Personally Virtual Blog

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!


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!

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