Archive for July, 2009

What does a Virtual Assistant do and how does it work?

Posted in Virtual Assistance with tags , , , , on July 31, 2009 by virtualcitypa

There are many VA companies each with own speciality. It can be anything from virtual reception to virtual secretary. For instance, if you think along the lines of what your current in-house receptionist does, i.e. answering calls, directing calls, assisting callers with information, booking rooms for meetings which can all be done remotely.

The same applies for PA work or secretarial work. Work gets email or posted to an online site hosted by the VA company and work can be completed and sent back. You can also call your VA and deal direct too and they provide anything from typing and PowerPoint presentations, reports, expense management, online file management, travel bookings etc.

Due the expense of employing staff more and more companies are opting to outsource their administrative support to VA companies. It’s cost effective and time effective. Many companies find they can reduce their staff costs on PA / secretarial support and reception by half if not more.

Please feel free to contact me if you would like to know more about VA support.

Through Q3 09 we are offering to new clients a trial whereby you pay only what you think the service has been worth. There is no long term commitment during the trial phase and we aim to give you a taste of how easy it is to work with a VA. We are based in North London so personal meetings can be aranged as part of the service for London based clients.

I hope this has been helpful to you.

Amanda Groom, Managing Director

Telephone:  0844 884 3890 / Mobile:  07590 282472 /



Management Styles – which suits you..?

Posted in Management / Leadership with tags , , , , , , on July 30, 2009 by virtualcitypa

Sometimes its interesting to take a step back to review where you fit in the text book world of business. Where am I now and how do people see me..?

Democratic Management Style

A democratic manager delegates authority to his/her staff, giving them responsibility to complete the task given to them (also known as empowerment). Staff will complete the tasks using their own work methods.

However, the task must be completed on time. Employees are involved in decision making giving them a sense of belonging and motivating individuals. Because staff feel a sense of belonging and are motivated the quality of decision making and work also improves.

Although popular in business today, a democratic management style can slow decision making down because staff need to be consulted. Also some employees may take advantage of the fact that their manager is democratic by not working to their full potential and allowing other group members to ‘carry’ them.

Autocratic Management Style

In contrast to the above an autocratic manager dictates orders to their staff and makes decisions without any consultation. The leader likes to control the situation they are in.

Decision are quick because staff are not consulted and work is usually completed on time. However this type of management style can decrease motivation and increase staff turnover because staff are not consulted and do not feel valued.

Consultative Management style

A consultative management style can be viewed as a combination of the above two. The manager will ask views and opinions from their staff, allowing them to feel involved but will ultimately make the final decision.

Laissez Faire Management style

A laisses faire manager sets the tasks and gives staff complete freedom to complete the task as they see fit. There is minimal involvement from the manager. The manager however does not sit idle and watch them work! He or she is there to coach or answer questions, supply information if required.

There are benefits, staff again are developed to take responsibility which may lead to improved motivation. However with little direct guidance from the manager staff may begin to feel lost and not reach the goals originally set within the time frame.

How to build your business before quitting your day job

Posted in Business start up with tags , , , , , on July 29, 2009 by virtualcitypa

Like diving from a cliff the first time, leaving your job to dedicate yourself to your own business can be quite daunting prospect. There should be much more consideration to making a decision to quit your job than simply “look before you leap.” There are ways to approach this without burning bridges, while building wealth and increasing the likelihood of success in the new venture.

Determine a good crossover point, so that you can enjoy the best of both worlds. Why not maintain those relationships developed during your career while gaining some early traction? Much of what works and doesn’t work in a venture can be figured out before making a full commitment to it. You can work toward a bottom line measurement, where profit trajectory from the business crosses your income needs, before you make the leap. This is not always easy to do but will be worth the effort.

If done well, quitting your job to dedicate yourself to your business will be a natural transition, even if this is your first time.

Here is a list of ten things to work on to determine a good crossover point. In other words, don’t quit until:

1. There is a good product or service offering in place.

An idea, set of samples, prototype and the like do not count. There needs to be a real business opportunity in here. Wherever possible, it should be proven, backed by a good plan and operating on a sound business model. It takes solid front-end marketing to determine that. There is rarely any value in quitting a well paying job on just a hunch there is a good business opportunity. Whatever it is, it needs to be priced for sale and priced for profit with all the costs of overhead, production, sales and distribution factored in.

2. There are real customers.

Unless you are selling quilts, family and friends are not considered customers. Whether your customers are end users, distributors, retailers, businesses or the general public doesn’t matter as much as whether or not they are real and sustainable.

3. There is enough money in the bank to sustain a prolonged dry spell.

It can take three years to develop a business to the point there is enough profit above and beyond the needs of the business to generate a healthy income for the owner.

4. The business becomes more enjoyable and satisfying than the job.

This is easier for people who hate their job than it is for those who are very passionate about their work. There needs to be passion and enthusiasm for the new venture, otherwise it is bound to fail. This is always true if you are the one leading it and doing the sales. With few exceptions, this also holds true if you are simply taking over an existing business with a track record and organisation in place. The attitude of the owner affects the whole enterprise.

5. The product or service offering is not being trampled by a major competitor.

If a big competitor can afford to and does make a big effort to undercut your offering and has the ability to out-market, out-produce and out-sell you, the business could quickly become a race for the bottom.

6. The business will not likely go broke within three to five years.

The sad reality is that about half of all companies are simply not around five years after they are started. About a third of the ones that close do so because they lose money, another third break even and the remainder are profitable. There are many reasons for a company to close its doors, but not making a profit is obviously the main one.

7. You develop the self discipline it takes to tough it out in your own business.

Not having a boss or system in place to keep you working makes it easier to become distracted and lose focus on the needs of the business. Putting off necessary sales calls to head off to the beach on a nice summer day is a surefire way to undermine the chances of success.

8. You have become an expert in your chosen area.

Leaving a 20 year career in the insurance industry to start a venture manufacturing a new health food snack bar is likely going to become problematic. People in both the insurance and food industries will be skeptical unless clear expertise has been developed in the relevant areas. This is why it is often easier to transition from a job to a business in a similar area or expertise. An insurance veteran offering a new product or service in the insurance field will have less trouble establishing credibility as an expert.

9. You have enough of the right “friends” in the area.

A productive network is a great asset in building a business. If you have the right people in the right places available at the right time, your business is much more likely to succeed than if you don’t. Use tools like LinkedIn, Facebook and industry networking events to enhance your network.

10. You have key mentors and advisors in place.

These people can help you develop the business long before full deployment. Call on more of your growing network of “friends” as things develop. These advisors can also help with determining when to quit your job (or the business).

It boils down to really knowing yourself and knowing your stuff before going into your new venture with a full commitment. You should know the area well enough to be able to write a book about it. This helps eliminate the tendency to respond to the frequent “once in a lifetime” opportunities that come along.

Develop the business under trial conditions as much as possible while you are still maintaining your job or career. You won’t likely be able to generate much volume or profit during this phase. It is often hard to go out and make sales calls during the day while you are working 9 to 5 job. However, it is quite possible to do substantial test marketing and research without having to quit your job. There can usually be enough product or service development work done where needed to get it into a saleable enough form to get orders from real customers – enough to prove out the business and maybe make a small profit. Plus build your network, expertise and credibility in the area.

Develop your business to the point that you simply are forced to choose between your job and the business. Do that, and you’ll be much less likely to hit rock bottom when you make the leap!

Peter Paul Roosen and Tatsuya Nakagawa are co-founders of Atomica Creative Group , a specialised strategic product marketing firm. Through leading edge insight and research, sound strategic planning and effective project management, Atomica helps companies achieve greater success in bringing new products to market and in improving their existing businesses. They have co-authored Overcoming Inventoritis now available.

What Does Your Business Card Say About You?

Posted in Marketing with tags , , on July 28, 2009 by virtualcitypa

Hopefully you already have a business card, but if you don’t you should definitely create one. Business cards are something that we take for granted when we shouldn’t. The look, feel, and message on a card help people determine how they view you and more importantly, if they will even remember you.

When you leave a conversation and the other party has your business card, your identity is that piece of paper. Because of this representation, your business card should not only state who you work for, your contact information, and what you do, but it should also state something about you. Not in a written sense, but more so on the overall image it creates about you.

For example if I were to hand you my business card you would probably get the feeling that I am a warm and friendly person due to the following reasons:

    * The card is thick, yet feels soft.
    * Corners of the card are rounded
    * The card colour is green
    * The typography is a bit rounded

The main reason I had the card created with these qualities is because when I hand it to people, I wanted it to communicate a warm and caring feeling. This is important to me because I actually do care about others and I want to make sure people remember this and stay in touch.

If you don’t have a business card and are looking to create one, here are some things to keep in mind:

    * Color – we usually take colors for granted, but there are meanings behind them.
    * Paper – the quality of your card says something about you. The last thing you want to use is cheap paper or a material like metal which doesn’t allow others to write on your card.
    * Uniqueness – if your business card doesn’t stand out in a pile filled with other cards then the chances are people won’t remember you by looking at your business card. You need to make your card unique somehow.
    * Typography – fonts have a voice, so choose one that best represents who you are and make sure to choose one that is easy to read.
    * Feel – touch is an important sense that we all have and your business card should appeal to that sense. If you want to represent that you are a soft and gentle person, make sure your card is soft and has rounded corners. If you want to represent that you are a corporate person who is very structured and ridged, you probably should have a hard business card with sharp corners.

Before you hand your business card to someone else, you need to make sure your card has the information it should but also truly says something about you. This will help them remember you and at the very least stay in touch once in awhile.

by Neil Patel

Neil Patel is the co-founder of 2 Internet companies: Crazy Egg, and KISSmetrics. Through these 2 companies he has helped large corporations such as AOL, General Motors, Hewlett-Packard and Viacom make more money from the web.

Tips For The Small Business Blogger

Posted in Marketing with tags , , , , on July 27, 2009 by virtualcitypa

You’ve probably heard that blogs can be a great way for small businesses to connect with customers, a cost-effective marketing tool and much, much more. Perhaps you run a small business and already have a blog.

Blogging isn’t rocket science and there are quite a few things you can do to put your business blog to good use. In this feature I’ll give you some tips and ideas that you can use to get the most out of your small business blog.

Don’t be afraid of comments.
One of the best things about a small business blog is the ability to solicit feedback about your product, services or what-have-you. Opening your blog to comments provides this feedback loop and can be a great way to learn how customers view your products and gain valuable insight about your business in general.

Get to know your audience.
This should be one of the reasons you have a small business blog anyway, but by getting to know your audience you’ll also be able to provide what they need a bit better. You can use your blog to gather demographic information, or make contacts for marketing and research purposes.

Test new ideas.
A blog is a great way to debut beta programs or toss out ideas you’ve been exploring. You can often gain quick and valuable feedback from people who are interested in what your doing by posting about this kind of thing.

Address customer concerns.
Need to put out a fire quick? Use your blog as a forum for larger customer concerns. A blog with comments is a good way to learn about potential problems or opportunities.

Build a knowledge base.
One of the great ways small businesses can use blogging is not only to provide answers to common questions (like a FAQ) but maintain a library of knowledge about the business, its products, services, etc.

Promote yourself, or your people.
A blog is the perfect place to show off what you know or put a good face on your business. In service industries especially, where thought leadership and point of view can be important, a blog can really help people get to know what you’re all about and what you’ve got to offer.

Keep the posts coming.
It’s a good idea to keep you’re blog as up-to-date as you can. You don’t want to keep from doing your core business to blog, but you don’t want to let it sit idle for too long either. If you can’t maintain it, you might be better off without it.

Have fun with it.
A blog can be a great way to learn about yourself, your customers and your business. It can also be a good stress reliever or change of pace. Have a good time, write about things you enjoy and don’t be afraid to get silly every now and again.

Effective Communication

Posted in Management / Leadership with tags , , on July 24, 2009 by virtualcitypa

Good communication skills are essential in buiness and everyday life.  To work successfully with your VA, communication will be critical to the success of your working relationship and this is an area we look to improve on every day.

Being an effective communicator takes real skill. Communication skills have to be developed, honed and added to on an on-going basis. They are the heart of interpersonal skills and the greater your awareness of how it all works, the more effective your communication will be.

To be effective in business, you have to communicate well. To be a good manager, you have to communicate exceptionally well.

Communication Core Skills – The Essentials

    * Communication is Individual
    * What can get in the way of Effective Communication
    * Conflict Resolution
    * Improving Communication Skills

Communication is Individual

We’re Not All The Same
When you look at communication, presentation skills are not all there is to it. Far from it. Everyone communicates differently and sees the world differently. The greatest skill you can have in order to instantly and significantly improve you communications skills is to understand the other person’s point view and how they see the world. Then you can adjust your own communication to take that into account.

Change Yourself to Change Others
Alongside this has to be the knowledge that the only person you can be sure of changing in any communication is you. Therefore, the most effective way to be in charge of what happens in any communication dynamic is changing what you do. When you can do this you are well on the way to promoting better relationships.

You are the Only One of You
There’s never one right way to communicate. Authentic effective communication always happens when we reply on those things we know to be true about or for ourselves. Remember your personal style probably says more for you that all the words you use can.

What’s Already Working?
Most people tend to look at what’s wrong with themselves and other people rather than focusing on what already works. Remember, something (more than one thing, of course) has to be working well for you to have got this far already!

What can get in the way of Effective Communication

We all make Too Many Assumptions
Be aware of the assumptions you make, especially making something up and then acting as though what you made up was true. Notice if you alter your behaviour with certain people because of the assumptions you make about them. Also be aware of the assumptions you think other people make about you.

Assumptions aren’t necessarily ‘bad’. Sometimes it’s important to let people keep their assumptions (or some of them at least!) about you.

One effective way to deal with assumptions is to say to the other person, ‘I’ve assumed such and such. ‘Is that true?’ or ‘I’m making an assumption here about… Do you agree?’

Good communication in the workplace is often sabotaged by too many unconfirmed assumptions.

Patterns/Reverting to Type
We are pattern-making beings, which is good. However, sometimes we get so used to behaving and responding in certain ways that it’s hard to see that there’s any other way of doing things. When the pressure is on or we are under stress, even our best intentions may go out the window as we revert to type.

Habits, patterns, routine ways of thinking and behaving are difficult to change. Noticing your patterns at least gets you aware of them! One way to practise this is to see how many communication habits and patterns have crept into your workplace. Try not to judge them. You can always decide if you want to change them or not.

Needing to Be Right
This is one area we all know about – the need to be right and in turn for the other person to be wrong. One skill that does need practise is to let go of needing to be right. Think of it as presenting information or a point of view rather than having to bludgeon someone else with your arguments.

If you want to promote effective relationships, this is one of the greatest communication key skills you can have is to be able to change what you want from a communication. You may have started out wanting the other person to agree with you, but by giving that up you can change your want to letting them know you understand their point of view.

Conflict Resolution

One of the purposes of conflict is to arrive at a resolution, so if you avoid conflict, the problem usually (though not always) gets worse. The earlier you can identify that there is a problem and intervene, the better it will be. Good communication skills require you to be able to resolve conflict.

Find something (anything will do) in the other person’s argument which you can genuinely agree with. This is a great way to take the wind out of someone’s sails and ensure you don’t get drawn into an insoluble argument. People usually won’t listen until they feel heard.

Bridge Building
Really listen to what the other person is saying – they usually give a lot of information without realising it. Building bridges by making an offer can help enormously, as can changing what you want.

‘I’ not ‘You’
Use ‘I’ statements, not ‘You’ statements to avoid blaming. This also means that you take responsibility for how you feel, rather than making the other person responsible for making things all right for you.

Improving Communication Skills
You can change the direction of a communication if you change your attitude. There is no one attitude that’s the ‘right’ one to have, though being direct and clear certainly helps.

Effective Listening and Responding
You can have tremendous influence on a communication as the listener and the responder. When we get little or no response from the listener, we often project our assumptions onto them about what they are thinking (and usually we assume they aren’t thinking good things about us!).

Be Positive
Use affirmation and encouragement to get the best out of people. Notice when others do things well (even if it’s part of their daily routine). This shows you’re being attentive; most people respond well when they know that others are aware of what they do.

Quite simply, the workplace can be a far better place to be if you consciously sprinkle your communication with positive feedback.

The Importance of Basic Communication Skills
What’s most important is that you don’t leave the business of communication to chance. Raise your awareness, develop your skills and you’ll be a role model for effective communication.

Good human resources practice is important

Posted in Human Resources with tags , , , , on July 23, 2009 by virtualcitypa

Effective HR practices make an enormous difference to organisational performance, according to research by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD). Where they are not in place, levels of employee commitment are up to 90 per cent lower.

But even the most carefully thought through HR strategy is a waste of time unless it is embraced by line managers who have the skills and understanding necessary to engage and motivate employees.

These are the critical conclusions of a three year investigation by the CIPD examining the HR practices, staff views and performance in 11 large organisations including Jaguar Cars, Nationwide Building Society, Selfridges and Tesco.

The study, Understanding the People and Performance Link: Unlocking the black box sought to understand more about why and how people management practices influence business performance – to unlock what has been termed the “black box.” It confirms the powerful relationships between HR practices, employee commitment and operating performance, tracking organisational performance over a three year period and puts HR under the spotlight.

The study found that an organisation needs a clear direction and purpose, beyond the bland mission statement or generic goal of financial returns, which engages, enthuses and unites people. At The Nationwide Building Society this is a commitment to mutuality. At Royal United Hospital (RUH) Bath it is saving lives. This ‘big idea’ appears essential in motivating and directing people behind the strategy of the organisation.

High performing organisations invariably employ some form of balanced performance scorecard or methodology. Be it the stakeholder value model employed at Selfridges, the six-sigma methodology at Jaguar or the EFQM framework at the Court Service, this demonstrates the importance of different stakeholder groups to the organisation’s success, and links individual and corporate goals.

The research confirms that there is no universal ‘best HR practice’. It is all about having a broad and integrated ‘bundle’, tailored to the needs of the organisation. For example, the practices employed at technology company AIT would be unlikely to go down well on the production line at Jaguar. Yet every worker there could tell you Jaguar’s position in the JD Power quality league table.

CIPD adviser on Organisation and Resourcing, Angela Baron, said; “Strong attention to team working, extensive employee communications and involvement, and positive perceptions of training and careers emerge as common ingredients in this performance-driving HR mix.”

“Leadership, not at the top of the organisation, but at the front line appears to be the Achilles heel in many UK organisations ability to compete and in delivering HR strategies. Middle managers and supervisors set the context in which the HR/business performance relationships happen, or all too frequently don’t.”

For example at Tesco, where 88 per cent of staff feel loyal and share the company’s values, a typical section manager described their role as, “mobilising the team with a goal, motivating people”. And building management capability is a core component of the Inland Revenue’s HR strategy.

Another example in the research is nursing staff at the RUH Bath describing the change after a new ward manager worked with her HR colleagues on a range of new policies, such as flexible shift working and 360 degree appraisal. Comments include:

“I’m much more motivated now, there’s training, the atmosphere’s totally different”;

“Communication is excellent now…our manager is very approachable”;

“When I came here it was unsettled. Now we have a strong team…you want to do the job to the best of your ability”.

The high level of staff turnover in the ward has since fallen to almost zero.

In another of the case studies, the management was subsequently changed in one location, to replicate the high levels of commitment and performance evident in the company’s other sites.

According to Angela Baron: “Organisations can make progress very quickly. They need to survey employee attitudes and commitment; assess, train, coach and support their first line managers and integrate HR policies with goals and values.”

“This will get them started – and the good news is that once these processes are underway there is a very high likelihood of the kind of transformation we have seen in our case study organisations. The evidence is here for all to see.”

Author: Brian Amble