business by choosing to work with freelance business professionals who have been accredited by VIP VA – an organisation who champion and support virtual freelancers and remote business support professionals in the UK and internationally.  VIP VA recognise that professional and reliable freelancers invest in their businesses to protect both themselves and their customers, and that they do this by ensuring that they have appropriate insurance and contracts in place and are registered with appropriate governing bodies like HMRC (for Anti-Money Laundering Regulations, if they do any book-keeping or financial accounts management work) and the Information Commissioner’s Office (if they manage or handle data).  To help business owners confirm that potential freelancers have all of these essential business features in place, and to make sure that they are highly recommended by previous customers, VIP VA offers accreditation, and Personally Virtual are proud to be VIP VA Accredited and to work with other VIP VA Accredited freelance businesses.

Although VIP VA accreditation can really help to ensure that a business is a reasonable and appropriate ‘fit’ for your business outsourcing needs, it is a relatively new certification that we hope grows in momentum and popularity over the next few years!  There are other checks that you can make yourself to find out whether a business can offer you the level of service and support that you are looking for if they aren’t accredited by an organisation like VIP VA:

**Ask about their insurance - ask whether a business has Professional Indemnity Insurance in place, and what level of cover that they have.  The business may also require Public Liability Insurance and/or Cyber Insurance, depending on the work they are carrying out for you.  If a business doesn’t have insurance, I would ask them why they haven’t opted for this and be wary of working with them; insurance helps to financially protect both them and you in the event of an unforeseen negative situation arising and should be considered a ‘must have’ for any self-employed small business owner.

**Ask for references and/or to take a look at their portfolio of their work – Creative businesses may have a portfolio of sample work, or work that they have recently completed, to help illustrate their skills and experience, so it’s worth asking if they have one.  Some freelancers may be unable to collate this information because of the type of work that they complete, so it’s not unusual for businesses not to have examples/samples that you can review.  However, the majority of businesses should be able to provide testimonials/references from their customers, so make sure you ask to see them!  If a potential freelancer is unwilling or unable to provide this information, don’t be afraid to ask them why.

**Trust your network to give personal referrals - If you’re looking to outsource work, why not speak to your network of trusted peers to make honest recommendations? If you’re a member of a local networking group, ask them about their positive experiences with freelancers in a specific field.

**Speak to them! Although it is possible to meet and start working with a freelancer who you have only ever corresponded with via email, it’s usually best to speak to them directly via a Zoom/Skype call or on the telephone to get a better insight into the way that they work and their business ideals and values.

**Don’t expect them to work for free - It’s so tempting to ask a freelancer to carry out some ‘tester’ work for free for you, but please don’t! These are small business owners, like you, who have bills to pay and food to put on the table.  If you aren’t sure whether to commit to a number of hours per month with a specific freelancer, why not ask whether they’d be happy to complete a small paid-for trial (i.e. 1-2 hours) so that you can get an insight into their working style and make sure it fits with yours?

**Cheap doesn’t necessarily equate with quality - It’s tempting to accept the cheapest offer from a freelancer to complete work for you, but a low rate doesn’t necessarily mean a quality result! Experienced, qualified and trusted professionals are likely to charge a rate that reflects that experience, but at least you can rest assured that your business is in the safe hands of an experienced professional!

**Trust your gut - If something doesn’t feel right at any stage – trust your gut instinct! Even the most experienced and qualified individuals may not be the right personality fit for your business, so have the confidence to step back and review your options, as it will save you and the freelancer in question lots of wasted time and energy!

Although the list of potential questions above is fairly comprehensive, make sure that you take time to carefully consider whether outsourcing to a particular business or freelancer is the right action for your business.  Don’t rush into a business relationship with an unknown entity unless you have contracts in place to protect your business, but rest assured that when you have done the research and found the right candidate for your outsourcing needs, the benefits from outsourcing work can be significant and make a huge and positive difference to your professional life!

Happy Outsourcing!



23rd July, 2018

“What exactly is a VA?” – that’s a question I get asked repeatedly at networking events, by people in the supermarket, and occasionally by friends and family members I haven’t seen in a while.  It doesn’t help that voice-command operated AI technology has also adopted the ‘Virtual Assistant’ moniker… indeed, when I introduce myself as a virtual assistant, I have heard the response, “What? Like Alexa?!” more than once. Because yes, I really do sit in a booth somewhere and respond to mundane questions like “How many double decker buses would you need to stack on top of each other to reach the moon?” (The answer is about 87,762, just for your reference) and order toilet rolls when you’ve run out.

Here at Personally Virtual, we like to say that it is possible to ‘Outsource Everything but your Brilliance’.  For us, that’s central to what a VA is and does.  We’re a multi-talented industry, with a broad range of skills – from book-keeping and credit control, to marketing, diary and inbox management and HR support (though generally not all at once!).  If there are aspects of your day-to-day business life that you find time-consuming, frustrating or difficult, why not consider outsourcing them to free up time for the activities that you DO enjoy, and that bring money into your business.

So what can a VA do? Here are five examples of some different VA specialisms, to give you a flavour of the kind of support that you could invest in.

The Email Management Specialist – Do you have 54,000 unread emails languishing in your inbox? Do you lose important emails amongst irrelevant ‘Spam’? You need an email ninja to support you, prompting you to respond to important emails and filing ‘read later’ content for you to help make your email inbox a less terrifying place.

The Blogger - We’re all told that ‘content is king’, but some people are royally rubbish at putting pen to paper – their extensive skills lie elsewhere in their business.  So if it takes your hours to commit your thoughts concisely and coherently to paper, why not consider working with a copywriter to see your ideas come to life quickly and efficiently?

The Financial Wizard – Is your idea of financial record-keeping a plastic bag full of invoices, receipts and bank statements? Perhaps you hate invoicing, or can’t bear to follow up with customers for unpaid bills? There are freelance professionals who can help with this.  However, depending on the tasks that you need completing, your VA may need to be AML registered with the HMRC in order to assist with this – speak to your VA for more information.

The Appointment Guru – If you have client meetings left, right and centre, and struggle to keep on top of them all, a diary management expert could really help! Who wouldn’t want a diary full of events, smartly scheduled, to ensure you’ve got plenty of time to travel and prepare between one event and another.

The Social Media Support Team – Despite the many hours we many spend browsing social media channels every week, creating relevant and engaging business content is a task that few relish!  However, there are a whole host of social media content writers out there who could help you to fill your timeline with interesting posts.

Want to find out how a Virtual Assistant could help your business? Feel free to get in touch. However, if you’re looking for an Alexa-style virtual assistant who can help you dim your lights, adjust your heating and turn on your kettle, it might be worth heading over to Amazon…


23rd July, 2018

So, you’ve booked yourself a holiday? Firstly, let me congratulate you on that – there are so many small business owners out there who find themselves unwilling or unable to take a break from their business, despite the fact that a break from work, a change of scenery and a chance to physically and mentally unwind is a must for any business owner looking to build a sustainable business.

However, as we all know, booking a holiday and being able to relinquish control of your business, albeit temporarily, is notoriously difficult.  So here are my top 5 tips for holiday preparation:

1.) Don’t forget your ‘Out of Office’ – Be clear with your working boundaries in your auto-responder.  If you have no intention of responding to any emails, make this clear in your message and give customers an alternative contact should their request be urgent.

2.) Give yourself one or two days of holiday buffer either side of your holiday – Don’t book any meetings immediately before or after your time off, and consider turning on your ‘Out of Office’ auto-responder on a day or two early.  This will give you a chance to get your own business admin and outstanding client work completed in relative peace and quiet.

3.) Consider temporary/ad-hoc/regular business support – we understand that when you go away, the rest of the world doesn’t stop.  As a result, why not consider working with a VA to help provide cover whilst you are away? They could either be a helpful point of contact for your clients, dealing with enquiries and emails, etc. whilst you are away, or could manage your business more intensively in your absence, depending on the level of support you’d prefer to have.

4.) Get ready to take a real break – switch off social media, remove your emails from your phone, and put a voicemail/call divert on your mobile if you use it for business calls.  This might take some planning and forethought, but, from experience, you’ll be able to psychologically re-charge far more effectively without these distractions.

5.) Make holidays a regular occurrence - As long as your clients know about periods of absence in advance, it’s perfectly reasonable to take time away from work every now and then!  As long as your business has contingency plans in place to support customers in your absence, you should feel able to take a step away from your business every now and then to relax, recuperate and re-group, ready for the next few months!

 

If you are a self-employed freelancer, or run your own small business, there is a very strong possibility that you are working a little more than the traditional 9-5! Indeed, a report cited in the Telegraph in February this year described the fact that the average working week of freelancers is around 65 hours, and that self-employed people typically take just 14 days of holiday per year, with one in eight freelancers taking NO DAYS OFF AT ALL…. does that sound familiar?

Though it’s terribly easy to get caught up in the cycle of working all hours of the day to make sure you meet your billable hours’ quota when you don’t have the safety net of sick pay or holiday pay to fall back on, it’s not good to go ‘all in’ when it comes to work.  Burnout is definitely an issue that I see too many freelancers having to tackle – an issue that itself can lead to greater physical, mental and financial pressure! It’s a downward spiral of work, exhaustion and general gloominess if you don’t get on top of your work-life balance early enough.

So before I have to come round and have a serious word with you, make sure you book some time out over the next few months.  Even if it is just a long weekend or two and you only have to commit to a shortened Friday or Monday and – shock horror – not actually checking your work emails over the weekend, your body and mind will thank you for it!  I’m pretty sure that most of your clients take the odd day off every now and then, and that they also don’t think you are a robot or the Duracell bunny. It’s widely accepted that people need some time away from work every now and then, so if you book it in the diary and notify your clients – if appropriate – and ensure that their work is either completed in advance or covered by another individual, I’m pretty sure you won’t get many complaints! And if you do, it may be time to ask yourself whether those clients are actually right for you…

In my experience, a rested and happy freelancer/business owner is an effective and efficient freelancer/business owner. When you’re tired, you are more likely to make mistakes and become frustrated or upset by the smallest of things – ever been so tired that you’ve had a minor meltdown at an essential computer update or realising that the capitalisation in the last email you sent wasn’t quite right? (No? Me neither…) These are signs that you definitely need a break – whether that is a week in the sunshine or an afternoon out for copious amounts of tea and cake.

Of course, it’s so much easier to commit to a holiday if you have a network of supporters who can shoulder the burden of your work for a day or week! If you can’t complete urgent customer work before you go away, or if a customer needs some kind of email/telephone/online support in place whilst you are away, why not consider outsourcing? There are a number of businesses out there, like Personally Virtual, who can provide a range of remote business support services, either long term or short term, to help support businesses just like yours.  And trust me, it is so much easier to turn on your own personal ‘Out of Office’ safe in the knowledge that your customers are receiving high-quality support in your absence.

So why not book in some ‘you’ time this Summer, if you haven’t already? I guarantee that you’ll return feeling refreshed and revitalised and ready to continue building your successful small business.

Bon voyage!


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