Personally Virtual Blog

It’s nearly half way through the year – I know, I’m pretty sure it was February last time I looked at the calendar… The truth is, the last few months have absolutely flown by in a haze of client work, meetings and networking events, and although it looks as though the next few months are set to be the same, I am booking in a three-hour session in a local coffee shop next week ALL BY MYSELF.  I am aware that this does, from the outside, look a little like I have lost the plot and just need to satisfy an overwhelming urge to consume fabulous cakes and artisan coffee, but it’s actually a whole lot more strategic and business focused than that (despite the cake).

I know I talk a lot about business reviews, but they are such an important part of any business, regardless of industry or turnover, and this year I am working hard to retain focus and drive in my business so that it continues to build and develop in the way that I want it to.  I have found that business reviews are wildly unsuccessful if I try to carry them out in the house where I can be easily distracted by pets/household chores/client work etc.  For an effective review session, I need to be away from my primary work device (my desktop) and landline, but it’s important to find somewhere that is still quiet enough to focus on both the things that have gone well, and the things that haven’t quite gone to plan over the last few months.  At this time of year, a rural pub garden will suffice (and will enable you to have a celebratory beverage when you’ve completed the session!).

This year, I’m also part of several ‘accountability groups’ – groups of individuals who are all in a similar situation to me (running their own small businesses, often within the same industry, and trying to grow a successful and profitable business) who meet once or twice a month to say “How are you doing with those business targets?” and give each other a virtual slap if we’ve lost direction or momentum.

Of course, to allow for a good business review, you need good business goals in place first so that you actually can tell whether you’re heading in the right direction! But don’t fret – even if you haven’t your business goals in place for 2018 yet, it’s not too late to prepare them.  You just need to ensure that they are:

Specific – “I always want to be better” is an interesting affirmation, but a rubbish goal.  What do you want to be better at? If you were ‘better’ at something, would it actually have a positive impact on your business? For example, I would love to have better handwriting, but realistically, whether I write like a drunken spider or a medieval scribe, it’s probably not going to make a huge amount of difference as the majority of my correspondence is typed.

Measurable – How will you know if you are on track to meet your goals? It’s important to make sure that you can measure whether or not you are on target to reach your goal.  Number of clients, number of billable hours worked, total amount of income – these are all measurable figures that can clearly highlight whether things are progressing as you had intended.

Attainable – with your current knowledge and skillset (and budget!), are your goals actually achievable? A full page advert in a national paper might not be a realistic goal if your marketing budget is £32.50, though there are other ways of getting positive exposure in national papers though, before you write it off completely! The twitter hashtag #journorequest is a great resource for reaching out to journalists looking for people just like you… Basically, you just need to make sure that you have the time, money, contacts or know-how to achieve the goals you are setting.

Relevant – Don’t want to grow your business into a multi-national organisation with dozens of staff? You don’t have to.  Make sure that your goals are relevant to you, your business, and what you want to achieve.  It doesn’t matter what businesses around you are doing – it’s what works and is appropriate for you that is important.

Timely – For me, the ideal timescale for a goal is around 90 days.  If my timeline is any shorter, I just don’t have the time needed to commit to it and make it work.  If my timeline is any longer, I tend to lose interest a little.  Setting goals (and reviewing them) quarterly, gives me the opportunity to ensure that I am moving in the right direction, and catching anything that isn’t quite working as positively as I had liked as soon as possible so that I can take positive actions to rectify the situation.  It’s also an excuse to enjoy a delicious home-made cake relatively regularly with little to no guilt.  Because it’s work related.


How are your business goals for 2018 progressing? Are you moving in the direction you had originally hoped, or have you moved the goal posts to respond to changes to your business and personal life? Whether you are smashing your goals, or need to adjust them slightly, I’d still like to congratulate you on taking the time to actively review your business on a regular basis – I know how hard taking time out of the business to work on the business can be!

24th April, 2018

There’s a new four-letter profanity in town, known only to those who handle or process personal data… *Whispering dramatically* It’s GDPR (the General Data Protection Regulations). And it’s coming soon - May 25th 2018, to be precise.


For business owners throughout the EU (and beyond), the very thought of the GDPR results in involuntary eye twitches, hot sweats, and waking up at 3AM screaming “IS CONSENT MY LAWFUL BASIS FOR PROCESSING PERSONAL DATA?!”

Looking after personal data responsibly is not a new requirement – under the Data Protection Act 1998, business owners and staff members who process and handle personal data have to ensure that it is managed responsibly and with due care and attention; obligations include ensuring that the data is kept safe and secure, not transferred outside the European Economic Area without adequate protection, and kept for no longer than is absolutely necessary.  GDPR builds on lots of this existing legislation, though the rights attributed to the customer/consumer are more comprehensive than the existing DPA regulations, and include the following:

  • The right to be informed
  • The right of access
  • The right to rectification
  • The right to erasure
  • The right to restrict processing
  • The right to data portability
  • The right to object
  • The right not to be subjected to automated decision making, including profiling.

One of the best resources for Businesses preparing for GDPR is the website of the Information Commissioner’s Office, who have put together a number of helpful guides.  I would strongly recommend visiting https://ico.org.uk/for-organisations/guide-to-the-general-data-protection-regulation-gdpr/ for more information.

Here at Personally Virtual, we are by no means ‘GDPR experts’.  However, we’re taking renewed steps to ensure that any personal data we hold is safe, secure and dealt with responsibly.  We are checking with all of our software providers that the platforms we use are GDPR compliant (as much as they can possibly be).  We’re also taking the time to clean our customer database and contact every individual to check that they are happy to remain on our mailing list and receive correspondence from us in the form of occasional newsletters, etc.  

For us, the General Data Protection Regulations aren’t necessarily the terrifying black hole of despair and horror that we had originally believed the legislation to be.  We are proud to be a responsible and ethical business, and taking appropriate care of the personal data of our customers is something that we always considered to be an important issue – we’re just having to work through a few additional (and more in-depth) business processes in order to ensure that we are compliant come May 25th.

Want to learn more about the GDPR?

Here’s a couple of ‘Recommended Resources’ for GDPR information and support:

On the 28th February and the 1st March, I braved ‘The Beast from the East’ and made my way to Kensington Olympia for Office*, the annual convention and expo for PAs, EAs, VAs and Office Managers.

On day one, having finally made my way through the blizzard to Kensington High Street, I was pleased to support the VIP VA Team on their stand.  VIP VA - https://vipva.org/ - is an organisation that was set up to champion, support and nurture the VA industry, and Personally Virtual is proud to be a VIP VA accredited business.

On day two – World Book Day and VA day at Office* – I was asked to appear in the book corner to share and sign my book, ‘Virtually Painless: The Unedited Reality of Moving from Personal Assistant to Virtual Assistant, PA to VA, Employee to Business Owner’, which was released in Spring 2017. Despite weather-related transportation nightmares for the VAs of Britain, a surprising number of hardy souls braved the snow to visit VA day and book corner and share their own experiences of life running their own small business with me, which was a fantastic experience. 

Events like Office* are a great opportunity to network with peers and fellow business owners and talk first hand to businesses who offer products and services that could help your own business (or even your customers) to work more efficiently or to expand into new areas of interest.  The majority of Expo’s are free to attend, though many offer some paid-for seminars or VIP networking experiences alongside their free tickets.  One event that I can recommend is The Business Show (held in ExCeL on the 16th and 17th May this year, visit: http://www.greatbritishbusinessshow.co.uk/), as whether you run your own small business or are a key player in the management of a larger enterprise, they have a great range of talks and seminars from a diverse range of speakers that can’t fail to motivate and inspire!  Another bonus is obviously the freebies – if you, like me, love some good stationery, Business Expo’s could keep you in pens for the rest of time.

The best thing about business events like Office* and the Business Show, for me, is the opportunity to take a day outside of your traditional working environment and have the time and space to reflect on your business.  These events can be quite an intensive networking experience too, and chatting to stallholders about your business every five minutes can give you an interesting insight into the aspects of your business that you are most passionate about, and the ones that you aren’t quite so enthusiastic to share details of.  Despite a conference, convention or expo being a day away from your regular work, the value your business could gain from the event could be beneficial! I had a great time at Office*, and am sure you’ll have an interesting day too if you choose to attend a business exhibition in 2018.


12th March, 2018

I have a stationery problem. Even in this digital age, when it’s easy to go for weeks without having to pick up a pen, I can’t walk past a stationery shop without leaving a few pounds lighter and a notepad/pen/post-it note pack heavier.  The primary purpose for this writing material isn’t anything too exciting and ground-breaking (I’m not a secret haiku writer and though I do love a bit of art therapy, I’m pretty sure my notepads aren’t going to be sold for hundreds of thousands of pounds for my doodles and sketches), as 90% of my notepads and post-its are dedicated to lists.

I use lists for everything, from shopping to household tasks and from holiday planning to holiday packing! I also use lists to plan my daily, weekly and monthly task lists for work, though tend to use an online task management tool like Todoist (https://todoist.com), Trello (https://trello.com/) or Asana (https://app.asana.com) to do this as I can save emails and upload relevant digital files to these task lists to make it easier to find all the relevant information associated with a particular task when it’s time to complete the work.

I consider myself a little bit of a ‘list master’, so if you are finding that your New Year’s Resolution to be more organised isn’t quite going to plan and need some help finding (and embracing) your inner list-maker, I’ve compiled some helpful hints and tips for you: 

1.) Make sure that you can cross off items – this seems a little obvious, but if you are creating a daily or weekly task list, don’t forget to add the short but essential jobs that you take for granted, like checking emails, creating social media posts, etc.  It’s easy to lose motivation when faced with a long list of large and difficult tasks that doesn’t seem to be getting any shorter, so by adding quick and simple tasks to your list too and actively crossing them off, you will feel as though you are making progress.  It’s all about maintaining the positive mindset! Todoist has a fabulous feature that congratulates you (I’m not sure if it has an associated fanfare) when you complete your set task list for the day and reach ‘Todoist zero’; it’s a simple feature, but really does help to encourage you to be realistic when setting tasks for the day ahead, and considering which tasks could be delayed for a day/week/month if they are not required immediately. 

2.) List individual items – writing ‘Emails’ on your task list might make sense first thing in the morning when you’ve just reviewed your inbox, but what about at 4pm when you’ve returned from a customer meeting and are trying to finish all your ‘must do’ jobs for the day? It’s easy to forget the odd email, especially if you regularly receive lots of them, so make sure that every individual job is listed to avoid this potential problem. 

3.) Be reasonable – you know how long it takes to complete certain tasks, and you know when your customers need work completed by.  Arrange tasks for the day or week in terms of priority, and don’t overfill your daily task list with jobs that simply cannot be completed in the time you have available.  We’d all love to research and write a 1000-word document in under an hour (and proof-read it, and source relevant images), but for most people this just isn’t possible.  A long and challenging task list isn’t going to help your motivation or stress levels! Breaking your working week down into daily task lists can also help you to address potential turnover issues before they arise – does a customer need an urgent piece of work completed in the next 24 hours? If there is a chunk of non-time sensitive work that can be moved, then do it, if not, be honest and let your customer know as soon as possible that you cannot work to their incredibly tight timescale on this occasion.  Trust me, it’ll work wonders for your stress levels! 

4.) Don’t be afraid to doodle all over your nice neat paper to-do list – doodling and productivity are linked according to Sunni Brown, author of ‘The Doodle Revolution’[i].  Brown claims that doodling can improve focus, help you problem solve and deal with challenges more effectively[ii], all things that can help you power through your to-do list efficiently and successfully!

If you love a list, what is your favourite piece of software to create your daily and weekly task list? Or do you swear by a paper list, artfully handwritten on a dozen post it notes and stuck to your PC? Whatever your preference, we’d love to hear your thoughts on all things list related! Find us on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/personallyvirtual/ or on Twitter under the handle @kathysoulsbyPV – see you there!


 


[i] http://sunnibrown.com/doodlerevolution/booklist/

[ii] Gasca, P (2014) ‘3 Ways Doodling will help your focus and creativity’ Inc.com. Read more: https://www.inc.com/peter-gasca/3-reasons-doodling-will-help-your-focus-and-creativity.html

15th February, 2018

It’s easy to assume the role of ‘Jack of all trades’ in your business, particularly if you are a sole trader or small business owner with a restricted team.  But should you really try to ‘Do it yourself?’ or is it better to bring the experts in?

In my experience, it definitely helps to carry out some research in the area you want to outsource, or even try carrying out some of the work yourself before you pass it on to a third party, as this helps to ensure that:

a.) you’ve got an understanding of what is a fair/appropriate timescale to complete the work

b.) you know what is involved and can ask for occasional or regular feedback (and actually understand it!)

c.) you can decide whether it is going to be cost-effective to outsource the task, based on the hourly rate of an expert and the potential ROI.

Let’s use the slightly scary example of Digital Marketing to illustrate this idea; Prior to speaking to any Digital Marketing about the work your business needs, it’s worth carrying out some research work into the activity so that you understand what a massive and multi-faceted industry it is (and therefore don’t make the assumption that it’s ‘just SEO’ or ‘just Social Media Marketing’).  Just a few hours of research into the subject will soon lead you to the conclusion that 1 hour of Digital Marketing support per month isn’t going to have you celebrating dozens of number one positions in the Search Engine Results pages for relevant search terms anytime soon! A little research should also help to de-mystify some of the jargon that full-time Digital Marketers regularly spout – PPC, SEO, CPC. O.M.G. Thankfully, with a little reading or a handy homemade glossary to hand, you’ll actually understand what your resident Digital Marketing expert is going on about without just having to nod and smile… Finally, by doing a little research you’ll get a bit of an understanding about the size of investment you’d need to make in an activity in order to see the best results possible; if you can only afford to take on support for a couple of hours a month, but want the results that a full-time member of staff would have difficulty achieving in a 40-hour-week, you’ll need to re-think your approach to outsourcing and consider ‘doing it yourself’ until you have the funds available to seek external help.

Once you are satisfied that outsourcing really is the best option for you and your business, it’s worth making sure that the professional business support provider you are trusting to carry out your work is skilled and proficient in that particular area; cheap labour and a super-quick turnaround may sound appealing, but ‘cheap and quick’ doesn’t necessarily mean that the work is going to be carried out with the precision and attention to detail that you may need.  Seek out an experienced and proven professional to help you with any work that you want to outsource – it may seem like their hourly or package rate is slightly higher, but the likelihood is that they will complete your work far quicker than someone with limited experience in the field, and you can also rest assured that your data and work is in the safe and responsible hands of a business owner who invests in your business by ensuring that they have appropriate insurance and qualifications and/or are registered with specific regulatory bodies set up to take care of your work responsibly.

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