Automating tasks to save time

Automating tasks to save time

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.

Scheduling appointments

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.

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.

Refresh your business

Refresh your business

Often, business owners lack valuable time to step back and review their business. Quieter periods allow for some reflection and a chance to  refresh business practices.

Technology changes on a regular basis, and as a business owner it is important to make sure that you keep abreast of the changes in society and social media.

A SWOT analysis is the perfect way to review your business and look at opportunities to move forward. Templates are available to use, but basically, you will be looking at four elements to your business :

Internal factors : Strengths/Weaknesses

External factors : Opportunities/Threats


These are all quite broad points, so breaking them down, some of the types of things to consider could include :

  • Internal strengths

    • Unique Selling Points – are you getting these across on your website and social media?

    • Advantages that you have over competitors

    • Things that your customers need to know about

  • Internal weaknesses

    • Improvements needed within the business – research could be required

    • Things you want to avoid (as a business)

    • Causes of lost sales – customer service issues, slow responses to email, inadequate responses on social media

  • External Opportunities

    • Trends within your sector – do you need to research?

    • New technology –  using apps, new programmes, writing blogs

    • New markets – do you need to research?

    • Social changes – do you have an online presence? , is your website mobile responsive?

  • External threats

    • Competitors – do you need to research what they are doing?

    • Changes in sector standards and technology –  are you getting left behind? , do you need to research?

    • Cash flow

business developmentBy carrying out an analysis of where you are and where you want to be,as a business owner, you will start to see what changes need to be made to your business and be able to identify tasks that need to be completed in order to facilitate this.


If you have taken the time to look into refreshing your business, let me know how it went.

If you feel that you don’t have the time to carry out these tasks, why not visit my services page which details my skills? As a freelance Virtual Assistant I am sure that I can help support you in taking your business forward. I am experienced in Business Development support as well as general administration and have supported projects for tender bids, service launches and new business strands. You can read a little more about me here.

Contact me here, or connect via Facebook or Twitter.


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)


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.