Don't forget the finances!

Most people aren’t aware that when I started my business earlier this year I did so without any start-up capital at all.  I already had the software and office supplies I needed so it was a case of doing the best I could on a budget of nothing, as I was already on a reduced salary from my employer.

So what lessons have I learned that will benefit others from this?

I have always been known for shopping around for a bargain, particularly since I first got access to the internet, and setting up my business was no different.

I hadn’t heard of a Virtual Assistant until this year, I just knew that I wanted to do what I do well, and ideally based from home. It was during a lot of internet research that I came across the term, and also a variety of sites wanting to support me as a Virtual Assistant, but all at a price!!

If I had signed up with all these sites and training courses I would have ended up bankrupt! 

Instead, I spent time really researching what I wanted to do, found forums that were full of people already doing it, and listened to what they had to say.  The majority of listing sites I came across were all American based, which really wasn’t any good for me. 

In terms of software again I searched the internet, listened to what people were using, and utilised the knowledge I already had.

Whilst I would love to upgrade various bits of my office equipment I am realistic, it’s more of a want than a need right now, and I am choosing to wait till I can afford it.

So what did I invest my hard earned cash in? Not a lot really. I ordered a small amount of business cards from Vista Print, but paid for the upgrades so that they didn’t look like Vista Print cards.  Again, a small print run for your first batch is a good idea as you will probably decide to change something before they have even arrived.  I changed both my trading name and logo quite early on.

I felt that one of my main priorities was a website, as I am marketing to a virtual market, this would be my main point of contact.  Again, I couldn’t afford to go for the bells and whistles CRM site that I wanted, but I have a monthly rental website instead.  When my business grows my website will evolve with me.

I decided that I didn’t need an additional BT line, I wanted the flexibility that a VOIP phone number would allow me, and the cost for this was minimal.
I shopped around for a business account that offered free banking and internet access.  To me, it is important to keep my business and personal transactions separate.

I listed my business on free listing websites; again I researched this before choosing them.

I created my own letter head in Word; I don’t need to have reams of printed paper lying around. I do however print on to a good heavyweight paper, if I have to print, as most of my documents are issued in pdf format and emailed.
I attended several free Business Link and HMRC workshops covering everything from cash flow, marketing, business planning, VAT, and self-assessment.

Quite early on I created a cash flow and an invoice timetable to ensure that the business was a viable proposition, this became critical when deciding to take it full time back in September.  I input my invoice projections into the cash flow, then allowed for all the business expenses that I could think of, as well as budgeting for the amount of money I need to put away each month for the tax man.  When all these had been taken into account the figure that was left would hopefully cover my drawings and leave some money in the business moving forward to cover the costs of replacing office furniture and equipment.

The beauty of a cash flow is that it adapts as your circumstances change.  As new clients come on board the figures in the income section are adapted, and as new expenses are incurred so are the expenses.

I tried to incorporate four weeks paid leave into the cash flow, just in case of illness or holiday.  Holiday I hear you laugh, you’re self-employed you don’t get holiday, but as the mother of a small child I do have to allow some time off for out of school care.  This was great until I fell ill too early into the cash flow!  Luckily, I had built up enough of a reserve to cover the few days I hadn’t been earning.  More importantly I had also built into my personal expenditure for income insurance, something I think many small business owners over look.  Also in my personal expenditure were the National Insurance contributions I need to make.

As the business has progressed so have the expenses, I now have online accounting from Xero, file back up and synchronisation from Sugar Sync, an inclusive call package on my VOIP phone, and utilise my own call answering service for when I am out of the office with Clients. But they have all come on board slowly and when I could afford them.

I also regularly review my cash flow and invoice targets to ensure that I am still on track.  It is vital that you keep reviewing this, how else will you know if it is working.

My next task is to write my business plan and targets for next year.  My goals need to push me, yet be achievable.  Without the constant desire to improve and move forward your business will remain static. Hark at me, self-employed for less than a year here and talking about businesses moving forward.

So what goals have you set yourself for next year and how do you propose to monitor them? I would be really interested to hear.

Microsoft Office Live Sync

File Synchronisation
I visited a Client the other week and was surprised to see that he was able to network his machines without the benefit of a server.  When looking into it further he was using Microsoft Office Live Sync.  The files on his computer were being synced in real time with three other machines in his office. 

All you need to do is download a small piece of software to your machine and create a Microsoft Office Live id.

Log into Office Live on the internet and add the folders you wish to share.  One piece of advice here is to share folders on an individual basis rather than one folder containing everything as you may find going forward you want different people to be able to have access to different files.

Once you have created the folders on Office Live you can add other users, this means that you can share your folders with colleagues or clients.  You can allow several people access to the files, and allow them different permissions.  There are options for view only, amend, and amend and change permissions.  If you grant someone ”amend and change permissions”  option then they can share files with other users.  It is important that you get this bit right, as you don’t want to allow everyone access to confidential files but may want to allow everyone access to particular files. This is all possible with Microsoft Office Live Sync.

Using this service I have access to this particular Clients files, because they are stored on my hard drive it is just like working on any other file on my pc, however, when I click save a few moments later the file is updated on the clients’ pc.  No more worrying about forwarding files by email back and forth or file sharing services.  It’s instant, and you really cannot tell the difference to working on a networked server.

You can use this to sync files between your desktop, laptop and netbook as well as with other users.

And best of all, this is a free service!  Microsoft also offer Live Mesh, another syncing service which I am currently trialling as well, but as I have only just started using it cant offer any feedback on the service yet.  It was recommended by someone via the comments on my blog about backing up your files.

I would love to hear how others use these services and what their opinions are on them.

My Follow Friday Recommendations 18th December 2009

This week I looked at who I had interacted with on Twitter, as I always do to see who I should select to mention in my blog, and I decided to try something different, especially as its Christmas next week.

H - @hlsbs (well it is Christmas after all, lol)

There are always so many wonderful people to select from on my Twitter feed, that it is hard to pick just a handful, apologies to those not shown on the list this week, but a huge thank you nonetheless.  You all make twitter such a positive place for me, be it making me laugh, offering advice, educating me, entertaining me, sharing your knowledge, ideas or thoughts. 

I would therefore like to take this opportunity of wishing all my followers, and all those I follow, a very merry Christmas and a happy, prosperous new year, and hope that your hopes for the new year come true.

Collaboration not Competition

It’s all about collaboration!
I recently had the opportunity to meet up with several members of the VA Support Group in Birmingham for a bit of festive cheer.  It was lovely to actually meet the real people behind the virtual personas I have been talking to on Skype and Twitter this year.

Through working closely with each other we have all enhanced our own businesses by being able to offer clients services that previously we would not have been able to offer just working alone.  I have some great working relationships with the team and as a result my clients have benefited.

Starting out in the VA industry earlier this year I was surprised at just how helpful and friendly a bunch of people I found them.  There was no competition, just a genuine desire to help each other, wherever I happened to come across them, and was even more delighted to be invited to join the VA Support Group, which is largely based on Skype.

How do I describe how it works?  I guess that whatever it is I need, the group is there for me, be it some assistance at short notice on a client project, or just somewhere to drop in and chat for five minutes.  I described the group today as being like a virtual office.  You can have a chat around the coffee machine, discuss what latest trial the kids are putting you through, or just like in a real office, you can shout out and ask someone to remind you of that shortcut in word or check a formula in excel. 

Someone also commented on just how similar we are in person to how we come across on Skype.  I suspect that this is because it is a private discussion, not an open forum where you have to be more guarded in what you say, and so we speak on there just as we would if we were face to face, though it was quite novel not to have to have a typed conversation and constantly check your spelling!

It was even more hilarious when all the mobile phones came out and the Skype and Twitter activity carried on after lunch!

Sometimes in business, particularly for a sole trader just starting out, and working from home, it can get pretty lonely.  Surely ours isn’t the only industry where people can support each other virtually, offering collaboration instead of competition.  We are all the stronger for it both as individuals and as businesses.  Yet all too often we come across forums and networking sites where everything is guarded and closed off, I’m not asking you to give away trade secrets, but perhaps there is someone out there that you could collaborate with, making your business stronger and better suited for the journey ahead.

Sometimes you just need someone who understands, someone you can bounce ideas off, or simply someone to listen when you have had a bad day, and to give you that virtual hug.

I hope for your sake that you find that support, in the meantime, I will carry on appreciating the support and assistance that my colleagues give me, and look forward to the next occasion when we can get to meet up.

Who would have guessed!

Who would have thought that in just a few days since writing my last blog I would have become victim to a faulty computer!

That lovely shiny sexy new netbook I got as an early Christmas present less than a month ago developed a glitch.  I thought the power pack had failed on Wednesday night, just in time for my trip to Birmingham today.  Very unlikely I could get it replaced and even less likely that I could carry out the work on the train that I had planned.

Anyway, off I toddled to the shop where I bought it, and lo and behold there wasn't a single power adaptor in the shop that would fit that particular model.  Just my luck.  Then, and this was very lucky for me, one of the guys with some IT experience pointed out it wasn't the power pack at fault, it was my lovely shiny sexy new netbook.  The power pack was fine till it went near the netbook which shorted it out.  

Okay, so they had sold out of the netbook and couldn't do a simple exchange, they could send the old one back for repair, or they could sell me a new netbook but the only ones that met my requirement for an 8 hour battery cost more money.

So I am now the proud owner of a new new netbook with a 9 hour battery! (At a negotiated price!).

Anyway, what you really want to know is what has this got to do with my last blog?

Well you remember I told you all about backing up files, using SugarSync etc.  Well it meant that when I left my old netbook in the shop I didn't need to retrieve any data from it.  Not a jot.  They can wipe the hard drive before returning it and I won't have lost anything.  They seemed rather surprised at this, not sure if it's just because I am a woman, or more likely they are so used to people not ensuring their data is safely backed up.

The end result is that yes I did have to reinstall some software on my netbook, but I downloaded my SugarSync and now all the files are happily syncing with my laptop again.

I am also having a quick look at Live Mesh as well, as suggested by Mike Knight in the comments on my last blog.

Now how stupid would I have looked, extolling the virtues of backup to you guys earlier this week and not doing it myself, and how glad am I that I do backup.  Who would have suspected that a netbook less than a month old would fail on me.  But these things happen, and its even more reason to backup your files safely.

So no, it's not a traditional follow Friday blog this week, it's a reminder to not leave it any longer before sorting out your backups.

There are several ideas mentioned in the comments on the previous blog and for these I would like to thank @micahelmknight, @mattchedit and @creditmandotnet for the time they took to share their knowledge with you, and for commenting on my blog.

So what are you waiting for - Christmas? It's nearly here, don't delay backup today!!

Do you back up your files?

Well do you? I should, I once had a pc crash on me and I lost three years’ work in seconds.  To say I was mortified is an understatement, and I confess the language was pretty choice too.

Okay it was back in the bad old days of Windows NT, but I did learn an important lesson.  Don’t store anything of importance in the My Documents folder.  My profile corrupted and everything from My Documents was lost. I was advised that I should have stored everything in a folder on C drive.  Don’t you just love hindsight advice.  I was very good; I didn’t hit the poor man, even though it was all his fault for fiddling with my machine.  After all, I had only spent three hours writing my beloved spread sheet in the first place.  All my templates, reports, correspondence, training notes, gone!

I suppose I was fortunate in that I had shared several documents with a colleague in a different branch via email, so she was able to send me some of the work back, including my beloved spread sheet, and many of the training notes I had sweated blood over.

But did I learn? Did I do a weekly back up? Well partly no because there was no suitable media to back up on to. The server was so old you could only have a file name 6 digits long and I swear there was more storage on a blank DVD than on that thing.  I wasn’t allowed a CD writer; it cost money you know, even though I offered to install it myself.  I managed to obtain a USB drive and save some of the important things and eventually, my pleas were answered and I was allowed to install a CD writer.

But the problem with that was firstly remembering to do it, and more importantly finding the time to do it.  Now tell me who hasn’t been there!

Now how many of you have automatic backup systems in your corporate environment, do you remember to check that they are working? I went on an IT course once and they logged on to my company server and advised me my backup hadn’t actually worked for six months! How embarrassed was I, despite me regularly swapping the tapes, no one had ever shown me how to check it was working.

Since then, I have had two hard drives fail on me. It’s not nice, it’s very inconvenient and you can guarantee there is always something you forgot to back up!

I have portable hard drives, CD and DVD writers, USB sticks and what good are they if you forget to actually back up!

So when I set up the business it was vital to me that I found some way of backing up without thinking about it.  But I wanted more…I know, typical woman, never happy!

I tried a few systems and looked at costs and recommendations and then did my usual and went off and did my own thing anyway.  I chose to use Sugar Sync.  It does backup without me thinking about it, as long as I don’t do all my files it is within my budget, and best of all, it syncs files between my computers and my iPod Touch/iPhone.  I can also share folders with clients as well.

I download a small piece of software on each machine I want to sync with. That’s all. I then set up the folders I want to sync.  I personally chose not to sync music and pictures as these are all personal and take up a lot of space and try and remember to back them up to a portable hard drive every so often.  Most of the pictures are on CD anyway or stored on Photobox website from when I ordered them.

I can access my files from any pc with an internet connection, I can email a file to a client from any pc.  I am sat writing this blog on my netbook but the file will be there, in the blog folder on my laptop just a few moments after I hit save.  I don’t have to mess around with usb memory sticks, cart around a portable hard drive or pay a fortune for it either.  And it will sync files between a Mac and a PC. You can find more information on Sugar Sync here, including a free 2GB storage to start you off. Sugar Sync

I also have the Outlook add in for backing up outlook, which came in very handy after the last hard drive failure, which can be found here

So listen to someone who has been there, done that and has the tshirt. Back up your important files.  Write a diary note if you have to, stick a post it to your screen, do whatever you need to do, but back up!

Follow Friday Recommendations 4th December 2009

Wow, I cannot believe that it is Friday already again! Where has this week gone?

Okay, let's see, who have I been interacting with this week on Twitter? 

Firstly, an old friend has made herself known on Twitter, @Den_Interior , she is only just getting used to Twitter but is a great Interior Designer who has some amazing projects on the go including hotels and restaurants, and someone I really enjoyed working with, and who's cheery smile I miss each day.

I have to say a huge hello to some of my fellow York Tweeters, we had a mini tweet up last week by accident and it was great to see the real people behind the tweets.  @elizabethwells @confidentladies @vhavercroft they also deserve a special mention as they have all done fantastic work for charity this year.

I had a lovely chat with @amyaccountant this week, following on from the teleseminar I did with @efficiencycoach, and she has shared some really good advice on Twitter this week.

Thanks as always to @kipfxdesign who is helping me sort out my newsletter which will be launched shortly, you can sign up for this if you would like using the link on the right of this blog.

I cannot end this blog without mentioning @toptentips, a new site aimed at getting the best experts in each field to share their knowledge with the rest of us, I really wish this had been available earlier this year when I was starting out, it's what I love best about social media, this great exchange of information.  They now also have a group on LinkedIn as well as their website, I really think that this is going to be a fantastic venture, so experts be warned, get in now while it's starting out, don't miss the boat!

On the same note the concept behind the #12DOC on Twitter is fantastic, each day a new topic is proposed and we are asked to submit via email our best tips for that topic, at the end of the #12DOC these will be published, some of the contributions have looked really good and I for one am awaiting the results with interest. For more info on this follow @rebeccaintuit

I could go on forever about the people that I love from Twitter as there are so many, but I will just have to keep sharing them with you each week.

Hope you all have a great weekend!

Call Answering Service launched

Well as it's coming up to Christmas what better time to launch our new call answering service!  We could have made you wait till the new website is launched, but we thought we would treat you to a sneaky advance peak of what is coming!

HLS Business Solutions has joined forces with Call Team, a group of professional Virtual Assistants, to offer a new call answering service.

Did you know that 1 in 10 callers who hear an answering machine hang up? You could be missing out on calls while you are travelling, in meetings, away on holiday or simply trying to get some work done.

Can you really afford to lose out on these important calls?

Let us answer your calls for you, our experienced team will answer with your company name, portraying a professional image, and allowing callers to believe that they are talking to a member of your team.

Our team of experienced Virtual Assistant professionals, work together to provide a very high standard of call answering for our Clients.  As Virtual Assistants we have experience up to PA level, and will add value to your business.  Call Team offer an intelligent call answering service.

Remember, if you don’t answer your calls your competitors will!

So what does this cost you? 

The monthly fee of £20.00 includes five phone calls, and additional calls are charged at just £1.00 each. We email your messages to you. If you would like to receive messages by SMS as well as email the cost is £1.20.

How it works
You provide us with some basic profile information on your company, and we provide you with your own telephone number to divert to.

When your clients ring your number they are greeted by our team of experienced call handlers, who answer the phone in your company name.Your caller will be informed that you are not available and they will be asked to leave a message. All the necessary details are taken and your message is relayed to you instantly via email and/or SMS.   

Should you need more than just a basic call answering service we are able to take orders, bookings, manage appointments etc as long as we have the necessary information from you.

Want to Sign Up
Just drop an email to with any questions that you have, or to request a sign up form.

So what is a Virtual Assistant?

So what is a Virtual Assistant then? Lots of people ask me this when I tell them what I do.  So how do I describe it? The best description I have ever seen comes from Barbara Adams website, ClassicVA:

“The term Virtual Assistant (VA) is an entrepreneur who provides administrative, technical and social assistance to clients from their own professional office”

Basically I like to think that I take your headaches away!

To me, a virtual assistant is like having your own PA; I just don’t work from your office.  The majority of PA’s have years of experience as PA’s or Office Managers, they bring with them the knowledge they have acquired over those years, the contacts they have cultivated, the shortcuts they have learned, and an extremely professional attitude to business.

In my experience no two employers require exactly the same from a PA.  It’s the same being a Virtual Assistant.  You have a standard scope of services, but you work to the clients’ requirements and needs.

A Virtual Assistant can work for any size of company from a sole trader to a large PLC. I have been approached by all of them.  From the traditional PA roles such as managing your diary and email, to writing your confidential mail, making follow up calls to your database, to more specialised skills such as managing your social media accounts and Facebook page, designing your website, and even managing your SEO for you.

You hire a Virtual Assistant for a specific project, a set number of hours per month, or on retainer basis.  It’s a bit like having a pay as you go service, something you can switch on and off as you require, but I suspect, that like many clients, once you have tried it you won’t want to give it up.

Some Virtual Assistants have a particular niche, it could be specialized knowledge of a particular industry such as HR or medical, some have foreign language skills; others are expert at transcription, bookkeeping or credit control.

A group of us now work together for the benefit of our clients, the VA Support Group covers pretty much every skill you could ask for, so that if as an individual we don’t cover that aspect of your business, we can probably utilise the skills within the group to ensure your task is carried out, we can also call upon each other for assistance to ensure that urgent tasks are able to be carried out at short notice.

We even have our own call answering service which I will cover in a future blog.

Don’t be afraid to outsource, it can save you time, money and headaches.  Look at the tasks that consume your time, are you working in your business or on it?  Could someone else carry out that task for you in a more efficient or time saving manner? Ask yourself these questions, and then look at how much additional income you could generate for your business by outsourcing.  Consider the impression this additional resource would have on your clients and their perception of your business.  For example, when I make a call on behalf of a client I introduce myself as their PA or credit controller, immediately their business is perceived as more professional and larger than it actually is.

A couple of my Clients just like to know they can phone me when they need to and bounce ideas off me.  They will still go ahead and do whatever it is they wanted to do, but they like the fact they have someone they can talk to, in confidence, who understands their business and their situations and is on call when they need me.  I can also ask the odd question which they may not have considered.

Others like the fact that I am on the end of the phone when they are in a panic! Be it stuck in the middle of a shopping arcade and needing to find an urgent birthday present that day that is out of stock, or asking me to ring and arrange a surprise golfing present before they arrive at the golf course with their client, or looking at their diary and rebooking an appointment they can no longer get to.  Remember what I said earlier, it’s like being a virtual PA.

So please feel free to contact me should you have any questions about how a VA could help you or your business, or if you would like me to help you find your own Virtual Assistant.  Remember, because of the support of the VA Support Group we can now cover pretty much every requirement you ask of us – put us to the test today!

My Follow Friday Recommendations 27th November 2009

This week my blog is all about collaboration.

I would like to start by repeating one from last week, huge thanks to @EmmaWarren1 for introducing me to @HiHoTweet who sent a very generous jewellery gift for the Help for Heroes auction in memory of Matthew Hatton, and helped us raise a fantastic £6,800.00 on the night.

I have come across a new site @TopTenTips via Twitter over the last couple of weeks which is a really refreshing site; people who are experts within their fields are sharing their knowledge freely in articles covering many topics. Their website states:

“Developing the best resource for UK small business through relevant, reliable and reputable information to build business success is an online resource for people interested in the “how to’s” from business.

Provided by independent UK practitioners written for the UK market. Donating to UK charity”.

It’s the sort of site I would have liked to have found several months ago when I was just starting out, but it is relevant to all stages of business so I will be following it with interest.

I have had a great deal of pleasure from supposedly having encouraged some fellow tweeters into blogging this past few weeks and look forward to reading their blogs, @kipfxdesign, @creditmandotnet and whilst on the subject of blogs and articles that are always of interest to me have to mention @lawyer_coach, @Richard_White, @mattchedit and @efficiencycoach

Another one that has been mentioned before is @oddjobswap, a site where people can trade jobs or services, its such simple idea but such a good idea as well, remember to join before the weekend and complete the survey for your chance to win a £30 gift voucher.

Huge congratulations to @NikkiPilkington who made it onto the Forbes Thirty women entrepreneurs to follow on Twitter list this week!

In terms of someone who deserves a huge well done this week I have to mention @ElizabethWells, she has just completed her first year of trading from her lovely shop in the Shambles in York, and was interviewed by local radio this week, as an example of people doing well during the recession. I have had the pleasure of meeting her and she really is lovely, she has been very supportive of charity this year and is just a great example to us all when everyone else is moaning about recession, she has just gone out there and made a success of it.

Talking of being interviewed I had my first ever interview this week, in a teleseminar with @efficiencycoach (my first experience of a teleseminar as well). It was all about saving businesses money on their IT and marketing costs in the first year, and I would like to thank @efficiencycoach for her help and support. I will be covering some of these savings In my regular weekly blogs starting next week so do keep an eye open.

I would like to say thank you to some people, they either make me laugh, or RT a lot for me, or are generally just really nice people to follow and make Twitter such a nice place: @amyaccountant, @markbnorwich, @yourfirstpa, @confidentladies, @ToniHunter, @befabulous and @fuzzyduck

So enjoy your Friday, hope you have a great weekend and look forward to seeing you all on Twitter later!

To blog or not to blog?

Okay, I am a relative new comer to blogging.  I confess that I received some one on one coaching from @efficiencycoach  which gave me a little confidence, and helped me focus on my blog more, however, I don’t claim to be an expert at it.  I just feel slightly more comfortable with it than I used to.
So why should I blog? Well as much as I like twitter it isn’t always easy to get your idea across in those 140 characters.  To me, my blog should be an extension of my website. It will be soon when I move blogging platforms.   It’s a tool for sharing my ideas, my knowledge, my experience, my recommendations and my opinions with my audience.   I would also like to think that it was a tool for two way communication as well.  The blogs I have posted that have received comments really make it worthwhile, and reading the comments that have been posted is  a great way of seeing things from someone else’s perspective, or reinforcing what I already believe.
I don’t always want it to be deadly serious; I would like to think that an injection of humour is allowable, when appropriate.  After all, I am a northern lass!
And, I am sorry, I make no apologies for expressing my opinions in my blog, after all it is my blog, but I will listen to what you have to say, consider it, and still go off and do what I want anyway J
I would love it if my blog inspired someone else, perhaps to try something new themselves, to follow someone new on Twitter, or to consider an alternative opinion.
But most of all, I would like to think that people will enjoy reading what I have written, that it will add value to someone’s day in some shape or form.  
So I look forward to your comments, to seeing you post your own blogs, to interacting with you on yet another virtual level.
And in the meantime… I hope you have a great day!

Follow Friday Recommendations 20th November 2009

My follow Friday blog today really follows on from my blog earlier this week about community spirit.

I would like to say a huge thank you to @EmmaWarren1 for introducing me to @hihotweet who are about to launch a new range of exclusive Help for Heroes silver jewellery. The only person who has a set at the moment is the lady who runs the Help for Heroes project as it doesn’t actually go on sale until 30th November.

Imagine my surprise and delight today when I was asked for an address to send a full set of the Help for Heroes jewellery to for the auction on Sunday! What a fantastic auction prize, and how suitable for this particular auction. Matt is delighted with this very generous donation and I am sure the winning bidder on Sunday will be over the moon with it.

20% of sales from this range of jewellery will go to the Help the Heroes charity so I am more than happy to share a link to the website where you can pre-order these items.

I was really touched this morning when one of the mums from school came up to me, having read my post on my facebook page and handed me a raffle prize for Sunday night as well.

If you would like to still support this event and can't make it on Sunday you can either email Matt on or you can make a donation to the JustGiving page.

Between the lovely comments on the blog itself from : @TheWordWell, @MattchedIT, @SJAbradley, @kipfxdesign and @creditmandotnet and the donations from friends, Clients and @hihotweet above I am so glad that I have been able to help this great cause in some small way. It brings a warm glow to your day, you can have that too, just do one small act for someone else and for no reward and your week will hopefully feel as rewarding as mine has.

What's in it for me??

Growing up I remember hearing a lot about the “good old days”.  When neighbour meant more than just the person who lives next door to you, and people still had a sense of community spirit, you could leave your door open all night, and you could look to your local community for help and support when you needed it.
I didn’t have a particularly good start to the year for one reason or another, I was in a job I didn’t enjoy, I had some health issues and frankly life could have been a hell of a lot better.  However, I got through this by realising that no matter how hard things get or how bad a hand of cards life deals you there is always someone worse off than you.  Every day I got up I found some example of this.
In today’s society too many people think only of themselves. What’s in it for me?  You know, sometimes it’s nice to just go out there and do something just for the sake of it. Okay you might not get paid or get anything out of it, but sometimes that warm fuzzy feeling you get from helping someone else is enough.
I think I have had this on my mind for a while now, as it seems to me that my Follow Friday blog last week resolves around the same theme.  So what has prompted me to blog about this.
I had a conversation this week with Matt Segar, a local lad, who despite his young age, has really stepped up to the mark and it has impressed me greatly.
Sadly, Matt’s best friend Matthew Hatton was the first York soldier to be killed in Afghanistan earlier this year. A tragic and unacceptable loss for his friends and his family.  However, Matt’s family and friends didn’t just sit and dwell on their loss; they decided to do something in Matthew’s memory to help raise funds for Help for Heroes instead, a charity that was close to Matthew’s heart.
They didn’t exactly go for anything easy either! As a group they decided to climb Mount Kilimanjaro in March next year.  This has meant they are trying hard to raise the minimum sponsorship required.  Matt has organised an auction which will take place this Sunday at the Hilton in York.  Tickets are £10 each and are available from The Black Horse in Wigginton and the Dormouse in Clifton, or from Matt.
He has arranged live music from Jim Harbourne and Alistair Griffin, and the night will be led by Minster FM’s breakfast team and the Right Honourable Lord Mayor and Civic Party will be in attendance.
There are over 54 auction lots, with some pretty great prizes and I know from talking to Matt that this number is increasing daily, if you can’t get there on the night then pre-bids are welcomed so that you don’t miss out.  There will also be a raffle on the night as well.
Talking to Matt was humbling, the amount of time and effort that he has put into this auction is amazing, and he still has his biggest challenge ahead of him in actually climbing Mount Kilimanjaro.  Just looking at the list of auction lots it was lovely to see how much the local community had rallied together.
More information can be found here on Matt’s Facebook page for the auction, or contact me and I will pass your message on to Matt.
So today instead of asking yourself what’s in it for me, ask yourself what small thing you could do for someone else to make their day better instead.  It may be something small, looking after a pet, baby sitting, going to the shop, or something a little bigger such as visiting an elderly neighbour to offer a bit of company and conversation.  It may be helping a business colleague in some way. But trust me, when you do, that warm fuzzy feeling is worth it.  Let’s bring the community back to our neighbourhoods.

It's all about sharing this week. Follow Friday recommendations 13th November 2009

This week’s Follow Friday blog is slightly different in that my first two recommendations are more about the websites than the twitter personality.

The reason I would like to recommend these first two is that to me both concepts really get across the message that they are all about sharing rather than selling.

The first is a novel site which can be found at

At first glance I mistook it for a site where you would look for a handy man or decorator, but it is so much more than that. Peter and Julie Bruce wanted to boost community spirit and beat the credit crunch at the same time, according to their website. I think it is this community spirit that attracts me to the site. I also had to laugh when one of the services being offered was air traffic control! I cannot see that I will ever need that as a service but you never know! There are plenty of services on there that I could be in the market for though, from marketing, accountants, athletics coaching, gutter cleaning and the rest.

What made this stand out to me is that there are so many professional services being offered. I understand that the site is aimed at work at home parents, perhaps this is why it hits a cord with me, but I can also see it being an excellent resource for a new start up to gain some work, and some Client testimonials as well, to help build their reputation.

The other site I would like to recommend is, a new networking forum set up by @kipfxdesign. It’s Twitter id is @NetworkinNow In its first few days it has had over 7000 page views. As a start up business myself believe me when I say I have trawled the forums looking for advice and assistance. It was a pleasant surprise to join this forum and find a group of people so willing to share their advice and knowledge. It’s a great atmosphere, lacking the petty bickering that is often found on forums, and is ad free, which means you are not distracted from what is being said. Okay, it could change over time, as sometimes happens, but I would hope that some of you will join now in its infancy period and help shape the forum, so that it remains an easy going, educational and enjoyable site for all.

To end I want to tell you about a Twitter success story! Someone I follow made a comment to @MissFitUK. I was curious as they weren’t the sort of person to follow what I assumed to be a bikini clad babe! (Spent ages trying to preen my followers of bikini clad babes and Britney’s). I was really pleasantly surprised to find out that she is actually a young entrepreneur who has a clothing and lingerie range for bigger busted women, and her bio also describes her as a skydiving fruitcake! Not only did I think this is someone I need to follow, I also thought I know someone who she should talk to, @ElizabethWells who has gorgeous lingerie shop in York, which caters for bigger busted women. One tweet later and they are working together! @MissFitUK has told me she is bringing out a range of Xmas dresses, I really look forward to seeing them, as have had some awful experiences trying to find Xmas frocks each year, and always seem to end up in trousers instead!

So next time you come across someone on Twitter that will be useful to someone you follow don’t assume they will find each other, make a suggestion, and see what grows from it!

I hung up on Efficiency Coach...

...obviously not on purpose! Honest Coachie!  We were having one of our brilliant Skype video calls.  I was flitting between the video call and an IM with an associate who was answering a technical query for us, and whoops, instead of returning to the conversation I killed it!

This brings me to the subject of this week’s blog. Skype. What a fantastic product for business.  I am a true convert.  If I had to ever decide between Skype and Twitter I honestly don’t know which I would choose.

So what is Skype? Well in a way you could ask what do you want it to be? It has so many uses.

You can IM – this is like an Instant Message, the sort you would get on Messenger etc. but you can also create groups for group conversations. Some of you may have heard of the VA Support Group.  It’s a group of VA’s who are working together to help and support each other. We have a group conversation permanently on the go on Skype so we can drop in and out and ask each other questions, share work when needed, bounce ideas off each other, or just be allowed to rant about whatever has wound us up just now.  I suppose you could compare it to the office coffee machine in a way.

Why would you IM rather than call or email.

Well if you have an email conversation with someone other emails will arrive in your inbox, your replies go to sent items so you don’t really see the full thread of the conversation.  The beauty of Skype is that you can start a conversation, go off and do something else and the other person can reply in your absence. If you are both online at the same time you can have a live text conversation.

Did you know that your laptop, if it is pretty recent, probably has a microphone and speakers built into it.  I don’t bother with headphones and speakers for Skype calls if I am in my office at home as I don’t need them.  I can have a call using the built in kit and it is perfectly clear both ways.

Video calling is still something I am getting to grips with, purely from a comfort perspective, if you look at photo albums in our house I am always the one behind the camera not in front of it.  It can seem a little daunting at first but trust me, it really is a wonderful invention.  When Efficiency Coach and I are on our video calls it’s great to be able to see the expressions, the gestures etc, they make it so much more personal.  Saying that I hardly ever switch the main light on so poor Efficiency Coach probably only gets to see a shadow (trust me that is by far the best view of me!), and all my hand gestures appear to be below the eye level of the camera!  I do seem to try and explain things with my hands for some reason.  It is worth spending a few moments just setting up your webcam properly, you can see on Skype what the other person can see in a small box at the bottom of the screen so it is easy to adjust.

Skype also has a fantastic share feature.  In the VA support group we use this for sharing pdf’s, pictures etc all the time.  However, I was recently introduced to the share screen function, something I was able to then share with Efficiency Coach (nice to know she doesn’t know everything!).

The person who is going to share their screen needs to initiate the call. They then click on share screen and the other party to the call can see what you can see in front of you. They can’t control your machine but they can see your mouse moving and the changes you make on your screen.  My database developer has been using this to show me how my database works. I also think this would be ideal for designers etc. Why travel 200 miles to sit in an office with a Client and a laptop when you can share your screen on Skype and make instant changes dependent on their feedback.  It works for any type of design, in terms of print, why email proof after proof when perhaps a five or ten minute screen share would allow the Client to comment on what you’ve done, and allow you to make a couple of tweaks to get where they want to be. Then send the proof for sign off.

It works the other way as well. Get your Client to share their screen with you and talk them through how they access a particular service or software.  Most people learn more quickly by doing it themselves than watching someone else do it.

Skype isn’t just for business. Use it to connect with friends and family who have moved away.  We have used it for video calls to family down south and friends in Cyprus. It’s great when you have small children as relatives can see them growing and interact with them in a way you can’t on a phone call.

So what does this amazing piece of time saving software cost you? Nothing. The download is free, and as long as you are calling Skype to Skype there are no charges. So go on, give it a go today, and if you need to chat with me on Skype my user name is hstothard