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Archive for the ‘Working Virtually’ 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 24 Hour Read-a-Thon

I will be participating on Saturday in a Read-a-Thon. It’s 24 hours that you’re supposed to read as much as possible. Those of you that know me, know that I love to read. I haven’t been able to read as much as I usually do (I figure I’ll hit 50 book this year instead of my usual 100). It’s okay, life has just been in the way this year. 🙂

BUT, I’m still doing this Read-A-Thon. People think I’m crazy trying to read at least 20 of those 24 hours, but I do it because it brings attention to literacy. There are a couple of ways you can support me:

1. Donate to Reading Is Fundamental. If you do, I would love for you to let me know, it makes me feel so much more motivated during the 24 hours of reading to know that others are behind the whole reason behind this. RIF is the largest children’s literacy program in the US. They do great amazing work and I’ve started it off by donating $100 to them.

2. Cheer me on! You’ll see me post on Facebook and Twitter often about how it’s going. I have a book blog that I will also be posting to during that time. Stop in, leave a comment. Throw pom poms around – whatever floats your boat.

3. Participate with me! The Virtual Assistance League is keeping track of how many virtual assistants (and those friends, family and clients that love them) are participating and keeping a log of our hours read, etc. Stop by the blog there to sign up with the coordinator, Jaclyn. There’s no cost, you don’t have to be a member of VAL, etc.

I’ll be really tired on Sunday, but I do this at least once per year (sometimes twice) and I love it. You don’t have to read 24 hours – you can read just an hour with your kids or whatever you are able. It’s just a chance to show that literacy means something to you.

Yes, it’s one of my big causes 🙂 One that is very dear to my heart. I hope that you’ll do one small thing for it this Saturday!

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 Conference Musings for IVAA Summit #ivaa10 – changes, twitter and winning

As many of you know, I attended the IVAA Live Summit in Phoenix last week. This was my 5th conference that I’ve attended for the virtual assistant industry and I must admit that my reasons for attending have changed. I still go to learn and attend the sessions, but I no longer feel compelled to stay in one that I feel is irrelevant to my business. However, this was the first year I actually left a session just because I wasn’t enjoying it. Hey, you win some and you lose some. I’m sure others were getting a lot of it.

I now go more for meeting other people. I work virtually and have a monthly peer meeting here in Austin, but it’s kind of awesome to meet with everyone like that. I’d much rather hang out at the bar after dinner and see who turns up and talk – yes, about business, but also taking time to get to know other people.

ANYWAY… one big difference for me was Twitter. The organizers set up a hashtag ahead of time. The interesting part of it, for me, is that because the conference is so small (about 106 people attended), most of us on there knew each other. It kind of allowed us to talk a little behind the scenes and discuss not only what was being said, but also helped us find stuff… let me explain.

Have you ever been sitting somewhere and get a huge headache? Usually you’d ask those around you and then head to the concierge desk and buy some overpriced Advil from the hotel. Aha! No longer. I saw at least twice someone asking for Tylenol or Advil and another person passing it to them. My own roommate needed cortisone cream (yes, long shot right?), and what do you know… someone came up and said “I have some in my room”. Amazing, really. I think, more than anything, I was amazed at that. People were talking about places they had visited for dinner the previous night, I used it to set up a meeting in the lobby with someone I wanted to work with. I mean, really – it was a convenience factor. And yes, I warned my followers several times to pause my tweets (Muuter has a service that is supposed to be great).

It’s interesting to watch social media shape how we interact in settings such as that. Most people had their laptops open and were tweeting, emailing, etc. BUT you could always tell how interesting the speaker was by looking to see how many people were looking down constantly compared to how many were not looking down at all – others were truly taking notes and looking up and down too. Some may say it could be construed as rude to the speaker, but I don’t think so. Some of what was going on was us talking about what they were saying, providing links, etc.

In other news… I won a gift certificate for Amazon. I heard them announce they were going to give away the prizes for the badge contest. Since I had nothing to do with the thing around my neck, I tuned it out through 4th, 3rd, 2nd… and then I heard my name. I looked at Andrea Kalli, who was seated beside me, and asked her what I won. She said the badge contest. Um… I didn’t have anything to do with them! No no no, she says, the graphic. No! I didn’t design that – I can’t even color inside the lines! No no, the thing you click on… OH!!! THAT! I’m sure Andrea though I was completely crazy.

After I finished panicking, I remembered that early on, they had sent out a graphic and specialized link and if you got the most clicks, you’d win something. I forwarded to my web guy and said “put it here, here and here” and didn’t think anything about it. I guess it worked cuz I got a gift card. Go me!

Overall, this was good Summit. I am hoping they change it up a bit, but ultimately I’m there to support the industry and have a little fun while making some meaningful connections. I just may learn a thing or two too 🙂

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 Networking: bibles and bumper stickers need not apply

Warning: Sarcasm ahead 😉

I had 2 networking groups yesterday with two very different experiences. The first was “great” group that a client has asked me several times to go to. It was not too far from me (about 30 minutes I figured) and she endorsed how wonderful it was. Good enough for me – and she wouldn’t be there so I’d be her replacement. Great. Right?

Oy. It actually took me an hour to get there. I’ve been spoiled by working at home and traffic is horrendous going that direction from my house – then I hit this horrible fog and it just wasn’t a good trip. I picked up a friend on the way. We arrived about 10 minutes late and they had just started introductions. So far, seemed like a friendly enough group. All smiles, not put out by having to stop for a few minutes while we apologize for being late and introduced ourselves. Awesome, right?

The first guy introduced himself and the question on the floor was basically “what ties, if any, do you have to a veteran” since it was Vet’s Day on Wednesday. No problem, I thought – whew! I hate talking at these things and my husband was in the Navy, so score! I have something to say! (big sigh of relief). Right?

The 2nd guy… he goes on a small political rant about the ceremony at Fort Hood and how different politically-sided presidents were allowed to be greeted by the soldiers (apparently, there is are different rules for sitting Presidents than past). Whatever. Another person pointed it out to him and he kept going on. At that point, I didn’t care, they all needed to move on – I just really thought it wasn’t the venue for this discussion. Whatever it was, it was so beyond inappropriate, in my opinion. He was obviously very young and very conservative. I’m mid-age and very liberal. Whatever, I don’t care. Some of my best friends and team members are opposite of my views. It doesn’t matter and we don’t talk about it because it just doesn’t matter and no one is going to change their minds and well – it’s business.

The rest of the intros went fine. Again, that guy I really didn’t see as a representation of the group. He’s young and probably all hyped up about political stuff. He’ll figure it out as he gets older. At least I hope.

But then the presentation started. The presenter was there to talk about adoption. She runs an adoption agency. I thought it wasn’t really my bag or something I would expect to see at a business networking group, but I figured I would learn something new and well, that usually makes it worth it. But she lost me pretty quickly when she started out by telling us to keep our hearts open to god for these children. And then several times mentioned that they were looking for good “Christian homes” for these children and mentioned a few churches. Had it not been my first meeting I would have asked if Buddhist, Jewish and other religion homes were excluded. Had I really wanted to show what a smart ass I can be, I would have proclaimed myself Muslim and watched Christian Home lady and Obama Basher’s heads explode together. *laugh*

My point is this… is it me or was both of those probably not appropriate for a networking event? I can see the adoption thing, I mean, it’s her business and she was looking for ideas from the group. But do you feel that God and politics have a place in networking? (For the record, it was held at a cafe, not a church). Is it just me?

Bottom line for me is that while I don’t think it’s the group – I think we just hit it on a very odd day (surely that is not normal!) – I don’t think I’ll be going back. The hour drive to get there once per week really is just too much. It did, however, motivate me to find another networking group besides my usual monthly one. Just a little closer to home.

————-

Speaking of which, my next networking group of the day was my usual Austin Virtual Assistants one. (If you are a VA in Austin, you really should join us – we’ve been together for over FIVE YEARS now!). No, we aren’t always exactly politically correct and we make jokes and we give each other honest (and sometimes brutal – for instance, one lady’s logo – it totally looked like a bug – poor thing had to change it) feedback. But we have that kind of closeness and trust that I think is very important to me in networking. And, yes, we leave our bibles and bumper stickers at home.

.

PostHeaderIcon OffAssist Team Member Goes the Extra Mile

Lanel Taylor, one of our team members, is doing the Komen for the Cure. Please click here to if you are able to help. Even $5 helps this worthy cause (and it’s tax deductible). Thanks much!

This has affected a few of my family members and I’ve seen friends go through a few scares as well. The risk factors are easy – you are female and you are getting older. Every year I try to give to breast cancer research in the hopes that we find a cure – if not in my lifetime, in my children’s lifetime.

If you can help, then please do so, otherwise, please take a moment to post a note of encouragement to Lanel – you can just comment here 🙂

Thank you!

PostHeaderIcon 5th Anniversary….

In July 2004, Lana Newlander of Virtual Business Solutions and I held our first virtual assistant meeting in Austin. The story is kind of funny actually…

She posted to the listserv at IVAA that she was kind of new and had someone contact her wanting bookkeeping services and needed a contract. I replied and said I would send her one off-list. When the email went out to her address, I looked up as it was going out and noticed her email address ended in “austin.rr.com” – which meant… out of all the people that are members of IVAA, she was LOCAL!

… and I had just quoted someone that sounded really familiar to who she was talking about so I quickly emailed her again saying I had used that contract for someone that same morning and his name was Elmo (I’m not making this up) so if it was the same person, she might want to alter it quite a bit.

Yes. It was the same guy (and she got the client – and I was super happy for her). We made plans to meet and have met at least quarterly since then. Now days the VA meetings are monthly and are attended by an average of 6 people. There were many times it was just Lana and I and other times there are 12 people.

I feel so lucky to know this person and be a partner with her at the meetings. We’ve worked together and celebrated both personal and business related triumphs as well as a few setbacks.

To my fellow VAs, If you have the opportunity to meet a Virtual Assistant in your area, DO IT. Meeting Lana truly changed not only my business, but parts of my life as well. She has become a great colleague, but an even better friend.

Here’s to 50 more years, Lana!

VAC

PostHeaderIcon Book Review – Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies by Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff

I don’t usually post my book reviews on my blog, but this was such a great book for business that I wanted to share it here as well…

Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies by Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff

Wow. They get it. I’ve read various articles and blogs and books about social media and networking and how big businesses should be doing XYZ and maybe even EFG, but most of them are really blowing hot air. I’m no expert and I don’t pretend to be, but I can spot junk a mile away and a lot of these “experts” are pure junk.

I purchased this book in a whim. I heard about it, shrugged my shoulders, grabbed my Kindle, clicked a button and started reading it. It got good reviews, but I really wasn’t expecting such a thoroughly researched and written book. These folks know what they are doing and they have the stats and research to back it up.

I love social media. I have a very small business but I’ve managed to use parts of it to my advantage, while still having fun doing it. I’ve often wondered how big businesses handle it. It seems like such a monumental task for a company like Dell to even begin to enter the, as they put it, groundswell (which is my new favorite word, by the way!). This book gave me not only insight into how they are listening to, speaking with, etc us little folks out here, but what they are doing with that data.

Again, I have a small business, my take on social media is a little different than Dell, but it gave me a few ideas for how I can more effectively use it to my advantage. I really do think this is a must read for anyone involved in social media. Just read it, don’t think twice. Buy it and read it.

I enjoyed this so much that I purchased 2 copies to send to clients of mine that I thought would enjoy it. I don’t do that often, so I know it was a hit with me!

====
Product Description
Corporate executives are struggling with a new trend: people using online social technologies (blogs, social networking sites, YouTube, podcasts) to discuss products and companies, write their own news, and find their own deals. This groundswell is global, it s unstoppable, it affects every industry and it s utterly foreign to the powerful companies running things now.

When consumers you ve never met are rating your company s products in public forums with which you have no experience or influence, your company is vulnerable. In Groundswell, Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff of Forrester, Inc. explain how to turn this threat into an opportunity.

Using tools and data straight from Forrester, you ll learn how to:

-Evaluate new social technologies as they emerge

-Determine how different groups of consumers are participating in social technology arenas

-Apply a four-step process for formulating your future strategy

-Build social technologies into your business including monitoring your brand value, talking with the groundswell through marketing and PR campaigns, and energizing your best customers to recruit their peers

Timely and insightful, this book is required reading for executives seeking to protect and strengthen their company s public image.

PostHeaderIcon Client QOTD: “I need to send Wil Wheaton an Atari”

(this story is shared with permission)

I get some weird stuff in bookkeeping. I mean, like, really weird stuff… but today… well, today is my birthday and apparently one of my favorite clients gave me the most awesome gift ever. Laughter. I just can’t stop. And the more I think about it, the more I can’t stop laughing.

See, one of my clients is Linux Journal. A cool group of geeks that keep me on toes with some of the oddest stuff… I am a semi-geek, but mostly I’m a numbers geek that really likes my computer and gadets. So yeah, I fit right in, but sometimes… sometimes…

I get an IM from the publisher that basically said “I need to send Wil Wheaton an Atari. Can we send a paypal out for it?”.

Um. Okay. We can surely do that, of course… but no, I had to ask… I knew of Wil Wheaton, I mainly knew he played one of the kids in Stand By Me, but I knew he did something else super geeky… so of course I ask “Why are we sending the Stand By Me kid an Atari?”

Right about now, I’m thinking this conversation is getting really weird. I look up Wil on IMDB and realize he’s also a Star Trek actor. Makes a little more sense now, but still…

See, apparently Wil and Shawn Powers over at LJ are having an Atari-off at PenguinCon and Linux Journal is a sponsor.

Okay, so that makes sense, we are sending the Star Trek guy an Atari so he can play with the editor guy at a geek convention.

The best part? The receipt I got from them… it said, “Wil Wheaton’s Atari receipt. I have no idea where you’ll book this one. :)”

Oy.