Today’s guest post is from Jo Brianti of JLB Support Solutions -continuing my series of posts by VAs for VAs. In today’s post Jo tells us how it all began and what she does. You can get in touch with Jo by visiting her website JLBSupport Solutions or emailing her email@example.com
Over to you Jo
Hi, I am Jo Brianti, Small Business Support Consultant based in Ealing West London. I have over 30 years commercial experience in industries as diverse as hospitality, travel and tourism to car manufacture and banking.
Where it started
I started my first job at 14 during school holidays and at 19 was running a restaurant and a small team of waiting staff. This experience led me to college where I trained as a chef and aspired to work in a Michelin starred establishment.
At 21, due to a change in my personal circumstances I retrained through the Youth Training Scheme as an Administrator. I worked onsite in a foundry which was a huge learning experience. I learnt not only the administration and basic office management skills but how to procure a wide range of metals including gold, silver and platinum for castings that would go to Scandinavian power stations and train brake pads.
After a range of administration roles, I became a Training Advisor working with long term unemployed adults and supporting them to secure employment. My role encompassed mentoring, advising and training. Included in this role was solutions focused to help them overcome barriers to returning to employment.
Another redundancy offered a new opportunity working in an IT recruitment firm which was an exciting change of direction and more self-development. After another redundancy I joined forces with 2 colleagues to establish our own agency which we then sold out as our interests changed.
I then joined a dotcom start up delivering a platform for managed house pub companies. The platform provided a one stop shop for Landlord or Managers to acquire stock, equipment and energy deals. I increased my tech skills and was promoted to my first Project Management role.
20 years of project and programme management roles followed in both public and private sector organisations, the majority in a self-employed capacity.
After a return to work involving long hours and a long commute, I established JLB Support Solutions 6 years ago to enable me to work flexibly around my twin boys. During this time, I have learnt a huge amount – mostly about the dark art of marketing, an area in which I had no experience.
Using skills from my 30-year business career I help sole traders and small businesses simplify, structure and streamline their businesses with tailored solutions. Some recent projects:
Excel – a client was using several spreadsheets to track and monitor various aspects of their business resulting in duplicate effort and copy/paste errors. I merged the different sheets into a single workbook using formula to calculate cumulative values and create a dashboard with graphs.
CRM – a client had set up a CRM system but was not maximising the tool. As a result, she had missed leads and potential work. We reviewed the way she worked, streamlined the steps in her prospect/client management processes and reconfigured the CRM so it now meets her needs.
Email Marketing – I provided 1:1 support to a client using MailChimp for the first time. We created a template, sign up form and I demonstrated how to send her first campaign. Supporting this was regulatory guidance on the GDPR, DPA 2018 and PECR to support compliance.
Fascinating reading Jo. I am already looking forward to the next post from you.
My guest blogger today is Christine Southam of CS Virtual Assistant. Following on from an excellent post introducing herself. Today Christine is talking about the top six tools she finds invaluable. You can find Christine here: www.csvirtualassistant.co.uk
Are you entering the Virtual world from a place where licences, software, technology and training were all arranged for you? Are you overwhelmed by the number of choices available to you?
From time tracking to password sharing I recommend, in this blog, my top 6 essential programmes / apps that I could not now function without.
1.Lastpass is for password storage and the safe sharing of login details. But, do ensure that you purchase the EU rather than the US version as converting at a later date is possible but, not problem free. Lastpass’s autofill function is incredibly time efficient and as your business starts to grow you will have more passwords than you can possibly remember. The benefits of Lastpass are that you can be granted access and grant access to others without having to reveal a password. With the app on my phone and my laptop I always have my passwords with me rather than a piece of paper manually locked in a fireproof safe or filing cabinet at home.
2.Toggl is for time keeping, tracking time, and generating reports. You have a choice between setting a timer or going back in after the event and manually adding your time if for example you forgot to hit start on the timer. These reports form the basis and supporting evidence behind every client invoice that send. On Toggl you can create a workspace for each Client, Team or each Project. You can invite your Team to a workspace, and they can record their time there too because in the report it will be clear who did what.
3.The Microsoft Suite consists of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook for calendar and emails. MS Office software is a very popular choice for both PC and Mac users and I personally, use it every single day. When investing in this necessity make sure that you purchase the Business version and not the home and student version. Your documents will be accessible from the cloud so that you can access documents from wherever you happen to be.
A bonus tip: I found this article about why using a keyboard is beneficial and some keyboard shortcut tips particularly helpful since time saving and being efficient is top of all of our agendas. I love Ctrl 1 and Ctrl 2 especially. Which are your favourites? Please pop your answer 1,2,3 or 4 in the comment box below.
4.FreeAgent is the programme that I use for invoicing, expenses and self-assessment tax returns. FreeAgent came free with my NatWest business bank account and the automatic importation of transactions saves me a great deal of time. You can even invite your accountant to work from the same set of books and you can bank and manage FreeAgent from the mobile app.
5.Canva is great for creating infographics for social media posts. It has a wealth of templates: posters, flyers, LinkedIn, Facebook, photo collages, and presentations with the additional ability of changing one format from one to another easily. The templates are all pre-designed to the correct dimensions or you can choose to custom make your own. Some of the images are free and others can be purchased. You can upload your own logo, pictures, colours, font and style. Your creations can be downloaded onto your computer or phone or posted straight into social media.
6.Asana is a project management tool which can be used effectively for both work and personal life such as: planning projects, meals, sharing reminders and tasks with your team or your other half. It’s a great visual tool for mapping out each step of the process along a timeline and you can follow a task through from initiation to completion. In addition, Asana integrates with 100 or more other software.
These programmes / apps are free for basic functionality and are accessible on both mobile devices and desktop computers.
Please do catch up with me in my next blog where I help a client with a big project that could have gone pear shaped but luckily, the project all goes well, and I exceed their expectations. In the meantime have a look at the variety of services that I offer here on my website.
Thank you Christine – that looks like a fabulous list and very helpful for any VA just starting out.
I am now wondering if any VAs have further recommendations or apps to add to the list? Please leave a comment with your suggestions 🙂
I am really looking forward to your next post Christine!
Today’s guest post is from Zita Lewis – continuing my series of posts by VAs for VAs. In today’s post Zita introduces herself.
A day in the life of Zita Lewis VA
I’m Zita Lewis, a VA/Business Support Manager for female entrepreneurs and small business owners. I’m from Witney in Oxfordshire, a beautiful part of the Cotswolds. I’m a wife, mum and a pet owner (3 rescue dogs, a giant chocolate millipede, a corn snake and a crested gecko). I also run a successful business Zita Lewis – Helping You Helping Your Business. I love to help people get back time in their business so they can concentrate on the bigger picture and the stuff they love.
I’ve been working in administration for over 25 years, since the tender age of 16, when computers didn’t exist and work was done on a typewriter. I took a career break to have my two girls and discovered the word VA. So, I began my VA journey working to support other VAs back in 2013. It’s been a steep learning curve, I’d never run my own business before but I have gradually picked up lots of new resources, tips and tools of the trade. Working within a variety of sectors in my previous life has helped and I now have clients from lots of different backgrounds including VAs themselves. Well they need help too don’t they!
I like to call myself a bit of an all-rounder, I don’t have a particular niche, although I’m always being told I should. I love a mix of general admin alongside techy admin. So, my typical day consists of a wealth of different tasks and I love that. I never know what I’m going to be doing when I wake up in the morning. It could be anything from diary management, email management, to looking for table runners for a conference. I absolutely love research and data entry (I know crazy right). I can also turn my hand to a bit of techy stuff as I built my own website and keep it updated. I love using MailChimp and Active Campaign to create newsletters for clients. I also provide social media content and posting from some clients. Mainly on Facebook which is where I am most comfortable myself. You name it, I pretty much do it. In fact, there isn’t really a lot I don’t do. The only ones I can think of are cold calling (yuck), minute taking and transcription work. Not because I can’t, just because I don’t enjoy it.
I love what I do, I love the joy of making someone else’s life easier. Taking the time out to listen to their journey and how they’ve got there. Helping them to figure out where they want to go next and how to make it happen. If I can help free up some of their time so they can do what they love, then my day has been a success. I pride myself on being as invested in their business as I am in my own. When they succeed, I succeed. It doesn’t get much better than that.
Today is the first of a series of blog posts, by VAs for VAs. I thought it would be a great idea to have a series of posts highlighting the work of a VA and getting top recommendations from VAs themselves. There will be posts from different VAs talking about what they do, and what is of benefit to them and other VAs.
Guest blogger today is Christine Southam of CS Virtual Assistant. Christine talks about setting up and some of the things you need to take into account. In her next post for us, Christine will talk about her Top 5 Tools as a VA – so be on the lookout for that one. You can find Christine here: www.csvirtualassistant.co.uk
Becoming a VA – Christine Southam
I was working in London in my dream job as PA to the Director of a European environmental organisation when my boss announced he would be stepping down from his role I new that there was a chance that the new Director would be based in Brussels, in our other office and he/she and I might not be compatible. So, I followed my long-time dream of opening my own business but at first, I didn’t know what it would be. It made sense to carry on utilising all the experience I had gained over a decade of working in Higher Education, Local Authority and environmental charities but just transferring it to a home office.
It’s important to have your own desk and space set up as your work station, preferably with a lovely view and natural light as you may end up spending a significant amount of time. Its important to get some of the insurances and registrations in place for example just some of the costs to consider:
data protection and GDPR registration with the ICO
Using business software rather than home and student for example Microsoft Office 365 and Windows 10
Setting up a business bank account (can come with a free accountancy/bookkeeping package)
These will be your outgoings ,and its important to know how much you will need to earn per week or month to afford these costs. It is not a regulated industry so hourly rates vary, including the quality of work and the standards with personal data is handled and how securely it is stored. Some VAs are campaigning tirelessly to create an industry standard and in the meantime they encourage and educate all about what is expected.
I set about getting myself visible with a website and a Facebook page (Twitter, Instagram, Facebook groups and LinkedIn) as it’s obvious that without the traffic to these places you won’t be getting noticed.
Tips and Advice
Seeking out tips and advice on how to get started on social media is important but, also it is a time-consuming job. You could invest in some training to start doing it yourself, you could then add that to your website as a service that you offer.
Communicate your expertise. If people believe you are an expert when it comes to looking for solutions or choosing someone, they are going to pick the expert.
Know your moral and your ethical values. For example: the way you respond to a customer complaint.
It’s a referral-based market. Everyone will look at your reviews of what other people think of you not what you think of yourself.
Putting aside time for personal development is really important as well as time to complete your own business administration such as recording receipts for your self-assessment tax returns, time for your social media, time for your own file tiding.
I gained my first client within 3 months of opening, it’s a differing experience for everyone, it could take you longer or you could arrive on the scene already with a few clients. Word of mouth, recommendations and contacting your existing network of business contacts could be a very strong way of getting started as well as researching local businesses, that are close-by.
Through a local community-based website, I contacted a start-up business. The gentleman was seeking office tidying, bookkeeping, self-assessment tax return preparation and the occasional PowerPoint. I travelled to his office at first to build up the trust and the relationship and to physically hand over the receipts. It was a costly and time-consuming task as he didn’t live close by. Over time he posted or scanned and emailed receipts to me and the physical meetings became less frequent. He was a client for one and half years until his disorganisation and lack of consideration for my small business took its toll on my finances and I eventually called it a day.
The beauty of hindsight is that I wish I had utilised the Virtual PA Facebook groups more readily and been more open to seek my networks’ advice and support, I could have possibly kept the client and resolved the issues. Having a support group of VAs or even a local group of business owners who meet virtually or in person can be essential and very important for some business owners.
As I mentioned above, I have my own dedicated office space set up with printer, shredder, lockable filing cabinet / safe, desk and office chair. I didn’t have these items from the outset it has been a gradual building of an environment that works for me.
I started off dedicating roughly 20 hours to my business each week and now I’ve reduced that to roughly 15 hours per week because I want to work flexibly – managing my work and family life work balance and I’ve started to utilise Associate Virtual Assistants to help me manage the client workload. In terms of productivity mornings seem to best of all for me; I write a to-do-list with only two large jobs to complete each time I work; I schedule social media every day between 08:30-09:00 am.
Software I use
To run my business I use as much of the available and intuitive online software as possible which I can access from my phone as I can be travelling from my client’s site to my home twice a day, so I make full use of the dead time for checking and replying to emails and checking and replying to social media posts.
Some of the programmes that I could not work without:
Freeagent for invoicing and self-assessment tax returns – came free with my NatWest business account
Canva for creating infographic and images for my social media sites
Lastpass for all my password storage and safe sharing with Associates
Toggl for time keeping and tracking the time keeping of my Associate team
Dropbox or Google Drive for sharing documents online
Mailchimp for creating newsletters, landing pages and emails
Asana for planning projects, meals, reminders and tasks
Hootsuite for scheduling social media when I go on holiday – I like to do it myself directly into the site
Pocket as a great source of industry relevant articles
Microsoft Suite in its entirety for Word, Excel, PowerPoint Outlook for calendar and emails
Being your own boss means that you must think of your own business as a client of yours so that you can have that objective view overseeing what you do for it. Being self-employed is a financial and emotional roller coaster as you can easily fall foul of the quiet periods and being unprepared for the busy periods as well as the dreaded impostor syndrome. But, luckily the social networks of support are evolving to meet all of our needs and who knows you might be the instigator of a great new initiative that will revolutionise the industry.
Thank you Christine for such a great introduction to both yourself and your business and to some of things it takes to work as a VA. I for one am looking forward to the next instalment coming in a few weeks time.
Hi there, I’m Hannah, the Tomorrow’s VA diary maker, and I wanted to share with you all today the journey I took, and how it truly feels to move from working in a office for one or two bosses, to working from home and working for quite a few more!
As a PA, or an EA, you may be considering moving to a Virtual Assistant business, and that’s awesome to hear. It can feel a little daunting, particularly if this is the first time you are moving from an employed status, to being a business owner. I’m not going to lie, it is a rather large jump, and it can be a little scary, but I promise you, if you follow your gut, and know your true niches, then it really can be a fantastic change to your lifestyle.
The first subject of change, is going from a buzzing office, where people are there every day, and you get to (sometimes) speak with others while having a break. This completely changes when you move to being a Virtual Assistant, and mostly, you’ll be working from your own desk – as is the meaning of “Virtual”! So this can be a bit of a shock to the system, particularly if you are an extrovert, or appreciate having others around. I highly recommend finding local networking groups – this will not only help you to find and help new clients, but it will also give you a social aspect to your day, that can be lacking when you go virtual.
You should also consider giving yourself breaks. Just because you aren’t making tea for others, doesn’t mean you can no longer have a tea break – it is, in fact, very beneficial to your productivity and your sanity! As a PA yourself, you’ll know that a productive day, does not mean being stuck to your desk from 9 until 5, you need breaks to help recharge and give yourself time to consider any tasks you have been mulling over – the same is true for a Virtual Assistant.
If you really find that working from home is too much of a big change, look for a local hot-desking space. This is a space for other entrepreneurs to rent office space, or a desk, that they can visit whenever they wish, and get to be in an environment where other people are working – feeling like an office, without the office politics!
Finally, take it easy – you are making a big change, and if you need to build your Virtual Assistant business, while working part-time (or even full time) as a PA or EA, then do that. You can always dip your toe into the water, and see if you really like it – then go and jump into that lake!
Good luck, and let me know in the comments if you have any tips for PAs considering making the move to being a VA, or if you have any questions about doing it.