Is it “Already Set Up?”

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It jumped out at me in my daily Scripture reading.

“…say to the owner, “the Teacher asks: Where is the guest room where I can eat the Passover meal with my disciples?’ He will take you upstairs to a large room that is already set up. That is where you should prepare our meal.” Luke 22:11-12 NLT

 

Already. Set. Up.

I wonder about the owner of this home. Did he host guests often? Was it an inn?

Jesus seemed to know this guest room would be available for one of the most important events of His–and His disciples–lives. Jesus was confident that the person in charge of that house would have a room already set up.  We aren’t told whether Jesus made any arrangements with him ahead of time or not.

But what joy for that owner to be prepared enough–to not be taken off guard.

In running a business like HOPE Unlimited, much of our service to others is behind the scenes. I confess, sometimes it feels less important than the “on stage” side of many of my client’s lives. I’ve been on stage before, and sometimes I miss it.


But verses like these, and the ones about servant leadership that I also happened to read that day, remind me that my business is about helping others. We are in the background making sure things are “already set up.”

As I recall a few tasks that we helped clients with so that their initiatives were “already set up” a smile comes to my face:

  • Seeing the graduation photo of a young man I’ve never met, but for whom I arranged a college visit in his chosen field–and knowing he is heading to pursue that career.
  • Taking charge of an International Symposium of leadership authors to be held via 26 online posts while my clients were in Southest Asia.
  • Having a follow up email with bullet points reinforcing a valuable session on brain science ready to send when the list of engineers was sent to us.

Don’t take for granted the role you play if you have a behind-the-scenes job. Much confusion is avoided, and better results can occur, when we give responsible attention to making sure things are “already set up” for our clients, co-workers, and managers.

The One Practice that Will Make You Stand Out Among Professionals

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“This guy often neglects to answer his email. Once, he told me he deletes anything older than two weeks old.”

These were the words of friend lamenting the communication he has to have with a colleague.

Deleting anything more than two weeks old may sound efficient (after all, who wants an overflowing in-box?) But NOT when you haven’t ANSWERED the emails! (As you might expect, my friend’s workflow was hampered due to the lack of response from his colleague.)

One of the key marks of an outstanding professional as compared to a mediocre one is the level of responsiveness.  It is amazing that with all the tools we have to stay in touch, there are so many people and businesses that do a poor job of answering questions, getting back to customers, or following up on leads.

Granted, each of us has a different level of expectation on ourselves and others, and some expect too much. However, there are steps you can take to develop a reasonable, courteous approach to responding to others, and start standing out from the crowd.

Consider your role.  Depending on the type of industry with which you are involved, your reasonable level of responsiveness may be different than someone else’s. For example, with my work being heavily focused on administration and Virtual Assistance related, I tend to monitor email throughout the day because it’s part of the job. For several of my clients though, it’s better that they check email at scheduled times.

Determine a reasonable level of responsiveness.  Some people answer emails, text messages and calls, immediately, while others never seem to answer them at all. Both responses are extreme. In most cases, answering a business email or call within 24-48 business hours is a helpful guide–(perhaps faster if texting.) If a colleague needs timely information in to move along in their work, then respond as soon as possible.

Share your approach to responsiveness with others.  I have a client that informs others that she checks email at _____ and _______ each day. That’s helpful for the people who interact with her.

I also remember many years ago being advised to communicate with people in a way that best matches what they would respond to (i.e. sending an email over putting something in their mailbox.) At the time, I thought people should grow up and check the places where they receive information, and not expect special treatment, but I’ve softened on this. You can communicate more effectively when you know where people tend to look at first so there’s wisdom in letting people know your pattern as well. (Hint, for me, it’s email.)

Respond for your own good! Responsiveness is a make-or-break characteristic. Have you ever booked a service with a different company because the first company you called didn’t respond? How much business is lost by simply not being available and following up on leads?

These days, simply being available and not making people wait an unreasonable amount of time can make you stand out from the crowd of other overwhelmed professionals. Make it a priority, come up with a good system, and implement it regularly. You’ll find that people will enjoy working with you, recommend you, and possibly seek you out!

Happy Birthday America!

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Since this is a week of “vacation mindset” in the United States, and we celebrate Independence Day on July 4, I am taking a break from providing any major content this week. Enjoy your week and I hope you will have some meaningful times of fellowship, celebration, and rest.

 

 

Four Types of Virtual Assistance

...and the One-Hour VA

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“Would you register my wife and me for this event?”

That’s one of the tasks I’ve done for one our our client families.

The Virtual Assistant industry is growing (despite the annoying fact of people referring to Alexa, Google Home and Echo as “virtual assistants.”) Major outlets like Entrepreneur  and the New York Post are sharing about the concept, and more entrepreneurs, small businesses, and individuals are seeing the value of building a relationship with support staff that many not even live in the same state.

There are a lot of advantages of working with one or more virtual service providers, especially if you are an individual or small business without the funds to commit to a permanent employee. (Side note: be careful about hiring independent contractors and treating them like employees. That’s not the purpose of this post, but here’s an article from the IRS about the distinctions.)

There are at least four different models for VA services (and there may be even more!)

  • Independent VAs. This is where you build a relationship with one VA who has his/her own business offering these types of services.
  • Task-specific services. Virtual providers offer very specific, short-term task support (i.e. editing a video) and do this for a large number of people through an online host (i.e. Fiverr.)
  • Placement companies. Here’s where you will use the connections and skills of an overseeing company to be matched with one (or more, if needed) VAs who can support you in a variety of ways.
  • Collectives/Networks. This is the model HOPE Unlimited uses, providing a bridge to a network of independent virtual service providers who interact as a team to support HOPE’s clients as needed, or who receive referrals from us, while providing one central contact (i.e. me!)

You don’t have to own a business to benefit from a relationship with a Virtual Assistant. Do you ever wish you could have a Virtual Assistant On-Call for small or short-term tasks like:

  • Going through your in-box to handle routine emails? (We’ve done that.)
  • Researching site-seeing for a family trip? (We’ve done that.)
  • Editing blog posts? (We’ve done that.)
  • Encouraging you in your writing or other professional goals? (We’ve done that.)
  • Maintaining your Facebook page? (We’ve done that.)
  • Researching how to build something special for your cats? (Yes, we’ve done that.)
  • Finding apartment options for a senior citizen? (We’ve done that.)
  • Arranging a college visit? (We’ve done that.)
  • Finding a part online for your dishwasher? (We’ve done that.)
  • Adding your children’s school calendars to your Google calendar? (We’ve done that.)
  • Making a flight reservation. (We’ve done that.)
  • Helping you update your Linked In Profile? (We’ve done that.)

It would be nice, wouldn’t it?

Except that it costs money to retain a VA, especially those who want guaranteed hours. Maybe you don’t want to commit to 5, 10 or 20 hours at a time, or be billed the highest rate just to be invoiced as you go.

We have the solution for you. Welcome to The One-Hour VA.

HOPE Unlimited serves a special niche client. Our average client uses us five or fewer hours a week…sometimes less than one hour! But they ENJOY being part of our client family? Why?

Because…

“…I know I can trust you with important work that helps me move my business forward. Also…because I don’t have to deal with all of the emails I get. LOL. :-)”  Alison R.

“…Beth and her team are a pleasure to work with. Not only do I get top quality support to grow my business, I get to work with thoughtful and caring people.” Shelley R.

“…Beth keeps me on track, keeps me sane, and keeps me feel confident that what her team promises, her team delivers!”  Chris E.

“…Beth and her team are continually looking out for my organization’s best interest. Beth not only presents me with solutions to current needs, but she continually anticipates future needs my organization may encounter. She and her team are not only professional in delivering quality service, but Beth, specifically, is servant-hearted in her approach with clients. Our organization recognizes that as a rare combination these days and we are grateful for Beth and her team.”  Stephanie B.

“….then I can focus on what only I can do.” David D.

“…because I trust Beth and her team to complete tasks that support my business in a thorough, efficient and ethical manner.  Doing business with Beth and her team members is a pleasure.” Leslie M.

So I got to thinking, what if we could serve others who want to be part of our client family, but aren’t sure they need us as much as other clients? What could we do to welcome them and be available on a regular basis without pressuring them? And I came up with the idea of a membership model that I’m happy to announce to you.

How Does it Work?

The last week of the month, we open a limited number of spots in this membership program. (For July 2017, there are five spots available.) For $40, you reserve your spot for the following month. Your membership automatically renews each month, until you cancel, giving you automatic “first rights” to available memberships.

On or around the first of the month, I will send a personal email to you as an on-call client, to help arrange use of your hour for the month, whether for hand-on administrative tasks, a consultation, or a combination of the two.  (Full disclosure: the hour does not roll into future months…whatever you don’t use, you lose. That’s why I contact you to help you use it!)

What’s In It for Me?

  • One full hour of general VA* assistance by Beth and/or one of our collective VA providers (VAs with similar values and skills)
  • 15% discount on any additional time needed for projects that month (Regular invoicing price of $38.00 is reduced to $32) and you won’t be billed until the following month.
  • Automatic enrollment as a HOPE Helper, with its own benefits.
  • 2o% off the normal price for a Coffee with Beth Consultation (if you choose to use 30 or 60 minutes toward this service.)
  • One personal check-in email from me on or around the 1st of the month to arrange the best way to use your hour that month.
  • Full consideration as a part of the HOPE Unlimited client family and the privilege of having a team on-call.
  • A portion of redeemed time is put into our Give HOPE Fund.

 Ready to enroll?


The One-Hour VA Membership (Recurring)
I have read and agree to HOPE Unlimited’s Client Policies




*This program utilizes our general administrative specialists. Contact Beth regarding arrangements with specialized service providers (i.e. graphic design, social media strategy, etc.)

 

 

Flexibility: Bend without Breaking

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It was about 2 in the morning when I realized the power had gone off. It was early Monday morning…the day that usually the busiest for HOPE Unlimited. The steady, sometimes heavy, rain continued, and by 5:00, when my day would normally start, the power was still off.

The power came on at 9:35, a full 4.5 hours later than my day would have started. I essentially lost a third of my day already, and on a day that already tended to have a large list.

I could do nothing but be flexible. I admit I wasn’t thrilled, but I survived. Here are a few flexibility tools I drew from.

  • I took advantage of the opportunity for extra rest. I lazed in the warm bed for longer than I normally would. Maybe I needed the rest.
  • I used some remaining Internet access. Due to a battery backup on our WiFi, I did have access to the Internet and could engage a bit, check something for a client, contact two other clients, etc.  I wasn’t fully functional, but by being prepared with that backup, I wasn’t completely off the grid on a work day.
  • I finished a book. I have a practice of finishing one book per month (not start and finish, but finish.) I had about 30 minutes left on this month’s book, so I was able to finish it. This was nice, as it was already the last week of the month and I hadn’t finished it yet.

When the power came on, I modified my routine. I decided to still go through some of the “morning motions” that are important foundations for my days. I did shorten or skip some, as appropriate though.

The key to the day was adapting. There are going to be things that happen out of your control. I’m all for making a reasonable plan for the day, using schedules and having lists. But unless we accept that our plans are mainly guidelines, we are going to live in a frustrated state most of the time. Maybe it’s better to start the day with an attitude of holding our plans loosely enough that if we need to adapt, we won’t over-stress about it.

 

I’ve created a fun coloring sheet to reinforce this concept. Sign up below to get it!Be flexible coloring sheet

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Four Ways to Grow as a Pro

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“I barely have time to get my work done. Who has time to watch a webinar?”

Do you ever feel that way? If so, your point is valid.  Many of us tend to put off our professional development, but there is high value in learning new skills, refreshing our perspective, and as Stephen Covey put it, “sharpening the saw.”

Here are four ways you can incorporate professional development into your busy life:

Harness your commute time. There are multiple podcasts that can help you learn and expand your perspective, with a bonus of not starting your day in a bad mood from listening to the news or talk radio.

Arrange to attend a conference once a year. Make the case that it is valuable for you to get away, even if it’s for a local one-day workshop.  Not only will you gain from the presentations, you will make valuable connections with others.

Create a sustainable book reading goal. Since 2012, I’ve had a practice of finishing one book a month. That doesn’t mean start and finish…it means finish a book I have not yet completed. This plan seems to work for me. Maybe you could read one book a quarter, or a book every two weeks. Shoot for something you know you can sustain over time. Check out my books and others here.

Join a membership site/Become a blog supporter.  I have belonged to Platform University for years because it offers a central place for resources related to building an online business. There are membership sites for almost any industry or interest, and you can drill down with their classes and discussions. Alternatively, you can follow the blog and social media presence of writers you find beneficial. This method is typically free, although some providers use sites such as Patreon to obtain financial support. (At HOPE Unlimited we have “HOPE Helpers.”*)

Use an aggregate app.  Apps such as Feedly or Flipboard help you capture blog posts and articles into a central place to form a type of customized newspaper.  Electronic assistants such as Alexa, Echo, etc. can do the same thing, allowing you to select news and tips that you would like to listen through each day.

Your professional development is your responsibility. Continual learning will keep you sharp, which is of great value in an ever-changing, fast-paced world. Be intentional about your growth.

*Tip: if you benefit regularly from an author/speaker, show your support by purchasing their books and products, or becoming part of their membership community. It matters. 

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Make Your Morning Ritual Work for You

 

Time to make the donuts.”

This phrase from a classic commercial points out that most of us have some type of morning ritual.

Whether you’ve made it intentional or not, you have a routine you tend to follow when you first get up.  It may be haphazard, or very structured. But whatever it is, you DO have a routine.

You can leverage your morning routine to help you get your day started in the right direction to excel for the rest of it. How?

Here are a few tips:

  • Think: What does my morning routine already look like?
  • Decide: What would I love my routine to look like?
  • Adapt: make reasonable, incremental adjustments.

THINK: Ask yourself, on a typical weekday, what does my routine look like? Does it include getting dressed, making breakfast, pouring a cup of coffee, reading the paper? Make a list of what you typically do on a morning.

For example, I have an extended morning routine because I have the flexibility to work from home a lot. Many others have to be somewhere by a certain time. My morning routine contains quite a few elements that pertain to my personal values.

DECIDE:  What would you LOVE your morning routine to look like? Do you want to have time for exercise first thing in the morning? Would you love to have 30-60 minutes to pursue a hobby or study? I have a client who decided that writing was important enough to her to get up one hour early daily and make time for it. She now treasures that daily time before her workday begins.

ADAPT:  Your morning routine will be a work in progress. You probably can’t suddenly decide to get up an hour earlier each day if you don’t make changes on the other end by going to bed earlier.  As my friend did above, she adapted her morning ritual to fit writing time in. You may not be able to adjust by an hour or more, but perhaps you could start by waking up 15 minutes earlier.  Make small, incremental changes, perhaps one per week or even one per month, until it turns into a habit.

YOU are the only one who can make your morning routine work for you. Think. Decide. Adapt. You’ll begin to see a difference in how the rest of your day goes!


Bonus tip: If getting up early is hard for you, start your day in bed. If reading inspirational material is important to you, for example, set the book or tablet by the side of the bed and as you wake, do some reading. Sometimes it’s the idea of having to pop out of bed immediately that makes it so hard for us to try to get up earlier. Ease into the day instead.

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Should You Track Your Time?

If you are busy, you may not want to add another task of logging the time you spend on things throughout the day. I confess, I have rarely done this. But I do see that it could be eye-opening, and it may be time for me to try it for a day or two! ~ Beth

(If you receive this by email and cannot see the infographic well, click here.)


About Time: The benefits of time tracking
About Time: The benefits of time trackingInfographic by Quill

Five Ways (Some) Multitasking Can Work for You

Includes a Guest Infographic: How to Be Good at Multitasking

The concept of multi-tasking has gotten a bum rap. Articles such as this one are tell us that we are not as effective when we multi-task. We are being told to slow down, focus on one thing at a time, and not over-commit ourselves. That’s great advice–but it’s harder for some to implement than you think. What if your personality is one that thrives on having several things going at once and being fast paced? 

As a seasoned multi-tasker (seasoned meaning I’ve been doing it for a long time, not that it is always succcessful for me) I am challenged by this new wave of thinking (some call it “uni-tasking.”) However, I have my doubts that swinging the time management pendulum from one extreme to the other is the best way to go. I think there is a middle-ground that can be a healthy place.

The idea of multi-tasking is to have several things going on at once. The idea of single, or uni, tasking is to focus on one thing at a time. Let me pitch to you a compromise: complementary multi-tasking. This approach embraces doing two (or possibly more) things at once, but being intentional that they complement each other, not distract from one another. Common sense and safety are key components of this idea.

When you are planning your “to-do” list, ask yourself the following questions to see if you can apply complementary multi-tasking to your list. (For the sake of simplicity, we will consider planning two complementary tasks, although sometimes you could plan three or more.)

1. Are there two tasks that can be done in the same general vicinity? For example, making sandwiches for tomorrow’s lunch while waiting for water to boil for tonight’s spaghetti works better than leaving the kitchen to check email in another room.

2. Is one task relatively hands-off and one hands-on?  While a new software program is downloading, I can organize one drawer in my desk.

3. Can two things be going simultaneously, safely? My laundry can be drying while I work on a blog post.

4. Could I mix a mindless “task” opportunity with a “people” opportunity?  With the help of a phone earpiece, I can fold laundry while talking to a friend, which would be better than trying to answer email while also talking with her on the phone.

5. Will doing these two tasks at the same time add cause more mental fatigue or less?  Listening to a podcast or some music while cooking may help pass the time nicely, while trying to help your child with homework while also preparing a meal can become frustrating for both of you.

So before jumping on the bandwagon that all multi-tasking is ineffective or wrong, consider that complementary multi-tasking may be the way to accomplish two important tasks without driving yourself crazy.

Question: What are two tasks that you can do at the same time without misusing the idea of multi-tasking? Join the conversation by commenting!

 

My thanks to Gisele Navarro (@ichbingisele) for the infographic, originally seen here.  (If you receive this by email and cannot read the infographic well, click here.)

 

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