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Desiree Ashton

doing the legwork, so you don't have to

Tag Archives: outsourcing

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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:

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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For many of my clients, January is a month which is synonymous with meetings.  Having already completed their own planning sessions in November / December, the start of a new year sees them depart the confines of their office to hit the open road and engage in some serious face-to-face lead generation, meetings and networking.

Most of my clients have invested time and effort into nurturing a loyal and long-standing client base.  It’s likely that they will be the first port of call for new initiatives in 2012.   Nevertheless, far from being complacent, they still understand the role that face-to-face meetings can play in allowing them to remain close to their customers.  The conversations which they have are not simply about identifying what opportunities beckon on their clients’ horizons, but also what changes and developments may have taken place in their own business which allow them to offer existing clients even more.

My role, particularly during January, often centres on supporting my clients to attend such meetings.  Here are just 3 ways in which I currently do this:

Documentation / PresentationsWell-prepared documents and presentations which showcase some of my clients’ recent achievements will serve to remind their clients of the skills and experience available to them.  These can also be used to draw attention to new developments (such as new premises, or new members of staff) which enhance or extend the offer.  Personal and pre-formatted copies of all materials can be left with their client for further consideration.

Research – Being aware of new developments which have taken place within the end-client organisation engenders trust and may also allow my client to highlight areas where their service could prove particularly relevant.  Such developments may include restructures, a new CEO, a new venture or even closure of one arm of the business.  Understanding the context of their end-client will allow them to engage in a more informed and fruitful conversation.

Follow Up – Certain meetings may require timely or detailed follow-up.  A quick call or email to me will allow background tasks to be efficiently delegated so that my client can focus exclusively on preparing for and attending their next meeting.

These are 3 simple ways in which I assist my clients to hit the ground running in January…. The early bird does indeed catch the worm.

What are you doing to get ahead in January?

If you would like to find out more about what I do for my clients, please visit my website and feel free to get in touch:

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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:

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In recent years, drawing on the services of a virtual assistant (VA) would appear to have become increasingly common.  In part this could be because certain mainstream business books, such as Timothy Ferriss’ The 4-Hour Work Week, have started to sing their praises,  or it could just be that as more people begin to use virtual assistants, they are starting to realise and talk about the benefits of doing so.

One of the challenges facing those who take on a VA is knowing how to get the most out of them.  While many business-owners will be aware of wanting an extra set of hands, they are not always sure what that actually means in practice.  As such, what they delegate to their VA can be somewhat haphazard and sporadic, driven more by ‘this is what I need you to do’ rather than ‘this is what I want you to do’.   In short,  it can lean more towards reactive, as opposed to proactive.

So, how do you make sure that you get the most out of your VA?

First and foremost, it’s important to understand that most VAs will have had ‘another’ life before they have become a VA.  Do you know what that life was?  Did they work for a large corporate?  What sector did they operate in?  What role did they fulfil?  Delving into the background of your VA will inevitably throw up some interesting facts – and possibly some skills you didn’t even know they had!  While these may have little in common with the tasks you are looking to have completed now, they may be relevant in the future.  More than that, they may actually help extend the remit of your VA right now – meaning that you can free up even more of your time to work on the other areas of the business that need your attention.

Here are some tips on how to make best use of your VA:

  1. Explain your business as a whole to your VA – this will allow him/her to build a general and wider understanding of what you do and a discussion around this might flag up another area where they could offer additional support.
  2. Look to delegate a variety of tasks over time – while you may wish one element , e.g. project management, to be their primary focus, asking your VA to assist with other peripheral tasks will allow you to road-test their competency in other areas and get a good feel for what else they can do.
  3. Read between the lines – if your VA comes across as a good communicator, the chances are you can draw on this skill to directly support your business, too.  While it may not be appropriate that they communicate directly with your clients, their skills could translate into drafting documents or writing on your behalf.
  4. Focus on growth – don’t just focus on what they can do to keep the business running, turn your thoughts to what they can do to help it grow.  VAs can prove very effective at helping you research new opportunities, keep track of your competition or simply collate interesting reference materials for you to read at your leisure.
  5. Give valuable feedback – most VAs will see working with you as a form of partnership and will value your honest feedback.  While working remotely is something they will be accustomed to, getting praise for a job well done will help them to appreciate the positive contribution they are making to your business and will give you the opportunity to talk about other tasks which they can help you cross off your To Do list, too.

These are my tips for getting the most out of your VA.  I’ve been fortunate to work with some great clients over the years and this list is dedicated to them.  You know who you are – thank you!

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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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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:

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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