December 2007  
All of your business needs. One easy solution.
Volume 4 Issue 12   www.offassist.com
It's the Holiday Season!

I think everyone loves this time of year. I know I do. The lights, the holiday spirit, and tons of excuses to get together with friends and family. Here at OffAssist, December is usually our slowest time of the year. It gives us time to take a breather and just enjoy - while it lasts.

Because in January everyone starts thinking of W2s and 1099s. As they said in Lost World, "Oooh, ahhh, that's how it always starts. Then later there's running and screaming."

Speaking of family and screaming (just kidding), this December also marks the beginning of Tom's 3rd year with OffAssist. It really has been a great two years. Besides some great marketing input and general support of the business, Tom has also been improving the OffAssist Online server. He's even promised some interesting improvements in the coming year.

Happy Holidays and Merry New Year from everyone at OffAssist! This season, don't forget to take time out to smell the hot chocolate :)

In this issue...
 
This time of year is slow for most non-retail businesses. The good news is that this is also a traditionally slow time of years for news - meaning your press release has a better than usual chance of standing out. With that in mind, check out:

How To Use A Press Release To Promote Your Website
by Gary Sims

A press release, or media release as it is sometimes called, is a way to make an announcement to the news media about your organization and your website. This could be a product release, a webinar, a new version of software, a new section in your website, the latest financial results, a new strategic partnership and so on. The list is endless.

Press releases are used by all the major companies to inform the press about what is going on in the company. As you read on, you will discover the different parts that make up a press release, how to write them well and how to distribute press releases on-line including at the Free Press Release Center.

A press release is made up of different sections. It starts with a headline then there is a summary of the press release and then this is followed by the actual contents and finally the contact information. A well written press release can capture the attention of journalists and get you good exposure. In preparing your press release you need to consider several key things which are outlined below.

The first part of the press release is the headline. The headline is in title case. This Means You Capitalize Every Word Except for Prepositions and Articles of Three Words or Less and Short. Ideally the headline should not be more than 170 characters and it doesn't end with the period (or a full stop as the British would say). Your headline needs to be sharp, to the point and eye catching. Some journalists see hundreds of press releases each day. Your one needs to stand out.

The summary paragraph is a synopsis of the press release in regular sentence form. It doesn't merely repeat the headline or opening paragraph. It just tells the story in a different way.

Next comes the actual text of the press release. This is known as the body of the press release. The first paragraph, known as the "lead", contains the most important information. After that you need to remember that in a press release you need to keep sentences and paragraphs short, about three or four lines per paragraph. The first couple of paragraphs should cover the who, what, when, where, why and how questions. The rest of the press release expounds on the information provided in the lead paragraph. It includes quotes from key staff, customers or subject matter experts. It contains more details about the news you have to tell.

At the end of the press release you need to include a short back ground paragraph about your organization. You then need to list the contact person's name and phone number. You should include a phone number so that journalists can contact you easily without having to wait for your to reply to emails.

One very important thing to remember when writing a press release is that you are writing for journalists and not for potential clients, consumers or visitors to your website. Journalists use press releases as a starting point for a larger story or feature. Press releases written as sales pieces will be completely ignored.

It can be very difficult to get your press release noticed by a journalist. It is a sad fact, but many press releases are quickly tossed in the trash without being studied. Journalists have deadlines and a job to do. Press releases help them do that job, but unless your press release stands out it will be in tomorrows garbage collection. You need to get the journalists attention. The press release needs to be good. It needs to contain news. And most of all it needs to be better than the other 200 press releases the journalist saw that day.

Once your press release is ready you need to distribute it. A good starting place is the Free Press Release Center. The power of FPRC is in its keyword linking. With each press release the you can choose a keyword and a URL (different to your main site URL) which will appear as a link (using the keyword as the anchor text) in your press release. This gives you free links to your site using the anchor text of your choice. Plus it is in a natural context, i.e. the text of the release.

A press release is a great way to get media attention for your website. Used well your website news can be tomorrow's headlines.

Article Courtesy of articlecity.com

Gary Sims has a degree in Business Information Systems from a British university. He worked for 10 years as a software engineer and is now a freelance consultant and writer. You can contact him at the Free Press Release Center.


Tech Talk With Tom...
Think You've Been Hacked?

Fortunately, the Internet comes to the rescue! Many software companies offer free tools to assist you in determining whether you've been hacked, how to fix your computer, and how to ensure it doesn't happen again. This month we'll take a look at my favorite three.

For finding out just what is going on inside your computer no other tool even comes close to Hijack This. Hijack This was once a tool only for diehard IT professionals, but in the last few years it has become much more user-friendly and easier to configure. Hijack This will tell you exactly what is running on your computer and, in most cases, will even fix the problem for you.

Think you have a virus but your virus scanner says otherwise? The PCman Website offers a free Virus Test. The website will download a fake virus to your computer that your virus scanner should recognize as a known virus. If your virus scanner doesn't check the "virus" before it is downloaded, you may need to update your virus definitions or even do a complete reinstall of your antivirus software.

Are you the only person who uses your computer? Are you sure you haven't downloaded any infected files? Yet, somehow, you've still managed to contract a computer virus. The fault could be in your firewall settings. Test My Firewall will give you specific tips on how to test your firewall and broadband connection. TMF also offers tips, tricks, and basic advice about maximizing your Web security.

Hopefully your computer will always fall into the "95%" category. But if it doesn't, these three tools can help ensure you get, and stay, out of the wrong 5% for good.

Tom Beauchamp is the marketing and tech expert behind OffAssist. He can be reached at tom@offassist.com.

 
 
Tax Deadlines
December 15 - IRS Monthly payroll tax deposits due for November issued payroll

December 20 - Texas Sales & Use Tax Return due for monthly filers

January 15 - IRS Monthly payroll tax deposits due for December issued payroll

January 20 - Texas Sales & Use Tax Return due for monthly, quarterly and annual filers

January 31
- Employer's Quarterly Payroll Tax Report(s) Form 941
- Employer's Quarterly TWC (Texas Workforce Commission)
- Employer's Annual FUTA (Form 940)
- Forms W-2, Annual Wage and Tax Statement must to recipients
- Forms 1099-Misc, Miscellaneous Income to recipients
- Forms 1099-B, Interest Income Statement
- Forms 1099-Div, Dividend Income Statement

February 15 - IRS Monthly payroll tax deposits due for January issued payroll

February 20 - Texas Sales & Use Tax Return due for monthly

February 28
- Forms W-2 and W-3, Annual Wage and Tax Statement, to be submitted to the Social Security Administration
- Forms 1099 and 1096, Annual Summary and Transmittal of U.S. Information Returns to the Internal Revenue Service

Spotlight On...
Entrepreneurial Freedom
by Jeannine Clontz and Lauren Hidden

OffAssist recently got the chance to talk to Jeannine Clontz, one of the two authors of Entrepreneurial Freedom: How to Start and Grow a Profitable Virtual Assistance Practice about the book.

Both Tom and Candy read the book when it first came out, and you can read their comments here along with those of other readers and reviewers.

Jeannine Clontz is the president of Accurate Business Services and has been in business for herself for nearly a decade. While writing this book she was also serving as president of the International Virtual Assistants Association (IVAA).

We asked, she answered.

What made you decide to write a start-up book for virtual assistants?

Actually I owe it all to Lauren. She contacted me when I was the President of IVAA and indicated that if I'd ever considered writing such a book, that would be a good time - made sense to me!

There are several other VA books on the market, what need did you see being unfulfilled that you wanted to address?

I felt that none really provided some of the extra features ours does - quotes from other successful VAs, chapter summaries, chapter resources, sample forms, and a companion workbook to take you step-by-step through your entrepreneurial adventure.

How did you decide on the title? Virtual assistance is mentioned in the subtitle not the main title.

That was tough for us. Our original title concept did include 'virtual assistance' in the main title, but we found out from some folks that read advanced copies that it (the book) was applicable for anyone looking to start a small or home-based business.

Was this a first book for either of you?

It was the first for me, but Lauren already had one under her belt.

Is there an anecdote from the process of putting it all together that you would like to share?

The day the books showed up in my driveway. I just couldn't wait to open the box and hold my baby in my hands, but realistically, when the semi-driver showed up at my home, he was a bit shocked that I didn't have a dock for him to unload my 500 copies….it took some sweet talking, but we finally worked it out.

Lastly, is there anything you would like to share with our readers that I haven't asked you?

Having your own business is not easy. Just because you have stellar skills and expertise does not mean you can run your own business. Before you take the plunge, make sure this is really a good fit for you. You have to wear a lot of hats!

Jeannine's co-author, Lauren Hidden, is the founder of The Hidden Helper and author, along with Dawn Josephson, of Write It Right: The Ground Rules for Self-Editing Like the Pros.

To find out more about the book, check out the website.
 
Have you nursed a secret longing to be in the spotlight, center-stage, all eyes on you?

If you would like to be featured in the OffAssist spotlight column, and have not been featured in the past twelve months, contact Candy@OffAssist.com and we'll see if we can put you in the limelight.

QuickBooks Tip
Q: We sell products to customers and contractors, and we also offer home show specials. Can we price the same item(s) three different ways?

A: Yes. QuickBooks has a neat feature called Price Levels. It allows creation of various levels of pricing for a single item, using a unique name for each one.

It's a good idea to use the highest price as the default sales price. In this case, it would be the customer price and should already be included within the item.

From the main menu, select Lists, then Price Levels List.

Choose the Price Level button, then New.

Enter a Price Level Name (i.e. Contractor Pricing or Home Show Special) The Price Level Type should be Per Item in this case. Check off the item(s) to be included in this price level. Enter a percentage off the standard price(s) for temporary pricing like Home Show Specials, then press Adjust; or enter the custom pricing on each item row and select Current Custom Price from the adjustment drop-down, then press Adjust.

Pressing OK will show the newly created level in the Price Level List.

Once the levels have been created they are available for item invoicing. When an item is first chosen it will always show the default sales price. The desired price level can then be selected from a convenient drop-down box in the price column.

QuickBooks' Price Levels are a quick and easy way to handle pricing changes for any type of customer.

 
Humor: The Computer Consultant

The server that everyone in the office depended on suddenly went down. They tried everything but it still wouldn't work. Finally, they called in a high-powered server consultant. He arrived, looked at the server then took out a small hammer and tapped it on the side. Instantly the computer leapt into life.

Two days later the office manager received a bill from the consultant for $1000. Immediately he called the consultant and said, "One thousand dollars for fixing that computer? You were only here five minutes! I want the bill itemized!" The next day the new bill arrived. It read, "Tapping computer with hammer: one dollar. Knowing where to tap: 999 dollars."



Have an article you'd like to write for our monthly newsletter or want to be spotlighted? Have a QuickBooks question or something you'd like to see in the Tech Tip?

Email candy@offassist.com.

The OffAssist newsletter is made possible by the copywriting/editing skills of Ink Think VA, and the coding talents of VA Lab Designs.