A few years ago, when I first published the Coaching Blueprint digital marketing program, career coach Laura Simms was an early-adopter who had recently started her practice.
Fast forward a few years, and Laura has built her practice…to the tune of being mentioned in articles for Psychology Today, U.S. News & World Report, and the Huffington Post. She’s the creator of small group programs that help people to create careers that feel like home. In this interview, she talks about how she manages both motherhood and running a business. The full interview is now available to those who own the Coaching Blueprint Digital marketing program!
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Laura Simms turns traditional career coaching on its head by asking folks to ditch their passions and start with purpose.
Over 60 websites, podcasts, and universities have turned to Laura for career advice, including US News & World Report, The Huffington Post, and The University of California, Irvine.
After struggling through her own career transition, Laura developed Your Career Homecoming, her signature career change process, to help people find careers that feel like home. This unconventional curriculum sidesteps the standard and often ineffective “What do you want to be?” approach to consider what really matters most: purpose, legacy, identity, money, service, and self-expression.
Working with clients internationally, Laura is proving that the purpose-driven approach leads to meaningful, profitable careers, and that making a living and making a life go hand in hand.
Your business is growing and that’s always a good sign. But on the flip side, you’re realizing that you are starting to forget to do small tasks or you just wish you had someone to keep you on track with deadlines. As you browse the internet, you keep finding information on Virtual Assistants.
What is a Virtual Assistant (VA)?
In my own words, a VA is someone who runs their own business, virtually contracting out their expertise in any type of administrative field. Virtual Assistants work with entrepreneurs, executives, small business owners, bloggers, and anyone who needs administrative help so that they can focus on their own tasks and not get bogged down in details. There are even VA’s out there to do personal tasks for you too.
But how do you find a Virtual Assistant?
Surprisingly, when you search for a VA on Google, the results are paltry and there are lot more results on how to become a VA, not their webpages. I find that most business owners have no idea how to even begin looking for a VA and stumble around until they find a VA haphazardly. Sometimes the relationship ends up going well, sometimes not. This article is to point you in the right direction on how to find the perfect VA for your business and lifestyle.
First, and most importantly, write a list of what you are seeking help with. Is it calendar management? WordPress maintenance? Do you need a whiz on compiling spreadsheets? Perhaps it’s market research? Whatever it is, making a list of the tasks you need assistance with will help you narrow down the appropriate VA’s to contact when you find them.
Now that you have that list compiled, I believe these are the best places to search and find a VA:
1. Linked In. LinkedIn is great for professionals who want to view a VA’s experience and past work history before contacting them. If they have published any posts, it gives you a chance to see their style of writing. Searching on LinkedIn pulls up numerous VA’s that you can sift through to find some that could be good for what you are looking for. Type in “Virtual Assistant” on the search bar and click “People with Virtual Assistant Titles”. A great thing about LinkedIn is that you can filter based on connections or area. If you filter by connection and find one through a 2nd connection, you could reach out and find out how they know the VA and if they would recommend them.
2. Virtual Assistantville. Virtual Assistantville is a great webpage where you, the business owner, can submit an RFP for free and have VA’s submit proposals. You can then wade through the proposals and talk to the few that seem like the best match for you. There is also a directory where you can find VA’s based on their specialty. Since VA’s have to pay to be part of this directory and to see the RFP’s submitted, the pool of VA’s will be small but more serious about their business. Similarly, another place to look is the International Virtual Assistant’s Association, where you can also submit an RFP. Their pool will be even smaller because their member fees are even higher for VA’s.
3. Twitter. Most people don’t even realize what a valuable asset Twitter is for finding a VA. I find it the most comprehensive tool for being able to pull up a bunch of VA websites and sifting through until you find a few that could match what you’re looking for. On the search bar of Twitter type in, “#virtualassistant”. Many VA’s advertise their services with tweets and that particular hashtag. You can click on their photo, which takes you to their profile and it should have their webpage link within. This is, by far, the fastest way I have found for browsing multiple VA webpages.
4. Freelance websites. For those of you who are budget conscious, finding a VA through a freelancer site may be the way to go. You can post a job on sites such as Odesk, Elance, Freelancer, PeoplePerHour, and others and find a VA that could be willing to do your assignments for as little as $5/hour. I have worked with one or two clients from these sites that have been fantastic, but I have heard horror stories from people who have worked with VA’s that would disappear for days at a time, miss deadlines with no explanation, or turn in sloppy work. I do not wish to turn you off entirely from these sites as there are great people on them, but buyer beware.
5. Referrals. Referrals are the best way to find a VA, but I saved this for last because sometimes – you really don’t know anyone who has worked with a VA. But dig around long enough and you may just find someone who knows of a great VA. Another option would be to reach out to any internet forums or groups you may be part of and ask if anyone there has recommendations. Ask them to be honest on the pros and cons of working with said person and go from there.
Growing your business to the point where you know you need a Virtual Assistant is a great problem to have. But finding the perfect VA should not be another overwhelming task. So what are you waiting for? Find that perfect Virtual Assistant so that you can start freeing up those hours in your life to focus on running your business.
Kiri has been working in the administrative field since she was 15 years old. What started off as a part-time job after high school blossomed into a full-time business when she realized she loved supporting people but wanted more flexibility than corporate America provided. Currently a Virtual Assistant for almost four years, she is constantly striving to figure out ways to make other people’s lives easier. Kiri is a Mount Holyoke College graduate and currently lives outside of Boston, MA with her family. In her spare time she blogs about Star Wars, drinks tea, and eats olives.
Time. How do you feel about that four letter word?
I would wager your relationship with time is a complex one.
In general most of us say on a daily basis “I just don’t have enough time” or “there isn’t enough time in the day”.
While I am not going to disagree that life is busy and the weeks slip by, I want you to take a moment to rate your relationship to the word time.
Like anything we struggle with in life, if we have a not-so positive (or damn right negative) relationship to it, it doesn’t show up in our life the way we want it.
Let’s flip it and take control of the time we have in our life.
If I asked you how many hours you had in a day I know you would be able to answer me. 24 hours. Right!
What if I asked you how many hours in a week? Before you go searching for the calculator I will tell you. 168 hours. Quite a chunk of time in fact!
Let’s break it down. Take time off for sleep and work and what do you have?
168 hours less 56 hours for sleep less 40 hours for work equals 72 hours. Alright, I hear you; work is super busy right now so even with a 50 hour work week you have over 60 hours to get things done in your life.
60 + Hours. That’s a lot.
Chores and Commuting might take time off those 60 hours. But I think you get my drift now. We do have time. It is how we choose to spend our time that matters.
Here are my suggestions on making the most of your week and those 60+hours:
Be clear on what your short and long term goals are.
E.g. Travel to Argentina, Train for a Triathlon, Learn to cook Thai food, Coach my son’s little league team
Schedule time for chores and be aware of how many hours they take away.
E.g. Grocery shopping, cleaning the house, mowing the lawn, paying bills
Make use of the whole week
Try not to cram all your chores and downtime into the weekend. Can you do the grocery shopping on a Thursday night or vacuum the downstairs one morning before work?
Tip: Schedule something fun in the week as well. Want more one on one time with the kids? Perhaps Monday night is dinner or an activity with you and one child. Rotate each week whose night it is!
Approach your week with a whole new set of clarity. Take the time to figure out how you spend your time. The article I read mentioned a-ha moment when they realized reading those free catalogs was not the best use of time!
Tip: T.V. normally is a big time sync. Have a look at your T.V watching hours and habits. A small tweak can make a big difference.
Make the best use of your time
Do you have a long commute or downtime between watching the kid’s sports? Listen to podcasts (my favorite as they are free) or audiobooks. That extra time used wisely can increase the amount of knowledge or relaxation you add into your week.
Plan something fun
Pick one activity in the weekend that has been on the “I really want to do that one day” list!
E.g. Check out the state parks hiking trails, go watch your favorite sports team in person, plan that surprise party, take a siesta!
Time doesn’t have to own you; you can prioritize how you spend your day. Taking charge of your week will add to a feeling that you are in control and show Mr or Mrs Time who is boss! Have a great 168 hours this week!
Liz Brazier is an internationally-based accountability coach, productivity strategist, writer, and host of the Live Your Life Now™ and Get the Right “Bleep” Done podcast. She’s dedicated her work to help entrepreneurs find more freedom, flexibility and control in their busy lives and business. How? By giving them the inspiration and tools to take action, kick busy work to the curb and help them get the RIGHT stuff done – instead of waiting for a magical ‘someday’. Connect with Liz on Facebook, Twitter or on her blog.
Would you like a to-do list and weekly schedule that leads to focused action and not make you feel paralyzed?
Before 2014 I used to have one huge big-ass To Do list and it was a jumbled mess: both on paper and in my head. Whenever I thought of it a headache would start to form. Not fun! I needed to focus on a simple 5 step system to reduce To Do List overwhelm.
This system helps you to have clarity and focus at specific times of the day that work best for you. It includes splitting the to do list into categories and your calendar into blocks of time that work for you.
Even if you are someone that likes flexibility and freedom, a plan needs to be in place so you can experience that in your life. The key is to keep it simple.
Here are 5 steps to follow to get a simple system in place.
Step 1: To-Do List Brain Dump
Write down your entire to-do list. Open evernote, google docs or go old school with pen and paper. Set a timer on your smart phone for 10 minute and write down all you need to do in your business and life.
TIP: Set the timer to 10 minutes only. That is enough time to capture the most important items. Giving yourself a longer time leads to way too much being added.
Step 2: To-Do List Streamlining
Go back through your to-do list and look at what similarity they have. When I did this I noticed I had similar items that included Client work, Marketing, Promotion, Business administration, Personal finances, Content Creation and Training.
Step 3: Categorization
Put your list into categories that work for you. I choose to divide them up into 4 key categories:
1. Outreach. Time spent meeting new clients, working with my current clients, or communicating in Facebook Groups
2. Administration. What needs to be done for my business to keep running (e.g. weekly podcast show, social media posts, newsletter, invoicing etc.)?
3. Content. Time spent creating new content (e.g. programs, courses, sales pages etc.)
4. Personal. Items to keep my life outside of work functioning (hiring a cleaner, birthday gifts, closing a bank account etc.)
Step 4: Prioritize the Categories
Each week, put the categories into your calendar. Before you do that look at which category needs more focus for that week. It could be content or personal. At the end or start of each month administration might need more focus and time in your calendar
TIP: Put the category that needs the most focus in a time slot when you are less likely to be disrupted!
Step 5: Schedule the Categories
Now it is simple as slotting those categories into the blocks of time you have available in your calendar for your business and life.
TIP: Make a block of time no more than 2 hours. That is the maximum amount of time you should work without a break. I like to work 50 minutes on and take a 10 minute break. Figure out what works for you.
From here on it is as simple as rinse and repeat! When the week starts and the time slot tells you the category focus for the next two hours is outreach you open up that to-do list. Work on those priorities only and watch as you stay focused on specific tasks. Once the timeslot is over you close that to-do list and, after a break (!), move onto the next time slot.
Remember the simple key to reducing to-do list overwhelm is as easy as categorization and assigning blocks of time in your calendar!
Liz is an internationally-based accountability coach, productivity strategist, writer, and host of the Live Your Life Now™ and Get the Right “Bleep” Done podcast. She’s dedicated her work to help entrepreneurs find more freedom, flexibility and control in their busy lives and business. How? By giving them the inspiration and tools to take action, kick busy work to the curb and help them get the RIGHT stuff done – instead of waiting for a magical ‘someday’. Connect with Liz on Facebook, Twitter or on her blog.
One guideline that I teach in my free webinars and in my online social media course is that you shouldn’t spend more than 5-10% of your working day or week on social media. Whenever I say this on a webinar, I get a lot of surprise from the participants. Most people spend much more than that online.
HOW TO REDUCE THE TIME YOU SPEND ONLINE
One of the top complaints I hear from people is that social media is a big time suck, like a black hole that they disappear into for hours on end. It’s my goal to help coaches and solopreneurs create a clear social media plan so they can avoid that black hole.
One way to reduce the time you spend on social media is to schedule your posts to go out in advance. You can either program the time in your calendar to get this done once a week (or once a month) in bulk, or you can hire a VA to do it for you. Either way, it’s a huge time saver to plan your posts in advance.
Now, before I go on, it’s important to point out one thing: there are two sides to social media marketing: posting a mix of content (which you can schedule) and actively engaging and conversing with other people online (which you can’t schedule). You also can’t outsource the engagement…it’s just not authentic to have someone pretending to be you and replying to tweets and Facebook comments.
TOP TOOLS FOR SCHEDULING SOCIAL MEDIA
The top three tools I recommend over and over for scheduling posts on social media are: Hootsuite, Buffer, and IFTTT. These are fantastic tools available for your computer, and also as mobile apps for both Apple and Android. I’m also recommending a brand new piece of scheduling software, Edgar, that’s really fascinating. It’s going to be a huge game changer for social media.
If you find new tools and apps overwhelming, try picking the one that sounds most interesting or useful to you, and give it a try. You can always add the others at a later date. As with all tools, I recommend that you start with the free version, and only upgrade once you’re convinced that you love the tool and could benefit from features only offered on the paid version.
Hootsuite helps you manage a number of social networks: Twitter, Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, Instagram, and Pinterest. You create streams of information to help you manage each profile more easily.
For example, for Twitter, you could set up the following streams: home feed, @ mentions, direct messages, scheduled tweets, and sent tweets. This helps you easily manage all the information that’s available on each social network.
One very useful feature of the paid version of Hootsuite is that you can bulk upload posts. For example, you can create a spreadsheet with tweets to go out on a regular basis throughout the month.
Buffer also helps you manage several different social sites: Twitter, Facebook profiles, pages, and groups, LinkedIn profiles, pages, and groups, and Google+ pages. The way it works is that you set up a fixed schedule of posts to go out, and then you upload content to Buffer, which updates all of your social networks with the same posts.
I only use Buffer for Twitter, because I don’t like sharing the same content and posts across every single social network at the same time. The way I use Buffer is to schedule out tweets of other people’s content…namely blog posts. I use the Feedly RSS feed reader to read other people’s blogs, and when I come across something that’s interesting and useful, I’ll tweet it out. The thing is, it can be overwhelming to tweet 10-15 things at once, so I use Buffer to spread the blog recommendations out over a period of hours.
You can also use it to schedule retweets, so you’re not bombarding your followers with a massive number of retweets all at once.
IFTTT stands for If This Then That. It helps you create simple recipes that trigger certain actions. The options are truly unlimited, and there is a massive list of examples on the IFTTT website. Recipes can be turned on and off by a simple click, and most recipes are triggered every 15 minutes.
Here’s are some ideas of how you could set up a recipe on IFTTT:
If [you take a new photo on Instagram], then [it’s automatically saved to your Dropbox].
If [you tweet something], then [save it to a Google spreadsheet]. Yes, you can automatically add all your tweets to a spreadsheet!
If [you mark a YouTube video as a favorite], then [share it on Facebook].
IFTTT also integrates with non-social media things. For example, you can create a recipe to turn on the air conditioning in your house automatically if the temperature rises above a certain point (this particular recipe connects with Aros, a “smart” A/C).
One last tool: Edgar. This is a new one, created by Laura Roeder, founder of LKR Social Media. It’s a bit like Buffer in that you set up a schedule for posting, with the huge difference that Edgar keeps a file of all the posts you upload to the system and recycles the posts to go out on a regular basis.
This means that you can upload links to all of your blog posts, YouTube videos, podcast episodes, and other content to be recycled on a regular basis. It makes it easier to breathe new life into old content, getting it in front of new eyes.
TAKE ACTION TODAY
Did any of these three tools sound useful to you? Choose one and give it a try. They’re all very different, and they can all save you a lot of time online.
Good luck with these tools! I hope that they help you plan ahead with your social media and reduce the time you spend online.
Holly Worton helps coaches and women in heart-centered businesses go from confusion to confidence with social media, so they can use it to build relationships online and get more clients. As a heart-centered business owner, you do amazing work, and Holly wants to help you help more people. The way to do that is through Connection, and social media is one of the best ways to connect with others and build your tribe. Sign up for her free 90-minute social media training at SociallyHolistic to start building connections online. Connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Google+, YouTube, or Instagram.
We’ve all got our personal bugbears.
One of mine is the assumption that there is one right way to do things.
You know, ‘this is the only process you’ll need’ or ‘follow my system’ or even the ’12 things that successful people do differently’ posts (c’mon – correlation is not the same as causation! – sorry, research geek moment!)
There isn’t an exact workflow out there that will work for everyone. What’s important is that you find a methodology that works for you. By all means, if what you’re doing isn’t working then try something different, but don’t feel you have to follow someone else’s system just because it’s worked for them.
They aren’t you.
Your business is your own beautiful baby and it’s within your power to create every single aspect of it – and yep, that includes the processes, systems and workflows you use.
I’m a believer in discovering as much about yourself as possible so that you can work with your natural abilities and style and you can stop fighting against yourself and get on with the business of changing the world in your own small, sweet way.
I’m a big fan of MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) as a way of understanding your preferences and what you’re likely to find energising, what’s going to suck the life out of you and how you can use this knowledge to take your business from good to great.
One of the aspects that MBTI looks at is whether you naturally lean towards structure and planning or towards a more go with the flow approach to life. Knowing just this one aspect of yourself can save you a whole load of pain, wasted energy and self-recrimination.
Planners are those who, in MBTI terms, have a ‘judging’ preference (it’s really important to note that this doesn’t mean judgemental.) These folks like lists, structure, plans, systems and making decisions that they can then plan around.
The Go With The Flows tend to feel a bit restricted by too much structure and planning. They like to build in opportunities for changing course, leaving things open ended as much as possible and reacting rather than planning.
Both groups make excellent coaches, entrepreneurs, and business owners – they just thrive with slightly different approaches to one another.
The thing is, our preferences have nothing to do with our ability. Planners need to have the ability to change and amend their plans else they wouldn’t be able to function very well in the real world. Go With The Flow types (known as having a ‘perceiving’ preference in MBTI) need to be able to plan and stick to a schedule otherwise they wouldn’t be able to keep client appointments or make any money!
Your preferences don’t have anything to do with your abilities. But they have everything to do with how much energy you will use doing a task.
If you’re not sure whether you’re a planner or a go with the flow type, here are some pointers.
If you’re a Planner you have a tendency to:
• Prefer to have things decided.
• Enjoy making lists of things to do.
• Like to get your work done before playing.
• Plan your work to avoid rushing just before a deadline.
• Sometime become so focused on a goal or task that you miss new information.
If you’re a Go With The Flow type you have a tendency to:
• Enjoy keeping things open so that you can respond to whatever comes up.
• Appear to be loose and casual, keeping plans to a minimum.
• See work as play or at the very least a mix of work and play.
• Work in bursts of energy.
• Get quite energized by approaching deadlines.
• Sometimes stay open to new information so long you struggle to make a decision.
Of course, we all do both some of the time, so think about what your most comfortable, natural and preferred way to be is. There’s no judgement here – neither is better, more competent or likely to be more successful than the other.
Got it? Cool!
Here are some tips to help you out and start making your workflows easier, smoother and more energizing:
Give yourself permission to really go to town on your plans and structures.
Play about with how long into the future you want to go and build in review points every week to check on progress and see whether you need to adjust your timescales and tasks accordingly. Nothing stresses a planner more than unexpected hiccups and anything going awry close to a deadline. Make sure you’re building yourself contingency time, so that you won’t go into panic mode if things go wrong (as they inevitably will from time to time.)
Longer term planning is going to light you up – go ahead, plan out your year, get a 5 year plan – whatever rocks your world. Just don’t hold onto it too tightly – allow space for new opportunities to come into your life and business.
Go With The Flows
You’re going to benefit from having a plan and some structure in place – but only to give you some direction and parameters (and to make sure shit gets done.) Think of them as a direction of travel – you know your destination (and the day you want to get there) but you have the option to take your own route.
Give yourself space to play and be creative, and permission to get tasks done in whatever order you choose so that you don’t feel tied down.
You’re naturally going to want to leave yourself open to grabbing opportunities when they arise and can do short term projects with great energy and verve – but longer term ones will seem like a grind and you’ll likely get bored. A good way around this is deliberately breaking your time down into short term projects . Try a 30-day challenge on your blog, or a 4 week group coaching program – anything that you can throw yourself into and then move onto something else.
Go with the flows and planners can be great collaborators – with both parties complimenting one another’s’ style.
It does require a bit of flexing on both parts however – planners may have to loosen up on their deadlines a little. For example, instead of:
“I need A for Monday, B for Tuesday, and C by 4pm on Wednesday.”
“We’ll need to have a, b, c completed by 3pm Wednesday” and trust that your Go With The Flow partner will get it done – (probably right at the wire on Wednesday!)
Go With The Flows will have to be mindful about deadlines. Do not miss an agreed deadline! Planners tend to get majorly stressed out if they’re missed – or even looking like they might be missed!
Understanding your own natural style will feel like a big weight is taken off you. If you’re a planner you will no longer feel like you’re a ‘control freak’ and embrace your natural tendency to plan, organise and think long term. Go With The Flows can stop beating yourselves up for your lack of structure and instead embrace your flexibility and ability to take quick action when something excites you.
With a bit of tweaking you can develop a workflow that works for you, your find energizing and is efficient – saving you time and energy you can pass onto you clients.
Jo Casey is a trainer, coach and the creator of The Work Happy Podcast. She works with aspiring and emerging coaches to help them find more joy, confidence and impact in their work. She’s written for MindBodyGreen, Tiny Buddha, Brazen Life, Dumb Little Man and Finer Minds. You can find her at www.jocasey.com and sign up for signature programme The Map Of You where you’ll discover the meeting point between your unique strengths, passions and talents, and how you really make a difference in the world. You can also connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Google+