Closing the Loop

One of my favorite lines for my 15 year old son in life is “close the loop.” In his lawn mowing business, he likes to assume a lot.  He assumes that his clients know when he will be coming to mow their yard and when he will not. He assumes they see the same weather forecast that he does. I encourage him to simply text them to let them know he will or will not be coming today. That way, they will know he has not forgotten about them. Like any teen, I have a ways to go before he will consistently “close the loop.”  I do hope though that someday he will look back and this advice will surface to make sense when he enters the working world.

Throughout my years of working, volunteering and coordinating, I have learned how important is to bring a conversation full circle. By this I mean, the person you are communicating with is not left waiting and wondering.  You confirm with them that yes the requested task will be accomplished or yes you did receive their email. It is simple, yet for many it is a foreign concept.

For example, when a client sends me an email to schedule an appointment with someone, I send a simple “done” or “got it and will do by COB today.” I communicate that I have received what they want and will do it or have done.  There is no question in their mind and it can vanish from their worries. Another way to ensure that people’s needs are addressed in a timely manner is set automated email responses when you are going to be out or if it is after hours.  One of my clients is awesome about that. When you send her an email, an auto reply comes back that she is in with a client and she lists when she addresses emails during in workday.  She closes the loop for anyone that emails her. She lets them know that their email was received and she will get to it.

Since many of my clients are on the west coast, I receive requests for tasks after my work hours. If I am able since my phone is usually in my hand, I try to send the simple words of “received and will do first thing tomorrow morning.”  To ensure that I do not forget the task, I either leave the email highlighted as new or create a note for me on my phone to address during my “power hour” in the morning. It is a simple way to “close the loop” without too much effort on my part after hours.

As a virtual assistant, the number one thing I can do is “close the loop” for my clients. In the beginning, it is a great way to establish confidence in what I do for them.  And in the long run, it is what makes me stand out.  I encourage you to close the loop by simply replying to an email. If you think that person might question whether you received their email, cover yourself with a confirmation back to them that you did. No one wants to feel as though their email has entered an abyss or that they need to nag to have something completed.

If you are interested in learning more about how I can help you find more hours in your work week, contact me at jennyboylesva@gmail.com.

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What is Your POWER HOUR?

As my business has grown these past two years, I have gained more clients.  THIS is a good thing.  However just like many people, I have to balance my growing portfolio of clients with my life.  Having my office at home is an awesome thing, but it does require some man-made ‘separation of church and state’ if you know what I mean.  Many people have asked me how do I keep track of all my clients and my family to ensure that nothing falls through the cracks.

There are three main things with the last being the most important:

  1. Calendar Maintenance
  2. To Do List
  3. Daily POWER HOUR

Calendar maintenance is a must in most people’s lives.  Luckily, I enjoy keeping a calendar and have never found it to be a burden. I use both a paper calendar as well as an online one. I use them both for reference and only make a commitment after seeing both.

My paper calendar is from Day Designer and has both a monthly and daily layout where I can keep track of my days by the hour. It also includes my To-Do list which I will get to in a minute. My planner is my personal guide to Jenny and my business.  With just a glance, I know how busy my upcoming day is and about how many hours I will be billing.

My online calendar is through Google.  During the day, I keep it open on my both my iMac and phone. It gives a me a great overview of my schedule when I am out and about and someone asks me something off the cuff. It is also invaluable for sending calendar invites to other people for meetings.  I can include all of the details for a meeting and know that the other person has this information as well.  Each of my calendars compliment each other and have their purpose. They keep me on track and are my hourly reference for what comes next in the business and for my family.

My To Do list as I said is in my paper calendar. I am able to mark long range project due dates as well as a task that I know needs to be done the following day. I write everything on this list and I am not ashamed to say if I do something that is not on the list, I still write it in later.  Why?  Not because I want to look super busy cool, but rather because it helps me reference when I did something.  I like to know when I performed a task or what was added to my day; it is a record.  This is not be confused with an hour tracker; I have a whole other program for that and I will share that one of these days.  My To Do list is my daily and weekly guide to what needs to be done. It is not necessarily in the order of when things should get done, but my daily tasks can all be found there.

This brings me to my POWER HOUR.  Yes, I need to write this in all caps because it is that important. My PH (less obnoxious?) is the same time each day in the morning when I reflect on how my day ended yesterday and take a look at my To Do list for today. When the kids are in school, this hour falls around 9 am.   They are gone and I am able to truly focus on prioritizing. This summer it has been heavenly at 7 am–before they are up. I literally have a list with all of my clients on it.  I go down client by client and think about what is needed for each of them.  Most of the times, they are already on my To Do list, but sometimes by doing this a reoccurring task will pop up that I did not have written down.  Or, by thinking about what happened yesterday, I will realize that I did not complete something and it needs to be as soon as possible. This is also a chance for me to send project-based clients who might be currently dormant an email to check in and see if they need any assistance at the moment.

As most of you have read about me, I wake up early–5 am early.  But I am not going to lie, 5 am is too early for a PH.  That time is for my easier tasks on my To Do list.  I do schedule the PH as early as I can, so that anything that is a priority will not be missed but I fear 5 am would make for a reckless PH.  My daily PH is my guarantee that I will not forget or neglect a client.  By looking at their name in print, I am forced to recall what’s the latest and greatest with them.  And though it is called an hour, it rarely takes that full amount of time.

So what is your POWER HOUR? Mine is when I take inventory and ensure that all my clients are being served to the best of my ability.  

4 Tips for a Successful and Productive Summer while Working at Home

It’s the most wonderful time of the year–SUMMER!  That is if you are a kid! If you work out of your home and have kids home for the summer, this time of year can be one of the most challenging.

I absolutely love summer and vowed that even though I work at home almost full time that I would not ruin my summer or my kids’ summer.  A couple of weeks in, I learned this was a hard promise to keep. I have a tween and a teen, therefore weekly summer camp options are not really appealing anymore. They do have activities and sports, but their big thing is their social life!  When not working, I am an Uber for my kids and cruise director to their social desires.

A few weeks in though I have learned some things and we are sailing into smoother summer waters as I stick to the following four tips. Younger children are a tad different, but these same tips can be amended to work for them.  It is never too early to start a chore list or set boundaries.  One of the best things you can do for your kids is teach them to entertain themselves (without an electronic is preferable).

But to all you working moms and dads, I wish you good luck this summer.  I hope you too have a great summer and a productive one. Bittersweetly, August will come sooner than we want and these days will never come around again.  So pay special attention to my last two tips, summer is for you too!

1) Wake up EARLY: Every morning I wake up at 5 am. At first, it is tough (I mean like the first 10 minutes…), but you get past it. It is amazing how much work you can do prior to the kids waking up be it 8 am or 9 am. Then no matter how they awake, you already have some hours of work accomplished. It is so worth it and has been a lifesaver for me these past few months even when they were in school. I find that by the time my kids get up, I have done about 3 hours of work and already feel that the day is productive.  So whatever the day brings, I am more ready.

2) Set CLEAR Guidelines/ Systems: Establish a chore chart for the kids. What do they need to get done (trash, bathroom cleaning, car cleaning, vacuuming, sweeping etc.) before they can hold an electronic? And speaking of electronics, set guidelines and limits. Make them clear, write them out and post them. And of course, make penalties for breaking them. Every family has their own belief system on electronics.  My firm and steadfast belief is set guidelines and stick to them. Make your expectations clear. It would be an interesting study to see how many interruptions occur from the simple requests to watch this or play on that.

3) Take time for FUN: It is your summer too! Yes, the work must get done but if there is no deadline, then it can get done later in the evening after a day at the pool or beach. You never get this time back and those types of days recharge you. A few weeks back, I took Friday off to escort my daughter and her friends to the beach.  My motto for the day was “Easy Breezy” because when you have five 12 year old girls in tow, one never knows what drama might pop up. It turned out to be an awesome day at the beach where we scored rockstar parking up front, soaked up the sun, the girls played awesome up and down the beach and I came home recharged. The whole day, I felt free and enjoyed the day away from my desk.  Just be upfront with your clients about the time you will be away. Let them know the timeframe you will be away and enjoy a little summertime for yourself!

4) Lose the GUILT: Before running my own business, I was pretty much a full time mom for 13 years. That means summer was wide-open, but as I recall during those summers I did not run a three ring circus and hold daily craft circles. There were still chores to be done, down time and guidelines. So show your kids that you have responsibilities and lose the guilt that you are not meeting their every summer whim. Summer time means fun, but it also means downtime. Teach them to figure it out, pick up a book, learn a craft on their own, go for a run etc. You are not a full-time cruise director or Uber driver, so lose the guilt!!!!

Model for the Morning

When I started my virtual assistant business, I knew the day would come when the headshot I had my daughter take in the backyard would not cut it.  Thank goodness though for my Sara Belle.  One day early on, I needed a headshot lickety split as a client who hired me requested one for their website.  Sara Belle raced outside with me as I threw on a shirt that I thought was the perfect cross between business and me (all the while sporting running shorts).  And in five minutes, a headshot was created.  Five more minutes with a $4.99 photoshopping app on the phone and I was ready to hit ‘send.’ It was not great.  I looked a tad puffier from the ad hoc touch ups, and I am still not sure  what happened to the blurry trees in the background.  But it would have to do…

In the beginning of this adventure, I left the ‘fluff’ like a headshot to the side and focused on the work and my mission to help small businesses.  I wanted to get the word out about what I was doing and do great work for my new clients, so that I could build from there.  I did not (and still do not) have a fancy website or all the greatest gadgets.  And clearly, I did not have a professional headshot in the beginning.  My first purchases for my business were pieces of equipment (laptop) and training that I needed and I knew would benefit my clients.  However, fast forward nearly 18 months and I am in the position to add some ‘fluff.’

So one very, very cold (30 degrees on the Battery in Charleston with wind whipping) day in January, I became a model for the morning.  I posed and had my hair brushed to this side and that.  Hands were placed on my hips and off.  My head was tilted in weird angles that made me feel goofy.  But all the while I had visions of clients being dazzled in my head.  I told the wonderful photographer, Ellyn Darling, just make me look skinny and younger. Realizing that the poor woman is not a magician, I do think she captured me and who I am.  I now have a nice face for my business.  Moral of the story, when starting a small business, there is a lot of temptation to buy into fancy equipment, websites, photos etc.  But the reality is your business is your work.  And if you work hard, you will some day get to be a model even if just for the morning.

The Power of Appreciation

As most of you know, I am a Marine Corps wife.  Yes, my husband retired back in 2016, but like a Marine is always a Marine the same goes for his/ her spouse.  In 1999, my fate was sealed when I met Chad.  I knew my life would never be the same.  My simple life from Chagrin Falls, Ohio, turned into one where I traveled the world, sent my husband off to war (more than once), had babies in cities I had never heard of before I lived in them (hello Yuma and Beaufort), and learned how to unpack and set up a house in 3 days or less.  It was a great ride–an amazing ride.  It had its challenges, but the rewards were manifold and formed me into the person I am today.  I would not have done one thing differently.

This past weekend, Chad and I went on a walk around our neighborhood.  Since he has retired, we take more walks.  Life is slower.  We talk a lot more.  Most of it revolves around our two kids, but they are good walks and talks.  But this weekend’s walk/talks was one of my favorites…

Chad and our son, Sam, went to see yet another military movie, “Twelve Strong” this weekend prior to our walk. When a new military movie comes out, those two are first in line.  I guess Chad saw something in this movie that inspired the following. While on our walk, Chad grabbed my hand and told me how the movie made him recall all we had been through during our Marine Corps years.  He told me how much he appreciated my strength when he had to go off to war and I was left behind with our week-old Sam.  He said he could not imagine what it must have been like for me to be with Sam in the hospital while he was hospitalized again at 4 weeks and watch him flying over the skies of Bagdad on the news.  He recalled how strong I was when he went again right after our daughter was born three years later (are you seeing the trend here?).

I told him it was nothing.  My staying at home with our kids was nothing while he was away fighting in a war.  But he replied that it was something and he so appreciates making it look easy when he knows it was not.

Over the years, I have been handed red plastic folders by Generals who had thanked me for my service to Marine Corps families and my husband.  And Chad has even publicly thanked me in his command speeches.  This time, however, made my heart melt.

Since Chad retired, he has been my biggest fan.  He has supported every facet of my business, encouraged me to trust my instincts, and know my worth.  On the most discouraging of days, Chad has been here to lift me up.  And with every new client or step forward, he has congratulated and been genuinely happy for me.  And though today’s words from him were so kind and heartfelt, I always knew he believed in me and always knew I had the strength to handle things.  I already had the fuel to start this business journey.  But hearing his appreciation and thank you for all those years reminds me of what I have handled and shows me what I can do in this world.  It goes to show what a little appreciation can do for someone’s spirit.

So for all of my Marine Corps sisters still in the fight with your husband.  For those of you that wait the long days out with little ones at your knees.  For those of you sitting alone at the dinner table because he is deployed.  There will come a day when this life is over and he will look over to you, grab your hand and tell you how amazing and strong you really were and are.  In those words of appreciation and gratefulness, you will know you, too, can do just about anything in this world!

My Newest Client…ME

It has been a big year for me.  A year ago I started this awesome journey of being a virtual assistant and starting my own business.  In the past year, I have grown from one client to nearly nine and growing!!!  I have networked locally, virtually and even started a website of my very own.  Yes, it is a work in progress and not as refined as I would like.  But there is room to grow and improve–a journey!

Through this career, I have afforded myself flexibility to work around my kids’ schedules, be at their events and help them with their homework.  Along with this flexibility, I have rediscovered the competitive, hard-working ethic that propelled me through college and graduate school.  I love my clients.  I want to work hard for them, do my best and see their business grow.  This drive became a little buried over the past few years as I focused more on settling our family and making sure the kids and my husband’s needs were met.  I still need to do that, but there is more in my life driving me.

The one thing, however, that I have let go is my fitness routine.  I have never been a workout queen of any sort or one to run a marathon.  But I have always maintained some sort of workout regime just, so I can honestly answer the doctor each year at my physical.  Lately though, my pants have been a little tighter and I feel out of shape.  I always said that I don’t need a scale, but rather my pants will tell me when I am out of shape.  Well, they are screaming at me!!!  WORKOUT, JENNY!!!!!!

So I have hired myself as a virtual assistant to maintain my workout goals.  I am going to do the Couch to 5K program and get back into fighting shape.  Okay, I really just want to drive down the road without feeling my stomach on my pants button.  Can I get an amen!  I am going to use the app to guide me in my routines and integrate the workouts into my work schedule.  That darn exercise will be on my daily To-Do list, and goodness knows I cannot stand an unmarked To-Do item. runfbI do not plan on posting my progress on my business Facebook or website, but rather hope I can integrate this into my work routine better than I have been.  So wish me luck…I have a feeling I might be my most challenging client!

 

 

Too much on your plate?

It’s that time of year when days literally get shorter–at least daylight does.  On top of the shorter days, the holidays are right around the corner.  Our minds get filled with the details of our businesses as well as where we need to be and what needs to be done in the next couple of months.

You do not need to handle it all on your own.  A virtual assistant is a perfect way to take some of that work off of your plate.  Allow a VA to help with your overflowing email inbox.  Or delegate your business holiday gift giving to a VA.

Need to promote your holiday specials but busy with the added work that the holidays bring?  Hire a VA to manage your social media.

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I promise you that more hours will pop up once you delegate tasks to a VA.  It truly is a cost-effective solution that will find you more hours in the week and grow your business.  Contact me today to learn more.