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Desiree Ashton

doing the legwork, so you don't have to

Tag Archives: delegating

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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World in HandFor most people, confidentiality will be central to being able to delegate confidently and effectively to virtual support.  In a standard office set-up this will normally be covered by a contract and supported by the fact that your staff work on site and use equipment which belongs to and is protected by your business.   For a start, sourcing virtual support ‘feels’ different and the sometimes ‘vague’ nature of the arrangement can make people feel unsure as to how much or how little information they should be sharing with their assistant.

 

In my experience as a VA, I have generally always worked within the terms of a Confidentiality Agreement or Non Disclosure Agreement which has been issued to me by my client.   This is something which has been established at the outset of our discussions and allows both of us to discuss business in confidence.  At the same time, it is important to note that, as an assistant, I generally only ever have a limited or partial view of my client’s business and the ‘bigger picture’ is only built up over time. Business-critical tasks remain, as standard, with your permanent staff, or indeed with you.  Your assistant will be assigned to time-bound, project-specific tasks only.

Nevertheless, there may be times when you will be aware that your assistant will build knowledge of or gain access to information which you might regard as being of a sensitive nature and you would prefer this to remain confidential.  This may include research regarding a new product or service you are looking to offer, data relating to your customer base or even information detailing how you calculate your table of fees.  For this reason, I would always recommend satisfying your requirements for confidentiality at the outset. It establishes your dealings with your assistant as a professional undertaking and sets a solid framework from which more detailed discussions can begin.

In addition to putting a formal Agreement in place, there are several aspects of general house-keeping which will promote best practice:

  • Set up credit accounts with relevant suppliers:  If the tasks you are looking to out-source will involve regularly buying stationery supplies / printing of documents, setting up limited credit accounts with these suppliers will ensure you are sent copy invoices and can keep track of activities.
  • Use separate credit cards:  Some out-sourcing may involve taking care of travel arrangements on your behalf.  If you are sharing such details with your assistant, use a separate business credit card with a set limit.
  • Usernames and passwords:  Where possible, create new usernames and passwords for your assistant.   Sharing yours could cause confusion in the longer term.
  • Shredding of sensitive documents:  At times, you may require your assistant to work with some hard-copy information.   If you feel this is of a sensitive nature, specify how you would like them to handle this information and request that it be returned to you for shredding post-use.

Finally, if you have concerns around a particular project, try breaking it down into parent and sub-tasks and map it out.  This will help you identify which specific aspect is causing concern.  If this element can be eliminated from the task, do this and hand over the remainder.  If this element is central to the task, think through what could be done to make you feel more comfortable.  This may include asking your assistant to work on-site for the duration of this specific element of the task.

The key thing to remember is that this process is about making life easier for you and allowing you to spend time on the tasks which bring the real money into the business.  Spending a little time thinking through the practicalities of elements such as confidentiality will help ensure you get the most out of your virtual support and allow you to reap the dividends  of this relationship from the very beginning.

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Outsourcing

Out-source your admin, move your business forward….

This sounds simple, and for those who have a positive experience of out-sourcing, this flexible way of working can indeed reap benefits.  Recent years have seen a veritable explosion of professional services specifically designed to help small businesses develop and grow, and virtual admin support services are just one of them.   Delegating time-consuming tasks has helped business owners free up  time, allowing them to work on tasks which directly feed their bottom line.   They have been able to spend time on the business, rather than in it.

However, for small businesses who are new to the concept of virtual out-sourcing, the move away from the more traditional set-up can sound daunting.  How do you manage someone who is not on-site?  How do you monitor and control their work?

These concerns are understandable.  As with any business transaction, it’s worth giving the matter some thought.   Based on my own experience of out-sourcing that works, here are some key points for consideration:

  1. Start small – what small, basic tasks collectively take up a lot of your time?  These could range from document formatting to proof-reading, maintaining /updating spreadsheets or carrying out research and preparing background papers.  How many of these could be carried out by someone else?  Can you delegate these in part, allowing you to monitor quality and progress, while you build confidence in the service being supplied to you?
  2. Identify niche tasks – these will be tasks which require a degree of specialist knowledge, such as book-keeping, marketing, lead generation,  social media management, website content.  Others will ideally require previous experience, such as medical or legal secretary, property management, financial services administration.   Certain virtual assistants have specific backgrounds which afford them a good level of insight into what you might require of them.  What, if any, specialist knowledge or experience do you require your out-sourced support to have?
  3. Establish confidentiality – be clear about how much information pertaining to your business might be shared with your out-sourced support and if this is business-sensitive, consider issuing a Non Disclosure or Confidentiality Agreement to cover this.  Most virtual assistants will be familiar with these and will be comfortable working within them.
  4. Location – remote support does not necessarily mean ‘miles away’, it can mean ’round the corner’.   In fact, working with virtual support that you can physically meet can allow you to get to know them better and, in the fullness of time, allow for information to be handed over in person or for you to work on a project in tandem.  Ask around within your extended network.  You might be surprised to find out that the out-sourced skills you need are already on your door-step.

Every business is different and only you will know what other questions you might have around out-sourcing.   As the practice of using virtual assistants gathers pace, there are a growing number of articles online about the ins and outs of out-sourcing.  This one, from Bizhelp24 is one which I find well-written:   http://www.bizhelp24.com/law/employment-law/using-a-virtual-assistant.html

The golden rule with out-sourcing is a simple one:  the clearer you are about what you want, the more likely you are to get what you need.

Good luck!

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