There are quite a few buzzwords floating around these days, aren’t there?
Ones I hear include the following.
Distributed global workforce.
These words and phrases are on-trend because the nature of business is changing – and changing pretty fast.
Lean is all about eliminating waste and increasing operational efficiency. Companies look at ways to streamline their processes and offer greater value for clients and customers.
Agile is about an approach that encourages employees to work how, when and where they want. Leaders are beginning to understand the performance and health benefits of allowing their people greater flexibility.
We haven’t quite reached the paperless office but the world is increasingly digital. More and more invoicing, document signing, and collaborate creation and editing, is now done online.
Collaboration is the buzz word of the moment. It’s all about how you can get people working together faster, smarter and with better results. Two reasons it’s so on-trend right now are the rise of remote working and the more widely distributed workforces of growing global brands.
Companies are making different use of office space. They want to work smarter. So it’s not about having the biggest buildings or having all your staff in one place.
Today, increasing numbers of employees work together from different parts of the country and globe.
They can do so because of advancements in communications and data technology. You can share your computer screen with people anywhere in the world and collaborate in real-time.
There’s a move towards smaller, more flexible meeting space. You may have heard of the words agile, hub, hive, ideation, stand-ups, scrum, huddle creeping into conversations.
Which can only be a good thing for the VA who knows her stuff.
Companies and small business owners are becoming used to working with people remotely – on the phone, via video conferencing, through online meetings and collaboration tools.
So working with a VA appears a very natural way of getting things done.
And the more you know about the applications and collaborative functions within Microsoft Office 365, the more your skills and knowledge will appeal to potential clients.
You may even find yourself knowing more things than the people you work for. You may have opportunities to share the advantages of features like Teams, which remove the need to rely on Zoom and make real-time collaboration easier.
When you are able to help clients save time, money and hassle they will love you for it.
And, of course, being super-efficient and productive yourself gives you the same lift.
It gives you time back for you. Time back for your family. Time to rest, refresh and re-energise. Maybe even out that work-life balance a little more in favour of you.
Lean into the lean world. Adapt to the agile ways of working in business today. Be confident with your communications and collaborations.
P.S. If you are ready to improve your Microsoft Office skills, take a look at my range of online training courses. Learn what you need when you want, where you want and at your own pace.
There’s a saying in business and marketing that “content is king”.
It might have been Microsoft’s co-founder Bill Gates who first coined the phrase.
There’s a lot to be said for it – though maybe today it should say “content is queen”.
Whichever way you prefer, there are bags of common sense behind the phrase.
For the smarter-working VA, content is your ally.
And it’s your friend in two distinct ways.
Firstly, you can use it to build up your portfolio of marketing materials, sometimes called marketing ‘collateral’.
The great thing is you can chunk up and chunk down to create a valuable bundle of content for building your VA business.
Let me show you what I mean.
You could create a checklist – perhaps of things to look out for when hiring a professional and reliable VA.
Write a couple of paragraphs about each point on the checklist – to say more about each one – and you have a summary guide for a pdf.
Add more detail and some examples and you can turn that into an eBook – which could be used as a lead magnet, a free giveaway or a bonus gift.
You might even create a little sales brochure, to tell people about the services available and highlight what you do so well. That’s another pdf right there.
That’s the chunking upside of things.
Very quickly you have built up some resources for marketing yourself.
Some VA’s won’t bother or they may not do themselves justice with the content. If you do it well, you’ll automatically be at the front of the field.
And another benefit of creating guides, eBooks and reports is this.
You can chunk down.
The content in your guides, eBooks and reports – sometimes called ‘pillar’ content – can be broken up into smaller pieces.
Use the words and images to create any or all of the following:
🌹 Blog posts
🌹 Videos (share the written words on camera)
🌹 Social Media posts, e.g. for Facebook, Instagram or LinkedIn.
Maximise the value of the content you create.
Repurpose. Revise. Re-use.
And there’s a second distinct reason why content is your ally.
Creating content for your VA business can be used to impress your prospects and clients.
You can show them what you are capable of producing. Demonstration and illustration are powerful forms of persuasion.
You can talk to your clients as an expert or specialist.
You can guide and advise them on how they could use the content for their business. If they like what they hear and don’t have an in-house team, guess who they are most likely to ask to take on the project?
That’s right. You.
It’s all perfectly possible when you know what you are doing with Microsoft Office 365.
A good reason for making sure your “how-to” skills in the different applications are up to the mark.
You don’t need to know every single thing that Word, Excel, PowerPoint or Outlook do.
But it does help to know how to do the most essential and most commonly-used tasks.
But there’s a colourful analogy to share which may help you develop your VA career and business.
Picture a box of Quality Street.
The flavours of the tiny chocolates inside can be recognised instantly by their shape and the colour of their wrapper.
Everyone has their personal favourites.
So many to choose from, including Strawberry Delight. Toffee Finger. Caramel Swirl. Chocolate Coated Fudge. The Green Triangle (Hazelnut Noisette). Coconut Eclair. Orange Crème.
Which of these do you like best?
It’s also fair to say many people have at least ONE flavour in the box that they do NOT like – or would rather avoid.
So what has all this talk of chocolate got to do with running a VA business, I hear you say.
I’m going to share this analogy and you can let me know if it makes good sense.
Imagine the box or tin of chocolates as an assortment of services a client or prospective client might ask a VA to do.
For example, it might look like this.
Write a report (Coconut eclair)
Create a spreadsheet (Green Triangle)
Put together a PowerPoint presentation (Strawberry Delight)
Send the same message, but customised, to different people (Toffee Finger)
Create an Infographic (Chocolate Coated Fudge)
Sort and summarise a set of data (Orange Crème)
Produce an eBook (Caramel Swirl)
When you first start out as a VA, you will probably find yourself being asked to do a wide range of tasks.
All the flavours of the tin (those you love and those you are less sure about).
Clients, fairly or not, tend to have certain expectations. They will want you to:
Know the core essentials of Microsoft Office
Be competent with Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook
Understand their brief and be able to deliver on time
Be trustworthy and reliable
Have the ability to solve problems and make their life easier
It’s a fact of life that some VA’s can struggle at first. They have the heart to do well but not yet the skills and experience to manage or cope.
In the more extreme cases, clients find the person they hired goes AWOL and incommunicado.
That’s definitely not good for either party.
Sometimes it just means VA’s are working all hours under the sun – often juggling that with raising a family as well. That can leave even the most motivated professional short on sleep, energy and focus.
The VA market is expanding and the number of professionals offering services is rising.
How you start and serve your first few clients can be the difference between sadness and success.
Reputation in this business is everything.
The way to become competent, confident and calm under pressure is to learn the necessary skills. Get to know the basics inside out so you don’t even have to think about how to do it.
As a VA you may often find yourself juggling a number of clients or projects at the same time.
You’ll have multiple tasks on the go and need to stay on top of it all.
If you’re using business versions of Office 365 you probably already have an application called Planner included in your subscription.
And if you are working with corporate and larger business clients, they may already be using Planner with their teams – and want you to do the same.
It’s a way of collaborating more easily – sharing files, working on them together, assigning and tracking tasks, and so on.
Planner, like all Microsoft applications, is regularly updated to improve how it works for people using it.
It’s now possible to set a task’s priority and add more detail to tasks. This can help a client to tell you what’s most important to them. And it allows you to guide the client as to what will help you get tasks done most efficiently.
The levels of priority you can assign to a task are Urgent, Important, Medium or Low.
You can now also use a ‘Group by Priority’ feature to see all the items in a group, or bucket, of tasks within a specific project.
This gives you an at-a-glance view of what needs to be done next. To shift priorities you simply drag and drop to move tasks up or down the scale.
Let’s say you are doing some research for a client. There may be information you require from different members in the team, and different data wanted over a set time.
In Planner, you can set up tasks to remind team members of what you need by when… and alter the priority settings as deadlines loom.
If you are asked to create, design or edit a newsletter, guide or brochure for a client you can use the application to manage your editorial calendar.
You set tasks around research, liaising with writers or photographers, the brief, editing, layout, proofreading and sign off.
The priority feature is available on the desktop version of Planner for now – and it’s on its way for mobile devices.
Of course, there are many stand-alone project management tools out there. The beauty of having something like Planner within Office 365 (Premium, Business and Educational users) is it’s all fully integrated with the other applications.
You don’t need to switch to other apps (and, of course, you save having to pay a separate, additional subscription for that other brand’s management tool).
Bear in mind the more corporate the client, the more likely it is they will be using some form of communications hub, such as the Teams app in Office 365.
The more you get used to this more integrated way of working, the better you will be able to market your services to the bigger businesses.
And if they’re not working that way, you can always offer that as a suggestion to them for greater clarity, productivity and performance.
Are you using Planner? Leave me a comment and let me know.
One of the advantages of using Microsoft Office 365 is that incremental improvements are being made all the time.
You don’t have to wait a year or until a new version comes out to benefit from the changes.
And it’s interesting to note where Microsoft is putting its money. Investment is going into six key areas: productivity, knowledge, workflow, security, compliance and management.
Which can only be good news if you’re a VA using, or looking to use Office 365.
What’s coming up?
Here are just a few of the developments on the way or already in place:
Microsoft Teams has private channels, multi-window chats and task integration with To-Do and Planner. Improvements are being made to how it connects with Outlook to make collaboration easier.
A new version of the Microsoft Edge browser is due for release in the New Year to boost productivity – and link nicely with an integrated Bing search engine.
Microsoft is also phasing in a new Office app for mobile devices – which will include Word, Excel and PowerPoint in one app. No need to download each application separately. It should make content creation ‘on the go’ much easier.
Expect to see developments designed to break down barriers between apps – to create more seamless collaboration – and the rise of voice-controlled activity (for example, to catch up on and respond to emails hands-free).
Intense focus on maximising the possibilities of Artificial Intelligence (AI) has led to function ideas like entering data into Excel with a digital pen, the option to transcribe an audio file into a written Word document and a coaching tool for those who present in PowerPoint.
What is clear is that Microsoft wants Office 365 to be the only application you need to get work done – productively, efficiently, securely and collaboratively.
As more features and integrations emerge, the need to buy separate apps, tools or platforms will continue to diminish.
That’s good news for the money-conscious VA who wants to be able to deliver a high level of service – without having to keep shelling out on all those extra monthly or annual subscriptions.
P.S. The money-conscious VA might also be interested to know that prices for Tomorrow’s VA Hub (the complete ‘box set’ of my online Microsoft Office courses) go up on 1st January 2020.
Act now and you can get lifetime access to ‘The Full Monty’ and never pay a penny more (even when new courses are added to the set). Beat the price rise and sign up before 31st December.
I have been very busy lately, recording courses and writing blog posts. After a while thinking about the content to write about leaves me banging my head on the desk (metaphorically speaking). So I started to think about Infographics.
I realised that I like to see them and tend to click on them to see the content which got me thinking.
Why am I not using Infographics more frequently?
So, I set about answering the question.
What I realised was that in order to create an Infographic I need to use specialist software or online software like Canva or PiktoChart. That means going away from my beloved Microsoft Office programs, logging in online and then finding a template that I like and using it. What about customising the template? Well each time I do that from scratch.
I bet you can work out where this is going. Yep. I don’t enjoy doing all that extra stuff. I just want to open up a familiar program and create. Better still it will have my brand elements set up.
So, I set about working out which of the Microsoft Office programs would lend itself to creating an Infographic.
Word will do it, but the page settings mean that as soon as you get near the bottom of the page, you are forced to a new page.
I have figured out how to use all the elements that I already know in PowerPoint (well I do teach it!) combined to create a simple Infographic. To be honest I am not a really creative person, but I found to my delight that I can do this fairly easily using the tools I love.
Here are a couple of examples of the things I did.
Yes, I know, I know
The content is simple – I was focusing on the tools and look rather than the actual words. As you can see, when you create an infographic you don’t actually need many words at all!The best part is once I have this set up, I can reuse it at any time and because I know what I am doing in PowerPoint, changing the colours or shapes is easy.
Here are some articles I found to back up the reasons for using Infographics in your marketing mix
Yes, I am going to do just that. I will be creating a mini course showing you how to create Infographics that you can use again and again and change however you want whenever you want. Without having to buy or subscribe to yet another software package.
Let me know in the comment section below if you would be interested in this course once it goes live.