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We've moved our blog from the Blogger platform and you can now read my blogs at these locations: - my personal views and opinions - HLS Business Solutions - intelligentVA blog

I'm Certified - not certifiable!

I am absolutely delighted to have achieved Xero Certified Partner status, but what does this mean for you?

It means I’ve been trained and tested by Xero to enable me to give my customers confidence about my ability to make Xero work to the best advantage for them.)

So what is Xero?
Xero is an online accounting system where your important financial data is stored securely in one central place – meaning there is only one version and with automated bank feeds it is always up to date. With Xero you can choose to invite us to work with you online – in real time. No more cumbersome transfer of data that can be corrupted or is out-of-date.

I recommend Xero for small businesses. Designed from the ground up with small businesses in mind, Xero is an easy to use online accounting system that gives you access to your financial information anytime, anywhere. Xero allows you to monitor financial performance in real-time - so you always know the state of your cashflow. It lets you share information online and collaborate with trusted advisors such as your accountant or ourselves.

As a result of becoming certified we’ve been able to extend our client services to include the following functions, which are exclusive to Xero Partners:
  • Xero Cashbook. Manage your cashflow online with Xero, but leave the rest of your account management in our hands. Contact us any time using the “Ask My Accountant” button on the Help menu in Xero Cashbook if you have any queries.
  • Managed Client Role. If you don’t have time or feel uncomfortable about managing every aspect of your accounts, but still want to have visibility of your cashflow then the Xero Managed Client function is for you. This lets you make comments about your bank reconciliation whilst we manage it.
  • No VAT Cashbooks. We can offer reduced rates for businesses that are not GST registered. This is perfect if you are just starting out or a non-profit organisation.

We also work closely with a Xero Certified Accountant and a Xero Certified Trainer to ensure that you get the best service possible.

So check out our website today for more information on Xero or contact us for a demonstration.

A force to be reckoned with!

Since I started my VA business just over a year ago I have had an amazing success. I started just one day a week, six months later I went full time and six months after that I now work with a great team of Associates.

This could so easily not have been the case if back in the early days I had fallen into the trap that awaits unsuspecting VA wannabes.

I researched the subject and I asked lots of questions, not least because I am a canny Northern Lass and very tight with my money (not that I had any when I started up), but because I am a cautious girl as well.

I came across a multitude of sites that offered me qualifications, directory listings, training and more, all in exchange for my hard earned cash. If I hadn’t been so canny I could seriously have spent thousands at the outset thinking that was the only way to get my VA business up and running.

Then I made an amazing discovery. Delving deeper into the world of VAs and you will find this huge community. They don’t compete against each other in the way that a standard industry would and they have the vision and the foresight to collaborate with each other. Working as a team makes the individual suddenly a much stronger force. You only have to look at the humble ant for example; on his own he can’t do much, but by working together look at the incredible weight they can carry.

I first came across SVA – The Society of Virtual Assistants, founded by Caroline Melville. Their forum was full of people doing what I wanted to do and helping others along the path. I had never come across this sort of help and support before, especially so freely given.

I then met the lovely @DeeVAS on Twitter and she took pity on me and invited me to join this amazing group called VASG on Skype. The difference this made to me was astronomical. All of a sudden there was this instant support by a complete group of strangers all of whom had something in common and believed that in order to achieve their goals, you had to collaborate. By being given access to a fantastic group of VA’s at all stages of their business from Start Up to many years of experience, my business has gone from strength to strength because we love to talk! A lot!

We talk about the latest software, the most efficient way to do things, answer tech questions and introduce each other to great ideas whether we are in start up phase, growing a business to get out of the rat race or being a full time VA with many years of experience.

You know how I feel about collaboration and this is a huge part of why the VA industry is so strong and growing. VAs are not targets to make other people money; they are smart, savvy, switched on Entrepreneurs in their own right. We ask questions, we make demands, and always ask for more than we have, and we like to test things to destruction. It’s in our nature. That’s way when we recommend a product or service to our Clients they know they can trust our recommendation.

I have been working with three companies lately in order to take some existing excellent products and to enhance them for the VA industry. They have listened to our feedback and responded accordingly, some things they have been able to do for us instantly and others will take longer, but what shines out is their eagerness to work WITH US. They understand that by collaborating with us it will enhance their products, make our lives easier, more efficient and allow us to share their great products with our Clients and make them more efficient and effective as well.

The support and feedback they have given us has been outstanding, their customer service has exceeded our expectations and they are genuinely a pleasure to work with.

I would like to publicly thank Xero, CapsuleCRM and MinuteDock for their efforts and support over these past few weeks. We aren’t always the easiest bunch to please that is for sure, but between us we have some great collaborative integrated solutions to look forward to over the coming months.

So, if you are a supplier out there and think the VA community may be able to further your company's interest please do get in touch, we will be happy to test your products and services to destruction. We are not for the faint hearted and we don’t endorse products from every company that comes our way. However, we will offer constructive feedback, to let you know whether we think it worthy of our Clients, to tell you what works and what doesn’t, we will even introduce you to our existing suppliers so you can talk collaboration and integration.

Feel free to get in touch, or leave your comments below on how collaboration has worked for you.

Follow Friday Recommendations 21st May 2010

This week I am starting my Follow Friday blog with one of my newer Twitter friends, he just butted into a conversation I was having one night with @Totally4B about Xero and I have never looked back!

As well as being a fellow Xero fan @BriCallAssist is a fantastic find.  He has been a great source of information, and we share so many ideas and values that at times it can be quite spooky.  He has also freely shared his advice and knowledge in areas where our two businesses offer similar services.

He has entered his business in the Barclays One Small Step awards and he really does deserve your vote.  It’s so refreshing to come across someone so passionate about customer service and the product that they offer.  He has really thought about the service that he offers, and what his customers need.  He is hard working, energetic, dynamic and an absolute professional.  He certainly isn’t one to blow his own trumpet, he’s actually very quiet and reserved when talking about his business but he cannot hide that enthusiasm in his voice, he is so excited about his business and that really shines through.

Please follow @BriCallAssist and support his Barclays One Small Step entry here:

And while we are on the subject of Xero (my favourite piece of software ever I believe) huge thanks go to @DazGlanville this week for his amazing stamina when faced by hordes of VA’s eager to sign up to  Xero and for the insightful webinars and support he has shown us.  He has a great sense of humour, always good when dealing with us VA’s, and has been fantastic to work with.  Obviously @TeamXero are excellent at support but @DazGlanville really has gone out of his way to help us.  I look forward to getting to meet him in person next week.

My next Follow is for @Totally4B who, before I even knew she shared my passion for Xero, jumped in to help me out one day on a bookkeeping issue I had.  Since that day she has been a great friend, an invaluable source of knowledge, and one of the twitter friends who keeps me sane and grounded and tells me off when I don’t take care of myself.  She is also a Certified Xero Partner now which means she really knows her stuff, congratulations on being one of the first to achieve that status in the country!  (Plus I get to meet her next week as well!)

Another Xero convert, thanks to our 1am Skype chat one Saturday morning, is @justsimplyacc one of the nicest people you could ever tweet with, I laughed far too much for such an obscenely early time and even managed to forego watching my beloved Rocky Horror Picture Show that I had stayed up to watch. She has also achieved her Xero Certified Partner status this week, and I am thinking I am going to have to hurry up and catch up with her and @Totally4B now.

And lastly, no Xero Follow Friday blog would be complete without mentioning @LucyWhittington, who even though she is enjoying far sunnier climes than me right now will kill me if I forget to mention that it’s all down to her that I am such a Xero fan, without her recommendation I would never have signed up, probably going with a competitor instead.   I will be forever grateful to her. Not only did she introduce me to a fantastic product but the people I have met as a result of it are truly remarkable and really brighten my day.  Also she is a truly excellent author of and with her hubby Andy creates some amazing Venda and Wordpress websites.

Have a great day! If you want to know more about Xero you can find more information here: and don’t forget to support @BriCallAssist here

It's all about me...

I am guessing that for a lot of of you who are self employed then 'Me' time is something you consider to be a luxury or an interruption that you don't have time for.

Do you get run down? Are you always tired? Do you wish there were more hours in each day? Do your friends compare you to a super hero?

Take a moment here to consider what utilising that 'Me' time could do for your business.

I put in a ridiculous amount of hours last year, firstly to get my business off the ground and then to move it from 5 to 9 to full time. Do I regret the hours or effort? Not at all, but I do wish I had taken better care of me.

As a busy working mum it's all too easy to come up with reasons why you can't afford to have precious 'Me' time. Kids swimming, dance, sports, play dates and parties not to mention cooking and cleaning and demands on your time from other family members.

But give, give, give is a recipe for disaster. You become run down, jaded, in my case it increased my weight even more, and also led to me sometimes not making the right decision for my fledgling business. It will be different for each of you, but I am sure you understand what I mean.

I took a long hard look at things recently and decided it had to stop. I now have a team of associates to help shoulder the work load, to cover while I take a well earned holiday and to look after my clients should I get ill again. I also reviewed my existing clients and services and made some changes there as well, now I can move forward in a much more positive, efficient and productive manner.

Then I realised that reviewing the business wasn't enough, I had to review me as well. I finally listened to my coach and realised that spending time with the family is important but so is having time for me, it's something quite different to family time and equally as important.

I took a day off, I know, heresy to some of you!, and I spent it with a friend, had my nails done, went for lunch and shopped. Really simple pleasures that had been missing for so long. And did I regret that missed day in the office? Not at all, granted the work was still there to be done but that day off re-charged my batteries. I felt so much better for it that I came back into the business refreshed and eager to get on.

Can I say the same for the weeks where I worked morning to night, fitted work around family stuff and housework in what little time was left? No.

So just take a moment and try and remember the last time you had some 'Me' time. Not family time, not doing a favour time, not housework time, not doing your duty time but time for you. Can you even remember?

Do me a favour, this coming week do something for YOU then come back and share it with us by commenting below, it doesn't have to be all day, can be anything you like as long as it's for you!

Don't feel you are being selfish, I am sure if you try it you will find it actually changes the way you feel for the better.

So come on, what have you done for YOU this week?

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Follow Friday Recommendations Friday 30th April 2010

I can't believe it is Friday again already, and certainly not the end of April! Wow, how time flies when you enjoy your work, that is for sure.

This week my follow fridays are VA's who have been a great help and support and just some of my fantastic clients. (I only mention the ones who admit to working with me on Twitter! If you are a client and want a mention do let me know, otherwise your secret is safe with me).

Huge huge thanks go to @sjabradley who has been a rock these past few months and is now chief assistant at Team HLSBS. Her work this past couple of weeks has been fantastic and invaluable.  She has even taught me a few tricks as well, much to the delight of some clients.

My other fantastic VA friends who have been a real support this year are @ArborVS and @officestuff - they talk common sense and make me look at what is important to me, they also keep me grounded.  Sometimes the solution to a problem is so simple you can't see it and it takes a friend to point it out. That's where these guys come in, and yes guys I do listen to you. They have been an incredible force in helping me take HLS Business Solutions to the next level and helping me choose my Team HLSBS members.

The whole gang at @callteam are fantastic and look after my calls and my clients calls brilliantly, sometimes going above and beyond the call of duty in order to help their clients.  I don't answer as many of the calls on there as I should but am so grateful for the teams support.

And now for some of my lovely clients.

@LucyWhittington is now a published author, her book Hotel Success Handbook is a great read, I was lucky enough to do a small part of the proof reading and I have to say a lot of the marketing advice in there applies to many other businesses, not just Hotels and Guest Houses.  Apart from being a hotel marketing guru she and Andy do the most amazing websites on Venda and WordPress platforms.  If you are looking for a bespoke site do give them a call,  they will be doing my new website later this year and I really cant wait!  She is also winding me up right now with talk of her upcoming Australian venture and yes I am a tad jealous but at least I know I can keep adding to her to do list for her return lol.

@NikkiPilkington is a social media goddess, and yes, I have said it before, you can blame her for me getting my head round Twitter.  She is the lady to go to for SEO, Google Adwords, blogging advice (she has a new blogging course about to start that I have subscribed to), facebook pages and is just the best person to go to for advice in all these areas.

@theefficiencycoach is more than just a client, she is a great friend and she is also my personal coach.  She helps people who are looking for a new career, people who are starting out in business and people who are in business and wanting to make more out of their business, so I guess that is pretty much everyone. She offers loads of advice in her blogs, newsletters and teleseminars on a regular basis and also knows a lot of really cool people on Twitter.  She is now offering social media training and has just started writing her book on networking as well. Not sure how she fits it all in!

I have only mentioned a few of my clients here today, my policy is I never shout about who my clients are.  The people mentioned above have all tweeted about working with me previously.  If you are working with me and are happy to be featured in a future #FF blog just give me a shout, and if you would like to work with me then just give me a call or drop me an email :-)

Do consider following the people above, even if you aren't looking for their particular services their tweets are useful and funny and informative, and they will introduce you to other great tweeters you would like to follow as well.

I hope you find some of this weeks follow friday recommendations useful, let me know if you take up any of my suggestions using the comments box below.

What's the difference between Call Answering and Call Handling?

One of the tweets I sometimes post on Twitter is about having your calls handled and not just answered, one of my Twitter friends suggested that it would make an interesting blog topic. So what is the difference between call answering and call handling?

Answering a call is really just about picking up a ringing phone, taking a message and passing it on in its simplest form. 

Call Handling is about knowing as much as possible about the business or person that the call is intended for, so that the person answering the call can manage it in as informed and effective way as possible.  If it’s a simple enquiry quite often the call handler can supply the information requested, be it an email address, postal address, opening hours or even information on a particular product, without having to pass the call on.

Call handling is not about misrepresenting your business or implying you are bigger than you are, it’s about enhancing the service that you currently offer; call handling can be a very effective addition in terms of customer service.

Busy professionals have many demands on their time; is it really an effective use of time for them to be answering the phone themselves to every enquiry no matter how trivial?  It’s no different to outsourcing other elements of the business such as accounts or admin.

By using efficient call handlers your sales orders can be taken for you, your delegates can be booked onto training courses, appointments can be booked directly into your diary, brochure requests can be taken and posted out direct with no involvement from you, initial sales enquiries can be taken when you run your new sales campaign – the list is endless.

Do you ever find that you cannot finish a project or report because the phone keeps ringing? Divert your calls to a call handler instead.  Do you have the children at home due to teacher training days or unplanned illness? Divert your calls.

Your caller will probably be happier talking to a person rather than an answering machine; a call handler can put your caller at ease because they have knowledge of your company and/or service.  Rather than just taking a name and number your call handler will take a detailed message, ensuring that when you are returning the call you have all the information you need to hand, you are not returning a call blindly, you have had chance to research the answers that your caller needs, making you appear more professional and saving both you and your caller time.

One of my Twitter friends had a great description of call handling, its more information driven, and answers are the voice of your business.

So next time you are thinking of switching on the answerphone to allow you to get some work done, think about using a professional call handling service instead.

So what are your thoughts on the difference between call handling and call answering and your experiences? Please feel free to comment below.