Archive for October, 2009

What does a Virtual assistant do?

Posted in Outsourcing, Virtual Assistance with tags , , on October 22, 2009 by virtualcitypa

A Virtual Assistant (typically abbreviated to VA, also called a virtual office assistant) is an entrepreneur who provides professional administrative, technical, or creative (social) assistance to clients from a home office.  They usually work for other small businesses, brokers and consultancy groups. It is estimated that there are as few as 5,000-8,000 or as many as 35,000 Virtual Assistants worldwide; the profession is growing in centralized economies with “fly-in, fly-out” (FIFO) staffing practices.

Common modes of communication and data delivery include the Internet, e-mail and phonecall conferences, online work spaces, and fax machine. Professionals in this business work on a contractual basis and a long-lasting cooperation is standard.

Typically 5 years of administrative experience in an office is expected at such positions as executive assistant, office manager/supervisor, secretary, legal assistant, paralegal, legal secretary or real estate assistant.

Personal Assistants – what options are there?

Posted in Outsourcing, Virtual Assistance with tags , on October 19, 2009 by virtualcitypa

People who cannot afford to hire their own personal assistants to run errands or answer phone calls full-time can hire a concierge company or a part-time assistant. Most companies offer secretarial personal assistance as well as basic assistant services like research, scheduling, travel arrangements, and more. Costs of a part-time employee can end up exceeding the amount it would have cost to hire a full-time employee. Other companies charge a flat monthly fee for personal assistant services, based upon the number of requests expected to be placed each month. In addition to the personal assistant services that are provided with the membership, other incentives such as local discounts, concierge services, dining recommendations and overall knowledge and expertise may even outperform the skills of a regular personal assistant staff member.

Smaller companies, especially start-up and real estate development companies, may desire the services of a Personal Assistant to “manage” an individual executive or to assist in the office as the new company goes about setting up their new business. These Personal Assistants may develop great skills at the “birth” of a new company and have opportunities for advancement. Other Personal Assistants will have garnered valuable knowledge and experience if they choose to move into other positions.

What are Personal Assistants?

Posted in Office Management, Outsourcing, Virtual Assistance with tags , , on October 15, 2009 by virtualcitypa

Personal Assistants are now key players in all major corporations globally. The role of a business PA has developed enormous responsibility. In most cases, individual PAs are now seen to have managerial or executive status over other employees in the office. With this seniority comes responsibility, and PAs are increasingly operating in direct support of their bosses’ operation of his/her duties. The primary duty remains the management of their bosses’ time by scheduling appointments, management conferences and travel arrangements, as well as co-ordination of all demands to achieve the maximum effectiveness of the PA’s day. Routine duties remain, but senior PAs often have a junior to screen incoming calls, check emails, review documentation, send mail, do basic research, schedule reservations, and book travel and meetings.

Senior PAs are sometimes called Executive Assistants. With a move to home working, there has been a recent growth in the use of Virtual Assistants (VAs). These people often work for several executives in one company or on a consultancy basis for various business leaders. A Senior PA, sometimes referred to as an Executive Assistant, may from time to time act as proxy for the executive, representing him/her in meetings or communications.

Business PA job duties can range from important tasks such as attending management meetings, briefing juniors, and giving executive opinions, to contract negotiations, project management, staff management and training, and HR issues. Duties may also include lesser but equally essential daily tasks, such as shopping and collecting personal items such as dry cleaning. The latter reflects a regular confusion shared by the media about the role of a PA. When challenged on a TV breakfast show and asked if his PA collected his laundry Gareth Osborne, the Director General of the Association of Personal Assistants (APA), said, “Yes, but I also collect hers; it depends who is doing the more important task at the time!”

A PA is his/her employer’s “go to” person. The job has a wide range of requirements and can often be extremely demanding, as employers normally expect their assistants to be there whenever they need them.

To do their jobs well, all personal assistants must apply excellent organizational skills, tact, diplomacy, effective communication skills, as well as maintain confidentiality in sensitive matters and display excellent judgement. These are the same “soft” skills required for many other professional roles, such as middle management, public relations, and high-level administrative assistance. The best personal assistants have the ability to anticipate their employer’s needs and take care of them before they are asked to do so.

In a survey of the Managing Directors of the Top 5,000 businesses in the UK, they concluded that having a PA made them more than 32% more effective.

Increasing market share

Posted in Sales with tags , on October 12, 2009 by virtualcitypa

It is always worth approaching ex-customers as Business Gateway (www.bgateway.com) highlights.  If people have bought from you before, they may buy from you again. You need to find out why they stopped buying from you and apply that knowledge to regain their custom.

Find out what changed

Identify why customers stopped buying from you. Consider whether your product or service is:

  • no longer necessary
  • too expensive
  • unsatisfactory
  • being beaten by a competitive offer

Rebuild contact

Research suggests the reason many customers stop buying is because they don’t feel that they have sufficient contact with their suppliers. If you don’t have some form of regular contact – eg monthly or quarterly phone calls, formal or informal visits to customers, mailshots or email newsletters – customers may feel they are being ignored and look elsewhere.

If you have lost a customer for these reasons, your first step is to rebuild contact and prove that you understand and are focused on their needs – eg a letter expressing regret that they have stopped buying from you and making them a time-limited offer.

It’s worth trying a few times, but don’t keep persisting if you aren’t getting any response. Many businesses have a limit to the amount of times they contact lapsed customers – usually five or seven times.

Make an offer

When you know why the customer is no longer buying from you, consider ways to make your business more appealing.

For example, if your price was viewed as too high, consider a time-limited discount to encourage them to start buying again, eg 20 per cent off for three months. If your service was unsatisfactory, ask what you could do to make it meet your customer’s expectations and assess if it is possible and profitable for you to adapt your service for the former customer.

Be realistic

While you may be able to tempt many customers back, remember that you don’t want them at all costs. You want to build a long-term profitable relationship. It’s not usually a good idea to make long-term offers that don’t contribute any profit just to get a specific customer back, unless there are compelling strategic reasons to do so.

All these actions should be built into your marketing plan. The faster you contact a lapsed customer, the greater the chance they will come back to you.

Increase your market share

Posted in Business start up, Sales with tags , , , on October 8, 2009 by virtualcitypa

The Business Gateway (www.bgateway.com) is another useful reference site for small businesses to glean tips and advice when weighing up your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. Evaluating your marketplace is something that all small businesses should do when looking to increase market share. 

There are many ways to sell more to existing customers and potential customers like them. But before you start trying to maximise your market share, you need to make sure you fully understand how you are perceived by both existing and potential customers.

Work out the key questions

The first stage is to address the core questions about who buys from you, how and when they buy. You need to be clear about:

  • who your customers are
  • what they buy
  • why they buy
  • how they buy
  • who else could buy from you
  • the typical budget of existing and new buyers
  • where else they buy from

Position for the future

Remember that the reasons customers buy from you now will not necessarily be the reasons they buy from you in six months or a year’s time. And if you consider expected trends in customer behaviour and your market, you may be the first to exploit a niche and gain market share quickly.

For example, how will your customers prefer to place orders? While they may prefer a phone call or face-to-face visit now, is there a trend in your market for online ordering systems? If you are one of the first businesses in your sector to offer the facility, you could gain significant market share.

Predicted future developments in your marketplace could also provide significant opportunities for growth. For example, with the growth of home computing, IT support has developed from a mainly business-to-business service to a larger customer base of consumers.

Use your research to get as clear a picture of the future as you can. It’s often difficult to predict with certainty – but the more you know about how your customers and market will look in the medium to long term, the more likely you are to successfully build your market share.

You can use commercial market research to assess trends in your sector.

Quality management standards: ISO 9001:2008

Posted in Office Management with tags , , on October 5, 2009 by virtualcitypa

Once you business has established itself and you are ready to take your organisation to the next level, the www.businesslink.gov.uk website gives excellent advice on getting your business recognised with ISO standards.

ISO 9001:2008 is the key internationally agreed standard for quality management systems. It is used by over 750,000 businesses in 161 countries worldwide.

The ISO 9001 standard has four elements:

management responsibility – ensuring top level management shows commitment to the quality system and develops it according to customers’ needs and the business’ objectives

resource management – ensuring the people, infrastructure and work environment needed to implement and improve quality systems are in place

product realisation – delivering what customers want, looking at areas such as sales processes, design and development, purchasing, production or service activities

measurement, analysis and improvement – checking whether you have satisfied customers by carrying out other measurements of your system’s effectiveness

The advantages of ISO 9001:2008 for your business can include:

  • greater efficiency and less waste
  • consistent control of major business processes
  • regulation of successful working practices
  • risk management
  • increased customer satisfaction
  • greater consistency in the quality of products and services through better control of processes
  • differentiation of your business from its competitors
  • increased profits
  • exploitation of new markets, both in the UK and overseas

However, you should also be aware of some of the disadvantages to implementing the standard. These can include:

  • the cost of getting and keeping the certification
  • the time involved
  • overcoming opposition to implementing change from within the business

The standard is adaptable to your business’ needs and resources, though you may need the help of a consultant.

ISO 9001:2008 can also be used in conjunction with ISO 9004:2000 to improve your organisational efficiency.

Measuring success

Posted in Business start up, Sales with tags , , on October 1, 2009 by virtualcitypa

Measure performance and set targets

The www.businesslink.gov.uk website is an excellent resource for small businesses to get practical advice. We thought this article was particularly useful and wanted to highlight this topic for all our customers.

The importance of measurement and target-setting
Performance measurement and target-setting are important to the growth process. While many small businesses can run themselves quite comfortably without much formal measurement or target-setting, for growing businesses the control these processes offer can be indispensable.

The benefits of performance measurement
Knowing how the different areas of your business are performing is valuable information in its own right, but a good measurement system will also let you examine the triggers for any changes in performance. This puts you in a better position to manage your performance proactively.

One of the key challenges with performance management is selecting what to measure. The priority here is to focus on quantifiable factors that are clearly linked to the drivers of success in your business and your sector. These are known as key performance indicators (KPIs). See the page in this guide on deciding what to measure.

Bear in mind that quantifiable isn’t the same as financial. While financial measures of performance are among the most widely used by businesses, non-financial measures can be just as important.

For example, if your business succeeds or fails on the quality of its customer service, then that’s what you need to measure – through, for example, the number of complaints received. For more information about financial measurement, see the page in this guide on measurement of your financial performance.

The benefits of target-setting
If you have identified the key areas that drive your business performance and found a way to measure them, then a natural next step is to start setting performance targets to give everyone in your business a clear sense of what they should be aiming for.

Strategic visions can be difficult to communicate, but by breaking your top level objectives down into smaller concrete targets you’ll make it easier to manage the process of delivering them. In this way, targets form a crucial link between strategy and day-to-day operations.