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This guest post is from Jess Ostroff, the Director of Calm at the new virtual assistant agency, Don’t Panic Management. When she’s not keeping her team organized and her clients happy, you can find her trying delicious recipes, going to see live music, and finding new places to taste wine. Ask her anything on Twitter @jessostroff for help!
If you’re part of a large and busy team or just started your own business as an entrepreneur or co-founder, you know that there are a lot of things that keep you busy during the day. Sometimes, the things that keep you busy are the very same things keep you away from your work. These tasks can easily handled by someone else, giving you back your time, your energy, and your creativity to work on bigger (and probably more important) projects. If you work at a corporation, you may or may not have an assistant already, but even if you do, it’s likely that you share the assistant or that he/she doesn’t have any marketing experience. With the increasing importance of having a digital presence and existing in an online work environment, a VA with social media/marketing experience is key. Here are four ways to use a virtual assistant to help you reach your goals (and lower your stress levels!).
Have you ever been late on a payment? Missed an invoice? Forgot to pay yourself?? These are all common problems that entrepreneurs and small business owners face, especially as they grow and get more busy with their clients or customers. Using cloud-based accounting software like FreshBooks, Expensify, and Quickbooks can alleviate these issues, but these tools still require maintenance and management. That’s where a virtual assistant can come in.
For billing, we recommend keeping a current “Projections” spreadsheet as a Google Doc or a Dropbox file that can be easily updated by you or your VA. This file should show projected client/customer revenue, projected expenses, and estimated quarterly taxes if you are not using a traditional payroll system. If you get a new client, have your VA add their project or retainer fee to the spreadsheet as a “client” in your invoicing software, and make sure that client gets added to your monthly or bi-monthly billing list. Every time you do billing, have your VA send you a draft of the invoices that he/she thinks needs to go out based on your spreadsheet, and always review this draft to make sure nothing is missing or that you don’t have any additional expenses (such as flights or supplies) that need to be billed back to the client. Not only will this process ensure accuracy, but it will keep you in the loop so you aren’t wondering what’s happening to your money.
For expense tracking, we recommend connecting your bank account to a software like Expensify or, if you’re using Freshbooks for invoicing, you can connect it there in their new expense tracking tool. These tools allow you to keep records on every charge made to your card, decide whether or not it needs to be billed back, and even export for your accountant when you’re doing your taxes. Your VA can handle the setup and monthly maintenance of your expense accounts, but keep in mind that they may need some guidance from you on categorization of expenses.
We’ve all been there, missed deadlines due to poor planning or lack of resources happens all the time. However, if you have someone on your side who knows the ins and outs of the project and can nudge everyone involved in the project to keep the trains running on time can be an invaluable service. Some projects need full-time project management, but in my experience with small business owners, there are fewer and shorter projects that involve lots of moving parts, so a part-time contracted VA can handle the task as long as he or she is fully immersed in the goals, personnel, and details involved with the project.
Using project management tools like Basecamp, Producteev, or even Google Calendar can help as well, but oftentimes it’s the weekly phone calls, recaps, and prodding emails that incentivize work getting done on time. Software is great, but a human being is required in some cases.
Scheduling and Travel Booking
This is quite possibly the scariest, yet most valuable service a VA can provide. For someone who is extremely detail-oriented and loves solving problems, schedule management is a dream. For you, however, who is likely more of a big-idea and creative person, scheduling can be a nightmare. To avoid spending hours trying to find time for things, have a VA take charge. They can be the point person for all schedule-related queries, keeping those pesky emails out of your inbox, and coordinate your schedule how you like it. We recommend setting aside a few hours each day for meetings and a few hours for hard work, that way your VA knows exactly when is fair game for scheduling and when is off-limits. There will always be exceptions to these guidelines, but it’s better to keep those particular meetings as just that – exceptions. Integrating Google Apps into your business operations is helpful for this, as your Google calendar can be shared with a VA and synced across your devices.
As for travel booking, this is something that can be a huge time-suck if you’re busy meeting clients, speaking at conferences, or working on selling your product. As with schedule management, the detail-oriented rockstar can find and book affordable flights and hotels using your frequent traveler program of choice, set them up in your calendar, and ensure you have all the details you need for a worry-free trip. VA’s can also plan vacations and trips for your family. The time that you pay for can be spent however you wish, and all you need to do is ask!
Marketing Automation and Social Media
My favorites are the social media consultants who don’t have a consistent social media presence. I totally get it though – when you’re working on client projects, you neglect your own. Why not hire a VA to manage your brand’s presence online while you work on building up your client’s? Having an extra (and unbiased) set of eyes on your social channels will help you build up your networks to where you want them to be, partly because you won’t feel guilty about working on your own channels when you should be working on your clients’, and partly because an outside perspective can help you hone in on your brand voice and make an impact on the social space.
VA’s can also manage your ongoing email marketing programs and drip email campaigns for new customers. If you are doing a lot of customer relationship management email marketing, finding a VA that has experience with the email marketing program of your choice is possible and critical if you want to avoid doing any heavy training.
These are only a few of the things that a skilled VA can take off your plate to help you be a smarter, more productive leader. What other things have you delegated to keep you from panicking?