Archive for January, 2010

Top 10 Tips for Outsourcing Success

Posted in Outsourcing with tags , , on January 26, 2010 by virtualcitypa

Entrepreneurs and small businesspeople are always looking for creative ways to accomplish more of their business goals for less money. One strategy that can help you save time, money and frustration as you start and build your business is to outsource as much work as possible to skilled, but cost-effective, external service providers.

Following this advice can help you get the most out of your relationships with external vendors or contractors — whether you use the web to find service providers or are requesting and evaluating quotes from vendors the “old fashioned” way.

1. Clearly define the scope and schedule for your project
This might seem obvious, but any successful outsourced project always starts with a clear statement of what you are hoping to accomplish. Define your project requirements up front. Service providers need accurate, complete information to present you with realistic proposals and to quote you a reasonable price. Be specific about the deliverables you expect the vendor provide. Give vendors as much information as you can about what you need delivered and the way in which you need the work done. Also, be clear and realistic about your schedule requirements – project schedules can have a huge impact on project costs.

2. Evaluate a service provider like you’d hire a full-time employee
When you’re evaluating proposals from service providers, don’t be afraid to ask questions. Just like hiring a full-time employee, selecting a vendor is a very subjective experience. Check their references and ask for feedback from other clients who have used their services. Engage in a dialog – if you have any concerns about a vendor’s specific capabilities, voice your concerns. Don’t just stew about it and hope for the best.

3. Look for specific experience fit
Ideally, the service provider you select will have specific experience with the type of project that you’re undertaking. You don’t want to be somebody’s “guinea pig.” This is especially crucial when outsourcing complex technical projects such as software development. For example, if you’re looking for someone to develop an application for the Palm PDA, make sure they’ve actually completed commercial projects on that platform for other satisfied customers. This advice holds true for other types of projects as well. If you need a business plan for opening a retail store, you’ll get best results if the consultant you hire has verifiable experience in the retail sector.

4. Don’t choose a vendor based solely on price
Though it might be tempting, never select a vendor based solely on price. Experienced buyers who have outsourced many projects and evaluated hundreds of proposals almost always recommend discarding the highest-priced and lowest-priced bid. Buyers report that their most successful projects are the ones where they felt the vendor offered a balance of good value and quality results.

5. Review portfolios and samples
Examine the vendor’s previous work (their “portfolio”) and make sure that their previous work meets your expectations for quality and style. If you’ve evaluated a vendor’s portfolio, references and previous experience and are still unsure of their capabilities, consider asking them to do a quick mock-up or provide a basic outline of a work plan. A service provider who really wants to win your business might be able to give you a rough concept so you can better understand their approach to solving your problem. But never cross the line between asking for a mock-up and insisting that a vendor provide you with finished work “on spec.” No qualified professional expects to work for free.

6. Start small
When engaging with a service provider for the first time, start with a project that is relatively small and simple in scope. This will give you a better idea of the provider’s style and capabilities before you entrust a “mission critical” project to them.

7. Tie payment to clearly defined project milestones
Just as you should be clear about project scope, make sure that you define a work plan for your outsourced project with clearly defined milestones. Having scheduled checkpoints where you review the status of the project as it works toward completion—is an easy way to ensure that you meet your final deadline and that the final product meets your standards. Tie the vendor’s payment to these milestones. A good guideline for IT and software development projects is to pay no more than 20% to 30% of the total project price up front, with the rest of the payments awarded based on the completion of 3 or 4 milestones.

8. Negotiate ownership of work up front
For any type of outsourced project, make sure that you are clear about who owns the resulting work product and any important components of that product. Make sure the service provider understands how you intend to use the deliverables that they are agreeing to provide. For example, the development of a custom software application for your personal use would be substantially different from the development an application that you intend to package and re-sell.

9. Don’t forget about support after the project is complete
For technology projects, it’s a good idea to specify a warranty or support clause so that you are assured of some amount of continuing support from the vendor after the project is complete. It’s much easer to negotiate a support clause before the service provider begins work, rather than after the completion of the project. Even creative or business services can benefit from a support clause. Suppose you need some changes to a business plan based on feedback that you get from potential investors. Or maybe you find that you need that snazzy new logo delivered in a new type of file format. Specifying some amount of free support or negotiating discounted prices for future modifications can save you time, money and headaches later on.

10. Get it in writing
During the course of a service engagement, the scope of the project, deliverables or even the agreed upon price may change. Make sure that you clearly communicate any schedule, scope or payment changes to your service provider and get confirmation from them – in writing – that they understand and agree to the changes. Similarly, keep a record of any agreement changes requested by the service provider and whether you accept or reject those modifications. Save copies of any email exchanges that you have.

You can access top-notch expertise any time you need it without the overhead of hiring full-time staff. By staying focused on your core competencies and hiring expert freelancers for your other needs, you can compete with the delivery capabilities of larger organizations while maintaining your independence.

http://entrepreneurs.about.com/cs/beyondstartup/a/uc041003a.htm

Effective business planning

Posted in Business start up with tags , , on January 21, 2010 by virtualcitypa

Many people who have always wanted to start their own business never do, simply because they’re overwhelmed by the process and unsure of what specifically is involved. With a to-do list that includes everything from writing a business plan to coming up with a name to hiring employees, startup can seem daunting.

A solid plan can help you start off strong and stay that way. Writing a business plan is one of the first steps you should take toward startup, well before you launch your business. A business plan will serve as your guide to decision making during the life of your business, starting with the question of whether to start in the first place.

The second use of a plan is to satisfy lenders and investors, virtually all of whom will require a written business plan before approving a loan or making an equity investment. Plans also serve as a means of communicating with potential partners, allies, vendors, employees and even customers.

Here are some tips to help you get started.
*Before putting pen to paper, research resources and tools that can help. In addition to books, software programs can automate the task. .
● Be realistic when making projections. One of the most frequent errors made when writing a business plan is over-estimating revenue and under-estimating expenses. Improve revenue estimates by narrowing your target market down to a realistic niche, then interpret revenue and expenses in terms of that market.
● Include monthly cash-flow projections for the first year. Also prepare an overall projection of profit and loss for three years, as well as a projected balance sheet. Calculate the break-even point at which sales will cover costs. Research financial ratios specific to your industry, and look at published industry-specific ratios to make sure your assumptions are realistic.

● Pay special attention to marketing. First, develop goals. Second, do a market analysis, including identifying target markets, researching competition and assessing market trends. Then prepare a marketing strategy, including your approaches to sales, promotions, advertising, PR, networking, community building, customer service and other marketing channels and tools. Develop a plan to implement that marketing strategy, and include benchmarks to see if what you planned actually happened.
● Choose your target customer, then take aim in the right direction.
Open the doors to your business, and it’s easy to think of the whole world as your oyster. Why focus on a target market and exclude all those other market segments with which you could be conducting business, right?
● Find the perfect match. The most important thing a small-business owner can do is figure out what kind of customers will help them get to the goal. Who are the most strategically valuable people to them? Identify as many traits as possible so you can organise your business to keep those customers coming back.
● Identify different segments. After you’ve outlined whom your best customers will be, recognise that you may have more than one profile. For instance, a catering business may find lucrative market segments in cooking and presenting elaborate holiday meals for affluent families, as well as providing simple, daily heat-and-serve meals for busy working parents.
● Service, service, service. More small businesses lose customers [due to] poor service than bad products. Your business’s most important marketing tool is the way you conduct sales and service customers. Every time you do work for a client, you are marketing yourself. When you do that well, customers pay you back with loyalty and referrals.

Efficient office moves

Posted in Business start up, Office Management, Virtual Assistance with tags , , on January 18, 2010 by virtualcitypa

Office moves are certainly an area where virtual PA’s can help to smooth the transition by getting systems in place ahead of time to avoid costly disruption to everyday business. This article from http://www.allbusiness.com documents the stages well regarding what needs to be done.

Moving your office without a checklist is asking for trouble. Instead of planning as you go — which is really not planning at all — create a checklist that will help you stay within budget and on deadline.

The best way to avoid moving pitfalls is to be prepared. The list is likely to change
over time, and that’s OK. The goal is to have before you a blueprint that you can refer to again and again. Here’s a model to work with. You checklist may look slightly different depending on the size and type of office you’re moving:

• Create a moving task force. You don’t have to shoulder the entire burden of a move. Indeed, that could be an impossible task and, therefore, a guaranteed failure. Establish a task force consisting of key employees who can offer assistance and guidance during the entire moving process.
• Meet with a space planner and/or interior designer. Trying to fit everything into a new space with little or no expertise is asking for trouble. Make sure you enlist the help of professionals.
• Take inventory and discard what you don’t need. Moving can be an excellent time to clean house. As you’re taking inventory (do this so that you can make sure everything has arrived safely following the move), consider getting rid of extraneous equipment, papers, and other items that the office has amassed.
• Interview moving companies. It’s never too early to begin collecting information about moving companies and then following up with interviews. Be sure to thoroughly check references, too.
• Meet with communications staff. Knowing how the phone system and computer facilities will operate at the new location is a must. It’s incumbent on you to make sure that service will not be interrupted. The best way to ensure minimal disruption is to meet with communications staff on a regular basis.
• Contact appropriate utilities. You’ll need to contact your local utility companies for various services like phone, electricity, and water. Provide them with stop and start dates and schedule any necessary appointments that will require your presence.
• Take care of the details. Remember to make changes to office stationery and alert your customers that the company is moving with change-of-address cards. This is an excellent opportunity to remind your customers that the company is always looking for ways to improve and this move is just one example of the firm’s commitment to excellence. Let your vendors know about the relocation as well.
• Provide employees with orientation. Meet with employees before, during, and after the move to explain how any new functions such as the security and phone systems work. Also, offer guidelines for any new procedures that will be put in place as a result of the move.
• Arrange for new services. You want the transition to occur as smoothly as possible, so try to make move-in day easy and stress-free. Make sure, for example, that ample parking is available for your company’s employees. Order new keys, too, so that people can actually get inside!
• Meet with movers to review plans. Stay in close touch with your movers as move-in day approaches. Make sure you set aside enough time to actually sit down to review and confirm furniture and floor plans. Waiting until move-in day will frustrate the movers, your colleagues, and you.
• Conduct a walk-through. On move-in day (or before) walk through the new space with staff to indicate new work areas. Make them feel welcomed and respond to any questions they may have.
• Plan a party and celebrate. Don’t forget to reward yourself and other employees with a move-in party. Celebrate the success of the move and congratulate everyone on his or her contribution.

When moving your office, advance planning, clear communication, and a willingness to live with a little chaos go a long way.

Should you need help/support or advice regarding your office move please do not hesitate to ask on 0844 884 3890 or email enquiries@virtualcitypa.com

30 seconds to make an impact

Posted in Business start up, Sales with tags , , on January 14, 2010 by virtualcitypa

“What do you do?” is a question that can put even the most seasoned business brain under pressure. Craig Fisher, founder of business consultancy The Sales Expert, explains how to put together a concise and compelling elevator pitch.

In today’s mobile business climate you never know when an opportunity is going to present itself. You will probably only have one chance to paint the best picture of your business to a prospective client or partner.

Your elevator pitch helps you to articulate the essence of your business in the fewest possible amount of words. What do you do? Who do you do it for? What does this mean to them?

These are the questions that you need to answer in the time it takes to take a lift from the ground to the top floor. Don’t alienate your target with a deluge of facts and figures; your objective here is not to close. It is to lay the foundations for the opportunity to do so.

Without an elevator pitch your explanation of your business is likely to become a drawn out response filled with needless detail. Effective elevator pitches, particularly in busy surroundings, get straight to the point. Don’t give your target time to get distracted. A short, precise presentation is perfect for those ad hoc opportunities.

Your pitch should be no more than 30 to 40 seconds in length. When structuring it consider the following outline, adding short details relevant to your business:

1. We work with…
2. Who have a problem with…
3. What we do is…
4. Which means that…
5. So that you can…

The first two sections are pretty straightforward. It is likely that your company may have more than one offering; however, limit yourself to your flagship product and in the third section focus on the collective purpose behind all your services.

The final two sections are dedicated to the benefits, both long- and short-term. These are vital to any proposal but should also be succinctly expressed during an elevator pitch. It is important that your prospect does not have to do too much thinking. The sooner they see the value of your business the more likely you are to progress with the sales process.

The delivery is as important as the content within your elevator pitch. Clear and confident communication is a must, so get as much practice as you can. Always refresh and rehearse your pitch until it screams value and conviction.

http://www.smallbusiness.co.uk/channels/sales-and-marketing/selling-to-customers/guides-and-tips/636086/your-company-in-30-seconds.thtml

Case study: Using a Virtual Assistant

Posted in Office Management, Outsourcing, Virtual Assistance with tags , on January 11, 2010 by virtualcitypa

Desmond Turner is in a quandary faced by many small business owners. He has so much work he can’t focus on minute details, but he’s not at the point where he needs a full-time office assistant. Turner, owner of A+ Landscaping, is a perfect candidate for virtual assistance.

Hiring a virtual assistant (VA) is a practical and affordable solution to helping manage many small but growing businesses. Thanks to speedy advancements in technology, entrepreneurs have access to highly-skilled professionals.
A VA is someone who handles administrative functions such as e-mailing, faxing, database management and bookkeeping from a remote location. Highly skilled assistants can also offer help with website maintenance, customer and client contact and even marketing material, all services that would greatly benefit Turner’s business.
“Because I’m in the landscape industry, I spend the majority of my time outside of the office, which means I don’t really have time to devote to answering e-mails and sending faxes,” said Turner. “Having a professional who could serve as a liaison between me and my clients would be invaluable.”
Invaluable indeed, since not having an assistant means late nights spent catching up on paperwork like contracts and bookkeeping.
Virtual assistance companies often span several industries, and some assistants even offer help with the clients’ personal lives by organizing social gatherings, making doctor appointments and arranging travel plans.

Virtual assistants offer several advantages over do-it-yourself practices or temporary and part-time workers, the main benefi t being that they’re cost-effective. The employer has no payroll taxes, workers’ comp or temp agency commission fees. Small companies could also save money on offi ce space, equipment, pensions, insurance and the like. Another advantage for business owners is that they would have full access to assistants while only paying for work that was actually done.

Employers who are thinking about hiring a virtual assistant are urged to do research beforehand to ensure a profi table match. A good VA may be instrumental in helping with the mundane tasks while business owners focus on advancing the company’s goals.

What is concierge?

Posted in Lifestyle Management, Virtual Assistance with tags , on January 4, 2010 by virtualcitypa

Personal concierge services allow clients to “buy back” their precious time so that they can get back to enjoying what means most to them. A personal concierge works on the most basic of premises: people want things done and just don’t have the time to do them.

Many concierge companies provide errand services and information services for their members. Services include informational requests, setting dinner reservations, making telephone calls, researching travel arrangements and more.

Typically, concierge companies will bill on an hourly rate, and depending upon the type of task, and fees can fluctuate drastically. Other companies bill a flat monthly fee based upon the number of requests a member is allowed to place each month. This service offering is also known as lifestyle management.  

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Concierge