I've Been In Business For 7 Months - So What Have I Learned?

Seven months. The blink of an eye and a lifetime.

When I think back to my mindset of seven months ago, I'm acutely aware of the drastic differences from then to now. Seven months ago, I was freshly unemployed and more than eager to jump into entrepreneurship and claim my small stake in helping the world. I had a computer, internet access, and years of administration experience - I could totally be a virtual assistant, right?! I can just learn the "business" stuff as I go along, right? People do this all the time, how hard can it be, right?

Well, that's not exactly the case. Some things have been a breeze and others not so much. Some of the things I thought would be easy haven't been, and visa versa. There was a two-week period a couple of months ago where I slept and ate little - feeling like you have the weight of the world on your shoulders is not part of a health regime I would recommend. Now before you start thinking that I've regretted this journey, let me assure you that I love a challenge. I know enough people who own businesses to know that it's often a journey filled with long days, stress, sweat, and uncertainty.

So what about the positives of my journey? Surely my life hasn't been all nail-biting and sleepless nights since then? No, far from it! Thankfully living with fear, insecurities, and stress are not natural behaviour patterns for me. I've learned an incredible amount of information over the past few months which I've squeezed into three categories:

Mindfulness

Mindfulness has been an on/off practice for a big part of my life, often allowing me to contradict myself from day-to-day, moment-to-moment. Since starting a business, I quickly accepted the fact that the mindful switch has to be on most, if not all, of the time. Being mindful of how my time is spent, how I converse with others in the community, and how accurate my work is honours my relationships. Paying attention to my actions naturally sets boundaries so that I am able to set and meet quality expectations.

Flexibility

There has been few business matters that I'm not willing to negotiate, or at least not reconsider. Being flexible and adaptable to change is a great quality to have. One example of this is some technical training I've been taking over the past six months. I quickly discovered that technical administrative skills are in great demand. Taking this training was always in my business plan but I didn't plan for it to happen until around the one-year mark. Although I didn't have a lot of start-up capital, I made the training a priority as I could see the immense value it would bring to my business.

Passion

I believe that passion will be one of the few factors that will push a business owner to get through the tough times. Yes, stubbornness and sheer determination, and perhaps pride, will help also, but if there's no passion, why bother with the struggle? Will there be anything to be joyful about in the hard times if you don't love what you do? Think about a time when you listened to a person speak about something they were passionate about. Did they have confidence, create excitement, and was their attitude contagious? Inspiring speakers are passionate about what they do and the people they help, and I believe that's a big part of their success!

There are other traits I could speak on, but these three stand out in my mind. I'm still learning the "business" stuff as I go along. I'm being more mindful of my health regimes. I'm keeping my schedule flexible so that I can continue to engage in my technical training in order to better serve my client's needs. I've been planning to start an administrative consulting business for years. My passion to provide exceptional consulting services runs deep, even if times get tough, I'll persevere!

What were some of the lessons you learned in your first few months of business?

Brandi Esler
Owner & Administrative Consultant
A Better Way Virtual Assistant

 

How's Your Relationship Management?

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Life is a series of relationships. As a young child growing up at home, we learn to relate to our parents, siblings, relatives, and friends. Fast forward to today and consider just how many more different relationships we have as adults. How can a small business owner successfully manage all of his or her relationships without upsetting their work life balance?

How Does He Do It?

Recently I spoke with my friend Ray who's running three different construction companies. Ray is a high-end builder of inner-city properties. When we spoke, Ray was juggling five large projects. He's also a proud father of two wonderful children, and is in the beginning stages of a new romantic relationship. Of course there's plenty of other relationships requiring his attention, but these three seem to take precedence. Just like everyone else, Ray only has 24 hours in a day. So how's Ray managing all of his relationships?

Ray's Kids

Ray's kids are in middle school and are extremely active in sports and extra-curricular activities. If you're a parent, you'll have to agree, kids require a great deal of time and attention. Grandparents will often say, "Spend the time with your kids, they grow up way too fast." Ray is keen to this advice, so he takes every step possible to not miss important events, including any downtime with his children.

The New Romantic Relationship

We've all been there, and we'll all probably agree, the first few years with that special someone is exciting and euphoric. "I'd like to see her every night if I could," says Ray, "but it's the damn paper work, the invoicing at the end of the day that's made it challenging!" Ray told me in the last few days he had to reply to over 200 emails. How then does he find the time to romance his new love?

Running Multiple Companies

Ray's up early to pack in as much as he can before dinner time, but he often still has at least two hours of paper work to tackle at the end of the day. He tells me he's not swinging a hammer as often, but instead spends most of his time checking up on, and chasing down contractors. "As you know, I'm an extremely energetic guy and not afraid of hard work," explains Ray. " You know, it's having to deal with so many personalities, half my day is spent running around putting out fires, it's exhausting!" Ray is a one-man show, with only silent partners, so he's responsible for ALL areas of his companies' management, administration, marketing, sales, etc.

That's How Ray Does It!

Frankly, I get tired just thinking about everything my friend has to do each day. I couldn't help but laugh when we spoke last, he must have spent 15 minutes explaining his to-do list. I told him he needs a personal assistant. He chuckled, "I have one, and honestly, I couldn't survive without one!"

Even though the terms 'Relationship Management' or 'Work-Life Balance' didn't come into my conversation with Ray, it was clear to me that he's figuring it out. He understands his limits, and has made decisions to outsource certain tasks in order to keep his companies running smoothly. Like many successful entrepreneurs, Ray has learned the importance of delegating time-consuming work to a virtual assistant.

Ray admits he's still too busy, but because of his choice to pass on his administrative tasks to a virtual assistant, he's able to meet his personal commitments to his children and girlfriend. 

"It's kinda funny," jokes Ray, "by learning to trust a VA with my company paperwork, I've been able to maintain and increase the trust within my personal and customer relationships. When I tell my little girl I'm going to be at her dance recital, I can say so with confidence. I finally booked a trip to Mexico with my girlfriend because I can trust my assistant to handle the basic operations when I'm gone. I've also found that I now have more face time with my customers, and believe me, that goes a long way!"

Finding the right balance between work and one's personal life can seem daunting, and at times, frustrating. However, it's not impossible to have what we want both personally and professionally. Just look at my friend Ray, he's found success by letting go of his fears and eliminating all excuses. Ray's discovered a different approach to managing his relationship to work, and now has more time to spend with his family and friends. Ray's biggest problem now is what shorts to pack for his next trip to Mexico. Well done Ray, adios!

Aaron Esler
Media & Communications Consultant
A Better Way Virtual Assistant Inc. 

Feeling the heaviness? Eyes sore from staring at a huge to do list? Contact A Better Way VA today and free yourself of worry and regret.

The Cost of Putting Things Off

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It's real easy to do. We all do it. I'm talking about procrastination. Life is full of things we don't want to do, this is especially true when you're a small business owner. We're all guilty of delaying projects and postponing work. Procrastination can act like an acid, slowly breaking down our business structures and negatively affecting our mental and physical health.

Think back to the beginning when you first started your business. You launched your company, full steam ahead, bursting with energy and optimism. No doubt you crafted a business plan and weighed in on the pros and cons of living out your dream as a successful entrepreneur.

Now jump ahead a few years. Business is good. Your schedule is full. However, you seemed to have lost some of your enthusiasm. You still take great pleasure in providing quality services to your customers, but the tedious, mundane administrative tasks have started to take a toll on you. You soon realize you're 3 months behind on your invoicing and your last company Facebook post was 60 days ago. Getting paid and keeping up with social marketing is critical to maintaining and growing a business. Why then do business owners put these things off? Why do we all procrastinate?

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Research shows that procrastination is rooted in fear. So it makes perfect sense to ask ourselves, "what are we afraid of?" For the small business owner, it might be a fear of failure, or even a fear of success. Fear of failure could be viewed as a loss of customers, lost income, even the collapse of a business. Fear of success could include more work to an already overloaded, overwhelmed business owner.

Many businesses fail in the first 2 years. One of the main reasons a business falls apart is the owner’s inability to gain a clear focus, to prioritize, and to seek help. Business owners must learn to zero in on their strengths in order to discover their weaknesses.

Top 3 Excuses For Procrastination

1. You don't know how to do it
It's okay to admit that you're not a marketing genius or a savvy accountant. It takes years of schooling and work experience to become an expert in any field.

2. You don't have the time
Give yourself a break. You take on many roles in order to keep your company running smoothly. You can't do it all perfectly, sooner than later an important task will take a back seat and your business and customers will suffer.

3. You hate doing it
You might be capable of building a simple website, but you despise doing anything creative. Why torture yourself? It's guaranteed that if you strongly dislike what you're doing, it'll take you twice as long, or you'll end putting it off for so long it might never get completed.

A Two-Step Solution to Overcoming Procrastination

1. Awareness
Figure out why you're stuck. Albert Einstein said it best, "No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it." A fearful mind loves to rationalize and use avoidance tactics to escape responsibility. Educate yourself. Seek out books that will open your eyes and then sit back, relax and enjoy the "ah-ha" moments. Revolutionize your mind and take back control of your destiny!

2. Take action
Just having awareness of your procrastination won't be enough to solve your problems. Be an excellent delegator. Feel the weight lift off your shoulders immediately after you pass the work task over to a Virtual Assistant who's not only qualified, but who also enjoys doing it!

Remember this - do what you do best and source out the rest!

Chances are you've worked extremely hard at building your business. You're passionate about your company and the services you provide. Why let something like procrastination hold you back from living your dream? It's unlikely that you'll be able to rid yourself of procrastination completely. Start with knowledge, follow up with the right action, and watch the joy flow back into your life. In no time, you'll have more time to enjoy your business and your personal relationships. What are you waiting for? Begin now.

Below is a selection of helpful books. Do you have any stories about overcoming procrastination? I'd love to here what's worked for you! 

Aaron Esler
Media & Communications Consultant
A Better Way Virtual Assistant 

https://www.amazon.ca/Procrastination-Why-You-What-About/dp/0738211702

http://michael-jon.es/5-books-help-productivity/

https://www.amazon.ca/Fear-Essential-Wisdom-Getting-Through/dp/0062004735

(non-affiliate links)

Feeling the heaviness? Eyes sore from staring at a huge to do list? Contact A Better Way VA today and free yourself of worry and regret.

How Do You Work With Someone Online? - Part 2

In Part 1, I spoke of more of behaviour-based traits and this post will look at the actual process of how to share and delegate work with your Virtual Consultant.

*SIDE NOTE - I use the terms Virtual Assistant, Virtual Consultant, Virtual Admin, Administrative Consultant, etc., almost interchangeably, at least for blogging purposes :) 

Now, there are many platforms that could be used to transfer docs, sheets, and images - Google Docs, Drop Box, Sky Drive, Team Drive, and Box.com are the top ones that come to mind. Essentially, these cloud-based platforms provide a way to share documents between 2 or more users, thus creating easy and secure collaboration. The nice thing about most of these platforms is that they are free, of course, many of them offer upgrades for more storage and such for a monthly fee. And there are the other 'older' methods: email, Skype, text, etc.

Now, how does this translate into work completed? Well, first things first. Find a Virtual Assistant you like and trust; discuss your needs in as much detail as you can - the more detail you provide to the VA, the better of an idea they will have on how long it will take to complete the project (and also that they have the right skill set!); and to ensure protection for both parties, a contract should be signed and even a non-disclosure agreement.

Once these pieces are in place, you can transfer files to your VA. It could be the start of a procedure manual that the VA will format and edit. It could be some photos that the VA can touch up or modify in Photoshop. It could be scanned receipts that need to be entered into a spreadsheet. If a computer is needed to fulfill the task, a Virtual Consultant can probably do it for you!

I have one client who owns a small but busy plumbing company. He is so busy during the days seeing clients in their homes or offices and training a new apprentice that he doesn't have the time to invoice those clients. So he will send me a text message with the client info and I will prepare the invoice and send it to the clients on his behalf. Easy, right?! He can focus on the work he loves while still ensuring he gets paid.

There are so many examples of how this work-flow can take place but hopefully you get the idea of how it could happen. As long as it works between the client and VA, any method can be employed. And as long as communication is clear and continuous, working with a VA can be a great source of business support! 

How Do You Work With Someone Online? - Part 1

I was recently asked this question when I was explaining this new Virtual Assistant venture to someone. And it got me thinking that perhaps a lot of people who have never worked with a VA before may also have this question!

Well, there are several strategies one can employ but one of the most crucial is communication. Communicating clearly and often with your client is key to providing them peace of mind. The method of communication doesn't matter so much (phone, Skype, text, email, etc.) but responding in a timely fashion to your client shows they are important and you care about your service to them.

I believe that treating your VA business as a professional makes a big difference as well. Imagine if you were an assistant working for a CEO in a downtown high-rise and you didn't respond to your boss's emails or perform any other task that your employment contract stipulates. I imagine you wouldn't be employed for very long! Just as you would be professional in an office setting, you must use your working hours efficiently and deliver a quality product within established time frames. 

Always being honest with your clients is pretty important too. Being honest about your skills, how long a project will take you to complete, and asking questions for clarification will prove your trustworthiness and sincerity.

Of course, there are many more attributes and behaviours that would positively benefit an online working relationship. However, if I were to list them all here, this post would get way too long!

In Part 2 of 'How Do You Work With Someone Online?' I will be exploring the options of how exactly work gets transferred and completed.

1st Blog!

Hi there! Welcome to the blog for A Better Way Virtual Assistant.

My goal is to write a new blog post once a week. The topics will be widely varied on VA's specifically, business practices in general, inspiring stories, etc. So pretty much anything goes!

I've been working on this website for about 5 weeks now and am getting very close to officially 'launching' this business. My home office is all set up. My social media is up and running. I'm ready to work!

Looking forward to all the exciting times ahead :)