Reclaim your time- outsource

Time, it’s always ticking by. Do you wish for more hours in the day? I hate to think of small business owners working late into the evening, desperately trying to get their business admin tasks done.

Everyone needs a bit of help, someone to ease the load and lend support. Does the school pick up come round too fast, and you then end up juggling hearing all about the children’s day at school, homework, prepping the tea whilst you’re still trying to wrap up your workday?

How ace would it be to be able to sign-off before the afternoon school run, and not fret that things are unfinished or still awaiting a response..

When you hire a virtual assistant, you can claim back hours every week, time for you to actually watch the children at their swimming lesson, go to the gym or work ON your business (as opposed to IN your business).

Within your business there are always going to be jobs and tasks that only you can do; whether than be baking this week’s wedding cake, recording this month’s training video, or being in the clinic carrying out treatments..

But if you have the hope and desire to create a better work/life balance, and even to grow and develop your business, you’ve got to look at the broader picture and consider what tasks COULD be delegated..

Typically, these are the reactive tasks that clients say are the ones that they procrastinate over and take double the time that they should.

Busy baking a cake?

  • Writing blogs
  • Creating and scheduling regular newsletters
  • Writing process maps and working instructions
  • Responding to emails and delivering great Customer Service
  • Managing the finances and accounts – sending invoices and reconciling the accounts
  • Creating images and content for social media

And these are the tasks that are needed to develop and work ON the business, that gets left by the wayside…

Needed for clinical work?
  • Goal setting
  • Creating marketing strategies
  • Training and development in your craft
  • Reviewing figures and metrics
  • Finance forecasting
  • Networking

Would you love a day to be creative, dream up your five-year goals AND make a plan of how to get there?

To move your business forward, you must invest time in yourself and in your business. This means delegating to your team; I know most small businesses don’t have a team, but I’m here with my many hats to be your team. My main aim is to make your life easier so that you can get done the things you are dreaming of.

Take a read of my 10 ways a VA can help your business to find out just some of the hats I wear!

I understand the leap of faith needed to allow someone else into your business, especially if you’re the sole owner/manager/creator. I get it if you are the sole person in your business, it’s hard to find people who really get where you’re coming from and the problems you’re facing. VA’s speak to over a dozen business owners every month, all of them with similar problems. You will find that a VA has heard about your issue before and can advise with ways to solve it, helping you focus and get back on track.

My business is growing, and I’ve outsourced a few of my own admin tasks to have more time to serve my client’s needs. I know it feels like a leap of faith, but I promise you it’s the most exciting and invigorating leap you’ll take!

Let’s make your business the best it can be.

10 ways a VA can help your business

If you’re on my website and reading this blog, chances are you’re looking for a virtual assistant (or you’re one of my family!). Right now, your emails are piling up, your to-do list is enormous, and you’ve missed a recent deadline; I know it feels overwhelming, and even the thought of finding time to hand things over feels impossible. Just remember, this is what I do for all my clients, and most of them start in the same panicked way.

I can make a significant impact very quickly; take a read of these 10 things to see how your business will benefit from my help. It’s not a problem if the task you need doing isn’t on here, still get in touch, and I’ll let you know if I can help.

1-Company administration

Jobs that seem to suck up your hours – company admin tasks that I regularly do are; make travel bookings, write up meeting minutes and send out actions, transcribe voice notes, data entry and research for upcoming projects. Once I’m inside your business, I will find ways to streamline and set up processes to make everything feel manageable again.

2-Invoicing

Many people find chasing invoices awkward; I can be the bad guy you need to remind clients of a late payment on your behalf, allowing you to always be the nice guy! I create, chase and complete invoices, keeping clear records of who owes you, you then get the fun bit of watching the money roll in.

3-Bookkeeping

A task many people put off until the last minute and often forget items to include. All you need to do is send me the information as it happens; I will collate it and send it back to you; my attention to detail might even find you ways to save money.

4-Writing working instructions to create a library of processes

I’ll help you get organised

Delving into your customer service processes together, we can make sure the service you’re offering is exemplary whilst ensuring there are robust processes and workflows in place to give a high-class customer journey.

5-Email management

Feeling in control of your inbox isn’t a pipe dream. When you give me access, I will go through it all; unsubscribing to irrelevant emails, setting up folders to organise historic emails that you’d like to keep and flag the emails that require your attention. Don’t be embarrassed by the number of emails in your inbox; it’s so easy to let them build up. My largest inbox tackled so far was circa 20,000… can you beat that?! 😉

6-Diary Management

Time to get organised and prevent the feeling of overwhelm. Here comes a lifelong mantra; fail to prepare and prepare to fail.

Whether your schedule needs to account for meeting prep, shopping for ingredients, or even factoring in down-time – preparing your diary means everything runs smoothly.

7-Proof reading

Typos happen to us all; it’s hard to see the errors in your own work. Two heads and better than one, I will be the second set of eyes you need to look over a document before it is sent out or published. Together we will reduce your procrastination and build your confidence to publish.

8-Newsletters

Email marketing is such a strong tool to increase sales and reach your wider audience – a branded and themed email marketing set-up will benefit your business and showcase your craft.
A well-crafted series of newsletters, welcome automations and nurture sequences is a great way to build know, like, and trust with your audience.

9-Blog

From educational to entertaining blogs, gone are your hours of researching and comparing with your competitors, I can take that off your hands and write, create the graphics for eye-catching blogs and upload it to your website. Ready for you to share with your audience on social media.

Your time to get planning

10-Power Hour

Time for you to talk, brainstorm, get productive and make a plan about any development you are looking at. Send me your initial thoughts; I will carry out some research so that during our hour we make a road map to get you to your goal.

I hope this helps and you can see the positive impact a little help can make to you and your business. Fancy a chat? Get in touch, we can talk things through and get you back to enjoying doing what you love.

7 things to know about me

  1. My background

I’ve always worked in admin. I started working part-time in a Call Centre when I was quickly shoe-horned into an admin role; a task that was originally covered by three people, but due to cuts etc was then just covered by me. After creating processes to support 20 field Managers, 100 showrooms nationwide, and 4 Directors; I quickly got the admin-buzz of delivering a great service and helping and supporting the team.

My role went from strength to strength and grew as I took on more tasks varying in nature, and enjoyed the work.
After maternity leave, I was offered a position in the Customer Service division – and always up for a challenge and learning new things, I accepted.
I had a team of fitters who I coordinated for – scheduling their work diary, liaising with customers, and resolving issues and problems. This was often like a puzzle – coordinating transport deliveries, parts to be manufactured, and availability for both the fitter and the customer. I quickly stepped into leading a team and supporting their development, skills and learning – a task I took great joy in.

In 2014 our family relocated from the Midlands to Norfolk; the company I worked for made me an office in the Regional Service Centre so I could continue working and supporting the team, albeit remotely; this worked for 6 months, however, I felt I couldn’t support the team fully with not being there in person, and so it was decided the role was best fulfilled on-site in the Midlands.
Just before and after maternity leave with my third child, I worked for a local wine distributor processing their admin tasks of an evening; this worked really well for us as a family as it meant I could be with the children all day, and my husband would get home from work, we’d have a quick dinner together, and I’d zip out to work – returning home around 10.30pm.

It was during this time that I started to plan, hope and dream – wouldn’t it be great to have a business that works so well around the children. As my employment was in the evening, during nap times during the day I started to volunteer to a charity doing some of their admin tasks, to see how this gig could work.

Weeks and months passed and I started doing more and more work – got all the legal stuff in place with registering the business, and gained my first few clients.
It didn’t feel like a ‘real job’ – just something I did whilst the baby was settled, and whilst everyone else was out at school and work. I was seeing the difference my support was making to these few small businesses, and I wanted to help more – support more businesses, which in turn supports myself and my family. So in June 2018 – I took the plunge.. took the big leap of leaving the security and safety of my employed part-time role, to step things up and give Jen Sands VA my full attention. My daughter then started school in September 2019 – which meant I had more time freed up to step up another level, grow things more, and see how things could develop.
I’m now at a stage where I’ve got 2.5 (ha!) team members and am absolutely loving delivering services and supporting a bunch of small businesses to grow themselves.

2. Why I became a VA

When I was young, my Mum was a sales Manager which at that time meant she was in the office 12 hours a day; my Dad was a self-employed financial advisor; running his business from his home office, and having client meetings around the school runs and after school clubs. My sister and I would get in the car at pick up and he’d give us the thumbs up and finger on lips which meant “sssshhhhh, he’s on a work call”…

Yes, we had to be quiet on the journey whilst he finished up – yes there was the time when he was cooking our tea, went to the office to answer a quick work call, got completely lost in the call which resulted in a chip pan fire.. (ha! Eek!!)  – but, he was always there at the school gate, he was there at sports day, at the class assembly, he was able to work whilst taking us to the park, and he had a mobile phone and a laptop, which in 1995 was like wooooaaaahhhh how cool is that!

Anyway – I became a VA because

  1. I LOVE all things admin
  2. I love to see the difference my support gives to these small businesses
  3. I can adapt things and work flexibly around my family.

3. Favourite place in Norfolk

The seaside. The Norfolk coastline is just wonderful. So many places to discover, experience, so much to do – even in the colder months we go for a walk up and down the shoreline, run the dog, bag of chips – love it. My favourite currently is Walcott – we’ve had many day trips and holidays at Heacham, Bacton, Cromer –

Hunstanton was where we used to visit regularly before we moved to Norfolk – it’s actually where Ry proposed to me, in the café on the corner.. if you know you know!

4. My (not-so) secret passion

I LOVE to play netball. I always played at school – played for the year above, the County, the regional clubs – loved it. In 2015 I was playing in Norwich, and tore my ACL. 11 months of physio that wasn’t the answer later, and I went for reconstructive surgery – however because it was so severe, both meniscus were torn too.. so it was a long hard recovery in all – this also brought along fear of returning to the sport – what if it happened again?

But – we have to push through the fear, right? I went back to my team in September 2021 – and it was the best decision ever. I play twice a week in Norwich – and just love it. The group of ladies I play with are all fantastic – and it’s such great fun, and something that’s just for me.
I play various positions.. wherever I’m needed on the night really! My top three positions are GS, GK and WA.

5. Yes, I help Ry with his admin.

My husband is a carpenter, with his own business and yes, I help with the admin, quotes, confirmations, invoices – overall book-keeping. During lockdown, he built us the most amazing den in the garden. It has a deck and barbecue area at the front – in the Summer it really is an extension to the house. It has a TV, WiFi, dartboard, and a home gym!

6. I LOVE to cook

The children don’t enjoy my jazzy meals so they’re mostly for Ry and I. As a family, our favourite to have altogether is a roast dinner. Lots of love for a roast dinner. I enjoy experimenting with a curry, or Mexican night. I also love to make a good lasagna – lots of veggie packs in, always better the second day.

7. I may have an unhealthy stationery obsession

I just sent Bettie to count… 18 notebooks on my shelf!!
I started by every client having their own notebook – so everything was together when we’d have meeting the notes would carry on etc.

I also enjoyed choosing a notebook per client to match them, their personality, and their business.
With recent clients where more and more is noted and structured using online management systems, these aren’t needed as much I suppose.. but I do love to put pen to paper and keep notes together during meetings and for longer term projects.

(I also LOVED designing this notebook a couple of years ago with a wonderful fellow and local small business Mel Made Stationery.)

If you’ve read this far, aren’t put off by my quirks and need some help in your business; then get in touch.


Spring cleaning your business

Wouldn’t we all love Mrs Hinch and Marie Kondo to spend a day in our homes? We’d have the cleanest, tidiest, most organised spaces ever. Wouldn’t it be such a relief to just hand over our clutter to those fabulous women, walk away for 2 hours and enjoy a peaceful coffee? Sadly, this is unlikely ever to happen.

When you get the urge to spring clean your house, see if you can also find the energy to tidy up your office, computer and systems. Imagine how satisfying it would be to walk into an organised office each morning; you would be able to focus straight away and be super-productive.

Block out a few chunks of time, and do these 5 jobs to clear your desk and mind.

1-   Get your gloves on and actually clean. This is a sneaky one because you can’t properly clean until you’ve tidied up, so you’ll need to tidy first. Dust your bookshelves, hoover under your desk, wash the blanket that you wrap around every day and drop biscuit crumbs on. I love being as sustainable as I can with my cleaning products which is why I use these refill pouches from Peace With The Wild.

2-   Tidy your desktop, the computer one. Make folders for each area of your work and put all the documents and images into the correct folder. Yes, this will take quite a lot of time initially, but it saves your time in the long run when you’re hunting around trying to find a particular document. Bonus points here if you rename those documents as you are sorting so that you can search for them. We all have those documents with titles that made sense at the time but don’t now. My favourite file organising system is Dropbox, you get a lot of free storage space, and it’s easy to share folders with people.

3-   Dust off your business plan, read through it and edit to reflect you now. I’m betting you wrote your business plan a while ago; the last 2 years have changed many of us, personally and business-wise. You might have achieved the goals you wrote and it’s time to write new ones. You might have a new focus; write this down so that you have a new plan to work towards. Once you’ve written it, ask someone in your team to read through and see what they can add, your goals should be a little bit scary, and I want you to push yourself.

4-   Organise your inbox. Let’s be honest; how many emails are in your inbox right now? Most peoples are around 200, does the inbox zero trend make you feel a bit sick? Storing hundreds of emails harms the environment. The more we store, the more electricity is needed, and the more CO2 is made. I don’t want to guilt-trip you, absolutely keep all of your useful emails without any guilt but try and delete all of the daily conversations.

5-   Streamline your processes. There are bound to be areas within your business that have always been done a certain way but could now be improved. Technology advances at a scary pace, and you might find something designed that will save you time at doing that job. Using Slack rather than email, helps you keep conversations together. If you find people are always asking for your brand fonts and colours, spend 10 minutes creating a branding document that you can share on Canva rather than having to double-check the hex number each time you have to tell it to someone.

Each of the points above does take some time; if you are struggling to be productive in your gaps of time, read my blog on the Pomodoro Tomato Technique.

Fall in love with your business again

On a scale of 1-10, how much do you enjoy running your business?

If you put

1-3, it’s time to make some big changes

4-6, you’re doing ok but there are things to work on

7-9, awesome, but let’s aim for that 10

10! Amazing, do you know how unusual that is?

I speak to a variety of business owners every week, and I hear them say, “there’s never enough time”, “I’m sorry this is late”, “something went wrong, so this didn’t get done”. I get it; life is busy, let alone running a business.

What was the reason you first set up your business? Because you love baking/making something? Maybe you knew you could help people struggling with their tax returns. Were you a teacher, who now tutors because of family priorities? Were you fed up with working for someone else and knew you’d be happier running this your way?

Try and remember that reason, and the excitement of setting up your company; this is the feeling you should get every day when starting work.

Sounds idyllic, doesn’t it. Sadly, it’s not the reality for most. Most business owners are bogged down in the areas of their business that they don’t enjoy doing or those jobs that take twice as long as they should.

I want you to fall in love with your business again because every aspect of life is better if we are happy at work.

Let’s go back to your answer at the beginning if you rated the enjoyment of your business 1-3.

-Don’t lose hope, but you need to have a serious think.

-What is it that isn’t working for you?

-Do you still enjoy providing the main function of your business?

-I’m going to assume that’s a yes, so what are the bits you don’t enjoy?

-Do you need to employ someone locally to help you get through your tasks faster?

-If the jobs you hate are computer-based, then outsourcing might work well for you.

If you answered 4-6, this is great, but there is still lots of room to improve. Are you looking to grow your business but can’t until you stop spending all your time on the less expert but still vital jobs that need to be done?

You have two choices; work all day and night or find some help.

If you put yourself in the 7-9 bracket, then I’m doing a happy dance for you. I love that your business brings you happiness; that is what life is all about. I’m still here for you, though, if you’d like to increase your freedom. There will be items on your to-do list that can be done by someone else, giving you the freedom to spend a day a month doing something you love doing. Fitness, shopping, charity work or time with friends, anything you fancy doing.

Never feel guilty if you do not enjoy all aspects of your business; if you are an accountant, you enjoy maths but hate writing emails or newsletters – pass them on.

If you are a creative person, then chances are invoicing makes your brain spin – hand them over to me.

You do you – you do the tasks in your business that only you can do and delegate the rest.

Outsourcing gets your to-do list done (even those jobs you’ve been putting off for months), relieving you of the guilts and allowing you to do the jobs you do love!

The Pomodoro Technique

Do you ever feel like you get easily distracted when working, and aren’t as productive as you could be?

There a various time management techniques that could help – one to consider is.. thinking in tomatoes rather than hours?

Yep – you read that right. Have you heard of the Pomodoro Technique? (Pomodoro is Italian for tomato 🍅 – there we are, I’m not going bonkers..)

This time management technique asks you to alternate your focused work sessions, or Pomodoro’s if you will.. with regular, frequent short breaks. This will encourage concentration, and trust me, will give you pride and a feeling of achievement when you recognise your improvement on productivity.

Try the Pomodoro Technique if you…

  • Find little distractions make you feel like you’ve fallen down a black hole!
  • Feel frustrated for not making the most out of your core working hours
  • Have lots of open-ended work that could take unlimited amounts of time (for example, studying for an exam, research for a blog post, etc.)
  • Are overly optimistic when it comes to how much you can get done in a day (aren’t we all 🙃)
  • Really like tomatoes (pah!)

The Pomodoro Technique was developed in the late 1980’s by then university student Francesco Cirillo, who was struggling to focus on his studies and complete assignments. To help reduce feeling overwhelmed, he asked himself to commit to just 10 minutes of focused study time; he found a tomato shaped kitchen timer, and the Pomodoro technique was born.

  • Get a to-do list and a timer.
  • Set your timer for 25 minutes, and focus on a single task until the timer rings.
  • When your session ends, mark off one pomodoro and record what you completed.
  • Then enjoy a five-minute break.
  • After four Pomodoro’s, take a longer, more significant 15-30 minute break.

The Pomodoro technique can really help when planning a project, or even just your normal working day.

When you start working in short, timed sessions, time is no longer minutes and hours in front of you, it’s a set schedule of blocks of time available to you. The Pomodoro is an event that measures your focus on a single task (or several simple tasks).

The concept of time, or lack of it, changes from a negative — something that has been lost — to a positive representation of achievement and productivity.

Take 15 minutes at the beginning of your workday (or at the end if you’re planning for the next day), to plan out your Pomodoro schedule. Take your to-do list for the day and note how many Pomodoro’s each task will take. (Tasks that will take more than 5 Pomodoro’s should be broken down into smaller, more manageable tasks. Smaller tasks, like responding to emails, can be batched together in a single Pomodoro.)

Once this planning stage is complete, it means you’ll start your working day with a clear plan, a focused schedule, that can show you that your to-do list is achievable, manageable, and dare I say it – enjoyable!

Once your timer starts, it must go off! Keep focused throughout the time available to you, and you’ll be rewarded at the end of that session.

In the event of an unavoidable disruption, take your five-minute break and start again. Cirillo recommends that you track interruptions as they occur, to reflect on how to avoid them in your next session.

A typical few sessions might look like:

Get away from screens during breaks

If your Pomodoro work sessions happen on your computer, when it’s ‘break time’ don’t just switch over to Twitter or Instagram, or switch to your phone to doom-scroll when the timer goes off.

Give your eyes a rest as well as your brain; that means your phone too! Stand up, move around, stretch, go outside, read a few pages of your book, grab a snack, watch birds out the window. If you work from home, fold some clothes or clear off the kitchen table.

Whatever you do, your break will be much more mentally refreshing if you get away from screen time on your computer or phone.

Making it easy to just get started

Research has shown the procrastination has little to do with laziness or lack of self-control.

It’s uncomfortable to stare down a big task or project – one you may not be sure how to even do or one that involves a lot of uncertainty.

Studies have shown an effective way to shrink whatever it is you’re putting off down to a tiny, unintimidating first step. For example, instead of sitting down to write novel, sit down to write for 5 minutes.

The strategy to rid you of your procrastination is exactly what the Pomodoro technique encourages you to do: break down your big tasks, projects, or goals into something you only have to do for the next 25 minutes. It keeps you hyper focused on the one next thing you need to do rather than get overwhelmed by the enormity of what you’re taking on. Don’t worry about the outcome — just take it one Pomodoro at a time.

And that’s it!

I’d love to hear if you’ve tried the technique, and if it worked for you.

I am also a huge advocate of co-working sessions online – where you commit to a co-working meet, tell each other at the start of the call what you’ll complete in the time, and then check in with each other at the end to report your progress. The platform I use is worldwide, and has thousands of users. You will regularly be connected with people who are focusing and working on the other side of the world!

Co-working sessions can either be 25 or 50 minutes long; I’ve found them to be a great way to focus, stay accountable, and structure my working day and week.

My mantra for this is it’s working alone, but not lonely.

If you’d like more details about the co-working sessions, just get in touch.

Good luck, and remember, it’s one Pomodoro at a time.

Working effectively as a Virtual Assistant

Being busy and working effectively are two totally different things in the world of business admin support.
A good Virtual Assistant will always be looking to work as efficiently and lean as possible; not just for their clients, but for themselves too!

Here’s a few tips from me for effective working – which might save you a few minutes during the day:

Break it down

Break big tasks down into smaller, bitesize chunks; this will allow you to focus more on the task at hand, rather than thinking ahead and getting in a muddle.

Get on!

Tackle your most important tasks first. Don’t procrastinate – get them done and move on.

To-do (or not to-do…)

To-do lists work for me – at the start of each day, I’ll look through my clients and write out what I need to complete that day, and then what I’d like to do if time allows. However, don’t make a MASSIVE list – you’ll only feel disappointed when everything isn’t completed at the end of the working day. If it helps, write a weekly to-do list and then break it down into daily chunks.

To-do lists might not work for you – and that’s fine.. we’re all different eh!

Only plan to 75%

Only plan your day to 75% capacity. Why? I hear you ask.. well – inevitably, throughout the day we get thrown curve balls – which is fine. It’s what makes a VA a great VA – being able to be flexible and adapt, go with the flow and adjust as required. BUT – if you plan and fill your day to 100% capacity, where’s the wiggle room? Underestimate and over-achieve – then you’ll finish the day with a smile!

Positivity

Start work with a positive attitude. A good attitude at work will help you set standards for you work, ensure that you’re taking responsibility for yourself, and make decisions easier since they’re based on your intuition.

Ask questions

Before you start a task, make sure you have a full understanding of what’s required. You’re better to spend an extra moment at the start to check specifics, rather than having to spend time re-doing anything towards the end.

Mindset

Take a breath – step back. A simple shift in perspective can do wonders for your motivation and energy levels. Instead of thinking “aarrgghh I have so much to do today!” – Shift to “these are the tasks that I need to focus on today”.

Seek support

If you’re trying to do something, and find you’re going round in circles like a pup chasing their tail, ASK! You’re likely in a bunch of VA/Admin/Business support related support groups on Facebook – so just reach out and ask. It’s what they’re there for. It’s likely someone has either already asked the question, or has done what you’re trying, and will have the answer for you.

Be strict on meeting times

If you’re having a meeting – in person, over the phone or on zoom, set yourself an agenda and a time limit – this will stop you going off course and wasting time better spent on your to-do list. Meetings are great – productive and worthwhile.. until you find yourselves chatting about last weekend and realise you’ve spent an extra half an hour that you hadn’t planned for..

Batch

Stop multi-tasking! We think it’s a good thing, but actually our brains are simply jumping from one thing to another, and we aren’t actually giving one specific thing our whole attention. Stop, breathe, focus on the one thing that needs to be done right now. Once that’s complete, move on to the next.

Help yourself

Prepare yourself for a calmer working day tomorrow – your future self will thank you for it. Increase your control of your working situation in advance – start by planning tomorrow the night before and sticking to your routine.

Power hour

Switch off notifications – this was a game changer for me! Our phones ping ping ping all day and we just can’t help having a little peek at what that was whilst in the middle of… oh crumbs you’ve fell down an Instagram rabbit hole for 20 minutes. Turn off notifications, and set yourself a ‘power-hour’ or half an hour.. or whatever works for you. You’ll see you’ll plough through your tasks when your productivity is not being interrupted.

Engage with others

People work with people. Engage with others; whether this is at a networking event, or on one of many social media platforms – set yourself 10 minutes a day on each platform for purposeful engagement – reach out to those in your network, search up a hashtag relevant to your business – connect with others and they’ll connect with you.

And there we have it – my 13 top tips to getting you focused, efficient, and enjoying the work you do.

Remember – your talent will get your through the door, but your character will keep you in the room.

Thank you for reading! If you have any questions, requests for tips, or just want to reach out – I’d love to hear from you.