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      “@Shawn - Money can apparently buy a LOT of happiness - and it seems to come in the form of pills and smoke-able items. *sigh* (yeah, sure you didn'”
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      “It always amazes me the number of overdoses and suicides in the celebrity death pool. I mean, I know, "Money can't buy happiness" -- but you'd think ”
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      “Justin - ah, so you keep separate accounts - how much bleeds over though? Do you think people pay attention to DuckDuckBlue? Or just to JustinRyan? Do”
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      “I doubt I have to tell you, but I'm in the "let it all hang out" camp. (Despite vicious rumors of being obsessively private.) My feeling is, I am wh”
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      “I guess my point is... if an employer is going to delve that deeply into someone's stuff as to look back through their wife's silly twitter account, d”

Archive for the ‘Business Ownership’ Category

PostHeaderIcon Getting Naked

Not that kind of naked!

Our founder and fearless leader, Candy Beauchamp, was recently interviewed over at The Naked VARuth Martin‘s blog about the simple unadorned realities of being an online virtual professional.

For a little naked truth about the realities of life as a virtual assistant, check out the interview here.

Most of us at OffAssist have kids who have long since seen through Santa, but Candy first met Ruth through her holiday business that offers personalized letters from Santa, UWriteSanta.com. If your kids are still young enough for the magic of the man in red, check it out!

PostHeaderIcon The real secret to success…

I get a few emails per week with people wanting information on how to run a business like mine or how to get started or what’s my biggest tips or a myriad of other questions. I try to answer them, but sometimes I don’t really know what to say. I just saw a need and went and figured out how to do it. Some days are more successful than others, that’s for sure!

It struck me today that I actually DO know the real “secret to success”. It’s under promise and over deliver. So there you have it, people. Just those 5 simple words and you can be hugely successful. 😉 But really, I do think that’s one of those mantras that I try to live by in my business. It’s important for my customers to know, like and trust me, but it’s equally important for them to see real results.

Let me give you an example. My family are complete Kindle addicts. We are a family of readers so everyone has a their own eink version to read daily on. In fact, I realized the other day that we have one of each that are available on Amazon at this point. *laughing* Just kind of happened that way and everyone has their own wants/needs. We also each have our own Kindle Fire tablet. I have owned several Kindles. I buy them as gifts, etc. They are great and really do promote a love of reading. We have had a few problems, but with electronics, you kind of expect to have an issue pop up.

But. I basically buy almost everything that I can from Amazon at this point. Why? Because they have the most amazing customer service EVER and they consistently surprise me by under promising and over delivering! I think that all of us can take a page from their business model.

Over the weekend, my daughter came to me saying that her Fire wasn’t charging. She got it for Christmas last year so it’s not quite a year old. She would plug it in and it would start charging, but then would stop. I looked at it, tried a few different power cords and realized it was probably the plug port on the device itself that was loose or shorting because if you got it to charge and moved it, it would stop. I called Amazon customer service around 11 at night, talked to someone that had a brain and 4 minutes later hung up with the knowledge that a new free replacement would be here on Wednesday. Today is Tuesday and her new Fire is already out for delivery. A full day early. What did this cost them? A few bucks to send it overnight instead of 2 day? But the gain for them is that I’m sitting here singing their praises on my blog and on Facebook and Twitter and any darn where else I can. People, you can’t BUY advertising like that. Seriously.

There are many other examples of Amazon‘s impeccable customer service around the web. My own dealings with them have been amazing. From sending me a whole new case of shampoo simply because I called to let them know that one bottle leaked and the warehouse needed to check on the packaging because it got bumped around too much (I honestly wasn’t expecting anything, just a “sorry, we’ll leave a note, thanks for letting us know”) to replacing my husband’s expensive Kindle DX AFTER IT WAS OUT OF WARRANTY for free simply because it stopped holding a charge more than 15 minutes.

The bottom line is that we all talk about customer service and how to get and retain clients, but I think so many people are missing the point of taking care of your existing clients. Referrals are the absolute best lead you can get. Take care of your current customers and treat them better than well, deliver more than they expect. That’s really how success is won.

PostHeaderIcon Financials of Santa

My 10-year-old son had a friend over this Sunday morning and we were all sitting down at the breakfast table talking when the question of how Santa really could possibly to get to all those houses in one night. We batted around the idea of teleportation and time travel. Eventually, I suggested that I think that because of the costs of feeding and caring for the reindeer year-round, the maintenance on the sleigh not to mention the costs associated with the workshop, Santa might do well to outsource it to all the parents. Give them $100 per kid and he and Mrs. Claus could just hang out and not have to deal with the headache of managing such a large operation.

We then talked about whether or not he was following the proper labor laws with the elves. Are they getting breaks? Is he truly paying them a fair wage? My husband maintains that they are volunteers and voluntarily live and work at the North Pole. I say that sounds more liked forced slave labor. I also wonder about the true age of some of these elves.

I also maintain that there’s no way he can do this for free. This whole Christmas thing is really popular. I bet he gets a cut off of it somehow.

We finally decided that without knowing the true labor laws and taking a deeper look into the old guy’s financials we couldn’t properly make a determination. Perhaps we need to ask to see his tax filings? Hmmm…

What? Okay. Fine. What do YOU talk about at the breakfast table, eh?

PostHeaderIcon Customer service isn’t quite dead yet…

Last week, it was pouring rain for a few days straight. My son is really good at entertaining himself. He was off playing by himself, but my daughter is not nearly as gifted. She wants someone to entertain her. There’s only so much I can bribe my son with. He likes being alone. My husband had a few things to do, so that left me and I was under heavy deadline. Apparently spending all day at school wasn’t entertaining enough for her because she came home whining that she was bored and I was out of ideas…

What’s a work-at-home-mom to do? Well, fire up her pretty purple netbook and set Amazon Video up for the little whiny child. She had never seen Mulan (it’s a Disney movie for those of you that live under a rock), so I rented it for her and it started streaming.

Sounds great, right? I was thinking I was the smartest mom in the world. Um. Except for when it rains, our internet can get a little weird here. I have no idea if it’s in my head or what, but when it rains, we have problems. So, of course, the movie was buffering a lot. It’d stop for a full minute at times and she’d pause it and get a glass of water or something to let it catch up.

It honestly wasn’t too bad. A little annoying, but it kept her busy and I really didn’t think anything about it. A few days go by and I get this email from Amazon:

Hello,
We noticed that you experienced poor video playback while watching the following rental(s) on Amazon Video On Demand:
Mulan


We’re sorry for the inconvenience and have issued you a refund for the following amount(s):
$1.99

While Amazon Video On Demand transactions are typically not refundable, we are happy to make an exception in this case. This refund should be processed within the next 2 to 3 business days and will appear on your next billing statement for the same credit card used to purchase this item.

Let me reiterate here. I didn’t say anything to Amazon. Nothing. They noticed it in their logs or whatever (and no, I’m not afraid of big brother, seriously, I think it’s kind of neat they have some sort of monitoring system!) and refunded me. I didn’t ask for it. Nothing.

I have always said that Amazon and Zappos have the most amazing customer service and with all of my dealings with them. I mean who would refund a customer that didn’t complain? It’s only $2. I wasn’t worried about it. Heck, it was probably even my computer’s fault. Talk about “Wow!”

It makes me wonder… what am I do or what could I do that get that “wow” factor with my clients. Hmmm….

PostHeaderIcon How brave am I?

Years ago, at an IVAA conference, Beth Quick Andrews gave a talk that she opened with “What would you do if you were brave?”. It was a powerful question for me at the time. I chewed my lip a bit and wrote down “Grow OffAssist beyond just myself.” It had been something I was considering, but was like my ‘pie in the sky’ and I was terrified – more terrified than standing at the top of 50 story building, but she asked so I answered. Man, who knew what would become of that? Wow.

I ask myself that question each year when I’m reviewing my own business plans. Largely, though, I decide that I’m not that brave yet and just pretend that question doesn’t exist. BUT it always does make me think. I mean, what’s next? If you don’t take a leap, personally or professionally, then nothing happens, right?

Today, I attended an eWomen event with Mark Fox speaking to us about Word of Mouth marketing. I’ll give you three guesses (and the first two don’t count) what he put up on the projector? Yeah. “What would you do if you were brave?” I saw that and literally heard “well crap” in my head. Why do people keep asking me that every 5 years or so? *laughing*

The thing is, I know exactly what I would if I were brave, but I’m also the main (and currently) sole breadwinner in the family. It’s a bit too big of a risk for me to bite off right this very moment. BUT, I’m already doing things that make me feel brave. Just going to any networking event is a big step for me. I, generally, feel uncomfortable at those things and never know what to say or do. I also am attending toastmasters (which, um… I promised to do nearly two years ago!). Those are smaller steps to the bigger thing I would do if I’m brave.

Mark did, however, make me think… what crazy thing can I do to continue the fabulous (no really, my clients really are my best piece of advertising) word of mouth I already have? In a service business, that’s a little more difficult to do and being in bookkeeping makes it a little weirder. It was good food for thought.

So, the big brave thing? Not quite ready to share that. No, it’s not becoming a coach or speaker or anything like that. Who knows, maybe I’ll share it eventually, maybe that can be brave in and of itself?

What would YOU do if you were brave? You don’t have to answer, but really think about it. And be honest because it can be a fabulous business tool. That one question can change your life. Trust me. Be brave and jump when you’re ready. It’s so worth it.

PostHeaderIcon Makin’ It Right…

Today (a Saturday) my husband had a bunch of stuff to catch up on, so I took the kids and went to the grocery store and then to Target to spend their allowance. They were terrible at the grocery store and to make a long story short, I ended up telling them in the car on the way home that they could play with the Legos they bought when they felt that they understood why I was upset with their behavior and when they felt they had earned the right. My son, of course, immediately said he understood and was happy to play when we got home. My daughter… she’s a different story. She wears her heart and conscience on her sleeve. She hemmed and hawwed and absolutely hated that I put this decision on her shoulders. We had tears. A lot of tears.

When we got home, they came in and she reluctantly followed big brother and they played with their Legos. About 30 minutes later, I was laying down reading when I hear her walk in and sniffle over to me, “Momma, I’m really sorry we were so terrible in the grocery store.”

There’s that ah-ha moment again… she’s more like me than I want to admit. The poor kid had probably been beating herself up the whole time she was playing because she didn’t feel right about it. I gave her a hug and told her it was okay and we’d do better next time.

But it also reminded me that I’m really hard on myself too. I always have been. My parents never had to put me on restriction for getting a bad grade. If I didn’t make at least a B on every test, I’d lock myself in my room and study the material and basically would put myself on restriction until the next test. I think it secretly drove my mother crazy.

Not much has changed, except now that I’m a business owner, I really have a problem when I make a mistake. Oh, my team makes mistakes and it’s no big deal, they are, after all, only human. But I am not allowed to make mistakes – I am, in my own mind, supposed to be perfect at all times. I goofed up this weekend (actually woke up at 2am panicked because I realized I forgot to file a payroll form for a client and we’d missed the deadline). I’ve already filed the form and mailed it for the client. I’ve emailed the client letting them know and telling them that whatever fee they incur, I will pay. I didn’t charge them for the time to do it. I will probably never forget to file that form again because I’ve mentally berated myself for being so silly – first for forgetting the form – later for beating myself up about it. *laugh*

But you know… the thing is that you have to make it right. No matter if you are seven or uh… twenty-nine. The point is that you own the mistake and you fix it. It really is that simple.

For my part, I will attempt to let go of that ‘D’ I made in Chemistry in 11th grade one day…

Perhaps.

PostHeaderIcon Hired someone recently?

If you have hired someone recently, you could be eligible for a tax credit as well as not having to pay the employer’s portion of the social security tax… first, this is just my own understanding, you should check with your tax adviser of course.

If you hired them after Feb 3, 2010 and before January 1, 2011 and they had not worked for more than 40 hours the previous 60 days, you may qualify for a tax break (this includes laid off employees) through the newly passed HIRE Act. Basically, you do not have to pay the 6.2% social security tax for the first 52 weeks they are employed by you and you could be eligible for a $1000 tax break on your federal tax return.

For more information about the HIRE Act, please follow the links below:
IRS Site – http://www.irs.gov/newsroom/article/0,,id=220326,00.html
Intuit Site – http://payroll.intuit.com/federal_hire_act/index.jsp?cid=social_payroll_prpay_landing_hire

If you have an employee that qualifies for this, they will need to complete a W11. A copy of the W-11 form can be obtained at http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/fw11.pdf

It’s important to note that you cannot hire a relative and take the credit. I found a great write up from Taxgirl’s blog (always full of good info if you’re a business/accounting geek).

PostHeaderIcon The keys to the kingdom…

I was talking to a long-time client on the phone earlier today who is shifting things and wants me to start printing checks for him. It’s a fairly easy thing to do. About half my clients still use checks on a regular basis. For them, it’s fairly easy, we just set up their check for use on our check stock and MiCR printer, get a scan of their signature to use (unless they want us to mail to them to sign and mail – most just give us their signature though), and off-we-go. Other clients use online banking (well, we do it for them most of the time), but most do a mixture of both.

Anyway, it was interesting because this is a big step for him. Giving access to his checking account like that. For me, I know there’s nothing I’m going to do with it, would do with it – or, really, could do with it. Writing myself a big check would be, well… stupid.

It also kind of made me laugh because I have such a wide variety of clients and how they look at their banking information. We are, of course, fully insured, but some hand me the keys to the kingdom with a big sigh of relief while others protect it with their lives. I do have some in-between, others that are handling like this particular client – doling it out slowly, but it’s true that they run the gamut.

It’s just interesting because there are things in my personal and business life myself that I an open with (Google me and you’ll find my personal family page and we’re pretty open on there) and other things that I keep very private. I think because we work virtually, it makes everything a little different. I know that when I tell people that I’ve never met over half of my clients they are shocked, but it’s true. I have clients from all over the United States.

I’ll be honest and say that those who hand me the keys to their kingdom make my life easier. We’re able to keep their books up-to-date in a more timely fashion, we don’t have to wait for a statement to get emailed to us, etc. We can log into their account, update their file, pay their bills and send them an update every 7-14 days or so.

But… I also recognize that not all clients are comfortable with that. Some would prefer to work off of statements only and want to review it themselves. I have some that send me every scrap of paper they get. I have some that make notes. I think the most important part is flexibility. Clients are flexible with us. Almost all of our team will be spending next week out of touch and they are all cool with it, it is our annual conference and we’re going to have fun (and learn, of course). We are also flexible with them. If they want to hand us the keys and run away screaming, we take the keys and redecorate. If they don’t, we just suggest moving a knick-knack now and then.

PostHeaderIcon A simple little takeaway from the Statesman

I’m a huge fan of our local newspaper here in Austin, The Austin American Statesman. However, I couldn’t tell you the last time I actually touched a newspaper. I’m skeeved out by newsprint. It comes off on your fingers and smudges and well, I’m a diva deep down, I suppose. Aside from that, I prefer to grab my news online, in smaller bites or through my Kindle (yes, I subscribe).

Oh, I could get it from any number of news outlets here in Central Texas, but I’ve stayed pretty true to the Statesman. Why? Simply because they care. It shows in their reporting, and it has for many years. BUT, there’s also a secret reason I adore my local paper. Twitter. No, I’m not kidding. Take a look at their Twitter stream and you’ll see why. There’s no RSS flood of news stories every hour (like some of the news stations – oy!), there’s no starched little headlines. There’s some guy there with his computer or phone or whatever and he’s talking WITH us. He’s telling us what’s going on – and this, my friends, is the part that most other news outlets don’t get – they are replying. If you type in @statesman blah blah blah into Twitter, you can bet they will reply to you. Even if it’s “Oh great, glad you liked that photo” or “yeah, yeah, we’ve had the weather wrong for 3 days now”. I like that they are human on there. The guy running it has a sense of humor. Shocking, I know.

I attended the Statesman’s social media awards over the weekend while I was out at SXSWi where they did tell us that they aren’t struggling like most of the other newspapers out there (and if you read anything about publishing, you know it’s pretty scary out there). I was a little surprised, but in some ways I wasn’t really all that surprised. They get it. They do it right. Not just online, but in the paper itself. I always feel the human element, the fact that they’re listening to their readers.

Anyway… I took away that we all need to do that. To listen to our customers, our readers, our clients, our partners, whomever it is out there that we are trying to reach. I will admit that I’m guilty of getting bogged down in numbers and reports that I sometimes forget that there’s a real human being behind all that mess. Not a bad take away for a simple little ceremony.

PostHeaderIcon Phooey on social media privacy

As with most of what I read these days, someone (Denise over at Aday VA actually) posted (tweeted) a link to this article “Social Media Privacy? Get Over It.

It’s interesting and a conversation I’ve had over and over with colleagues and friends. How much is too much information? I’m pretty open, I don’t lock or require authorization to read anything I do on social media. I talk about my kids, my reading habits, links to free Kindle books, review restaurants, complain about a client or two, rave about more than a few clients, retweet articles, I’ve probably even dropped the F-word a time or two.

I figure that at this stage in my life and career, I am who I am. I have a few people I follow that are all business all the time. Those are the ones that I tend to ignore, to be honest. It’s not all that interesting to know that yes, you are looking for clients. Get in line, honey.

So, today, if someone is following me on Twitter or Facebook, they know that my kid is sick (and has made me sick), I’m reading Under The Dome by Stephen King, my other kid had clarinet lessons last night, I have a new client I’m having a hard time getting to let go, and I just celebrated my birthday and 17 years of marriage to my husband.

Do I think you can over-share? You betcha. I’m sure if you look hard enough you’ll find things I’ve said that were inappropriate and maybe not very politically correct. But that’s also kind of how I am in real life. I can throw appropriateness out the door and be very unPC. I’m okay with that. I don’t drunkenly post or post about my late night exploits, but it’s okay to commiserate with a colleague about how her kid won’t sleep or with a client who absolutely loved the most recent movie they watched. I’m not going to hide who I am.

I mentioned above that all business is kinda boring. But I also think that your followers/friends/whatever should know what you do. Every now and then, I think it’s important to remind people “Oh yeah, hey, I’m a real estate agent” – or whatever – by saying you closed a sale or you did this or that. I follow people that forget to do that and I have absolutely no idea what they do unless I follow through to their profile information (which admittedly people don’t do all that often after the initial add). I aim to keep my stuff 80-90% personal. Seems high, but how interesting is bookkeeping – I mean really?

My point? I think it’s okay to be yourself and open about it. Others don’t, but I have yet to find a good defining reason as to why not. People cite crazies finding out where you live or where you are at. Well, frankly, that’s easy enough with public records or just dumb luck. There are so many things to be worried about – social media just isn’t one of them for me.

What is your thoughts on social media? Are we all too open? Too reserved? How do you handle your own privacy issues surrounding social media?