Archive for Business

31 Tips For Successful Outsourcing

Posted in Business start up, Outsourcing, Virtual Assistance with tags , , , , on December 18, 2010 by virtualcitypa

Here are 31 tips to make your outsourcing experiences as smooth as possible.

Come to an Agreement

One of the most important elements of subcontracting is making sure you and the subcontractor are on the same page and that there are no surprises. Keep these things on your list to help facilitate a smooth working relationship:

1.  Use a contract
2.  Make sure you agree on payment terms up front
3.  Don’t pay in full until the job is complete
4.  Be clear on how and when you plan to pay the subcontractor
5.  Agree on a timeline for the work
6.  Include a non-disclosure/non-competition provision in your contract
7.  Determine how you will receive project updates
8.  Clarify confidentiality expectations
9.  Build in a “de-bugging” provision that identifies a specific period of time the subcontractor will be on call to fix potential problems that arise
10.  Clarify the ownership of the project in writing

Protect Your Business

When you outsource, you are giving up some of your control over the project. Consider these tips to help you protect your business, interests and reputation:

11.  Check references
12.  Review the subcontractor’s portfolio
13.  Verify skills
14.  Consider a small test project first
15.  Be prepared to review all work before turning it over to the client
16.  Be very clear about expectations
17.  Don’t leave any details out when relaying the project request to the subcontractor
18.  Send all work requests in writing
19.  Schedule an initial call and regular check-ins, if necessary
20.  Be available throughout the duration of the project
21.  Track all payments for your books

Client Relations

The goal of the project should be to meet and exceed the client’s needs. In order to do that, follow these tips to manage your relationship with your client:

22.  Be the middleman
23.  Tell your client you are using a subcontractor, if appropriate
24.  Pad the time estimate provided by the subcontractor in your estimate for the client
25.  Don’t forget to add in time for your management role
26.  Be accountable for your work AND your subcontractor’s work

Aside from the Work

Remember the importance of the personal side of your subcontractor relationship. Here are some ways to do that:

27.  Don’t overlook the importance of complementary personalities
28.  Respect the subcontractor’s time
29.  Make sure there are no communication gaps
30.  Give praise and appreciation for a job well done
31.  Ask the subcontractor how it went at the end of the project and provide feedback

What other tips would you add to this list?

Successful outsourcing will not only allow you to focus on what you do best, but also find other ways to satisfy clients and expand your business. By building relationships with your subcontractors that are based on trust and respect, you will be able to create a team that can accomplish just about anything…and give you a day or two off in the process.

Alyssa Gregory is the owner of avertua, LLC, a full-service virtual assistant firm. She has been designing websites since 1995, and has a passion for supporting small businesses. Alyssa provides business tips, advice and news through her Small Business Idea Generator blog.



Posted in Business start up, Management / Leadership, Time Management with tags , , on August 21, 2010 by virtualcitypa

A good plan will:

  • State the current situation
  • Have a clear aim
  • Use the resources available
  • Detail the tasks to be carried out, whose responsibility they are, and their priorities and deadlines.
  • Detail control mechanisms that will alert you to difficulties in achieving the plan.
  • Identify risks, and plan for contingencies. This allows you to make a rapid and effective response to crises, perhaps at a time when you are at low ebb or are confused following a setback.
  • Consider transitional arrangements – how will you keep things going while you implement the plan?

The six phases of planning are as follows:

  • Analysis of Opportunities
  • Identifying the Aim of Your Plan
  • Exploring Options
  • Selecting the Best Option
  • Detailed Planning
  • Evaluation of the Plan and its Impact was the source of this valuable reference article

Differentiate or Die in a Downturn

Posted in Business start up, Marketing with tags , , , , on August 13, 2010 by virtualcitypa

Differentiate your businessWhen money gets tighter, people get pickier. Which means, if want to continue to not only survive, but thrive, you’re going to need to dig a bit more deeply into the differentiation well and publicly showcase why you are the woman, man or business that people should be handing their money over to.

Perfect example. Walking down the block looking for a place to grab lunch with my wife on a weekday, we passed 7 or 8 restaurants and every single one was close to being empty. Then we poked our heads into the local pub. We’d never been there before. And, it was packed.

Not because people were drinking their troubles away. They were all sitting and eating. And, 75% were moms in their 30s and 40s. Whaaa?

It wasn’t long until we figured out what was going on. This little pub had figured out a way to shine, while all the restaurants around them stumbled. Along with their standard menu, we were each given a long, 6 inch wide piece of paper and a red pen.

On the paper were about 50 different options for chopped salad mix-ins. We each sat choosing our salad items and, a few minutes later, two giant finely-chopped salads arrived at our table. We dove in, couldn’t finish either and reveled about how we never about this hidden salad gem before. But, clearly others had.

Since then, this little grill has become our go-to place for taking out, ordering in and the occasional dinner with friends, family style.

Because … they get it.

People are looking for value more than at any other time in decades. And, if you can’t strongly differentiate yourself, you and your business become fungible … replaceable … interchangeable.

And, that’s an awful place to be in a down economy.

So, how will you differentiate and showcase your unique value in 2009?

* * * * *

Jonathan Fields, hedge-fund lawyer turned lifestyle entrepreneurAbout the Author: Jonathan Fields is a former hedge-fund lawyer turned serial lifestyle entrepreneur, copywriter, Internet and direct marketer, speaker and writer. You can find him blogging on entrepreneurship and lifestyles at Awake At The Wheel, crafting high-impact copy for clients at Vibe Creative or training people to become entrepreneurs and career renegades at Career Renegade. His next book, also called Career Renegade, is due out from Random House/Broadway Books In January 2009.

Successful Marketing Tips: top 10 Must do’s

Posted in Marketing with tags , , on June 22, 2010 by virtualcitypa

I really appreciated these helpful tips from Chris Cardell’s Business Success website that give a great insight into the importance of good marketing:

You can have a wonderful product or service – but if nobody knows about it, you’re in trouble.

When business owners have the ‘moment’ they realise that actually, business success is all about Marketing. It’s about reaching potential customers, converting them to paying customers and keeping them as lifetime customers.

1. Stop wasting money on Ineffective Marketing and Advertising.

This might sound obvious but it’s shocking how many business owners are spending money on Advertising and Marketing that does not work.

Here’s a common scenario for your average small business owner: the phone rings, or there’s a knock at the door, and it’s a rep from a newspaper or magazine selling advertising space. Our eager business owner could do with some more customers so readily agrees to the rep’s offer and is pleased to have saved some money, too (because reps always tell you they’re giving you a huge discount).

They leave everything in the hands of the rep, including the ad’s design.

The ad comes out and… nothing.

Fact: most small business advertising does not work.


Because advertising sales people and their buddies the graphic designers are not marketing people. They don’t know what makes an ad effective.

We get a similar story with direct mail, too: most business owners tell me direct mail doesn’t work. But it does. All they’ve discovered is it doesn’t work for them when they do it the wrong way.

In the meantime, if you’re advertising or mailing stuff out but you can’t tell beyond all doubt it’s making you money, then stop doing it now! You must be ruthless about this: if someone responds to an ad or mail piece, you must be able to track it. It’s not enough to say “I ran an ad and seemed to be busier the next week”. It has to be trackable down to the individual sale.

This means perhaps having a dedicated phone number you use only on ONE ad so you know all calls coming in on that number can only have come from that ad; it means having some kind of coupon or other trackable response mechanism in your direct mail; and it means using the latest technology on your website to track visitors.

2. Learn how to write Strong, Persuasive Sales Copy.

Sales copy – and that means all your copy – should be strong, bold, conversational, heavy on benefits to the reader, and usually long. Copy can’t be too long, only too boring.

Long, interesting copy is crucial in building relationships, too. Relationships are fundamental to your business – people like to buy from people they like and trust. The more they like you and trust you, the more they’ll be inclined to buy from you, and the more often they’ll buy.

Many business owners think they should write “professionally” and that this means you have to write stilted, formal prose with big, fancy words and complicated phrases.

It doesn’t. Write like you’re having a conversation with someone, like a letter to a favourite Aunt.

I promise, your customers and clients will like it more and your sales will reflect that.

3. Stop Traditional ‘Brand’ Marketing and Advertising and replace it with ‘Direct Response’ Marketing

Unless you have the deep pockets of Richard Branson, you probably can’t afford to be spending a fortune on building your “brand” for the sake of having one.

The reality is, you can’t afford to throw money away on just getting your name and logo out there. But that’s what a lot of small business owners do. ‘Brand’ Advertising is a waste of money. You should only engage in ‘Direct Response’ Marketing. As the name suggests, that means Marketing that produces a RESPONSE that you can MEASURE.

So every marketing campaign you put out there must give people a reason to respond. You must be offering one specific thing, something they want or need, something that’s going to interest them enough to haul themselves out of a chair and respond to you.

Indulging in so-called ‘institutional / brand marketing’ where you essentially say “This is us, here’s what we do, give us a call if we do anything that interests you” is a great way to empty the contents of your wallet into the wallets of the ad agency and graphic designer with no appreciable return for you.

4. Test Pay per Click (PPC) Advertising on Google

Become an expert at Internet Marketing, particularly Pay per Click Advertising on Google. Pay per Click is the most powerful breakthrough in Marketing this century – yet very few Entrepreneurs truly understand its power.

PPC allows you to reach people who have an interest in what you have and who are looking for it right now. As you read this, someone, somewhere is almost certainly on Google looking for what you have to offer.

PPC Advertising allows a link to your website to appear at or near the top of the search engine results they see when they do their search.

Best of all, you only pay when someone actually clicks on your ad.

If you run a local business, you can even specify that the ads only appear for internet users in your area.

Pay per Click is the most important revolution in Markleting this century. If you’re serious about business success, you must test it out.

5. Stop doing anything you can’t Measure.

All of your marketing must be trackable, right down to the specific ad or marketing piece which generated every sale.


Because if you can’t trace a sale back to the origin of the lead (how did this person become aware of your company or the offer you’re making), then how can you know where your marketing money is going? How can you know what’s effective and what’s not?

You can’t. And you need to.

If your marketing isn’t making you money, stop it. If it is making you money, do MUCH more of it. You’ll only know whether to stop it or do more if you’re measuring the results

6. Offer a (generous) Guarantee.

Guarantees are a fabulous way to overcome price resistance. You see, any transaction involves risk. And since you’re the one asking them to trust you with their money, it’s going to benefit you to take this risk onto your own shoulders. You do this by offering a fantastic guarantee.

Now, you might be thinking that by giving a great guarantee you’re opening yourself up to being ripped off by hordes of unscrupulous liars and cheats.

Well, technically you are, but in practice it never happens. Never. Most people are fundamentally honest and won’t cheat you. Most won’t even call you on your guarantee when they’re actually entitled to.

And even if a few do, so what? If you sell 100 extra widgets a week because of your guarantee and get cheated a couple of times, the extra money you make more than makes up for these small losses. Please test Guarantees. It’s one of the easiest ways to grow your business – fast.

7. Embrace the fact no one is interested in you or your products and sell on the Benefits you offer your clients and customers, not what you can “do”.

Human beings are naturally selfish. It’s OK, we’re not broken – it’s just the way we are. We are permanently tuned to the world’s favourite radio station: WIIFM. That’s Radio What’s In It For ME?

Consequently, if your marketing consists of brochures, letters, ads, and a website which comprise your logo and company name, a list of things you do, and a phone number, don’t be surprised when no one cares and no one responds to it.

They don’t want your products: they want the product of your products. They don’t care what you can do; they want to know what you can do for them.

So change your mindset: start thinking not in terms of sales of stuff, but in terms of service and benefits to your customers and clients. Put yourself in their shoes, see their problems, understand their fears, learn their wants and needs, and then cater to them.

Take some time to understand your customers, and show them you understand… and your sales will skyrocket.

8. Turn your Marketing into a proper System and focus on Testing small, incremental increases.

Most marketing is done by default. But really it needs to be a carefully constructed system where everything flows smoothly from first contact, to relationship, to sale, to lifetime customer.

But you don’t have to have the whole thing in place before you start. In fact, the whole point about effective marketing is it’s built up over time by trial and error and testing what works and what doesn’t.

You can break your marketing down into two distinct steps:

1. Getting visitors to your website or business

2. Converting them into paying customers and clients

9. Ensure your marketing system involves relentless follow up.

Not following up is one of the biggest marketing sins you can commit. Here are some statistics which should scare the living daylights out of all of us.

48% of businesses never follow up with a prospect

25% of businesses make a second contact and stop

12% of businesses only make three contacts and stop

It’s a staggering discovery, but only 10 % of businesses make more than three contacts. It means they’re losing a small fortune – and you could be too/

10. Raise your prices.

Having worked with thousands of business owners over the years, it’s my experience that almost everyone sells themselves and their products too cheaply. Raising your prices and selling more expensive products and services to the high end of the market is one of the fastest and cheapest ways to increase your profits.

The fact is, less than 20% of the population make their buying decisions on price. So for most of your customers, price is not the main issue, even if they say it is.

As always, the 80/20 rule applies. If you sell a £100 widget, then there is going to be in your list of customers, maybe 20% of people who would be willing to spend, say, £400 or £500… IF you gave them the option.

And if you take that list of high-spenders, you’ll find maybe 20% of them will be prepared to pay you, say, £1000 or more for something… IF you give them the option (and believe it or not, it’s much easier to sell one £10,000 widget than it is to sell a hundred £100 widgets). The trouble is, if you don’t ask, the chances of them offering is close to zero.

The easy way to do this is to think about creating a “de-luxe” offering which costs you nothing to offer but for which you can command a much higher price.

About Chris Cardell

Chris Cardell is widely regarded as Britain’s leading authority on Entrepreneurial Success. He has been featured on BBC, ITV, News at Ten and The Sunday Times. 253,000 business owners subscribe to Chris Cardell’s regular Free Business Success Email tips. Chris is renowned for being able to show business owners how to grow their business and increase their profits by 50-250%.

There’s a ‘moment’ that happens to every successful business owner. It’s the moment they realise that there’s very little connection between how great your product or service is – and how much money you make.

It can be a scary moment. We assume that if we do a great job with our product or service – and look after our customers, the sales will follow.

Unfortunately, the world doesn’t work that way.

Chris Cardell

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.

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

Wasting Time At Work

Posted in Management / Leadership with tags , , on July 21, 2009 by virtualcitypa

At Virtual City PA we highlight that virtual support is the way to go when budgets are tight and optimum efficiency is sought.

A recent survey of over 2000 employees across all job levels by found that over 63 per cent of respondents admitted to wasting time at work and the average amount was 1.7 hours out of a typical 8.5 hour day.

The report suggests that although there has been a steady decline in the amount of time wasted “companies are still paying billions in salaries for which they receive no direct benefit”.

Consistent with previous findings, the leading time-wasting activities were:

* personal internet use (34.7 per cent)
* socialising with co-workers (20.3 per cent), and
* conducting personal business (17 per cent)

Respondents also reported making personal phone calls and taking longer than necessary to run work-related errands.

The survey found that younger employees waste the most time – an average of

* 2.1 hours for those between 20-29 years
* 1.9 hours for 30-39 year olds, and
* 1.4 hours for those between 40-49 years

Most employees admit to wasting time because they say that:

* they “don’t have enough work to do” (17.7 per cent)
* their hours are too long (13.9 per cent)
* they are underpaid (11.8 per cent), and
* they lack challenging work (11.1 per cent)

Respondents felt that some work-related activities are a waste of time:

* correcting someone else’s work (18.1 per cent)
* office politics (16.2 per cent), and
* dealing with emails (13.1 per cent)

Bill Coleman, chief compensation officer at said:

“While a certain amount of wasted time is built into company salary structures, our research indicates that companies with a challenged and engaged workforce can expect more productivity in return.”

Bill Coleman commented:

“A shortage of labour and tighter company budgets have resulted in an increased burden on employees who now have less time available to waste. This translates into a greater return for companies but increases the risk of employee burnout. When increasing workloads, organisations should also allow a certain amount of flexibility for employees to conduct personal business or take a mental breather.”