Blog Archives

Chasing Overdue Invoices

Did you know that small firms spend up to 130 hours each year chasing overdue invoices? That’s two working weeks.

Over and over again in the last few years, I’ve been hearing how frustrated my clients are with customers who are very slow to pay or who don’t pay at all.

Overdue invoices have a huge impact on the wellbeing of a small business and it can really sour our relationships with our clients. But it doesn’t have to be that way. I’m going to give you some top tips to help you persuade your clients to pay – the stress free way.

1.        Don’t be Afraid to Ask

It’s your money. If you’ve done the job right, you’re entitled to be paid!  There’s no stigma attached to chasing small monies, and getting tough is no longer seen as petty or weak. If anything, it shows your clients that you’re efficient and worth paying for.

2.       Put a Process in Place

Even if you’re a one-person company, you must create clearly defined processes for dealing with late payments. Chasing money is time-consuming, but these processes will keep you sane – and profitable.

3.       Contact the Client Immediately

Contact the client directly on the day payment becomes overdue. Try not to use email — a telephone call or face-to-face meeting is far more effective. During your conversation, check that they’re satisfied with your work. Establish whether they have a problem paying and agree a payment schedule. Often, the client may simply have been away or has forgotten and will pay you immediately.

4.       Nudge the Client Harder

If you’re still not being paid, contact the person directly responsible for paying invoices. If payment is considerably delayed, write a formal letter stating a date when late fees and interest will start to accrue. Most countries have statutory interest rates for overdue payments. In Ireland it’s 7% per annum, 8% in the UK and US states vary between 6% and 10% per annum.

5.       Accept the Inevitable

If negotiations break down, write a letter stating that the client is in breach of contract (verbal agreements are still legally-binding in most countries) and you have no choice but to withdraw your services. Don’t make empty threats; be prepared to start legal proceedings.

6.        Never complain

Don’t discuss a non-paying client to others — especially on social networks. It’s not professional and is unlikely to result in a positive outcome. Never use aggressive language or start making threats. You may laugh, but last year, I spoke to someone who threatened to break a client’s legs!

If you can’t chase clients yourself, there’s always an alternative – outsourcing.

Please feel free to contact me at: info@virtualoffices.ie, to see how we can help you with your credit management. We’ll let your clients know that you mean business.

Why choose a Virtual Office?

Today business people need a smart efficient solution that will not only give their business a professional image and the tools to focus on increasing their bottom line rather than having to worry about the day to day running of an office. So the concept of virtual offices is fast becoming a worldwide phenomenon and that Holy Grail solution that businesspeople have been searching for.

For businesses and entrepreneurs setting up an office can take months, plus there’s the costs of hiring staff, finding furniture and that complicated task of trying to work out the hassle of setting up the internet, telephone and other technology.  Not to mention the task and cost of training the new staff. By signing up for a Virtual Office clients can skip all this and are literally ready within minutes to focus on making their business a success.

The opportunities with the Virtual Office are what can set your business apart from the rest. Whether it’s a local business you’re running or are looking to expand your business nationally or even gain access to an international market, business people can have a local address, local phone number, local support team and a professional presence in any market!

For help to focus on making your business a success why not contact us at the Virtual Office to see how we can give you your very own professional presence that will set you apart from your competition, e-mail Samantha: info@virtualoffices.ie or contact us on 051 351286

3 ACTIONS TO GROW YOUR BUSINESS

It goes without saying that you want your business to be stable, with fewer outgoings and more profit. That’s what business is all about. How can you actually go about achieving this Holy Grail? It’s easier than you think. Just follow The Virtual Office’s three-step action plan.

PLAN ~ When you’re full of excitement about your business, it’s easy to rush in. BEFORE taking action, step back and get the “blimp perspective“. Blimps, such as the Goodyear Blimp, give you a full aerial view of a city or a venue like a stadium, which you otherwise would not see. If you apply the blimp view to your business, you’ll be able to figure out:

1. Where you have come from
2. Where you are now
3. Where you want to go in the future

Planning will give you that perspective. It’s essential to use all the knowledge that you have gained about running a successful company to map out the future course of your business. You’ll have the freedom to see many potential roadblocks, opportunities and true possibilities.

DO ~ Now is the time to bring your plans to life. There is no substitute for taking action on your plans. Many entrepreneurs regularly purchase programs but fail to implement what they have learned. It’s not enough just to purchase the latest shiny equipment. Action is the key that unlocks the door to business success.

REVIEW ~ Now it’s time to ask yourself some questions. Did you reach your goals? How close were you to your targets? What did you omit from the planning or action steps? What would you adjust, cut out or include? Reviewing and measuring your results will enable you to gather your Success Data. This is the information that shows you what you’re doing right. And if you know that, you’ll keep doing it.

You can keep applying this 3-step plan throughout the life of your business. So until next time, be sure to Plan, Do and Review.

Advantages of Outsourcing

Welcome to the latest outsourcing blog. In this week’s blog we are looking at the advantages of outsourcing. Overall we can see the advantages are, saving time and money. We will break them down using the following headings.

Advantages of Outsourcing

Focus on Core activities: In periods of growth and decline the company will have the resources available to continue to exceed your customer’s expectations of excellent service.
Cost and Efficiency savings: By outsourcing you have greater control over your spending; you will not have any costs for the service when you are not using the service.
Reduced overheads:  The business is not liable for the cost of providing an office environment or the costs of training and development of the personnel to run the office.
Operational Control: A company’s marketing department may not have the staff to complete the operational targets and therefore require some projects to be outsourced.
Staffing flexibility: Outsourcing will allow businesses a lot more flexibility in that they will only pay for the times when the service is used, therefore they have the advantage of having extra staff without the need to go through the hassle of an interview process.
Continuity:  If any members of staff become ill for a period of time or leave the business for any reason, outsourcing is a way of plugging the gap.
Internal development: By having your own staff working beside an outsourcing company, the company’s employee’s can develop a new skill set for future use, or can be seconded to another department to help through any particular project the company is involved with.

As we can see from the above there are many advantages to outsourcing, We at The Virtual Office are only too happy to help with your outsourcing needs.

 

Outsourcing for Growth

Outsourcing for Growth
As we wrote recently, outsourcing is defined as any task, operation or process that could be performed by you or your employee’s within your business, but is contracted to a third party.

Many business owners find their business is growing or they are trying to spend more time on marketing but find the length of time to complete each task is taking up even more valuable hours on a never ending to do list!  This can be very stressful, especially when everyone is looking for more of your time whether its suppliers or customers, and as a result certain aspects of your business begin to suffer, and, of course these harsh economic conditions are placing further financial constraints on businesses which mean it’s not feasible for a business owner to take on staff.

Outsourcing your administration takes off some of the pressure, giving you the freedom to spend more time working on your business rather than just in it
What tasks to outsource? Taking the decision to outsource some of your administrative tasks won’t be something you do lightly. It’s quite daunting when you find yourself having to let go of some tasks and relinquish them from your hands-on control.  A manageable way to embark upon an outsourcing relationship is to start by delegating individual tasks or projects.

At the beginning each party needs to learn how to work together, how to communicate efficiently and effectively in order to get the best from each other.  As you each start to see the results, you’ll get a feel for competencies and/or weaknesses and adapt accordingly.  As trust grows it’s very likely you’ll feel much more comfortable handing tasks over.

The tasks to outsource are the tasks that are not profitable but take up a great deal of time such as credit control, telephone answering and other administrative tasks.

Outsourcing for Survival

Outsourcing was once seen as a strategic tool to gain a competitive advantage over your competitors.  It is now being used as a way of increasing a business’ survival during what is now seen as one of the worst period of our economic history.

Outsourcing is defined as any task, operation, job or process that could be performed by employees within your company, but contracted to an external third party.
The continuing downturn in the economy has seen the number of customers looking for goods and services dwindle, thus creating an ever increasing competitiveness amongst businesses.

As business conditions decline the same numbers of employees are no longer required, and business owners are faced with the situation that they now need to cut costs and cannot afford to keep the same staffing levels, however, there are still responsibilities that need to be carried out to keep the business moving forward.

In the above situation there is only one conclusion and that is to take the hard decision, and reduce staffing levels to ensure the business survival through this downturn but in doing so it ensures the ongoing business is now in a much better situation for when the economy turns around, and staffing levels can return to normal.

For your outsourcing requirements to ensure your business survival through this difficult time why not contact The Virtual Office, to see how we can help you to cut costs.

Next week we will be looking at outsourcing for growth.

6 Ways to Make Your Small Business Look Bigger

Some people say “fake it ‘til you make it,” but I think that cliché has an unnecessary air of falseness about it. Still, if you are starting up or running a small business, making your company look bigger and more established to the outside world can have dramatic results.

Whilst we’re not suggesting you misrepresent yourself or your company, or you behave like a big, impersonal corporation. What we are saying is that image does matter, and you should cast your business in the best possible light.

Dressing up your small business sends a message of seriousness and credibility to customers, suppliers, and anyone else who interacts with your business. It also affects your own attitude; much like wearing nice clothes makes you stand a little taller. With so many cheap and easy tools available for the purpose, there’s no excuse for not making your business look like a business, even if the company is just you and a laptop. Start here:

1.  If you work from home, lose the bunny slippers. If you’ve chosen to work out of your house, then create an impenetrable “work bubble.” That means a dedicated, quiet, professional, well-equipped and wired space that you, and anyone else in the house, treat no differently than an office across town. No exceptions. Get dressed up for work in the morning, even though you don’t have to. It affects your behaviour, not to mention it avoids embarrassing surprise Skype Calls!

2. Your phone sets a tone. I can’t tell you how many times someone has called me, representing a business, and I’ve heard kids or pets or TV in the background. Or I’ve called a “business” number and listened to an answering message saying “you’ve reached the Smith family and Smith Industries, Incorporated…” Get a good phone on a dedicated line, and clear, professional voice mail, and record a professional-sounding message. If it starts with “hi there!” it’s wrong.

3. Look good on paper. There is no excuse for inkjet-printed business cards or Microsoft WordArt logos. Proper cards and other printed materials are cheap and easy to get in small quantities from Printers.  Hire a proper designer and printer to do your stationery for you.

4. Be the master of your domain. A good starter website is inexpensive and easy to build. It may not be the sophisticated enterprise-level site you will inevitably want or need, but a beautifully-designed company info or “brochure” site is better than cheap, shoddy looking anything else. It is probably the first point of entry for people doing business with you, and the best way to convey the image you want.

5. Don’t be a Yahoo. Few things stand out as credibility question marks more than a generic/free email account. Business people are always sceptical when they get a business email ending in yahoo.com, gmail.com, or hotmail.com. As part of your website project, set up proper mailboxes with the same domain name and don’t just use your first name, if your business is not well known. Use first name/last initial or first initial/last name. It immediately sounds more substantial.

6. Outsource to a company that can provide a professional image.   Some businesses are ideally suited to be run from home, and lets face it, in this economic climate it certainly helps with cutting costs, however, there does come a time when your business will need to have an extra pair of hands to help get the work done, but what happens when your home office isn’t designed to accommodate more then you?

If you can’t move into an office or if you can’t justify the cost just yet, consider using a virtual office.  These remote offices can help companies to look quite substantial to the outside world and building the most impressive image you can from the start is a key step in getting business visibility, being taken seriously, and getting people to want to do business with you.

Unlocking the Secret to Great Customer Service

Do we really guarantee Customer Satisfaction?

Two years ago, I went to a trade show at the NEC in Birmingham. A friend kindly gave me her apartment to stay in, along with the use of her car.  She was gone on holidays so it suited her to do so.   Whilst at the trade show we were given some very good presentations on various aspects of business and proper customer service etiquette which was all very compelling and  inspiring stuff.

But as good as these presentations were, they didn’t show me anything different about  customer services, that I really didn’t know already.

I learned about excellent customer service from a set of car keys. And a lady called Sarah.

Minutes before I was due to fly home, I realised that I had my friend’s car keys in my handbag. I had to get on the plane – it was the last one flying to Ireland that day, I panicked I couldn’t leave my friend without the use of her car!  I raced frantically through my options and spotted an airport information booth. I ran up to it and through gasps of breath  explained to the woman behind the glass that I needed to find somewhere safe to leave my friend’s keys and still make my plane.

“Here,” she said, immediately extending her hand. “Give them to me. Here’s my name, and mobile phone number.  Call your friend and explain where the keys are.”

I was floored.

It’s the easiest and the quickest way” she replied, “all it needs is someone to take responsibility for the problem.”

That was it! All it needed was someone to take responsibility for the problem!  That’s all you need for great customer service. Not a huge presentation or a huge viral video. Just the willingness of a lady, who was Employee of the Century as far as I was concerned.  It’s a lesson that all business owners and their staff can benefit from.  When my plane arrived in Dublin, I immediately rang Inter Flora to arrange for a bouquet of flowers to be sent to my lifeline.

Believe it or not, 80% of companies think they have good service, but only 8% of their customers agree (this is according to a survey prepared by Business Management Ltd.).

When a customer comes to you, they have a problem they need you to solve. You can decide to take ownership of the next problem that lands in your lap, whether it’s from a client, a colleague, or just a frazzled,  crazy lady.

It may not revolutionize your business. But at the very least, it might inspire a grateful stranger to send you flowers.

To see if we can help you to increase your customer service level to your clients why not contact The Virtual Office on 051 351286 or email us at info@virtualoffices.ie

Organise Your Office, Organise Your Business

Picture the scene. Your desk is covered with so much stuff you can no longer see it. Papers are piled on top of papers. You ring your phone and it’s buried under the mound of papers. A trail of coffee cups litters the office. And you wonder why you’re feeling snowed under?

Clutter clogs up the wheels of your business. If you can’t find things when you need them, you can’t run your business efficiently. You spend your days distracted, scrabbling around for things you need, instead of driving your business forward.

Why are our desks so cluttered? Often, it’s because we can’t decide what to do with the things we have. We cling to them for longer than we need to, ‘just in case.’ Or we can’t decide where things should go, so we just let them sit there. Then there are the things we just don’t want to deal with!

If you want to beat clutter, you have to be ruthless. Do a total clear out of your desk, shelves and work station. Divide the items into three piles, things to keep, things to store and things to throw away.

Arrange for the throwaway pile to be recycled, trashed or donated to charity. Designate a storage spot for the things to store pile. Create a filing system for the things you want to keep and organise them in filing cabinets, cupboards and shelves.

You should be left with only the things that you use regularly. Organise these things on your desk by like items. For example, stationery can go in one drawer, telephone directories in another. Keeping these items separate means you can lay your hands on them easily.

How do you decide what to keep? Look around your office. Ask yourself, ‘Do I really need that document, that thumbtack, that dying plant?” Keep things that lift your mood, that make you smile, that inspire you.

If you take control of your office chaos, there’ll be nothing to keep you from fulfilling your dreams. For an uncluttered office and an uncluttered business, contact The Virtual office  info@virtualoffices.ie

Effective Time Management Strategies

Do you wish that you had more hours in your day? Does your to-do list keep getting bigger instead of smaller? Is your desk covered in clutter? Are you working longer hours, yet still not getting enough done?

It’s easy to feel that time is running away on us. When that happens, we can feel stressed. We talk about our heads being fried, or about to explode. And in the end, our work and family life suffers.

Why do we find it so difficult to manage our time? A lot of the time, we take too much on. We find it hard to say no when people ask us to do something and we don’t delegate jobs to our staff and colleagues. We allow ourselves to be distracted by things happening around us. And when we have a difficult job to do, it’s easy to put it off, which makes it even harder to start.

When it comes to managing your time, attitude is everything. Better time management starts with a decision to make a change. It’s a kind of mind makeover. And it starts with a bit of tough talking, admitting to yourself that your habits are causing you to waste time and need to be changed. And that it’s time for the excuses to stop.

Next, you need to think about what changes you can make to take your business to the next level. It’ll mean leaving your comfort zone, but if you can embrace those changes, you’ll really feel the benefits. Here are some examples of a few simple changes that have worked for us.

Write it down. Write a list of all the jobs you will need to do, in the short, medium and long term. Once you have a handle on what’s ahead of you, your mind will feel clearer.

Prioritise. Go through your list and decide which tasks are most urgent and important. Set yourself a date for when it will be achieved, whether it’s today, this week, this month or even this year. And keep your eye on those goals. If anyone distracts you from them, learn to say a polite no.

Be realistic. Arrange your schedule in a way that fits your business and lifestyle. Recognise that it won’t be possible to get everything done and resist the temptation to cram your timetable. That way, if unexpected challenges crop up, you’ll have the flexibility to deal with them.

Limit Distractions. Keep concentrating on what you need to do and learn to shut out excess noise. Resist the urge to keep checking emails and Facebook and answer the phone. Handle email, social media and phone calls in batches.

Delegate. It’s tempting to think you can do things faster yourself. But a few extra minutes spent explaining a job to a member of staff will save you hours in the long run. You can give them the routine jobs, while you get on with the major tasks.

The Virtual Office can save you time. Find out how by calling 051 351286.