The #1 Tip for Getting Your Creativity Back

This week we want you to get messy. That’s right.

Throw caution to the wind and get sticky, muddy, and sweaty. There is nothing more freeing than shaking off some of our grown-up inhibitions. Here are a few of our favorite messy activities and their benefits…that’s right benefits. Summer isn’t over yet!

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How to Stop Pissing Off Your Virtual Assistant

How to Stop Pissing Off Your Virtual Assistant

I’ll come right out and say it. No one likes a micromanager.
 
The entire reason you hire an assistant is to create a better work/life balance for yourself. You hired an assistant so that you wouldn’t have to look at email, manage your calendar, or decide if you have time for drinks with friends. Once you have an assistant, you should be able to let them have the reins (after training for a few weeks, of course), and they should feel comfortable running with it -- and asking questions if there are any. 
 
On behalf of all assistants, let me say this: 
If you don’t trust us to do the job we were hired to do, we will fail at helping you.
 

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Why All Your Eggs Shouldn’t Be in One Basket

Why All Your Eggs Shouldn’t Be in One Basket

I love businesses who know who they are, what they do, and why they do it. They ooze confidence and are usually the most efficient at providing quality service or products. But putting all your eggs in one basket isn’t always the best strategy… consider Blockbuster. If you aren’t going forward you’re going backward, especially in business. Keep growing through diversification the right way.

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Show Customers You Love Them – And They’ll Love You

Show Customers You Love Them – And They’ll Love You

Our customers and clients are our bread and butter. They aren’t just a resource financially but they are the reason we do what we do. They become a part of who we are and their “whys” become our “whys.”

But do they know that? Do they know how much you care? Do they know how much you love them and appreciate their loyalty?

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Reigniting Passion for Your Dream: 4 Things that Actually Work

 Reigniting Passion for Your Dream: 4 Things that Actually Work

People fall in and out of love all the time. And we aren’t immune, particularly when it comes to our work. Our dreams start out so big and so inspiring but as time passes we get buried under the weight of the everyday and mundane that our dreams and passions start to lose their sparkle. No fear, though, my friends. Here are some tips for reigniting the passion, fanning the flame, and building the blaze of desire for your work.

 

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No More Failure: How to Stay on Track in 2017

No More Failure: How to Stay on Track in 2017

Lots of people make plans and set goals. But painfully few complete and meet them. They are the elite few who seem to have all their stuff together. Did you know that only 8% of people achieve their goals? I don’t say that to discourage you. Rather, I have a plan. To close out this month of new beginnings, I’d like to leave you with some simple tips to power you for the rest of the year.

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How to Take a Vacation Without Losing Your Groove

How to Take a Vacation Without Losing Your Groove

For people in traditional jobs, a vacation is simple: you ask for time off, you take time off, you return to pick up where you left off. However, for those of use solopreneurs running our own small businesses, vacations can be a bit more complicated and sometimes devastating. So we stay home, do the same thing, and spend another year forgetting what the rest of the world looks like. The truth is, a vacation is possible and extremely necessary. Here are some steps for how to take a vacation, enjoy it, and not miss a beat!

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How to Ask for Help When You're in this Alone

How to Ask for Help When You're in this Alone

It’s so hard to ask for help because help means two things: it means we aren’t superwoman (or superman), and we can’t always be in complete control.

Asking for help is admitting that we can’t run the world and remember to pick up our dry cleaning at the same time.

Asking for help takes a little, um, humility. And humility is hard.

And when you find yourself ready to let go of control and stretch out your arms for support, make sure it’s someone you trust.

Asking for help will be worth it.

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Prioritize Peace: 10 Things to Do Today to Breathe Easier and Increase Productivity

Prioritize Peace: 10 Things to Do Today to Breathe Easier and Increase Productivity

You’ve got the clients, you’ve got the dreams, and you’ve got the plans. And you’ve got the packed schedule and dark circles to prove it all. Believe it or not, there are some things you can do right now to start taking better care of yourself and breathing a little easier. Here’s a simple list of ten things you can do today to prioritize peace and (gasp!) increase productivity.

 

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How to Automate Twitter Growth

Automating twitter growth is one of the biggest time saving systems I have in my business. I create systems all the time for my own business and for clients’ businesses. Automating twitter is one of my favorites! 

Automating twitter can be hard if you’re not used to letting go of control (when really you keep it), or if you’re someone that likes getting lost in social media. (That moment when you’ve watched cat videos for three hours, and suddenly realize none of your work will get done today? Yeah -- that.) Automation can also be hard if you’re not sure where to start, what to use, or how it should all work together.

Lucky for you, you’ve got this post. I’m going to lay it out for you nice and easy, to kick off our month of social media posts! Join us every Monday in November for a new post on how to rock your social like a VA -- even if you don’t have one! 

To successfully automate, you need systems. There are tons to choose from, so here are a few of my favorites:

Buffer - I’ve mentioned them before! Buffer is a great tool for scheduling out your social media. This means you can “pre load” social content, including tweets, to be pushed live on a schedule of your choice. This prevents you from having to sit at the computer (or on your phone) when you should be doing other things. No one likes the person who’s on their phone at family dinner. Don’t let that be you. 

Hootsuite - This tool is more robust than Buffer, because you can reply, retweet, and like posts inside the Hootsuite client. It does come at more of a cost, but is a great solution if you’re looking to view multiple social feeds at one time, or to retweet and like others’ tweets. 

Google Sheets - a free tool that my team and I use every single day to help automate our entire social presence. YES -- Google Sheets is awesome! You don’t have to be a spreadsheet guru to like it, either. All you need are some slick social recipes and systems to help you fall in love with gridlines and boxes. 

Feedly - an RSS feed aggregator (think: electronic basket to hold all of your favorite blog posts from the web) that we have helped clients use to get quality content in one place.

Pocket - my personal favorite, and the gem of my personal social workflow. Pocket is a place where you can easily save popular and recommended articles, blog posts, and content from around the web. It’s free, and it’s incredibly easy to use. 

Automating twitter is the best part of my business, because I am able to consistently put out amazing, relevant, high-quality content without much effort or time spent. I created a workflow that I’ll share with you over the next coming weeks, so that you can replicate it yourself!

First, we’ve got to start with the foundation and the overview -- otherwise the system won’t work. 

Content Spreadsheet: We created the spreadsheet with Google Sheets so that we have a content library. Any content we find that’s relevant to my network goes into the spreadsheet. This way we always have content to push out if we need to find an article about something, or want to feature a certain topic. We find more each week, but we’re never in a place where we’re missing content. We have a big library to choose from! 

5-Bucket Theory: This one comes from my friend and colleague, Dave Shrein. Dave uses what he calls “five buckets” -- content areas or topics that his blog posts, Periscope broadcasts, and other outreach avenues must be focused around. Keeping content focused on five areas makes sure that it’s always relevant to what you’re doing, and that you don’t spread yourself too thin. Picking five areas might seem simple -- that’s good. We want simple! 

My five areas? Productivity, Time Management, Automation, Delegation, and Small Business Owners
 


Creative Collateral: Tweets with visual content (images, gifs, emojis) get shared more often than tweets without. Making sure that you have strong visuals is a big deal -- and one to not skip over if you’re doing it yourself. I have a part-time graphic designer on my team, Shaina, who helps me take care of visuals, like our worksheets and such. Making sure that you include photos with your tweets is not only helpful, it’ll make your content magnetic. (PS - if you use Buffer, they’ve made it really easy to include photos with content you tweet out.) 

Respond Authentically: I’ll include a video for you in the coming weeks about how we do this on my team. For now, it’s important to know that you must have a quality rubric to follow when you’re responding to new followers. What makes someone a quality follower? What makes them worth following? Will you follow companies back? Will you follow someone back that only has 20 followers? What about following someone back that doesn’t have a profile photo, and instead opts for the super-sexy egg photo that Twitter loves so much? Decide your criteria. Once you’ve decided, respond to the people that meet your rubric/list of qualifications. 

When we respond to someone via twitter that fits our criteria, we include the following things:

  • Their username
  • Their first name
  • A thank you for following
  • A question or personal comment about their site/blog/bio

You can look at my twitter feed for lots of examples of this! 

Building Relationship: Keep it going after the initial follow and messages above. Check in with their content. Check on them; how are they doing? If you keep up with relationships, you secure your business for the long-term. 

Relationship is the best business you’ll ever have -- keep it going with your twitter feed! 

Are there bad examples of automating twitter growth? YES. Absolutely.

For the love of vegan chocolate, please stop sending me automatic direct messages. DMs are not meant to be abused. (Hint: automatic DMs after I follow you count as abuse.) No one likes them, they feel spammy, and they make me sad. If you send an auto DM, you’re missing out on public conversation, which will raise your social even more. People will see that you’re a human being, not a robot, and they’ll notice that you talk to your followers. If you respond in a DM, no one can see it, and you look like a quiet, private person -- a giant no-no for social media.

Auto responses that are canned make people feel cheap. If your entire feed is saying “Hi @username, thanks for following…” over and over and over… you’re going to make people upset. It looks spammy, and that’s not why you’re here. You’re here to be a force of connection, influence, and authority on social media! 


I want to hear from you - what are three steps you’re going to take to automate your twitter growth this week?
 


Some links in this post contain affiliate links, which mean that I may make a small commission if you sign up/purchase after clicking on them. I only recommend things I've used, love, and want to share. Affiliate commissions help me be able to create incredible content for you on a regular basis.

Not Me -- We!

Growing a team is a crucial piece of growing any business, no matter the industry. 

Often, it's the piece that experiences the most frustration and stress. As a VA, I get to watch CEOs of high-performing law firms, venture capital companies... and even film production studios hire people to grow their businesses. There's nothing like finding the perfect person to fill the space you need, and then watching them grow and flourish in that space.

We are in a season of growth too! 

This week I'm wrapping up interviews to build out our VA team here. (Did you know we've been a team of four for almost a year?) I've been talking over Skype with creative, detailed, personable people who want to help CEOs, solopreneurs, busy moms, and over-scheduled execs have an easier, happier, calmer life. It is amazing. I'll be adding hand-picked, whip-smart assistants to join our team.

We have a waitlist of nearly a hundred people that want to work with us -- and up until now, they'd have had to wait until August 2017. I'm happy to say that that wait is shortening by 9 months. We'll have open client spaces available in just a few weeks. (You can find out exactly when by entering your email address here.) 

If you're looking for an assistant, the wait is almost over.

I'm committed, as the visionary, CEO, and leader of this team to make sure that we are ready to jump in and save you from the stress. We are ready to turn your chaos into calm.

We've been operating as a team for nearly a year, and it's time to go bigger and better. I'll have more information on who the team is, and more about us, coming here. In the meantime, you'll notice a lot of the website changing from me to we -- because this is a team effort. 

I am so excited to see what the future holds.

From me, and the rest of the CMVA team, we are so happy to have you joining us on this exciting new chapter. 

To teamwork, synergy, and growth,
Charissa

6 Simple Tricks That Will Dramatically Improve Your Productivity

I’m a productivity junkie.

When I tell you that I go to seminars on the weekend just to learn how to schedule your time more effectively, it’s true. (This weekend, I went to a conference on interpersonal communication -- one I’d wanted to take for two years.) I really love learning how to use time more efficiently, with as much smoothing out of processes as possible. This is true of a lot of VAs -- we’re the unicorns of the forest that live for things like scheduling, color coding, organizing, editorial calendars, and automation.

In last week’s blog post, Jess let us peek inside her workflow for processing and systems through her Process Map technique. (See post here if you missed it!) Writing down the things that are on your plate is key. Writing down steps of those processes is key to teach them to someone (like a VA) if you’re going to delegate.

What happens when you don’t have the time or money for a VA, but want to learn to think like one? Try these 6 simple tricks!

  1. Turn off your notifications on your laptop and phone. Put your phone in another room if you can’t handle the distraction. (Silent mode on the iPhone is what I use for this.) We both know that if someone tweets you a cat GIF, you’re going to look at it. Instead of missing out on time where you could be getting work done, turn your phone off/face down. Don’t answer it.

  2. Change up your routine and working environment. I find that I get more done when I am working from somewhere different every day. Sometimes I work at a co-working office. Sometimes, I work from coffee shops. Sometimes I work from my kitchen table. It’s important to know that environment affects you -- how will you hack it to work to your advantage?

  3. Use a social media site blocker (unless you do social media work for a living) on your browser. My favorites are Self Control for Mac, and Cold Turkey for PC. If you have these enabled (for certain time periods you choose), you’ll be unable to access a custom list of websites. That means if you’re distracted by Etsy, add the URL to your program and it’ll block access to it until your timer runs out. Each time you go to the URL, it’ll show you an error saying that the page isn’t available. You can add whatever websites you waste time on, and there’s a pre-furnished list as well, with common websites, like social media and news organizations.

  4. Take notes! There’s no use in searching for information you had once and forgot. Talk about redundant! When I’m on the phone with a client, or making plans with someone, I always -- always have the Notes app up either on my phone or on my MacBook. It’s an amazing habit to get into. This way, I have all of the information I need, laid out, and created in a central place where I can find it.

  5. Break tasks down into baby steps. When you have a giant task on your plate (moving cross-country for example), make a list of the smaller things you need to do to get the bigger task accomplished. So, following the moving example, you’d write down things like finding a maid to clean the house, getting boxes, packing, and organizing a moving company. (PS - these are things a VA can do for you!) It’s so much easier to tackle one thing at a time than to focus on the huge giant task.

  6. Use your calendar! The calendar is literally the backbone of my time. It keeps everything aligned, connected, structured, and working together. If something isn’t on my calendar, it doesn’t get done. Color coding also helps, but if you’re new to actually putting things on your calendar, just focus on using it. Add your recurring tasks and items into it -- if you have to take your kids to ballet every Thursday afternoon, put it in your calendar. You’ll really easily see if you’re overbooked, double booked, or trying to be in two places at once.

Productivity is really important to handle when you’re working for yourself. It’s so easy to get distracted, unfocused, and inefficient. Hopefully these tips will help you to stay focused, on task, and effective at your work!

 

How to Implement Business Systems

Ready to implement systems? Process Map it first!

Systems are the the way you do what you do. It’s the step by step process that you follow to do your work, to function within your zone of genius, to make money on your core touch tasks. It’s easy to think that the newest app or piece of software will streamline what you do and how you do it, and while this systems nerd will nod her head in agreement, it’s important to know what the heck you’re streamlining in the first place.

Clients come to me from a bunch of different industries. Get organized is on their to-do list, but like all detail oriented people know, without digging into what it is that we’re getting organized there is no way to effectively implement new systems to ensure that streamlining actually happens. When it comes time to take on that superstar VA, how will you know what to delegate? How can you train your assistant to fully support you to the best of their abilities without giving them a clear guide as to what shape that support takes?

I take my clients through what I call their Process Map. We look at each of their workflows as they are right now to identify where they’re double handling tasks, where things are clunky and where they’re leaving themselves wide open to missed deadlines or big gusts of that ol’ unorganized wind etc.


To create a Process Map for yourself, follow these four steps:

1. Choose a workflow that you complete regularly. 
It could be your client on-boarding process, content creation procedure, project management etc. Choose something meaty that can take a little time or passes over a few hands in the process.

2. Write out the very first step in that procedure.
If you’ve chosen your on-boarding procedure for example, how does that client find you? Via a contact form on your website? Then your first step would be: receive email from lead via contact form on website.

3. Use the “and then” method to map your process. 

After your initial point of contact via that first email, how do you move through the workflow. Get intricate and detailed through this process. If you need to switch browsers during your process, that’s a step. Every email exchanged between you and your lead is a single step in itself. Continue on until you’ve completed your handover of your project or task.

4. Review your Process Map.
Follow back through your process and identify the steps where you’re repeating yourself, creating more work for yourself or potentially creating more work for a team member further down the workflow chain. Where can you automate? Implement new policies? Combine steps? Delegate?

Does it take time to run through this for every process you complete? Sure.

Will it repay you in time saved further down the track? Absolutely.  


jess-may-indigo-assistant-business-systems-freelancer-girl-glasses

Jess May is an operations & systems consultant, working with businesses to implement systems, policies and procedures to streamline what they do and how they do it. Her favorite people to do work with? Innovative business owners making their living in beautiful places.

She lives in an introvert’s paradise surrounded by state forest and spends her days in front of her log fire with her fiancé, feeding her sheep or teaching herself how to use yet another piece of software.


How to Create Healthy Boundaries

So many virtual assistants burn out in less than a year. They end up resenting the job, hating their workload, and dropping the ball on tasks. This happens because of a lack of boundaries.

This is the number one thing I want to help other assistants (and the people who love them) understand.

Boundaries are critical to your success.

Boundaries govern your working hours and the amount of clients you take on. They also govern the amount of work you do for each client, and the way in which you do it. It’s important to make sure that you’re communicating these boundaries once they're set.

Set your working hours. You need to communicate when you’re “in the office”. This is the same thing as showing up in an office, so it’s important to set these and stick to them. If a client knows they can reach you between 9am and 5pm, but calls at 7:30pm with a task, do not answer the phone. Period. When assistants break this rule, it teaches the client that they can reach them anytime. The flip side of this is also true. Your clients should know when they can reach you. If they call during working hours, answer the phone, or return the call within an hour. My clients know that I serve many people. They know if they don’t immediately reach me during business hours, I’ll be in touch within an hour.

You need to plan for a communication breakdown. Talk through your style of communication. Does a client HATE email? Does your assistant only take texts from VIP clients? These are good boundaries to define as you start working together. I always ask clients how I should best reach them in an emergency. It’s good to know, and it helps us both feel at ease.

Keep normal hours when working late. One of my favorite hacks for email is Boomerang. Boomerang is a gmail-based program that lets you delay sending an email until a specific time. I use this every Friday so that my clients all receive their end of week reports at 5pm on the dot. Remember, I have a full client load. If I wrote all the emails at 5pm, some clients would get theirs after working hours. This would be an example of me not keeping my boundaries. Instead, I start them at 4:30, and queue them to go out all at 5:00pm on the dot. Another example of this is if you’re up late working on tasks, and you need to respond to an email. Respond, using Boomerang, and send the email when the recipient is in the office next. It’s an easy way to keep up on email without looking like you’re in the office all the time.

Maintain a professional standard and conduct business in an ethical manner. Your assistant is an asset, not someone to abuse. Remember that you have a professional relationship. Asking your assistant to do something that’d make your mother blush isn’t a good idea. (Don’t ask your assistant to buy birth control, set up a swinging date, or filter through porn sites. Not okay.) It's usually okay to ask for help with personal tasks like doctor's appointments. This can vary by assistant. (Some only do professional tasks — another boundary!)

Contact information might be business only. Some assistants prefer to use Google Voice, so that boundaries stay firm. If clients text or call after hours, the pressure to pick up the phone isn't as big. Keep the boundaries you set whether you have your assistant’s actual phone number or not. Clients delegate to me at 3am, knowing that I won’t answer, or start working until I’m back in the office.

Boundaries are key to a successful VA/Client relationship. Make sure that time, energy, and integrity are protected for everyone involved. The biggest and most rewarding client interactions come from my boundaries around communication. My clients know without a doubt that they’ll be able to reach me between 9am and 5pm. They know that I respond within in an hour during working hours. They know that sending tasks outside of those hours is okay — but that I'll write back when I’m back in the office.

Effective boundaries create positive client relationships.

Where do you need to change or put in place your boundaries? Tell me in the comments!

 

My Assistant Blew My Mind

Today I have a fun story for you about my own assistant. I got to have the moment I so often get to give to my own clients.

She set some Skype calls for me. She reached out, coordinated schedules, and listed it on my calendar. Nothing out of the ordinary.

During one of my check-in calls with my assistant, we went over my schedule for the day. I had a Skype call that afternoon, and realized I didn't know the other person's username. I mentioned it to my assistant and she said, "Oh, I added them to your Skype account already. You're friends and connected, so all you have to do is login and click their name."

I skipped a breath, and was so excited. She'd anticipated and filled in a blank. It was our first few days of working together, and I was so excited I almost screamed.

This is the first time I had the moment that I get to give to clients.

I understood what it felt like to have something just click for you. I understood from the other side what it feels like when someone takes initiative. I felt what it's like to have someone proactive on your team, anticipating for you. Giving that feeling to my clients is something I love to do.

That click in your brain that says, "this has been care of..." or, "oh my gosh, I have extra time for that?"

It's your feeling to have when you work with a VA -- and I'm so excited to help you experience that all the time.

Here are some great steps toward getting in the groove of working with a VA:

  1. Write down the things you aren't great at. These are non-negotiable tasks to delegate.

  2. Write down the things you're great at, that you don't like doing. These are the next things to delegate.

  3. Write down the things you are good at, but don't like doing.  Delegate these too.

In an ideal world, you're left with the things you want to do, that you're great at. That's your zone of genius, or your ideal zone to work in. Everything else, you should be delegating to someone else -- your virtual assistant.

PS - Did you hear that I’m booked out until 2017? Join the first dibs list below to be the first to know when I’m ready for new clients!