Archive for the ‘Tools We Use’ Category

Dear Danielle: Should I Upgrade to Windows 10?

Dear Danielle: Should I Upgrade to Windows 10?

Dear Danielle:

Should I upgrade to Windows 10? —TM

This seems to be the topic of the day lately for all us PC users.

And really, it depends. There are so many variables to consider.

A lot of it boils down to personal preference and your own business circumstances.

Although this is more of a technical question (I focus mainly on business operating and marketing principles here), there are definitely some business implications so I’ll share my thoughts.

First and foremost, talk to your technology people.

(Don’t have any? Get some! This is one of the important support relationships to have in business.)

In my business, I call on my “computers guys,” a local father and sons computer and IT business who have been my go-to fixers and advisors on all things computer-related for many years now.

When I asked them about ugrading to Windows 10, here’s what they advise:

“Reserve your free copy, but don’t install it. All new software is buggy, and this one is no exception. We recommend everyone wait for at least six months when a lot of the initial bugs and problems will likely have been identified and fixed.”

As you weigh this decision about whether or not to install, a couple other things to take into account are:

  • How old is your computer?
  • Do you have the system requirements for an upgrade to 10?
  • If you upgrade, will all your other software and tools you use regularly still work or will you have to upgrade them as well?
  • If you install and then have problems, how will that impact your client work and turn around times?

I’ve been hearing horror stories from clients and business associates who upgraded to 10 right away.

I’ve also heard from other people who think Windows 10 is awesome and have had no problems (so far, anyway, lol).

There isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer.

Personally, I never install new software right off the bat. 

I have too much work to do to deal with the aggravation and time-suck of computer problems and learning curves that are easily avoided by simply waiting a bit longer.

I know from experience that it takes working with things more in-depth before any issues/bugs raise their ugly heads. And that’s usually at the most inopportune time. I have a fast-paced practice and the last thing I need are computer problems stopping everything up.

Plus, I never upgrade right away to the latest (and the “latest” is not necessarily the “greatest” to be sure) because my clients rarely do, and it causes difficulties/incompatibilities in a lot of ways when you are ahead of your client curve.

In fact, you may be surprised that up until a couple weeks ago, I was still running XP and Office 2003/2006 on my primary workhorse computer.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not a technophobe in the least. Far from it. You can’t be in this business.

And I have always had all the new stuff on my laptops.

But bad design is bad design.

I just don’t like anything Microsoft redesigned after XP so I kept it on my main computer. If it ain’t broke, there ain’t nothing that needs to be fixed. 😉

It’s like this: Just because something is “popular” and “everyone is doing it,” doesn’t make it good.

Likewise, just because something is new, doesn’t make it good.

But technology marches on and the day finally came that I was forced off my beloved XP and Office 2003/2006, lol.

Now, I have Windows 8.1 on everything and running Office 365.

I am probably going to install 10 on my least-used laptop just to see what it’s all about.

But I most likely will not install 10 on my main desktop work computer for another couple years when I have a new computer built by my “computer guys.”

All in all, in deciding if now is the right time for you to upgrade to Windows 10, take this into consideration as well:

Are you newer in business and have few or no clients? Then this might be a great time to bite the bullet and see what happens.

Because if you do run into problems, they won’t have a big impact and you have more time on your hands to deal with them.

However, if you have a busy client roster and workload, you don’t have the same kind of space to deal with computer issues.

If you can’t afford the time, aggravation and downtime that potential computer problems may cause in your practice, I would say slow your roll and give it another six months.

There’s no reason you have to rush into anything right this second. Windows 10 will still be there and in far better shape than it is right now.

And if/when you do upgrade, be sure to check out all the useful Windows 10 articles I’ve pinned for you that will help you learn all about the new features, tweak your settings and make the best use of it in your practice.

How to Set Up Your Email for Marketability

Email Setup: Do This, Not This

I get a lot of emails from people in our industry. And I can’t help but notice some of the things they do in their email that is costing them trust, credibility, connection and ultimately business.

Some don’t use an email address on their own domain. Or, they have an email on their own business domain, but don’t have an email signature and just sign off with their name.

Here are some recent examples of the problems that are caused by ineffective email set-up:

  1. I had someone sign up for class with a hotmail address. This was someone I didn’t already know so I emailed her hoping to get to know each other a bit. I didn’t hear from her for over two months until three or four days before the class was to begin! And even then, she didn’t even know I had emailed her because the email account she signed up with wasn’t one that she checked. Lesson: This is just one reason you want to stick with one email address and use it consistently across all channels and accounts. If you are going to use an email in any kind of business dealing, it had better be one you keep on top of if you expect anyone to do business with you.
  2. I had someone email me with only her first name (for the purposes she was emailing me, her full name was needed). Her name wasn’t in her email address. She had no email signature block. It wasn’t displayed in the from field. And she used a burner email account instead of an email on her own domain. Lesson: If I’m a potential client, I am gone. I’m not going to waste a second of my time hunting around for these details.
  3. Same issue with another email. This one at least was on her own domain, but she had no signature block and when I went to her website, she had no last name anywhere on her site! Lesson: Your clients and business associates are not mind readers. How on earth are they suppposed to figure out who you are? They won’t. Because neither I nor your prospective clients are going to waste their time. And they’re going to wonder what is wrong with you that you are being evasive about your last name in the first place. You’ve just generated ill will and mistrust in your dealings with them.

Your email is an extension of you and your business. You should be taking as much care with the details and the image you are presenting in your email as you do your website, and you should be using your business email with EVERYONE and EVERYTHING.

Your email is a marketing and networking tool and generates traffic to your website. If someone, be it colleague or client, forwards one of your messages to someone else, you want it on your own domain and with a proper set-up and signature.

Worst case scenario, when they have no other information about you, an email on your own domain can lead people to your site whereas a burner email account tells them nothing and leads them nowhere.

Think about how your email and email address appears to your recipients. Take an inventory of your email set-up and if you’re missing anything in the list below, fix it pronto.

1. Set up your primary business email in your domain’s admin panel. I’m here to tell you that if you are stuck here, it’s stopping you up in other places in your business as well. I guarantee it. So get it sorted and figured out first thing so you can move forward with the rest of your business.

2. Be sure the enter your FIRST then LAST NAME where it asks for your name in the user account info when setting up your account up in your email client (e.g., Outlook). NOT your last name first and NOT your business name. This is what your recipients will see in the from field when they receive your emails.

From Field

This is super important for many reasons. First and foremost, when you are emailing, you are dealing with people, not machines. When you introduce yourself to someone in person, you tell them “My name is Jane Doe.” You don’t say, “My name is Doe, Jane.” When your email comes across their INbox, you want it to read like a human being, not a machine. This makes makes it more personable as well as easier for people to remember you. Second, you don’t want to use your company name first for the same reason. People do business with people, not nameless, faceless organizations. Having your email display your name makes it personal and facilitates rapport. And if you’re using your business domain, they will easily be able to see what your business and website are.

3. Create an email signature block that is automatically inserted whenever you create a message in your business email account. This should include your name, your company name and your address, contact information and links to your website and/or social networking accounts. This is important. People like at-a-glance information. They don’t like to have to hunt around. So even if your contact information is on your website (which it should be), you want to always be thinking about the convenience of your recipients by putting that info right in front of them. Likewise, do not rely on a VCF card. Lots of people don’t like them or use them, and they often get your emails caught in spam filters.

4. OPTIONAL: For double points, include a headshot and/or your company logo image hosted on your own domain servers. Email signatures with an image included can really bring life to your messages. Images create visual interest, rapport and increase memorability, all of which makes your messages stand out. You don’t want an embedded image because those often get stripped from your messages at the recipient’s end or can get your email caught in spam filters. Better to link to an image hosted on your own servers so that it displays properly and your messages reach your recipients without unnecessary difficulty. If you aren’t sure how to do this, refer to this article on “how to insert an Internet image in my signature.”

5. Include a call-to-action. A call to action is not a tagline or slogan. It’s an instruction that tells people specifically what to do next. If you currently have a free report, giveaway, ezine, blog or something that people can sign up for, put that call-to-action in your signature block (e.g., “Visit {YOUR SITE] to get your copy of my free report [TITLE]”). If you don’t have any lead generation mechanisms (which is what those free offers are), then your call-to-action should be telling them to visit your website. So you could say something like “Visit [YOUR WEBSITE WITH ACTIVE LINK] to learn how you can have/get more [BENEFIT] with my administrative support.”

That should get your creative juices flowing. Can’t wait to see your improved emails!

How to Select All in Microsoft Outlook 2010

I’m really not a fan of the 2010 Microsoft product “improvements.”

There are a few significant irritations I have, one of which it that whole ribbon thing.

It was a pointless reinvention that didn’t improve anything.

What used to be simple, straightforward and all in one place that you could easily use out-of-the-box, now is needlessly convoluted and requires more time and effort to get set up. What you could get to in one, possibly two, quick clicks, has now become a Rubik’s cube of a maze with all kinds of twists and turns and clicks needed to do what you want.

It’s a pain in the ass, if you ask me.

Anyhoo, when I got a new laptop, I was forced more or less to install/upgrade to the 2010 Office Suite.

One of the things that would drive me crazy was that I couldn’t find any of my usual, frequently-used commands anymore, one of which was “Select All” (formerly under the Edit drop-down list).

And before you tell me about CTRL + A, let me just say… um, duh.

However, there are times when I don’t have a keyboard in front of me—like when I’m laying in bed and checking messages on the big screen tv with only my mouse.

After pulling my hair out for a few months, I finally figured out where Microsoft had hidden it.

If this has been driving you, too, batty, here are the steps to add it back into your command options:

  1. In the top left of Outlook is the Quick Access Toolbar. Select the little arrow icon to “Customize Quick Access Toolbar.”
  2. Click on “More Commands” in the drop-down menu.
  3. From the list that appears, select “Commands Not in the Ribbon.”
  4. Scroll down until you find “Select All,” highlight it and click “Add.”
  5. Click “Okay.”
  6. You will now see a new option up in your Quick Access Toolbar to “Select All.”

Now, whenever you need to do a select all (such as selecting all the spam messages that accumulate in your email inbox so you can move them over to the junk mail folder in one fell swoop), just click on that “Select All” command button.

Hope this helps restore some mental health for someone!

Today Is a Great Day to Prep Your 2013 Calendar for Freedom and Success

One of the ways to facilitate your freedom and success is to be prepared for it. That means taking charge of your time by being conscious about all that you have on your plate and creating space for important actions, events and goals. Your calendar is the starting point for this and now is the perfect time to get yours ready for 2013!

1. Block out all your “off” days. For example, Mondays are my “business days” where I am officially closed. I don’t do any client work; instead, I focus on taking care of my own business and use that time for administration and planning. I shade out that time because it makes me conscious about not making any appointments on that day.

2. Block out holidays. Go through the year and block out any holidays you plan to be closed.

3. Block out vacations. If you know in advance of any vacations you plan to take off, block those out as well to ensure you don’t schedule anything on those days.

4. Block out your breaks and lunches. This might seem silly and unnecessary, especially since we business owners can eat or take a break any time we like. But if you are someone who has difficulty maintaining boundaries, these can serve as daily reminders to be conscious about taking care of yourself. It’s important—you can’t take excellent care of others unless you first take excellent care of yourself.

5. Carry over regular meetings. Review this year’s calendar. If you have regular weekly or monthly meetings, be sure and carry-over and repeat them through 2013. Perhaps you have a weekly call with your business coach on Tuesdays at 3pm and a monthly board meeting at 1pm on the third Wednesday of every month. Get all of these regularly scheduled appointments on your calendar for the entire year.

6. Add known events
. Are there trade shows, conferences, training or other events you plan to attend? Be sure and add them to your calendar and it will help support your intention.

7. Mark important dates. Are there client birthdays, anniversaries or other important dates you want to remember on a regular basis? Add them to your calendar!

This article was originally published in our weekly ezine on December 21, 2009.

Dear Danielle: What Bookkeeping Software Do I Use?

Dear Danielle:

I would like to offer basic accounting services through my administrative business. I want to offer accounts payable/receivable, payroll, maintaining vendor and customer files, cash management, reconciling bank statements, generating financial reports, etc.  I would like to know if you think it is acceptable to gain knowledge in the above areas utilizing free software and simply offer to learn a prospective client’s accounting software since not all businesses use Quickbooks or Quicken. I really want to make my company marketable in this area, and, thus, the reason I am seeking your professional opinion. Thank you in advance for any assistance you can offer me! P.S. Love your FB posts and your attitude toward life!! ~ : ) —GM

Hi, GM :)

Glad to have you with us!

Bookkeeping is an entirely different/separate profession from Administrative Consulting.

And because it is a business that comes with even more legal liabilities and pitfalls (because you’re dealing with clients’ finances and their reporting, filing, budgeting, etc., relies on your expert knowledge and accuracy in recording things properly), it’s important to direct those questions to that industry and their communities for the very best, most knowledgeable and authoritative advice.

Several years ago, I used to have a bookkeeping division to my business.

It grew too fast and wasn’t work I ever really intended to be in the business of doing anyway so I eventually got out.

I only ever got into it because I thought it would be a good additional service to provide to clients.

What I didn’t fully grasp at the time is that bookkeeping is a business in and of itself, and trying to run too many businesses at the same time is a recipe for failure and overwhelm.

When you divide your time and distract your attention amongst too many diverse things, you become effective and expert at none of them.

At some point, you have to consciously decide where your true interests lie and focus your energies in developing excellence there.

All that said, when it comes to bookkeeping, I would never, ever take shortcuts with your software. Using the right professional tools is paramount.

For a professional business providing bookkeeping services, Quickbooks Pro is an industry standard and the only option in my book.

Quicken is a shortcut tool more suited for simple, personal accounting, not providing professional bookkeeping services to clients as a business. It doesn’t have the level of capabilities you will need to provide the bookkeeping functions you mention.

Same thing pretty much with Quickbooks Simple Start.

Quickbooks Pro is full-featured, professional-standard software that provides all the capabilities to professionally provide bookkeeping services to clients with all the bells and whistles, including extensive reporting, costing, budgeting and forecasting tools.

Plus, you can’t dumb down your business for clients who insist on working in the dark ages (don’t work with them). They aren’t bookkeepers. They don’t necessarily know what the right software is to use or how to use it properly.

Your job is to work with the right clients who want you to empower their businesses to grow up, not down.

When they come to you for those services, you need tell them what software they need to be using, not changing your tools for each client to suit them.

(Think about it. We hire professionals for their expertise and to do a proper job. Is a contractor going to let clients tell him what tools to use and allow his reputation to be sullied because he used ineffective, sub-par tools that elicited shoddy workmanship? Of course not! He’s going to use the proper tools to do the best job.)

If you don’t, you’ll be dooming your business to ineffective, unproductive, unprofitable operations and forever chasing your tail and pulling your hair out.

Just my six cents. 😉

How to Properly Juice Up Your New Laptop Battery

From the “you learn something new every day” file:

Maybe you all know this, but I just learned how I should be using my laptop battery and how to charge it properly the first time.

  1. When you first get the battery, don’t charge it and don’t plug in the power cord. Instead, immediately snap it on the laptop and use it until it runs out of life completely.
  2. THEN, plug in the power cord and recharge the battery in full. As soon as it’s fully charged, unplug the power cord.

I was told that if you’re going to use your laptop, use either battery power OR electrical power, not both together. Big no-no!

When you do that (which I’ve always done in the past, bad laptop user that I am, lol), it destroys the battery cells and you won’t get as long a life of use from it.

That means, if you’re going to use electrical power, you should remove the battery whenever you have the power cord plugged in. And vice versa: If you’re going to use battery power, unplug the power cord from the laptop entirely.

With my laptop batteries being relatively pricey to replace, I’m definitely going to follow this advice from now on.

I did get a good two or three years worth of use from my last 10-hour extended life battery, though, so not too bad! But I plan to take better care of my next one.

Hope this is helpful to you!

Dear Danielle: What Contact Management Service Do You Recommend?

Dear Danielle:

I wonder if you’ve any experience or recommendations for contact management services, something that could be used online collaboratively with clients to help them manage their contacts. I’m thinking in general terms of keeping track of folks that one might meet at networking events where they exchange business cards and want a central place to access them later. Ideally, there would be a way to tag them to sort them later (i.e., potential client, supplier, colleague, etc.). I know Salesforce offers this service. I just wondered if you were aware of anything else out there. Thanks in advance! —BL

This is always a tough kind of question for me answer because I don’t keep track of that kind of thing as I don’t do that work for clients per se. Stuff like this, without reason or intention,  too often falls into the category of mindless busy work that I don’t want my business or my day bogged down with. I have to save my energies and focus for the more substantive work that I do for clients.

It’s one of those topics that is hard to answer generally because to give more useful direction, it depends on your own target market, how the information will be used, what are they storing it for (what do they want to do with it later), and whether there is truly a useful, purposeful reason to keep track of that kind of info.

The reason I say that is, just collecting business cards and contact info is not good networking. It’s also against CAN-SPAM laws (and just plain old marketing etiquette period) to harvest emails like that. If the intention is to use the information for marketing purposes, it’s really a form of cold-calling which people absolutely detest. It’s poor, ineffective methodology that creates wasteful effort.

I am aware of Saleforce and the people I hear from who use it think it’s pretty darn nifty. I do think it’s a tad more suited to sales types of businesses (hence the name, lol), but it is built for systemization and automation which is useful for all kinds of scenarios. I don’t work with sales types at all so I don’t have any personal experience with it beyond that.

If you’re just looking for a place to enter business card/miscellaneous contact info, most all of the online collaboration suites have shared contacts. I use this function in Airset to store commonly used contact info. For example, I work with attorneys, so it’s useful to enter their clients’ contact info into the shared contacts database on matters we are working on as well as the contact info of the courts, court services and vendors, opposing counsel, etc.

There are also card readers that can be purchased where the biz cards can be fed into it and it scans the info and transfers/stores it into a database that you specify. As I mentioned before, personally, I wouldn’t ever do that work for clients, and if they were intent on mindlessly storing their biz cards just for GPs, I would tell them to get one of those.

But for marketing and networking purposes, I steer clients toward using a list builder, management and dissemination service like Aweber, and get them to start building an opt-in list. The idea/methodology is that they offer their site visitors and contacts something of useful, meaningful interest and value—for free—that they can obtain by signing up with their email address.

This way, it’s voluntary and fully compliant with CAN-SPAM laws. And by them opting in, you already have an indication of their interest and consent to continue to keep in touch with them after that, which is not only better, more effective marketing etiquette, it also establishes who the client’s warm/hot prospects are so that their best efforts can be more focused.

So, I don’t really have any services I can recommend in answer to your specific question (maybe others will chime in), but I hope some of the business thinking is useful to you. All my best!

Power Productivity and Biz Management for the Administrative Consultant

Okay, gang, class is ON!

I’m holding the Power Productivity and Biz Management for the Administrative Consultant intensive clinic on August 22, 2012. This will be a one day, two hour session where I’ll share with you all my tricks and tips for effectively managing a full retained client practice for FANTABULOUS client care and greater freedom, flexibility and time for your own LIFE.

Registration is $147, but register now and you’ll pay only $97.

Check out the registration page for the full details!

Dear Danielle: How Can My Clients and I Transfer Transcription Files?

Dear Danielle:

I am just starting out and one of my main specialties is transcription.  I have thus far been transcribing for two companies where I sign onto their secure server to obtain my digital recordings, load them onto my desktop, and then proceed to transcribe and then email the completed product back to them. Since I am setting out on my own, I am wondering what some options are for obtaining the digital recordings from other clients, if they do not have a server set up where they load their recordings.  Do you have any thoughts or suggestions? —LB

I think DropBox may work quite well for this. I tell ya, I have found DropBox to just be so completley indispensible in my work with clients. It’s easy to install and simple to understand, and I find new ways to use it all the time. And, not that I’m the advocate for everything being free (quite the opposite!), but it does just happen to be free so there’s that, too, lol.

What you could do is set up a shared folder for each client and then create an IN folder for incoming transcriptions and an OUT folder for completed transcriptions.

As I’m sure you’re aware, sound files can be quite large which makes them not well-suited for email delivery. Email is not exactly secure either if you are dealing with confidential information.

Plus, if you have frequent large attachments like that going in and out on a regular basis, your ISP might get testy. Sure, you could zip them up, but that’s an extra step at both ends. And anytime you can eliminate extra steps, it sure makes things a lot more convenient.

So here again, a secure cloud storage solution like DropBox where you can transfer and share large files such as this is a perfect solution.

For other transcription tools, be sure to also check out the ACA Free Software Directory. Of particular interest, you will find ExpressScribe which is another brilliant tool that is so indispensible, it’s a wonder they don’t charge for it. But they don’t, and it’s free.

This isn’t particularly transcription related, but another tool I use extensively in my work with clients is Airset, which also happens to be free.

This service is what is known as a shared collaborative virtual office where you can set up a private/separate account for each client you work with so that you have a central location in which you both share documents, keep track of work requests and projects, share calendaring and many other features.

I only use the shared calendar feature because it has the best and most extensive reminders feature of all the shared virtual office suites I’ve used (and I’ve used just about ALL the main ones out there). For my needs, I don’t find it stable enough to make use of any of the other features, however, they do have them and perhaps they will work well for you. Check it out!

One caution about using free tools… just because something is free doesn’t make it the right solution. Often things that are free come with strings or are not the most stable or secure. These services I mention in this post are rare exceptions of excellence. If you do use free tools, be sure they have the capabilities to grow with your needs as your business and client roster grows. And remember that bumping up to the next level of features, stability, capacity or security often requires you to move to a paid plan (and rightly and fairly so). Just some things to keep in mind.

Hope that helps!

How Do We Work Together Virtually?

This is a common question from clients who are new to working with Administrative Consultants. The word “virtual” throws them for a loop and makes it sound as if it’s some mysterious new mode of operation. In reality, they’ve been working virtually all along with businesses of all kinds and just never realized it. Here’s what I mean…

When you hire an attorney, accountant, designer or any kind of professional, does that person come to your office to do their work? Do they work according to hours you set? Do they sign in and out with you whenever they begin or end working on your stuff?

Sounds silly, right?

Of course they don’t do those things. That’s the nature of working with independent businesses and professionals. They do their work from their own places of business and according to their own work schedules, processes and policies. You may or may not have ever even meet in person.

And things get done, right? When you retain someone to draft a contract or design a logo or take care of your accounts, they do what they do without needing to be physically present, right? So how does that happen?

Well, you communicate by phone and email, maybe even video chat. Files are sent by email or fax. Electronic signatures are obtained with tools like Echosign. Working documents are shared and transferred via tools like Dropbox. Shared collaborative workspaces are set up with services such as Airset to keep files and information organized in one place. Remote access or online accounts are sometimes used to get things done on your behalf.

This is the day and age of technology, baby! There is a mind-boggling array of tools and services that make working together “virtually” a breeze. Anyone who uses a computer and has ever done business with any other business or professional has already been working “virtually.”

Clients work with an Administrative Consultant exactly the same way. But people get hung up on the word “virtual.” Which is why I’ve always been an advocate for not using it whatsoever in your marketing.

A business is a business. It matters not how or where or when you work. If you’re a traveling salesperson, your vehicle is the platform by which you connect and work with clients. If you are a flower shop, it’s your brick and mortar store. Operating a professional service business is no different–it’s just that the computer happens to be your “office” and your tool for working with clients and delivering your services.

The fact that you are an online business is of no importance. The tools are incidental details–don’t focus on that or you will continue to confuse clients and make it seem much more complicated and mysterious than need be.

And for goodness sakes, stop using the analogy of the administrative assistant or secretary. All that does is confuse clients and keep them (mistakenly) thinking that you are some kind of temp or under-the-table substitute employee.