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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
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..
Every minute you spend in planning saves 10 minutes in execution – Brian Tracy
5 minutes planning (even just for your day ahead) saves 50 minutes – for larger projects the time-saving increases! It’s a worthwhile exercise.
Basic Project Management principles are often left for large projects, but are also relevant for smaller tasks, business goals, client work or even personal projects, such as a holiday.
Just being conscious of these principles in your mind is good practice and will help make sure projects/plans run smoothly for you.
The elements I will be covering are :
As we start to think about outlining our plan/project, we need to consider the WHY?, WHAT? and the HOW? of our project.
WHY? – what is the point of the project? What is our mission? What is our desired outcome?
WHAT? – getting your thoughts in order. What exactly needs to be done.
There are two ways to tackle the WHAT? which will help get our thoughts in order, which will depend on whether we’re starting at High or Low level.
High level is goal orientated.
Low level is task orientated.
High level – If we have an overarching goal/final outcome, then we need to break this goal down into headings (major parts) and then each of those major parts into tasks or individual steps.
Low level – If we already have a list of tasks that need to be completed, then grouping those tasks into headings/major parts will help us get them into some kind of order.
Grouping tasks in this way – goal -> headings/major parts -> tasks/steps – will help us see how to move the project forward in a logical manner – and ultimately get a plan together in our Project Management tool.
HOW? – How is this going to happen? Within each task there will be more information about the specifics that we need to keep in mind – for example, minimum acceptance criteria, a QA process to ensure expectations are met, who could complete the task, costs. Noting these details down at the start of a project will ensure that we don’t forget any details further down the line.
Once you are clear on your goal, have a list of major parts and tasks and are clear on teh specifics, the fun part begins – the Project Management tool.
I really recommend using some way to keep your project on track – This doesn’t have to be electronic, it’s best to use something that’s easy for you to use and understand and will depend on how complex your project is and whether others are involved. It’s Ok to use more than one tool depending on the project – I use different tools for different clients (dictated sometimes by them) and use different tools for my own projects – some are monitored electronically and some might be simple tasks in my planner. The key is to make it work FOR YOU for THAT PROJECT.
Simple projects lend themselves to simple tools – a notebook, a whiteboard, a to-do list. There’s no need to make things more complicated than they need to be.
Complex projects can be tracked better using software (rather than manual methods) as can set reminders for due dates, allocating to others etc help us keep track of tasks.
Many projects will fall somewhere between the two, so personal preference on how you want/need to track the project come into play, and whether you find it easier to deal with a list or visual reminders.
Some ideas :
Simple Lists – – Notebook/whiteboard, Google tasks, Todoist , Wunderlist
While we are pulling all this together we need to take the following into consideration :
Your team is made up of the people that will enable you to achieve the final goal – these may not necessarily be people who work for your own organisation, your team can be made up of anyone who will have a responsibility for carrying out any of the tasks that will move you towards your project goal. This could easily be other freelancers, business people, as well as larger suppliers. It is essential that you build relationships with your team, making sure that they are clear on their responsibilities and deadlines. Some Project Management tools have the facility to allocate tasks to team members and to set deadlines (eg Todoist, Trello, Asana) – this is especially useful for complex projects
Keeping in touch with team members is crucial to ensuring that tasks are completed on time, and performance is monitored and feedback given. Share your success with team members!
This is one of the most complex aspects of managing a project but one of the most crucial to getting a project completed within your expectations. As you work through your tasks and setting up any project, be aware of the following :
Are we working backwards from a final deadline OR starting on Day 1 and setting a deadline based on the duration of tasks we need to complete
Are there any hard deadlines that cannot be moved? (ie a wedding date, lease ending, launch date of client)
Are there any restrictions on team availability (ie holidays or public/bank holidays or other projects they are involved in that mean they aren’t available)
What type of tasks we have? – Sequential or parallel – do the tasks run in a logical process and are dependent on each other to be completed before the next one starts OR can they be carried out at the same time?
Timescales – consider both Man Hours and Duration (ie a task that takes 8 hours won’t necessarily be completed in one day)
For each task, you need to define who is responsible and allocate an estimation of the time to complete the task taking all of the above into consideration. Adding deadlines to a project plan will make sure the team keep on track, and also ensure that any dependent tasks can be planned accordingly. Deadlines will also help with our risk management. Some Project Management tools can have reminders set for deadlines, and can also allow tasks to be allocated to team members so that they receive the reminder.
A stakeholder is anyone who has an interest in the project – team members, clients, financial interest, or the person with responsibility to sign off the work as complete. At the very least, stakeholders should be identified and prioritised. It’s important to realise the level of importance for any stakeholders .
A simple chart like the one I’ve provided can help you prioritise stakeholders dependant on their influence and interest, to identify the key players.
Communication is key to getting projects to run smoothly – for smaller projects which involve a few people there won’t be much communication to manage. For larger projects there could be both client and team members to manage – that is a lot of communication!
The key communication strategies to have in place are:
Contact details – for all people involved in projects
Scheduled meetings – clear who is organising, how often they will take place with stakeholders
Updates – who is updating whom, how often and by what means (phone, email etc)
Day to day communication methods – with the team and key players/main point of contact
Sharing info – how much and how often and how (Dropbox, Google drive, email)
Risk management is planning for unexpected events. This can be both :
Positive – Opportunity (to be maximised)
Negative – Risk (to be minimised)
For smaller projects, there may be few risks – for larger projects with more risk, it is worthwhile logging any identified risks on a risk register. EIther way, there should be some consideration given as to WHAT risks and opportunities might arise and what actions would need to take place.
Identify the risks (impact on project, probability of happening, manageability)
Set actions for if the risk manifests itself
Update project plans accordingly
Whether our project is complex or simple, for us or for our clients, business or personal, applying these principles should help us keep track of tasks and see our projects through to successful completion.
At some point in your business journey, you will reach a point at which you cannot fit in any more work and/or any more time to work. At this point, the single most productive next-step is not to outsource but is usually to look into automating some of the processes that support your business. I’m as guilty as the next business owner of following the same tried and tested method of getting jobs done simply because ‘I’ve always done it that way’. But I’m increasingly interested in ways that technology can free us from our shackles of tradition and comfort, always striving to become more productive and efficient in the business support I provide.
If you carry out any of the following on a manual basis, then you might just be able to save yourself precious time each week by using software and apps to streamline the process. Let’s not get shiny-object syndrome and adopt new ways for the sake of it, if these aren’t going to shave time off recurring tasks then they won’t be worth it, but I can vouch for each of these as I use them regularly in my own business. Some of the links below may attract a small affiliate bonus for me should you sign up.
Getting documents signed
If you require documents signing as part of your processes you probably recognise the endless creating, scanning, emailing, chasing, receiving by email, printing, signing, rescanning and saving process involved.
Using an electronic signature tool such as Hellosign or Eversign cuts out the majority of the process – simply upload your document, add the fields that need completion and your own electronic signature and the email of who you are sending it to. You receive a daily update on outstanding documents and can send a reminder with one click (free plans will have a limit on the number of documents you can send each month). The returned document is saved against your account and can be downloaded if required.
The dreaded email ping pong!
Rather than manually trying to work out times and dates when multiple people are available, why not try a Doodle poll? Doodle enables everyone to highlight availability so that you can see at a glance when the most people are available. It’s super easy to get multiple availability and arrange pretty much anything in much less time. This article offers some similar solutions.
Trying to pin down an appointment time can be difficult, but if you offer appointments of any kind (telephone or physical) then a scheduling programme such as Acuity or Calendly is the answer. Check out both, as both offer free versions with differing functionality. I personally use Calendly as I can integrate with my Google Calendar on the free version and that satisfies my requirements. Whether it’s meetings with colleagues or appointments for clients, it saves so much time letting people select a slot from your availability.
If you’re keen to keep everything manual, this (slightly biased) article from Zoho has some benefits of taking your diary online.
If you produce recurring invoices and/or need to produce estimates and then convert them to invoices, then an accounting software such as Wave, Xero or Quickbooks may save some time.
I actually use Wave for my own accounting and have it linked through to my bank account, but do use it solely to generate estimates and invoices for one of my clients as well.
With several layout options in Wave, the invoice templates are much more professional looking than a Word doc or Excel layout. They are super quick to set up with your services/products and brandable. For me, the speed comes in setting up my monthly recurring invoices. If needed, these can actually be sent automatically, as can overdue reminders.
I also have a dashboard so I can keep track of my income and expenditure each month.
With so many accounting options available for small businesses, this round up of the free options is well worth a read. Bear in mind the Making Tax Digital changes – Wave doesn’t comply (as of January 2019).
Scheduling Social Media
If posting to Social media every day is getting onerous then a scheduling tool could be the answer, particularly if you plan your Social media in advance. A small amount of time set aside to post in bulk will certainly take the pressure off. Interspersed with ad-hoc/topical posts and keep an eye on any comments/responses and your Social Media will be running smoothly. Top scheduling tools include Buffer, Hootsuite and MeetEdgar among others – prices vary depending on the number of users/profiles. Check out this post with the Top 10 recommended.
Originally, I found this amusing but then realised that actually, this is a great way to explain what I do. Indeed, providing the support that allows entrepreneurs and business owners to get on with serving clients and developing new business (ie making more money) is exactly what I do. Whether this is managing operational processes on a day to day basis, keeping databases up to date, monitoring an inbox, posting on social media, all of these tasks are the very things that entrepreneurs get bogged down with, keep them away from more cash-rich tasks or just give up on as they don’t have the time.
Increasingly, entrepreneurs are realising the value of having that secret weapon. Someone to watch their back, clear up the to-do list and lighten the load. And get the entrepreneur back to their ‘Why’ – the reason they started this in the first place (You’ve all seen the video right?)
And the beauty of this is my ‘why’. I love to help people, I really finish the day in a good place by knowing that I made a difference. Not only for my clients but for the difference that they have made on their clients too. There’s a whole long line of feel-good that radiates out to many, many people.
I particularly excel in ongoing support to clients keeping their operational side working smoothly – I can offer ongoing project or case management support including inbox monitoring, database updates, and working internally with virtual teams.
In addition, I can offer support for one-off tasks or project as well as general administrative support, such as invoicing and credit control. If you think that a secret weapon might be something that would be of benefit to your business, let’s have a chat.
Feel free to take a look at all the testimonials I have received here.