Working Relationships Drive Results

I’ve had a number of potential clients ask whether I’m on freelancing sites such as Freelancer, Fiverr, or Upwork. Though I have created a presence on some of them, I do not actively court clients in those locations.

It may seem to run counter to logic that a service company such as Cirrus VA would avoid sites that are filled with potential clients looking for able bodies to complete basic tasks. The problem lies within the expectation set forth by those sites that a simple request will be submitted, the project bid, and the best bid will get the job. In the eyes of the potential clients, the “best bid” is typically the cheapest. That cost savings, however, can come at a price.

Often, Cirrus VA takes on projects where some piece of legwork completed by an independent contractor from one of the top freelancing sites. What we quickly discover is that, despite the task having been completed, no thought was given to the usability of the end result.

There are some things a business owner can do to avoid these potential pitfalls.

Clearly Define Your Project’s Scope

  1. What do you need done? Example: Compile contacts into a list
  2. How do you plan to use it? Example: Sort contacts into categories for marketing purposes
  3. What format will help you achieve your outcome? Example: A PDF list will meet #1, but is it useable? An Excel spreadsheet will give you greater function. You can upload it into your company’s CRM platform, sort by category, and add notes IF it has been set up properly. Can your chosen vendor provide the necessary end product?

Choose Someone Who Asks the Right Questions

Sometimes the “What” seems clear to us, but we haven’t considered the “Why?” or the “How?” The right partnership will help to define those things before the project commences and refine them as it is underway.

Perhaps those questions are straightforward:  “Are you looking for a master list that can be sorted, or would you also like the categories separated out?”

They may offer insights: “I notice that there is no category for [X] contacts, but you have a significant number that would fall into it. Would you like them divided out further so you can target them more directly, or do you prefer to keep only the categories previously outlined?”

Know the Process for Oversight

It’s tempting to set a project deadline with the expectation that said project will be completed with no further interaction until the final submission. That is the reason you handed it off in the first place, right?

It may be possible if there is an established relationship and the project is standard protocol within that relationship, but if this is a new working situation, you should know that the vendor will follow up with you for any necessary clarifying information and keep you informed on progress. The last thing you want is a completed project done incorrectly or in such a manner that you will not be able to make use of it.

What is the vendor’s manner of communication? How will you be notified of progress? What sort of flexibility do you have if things need adjustment after work as been completed?

Look ForSomeone Who Can Think Globally

Sometimes what seems to be a simple project isn’t. Have you hired someone with the skills to recognize the potential complexities? There are individuals who are very good at data entry. They are fast. They are efficient, but they give no thought to the use of the data they are entering and the real world applications of it. If you know exactly what you need, they may serve a purpose, but if you do not have every portion of your project outlined clearly, they may end creating an end product that looks right, but is unusable when it comes to execution. If you hire someone who has the necessary data entry skills, but can also look at how that data affects your project’s “big picture,” you can avoid potential pitfalls and end up with a better result than you imagined. That individual can also flex the work, should a redirection or a change in scope be necessary.

Remote Work Should Not Equal Remote Demeanor

Even though you may never meet the individual completing your tasks face-to-face, you should never feel disconnected from your assistant. Communication should be consistent; protocols for follow up should be in place, and you should be able to feel that your project is getting the attention it deserves. Is your vendor accessible when you have questions? Are you getting regular updates on progress? Have you established a working relationship?

Remote workers are a great resource for small business owners, as they allow flexing of staff to the fluctuating needs of a business, but not all are created equal. Before engaging someone, ask questions. A strong working relationship will drive you to greater results than you may have originally imaged, because you have gained a partner in success.

Want to know more? Email us with any questions: Info@cirrusva.com.

Making Your Time Away Work For You

Time away. It is the double-edged sword of being a small business owner.

Many of us start our businesses to provide schedule flexibility. Many achieve it in the day-to-day operations. Where we fall short is the ability to completely unplug from our business so we can recharge our batteries.

Taking a sabbatical, a vacation, or even a long weekend away is a great way to increase focus, maintain your physical and mental health, and simply get some time for yourself without the daily stressors that come from operating a business.

This is easier said than done, however. Many small business owners worry that if they step away from their phones or emails that they will miss out on business, alienate existing clients, or simply find themselves walking back into an insurmountable pile of work.

In a larger business there is someone to whom you can delegate those tasks, but what happens when there is no one to step in or step up?

Why not hire a short term service to answer the phones, filter the emails, and serve as a point of contact while you are away? Wouldn’t it be nice to take a break and return with your messages in order and knowing which communications need to be addressed immediately or have your calendar already filled with appointments that were taken in your absence?

It is possible, but it does require a bit of planning. Think about what is currently keeping you from taking time away. List out the tasks you need handled, then look objectively at whether they can be addressed with direction.

Don’t quite know where to start? Give us a call. We can look at your needs and craft an individual and affordable plan that will keep your business moving in the right direction while you take the necessary steps to recharge your energy and renew your focus.

 

Taxing Situations

Another tax day has come and gone. If you are like many, you waited until the last possible moment, then handed over hastily compiled information to your preparer and crossed your fingers that nothing was forgotten. Perhaps you filed an extension.

If you found yourself muttering “Never again” at some point during the process, it may be time to review how you stay on top of your business’ books.

Short of turning all day-to-day operations and invoicing over to your tax preparer/CPA, there are a number of things you can be doing to make tax time less of a hassle.

  1. Track your mileage on your smartphone. If you travel between offices or to business meetings, an app that uses GPS will keep you on track. Bonus points for getting periodic reminders to categorize your drives. Try something like Mile IQ.
  2. Do your bookkeeping online. This will allow you to sync your business bank and credit card accounts, upload receipts, and share information with your CPA, all from one location. We have services that can help you get things started.
  3. Create consistent policies. If you consistently utilize independent contractors, get their W9’s and any insurance information when you engage them. This will have you ready should you need to provide 1099s at the end of the year.
  4. Scan receipts and get rid of the paper! Having a good digital filing method will ensure that you have your information at the ready.

Do you need help getting started? Contact us to find out how you can get going on getting organized.

Fill in the blanks–content for your sites

Writers’ block.

We’ve all been there–staring at the blank page or blank screen trying to make the words and ideas flow, but nothing comes. Ideas swirl furiously above, but trying to pin one down seems impossible.

Not knowing what to write, or post, or link to is not uncommon. It is why most small business owners falter when it comes to creating a consistent social media presence. Failure to consistently provide content on your social media channels can cost you the followers you may have gained. Blitzing your channels with whatever material you find, without thought to relevance or brand, can also alienate your target audience and drive them to hit “unlike” or “unfollow.” If a marketer posts with no audience, did the post ever really exist?

Sourcing and creating posts relevant to your brand and your business takes time. Time is something not all small businesses can spare with the other day-to-day operations. This is the reason so many digital marketing companies exist. They source material and post it on your behalf. It’s a great service, but what happens when those companies are pushing the exact same material to the same types of clients? You lose your brand identity, voice, and ability to leverage those things with your audience.  What is a busy small business owner to do?

Delegation is still important, but be clear on the service being provided and your ultimate goal. Social media is a great tool to differentiate you from the rest of the pack, but that means you need to partner with someone who can make sure your voice is being heard. Look for a partner who has your business vision and audience goals in mind.

Ask questions. 

  1. How does the marketer determine what material to pull?
  2. Which channels are used for sourcing of third party content?
  3. How is original content crafted? Is this part of the plan, or does it cost extra?
  4. What is the oversight/approval process?
  5. What sort of reporting occurs on the success or lack thereof of the various posts?
  6. How much input and direction are you, as the client, given in the process?

Whether you are doing your Blog, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram posts in-house or with a professional, remember that consistency in both frequency and content will help you build and audience.

Questions? Check out our social media offerings or email us at info@cirrusva.com to find out more.

Agility training isn’t just for athletes

Anyone running a small business knows that one has to wear a lot of hats.  Until the business is can be scaled to include a number of specialized roles, the owner must handle the bulk of work from all areas, not just the company’s primary function. As client workload increases, managing the tasks of the business can become burdensome–particularly if they fall in areas the owner considers outside of his or her wheelhouse.

When an owner isn’t ready to hire an entire team or subscribe to the considerable niche services many companies offer, having an assistant who can flex with the needs of the business can help to alleviate some of the stress points.

Not all assistants can wear all hats, so an owner should be sure to ask A LOT of questions. The following list is a good starting point, though certainly not comprehensive.

  1. What core services do you offer?
  2. Are all of these available through one service plan?
  3. What is your experience working with [X] platform?
  4. How do you go about learning a new process that is specific to my business?
  5. How do you communicate with your client(s) regarding progress on various projects?
  6. What sort of lead time do you need to complete a given project?

Any potential assistant should be willing to have a conversation highlighting how your business can be supported. An ideal one will also assess your current systems and tell you ways in which you can automate and find greater efficiency.

Want to know more?  Contact us to see how an assistant could help minimize the growing pains your business may be facing.

Getting Social

Brand Identity.
Digital Marketing.
Going Viral.

Many small businesses struggle on creating a consistent and compelling social media call to action. There can be a number of reasons for this.

  1. Failure to articulate the mission of the business. If owners and employees cannot speak to the business’ core values and vision, the interactions will lack a sense of direction and purpose.
  2. Consistency.  In order to build an audience, a business must be able to live up to an expectation. If posts come in a flurry one week, but the communication channels go silent the next, no real engagement can occur. Likewise, tone and content should be consistent from post-to-post so that the audience can know what to expect.
  3. Time. This is one of the top reasons businesses fall short on cultivating their digital farm.  Social media posts and interactions are pushed aside for work at hand. Consistency falls by the wayside. Once work quiets down, posts may begin again, but if a business falls into an ebb and flow cycle of social posts, the audience will likely atrophy.
  4. Inclination. Some people would rather get a root canal than post a tweet or a Facebook post. If cultivating a media presence feels like “pulling teeth,” natural interaction with digital customers is unlikely to develop.

To create a strong digital presence, one should:

  1. Establish and reinforce the company vision and mission statement with all employees.
  2. Prioritize and/or delegate.  If social media is part of your marketing plan, you need to make it a priority. Find the person within the company or an outside dedicated source who can manage the social media engagements so that the business can keep growing.
  3. Schedule posts.  Source and create a content calendar.
  4. Analyze.  Review what is creating engagement and what is being passed by.

Authenticity is the most important aspect of creating a devoted social media audience. Trust your voice and stay true to your vision.

If you need help determining a plan for social media, check out our offerings here.