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No More Monkey Business

No More Monkey Business

I had got to the point where a monkey could have done my job. One by one, other team members had been moved sideways to different projects and I was the only one left, my Project Co-ordinator role reduced to little more than Office Junior tasks. When my manager told me that my role was being made redundant, it was hardly a surprise. Apparently, he had never seen anyone accept redundancy with such grace. But there was a good reason for that!

For quite a few months I’d started to think about my work/life balance and had toyed with the idea of working for myself. In between monkey-tasks, I was surfing the internet for articles about how to set up as a Virtual Assistant (or VA for short). Turns out that being made redundant was just the push I needed – would I have taken the leap myself? We’ll never know.

Exports and Experts

With office-based experience spanning 25 years, it was time to put this experience to much better use. So how do you combine project management, expert witnesses, marriage guidance, holiday call-centre, 40 ft trailer exports to Holland and forklift truck driving experience? Erm, ideas on a postcard please?

I started off with full-on imposter syndrome –  I based my business on what I thought a VA should be, but it soon became clear to me that this wasn’t exactly what I wanted to do – my background was operational rather than PA. As my client base increased, so did my experience and confidence. I learnt that I didn’t have to do the monkey tasks in my own business – I could choose to say no.

A brand new brand

I eventually decided to rebrand to better reflect the services I offered and Aqua Business Support was born. A new name, a new logo and a totally rebranded website meant that I could now be clear on what I offered to potential clients. Hurrah!

My business has now evolved to offer support with ongoing business management, and  I see myself as a trusted partner, maybe an office manager of sorts, someone to work with you to help your business grow. I’ve helped put together social media plans, ghostwritten social media posts,  managed a team of freelancers, helped launch online businesses, and secured work for clients to keep their own diaries full. I’ve seen my clients scale their businesses once they have relinquished some of the day-to-day tasks that have been bogging them down, and that is something that makes me a happy bunny rather than a grumpy monkey.

Fancy a chat about how my experience could help you concentrate on growing your business in 2019? Get in touch here or at deborah@aquabusiness.support.

Are you networking, or building a network?

Are you networking, or building a network?

Network : 

Noun. System of connections

Verb. To socialise for professional or personal gain

Being part of several online groups I often see the newly self-employed already disheartened that their visit to a local networking event didn’t result in an immediate influx of work. Wouldn’t it be great if that was just how it worked? My own experience with networking is quite different.

Early 2017 I was researching local networking groups and found a local(ish) Derbyshire based group that combined networking with walking. I booked myself a place on a February walk at Lineacre Reservoir, and thoroughly enjoyed the experience – this was a million miles away from the other  ‘This is what I do, here’s my card’ networking events. Two years later, and the group has evolved into MOTUS, a paid membership group of women in business who support each other in more ways than I can ever have imagined.

My experience of networking

I’m lucky to have found MOTUS because rather than just networking, I have developed a great network of connections. The element of networking which builds trust and respect to turn contacts into potential clients is still there, but also the chance to build relationships with entrepreneurs whose skills I can employ myself, on both a personal and professional level – whether it is Brand Photography, Graphic Design or Website work, or Life Coaching, Health Kinesiology and other personal development courses (to name a few).

In addition, there’s the ability to attend training and mentoring sessions to expand my own knowledge, and a group of women I can approach for input and advice. I’ve laughed (and cried!) with them, walked miles with them, eaten copious amounts of cake with them and learnt so much about myself and others with and through them.

And, just in case you are wondering, I have got some clients amongst these awesome ladies.

But that really isn’t the point.

Not all networking groups are created equal.

A Typical Day in Business Support – Part 1

A Typical Day in Business Support – Part 1

 

When people ask ‘What do you do?’ the answer ‘Business Support’ doesn’t always answer their question. What do I actually do, each and every day? How do I spend a typical day supporting businesses?

The laptop is fired up around 8am, and my chrome startup automatically brings up certain websites – I log into Lastpass (which securely remembers all of my passwords) and Todoist, which shows my to-do list for the day. Google calendar pops up, so I can see any fixed calls or meetings (a meeting at 9.30am with a client’s client and a Team Call at 10am). My first task is always to complete any priority tasks on my to-do list for my own business prior to starting client work at 8.30am.

 

The first task for Client A is to check their enquiries@ email inbox.

 There is an enquiry from a customer for my client to carry out a piece of work, which I deal with by producing an estimate for the work and giving a completion date – I manage my clients workload myself, with guidelines on how much work she can complete in any month I am able to secure work for her on a continual basis. A further email is confirming a piece of work for her, so I email her to advise her she should schedule this into her diary, email the customer to confirm we’ve received their confirmation email, and then create a folder within Dropbox. One of our suppliers has also sent in their invoice, so I check this off against their estimate, and file away in Dropbox.

 

After logging out of all my Client A programmes, I move on to Client B’s work.

 

This is a Project Management role, and I have my own inbox.

There are around 20 new emails which need to be prioritised, as I manage around 10 individual customer projects at any time for this client. The projects are tracked in Asana, and so this is updated continually throughout the day to ensure that the rest of the team are kept up to date on their tasks.

 At 9.30am I have a call scheduled with one of the customers to discuss the progress of the project, and he has some feedback on some worksheets that are being designed for him. Once the call is completed, I’m straight on to a Team Call on Zoom with the team of freelancers that put together the projects for my client – these calls are to go over our successes, and issues that crop up and ensure that the whole team are working together. After the call, the recording is stored in Google Drive so that my Client B can listen to it if required.

 I take 5 -10 minutes to check my own emails and then review recent content added to my Feedly – there are two articles that I think would be good for Client D to use on their social media feed, so I bookmark them to read later.

Time for a cuppa! – and a break………

(Part 2 to follow)

I hope that this gives you some idea of the kinds of support that I provide for my clients on a daily basis. This is by no means an exhaustive list, and every day is different.

If you’re getting bogged down with these types of tasks (or any other business tasks) get in touch for a no obligation chat about the business support I offer.

 

A Typical Day in Business Support – Part 1

A Typical Day in Business Support – Part 2

After putting the kettle on, I review my email inbox with Client C.

 There is one email from my client with two action points to be completed. As both tasks are quick email responses, I am able to complete this there and then – one email chasing two outstanding invoices on behalf of my client, and another email to confirm an appointment time. I send a third email to my client to confirm both tasks have been completed.

 As lunchtime draws close, it’s time to switch to social media.

I log into Canva and create some graphics for the social media testimonial posts for Client D. I already have branded templates set up, and I prepare different sized images for Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.  I also read over the articles I saved earlier on Feedly, decide that they are suitable, and add them to my social media plan for the client, After drafting the social media posts, I schedule them using Buffer across the three platforms and then also schedule the testimonial graphics from Canva.

 Time for lunch – some home-made vegetable soup – whilst sat at the breakfast bar overlooking the garden and listening to an audiobook (Rich Dad Poor Dad). After washing up the dishes, it’s back to the office.

 Another sweep of the inbox for client A and there is just one email, requesting some information that my client needs to provide – as this is something I am unable to assist with I forward that email to my client. There are two completed cases which require invoices to be raised, so these are completed on Excel documents and are emailed out to the customers and the details are logged on a spreadsheet.

 The last check of the day for Client B’s Project Manager inbox – there’s an email from a customer to confirm that they have made some edits to some copy on a Google document – our copywriter is advised in Asana that the edits have been made so she can review them.

 

End of the day review

 Then it’s the last check for my own inbox, a quick check on Facebook and Linkedin notifications and responding to comments, the to-do list is reviewed to make sure all tasks for today have been completed and tomorrows priorities are noted.

The laptop is shut down, plugs are off and the office closes somewhere between 2 and 3pm.

 

 I hope that this gives you some idea of the kinds of support that I provide for my clients on a daily basis. This is by no means an exhaustive list, and every day is different. If you’re getting bogged down with these types of tasks (or any other business tasks) get in touch for a no obligation chat about the business support I offer..

One year down the line.

One year down the line.

November 7th 2017 is my first Business Birthday. Quite an achievement for a self-confessed introvert with a dislike for blowing her own trumpet and little experience of running a business – but guess what? I did it!

In October 2016 I was given notice that my role as Project Co-ordinator was at risk of redundancy. It wasn’t a surprise. There had been signs that things were changing. I had also been thinking about setting up my own business part-time, but I lacked the courage to go down the route of uncertain-income. And then I was called into this meeting, accepted the news in a calm manner, collected my things and silently went home to start my garden leave.As someone who thrives on order, process and (dare I say) control, this wasn’t an easy few weeks. I made plans while I went through the redundancy consultation process, and even though I knew 100% that I wanted to set up my own business I was still an emotional wreck when the final blow was given.

In retrospect, I wasn’t scared or worried about what was to come – I was grieving what was left behind. I was worried about losing that feeling of being part of a team, of losing friends and connections to strike out alone
In those early weeks, I hadn’t got into my freelance groove. The days seemed to revolve around a lot of ‘setting up’ and not actually much ‘doing’. I was living off my redundancy payment as I had no income to speak of. Slowly, I started to make progress with contacts but I didn’t feel like I ran my own business. And although I was always thinking about the future, I wasn’t directed fully towards it. Thankfully, I signed some great clients towards the end of 2016 and in early 2017, and I was finally up and running.
But there is a whole different mentality to running a business than that of an employee. The buck stops with you. That kind of responsibility isn’t for everyone. Thankfully, I’ve met some great business owners during this last year, and have been able to draw on many of these for various types of support when needed. And that thing that I mourned when I lost my job? That feeling of being part of a team? I may be a sole trader, but I am far from alone.
If I need advice, I can consult with more experienced VA friends, more experienced business owners and a whole network of experts. I am part of a networking group that not only offers training, coaching and practical services but social gatherings……. even a Christmas get-together. I’ve learnt so much from so many people and received so much direction, positivity and inspiration. I am humbled by the open and honest way fellow business owners selflessly help each other, and I no longer mourn being part of an employed team. I’ve found something much more wholesome.

On top of this, helping my clients to serve their clients each day gives me a satisfaction that is unrivalled in any of my employed roles. Each day brings new challenges and new successes, each met with a passion to help my clients achieve progress in THEIR businesses as well. It has taken this whole year to get to a point where I feel that I run my business (rather than my business running me) and to be looking forward, making goals and action plans. This business birthday gives me the perfect opportunity to reflect on the last 12 months and how I have grown – not just as a business owner, but as a person.
Change is scary. It’s easy and safe to stick with what you know and many of us go through life settling for what is easiest and safest. Sometimes we don’t get a choice and the change is thrust upon us. Others bravely choose to make the change for themselves. But whatever the catalyst, don’t spend too long looking back as you never know what the future holds for you.

My Top 5 surprises as a freelance virtual assistant

My Top 5 surprises as a freelance virtual assistant

 

 

I’ve spent a month working officially freelance as a virtual assistant – a virtual PA if you like. Having spent the previous 25 years working for other people, and being office based, the transition hasn’t been completely without surprises.

Here are my top 5 surprises during this first month working freelance:

Biorhythms and Chronobiology

(or variations in biological activity)

clock-1318131_1920

It seems that I have spent more than 25 years being totally unaware  of my natural biological rhythms. The institutionalisation of 9-5 office work beats it out of you.

Within a week of working from home, I had discovered that I don’t work well in the afternoon. I know lots of people who ‘don’t do’ mornings, but I could work quite happily at 8am, and I could work happily until 10pm. But between the hours of 2-4pm you can find me staring out the window, pacing the house, lurking on social media and generally finding anything to do that isn’t work related.

The solution? Work until lunch and work in the evenings. Afternoons are for more ‘creative’ tasks, or for running errands and popping to the shops.

Sorted !

And the great thing is that I can do it, it’s my choice. As long as everything I need to do gets done, nobody needs to know what time I am working.

The 9-5 mentality

It is natural that at first, I wanted to work a 9-5 day. It’s what I’ve had to do for 25 years, and it’s hard to get your head around the possibility of working any other way. But why not? As long as all your tasks are completed, they can be done at any time – and any day of the week. There is no reason why Saturday and Sunday have to be the ‘weekend’ (unless you have family commitments), why not have a midweek day off? If you fancy popping to the park on a sunny Thursday afternoon, why not?

The key to freelancing is making it work for your life. And that is very liberating (and awesome).

Dogs do nothing

I presume that the increased appearance of pet-cams recently means that people are interested what their pets get up to when they are at work. Well, save your cash, because I can tell you exactly what they do all day – absolutely nothing! Or maybe that’s just my dog?

My dog sleeps all day. She sleeps all night, gets up for breakfast, goes back to bed, sleeps all day and gets up when my daughter comes home from school.

That is it!

Although she is quite old and has always been lazy, so maybe it is just my dog after all.

Everything is better mid-week.

working freelanceBeing around in the week is great. If you have rejigged your work patterns to fit in with your life, and have time to yourself mid-week, it’s great.

The shops aren’t as busy, the roads are quieter, the car parks are quieter, you can get into the dentist sooner, no need to wait longer or pay more for weekend deliveries. It’s all good.

 

It takes a while to get used to

There’s a video somewhere on the internet of some cows being let out of a barn after the winter, that’s what  it feels like when you start working freelance. Frustrating, but exciting, and scary. And all these feelings are normal.

It sounds strange, but it is hard not having anyone to tell you what to do . It’s all down to you. You make money (or not) for yourself, the buck stops with you. You get out of it what you put in.

After years of having someone looking over my shoulder, it can be hard to get used to being both top-dog and general dogsbody rolled into one. Sometimes, I have to remind myself that I am a business owner. But it has only been one month – it’s all very new and shiny.

The journey has just begun.