Apps I couldn’t live without

I decided to have a look through my apps and write about my favourite ones. The ones I use daily or least, weekly. The ones that make life just that little bit easier and they’re all free. I’ve kept them generic, nothing too specific to being a Virtual Assistant and I’ve not mentioned the obvious social media apps either. That’s a whole other blog post in itself. In fact – look out for that in the future!

1) Camera

Most people would agree with this. It’s very useful. I’m not a selfie queen; you’ll find very few photos of me within my gallery. It’s more so that I can show people things and email or WhatsApp them pictures. A picture says a thousand words. When I was struggling to work out which plumbing connector I needed when trying to install a dishwasher, I sent a picture to my friend of my progress and dilemma and waited for the reply from him the other end with his setup. Works both ways! When I can’t figure out how to put together flat pack furniture, I take a picture and send it around for advice. Love it – and such good quality these days. I remember spending hundreds of pounds on a point and shoot digital camera that you then had to download the contents afterwards, from an SD card. Smartphones make this all seem a bit redundant unless you’re a pro!

Camera

2) Online banking

I can transfer money at the touch of a button. No more needing to go into a bank. See all your account details and transactions on one screen. Move money to savings, move money to charities, move money to your friends, money for those hugely costly purchases you wish you’d never made, or, watch your bank balance go up – even better. Either way, have a visual record at all times.

3) Waze

This app means you don’t need to wait for the traffic to settle. You can head on the road at whatever time you like and Waze will work tirelessly on your behalf to get you to your destination with precision accuracy. Waze is constantly analysing fellow users and their speed, road closures, breakdowns, or pesky stand-still traffic. As a Waze user, it’s nice to help out by reporting (very easy to do) anything you encounter because you know it’s helping someone else. It’s like a secret community (not the TomTom one, another, more exclusive club) of road users who are all working together to get you to your destination as efficiently as possible. Great graphics and lots of voices you can download to tell you when to “turn left”. Or “make a u-turn”.

4) YouTube

Watching videos. We, as a nation, watch videos a lot. Whether it’s time wasting by watching cat videos or teaching yourself a new skill, there’s a video out there for everyone.

5) Calendar

Oh my days. I love this. My diary. This is my favourite app. I look at it several times a day. To plan, to check, to remember. I have a shared calendar with my boyfriend, which means either one of us can organise events without having to say “I’ll just find out, give me a few days to get back to you” and then we forget and the moment has gone.

I have the default set to ‘alert’ so that an actual reminder comes up on screen at that time. There is just no way I could remember everything in my head. 

Sometimes it’s got to the level where I will set a reminder, for example at a time I’m 99% sure I’ll be walking past the corner shop, to remind me to get milk. It’s simply no good for the reminder to go off once I’m home – I won’t go back out. No doubt I’ll keep ‘snoozing’ the reminder for another few hours until the need is desperate and then I have to make a special trip. No thank you. I would much prefer to plan my reminders.

I don’t always remember friends and family members birthdays so one day I became very organised and entered birthdays into the calendar, with a reminder that goes off one week in advance. This gives enough time to source a card (I now have a stack in the house) and pop it in the post. I used to just wish people a happy birthday on social media but much prefer being organised and sending a card. Which wouldn’t be possible without my calendar app.

Calendar

6) Tesco Grocery

I don’t ‘do’ going to the supermarket anymore. I don’t like it and would like to spend my time in other ways. I found Ocado and Waitrose too expensive (at the time of trying it a few years ago) and ASDA to be poor quality. Tesco has been a solid, reliable friend for years. The app is great and user-friendly. I haven’t yet timed how long it takes but I feel a challenge coming on as it’s very quick. In several clicks, you can reserve a time slot (from really early to really late), with a knock at the door and there are all your groceries. I’ve never had trouble with poorly picked products or poor service. On the odd occasion that they’re running late –  they keep you updated and they’ve always waited for me (or come back at the end of their round) if I’m the one running late. You can instantly send back anything you don’t want with the delivery driver. If you like looking around the reduced aisles for inspiration, just look at their offers section on the app. It’s easy.  The service is awesome – honestly, try it once. I won’t go back into a supermarket unless I’m being dragged, kicking and screaming.

7) Pinterest

Very good for researching. I take a lot of inspiration from Pinterest and like to be able to save for the future. When looking at patio designs, straight to Pinterest, when looking at styles of dresses, straight to Pinterest, when looking for gift ideas, straight to Pinterest. You get the idea.

8) Google Drive (encompassing Sheets (Excel), Docs (Word), Slides (Power Point), Forms (Surveys) etc)

I’m relatively new to Google Drive in terms of being addicted to it. I now use it multiple times a day. If you have anything big like a wedding, moving house; anything that requires planning (and even day to day administration), download the app and get it online. Share your spreadsheet with people you need and access it to edit it or remind yourself of tasks, anywhere. This is key for me. I can access it at home, on the train and in outer Mongolia. You can even set it to be available offline and it’ll sync when you next have an internet connection. Another modern world delight. Most homes now have multiple smart devices with the ‘pick up and go where you left off’ feature the expected norm.

Apps

9) Gumtree

I think we’re all guilty of needing (or more realistically, wanting) to buy many items but how often do you actually need it to be brand-new? Whether it’s that garden swing seat, bedside tables, a mini fridge for a BBQ, a dishwasher, a table or a service, I take to Gumtree. If I don’t need to buy something from new, I like the idea of being able to recycle and spend less too, and I enjoy travelling to new parts of the city to pick them up! You’ll find this one becomes a bit of an addiction. When I moved house, I was looking for some white bedside tables and the good ones got snatched up in a matter of moments so you have to be quick but it does mean you get instant results if you’re able to collect pronto. They’re lovely bedside tables and what a steal. I did look on Gumtree for a few weeks, a couple of hundred times a day though….

10) Calculator

I like the security the calculator app brings. Whilst I can do maths, I like punching the numbers in and out pops the answer, of which I am 100% confident with, over my own estimations, which I might calculate a couple of times for peace of mind. I like that I don’t have to go rummaging through a drawer to find a calculator, only to find the battery has gone. Yet another glorious feature of a smartphone that renders thousands of different devices redundant.

11) Spirit level

An often forgotten app (in fact I always forget how to access it – swipe right from your compass on iOS) but it’s useful to know if things are straight. It might be straight by ‘eye’ but I like having it confirmed. Just a nice, simple app.

How can one small item (my mobile) be so useful? Whilst I go on annual Digital Free camping weekends to prove to myself that I don’t need technology and that I’m in control, not the technology, it is really, really, really useful! Just a shame it needs charging so often but hey, that the modern world of being a VA.

The Home Office – My Sanctuary

This blog post is about what routines I have in the morning and what environment I like to work in, along with some suggestions and ideas.

I’ve written similar posts before; about how to keep warm and beat January and what physical venues I like to work out of in Central London but this is focused on what I like to have around me when I work at home. It’s becoming increasingly popular for self-employed and paid employees to work at home, either permanently or for several days a week. I would be interested to hear what your ‘home sanctuary’ consists of.

Some say you should (if possible) have a separate space to work in, from the rest of your house/flat. I agree. The problem is, my dining room table is a beautiful place to work. It’s light and it has a lovely view of the garden.

Dining room and garden
A lovely space to work

 I don’t have the distraction of being able to see or hear family members – so that’s not a problem. Although the cat does say hello from time to time. I have a spare room with an office/desk space but it’s not as nice and whilst it has a window (I have worked in offices without any windows before) the view is of a fence. So it’s tricky to decide; nice garden view or keep a work/living room separation and work in the office room….

Office Space
Office room with a view of… a fence.

 

The truth is that I vary it. Like most things, variety is the spice the life and whilst I mostly working in the office room, it feels like such a treat to work at my dining room table, looking out at the garden. I also like to work outside of the house occasionally to keep perspective and ensure working from home always feels like a luxury.

Then there is a small corner of the office room that I have been “allowed” to be creative with. It’s photographs that might otherwise be put away in a cupboard, drawings that my partner or I have been given, tickets, general memorabilia and of course, the scratch map of the world to remind me how big this world is and to get out and explore it.

Creativity
My creative wall

I surround myself with a tidy desk but by the end of the day, it needs a little spruce up again. When I start tasks, I get really involved and therefore when I go to eat lunch or a snack, I’ll often keep the plate by my side but everything gets tidied away when I’ve finished work in a symbolic “yay, I’ve finished for the day” celebratory tidy up.

Some people are early birds and love to get cracking with work straight away; others are most productive later into the evening. I’m a machine first thing in the morning but don’t ask me to work late into the evening, I’m useless past dinner time.

Some like printers and filing systems; I’m streamlined – everything is stored online and I rarely print so I don’t have a printer. I do have a stationary pot though – which has personalised post-it notes in. A leaving gift from a former employer was post-it notes printed with “Marry Me, Kirsty”. Apparently, I often said around the office, “If I could marry a post-it note, I would”. I do love them. The extra sticky ones are my favourites.

I don’t work with music on otherwise I would just sit and sing…or dance, the whole day away.

I do take phone calls but then I work with time tracker software (Toggl) so I just pause it while I get the door or take a call.

I’ve never found motivation a problem. A friend once said he could never work from home because he wouldn’t, well, work and he also likes and needs colleagues around him. I can work literally anywhere. When there is work to be done, it doesn’t matter where I am as long as I have the internet, my laptop and power. I love the extra hour I get from time I would normally be commuting – that is a real bonus of being a VA. Make sure you have hobbies and friends though, otherwise you’ll never leave the house!

That’s it. Job done.

Here are some lovely home office space ideas from House Beautiful – a few of them are so tiny and cute.

 

92 Tasks You Can Delegate

Absolute VA clients are busy people, just like you. You need help so you can concentrate on growing your business, networking and being creative. However, often you’re so busy juggling tasks that it’s difficult to take a moment out and think “what can I delegate?”.

Well, lucky you asked! Below is a is a list of tasks that are frequently delegated. Your business will have certain bespoke needs but we’re pretty confident you’ll be able to circle a fair few from the list below. If delegating these tasks sounds like a dream come true – let us know.

Delegate your to-do list with Absolute VA

Administration

  • Set up a spreadsheet
  • Create a PowerPoint presentation
  • Proofread (documents, website, proposals, etc.)
  • Data entry
  • Database creation, maintenance and cleansing
  • Scheduling and checking of appointments
  • Find speaking opportunities
  • Source images for documents / presentations
  • Manage, schedule and send newsletters
  • Check emails
  • Diary management
  • Make sales calls / follow-up sales calls
  • CRM management and maintenance
  • Create template documents (such as report or proposal formats)
  • Set up electronic filing systems
  • Prepare training material
  • Set-up and/or co-ordinate training
  • Check voicemails
  • Organise corporate activities
  • Project management
  • Create email marketing lists (manage subscribers)
  • Create email marketing campaigns
  • Directory submission
  • Customer service
  • Source and/or liaise with suppliers
  • Order stock
  • Deal with client / member enquiries
  • Digital declutter of files
  • Organise, attend (virtually) and coordinate meetings (distribute agenda, take minutes, etc.)
  • Set up email filing system
  • Act as point of contact for business
  • Manage documents – complete forms/scan/file/create
  • PDFs
  • Offer feedback/insight/time-saving ideas
  • Follow up calls
  • Research best software for your needs

Research

  • Research products
  • Research events (venues / caterers / speakers)
  • Research pricing for purchases
  • Locate professional services such as accountant
  • Research competitors or market place
  • Research materials for presentations / proposals / reports
  • Find courses / activities of interest (training, sports etc.)

 

Travel services by Absolute BA

Travel

  • Train and hotel bookings
  • Finding best price flights and booking
  • Arranging transport to / from station or airport
  • Coordinate and book an entire itinerary
  • Sourcing services / suppliers for a trip (dry cleaners, hairdressers, restaurants)

Writing

  • Write a blog post
  • Write reports / proposals
  • Proofreading
  • Write newsletter content
  • Write press release
  • Ghost writing
  • Write autoresponders

Event organisation

  • Organise all elements of an event (venue, catering, marketing, speakers etc.)
  • Set up events online (Eventbrite for example) and manage ticket sales
  • Event promotion (Email marketing, Social Media)
  • Create and print materials for the event (name badges, training manuals, etc.)

Staffing

  • Create job adverts
  • Set up interviews
  • Shortlist candidates
  • Follow-up and check references
  • Induction training
  • Train / supervise other virtual staff
  • Manage and maintain staff records
  • Organise and maintain staff reviews

Home

  • Manage family calendar
  • Set up schedules / reminder systems for homework/school activities/parties/etc.
  • Find tradesmen
  • Arrange deliveries (flowers / couriers)
  • Book appointments (dentists / doctors / hairdressers / beauty)
  • Book car repairs / service (ensuring adequate provision for alternative travel)
  • Plan a holiday
  • Make bookings (theatre / cinema tickets, restaurant reservations)
  • Find the cheapest utilities
  • Find a property
  • Research areas
  • Organise a child’s party
  • Digital de-clutter of your photos

Occasions

  • Send greeting cards (birthdays / Christmas)
  • Research gift options
  • Purchase and send gifts
  • Plan a party
  • Plan an intimate celebration

Social media

  • Set up social media pages
  • Write social media posts / programmes
  • Coordinate and update social media
  • Forum participation
  • Blog comments
  • Answer queries on Yahoo group/ twitter /
  • Facebook pages

Where to get your head down in central London

I don’t mean where to have a nap. Although that too would be lovely.

In this post, I talk about the venues I have sought out when needing somewhere to work in central London, along with top tips. I love having the option to work from home and I do this regularly but it is also nice to have the option to get out of the house and work in a different location.

Sometimes I’m in between meetings and I just need to get my head down with my laptop open, have access to the internet, a powerpoint and do some work.

Below are a list of my favourite spots.

When I reference opening times, this relates to Monday – Friday. Many of the locations are also open at the weekends with varying opening times.

Places to work in central London

 

Timberyard – Soho:

This has a central location but it is also very, very busy. Lovely opening times though – 8am – 7pm.

British Library – King’s Cross:

The British Library is by far my favourite place to work. You’re met with a wall full of old and interesting books. It’s a busy, fascinating place. It is also the home of the Business and IP Centre which holds excellent resources for when you’re starting up and affordable courses for businesses, however long they’ve been established.

The British Library doesn’t open it’s doors until 09:30am and there is always a lengthy queue to enter (it does move fast though), a quick bag check and you’re in. Work spaces range from ‘prime’ locations to places you have to squeeze into and then there are places you’re guaranteed a space. Those areas however, are a little tricker to access. They’re within the reader rooms and you have to prove you’re there to use the research facilities, rather than just work using the internet. It’s also a little more of a hassle because you have to go to the cloakroom, find £1 for the locker, put only your laptop, your reader room pass, notepad and pencil, into a clear bag and lock everything else away. Even then you’ll be asked at the door of the reader room to open your laptop lid to prove you’re not taking pages of books in or out. A little more effort required to work in those spaces but it’s worth it for a free place to work, within a nice building. No taking calls in the reader room though – so that may not suit everyone. The British Library is open until 8pm so if you’re someone who likes to work later into the evening, this is perfect for you.

Google Campus – Old Street:

The downstairs is a cafe and workspace. It opens from 9am which is nice if you want to get started with your working day a little earlier. The cafe is open until 5:30pm but it does get very busy by mid-morning and I’ve heard vicious rumours that on some days there are queues to get in before the doors have opened. The great benefit of Google Campus is that once you’re a member (easy enough process) you also get access to many great and more importantly, free, events. I popped into one the other day that started bang on 6pm, finished bang on 7:30pm, had free food and drink and a live band to boot. Perfect. Thanks Google.

Grosvenor Casinos – various locations

Yes. Odd hey. I have started working in some casinos. They’ve been advertised on MeetUp and Eventbrite so I dubiously went along. Sure enough, I have rocked up to the Bayswater and Tottenham Court Road casinos and was encouraged to work there. I was in the Tottenham Court Road casino for 7 hours one day when I had a long stint between meetings. You can often hear the chips being counted and shuffled, there is gentle music playing overhead and just enough power sockets. An unusual workspace location but I am certainly not complaining.

 

The above places have internet on tap, easy to find, don’t get cross at you if you don’t spend money with them (although you probably will) and make working away from your home that little bit easier.

I’ll add more work locations as I find them.

 

January

Keeping warm as a freelancer

Hello January. Hi. It’s been a whole year.

For many small business owners and freelancers, it’s just them. So there is no need for an office (and therefore the luxuries that come with it such as constant heating).

Mostly we work from home and yes, we have heating but if we had our heating on 24/7 the bills would be through the roof. So we have to be a bit creative.

I read a great post by a fellow VA and coach – Jo Munroe, all about this very subject and she’s nailed it, here.

My favourite part is the section about keeping fit by having a mini exercise bike under your desk.

It is such a luxury to be able to work from home (or anywhere in the world; as being a Virtual Assistant means you don’t need to be in a set chair, at a set desk, in a set office, in a set building). When in the UK, I mostly work from my home but I like to mix it up a little by working in the British Library, Google Campus and I’ve even tried a free workspace in a Casino in Bayswater! Anything goes when you just need to get your head down for a few hours on a laptop.

As with everything in life; there are up and downs to working remotely and this post shares with you some ingenious methods to combat the winter months.

Over to you Jo.

 

Fear

This post is dedicated to fear; there are many types of fear but this particular type of fear affects many small business owners. It’s separate to self-belief /doubt and motivating yourself. Most of us can get a handle on that one – we believe in what we’re doing so passionately that we just keep going.

This fear is far deeper. It’s called Networking and it’s affected me in ways I never knew possible.

A confident lass, or so I thought

I studied Drama at University. I’m a confident person, I make friends with people easily, I can literally pretend to be interested in anyone (for the majority, it’s a genuine interest).

I’ve been brought up by a confident mother who, again, can hold herself and as a Chief Executive, has presented to large audiences.

It’s a very different situation if you have been invited as a speaker to a networking event. Nerve racking all the same; you have a focus, someone to report to as you arrive and a presentation to pretend to get ready – even though you know you’ve nailed it at home (well at least enough to wing it). I’m 100 times more confident when I’m presenting.

My method

It’s taken me a while but I have now found a method that works for me. It’s a bit backwards and time-consuming but it works. I have to go to everything twice.

In London, there are many networking events and they all take a different format. Some are very small and intimate (I don’t need to apply the ‘attend twice’ method for these) and those I rock straight into, head held high and chat away. Small networking events mean I can confidently walk into a room and see a table of heads look up, smile, welcome me over and I seamlessly join the conversation. But small isn’t always beneficial.

Other formats are speed networking. I quite like those; you keep rotating and have 2 minutes to exchange your details with the person sitting opposite. I went to the IKEA Croydon event twice before I fully understood the format and timings, e.g, what time I could actually arrive to miss the early morning breakfast but still be in time for networking. Large speed networking events are good because the number of attendees are higher, you speak with lots of people and keep moving but equally, they have downsides because they attract ‘all sorts’.  By this I mean; people who are simply not ready to be in business, people who lack passion, have a dirty t-shirt on or rely on me to do absolutely all the talking or just, literally, sit there, even after I have asked leading questions about their business. There are also times when you want a more specialist group; women, technology, start-ups, rail industry, events industry, lawyers etc.

The dreaded medium sized networking events

The networking events that really knock my confidence are medium sized. You walk through the entrance and can see, through a doorway, a room that is full of people talking, the roar of conversation is deafening and all you can see are groups of people already busy and engaged. It’s beyond terrifying. If they were all waiting for me to give a talk, no problem but no-one is expecting anything of me. No-one would notice if I walked through the room, cartwheeled and left. People are busy talking, discussing and exchanging tips.

Networking
Just look at all those people talking; where do you begin?

I always head out, hang my coat and pretend to be doing ‘important business’ on my phone whilst actually thinking “HELP”.

Then the event starts (normally cued by the speaker welcoming everyone), people settle, I walk back in, take a seat (or stand), exchange a one-liner with the person next to me and we’re off! It’s fine. It’s good. It’s great. I wonder what the heck I was worried about. But it’s a learning curve and the next time I know exactly how that particular networking event works (timing and structure) and I even turn up a little earlier for it. My confidence is sky high though.

This may seem silly for some but you have to figure out what works for you and for me; it’s the ‘attend twice’ method. Nailed. As everyone keeps harping on “it gets easier with time”, that’s really true too.

The London Business Show – the hard sell and flyers versus passion and conversations

On 24th November ’16 I attended the London Business Show at the London Olympia.

There are many stands, talks, workshops, keynote speakers but most of all, there are a lot of flyers.

Many of us business owners print flyers. They’re a good way to add a little more detail than a business card. However, when I walked in through the doors, I had 15 different flyers thrown into my hands and I had no idea what they were for. Whatsmore, I didn’t want to look. Somebody who has hired a random member of event staff purely to stand in my face throwing flyers at me, doesn’t cut it. I’m sorry. It makes me purposely put the flyer in my bag to be immediately recycled when I return home. That’s not how I buy new services. I can only assume that for some of the businesses using this flyering technique, it must work. Or perhaps it’s their first time trying what I have coined the ‘throwing business in your face’ method and they haven’t yet realised it’s costly and not very effective (to me at least).

 

The London Business Show - piles of flyers

Passion

I work virtually. I’m therefore always on the lookout for products that are genuinely good and help my productivity, my clients and add value to my life. However, the ‘throwing business in my face’ method does not work for me.

What really works is passion.

I witnessed a few talks where the speakers promoted their businesses and had the ‘big sell’ embedded in their talks.

Then there were a few, golden, talks where all that came across was pure passion. They talked about what they love, gave case studies, along with free tips and tricks to take away. Those were the winners.

Two great talks

One example was a talk I actually first heard at the Elite Business Show from Sammy Blindell who was also at the London Business Show and it was about How To Build A Brand. There was absolutely nothing mentioned to do with her services and costs. It was purely a talk about her passion and her background and it was engaging. The audience was left feeling enthused, energised and we were all asking questions at the end, “how do we get your services?”, “what dates do you run courses?”, “where do I sign up?”

Absolute VA is not endorsed by Sammy and is no way linked; she has no idea this is being written. Absolute VA doesn’t currently need this service and hasn’t budgeted for it this year, but when the time comes that Absolute VA needs Sammy’s support, Sammy is exactly where we will be going. Sammy’s planted her seed, she’s passionate, she’s trustworthy and look,  I’m now acting as a brand ambassador.

Another great talk and again, no affiliation here, was by Luke Sartain from LSG Creative. I hadn’t planned to go to this talk but walked past a room which was rammed and people were spilling out of the entrance, desperate to hear the talk. Luke was passionate, real (he openly said public talking wasn’t his thing) and full of advice for small and start-up businesses. He chucked valuable advice out to the audience, for free. We, as an audience, were captivated and when some of his business cards were being distributed around the room, people were scrambling for them. Not a leaflet in sight. Perhaps Luke had thought he wouldn’t be that popular or that he doesn’t believe in them. Either way, people were noting down his company any they’ll find him, without a leaflet, no problem.

Not a leaflet in your face

In summary, it’s meaningless leaflets that get thrown away (and can be detrimental to a brand, if they’re merely annoying potential customers). It’s passion for your own business that leads to igniting passion in business owners who are in need, which leads to conversations, which leads to sales. Not a leaflet in your face.

Live, instant results

This post is dedicated to the recently discovered beauty of Live Chat online support..

Emails and phone calls

As a nation, we’re still fairly new to the concept of Live Chat. When we have a question, the normal action is to pick up the phone or send an email. Generally, we don’t get the answer instantly. Remember how frustrating it is to be held in a call queue, some of which are nice enough to give you a numbered position in the queue, sometimes you have no idea how long you will be left waiting and they’ve all gone to lunch. Then you look at your watch and realise you’ve been waiting for over 30 minutes.  Anger bubbles up inside.

Emails tend to be worse, they often get sent to a general mailbox which lands itself in a queue, replies are days later and often give you more questions than answers.

Introducing Live Chat

Live Chat has changed all that. Setting up Absolute VA has meant visiting many websites, looking for the Contact Us page. When a Live Chat option pop up at the bottom of the screen, excitement (yes, excitement) levels rise. We don’t mean the messages that pop saying, “chat to us now, enter your email address below”. Those don’t count, there’s no-one there and your email goes into a mailbox which sits frustratingly patiently for a few more days.

We mean the types of Live Chat run by 123 Reg,  WordPresss HMRC, Audible and Voipfone

 

keyboard

123 Reg

123 Reg host our emails and whilst the technical side to setting up emails is complex, the support from 123 Reg is instant and excellent. They talk you through everything you need to do, you can easily send them screenshots to help explain your problem and they fix it right there, right then.

WordPress

WordPress is similar but they take their support a step up. We’re always on the lookout for companies with similar exemplary customer service skills to Absolute VA and WordPress ‘get it’.

The support team are called Happiness Engineers and boy do they deserve that title. They reply instantly, they’re upbeat and jolly (but not forced and over the top); can talk you through problems, can go into your website and make fixes and edits and will always try and think of a way to help you, even if you’re not on the highest paid monthly subscription plan. Absolute VA pay yearly for the website but nothing in comparison to the fee larger companies pay for full customisation. Still, the Happiness Engineers always try and think of way around our problems, without needing to upgrade to the top plan. Sometimes requests aren’t always possible but they at least try and there is no sales talk whatsoever. Which works even better as a sales technique because we’ve unconsciously become brand ambassadors and rave about their service to anyone and everyone who will listen.

Look at this very post, for example!

Here is WordPress’s philosophy:

Our goal is to build relationships based on trust which result in happy, passionate, loyal customers and colleagues.” Hear hear.

HMRC

HMRC was a recent surprising discovery. An initial phone query to HMRC resulted in being told to expect a phone call back, in a few days but “we’re exceptionally busy at the moment”. Heart sinks. Which is silly really but we have become accustomed to a speedy pace of reply.

The next HMRC enquiry was somewhat different. On the website, that glowing box, bottom of screen popped up and said Live Chat. One takes a breath of anticipation, waiting to read that you need to enter your email address below but no, it was a real, live person.

Instant question, (almost) instant reply. HMRC still aren’t as quick with instant responses as the aforementioned companies but c’mon, this is HMRC after all. And answers were given, same day, same hour. Instant happy customer.

Audible and Voip

Two other great services where all my questions were answered quickly and thoroughly. Faultless.

It goes a step further…

Transcripts. There are always details of the Live Chat conversation that are important to remember but that you know you’ll forget. For this reason, many companies email transcripts of your conversation to you instantly after. One to watch; sometimes they’re instant but sometimes you have to request them so if you’re discussing technical steps that you’re sure to forget, always request a transcript.

Kirsty was talking to some colleagues at a previous workplace who now also use Live Chat. They reported that they use a version where they can see what the enquirer is typing, before they press submit. We weren’t quite sure how we felt about this. Perhaps an invasion of privacy but actually, does it really matter? Live Chat technicians are there to help you and it means their responses are even quicker, which is what we love.

Cheers

So today we’re raising a toast to all the companies who have Live Chat, no more waiting, no more expensive premium numbers – pure joy.

cheers

The true price of…a gift

xmas-presentToday’s blog post is completely unrelated to virtual assistance / small businesses / productivity but it’s good to mix things up a little and the theme of the post is relevant to pretty much, anyone.

For clients on retainers, Absolute VA offers a ‘Gifts with a Difference’ package; it’s a list of inspirational gift ideas for those last minute panic moments. Or for when you just have no idea what to buy Tony in the work Secret Santa.

Kirsty set about composing this list. Some are gifts she has given or received, some are suggestions from friends and family. A number of great suggestions sprang to the forefront of people’s minds instantly but this wasn’t the case for the majority.

To set the scene…

Average spend of gifts*:

  • The UK as a whole spends circa £24.4bn
  • The average per family is £800
  • £62 is the average spent on a present to a friend
  • For birthdays the average present amounts to £175 for a child
  • £47 for an adult

To summarise, we spend a lot of money on presents. Obscene amounts on presents. Sometimes we want to, sometimes we feel obliged to. Either way, money gets spent. But that’s ok. It’s ok if the receiver remembers the present for years to come.

From Kirsty’s research (albeit limited, the whole 64m population weren’t polled), most people couldn’t remember thoughtful gifts.

The request was simple:

“Reply with your top unusual or thoughtful gifts that you have given or that you gave, excluding expensive gifts such as 5* hotel breaks, iphones, jewellery and watches”.

It was startling to hear just how many people said they couldn’t think of any. Which is really disappointing. It’s a great rush to open presents but isn’t it a shame that the memory doesn’t last longer.

One friend had a great idea,

“I gave someone the gift of nothing. An empty plastic container with a letter that read, Congratulations, you have received the gift of nothing. Absolutely nothing. The ultimate in minimisation. Nothing is precious, nothing is simple. Open the pack to be enthralled as nothing happens. Allow nothing to flow through your mind and calm your soul. Saviour the moment and you’ll discover that nothing is better than something. My friend framed it and said it’s still the best present she’s ever had.”

Sounds great. Original. Memorable.

This isn’t a new thought or perspective, we’re all aware of the costs but it is a gentle reminder to go steady in the run-up to Christmas. Perhaps don’t go so hard on yourself, or give yourself as much guilt to find the ultimate presents because, largely, no-one remembers them anyway. Sorry.

xmas-present-2

* These figures have been taken from top page Google Results. If you would like like to know the exact locations these figures were taken from, get in touch, we would be happy to point you in the right direction.

** We do know the lady pictured above, it’s Kirsty’s mum in all her Christmas cheer. She’d be just as happy without a single present, mind.

Data Protection, a funny old world

Absolute VA’s first blog post. Momentous day!

And the subject we’ve chosen to write about is…data protection. Wait, before you stop reading, this is brilliant, clever and very funny.

Starting up a new business takes a lot of time and research. One of the research topics that Absolute VA takes very seriously is Data Protection. As such, we started a journey, of which one avenue was the ICO (Information Commissioner’s Office).

The ICO is set out to be, in their words:

“The UK’s independent authority set up to uphold information rights in the public interest, promoting openness by public bodies and data privacy for individuals.”

At first we were quite overwhelmed by the whole concept.

  • “Are we being data safe?”
  • “Is there a guide book?”
  • “What are the rules?”
  • “What’s the law?”
  • “How much is too much, we don’t want to be over the top?”

We stumbled across the Training Videos page on the ICO website and nearly left it there. Some of the videos are a little…dry. However, as a new business, it’s important to be data compliant and therefore we kept with it.

This is our summary:

Some / most of the videos are poor. Sorry. Either poor with respect to the sound, content or just how out of date they seemed.

In penultimate place is a nice little number which does make you think twice about your data protection habits if you are anything from a large company to a sole trader:

Data protection – The lights are on. Here is a direct link to the video

However, nothing came close to this winner; fantastic, clever and  a very funny video which is nestled amongst some far poorer videos; Tick Tock – Freedom of Information. Here is a direct link to the video.

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Kirsty from Absolute VA sat and watched this one evening, chuckled her way through it once and then watched it again! The script writing, acting and general direction is incredible. It is funny, to the point, informative and delivered in a format that is easy to digest. Who would have thought data protection could be interesting and …dare we say it, presented humorously.