Hiring a VA - Is Offshoring Right for You?

Sunday, April 19, 2009

I'm compelled to re-post this article written by Stacy over at Virtual Moxie. Stacy heads up AssistU, the premier organization for training, coaching, supporting, certifying, and referring Virtual Assistants.

Have you ever considered hiring an overseas VA because the price tag is so appealing? This article is a great one for you. Are you a VA but you're not really sure on how indispensable you are to your clients? This article is for you too. Stacy writes...

"So here’s an interesting turn of events. I tried offshoring. Yep. I tried offshoring to VAs working for a company in Asia. Never thought I'd do it. Bet you didn't either, huh?

I thought I should try it. So that when I turn up my nose at it, I’d be doing it with the conviction of someone speaking from a position of experience, and not just opinion without evidence.

And here’s what I found (which is, btw, exactly what I expected to find).

They’re quick, and very polite/friendly. The polite/friendly stuff is canned (meaning, they say they write the same polite/friendly things every time. Still, the upbeat nature of the correspondence was nice.

They’re very good at simple, no-brainer kinds of things with only one possible answer. Like, “In which Shrek movie does the Puss In Boots character first appear, and what's the name of the actor who did that character's voice?” Or, “Please find for me the URL to the page on the Zena Moon site where the "House Blessing" kit is sold, and let me know the price of it.” Or, “Please find the source of the following quotation: ‘Life is a gift, and I try to respond with grace and courtesy."

But add in the need to use some discernment skills or critical assessment/thinking skills, and it pretty much falls to pieces. For instance, “Please find me several web sites where I can download free or inexpensive ($10 or less) Power Point templates.” That one yielded a list of URLs, the first one of which required me to join a club for a hundred bucks.

“Find me five high-quality (many listeners) internet radio shows (Blog Talk Radio or TalkShoe preferred) hosted by women who target women in transition, or solopreneurs, or older moms, or boomer women,” yielded me eight links…none of which were BTR or TS shows, two of them were shows that hadn’t been broadcast in over a year, one was a show solely about quilting, another was a show about God, two had next to no listeners, one was really good, and one was so-so.

I borrowed a couple of topics from our community at AssistU, wanting to see what they came up with. “I am formatting an e-book. The book is prepared in Word, and then gets converted to pdf. I want to "hide" long and affiliate URLs. Is it possible to hide that URL, or make it show something else while keeping the link clickable? (For example, in the document, the link says "www.yoursite.com", and when you mouse over that link, can you make the destination url appear as "www.yoursite.com" while it actually takes you to your affiliate site when clicked on?). What are my options?” I was presented with links to three pieces of software—no suggestions about which might be best, or anything else. Bam…that ball was back in my court. As it turned out, none of them would have really solved the problem.

Another: “I need to find talented Ning designers. Can you please pull together a list of five or so for me, along with examples of the Ning communities they've designed?” That brought back four URLs to Ning networks—none of which seemed to have anything to do with whoever designed them. The first of those links took me to a guy who works for Ning.

Maybe this is where our culturally different uses of the English language start to fail us. Others were most certainly problems with language. Like this one:

“Based on Twitter Grader's Twitter Elite, who, in the top 100 should I be following if I want to connect with affluent women in transition?” They didn’t understand this at all. Not at all. To their credit, they told me they didn’t understand what I wanted. What it felt like to me was that they knew nothing about Twitter. But I was thinking—this is a company with many “VAs” working in a call center. Shouldn’t they have a way to collaborate and help each other serve the customers well with things they individually don't know about?

It was then that I realized how much this was like a monetized version of ChaCha.

If you don’t know ChaCha, it’s a human-driven search engine. You text, call in, or type in a web interface a question, and the ChaCha guides send you back an answer in pretty speedy fashion. They're really only good with basic questions with only one correct answer.That’s exactly what this VA service was. Simple, quick, answers. No real solutions.

Now, granted, it was just $69/month. But I'm thinking, why pay for it when I can get it for free?

And I’m writing about it today, not especially to tell you my experience, or to decree that offshoring bites, but to share this Bit O’Moxie:

If you are a doer, and not a getitdone-er…if you are giving clients answers but no real solutions…if you find what you’re asked for, but don’t connect the dots and answer the next question and the one after that (without the client actually having to voice those questions), returning to your client answers with solutions, then you, my friend, can bend over and kiss your ass goodbye—‘cause there’s no way you’ll be able to compete with the offshored VAs for providing, in essence, the same level of service.

Am I suggesting you be a mind reader? Not in the least. But I am suggesting you learn your clients at every turn, creating an internal database of knowledge about each of them that you can then draw from when you are looking at vendors, services, solutions. And I'm suggesting you work to develop your discernment and critical thinking skills.

Want to keep your clients? Be indispensible. Create custom solutions to every challenge or opportunity. Go beyond the obvious answer to the answer your client likely wants—and provide that.

You think it’s hard skills clients clamor for? You think you need to know how to use a cart, or handle social media strategy, or be a copywriter for sales pages, or any other particular “hot” skill? That’s not it at all—a trained monkey can do that stuff. Really. What they clamor for is your brain. Your critical thinking. Your creativity. Your knowledge, experience, expertise, and network. Your ability to connect dots that aren't there to be seen by the average trained monkey Joe. They want and need your soft skills.

Most of all, they clamor for you to make things easy for them. You don’t do that when your brains shuts off at the first level of thinking. Go deeper. Go broader. Therein lies your future, and your success."
Thanks Stacy for the insight!

Posted by Gayle Bu at 7:18 PM 0 comments  

Run Your Business From Home? Here's 10 Ways to Be More Productive

Friday, January 23, 2009

This article comes to you courtesy of Ali Brown. Ali is an established and respected online entrepreneur who publishes the award-winning "Highlights on Marketing Success" weekly ezine. Her ezine is hugely popular and has over 36,000+ subscribers. It's always packed with practical information to benefit entrepreneurs. If you're ready to jump-start your marketing, make more money, and have more fun in your small business, go grab your free tips at AlexandriaBrown.com...

Ah, working at home... Visions of leisurely days, conference calls in comfy sweatpants, increased productivity with fewer interruptions. But the distinctions between work life and home life soon blur. You really should throw some laundry in the wash before you write that proposal. You have an hour before a meeting: Should you balance your books or clean the kitchen? And remember to call that client back right after you empty the cat box.

Welcome to the real world of working at home: unforeseen distractions, a lack of structured time, and sometimes a perceived loss of identity. But don't give up the dream just yet! By putting into place a few simple ideas, you can reap more of the rewards of working at home. Based on my experiences and those of my associates, here are 10 simple ways to help you stay on track.

1. Separate Your Space.

Keep a separate, distinct work area in your home. (This is especially difficult if you're living and working in a shoebox studio, like I was when I started my business in New York City!) If you don't have a separate room, at least define an area, and know that when you're in it, you're in "work mode."

2. Structure Your Time.

As your business and personal time mesh, it's more important than ever to structure your day. For example, if you regularly take a walk or go to the gym, try to do it every day at the same time. Value that personal appointment with yourself - even when you're very busy. It will actually help you keep your business on track! I like to get up early and work until noon, then I take a few hours off to enjoy lunch, do some reading, and take my daily jog on the beach. Then I'm back at my desk at 4:00 until who knows when!

3. Outsource All You Can.

When I began my business, I made the mistake of acting as my own courier service. I soon learned how much time I was wasting by frequently visiting clients just to pick things up and drop them off. Whenever you start thinking, "Well I can just do that myself," STOP. Streamline your business, making everything as automatic as possible. Use outside services to stay focused on your *real work*. Get accounts with an overnight delivery service, messenger service, virtual assistant (VA), bookkeeper, etc. Save your energy for your brilliant ideas! : )

4. Use Technology to Your Advantage.

In-person meetings are very valuable when appropriate, but schedule them sparingly. Try to do most of your business via phone, fax, and e-mail using the best equipment you can afford. For most home-based entrepreneurs, when you're out of the office, you're NOT making money. So it's important that you can communicate flawlessly from where you are. And PLEASE do us all a favor and get separate lines/services for your phone, fax, and Internet! No one likes getting a busy signal.

(BONUS TIP: If your phone company offers voicemail, get it. Not only will your outgoing message sound more professional, but if you're on an important call and don't want to be disturbed, other callers can still leave you a message.)

5. Group Your Errands.

Try to group your meetings and errands together to minimize your out-of-office time. Make a list in the morning of all the outside tasks you need done for the day, and attempt to complete them in one fell swoop. Even better, do what I do and designate just one day a week as your "blitz" day for errands and meetings. Plus, then you only need to get dressed up one day a week! : )

6. Stay Focused.

Make your workspace off-limits to other roommates or family members when you're working. For you animal lovers, this may go for pets as well. (My cat Francine gets *very* jealous when I'm not giving her complete attention!) Keep all personal paperwork such as bills, magazines, and to-do lists out of sight, so they won't distract you from your projects.

7. Beware of Yappers.

Many of your friends and family will be immediately delighted when they learn that you're working at home. They picture you lounging on the couch, eating potato chips, and waiting for their calls. When they call you simply to chat, politely remind them that you're working, and ask them if you can call them back after your day is over. It may take them a while, but they'll eventually get the idea.

8. Work With Your Moods.

Keep track of your moods and productivity compared with the time of day. For example, if you find you're more alert in the morning, use this time to make important calls and do your creative work. Take advantage of your natural cycles. If you feel better after an afternoon nap, go for it! (I'm a BIG proponent of the catnap. In fact, I may start a support group.)

9. Suit Yourself.

To bring out your best work, make your environment perfect for YOU. How do you work best? With plenty of breaks, or with no interruptions? In silence, or with some light music in the background? On a cushy couch and coffee table, or at a business desk in an ergonomic chair? (My friends thought I was nuts when I spent $750 on my Herman Miller Aeron chair, but they quickly understood why once they sat in it! And my spine thanks me every day.)

Also, find some places you can do work when you need a change of scenery. How about the library, the park, or your neighborhood coffee shop? When I need to do serious reading, thinking, or editing, I take my work outside to the beach. The sea air, sunshine, and soothing waves help me think much more clearly.

10. Break for People.

Feeling sluggish, lonely, or moody? Arrange for at least one social break during the week. (I aim for two or three.) Schedule breakfast, lunch, dinner, or even just coffee with a client, vendor, or friend. Join a business networking group, or sign-up for social activities such as dance class or recreational sports league. Don't go into hermit mode - it can be self-destructive!

© 1999-2009 Alexandria Brown International Inc.

Posted by Gayle Bu at 5:01 AM 0 comments  

New Year’s Resolutions or Goals – Which Will You Choose?

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

The year has come and gone and here we are in a new year.

What are the top New Year’s resolutions each year? Eliminate debt, lose weight and develop healthy habits. You’ve probably heard your friends, coworkers and favorite radio hosts uttering those exact promises of change in the past few days.

The problem with New Year’s resolutions is that just as fast as these vague words are uttered, it’s just as fast that the resolution vows are broken. Yes, 75% of New Year’s resolutions are broken in the first three months of the year.

A *goal* on the other hand is the desired end result of the change you want to make and it’s specific. Goal setting is a powerful process where you take the time to meditate on your ideal future and think carefully about what steps you need to take to turn your thoughts in to reality.

How can you effectively set goals this year?

Brainstorm. Take some time in a comfortable, quiet place where you can be alone and uninterrupted. Think about where truly want to be by the end of next year. Where do you want to be in 5 or 10 years? What are your short term goals? What are your long term goals? What precisely do you want to accomplish? Examine the motives for your goals. What’s your big picture?

Make a written list immediately. Once you understand where you want to be, you can establish what goals are realistic and can break them in to small, obtainable pieces.

Create a “to do list.” Get specific on how you’ll attain your goals. What support or education do you need? What will you do daily, weekly or monthly to achieve each goal? Put in dates, times and amounts so that you can measure your achievements at each step of the way. Someone who states a resolution that they want to exercise more generally doesn’t incorporate it in to a "to do" list. The resolution sounds something like “I’m going to try to exercise more.” But if you’re serious about obtaining your goal, you’ll be more inclined to write “I will work out at 6am every Monday, Wednesday and Friday for 1 hour. I will do 20 minutes of cardio and 40 minutes of weight training. I have made arrangements with my best friend to support me on each of these mornings.” Which person do you think has a greater chance of showing up at the gym? When putting action items around your goals, be specific but reasonable - don’t expect to get everything done in January.

Monitor your success. Check in with yourself frequently. By looking at your goals once a week or once a month to see what progress you’re making, you’ll be able to adjust your list accordingly. I’m a member of a supportive group of businesswomen and we hold each other accountable for each others’ progress. We each fill out a form before we attend our meeting each week so that we can personally think about what we’ve accomplished, where we want to go and areas we need to work on. Some of the questions include: What did I plan to accomplish in the past week? What did I actually accomplish in the past week? What do I plan to accomplish in the next week? What do I need help with? We then have a roundtable session with an atmosphere of accountability and support.

Below are some resources that I’ve found helpful:

Franklin Covey Time Management Classes. I highly recommend investing in a time management class. I attended one a few years ago and it helped me to gain more focus around what my goals were and there was a marked increase in my productivity. A primary question that was asked during the class was “what are you doing each and every day that will positively impact your life in 5 years? 10 years?” Definitely something to think about!

Take Time for Your Life (Cheryl Richardson). This was required reading during my VA training at AssistU and I’m so glad it was. This book really makes you ponder about your emotional clutter, current relationships and the changes that you can make to improve your support system.

Wildly Wealthy. I did a free 90-minute teleseminar, along with several hundred other people, with the founder, Sandy Forster. She uses powerful visualization techniques for effective goal setting. One of the things that I particularly liked was when she asked us to close our eyes and imagine ourselves one year in the future and to create a journal as if we are living there. Our goals went from statements like “I want to get more clients”, “I went to renovate the back deck” and “I want to lose weight” to statements like “I had a great day at work working with two of my favorite clients. I have an abundance of work right now and it’s a great feeling. I’m sitting on the wonderful back deck that I just had renovated. It has lots of seating and I especially like the red silk pillows that accent the tone of the wood. I love the hammock I had installed and especially love the fact that I’m 30Ib lighter so I can get in and out of it easier…”

Where do you see yourself a year from now?

Posted by Gayle Bu at 5:56 PM 0 comments  

Gayle Bu Interviewed on the Power of Slow Blog

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Thanks to Christine Louise Holbaum for interviewing me on her blog which accompanies her book being released by St. Martin’s Press in the fall of 2009. The book is entitled The Power of Slow: 101 Ways to Save Time in Our 24/7 World. I like the quote on Christine’s site: “Slow down and enjoy life. It’s not only the scenery you miss by going too fast - you also miss the sense of where you are going and why.” - Eddie Cantor. I look forward to reading the book!

Welcome to my Blog!

Hi everyone,

My name is Gayle Bu and this is the Bu Virtual Office Services blog, which accompanies my website, Bu Virtual Office Services.

I’ve been a Virtual Assistant since 2002. I spent 14 years in the corporate world as an Executive Assistant for various companies and my last corporate stop was at Gap Inc. in San Francisco. I love planning, details and watching strategies being successfully executed. More than anything, I enjoy making a difference in the lives of others.

As a corporate assistant, I enjoyed the hustle and bustle of the daily grind and attribute the wealth of knowledge that I now have to the experiences that I had there. Those experiences helped me to become the best business partner that I can be for my clients.

I remember an interesting assignment I had one day in the corporate world. My boss was having a baby and wanted a car seat and bouncer covered in khaki fabric. This was before Eddie Bauer came out with all those cool khaki and cream baby items that blend in with the furniture. My job was to find a fabric store, purchase the fabric and get the items covered. A couple of my fellow assistants exclaimed “that’s SO not part of your job description!” The same assistants raised eyebrows when I schlepped to and from Starbucks and went to get my boss lunch in addition to my usual tasks of running reports, organizing meetings and such. To this day, I don’t understand the mentality of those assistants and wonder what measure of success they’re achieving in their lives. Yet, this attitude of “it’s not my job” is very common in the workplace. A worker shows up to work, does what it required of them and clocks out at the end of the day. They’ll put forth extra effort only at the chance of monetary gain or prestige.

I truly loved making a difference. In knew that I was the right hand of the person in charge of steering the company that I worked for. So whether my job entailed formatting an Excel document and obtaining the necessary caffeine before an 8am strategic planning session for my boss/parent who had been up at 2am with their infant, it was all OK with me. I was helping someone out and in turn, this helped business, which helped keep me in a job and in the process, I got to step away from my desk and enjoy the sun on my walk to the coffee store! And yes, the khaki car seat and bouncer turned out great!

Well… fast forward and we’re almost in 2009 and here I am as a Virtual Assistant. There are no more trips to the coffee store, but the concept is still the same. Does my client need a proposal typed up? Do they need me to arrange an office event? A kid’s party? A mailing? A new phone system? No matter – that’s what I’m here for. All so they can spend more time doing whatever they need to do.

So this is me. This is my blog. And here are my musings.

If you’d like to know more about my Virtual Assistant practice, go to Bu Virtual Office Services. If you have any questions, please a comment or send an e-mail to me directly at gayle@buvirtualoffice.com.