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Desiree Ashton

doing the legwork, so you don't have to

Category Archives: Outsourcing

Pressed for time?  Here’s a quick overview of the services I offer:

If you would like a no-obligation discussion of your requirements, please get in touch.

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HereThere

As summer approaches, the thoughts of many business owners turn to planning when and how to enjoy some well-earned down-time away from the pressing demands of work.  This month I’ve been meeting with a number of my clients to discuss how I will help them to shift down a gear over the summer period.

While some are planning a couple of weeks on a sun-drenched lounger, others are looking forward to a series of long weekends catching up with family and friends or indulging in a number of fun-packed city breaks.  In fact, one of my clients has just recently departed for a three-month adventure to the other side of the world.  For many business-owners this would be a mere fantasy, but through careful planning and logistics, she has made this once-in-a-lifetime journey possible… while still being fully in charge of her business.

For all my clients, being in two places at once is entirely possible.  A combination of detailed briefings, stringent diary management and scheduled check-ins via Skype and email means that I can be dealing with the day to day while they focus on relaxing.  Here are just some of the elements of their business which I will be fielding:

  • Mail and email
  • New business enquiries
  • Diary management
  • Client communications
  • Invoicing
  • Social media

None of these are rocket-science, but all of them contribute to being ‘present’ for their customers and offering a seamless service.

So, when you look at your holiday plans for the summer, how are you making sure you will be in two places at once?

If you would like to find out more or enquire about how I might help you, please get in touch.

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MagicWhen did you last have a great day at the office? Is it something you experience regularly, or is that ‘great day’ feeling proving somewhat elusive? If constant fire-fighting and the pressure of a weighty To Do list are draining your energies, take a moment to consider how a little out-sourcery might transform your days from tragic to magic again:

Start with the end in mind – Get your week off to a great start by creating a thorough To Do list. This will organise your thoughts and allow you to quickly identify which tasks can be cleared from your desk and given to your virtual PA.  Once your list is collated, a quick briefing call with your PA will be all that is needed to offload those niggle-some tasks, freeing you up to focus on the stuff that really matters.

Think ahead – What’s in your calendar for next week, the week after… next month? Are there meetings or events coming up which require some background preparation?  Do you need to read up on a prospective new client? Consider tasking your virtual PA with completing the necessary preparation for you. A well-timed overview of facts and figures, not to mention some links to interesting pre-reading, will ensure you are knowledgeable, prepared and considerably less stressed on the run-up to the event.

Make room for success – Business, like life, does not always go to plan.  Take another look at that To Do list… is there anything else you can delegate to your virtual PA which will allow you to create more time in your week?  By clearing space in your diary, you build a natural contingency which will allow you to react more effectively should something change for the worse or not go to plan ….. And if your week goes swimmingly, you now have a spare slot in your diary to enjoy doing something that feels good – an extended lunch, coffee with a friend, or even sitting down to map out your next venture!

Transforming your days from tragic to magic again means tackling the problem head on and your virtual support is ideally placed to help you do this.  Some well timed out-sourcery may be all that’s needed to help you get your sparkle back.  No magic or spells required!

If you would like to find out more about how I help my clients get more out of their day, please visit my website or get in touch: pa@desireeashton.com

If you have enjoyed this post, you might also enjoy my earlier posts on Improving Your Focus and Take Control of Your Diary.

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When I first set out in business some 5 years ago, my decision to do so was fuelled by a desire to use my existing skills to support small businesses to reach their full potential.  All too often I had spoken with very bright and ambitious business owners who felt increasingly bogged down by the constant demands that running a small business entails.  They wanted someone trustworthy and reliable who they could ‘hand off’ to, while they invested some valuable time planning for and evaluating what their business was about to do next.  Since then, the tasks I have been assigned have been many and varied – everything ranging from bringing systems, templates and procedures into small businesses which have experienced rapid, organic growth, right through to assisting with research for those who are looking to dip their toe in the waters of a new market.  Each time, the business in question has found itself at a slightly complex crossroads in terms of where it might go next.  One thing I have learned is that, given the time and opportunity to think, most business owners are more than capable of coming to the right decision themselves.  All they need from me is the space and time to think.

Most recently, I have been working with two separate clients who have each tapped into my abilities to free up valuable thinking time – in very different ways.   For one, I have assumed responsibility for researching in greater depth some new ways of communicating with their existing client base.  For the other, I have been overseeing the background preparations for a relatively complex project which threatened to consume most of their working hours for the last three weeks.    As with many of the tasks which I undertake, these assignments were well within the capabilities of my clients’ own skill-sets.  What both understood, however, was that each respective task was time-consuming and labour-intensive, contributing little in terms of feeding their bottom line.

While I have operated in the background to minimise distractions and reduce noise from other areas of their business, each client has focused on the next project their business is  about to begin.  Rather than being harried, distracted and unprepared, they have invested the time and energy I have saved them into focusing on where they need to be this time next month, and how they are going to make sure they get there.

When you look at your diary for the coming weeks, how are you freeing up time to focus on what you do best?

If you would like to know more about the other ways I support my clients, please read my posts on Moving On Up and Networking.

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As the colder weather and darker evenings mark the end of another year, December is often a time when I meet with my clients to review what has been achieved in the last 12 months and draft an outline plan regarding where and how I will support them in the coming year.

Despite working across very different sectors, planning ahead and being prepared has always been an approach which is shared by all my clients.  Many have enjoyed very senior positions within the corporate sphere so know the value of investing time in identifying where and how they can continue to grow their business and plan resource and personnel to support that.

This annual process of forward-planning highlights my clients’ understanding of the importance of targeted delegation.   Their collective aim for 2012 is to free up their time, so that they can focus on activities which build their business and feed their bottom line.  What they delegate to me will vary, depending on the nature and stage of their business, but each task has been thought-through to ensure that it is ‘SMARTER’:

SPECIFIC –  Tasks and sub-tasks are clearly listed. Verbal instructions are supported by a written summary.

MEASURABLE – Markers for ‘completion’ are agreed, milestones for larger projects are identified and diarised.

ACHIEVABLE – Current, available resources are reviewed and additional expertise/personnel are sourced, if required.

REALISTIC – Turn-around times and handover dates are agreed.

TIME-BOUND – On-going / open-ended tasks are assigned ‘check-in’ points, to review progress.

ETHICAL – Tasks are sense-checked for compliance with industry ‘best-practice’ and regulation.

RECORDED – Tasks and progress are recorded by both parties for summary review at the end of the year.

By following a set formula for delegating to virtual support, my clients create a working arrangement which allows them to spend time on their business, rather than in it.  My task list for 2012 already promises a variety of projects, touching on customer communications, social media, marketing and business development.  An exciting year!

When you look ahead to 2012, how are you forward-planning for your all-star year?

If you’d like to know more about how I might help you achieve your plans for 2012, please visit my website or get in touch:  pa@desireeashton.com

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Networking is something which all good businesses do because they understand that it can provide a strategic, cost-effective route to market.  In today’s hyper-connected business world, it’s as much a case of what you know as who you know.  Being in the right place at the right time with the right people can open a multitude of otherwise apparently closed doors.

There is, however, a darker side to networking.  If not proactively managed this can be more detrimental to your business than not networking at all.  Attending events which ultimately do little for you or your business can equate to a complete and utter waste of time.   Time which could be best spent feeding your bottom line.

So, how do you ensure that your investment in networking delivers a boost to your business, as opposed to being a drain?


The answer is not rocket-science.  By simply investing some time in preparing for networking, you can ensure that the events you do attend bring real value to your business.  The choice is yours as to how you approach this.  As my experience is based on being the VA who does the legwork, here are some of the ways in which I have seen my clients get the most out of their networking.

1.  Identify and attend the right events for you:  The networking scene is positively buzzing with events and keeping track of what’s on, where and when, that might be of interest to you can be a task in itself.  Why not task your VA with researching and keeping a rolling list of up-coming events on particular themes?  You can then consult this summary list on a regular basis and decide which ones you wish to attend.  Save time by delegating the booking procedure to your VA, too.  Working with a rolling list, you can ensure that your networking allows you to attend a healthy ‘spread’ of events.  If one specific event proves particularly useful or interesting, your VA can be tasked with reminding you of when it recurs in the future.  If you miss an event which looked interesting, ask your VA to contact the organiser and request a copy of any slides, e-docs to be sent through to you.  

2.  Preparing for events:  It is quite common now for organisers to circulate the planned delegate list a few days prior to a networking event.  With some well-timed advance research your VA can furnish you with some additional details on those attending, allowing you to prioritise who you want to speak with.  In this way, you will ensure the conversations you have are relevant to you and your business.  Being able to demonstrate an insight or understanding of someone else’s business is a great way to introduce yourself and make a lasting impression. 

3.  Follow-up after events:  It is standard practice to exchange business cards at such events and it is important to make the best use of the information these contain.  When you receive a business card, suggest that you connect on social media and ask permission to register them in your database for your newsletter or blog.  The data entry can be done by your VA.  A nice touch will be to send out some company information, preferably in the form of a personal email.  All this can be prepared in advance by your VA so all you have to do following the event is decide who to send it to.  In your rolling list of networking events, ask your VA to keep a note of any important contacts against the event you met them at.  If you return to such an event in the future, you have the perfect excuse to get in touch again – and they will be impressed by both your memory and your attention to detail! 

4.  Know what’s hot:  New networking events are constantly being established and sometimes it’s good to freshen up your list.  Task your VA with researching specific areas which are of interest to you and finding out what other events are out there.  Social media is one way of doing this as many real-time groups also have online forums, too.   Browsing business directory websites can also prove fruitful.  Finally, if you’re away on business and know you will have some inevitable ‘dead time’, why not get your VA to look into and advise  networking events happening in that area?  You never know….

Regardless of which sector you operate in, by applying these tactics you can ensure that the events you attend deliver real value to your business.  Networking is not just about selling your wares, it’s about finding out more about what others sell, too.  Being prepared will allow you to circulate confidently at different events, helping raise your profile and leave a long and lasting impression with those you meet and speak with.

Happy networking!




One of the most common calls to action I receive is when a small business is looking to upscale.

For any business, being able to seize an opportunity to grow can provide a springboard for the next phase of business development.  The dilemma which presents itself, and which can cause smaller businesses to hold back at that critical life-changing moment, is sometimes centred on the simple matter of ‘resource’.  To take on a larger-than-normal project will possibly mean putting existing personnel and systems under increased strain.  Perhaps the procedures which are currently in place are not regarded as robust enough to deal with the sudden increase in ‘noise’ or ‘traffic’ that this potential project might generate.

So, how does the business which finds itself faced with such an opportunity react?

I recently worked with a client who took a very conscious decision to seize such an opportunity and upscale.  Having successfully tendered for and won a contract to deliver a high-profile project to a national organisation, there were several key areas which they knew would need added focus and targeted resource.

Working closely with my client, we agreed that there were 5 main areas where I would offer support:

  • Project plan – using project management software to keep track of progress and ensure that key milestones were met.
  • Team logistics – co-ordinating communications and travel plans across an extended team to ensure that personnel were in the right place at the right time with the right equipment and materials (and knew what to do with them!).
  • Document control – ensuring that all the appropriate templates, reports and presentations were drafted, formatted, uploaded, printed and delivered to where they needed to be, when they needed to be there.
  • Invoicing – tracking inbound and outbound payments to ensure there were no discrepancies, delays or anomalies which might interrupt the smooth-running of the programme.
  • Client communications – providing an additional contact-point for my client’s customers, ensuring that emails were processed and queries answered – because even in the midst of their busiest period, keeping in close contact with all their customers was still of utmost importance to them.

As the project gained momentum it became apparent that the support which I offered in one area could also extend to other smaller projects which were running concurrently with this one.  And so, I became involved in supporting those, too.  When the larger project came to an end, I spent some additional time with my client, tending to small house-keeping tasks such as securing testimonials and writing up case studies detailing the different outputs from the project concerned.

The time came for me to step back from my day-to-day involvement with the business and as I did so, my client and I took stock of our achievement.   Not only had my client been able to gain stretch and reach new potential in terms of competency and capability, every member of the team had, too.  Fuelled by the experience of operating at a new level, my client is now confidently chasing their next exciting opportunity.   They are, in every sense, moving on up.

So, the next time you sense a new opportunity on your horizon, what will you do?

More information on the various services I provide to my clients can be found on my website

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