Archive for the ‘Tools We Use’ Category

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.

Dear Danielle: What Software Do I Need for an Administrative Support Business?

Dear Danielle: What Software Do I Need for an Administrative Support Business?

Dear Danielle:

I am just starting out and would like to know what equipment and software do I need? —JD

I get some form of this question at least three or four times a month. And often it’s the (seemingly) simplest questions that are the hardest to answer.

Long, exhaustive lists really aren’t helpful. Because one person’s needs and preferences in software aren’t necessarily going to be the same as the next person’s.

It also matters what kind of business you will be in.

For example, someone in the administrative support business (which is what my blog is specifically focused on) is definitely going to need all the usual office types of software, whereas someone is in the design and creative services business will have more of an emphasis on that kind of software and probably more of it. Common sense, right?

Also, you don’t need to have every kind of software in the world to start out.

The kind of work you will support your clients with depends on what profession/industry (i.e., target market) they are in which will, thus, dictate what software and services you’ll need.

For example, if you are someone who works with attorneys, you may need law practice management software. Someone who doesn’t work with attorneys will have no need for that. You see?

Beyond the basic office software, you won’t necessarily know what you need until you start researching your target market and working with clients. That’s when you start picking up additional software and tools—as you go along and determine you need them.

So relax. I give you full permission to not stress over this. 🙂

Bottom line is, your mileage may vary and what software you need is not necessarily what the next person needs.

What I can give you is a list of the software and services I use in my practice. That should give you some sense of where to start.

Basic Office Software

  • Microsoft Office Suite: Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Access, Publisher, OneNote. You need to work with the programs that are predominately used by your clients and the rest of the world and these are them. 😉
  • Open Office (free). This is a great backup to the Microsoft line of products. I especially love the Draw component for diagramming. But there are still enough quirks and incompatibilities that make it unsuitable to rely on entirely. For example, I have all kinds of problems in OpenOffice when I’m dealing with any kind of legal pleading. For that reason, I don’t use it at all for my work with attorneys.
  • Workflowy (free). This is a seriously AWESOME organizational tool. I use to to keep track of tasks and to-dos, outline and flesh-out thoughts and ideas for articles, blog posts, products, trainings, etc. You can set up accounts with clients to collaborate on projects and keep abreast of to-dos and completions. The more I use this fantastic tool, the more uses I find for it.


  • Microsoft Outlook. This is usually part of any Microsoft Office suite you purchase, but I wanted to list it under it’s own heading. There are other email clients out there that folks will recommend, but I absolutely love the tried and true Outlook. It’s versatility and functionality is beyond compare. Most people only know of and use a fraction of what it’s capable of. I use it for everything.

Remote Access (Updated 3/29/15)

  • LogMeIn. I seriously could not live without this. Wherever I have internet access, I can log in remotely to my main home office computer and work as if I was sitting right there. This is how I continue working with my clients and taking care of my business when we travel or go on road trips. I’ve even run my entire business and continued to seamlessly work with clients while living in Europe. People often didn’t even know I was away! I don’t have to lug around thumb drives or external hard drives that can get lost or stolen, and I never have to worry about syncing computers because I’m always working on the one main computer; I just might not be actually sitting right there. Of all the remote access services out there (and I’ve tried several), this one to me is the easiest to install and use. I even get my clients set up with their own accounts and have frequently used this to log onto their computers to install something for them or troubleshoot.
  • TeamViewer. Once LogMeIn canceled its free service back in January 2014, I moved to TeamViewer. Now don’t get me wrong, I am not someone who goes around looking only for free solutions. I don’t fault LogMeIn for that move whatsoever (in fact, I can’t believe they didn’t do it years ago). They are a business after all, not a charity. I am not about being a cheapskate and expecting everyone else to give me everything for free. Quite the opposite. So if you are a “frugalista” (i.e., cheapskate) who does, you have not found a kindred spirit here. I still love LogMeIn. They offer a FANTASTIC product and service, and I still give it top marks for everything it does. It’s just that I actually did pay for their pro service for many years and never used any of the features that came with that service such as remote printing and transferring files (I use DropBox for that). So eventually, I went back to using the free account because that’s all I needed: just a simple way to connect with my main computer once in awhile when I was away from my office. In fact, if they ever come up with a plan priced solely for the remote access, no bells and whistles, I would go right back to it. In the meantime, I have discovered TeamViewer, which happens to be free. There are some little quirks, but it gets the job done and works relatively simply and intuitively.

Telephony & Video Conferencing

  • Vonage. I absolutely LOVE Vonage. It’s a VoIP service, meaning it uses the Internet to deliver the phone service. Of course, that means if your cable or broadband is down or your computer is off, you won’t have service. But if you can overlook those two trade-offs, it’s truly fantastic. Not only does it give me a dedicated business line, but I can bring that line with me on my laptop anywhere I go–including Germany where we also live–and make and receive calls at no extra charge just as if I was still at my home office. There is no long distance or roaming in your service area (which is huge), and you can’t beat the fact that all the features you have to pay extra for with regular land line phone companies, come standard in Vonage. And you pay one set fee each month–you are never surprised with unexpected bills or constant nickel and dime charges. I will NEVER go with any of the big name, land line phone companies ever again.
  • FreeConferenceCallHD (free). With an account, I get a set bridgeline with its own dedicated phone number. I use this when I do teleseminars (up to 1,000 people) or want to hold and record a conference call between two or more people. Great quality and it will store all your recordings online ready for download whenever you need them.
  • Skype (free). I use Skype for phone calls as well as videoconferencing with colleagues and clients. I have also used it to record conference calls. Great tool!
  • SuperTinTin. When I want to record split screen videos on Skype, this is the tool I use. You can learn how to use it for split screen recording on Skype here.


  • Internet Explorer (free). I really, really dislike Internet Explorer and haven’t liked it since IE6. But I don’t like how any of the other browsers store/organize Favorites so I keep it around for that. Plus, if you do any kind of web design work, you need to test your sites on all the main browsers (of which, IE is still the leader) to make sure they render properly and are cross-browser compatible.
  • FireFox (free). This is my go-to browser. I don’t love it. I don’t hate it. None of them are that great, but what are you going to do? So, this is my go-to browser.
  • Google Chrome (free). This one is okay. It’s just a good, basic browser without any frills. Let’s put it this way, I don’t hate it. My programmer says it’s best for viewing videos, but it does sometimes crash when I use it for that. Not often, just sometimes. I sort of alternate between all three of these browsers to meet various needs. Too bad there isn’t just one good one out there that does everything well.

Media Players

  • Real Player (free). This one is my favorite because it plays just about all audio and video formats.
  • Windows Media Player (free). I think this comes automatically with Microsoft systems these days. I don’t use it that much, but it’s free and it’s nice to have just in case.
  • Quicktime (free). Same thing; I keep it around for GPs. It’s sort of like browsers—each one serves a different purpose and it doesn’t hurt to have them all on hand in case you need them. Plus, I should mention, the pro version apparently has some nifty video editing tools (though I haven’t yet explored them myself).

Computer System Maintenance (Updated 3/29/15)

  • Microsoft Essentials (free). Nimple and lightweight. Not a resource hog whatsoever. Seriously, get it.
  • CCCleaner (free). Love this. I don’t use it very often, but it’s a great tool for cleaning up those old, unneeded registry files that often get left behind and sometimes gum things up.
  • Adaware (free). This gets rid of stuff that your built-in cleaners miss and that slow your system down. I couldn’t live without this. Definitely a must-have!
  • Belarc Advisor (free). This program is awesome! What it does is scan your system (when you tell it to) and it comes back with a full report of your systems and all the various software you have installed. Very handy when you are moving over to a new computer and need to make sure you re-install everything.
  • Malwarebytes (paid version). When Microsoft stopped supporting Windows 2003, which I still love and use on my main computer, I needed to find some other security services in place of Microsoft Security Essentials. My programmer recommended Malwarebytes, which is an antivirus and Internet security software service. A one year license that works on up to three computers is only $24.95. Well worth the peace of mind and has worked flawlessly so far for me.
  • AVG Internet Security (paid version). I used to be a die-hard advocate of AVG. It caught things that often slipped past McAfee and Norton, which were bloated resource hogs. Then one year AVG turned into one of those bloated resource hogs and I had to say goodbye to it. But now it’s back, better than ever. Gone is the bloat that slowed my system down. I happily pay for the pro service. One license allows me to use it on all my computers and my cell phone.

Virtual Office Collaboration/File Sharing/Project Management (Updated 3/29/15)

  • DropBox (free). AWESOME program with far too many uses and capabilities to list. Just get it. Seriously.
  • Airset (free with a very nominal monthly fee if you need more space). You could use this for everything, but I only use this with my clients expressly for the calendar feature because you can set a series of reminders that will send automatic emails. 
  • KeepAndShare. My absolute favorite service, Airset, shut down in 2014 which was a darn shame. It was the best product on the market for what it did as far as I’m concerned. Their problem was that they should have made it a paid service right from the beginning. They doomed it from day one by making it completely free. So, I had to go on the hunt for another online shared calendaring service that had the same high level of automated email reminders as Airset. I ended up finding that in KeepAndShare and had all my clients move over to that. It doesn’t have the level of color-coding ability that Airset did (which we used extensively), but it’s got enough to make do. The company is always interested in user feedback and seem to respond and actually take action to that so that’s a good thing and they are always rolling over new improvements. And it’s got the rest of the tools that Airset had (e.g., address book, file sharing, task lists, etc.) so you can use it as a project management tool as well if you are so inclined. Personally, as far as project management, I have a whole simple system I devised using only your email service. You can get that in my guide, Power Productivity & Biz Management for Administrative Consultants.
  • ACA Free Project Management/Virtual Office Programs List (free; various). Here is a list of other free resources you might want to look into.

Electronic Signatures (Updated 3/29/15)

  • Echosign. Adobe recently purchased this company and still offers a free level for one user up to 5 contracts per month. I honestly never use this anymore. I’m still a fan of old-fashioned signatures which really aren’t that difficult to do remotely. Just have a client sign their portion and put their original signature page in the mail. If you need to get started working right away, you can simply have them email you a scanned copy of their signature page. Done. Once you get their original signature page in the mail, you sign your side then put a PDF of the whole signed contract up in your shared Dropbox folder with them. Easy peasy.


  • Quickbooks Pro. Hands down, this is one of the best investments you can make in your business. This does everything and keeps it all in one, integrated place: bookkeeping, billing, customer management, tracking, reporting, budgeting, projections… the list goes on. I honestly don’t understand how anyone can use any of those other piecemeal services out there for billing and stuff like that. And yes, I specifically mean the “Pro” version. That will give you the highest and most functionality and reporting capabilities.

Time Tracking

  • ACA Free Time Tracking Tools List (free; various). I don’t bill by time anymore whatsoever, but sometimes it’s useful to know how much time you did actually spend on something, if only for your own internal business analysis purposes. This is a list of all kinds of free time tracking tools you can use. Heck, even Outlook has a little timer in it.

Payment Processing

  • PayPal. I have not needed a formal merchant account in nearly 14 years of business. PayPal does everything I need. Some folks say that a true merchant account is cheaper, but the difference amounts to pennies–something I’m not concerned about in the least. To me, versatility and ease of use is the name of the game and PayPal has it in spades, on top of being trusted the world over. And really, any fees you pay are so nominal as to be laughable. They’re a business expense write-off anyway so what are all those whiners out there complaining about?
  • e-Junkie. I adore e-Junkie. It’s simple, easy to use and has great customer support. I use this service to manage sales and delivery of my info products, classes and coaching. Seriously one of the best tools when you don’t need a ton of bells and whistles. It even provides a built-in affiliate program and transaction log and integrates superbly with all the major payment processing vendors and list managers including payPal and Aweber.

PDF Tools

  • CutePDF (free).
  • PDF Converter Pro. This program is easy to use with lots of robust functionality.
  • Nitro PDF. One bad thing I have to say about PDF Converter Pro is their customer service is absolutely atrocious. Horrible. They charge for support or try to get everyone to use their users forum, which is rarely expedient or helpful, if anyone answers your question at all. When it’s next time to update/upgrade, I’m going wit this program instead.
  • Adobe Acrobat. I have this only because it came as part of a suite of software, but I really never use it. I prefer my PDF Converter Pro.
  • Adobe Reader (free). It’s free, but I prefer my Foxit Reader much better (see below).
  • Foxit Reader (free). Quick, easy and free PDF reader. I have it set as my default viewer and like it very much.

Audio Tools

  • Audacity (free). Fantastic program for editing audio tracks. For example, if you work with teleseminar recordings, you can edit out ums and ahs, you can add intro music and sound effects, you can add additional track overlays… there’s just no end to what this program can do!

Transcription (updated 3/29/15)

  • Express Scribe (free). Another fantastically robust program that I can’t believe is offered for free.
  • Transcribe (free/$20 annual license fee). Found this wonderful tool toward the end of 2014. So easy to use and perfect for transcribing those random, miscellaneous notes you record or videotape to yourself that tend to get relegated to a to-do folder and forgotten forever, lol. I transcribed a three year backlog of those kind of notes in one afternoon! There is a certain amount you can use it for free, but I loved it so much I paid the $20 annual license fee for unfettered access.

Web Work & Design

  • Dreamweaver. I use this for soooo many things both for my own business and in the design work I do for clients. I not only design websites with it, it also helps in writing and reading code. I also work up my email and autoresponder templates with this program.
  • CoreFTP Lite (free). I use this to upload files and pages up to the various websites I work with or design, both mine and my clients’. There are lots of different ways to do that and lots of different programs out there that do it, both paid and free, but I’ve used this one for years and never really had a need to explore others. I’m used to it, it does the job, has an intuitive interface, and it’s just been a very trusty sidekick.
  • FileZilla (free). My programmer prefers I use this one so I have it installed on my computer as well.
  • EditPad Lite (free). This is a handy little program for stripping hidden code from text, working with plain text, and also when working with basic HTML and other coding.

Design/Creative Work

  • Photoshop. This is professional design standard software (now owned by Adobe and that comes in their Creative Suite packages) that I use to work with photos and graphics.
  • Illustrator. This is professional design standard software (now owned by Adobe and is another part of their Creative Suite packages) that I use to design and work with vector-based graphics.
  • Pixie Color Picker (free). This is a way nifty tool that allows you to “pick” colors from samples using a virtual eyedropper. Seriously, I could not live without this tool.
  • The Font Thing. This is a tool that allows me to easily scroll through all the fonts on my computer system. I use it when I’m doing design work and trying to find the best font for a particular project.
  • SnagIt. This is a fantastic screen capture program that does oh-so-much-more. Yet another must-have!
  • Screenhunter (free). This is a little freebie screenhunter that does a great job for grabbing those quick and easy screenshots. The pro version (which is what I use) has even more great features and capabilities.
  • ACA Free Graphics Programs List.

Screen Recording

Video Editing

  • Camtasia. Once I get some other things out of the way, I will be doing more video work. In the meantime, I purchased Camtasia and have gotten pretty fluent with it. It is so much easier and intuitive to use than some of the other professional video editing software out there, and less costly as well. LOVE this program!
  • Sony Vegas Movie Studio HD. This one is a lot more complex with a much steeper learning curve. However, it is more industry standard movie editing software as opposed to Camtasia which is more of a screen capturing tool. Does far more than Camtasia. That said, unless you need to get into more advanced video editing, you probably don’t need this software.
  • Windows Movie Maker (free).
  • Handbrake (free). This is an extremely handy tool that I use frequently for converting videos from one format to another. For example, Camtasia doe not handle some video formats natively such as .mov or .mpeg. Therefore, I have to convert them into a compatible format (I generally use .mp4) in order to upload and edit them in Camtasia.

Video Streaming & Hosting

  • YouTube (free). I opened accounts with many of the different services out there, but in the end am now sticking with YouTube. It’s established, widely used and great for SEO. I also like how you can customize the theme and display of your channel.
  • Ustream (free). I don’t actually use this yet, but if I was wanting to do some live streaming video classes, this would be the service I would use.
  • Livestream (free). This is another live video streaming service that I’ve looked into. Hadn’t had a chance to use it yet and not sure how it compares to Ustream as they both do the same thing so like anything else, it probably just comes down to personal preference. For me, I’d probably be looking at the user interface, how easy/intuitive it is to use and get started, how wel it streamed, things like that, when deciding which one would be my go-to choice.
  • Amazon S3.

Audio Streaming

  • Audio Acrobat. A versatile service that will stream both audio and video. Not only is it great for your own business and marketing purposes, it’s very widely used so knowing how it works will be a benefit to your clients as well.

All-In-One List Management/Email Distribution/Autoresponder Service

  • Aweber. Honestly, why people bother with free services that don’t scale as their business grows is beyond me. All the time and work they invested in growing their list puts them right back to square one when they have to move to a paid service that they should have just started with in the first place. Don’t be penny-wise and pound foolish. When it comes to purchasing software and services, think with a mind towards what is going to facilitate the growth and success of your business. That’s why this program is an absolute MUST-HAVE as it will help you grow, nurture and keep in touch with your audience and keep those prospective client pipelines moving and shaking.

What Size Computer Monitor Do You Use?

I’m curious about what size monitors Virtual Assistants are using these days (desktop, not laptop). If you have a quick second, please indicate your monitor size in the poll below (choose the answer that is closest; if you use dual monitors, select the size of the smallest monitor). Will be interesting to see the results!

Dear Danielle: How Do I Work with Clients Virtually?

Dear Danielle:

In talking with my business coach we have decided I should use my 18 years office administration and customer service skills to start an administrative support business. I’m losing my current work position in June of this year so I’m hoping to have my business established by then. One area I’m struggling with is how I perform my current skills for business owners strictly from my home office? Is there specific software I should have, etc?  How are others accomplishing these tasks from their home offices? Plus, there are some tasks I don’t know how to do at this point. —SC

New software, services and technologies emerge every day so there isn’t a way to give you one single, static list of everything you might possibly use.

One reason is because I don’t know who your target market is (a target market is simply an industry/field/profession you cater your admin support to).

That makes a big difference because while there will be some general overlap (e.g., Microsoft Word, Excel, etc.) the software and tech tools you would need to work with one industry/profession may not necessarily be the same for another.

For example, are they professionals providing a service or are they a sales business? Different industries/professions have different business models, work with clients differently, market differently, etc, and that will entail different support and require different appproaches in supporting them.

So it really depends on what industry/profession you’re going to support and the work involved in supporting them. Once you know that, you can then better determine what tools you’ll need.

That said, here is what I can tell you generally:

1. One trait I notice a lot in our industry is people tend to make things far more complicated than need be, which only increases their workload and makes their business harder to manage. In large part, you and your client don’t need anything more complicated and involved to communicate other than simply emailing each other. With email, you don’t have to take time out for random, interrupting phone-calls. You have a tangible item that you can move around in prioritizing files in your email client (e.g., Outlook) and you’ve got a hardcopy paper trail and record, so to speak, of what is asked of you.

2. In the past I’ve recommended project management/online collaborative office services. However, even that just complicates things unnecessarily. And when you have a full, busy practice (or building a business to have one), you will find you just don’t need anything that weighs you down like that.  I’ve also found that clients don’t like to have to learn a whole new software or tool to work together and it just doubles your administration and workload re-adding projects and work into another system when you’ve already got it in an email. Now, I don’t use any project management software at all. I simply use DropBox to share documents with clients, collaborate and edit them in real time, and keep things organized online in a central repository we both share.

3. Then, there are going to be services your clients uses and all that’s really required there is for them to give you the login access information. For example, if you client publishes an ezine (online electronic newsletter), he or she will use a service like Aweber to distribute it and manage the attendant subscriber lists. Because it’s an online service, you don’t need to download anything or purchase your own software. You simply log into the client’s account and do what you need to do.

4. Let’s see, what else? Oh, here’s a good example… Some people offer bookkeeping in addition to their administrative support. My first caution here is to first make sure you are qualified to be providing this kind of service. When you start messing with people’s money and financial recordkeeping, you open yourself up to a whole other level of liability. People who don’t have the knowledge and training to be providing this service shouldn’t. Otherwise, you risk causing real harm to the clients and yourself getting into potential legal hot water.

But let’s say you are a qualified bookkeeper and want to offer this service. There are all kinds of ways you can provide this and all kinds of platforms to use. In the actual bookkeeping field, what many folks do is have clients fax or mail bank statements at the start of every month and then they simply enter and keep the data at their end in their own software (like Quickbooks Pro). At the end of the month, they give clients summarized reports and balance sheets. When it’s tax time, they simply make a CD copy to give to the accountants (unless they provide that services themselves as well).

Other business owners are more hands-on. They want their data entered a little more regularly instead of once a month. They like to keep their own finger on the pulse of things and for them, keeping their records on their own systems is preferred. In those cases, services like Quickbooks offer an online version. It’s pretty robust, but there are components lacking that the actual software has (e.g., last I heard, the online version doesn’t allow you to enter COGS line-items; if you working with contractors, for example, that could be a problem). If the client’s business is simple and more service-based, the online version will probably serve all your needs. And if you get the online version, again, all you need is for the client to provide you with access to the account.

Another way is to have the client fax or email things to be entered and then you mail then back a CD or somehow get an electronic version back to them. Things like invoices can be emailed back to the client or simply mailed out. This is a really complicated way of doing things because it adds more work and will require that you and the client always be in exact sync and never fail to upload the latest CD of their files. For example, if you do a client’s bookkeeping for the week, then make a copy of the CD and do a file transfer of it to them, the client then has to download that latest CD. If he fails to do this, the next time you do file swapping, you could lose all your previous work. I really, really don’t recommend doing things this way whatsoever. Too much room for human error. And trust me, there WILL be human error sooner or later. I guarantee it.

The only other way is to work on the client’s own software to do their bookkeeping using remote access (such as with a program like LogMeIn or TeamViewer). This can work really great. The only thing is that the client can’t be on the computer you are trying to work on remotely. In the past, what I’ve had clients do is simply set up a second computer (typically, one that isn’t going to be used at all or very often by anyone else), keep their bookkeeping software on that computer and then I simply log in whenever I was ready to do their bookkeeping.

I used the example of bookkeeping, but as you can see, when it comes to software there are going to be all kinds of options available to you. There are going to be online services. Sometimes remote access is the way to go. Other times, having the actual software is what is required. You simply are going to have to research them (and your research could and should include asking those specific questions of your colleagues when they come up) and find out what works best–for your clients AND you. And a lot you will figure out as you go and as you talk with clients and prospects.

What you need and the option you end up using for any given support area is going to also depend a lot on your target market and what makes sense for your business as well. Meaning, your business can’t afford for you to be spending your time using antiquated or inefficient systems or softwares just because a particular client is using them and doesn’t know any better. As an independent professional and administrative expert, you have to work with clients who can get with the program or are amenable to the advice you give them on what will work better for them and for you. Because every inefficiency you allow into your business, just to make an exception and cater to an individual client’s whims, makes your business that much less profitable and efficient. And that’s not good for you or your other clients.

Why Technology Will Never Replace the Human Brain

Why Technology Will Never Replace the Human Brain

Someone emailed me with what she thought was a typo in one of my Success Store products.

While it turned out there wasn’t any error, I definitely appreciated the kindness of her effort to alert me.

Other things have gotten past us before and it never hurts to double-check. Those extra eyeballs are much appreciated!

One of the reasons she alerted me was because the word in question was flagged by the spell-check feature in Word.

This got me to thinking about why technology can never replace the human brain.

Take biz card readers, for example. They’re neat and all, but they still require a human being to go through and make sure all the data converted over correctly and got inputted to the right fields.

Same thing with voice recognition software. There are folks out there who think that technology will make it so they never need another transcriber or proofreader again. They could not be more wrong.

While the technology is pretty darn nifty and can be applied in all kinds of situations, there isn’t a voice recognition program out there that doesn’t still require an actual human being with a firm command of language to make sure everything was transcribed, spelled, punctuated and formatted correctly.

Only a human being will know how to correct incomplete sentences and make sure all grammar rules are correctly applied.

Plus, like in this instance, just because a program like Word flags something doesn’t mean it’s incorrect. It takes a human being to know better.

The human brain has job security!

Because only the human brain can distinguish between contexts and apply critical thinking.

Technology can’t do that. It can’t think like a person, and it doesn’t have a human being’s ability for discernment.

Language and communication are the heart of everything we do in business. Which is why it’s imperative that administrative support experts have a firm knowledge and command of these things.

Are You Dripping with Friends?

The term “drip marketing” comes from the direct mail industry.

Studies indicate it takes at least 7 to 10 points of contact before a prospect even remembers a business, much less buys from it.

So, the idea is to mail a series of printed promotional pieces (drip) to current and potential customers, and thereby keep the company in front of their eyeballs long enough to establish brand awareness and develop them into leads.

That sure doesn’t sound very warm and fuzzy, though, does it? In fact, it sounds pretty impersonal and a little too cold and calculating.

People want to be cared about.

They want to connect with other human beings, not be a cog in someone’s marketing machinations.

That said, you’re still a business. You have to somehow find a way to get in front of your would-be clients or customers. Marketing is a necessary evil.

But guess what? It doesn’t have to be evil. Let me tell you how you can create authentic drip campaigns driven by heart (you might even be doing one of these already):

  1. First, shift your perception. Instead of “marketing,” look at these efforts simply as a way to make new friends (prospective clients/customers), help those you are already friends with (past and current clients/customers) and continue to nurture and solidify those relationships. People do business with and refer those they get to know, like and trust. So what you’re really doing in all your reaching-out efforts is simply allowing people to get to know the real you and leaving a door open for them to enter a little further.
  2. One way you can do this is to publish an ezine for your target market. An ezine (electronic newsletter) is a form of drip marketing because it allows you to keep a line of conversation going with your audience on a regular basis. It’s a heck of lot cheaper and easier to publish than a print newsletter, and there’s a much greater return for the effort. The keys to a successful ezine are:

    a) make it about your target market (what do they want to read about? What are their challenges and obstacles? What advice, tips and solutions will be of value and interest to them? How can you make it fun?), and
    b) publish regularly—weekly, every other week or at least once a month. You know you’re doing something right when readers email you when an issue is missing or late!

  3. Publish a blog. Like an ezine, frequency is key. It doesn’t have to be on the same kind of schedule as an ezine, but you should post regularly to maintain a momentum of interest. Posting twice a year just isn’t going to cut it. If you do blog, you can be more personal and less formal, the content less structured. It’s another avenue for allowing prospective clients/customers to connect with you as a person, which makes you much more relatable and approachable.
  4. Offer a free e-course via a series of autoresponders. Say you have some sort of how-to guide that you’ve been offering as a single download. Divide each step/section/bullet into separate messages to be sent out one at a time each week. If you have 10 messages, that’s 10 weeks you can be helping those on your list and keeping in touch with them. Encourage questions and feedback, which will help you better understand their needs and challenges and develop further useful content and information for them.
  5. Continue to consistently keep in touch with your list subscribers. Send out a message whenever you come across news and information you think will be helpful to your target market. Send a message linking to an article you think is of interest to them. Tell them about happenings or products you recommend. Let them know whenever you have a special event or offering for them. Periodically spotlight one of your skills or services they might not be aware of and how it might help them in their business. Make a list of all the reasons you could contact those on your list. The possibilities are endless. Continue to add to it as you come up with ideas. There’s nothing wrong with letting folks know what you do and what you have to offer them. Just try to strike a balance. Remember that the point is to be helpful, not spam them with constant marketing and self-interested promotion. The simple act of being a helpful, knowledgeable resource for them promotes you in all the best ways possible.

All of this is about creating rapport and trust. When you show people who you are and what you are passionate about, you instill rapport. When you demonstrate that you understand their business problems, needs and interests, you demonstrate your competence and authority and show that they can trust you. Nothing evil about that! It’s simple consideration. Commit to more of that.

RESOURCE: Aweber is the most versatile autoresponder service out there in my book. Not only can you use it to deliver your ezine, it can be used for all kinds of other purposes including capturing subscribers, managing unlimited lists, communicating with those lists (separately or together) via sequential and scheduled broadcasts, setting up automated message campaigns, distributing blog post notifications and even incorporating those messages with social media. The reporting features are phenomenal and it integrates nicely with shoppingcart systems. Its double opt-in policy makes it one of the very top rated services for email delivery and open rates.

My Best Tips and Tricks for Teleseminars and Webinars

I’ve done teleseminars up the ying-yang and know how to run those like the back of my hand. Got it down to a fine science.

I also recently held my first training webinar, and it was quite the learning experience.

Here are a few odds and ends things I learned (in no particular order) that you’re sure to find helpful, too.

  1. Use a timer. It’s easy to get distracted and lose track of time, especially when you get caught up in the moment with the energy and enthusiasm of your attendees. In my first class, we went way over the planned time I told people to schedule, and I felt really bad about that. In the future, I plan to keep a clock right in front of my eyeballs and also turn on a timer to help keep me on track. This will help gauge when it’s time to speed things up and move along to keep everything on schedule.
  2. Map it out, then stick with the script. I find reading from a script difficult. It seem unnatural or inauthentic. I like the dynamic of a real conversation and interaction, which feels more genuine and in-the-moment. There’s so much I want to share with folks that often I don’t remember something until it comes up organically. But there’s a reason why the experts tell you to script things out. You end up with a more polished production, and it helps keep things focused and on track. Plus, if you suffer from “um” and “ya know” syndrome (like me), a script does wonders in curing the problem. If it feels a bit fake, remind yourself that ultimately, this is about providing a better experience for your participants and it’s their benefit and comfort you’re doing this for.
  3. Leave your notes unstapled. I know. This sounds like such an inane, irrelevant thing, but it really does take more effort and fumbling around to flip stapled pages than it does unstapled ones. Trust me. Things will flow much better if you leave them unstapled.
  4. Keep the trickiness to a minimum. I wanted to do something a little more original than anything I’d seen in webinars I’ve attended. One of my ideas was to do on-screen drawing, where I was engaging with participants, asking them questions and then writing down points to help crystallize concepts I was trying to convey. I wanted it to be like they were at an actual, in-person class. In theory, that sounds awesome. In practice, not so much. Trying to do this really slowed things down. It was too difficult switching between all the mental gears it takes to man the control panel, turn pages, keep the conversation on track and flip between the drawing tools all at the same time. While most webinar platforms offer drawing tools, there’s still a lot that needs to be perfected in the technology and controls before they’ll be at a level where this is more feasible. Sometimes, the best solution is the simplest, tried-and-true method.
  5. Have a co-pilot. Initially, I weighed the option of having one of my colleagues help me. But then I thought that would just make me more nervous and there wasn’t much she could take off my hands anyway. Well, after doing Part 1 of my first webinar, I realized that was a mistake. With everything else I had to do myself, no matter what, it was absolutely impossible for me to also pay attention to those who were having audio difficulties, typing in the text chat area or raising their virtual hands with questions. So in Part 2, I definitely had my administrator help me. She monitored the audio and let me know when someone had a question or issue. It really did help.
  6. Have everyone mute themselves. Here again, I really wanted a more interactive, dynamic conversation. I didn’t want to be talking at people. The problem with that, however, is no matter how large or small the group, no matter how many times you convey your webinar guidelines and ask folks to observe good netiquette, there is always going to be someone whose audio problems and noisy background will disrupt the class. Dealing with those issues slows things down and only serves to frustrate everyone. So here’s the thing to keep in mind if you feel uncomfortable doing most of the talking: people are there to hear you talk at them, so to speak. They paid for your class because they want to learn from you. They aren’t the ones with the knowledge, you are. So you have to be talking to them to a large extent in order to give them what they came to get. Having everyone mute themselves (and then instructing them to unmute themselves one at a time when you get to the Q&A portions of the class) helps you deliver a better experience for everyone. (PS: As the moderator, you don’t want to mute folks yourself as they won’t be able to unmute themselves when Q &A rolls around. Yup, this happened to us.)
  7. Establish the Q & A rules. Schedule question-and-answer spots into the sequence of your presentation. You can save them for the end of the class or intersperse them at specific intervals. Just don’t allow questions willy nilly. This will really slow things down and lead you off-track. Set expectations before the class by letting participants know how and when Q&A will be handled. Ask them to save their questions for those times (suggest they write them down along the way or submit them in advance) and to keep their questions on-topic.
  8. Keep class size small. If you were only doing a teleseminar, I would say it really doesn’t matter how large the attendance is (other than your bridgeline’s limitations). However, conducting training, particularly on a webinar platform, is a bit more involved, more interactive, more intimate. They really do work best and are easier to manage when the class size is limited. Plus, depending on the webinar platform you’re using, you can often keep costs down, if that’s a concern, by limiting the number of participants. I think a group of around 20 to 25 is perfect.
  9. Spread it out. Break classes down into one or two hour sessions. Beyond that, people get tired. Their mind wanders. They have other things to do. Too much information all at once can be overwhelming and hard to digest. Plus, for practical purposes, smaller recordings are easier to edit and manage. You can always combine separate recordings into one video later.
  10. Don’t be afraid to boot bad attitudes. I had the most delightful bunch of participants in my first class. I couldn’t have asked for a better group. However, there was one person in part 1 of my training who rudely made it clear she was impatient with what she perceived to be entry-level when she felt she was more advanced. However, this was not her personal coaching session where everything was going to be geared specifically for her. There were others for whom the knowledge and understanding was new — and appreciated. All the parts were important to the whole because they’re all pieces of one puzzle that would not be complete without that information. So, know going in that a) there are going to be people who end up not being a fit, whatever the reason, and b) you don’t have to suffer the company of anyone who is ill-mannered and brings negative energy to you and the rest of your class. If they can’t be courteous and polite and save their complaints for later, you have no obligation to allow them to put your off your game and make you uncomfortable.

RESOURCE: GoToTraining is the platform I used this time around to conduct my first training. All the Citrix products are very good and reliable. There are a few things I would really love to see them continue to improve, and they do seem to really listen and heed user feedback. Initially, they were offering their platform at $350/mo. I told them there was no way the small business owner would ever pay that, particularly when their class sizes were smaller and they might only use the platform a few times a year. The very next day, they introduced a new, lower-priced payment level geared especially for more sporadic use and smaller class sizes. Their customer support is also phenomenal, which, on a side note, is a trend I have been noticing lately. I’m seeing more and more companies put a new, all-out focus on providing outstanding customer support. It would seem that they are FINALLY hearing what the market has been saying for years now: “Your crappy and/or offshored customer service is creating ill-will and costing you our business!” Only good can come of that. But you, Mr. and Ms. Marketplace, need to stop expecting everything for free if you want to continue to benefit from this new wonderful service trend. It goes both ways. For myself, I am oh-so-happy to pay well for that kind of experience. ;)