Archive for the ‘Administrative’ Category

Are You Ready to Get Business Support Help?

Monday, May 31st, 2010

I see this over and over with small business owners: the desire to do everything yourself. Is this you? If it is, are you happy about it or are you overwhelmed? I give talks about time management and always ask about this, and have yet to see anyone say they were happy about doing all the minutiae of their business. And yet, I often see resistance to giving it up. Why is this?

For some it’s a matter of pride but I think that’s the minority of you. I believe for the vast majority, it comes down to money: you think you can’t afford to get help. How do you know? You might think it’s as simple as looking at your bank account. I suppose if you don’t have a penny in there, you shouldn’t spend anything. Most of us are not in that position, though. We have some money available but perhaps think getting administrative or bookkeeping help is too expensive, or else think the money should be spent elsewhere. How do you decide?

The most effective way to decide is to think about how else you would be spending that freed-up time. Most small business owners I talk to will say the bulk of their time should be spent on sales, which I agree with. That could be making sales calls, going to networking meetings, having 1-to-1s, and so on.

What small business owners often don’t think about is that your sales time has a monetary value attached to it. If the idea is to make money with your company (duh), then you should be maximizing any and all opportunities to do those tasks that bring you money. When it comes to sales it’s typically a numbers game, so the more you do the more you make. If you’re spending time doing your own administrative work (scheduling, filing, research, etc.), you’re not spending that time selling. Which brings your numbers down. Simple.

I have a worksheet I use to help business owners figure out what their sales time is worth. It helps you figure out what your gross margin per sale is, how much time you spend generating leads and closing sales, and ultimately what your gross margin dollars per sales hour comes to. If you’d like to go through this process with me, please contact me.

Ultimately, if your sales time is worth more than the cost of administrative help and bookkeeping, then it’s a no-brainer to outsource them. The good news is that the majority of business owners do make more than that. I can almost guarantee that that will be true for you. (Otherwise you wouldn’t bother with your particular business—it just wouldn’t be lucrative enough.) If you outsource bookkeeping and admin help, not only will you get some monkeys off your back, but you’ll likely make more money, too!

Expanding Time

Sunday, May 23rd, 2010

Last week I wrote about taking time to “play” during the week, which Ricardo Semler discusses in his incredible book, The Seven Day Weekend. Did any of you take this to heart? (I did.) This week I want to focus on another book, Timeshifting, by Dr. Stephan Rechtschaffen. The subtitle of the book is “Creating More Time to Enjoy Your Life” but it’s not about time management. Rather, it’s about the idea that when we live in the present instead of focusing on the future or past, time actually seems to expand.

There’s a lot to be said for time management and even working less (!), but in today’s busy, busy world, slowing down or cutting out tasks are not always options (at least not all the time). So, what a cool concept that we feel like we have more time and enjoy that time more when we are present to ourselves and the world around us.

Have you ever been so absorbed in something that you lost a sense of time? You were completely present (working on a project, playing sports, listening to your favorite music) and nothing else mattered. Those moments are truly satisfying and something we all want more of. The good news is, we can have more.

Instead of constantly go, go, going and reacting to every little thing that happens—often out of fear about a deadline or how a client will react—Rechtschaffen recommends taking even small moments to get back to the present. For example, when the phone rings, he says, use the ring as a signal to take a few deep breaths. This will bring you into the present and you’ll feel better, too—and then you can answer the phone. He also recommends stopping to do things like listen to the birds or really look at a flower (oh, there it is: stop and smell the roses!)—completely focus on those things even for a few minutes. Time will seem to slow down and you’ll feel more relaxed and rejuvenated.

In our crazy busy work world, it’s critical that we learn tools and techniques to help us feel better and more relaxed, and enjoy our lives more. Work will always fill a vacuum if you let it; this time, fill it up with your undivided attention and see what that is like. Try your own timeshifting experiments and see what works for you!

Work & Play Every Day

Sunday, May 16th, 2010

I recently read The Seven-Day Weekend by Ricardo Semler and, I must tell you, this book rocked my world. Semler is the CEO of Semco, a highly successful Brazilian company that plays by its own rules. It is a true democracy and workers are essentially allowed to come and go as they please. Sounds like a disaster in the making? Except that it works incredibly well. The company grows by leaps and bounds every year and counts among its customers IBM, HP, Boeing, Ford, DuPont and more. Most importantly, workers love being there and their turnover is exceptionally low.

The title of the book,  The Seven-Day Weekend, is delicious by itself and the focus of this blog. The basic idea is that if, in today’s world we’re going to be working weekends, then we should also be playing during the week. And if you’re a business owner, chances are you are in control of your own time—even if it doesn’t always feel that way.

What do I mean by playing? Really it means anything you might choose to do that you enjoy and isn’t work. It could be reading, seeing a movie, going for a walk, having a long meal with friends, taking a nap. It means giving yourself permission to do something other than work all the live long day! The idea of an eight-hour workday (more like twelve hours?) is man-made and doesn’t reflect our body’s natural rhythms for active time, slow time, focus-time, down time.

What if we stopped and asked ourselves each day how we were feeling and took heed of that? I believe most of us enjoy our work and actually want to do it. But when we work all day long without breaks or me-time, work becomes a grind, we get super stressed and we wear our bodies out. Sometimes just 30 or 60 minutes is all it takes to rejuvenate and feel like we’re in charge of our lives again.

Since reading The Seven-Day Weekend, I have actually started playing a little bit more during the week—and even on weekends. It feels great! I still have more work to do to incorporate breaks into my days but you gotta start somewhere. I challenge you to pick a day and time during the week this week, put it in your calendar, and then go PLAY. I would love to hear how it went!

To Be Virtual or Not to Be Virtual

Saturday, April 24th, 2010

A few years ago I read The Four-Hour Work Week by Timothy Ferriss, an engaging book about how to work less and make more money. This article is not about the merits of the book but it was the first place I heard the term virtual assistant. A virtual assistant (VA) is an administrative assistant who works remotely—and only works remotely. You can hire a VA locally or from another country. The latter is pretty common and Timothy Ferriss writes about VAs he hired in India.

There are advantages to VAs. For one thing, if you hire someone from India, the hourly rate is really low, which makes getting help very affordable. In addition, you don’t have to worry about having a desk and computer for them since they provide that themselves. Another feature of a VA is that they can typically perform a huge range of tasks that go beyond pure admin, including such things as writing, design and marketing.

There are disadvantages as well. If your VA is from another country, you may be dealing with a non-native English speaker. It’s not hard to imagine some seriously problematic communication issues coming up as a result of that! Your communication will be via email so you’ll have to be sure to explain your task really, really thoroughly. Composing a detailed email can be time-consuming, eating away at some of the cost savings on their hourly rate. Since they’re in another time zone, they may be performing the work when you’re sleeping—if they have questions, it could take a day to get them answered and if they don’t get the task done right the first time, you’ll have to explain it again and wait even longer.

Not all VAs are outside the U.S. You can certainly hire a local VA but they typically cost more than a regular administrative assistant due to the range of skills they can perform, and minimum monthly fees are common. I’ve talked to VAs who will not meet you even when they’re in the same city as you! (Perhaps they don’t want to get out of their pajamas?) This means that if you have to get them documents, you can scan them or mail them but not meet them in person. (I’m not kidding about this, by the way.)

At The Outsource Resource, you get the best of both worlds between an administrative assistant and a VA. All of our talent is local to Austin and you get the choice of whether they’ll work in your office or remotely, or some combination of the two. Even if they primarily work remotely, you get to meet them up front if you want. Much nicer than a faceless worker located who-knows-where! They’ll also meet you as needed in order to get the work done. While our rates may be higher than an Indian VA, they are lower than a local VA because you won’t be paying for a skill set (e.g., design) that you don’t need.

When looking for administrative help, you’ll have to evaluate what’s best for you. For some folks, VAs work out great and help them stay on budget; but others want to work with a local admin and have greater flexibility in how that relationship works. I’m interested to hear any stories you have to share about working with a VA or in-office help.

How to Use an Administrative Assistant

Saturday, March 20th, 2010

Administrative assistant, executive assistant and virtual assistant (VA).These are job roles with a broad set of duties. A great admin is typically a jack/jill of all trades, i.e., capable in a bunch of areas vs. specialized in one. And if the business owner, CEO, COO or similar position focuses on running the business with the big picture in mind, the admin is in the trenches making sure all the details are attended to. As a business executive, you know it’s important to stay focused on the big idea stuff but sometimes it’s hard to know what things you can (and should) comfortably let go of, as well as what things an admin can do. While no two clients have identical needs, I can give you a good idea of what Outsource Resource admins are used for.

Here is a list of the most commonly used tasks our admins perform:

  • Contact Management: Enter contacts into your database, set up ticklers and the like.
  • Scheduling: Schedule, reschedule and confirm appointments. For those who have a lot of appointments, this can be a big time saver!
  • Filing & Organization: Yes, people still have paper files and you save a lot of time if you need to pull a file and it’s where it’s supposed to be! One of our clients, a chiropractor, uses an admin twice a month to keep inventory organized.
  • Research: This is very individualized to the client, but could include researching an industry segment, finding contact info to make sales calls, or . . . the sky is pretty much the limit!

We also have clients who hire us to be greeters, answer phones, manage events, scan documents, do QuickBooks data entry, install software, photo research, and I’m sure plenty of other things I don’t even know about.

At The Outsource Resource, all of our admins are highly capable and experienced in a range of skills and software; they learn easily; and they’re delightful to boot! I work very hard to hire top-notch professional talent and I’m proud of our staff. Here’s a testimonial from a current client:

“When my assistant was assigned to me, there were only two things I could think of to put on her ‘to-do’ list and wasn’t really sure if I was ready for outsourcing. By the end of the week, the list had grown to 13 items . . . and that’s just because I didn’t want to overwhelm her. The service has been amazing. I put things on the to-do list and they just get done. I’m now outsourcing things that simply would never had gotten completed (because of a lack of time on my end) and my assistant is coming up with ideas I had never contemplated.”

If you’re contemplating getting administrative assistance but aren’t sure how to use an admin or aren’t sure your task can be done by one, give me a call! I’ll be happy to consult with you and help you determine the best course of action.

Finding the Right Software: Solution Explorers

Saturday, March 13th, 2010

Last year I realized the need for project management software for The Outsource Resource. I started looking for solutions only to quickly realize the sheer number of options out there and my lack of time to research them. I hired two separate people to help me and allotted a handful of hours to each for the task—the reports I got back just weren’t very helpful. I was clear that having project management software would help The Outsource Resource but knew it wasn’t the best use of my time to locate it. Do you have a software need but don’t know where to go and don’t have the time to deal with it?

keith german

Keith German, Chief Navigator of Solution Explorers

That’s when I met Keith German, the “Chief Navigator” of Solution Explorers. After ten years selling software, Keith started Solution Explorers with the goal to transform the software buying experience, recognizing that identifying new software is time-consuming, overwhelming and often confusing. In talking to him I realized that the reason I hadn’t gotten useful information was that the task was much bigger and more complicated than I had imagined. Many tasks outside our usual realm are like this—it’s important for us to recognize when this is the case and be sure to always maintain focus on our most important tasks—and delegate or outsource the rest.

I felt like I struck gold when I met Keith. He had the background, the expertise, and the systems to take on the task. We worked together for several months—yes, it takes that long—and the experience has been a giant WOW.

For one thing, I got to keep working on my business, focusing on my three most important functions, which I wrote about in last week’s newsletter (client care, sales & marketing, and staff care). While I grew my business, Keith was behind the scenes “exploring solutions.” This is huge! Finding the right software can easily take 30–50 hours—and that’s time I don’t have.

Keith and I had regular touch points along the way to make sure he knew exactly what my needs were, to report on progress and then to schedule demos with the top three choices. From hundreds and hundreds of software options, I only had to consider three! Amazing! One of those choices ended up being the right one and I’m about to get started with it. (Vertabase) I know it’s going to increase quality and efficiency within The Outsource Resource, something my clients and staff can look forward to. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Do you have software needs but don’t know what to choose? Don’t have time to figure it out? Frankly, if you’re a small business owner and you bill hourly or are responsible for sales, making time to find the right software is most likely not a good use of your time—both because it takes you away from sales but also because it’s probably not your expertise. With Solution Explorers, you’ll save yourself time, frustration and heartache. You probably didn’t know such a service existed—but now you do!

Prioritize, Prioritize, Prioritize!

Friday, March 5th, 2010

I purposely wrote the word Prioritize three times above and you’ll soon see why. I’m going to make an assumption that every single person reading this is not getting to everything on their to-do list. While you might wish you could check off all the items, the good news is that it’s not necessary and probably not even desirable—and you can still be super productive and take care of business.

We’ll start with the macro level and I’m going to borrow from Brian Tracy’s book Eat That Frog here. The first thing you need to do is determine what are the three most important functions that you and only you can perform best. Brian Tracy refers to these as the Law of Three.

If you’re an IT consultant, that might be 1) working with customers, 2) learning about new technology, and 3) drumming up new business. If that’s the case, doing anything else—like bookkeeping or filing—becomes a poor use of your time and you should cut it out altogether, delegate it or outsource it. If you’re me (and lucky for you, I’m the only one who is), those three functions are 1) client care, 2) sales and marketing, and 3) staff care.

I’m willing to bet that if you take 60 seconds right now to figure out your own three most important tasks, you’ll be able to do it. They tend to be pretty obvious. So go ahead and do it.

On to the micro level. Within each of those functions there are many, many to-dos. For example, client care for me means talking with clients about their business support needs, matching them with the best staff member, following up to see how things are going, and responding to any communication from them.

So, how to manage all those pieces? I have a notebook that contains all of my to-dos, whether they be urgent or not-so-urgent. Each morning, out of that notebook I create a daily to-do list. Since I know I won’t get to everything, I further prioritize the items using the ABCD system. (Also from Brian Tracy.) A = I must do today; B = I should do today; C = It would be nice to do today; D = Don’t do it. Ds never get onto my to-do list.

The week before last when I was exceptionally busy and my to-do list included attending to new customers as well as writing a newsletter, my customers were the priority. I have always had a clear sense of priorities but the Law of 3 and ABCD systems have given me a really easy way to think about my priorities and make sure I focus on them. If you don’t already have a system that’s working for you, I suggest you try this one out.

If you do have a system you like, what is it? I’d love to hear!

A Schedule Is Great—Until It’s Time for a New Schedule

Sunday, February 21st, 2010

Everyone has their own system for accomplishing tasks and making sure they attend to their to-do list. (I’m sure some people have no system but I don’t recommend that.) I am a block scheduler, which means that each week I have the same chunks of time set aside to accomplish the various aspects of my position. There are blocks for network meetings, 1-to-1s, emails & phone calls, client care, and so on. As some of you know, I’m also the host of the radio interview show, Inner Views, so I also set aside time for that.

Recently I became aware my schedule was no longer working for me—I just haven’t been able to accomplish everything I need to without dipping into my weekends. I don’t mind working a few hours on the weekend but I do mind working 7 full days a week, which is what’s been happening. Can you relate to this? Isn’t it the pits?!?

I had a meeting lined up with Donna Fox, my business coach, and the moment I mentioned that I needed to revamp my schedule, she pulled out a blank sheet of paper (as she is wont to do), and we went through each block of time, identifying where I needed more or less time for certain tasks, and where I even needed to give up some stuff. The biggest thing we identified is the need to have more office time to spend on client care, operations, and strategy. Unquestionably this will allow me to get more done during the week so that I can have my weekends back. And I feel a huge sense of relief just thinking about it.

Your schedule needs will be different than mine, but your success is only as good as your ability to get stuff done without burning out. If your schedule doesn’t have enough room in it to accomplish everything you need to do AND you’re working 7 days a week, you’re on a runaway train and you won’t be able to get off without crashing and burning.

So do yourself a favor and take a look at how you’re spending your time. I have to say, I really recommend having another person, such as a business coach, to do this with you. Donna Fox knows my personality and priorities, and is doggedly focused on my success, so the resulting schedule makes sure those 3 things are accounted for. She maintains the big picture as we look at the details. Do this for yourself—you’ll be grateful you did.

Note: If you’re interested in block scheduling, Scott Carley of Growth Dynamic here in Austin offers classes on it.

Delegate It!

Sunday, February 7th, 2010

I come across small business owners all the time who desperately want administrative help but think they can’t afford it. Is this you? If so, I would suggest to you that you can’t afford not to get help. Why do I say this?

When you’re a small business owner, you’re probably doing everything yourself. Maybe you like this, maybe you don’t. Either way, you need to take a look at the most important parts of your job description and stay focused on those tasks—and only those tasks.

Opportunity Cost

Administrative functions, such as scheduling, contact management and filing are all critical to your company running smoothly and well. But you doing them is likely a mistake.

If you bill hourly, then you know exactly what your work time is worth and I’m guessing it’s more than the cost of admin help. Therefore, any time spent on admin tasks that keep you from billing hourly is a poor use of your time. Opportunity cost, in essence, is when you leave money on the table. If you bill $50/hour and admin help costs $18/hour, then you net $32/hour when you delegate admin work. If you do the admin work yourself, you miss out on that $32.

You may say, “But I don’t have enough work to bill all day long, so I might as well do my own admin tasks.” I hear you, but I would argue that that, too, is a mistake.

Sales Time = Money

As a small business owner, chances are you’re also the sales person for your company. Any time you’re not billing hourly is time that you can spend drumming up more business. And, it’s possible to figure out how much your sales time is worth using a simple formula that calculates how much you net on your average sale, time spent on lead generation and closing a sale, and what your sales close rate is. If you’re interested to learn this for yourself, contact me and I’ll be happy to calculate it with you.

When you calculate the hourly rate of your sales time, you realize that time spent away from sales can be costly! Most people find that their sales time is more lucrative than the cost of admin help. Again, it’s that opportunity cost thing—money you don’t make by not taking advantage of an opportunity.

Still Not Sure?

You may still be thinking you can’t afford to delegate or outsource the rest of your company’s functions. Any time you perform business support functions, you take time away from doing work you can bill or else generating leads and making sales. If your time is worth more than $15–18/hr, you will make a profit by outsourcing your administrative needs. It’s that simple.

Just imagine what you could achieve if you got to focus on the reasons you started your business in the first place! You would be happier and more successful, and you would make more money. Who can argue with that?