Blog Archives

The Single Best Time Management Tip Ever

time mgmntMost of us spend our lives at war with time–and time usually wins.  We’ve all read books and some of us have taken several courses on the subject as well, and, for the most part the books and courses seem to rehash the same common sense. But still, the feeling of being overwhelmed and under-productive is constant.

The big breakthrough came after I had read an article written by a teacher whose student had severe dyslexia and had asked for help.  Not knowing what to do, the teacher turned to an expert on learning disorders, and was advised to let the student take the exam in the teachers office, giving him short breaks every 20 minutes.  The student did very well, and surprised and intrigued by this the teacher went on to develop a technique known as the Multiple Put down Technique.

Having read his article, I’ve used this technique myself on any project I’ve worked on and it works!

How does it work?

The most important thing to remember about this technique is that the gold is in the details, so follow the instructions exactly.  No matter what project or task you decide to work on, make sure to work the  task in 20-minute increments, with absolute focus, and then put it down, over and over, until you’re done, in order to do this properly make sure to:

  • Alert your brain that a task is coming that will require its recall, creativity, and brilliance (yes, your brain is brilliant).  Then let some time pass–maybe, a day.
  • When you’re ready to start, set a timer for 20 minutes, such as the stopwatch feature on a smart phone.  Set your mobile phone to airplane mode, turn off your email, and silence all other distractions.  Then hit start on the timer.
  • During the 20 minutes, you must focus on that task without interruption. And unless the building burns down, do nothing but work on that task until the timer goes off.  You may hit the wall, but keep going.  The vast majority of people find they can work on that task “in the zone” until the timer goes off.
  • After 20 minutes, you have a choice: keep working or take a break.  If you keep working, reset the timer to 20 minutes and go through the process again without interruption until the next 20 minutes are up.  If you decide to take a break, it can be short (such as refilling your coffee cup), medium (returning a phone call) or long (going into a meeting, or working out).

That’s it.  You pick it up and put down over and over, hence the name “Multiple Put Down.”  Reports show from the thousands of people who have learned the technique is that you are much more efficient–often finishing a task in 30-50% of the time it would take if you worked on it in one sitting.

Even better, the quality of the work is far superior than if you followed your mother’s advice of “start early and just get it done.”  There are other benefits, too: less stress, reduced frustration, and a general feeling of being brilliant!

There are several advantages to the Multiple Put Down technique.  The first is that your brain is brilliant at running processes in the background, but is awful at multitasking.  While you’re driving to work, in the shower or answering email, your brain will be working in the background on the task, so that when you’re ready, it’ll drain through your fingers, into your computer or notepad, for about 20 minutes.  The break allows your brain to restock the supply of brilliance.  Each time you go through the process is a “productivity unit.”

Here are some tasks that are perfectly suited for Multiple Put Down: writing a report, preparing a pitch for a client or boss, figuring out how to solve a tough problem.

Here’s my challenge to you: right now, take a task that’s nagging at you and use Multiple Put Down on it.  I hope you’ll share how it goes by posting a comment below.

Customer Service Is Not a Marketing Strategy

cus. serv.A few weeks ago as I sat down to put my marketing plan into place for my business for 2013 I started to look at the services I was offering and what it meant to my customers.  I was looking for that angle that would help me differentiate my business from my competitors.  I thought about my existing customers and what they have wrote about my business in the past or just what many of them said to me in the course of our conversations and decided they all said the same thing,

 

their customers were getting excellent service and they had peace of mind, so when I put my marketing campaign together I had many different campaigns all ready to go, and all had the same message, we give excellent customer service.

Then I started looking at some of my competitor’s and guess what? They all had the same thing!  I subsequently ended up spending some time doing  research and I came up with a startling revelation!  Many different businesses out there are sending the same message!  So I thought to myself are we all lacking in that creativity to come up with something unique to sell our business, and as such is the phrase or variations of the phrase “we offer great customer service”  a point to differentiate ourselves from our competitors.  Well guess what?  It’s not.

These kinds of statements are so overused; they are the marketing equivalent of wallpaper, i.e. they are designed to be ignored.  Everybody claims to serve customers well, but not all companies actually do.  So not only do you have an identical point of difference, with your competitors, well….nobody believes you!

Great service is defined by the person receiving the service, not the server. Two people may experience the same service, and one will walk away totally captivated while the other is completely underwhelmed.  So what one person considers being pushy another person might consider attentive.

In fact, the business is the only entity that should never claim to offer great customer service; this can only work if others put that label on you. The moment you claim it yourself, you come off sounding desperate — or just boring.

 So what do we do about it?

Find something that meets two criteria: (1) it makes you unique, and (2) customers care about it.

It’s true that customers care about the service they get, but because everyone claims great service and there is no universal agreement on what it looks like, it’s not differentiating. To find a point of differentiation, you need to go a level deeper. Ask yourself what you do in tangible, concrete terms that make your service better than your competitors’. For example:

Enterprise Rent-A-Car does not claim to provide “great customer service;” it offers to “come and pick you up,” which is a concrete and tangible way it differentiates its service level from that of Hertz.

In a crowded hyper-competitive market, it may be something very small and subtle that makes you unique. That’s OK, as long as it is truly yours and your customers care. For example, if you ask a staff member at a Ritz-Carlton Hotel for directions, he will not point toward your destination; he will accompany you there. Guests — often late and lost in a new city — tell friends about the Ritz because of the experience they receive, not because the hotel talks about great service.

So stop saying you offer great customer service. It’s not doing you any favors. Figure out what it is about your service — in concrete, tangible terms — that customers value and start talking about that.

The Perfect Answer

One of the main compliments that I always get from my customers and business colleagues is that both my staff and I have a very professional telephone answering voice and always sound very professional and also friendly when answering our calls.  I have always found it to be very important when dealing with our client, or clients of clients as it’s a crucial element to winning customers and building business relationships.

Even with all of the new ways to communicate these days, the telephone is still a primary means of communication in business and the way that you answer a call will form your customer’s first impression of both you and your business.

Here are a few of my top telephone answering tips to ensure that you’re presenting yourself—and your business–in a professional manner, all the time!

  1. Always answer a call promptly
  2. Answer the phone in a professional and pleasant manner, and with a smile. Be enthusiastic. People can feel it or hear it on the other end.
  3. When answering an office phone, welcome callers by introducing yourself and your organization. For instance, ““Good Morning/Afternoon, The Virtual Office, Samantha speaking.” If you’re answering a personal mobile phone, a simple, “Good morning, xxx speaking,” is appropriate.
  4. Speak slowly and clearly when answering the phone so that the caller can understand you. Keep your voice at a moderate level. No one likes to be yelled at.
  5. If you’re answering a phone with multiple lines, be sure to ask the caller if it’s all right for you to place him/her on hold BEFORE you do so. Provide callers who are on hold with an update every 30 to 45 seconds and offer them choices if possible. “That line is busy, would you like to continue to hold or would you like to leave a message for Mr. Smith?”
  6. If you are taking the call from your office never use speakerphone to answer an incoming call. This will give the caller the immediate impression that you’re not fully engaged with them.
  7. If you use an answering machine to catch those calls you can’t get to, make certain that you record a professional message that includes an introduction (just as if you were answering the phone). This will ensure that the caller knows he has reached the right person and avoid any confusion.

Good telephone manners go a long way. Following these few tips will ensure that you leave a positive impression with business contacts (so that they call back!).

If you feel that you would like to have your very own professional telephone answering service to represent your business then why not contact us today on 051 351286 or email us: info@virtualoffices.ie

Why not speak to us about our new 1 week free trial on our telephone answering service!

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