Working from Home: Are You Eligible for a Tax Break?

With more of a focus on work-life balance than ever, more and more people are either working from home or running their business from a home office, but most people don’t know that they could be eligible to claim this workspace on their taxes. Whether you’re self-employed, you work remotely, or your employer requires you to have a home office, you might be able to claim the costs of this home office on your taxes for significant savings. From rent to cleaning costs, your home office expenses could become write-offs and make tax season a little less painful. Find out everything you need to know below so that your workspace in the home is less of a liability, and more of a tool to help your business grow.

1. Home Office

If you’re self-employed or work out of your home, you’re likely entitled to claim a portion of your rent or mortgage on your taxes. This can mean serious tax savings for you, but there are a few caveats: your home office has to be your principal place of business or used for the sole purpose of business (which means that the kitchen table where you sometimes set up your laptop doesn’t quite count), or the space must be used on a regular basis for meeting clients or patients. If you fall into any of these categories, you can claim part of your rent or mortgage. The amount you claim depends on the size of your home office; if it takes up 10% of your home, you can claim 10% of the mortgage (math made easy!). Check here for a detailed calculation method.

2. Expenses

In addition to your rent or mortgage, you’re also entitled to claim valid expenses that go along with having an office in your home. For example, your home office likely uses internet, electricity, water, and more, which means you can claim a portion of those on your taxes. The same proportion rule applies here: if your office takes up 10% of the space in your home, you can claim 10% of the utilities. Regular business expenses like pens, stationery, and stamps can also be claimed, but not capital expenses like desk chairs, desks, or other furniture. Don’t feel like cleaning? A cleaning service for your home office is indeed deductible, so you can do a little less dusting and a little more business.

3. Common Mistakes

There are a ton of common mistakes when filing for home-office expenses, which is why it’s a hot spot for CRA audits. If you can, consult an accountant to make sure you’re crossing your T’s and dotting your I’s, because being audited for your home-office expenses can cause the CRA to audit all of your other claims as well and that’s a hassle no one wants. Some common mistakes are claiming your full mortgage instead of just a portion (a number that big is an immediate red flag) or inflating the size of your home office. While repairs in your home office are definitely eligible, make sure you’re not claiming a family bathroom renovation, or your entire tax claim could be denied. Another mistake is using expenses to create a business loss; if your expenses are more than your net income, you can carry them over to the next year but you can’t use them to take a loss this year.

Taking the time to ensure your taxes are done right the first time around can save you months of hassle, stress, and a potentially crippling tax payment. If you’re sweating just reading this, then it’s probably time for you and I to have a talk. Contact me, and we’ll make sure you’re making the right decisions for your at-home business.

Contractors Beware if CRA Declares You a Personal Services Business

So you’ve gone out on your own and created a small business that you can be proud of. Kudos to you. But what you might not realize is that at any time, the Canada Revenue Agency could take that away by declaring you a personal services business instead of a small business, and this kind of hit isn’t easy to recover from. A personal services business is simply a business that performs services for a company that would usually be performed by an employee of that company itself, but it can mean a world of difference in the eyes of the CRA.

Read on for tax advice that shows exactly why you want to avoid being labeled a personal services business, and what you can do to avoid it to protect you and your business.

1. Employee Relationship

One of the hallmarks of a personal services business is acting like an employee to the company you are providing a service. If the company tells you what to do and how to do it or provides training, chances are you’ll be considered an employee in the eyes of the CRA. But if you pick and choose what work you do and decide how that work is performed, then you have more of a business relationship that the CRA will have a tough time disputing. Either way, expanding your business to service more clients will give you more of a leg to stand on should the CRA come knocking at your door, which is not only smart tax advice but also just good business sense.

2. Small Business Deduction

One of the worst side effects of being labeled a personal services business? Losing the small business tax deduction. Any tax advice guru worth their salt will tell you how valuable this deduction is. It gives small businesses a tax break on the first $500,000 of business income, but this reduced tax rate isn’t given to personal services businesses because they’re considered an incorporated employee. They pay the full tax on their entire income, which can make a significant difference for smaller operations.

3. Other Tax Deductions

Another issue with being labeled a personal services business is that you’re not allowed to claim business expenses like other companies. This means that genuine business costs like supplies, office space, and more can’t be written off and instead come straight out of your business income, which can make a huge difference for smaller businesses.

4. Possible Reassessment

You might have been a small business for years, but at any time the CRA could declare you a personal services business and this could apply retroactively, which is just as dire as it sounds. This could mean a reassessment and a devastating tax bill because of misfiling your taxes for years and claiming the small business Deduction as well as expenses.

For some businesses, this sudden bill could prove crippling, which makes it more important than ever to avoid being declared a personal services business and getting legitimate tax advice. Get more small business tax advice by contacting me. Keeping you in the green, and out of the red is my business.

 

Everything You Need to Know About What Type of Business to Start

Starting a business isn’t easy, but knowing exactly what type of business to start? Now that’s a tough one. Whether you’ve had a brilliant new idea and aren’t sure if you should run with it, or you were simply born with an entrepreneurial spirit, figuring out what to sell is half the battle, and maybe even the most important decision you’ll make in the battle. So how do you get it right? These four tips will help you with everything you need to know about how to start a business and what business you should be in so that you can beat the odds and see your business come to life (and stay there).

1. Do What You Love

They say if you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life. While there’s definitely some truth to that, starting a business is hard work that doesn’t let up for the first few years, so while you’ll absolutely be working, doing something you love will make putting in the long hours that much easier. You should also factor in your know-how; after all, it might not make sense to start a restaurant if you’ve never cooked professionally or managed a store before. But if you love interacting with people and have worked in sales your whole career, starting a business where you sell something makes a heck of a lot of sense!

2. Consider the Finances

As tough a pill as it might be to swallow, your finances should absolutely play a part in figuring out how to start a business. After all, when 8 out of 10 businesses fail within the first 18 months, you need to make sure you’ll still be standing if your new business starts to crumble. If you’re lacking on funds, loans, or start-up cash, opt for something that has little to no overhead to start so that you’re only investing your time (and not all of your life savings), like a virtual or mobile service.

3. Plan Your Lifestyle

When thinking about starting a business, you need to consider your current and future lifestyles. If you’re working a 9-5 gig, will you adjust well to 12-hour days, late nights and no sleep? Are you okay with having to miss important events because your new business needs your constant attention? If this in anyway scares you, you need to think about a business that requires less of a commitment from you, or else it might not make it.

4. Consider the Demand

Finally, you should think about whether or not there’s truly a demand for your new business. Whether a service or product, your new business needs to be something people actually want (and not just something you want). No matter how well you plan and execute your business, it won’t make it off its feet without customers that have a true need or desire for what you’re offering. Starting a business is hard, but all great businesses started out as a great idea, and so could yours with the right research ahead of time.

If you want to make sure your business gets off to the best start possible, get the help you need. Not only do we know how to start a business, and we know what resources you need to keep it running smoothly. Contact us today.

The Importance of a Social Media Presence

What can social media do for your business?

Last time we discussed The Importance of a Web Presence, now let’s take a look at having a social media presence. It is a highly valuable bonus to your business from a marketing standpoint. And almost all social media accounts are free! How is that for marketing dollars well spent?!

According to this blog from Clutch, only ten years ago 7% of the U.S. population used at least one social media channel. Guess what that number is today?! 65% and increasing! And a number of those users have more than one type of social media account.

Facebook still ranks as the most popularly used social media (86%), with Instagram in second by nearly half (48%).

Social media is a great way to interact more directly with your customers. You have instant access to them in a more personable way; you have the ability to answer their questions immediately; your account is also a place for your customers to post reviews and speak about your product in their own words. Which can be good when they are praising you, but it can also be valuable when they aren’t. It gives you an opportunity to fix the situation and show your customers that you care and it can also show you where you might need improvements to your product or service.

Being socially present and providing customer service via your social media, it allows your customers to have instant gratification (ohhh, there is that term again!) when they need to contact your business. That could result in a much faster purchase (personally, there have been occasions where I’ve changed my mind about purchasing something because I’ve had too long to think about it!). The more you interact with your customers, the more loyal they become. Especially when they’ve had a good experience, even if it may have stemmed from a bad experience that you managed to turn around!

Social media also allows you to get insights into your competition. Use that information to make decisions that could up your game and propel you ahead of your competition.

Social media platforms provide analytics that allows you to study the effects of your posts. You can see who you’re reaching; when that reach is at its highest; and when your customers are online.

It is true that social media is a valuable asset to your business, but it can be time-consuming for a small business that doesn’t have a lot of resources to dedicate to its social media platforms. That’s where a Virtual Assistant can come in really handy!

Hire a VA with a social media management background to create and post content. Or, if you already have a social media management guru and you just need someone to interact with your customers or provide customer service, a VA can do that too!

Let us know how social media has helped your business in the comments below.

If you want to discuss how I can help you with your social media needs, let’s chat!

The Importance of a Web Presence

Or, what do you mean they don’t have a website??!!

A few months ago, I was scheduling employment interviews on behalf of a longstanding client. He owns a couple of start-up companies, so currently there is no web presence to speak of.

During the time of scheduling these interviews, one of the candidates asked me where she could find the business’s website. I admit, I was not sure how to answer her question because the truth is, there was no website as of yet.

I did tell her that because the company was small, the website was a work in progress, but that she should pose her questions to the owner of the company during her phone interview. I felt it would be the perfect opportunity for her. And she wouldn’t be “stuck” for an answer when asked at the end of her interview “do you have any questions for me?” (I’m usually stuck for questions to ask if I haven’t prepared any in advance).

Which brings me to another point. How does one research a company to prepare for an interview if there is no presence on the web to research?

In my own personal experience, I have become somewhat hesitant about the legitimacy of a company if I am unable to locate them on the web. This is not something that occurred in people before the birth of the internet, we simply had trust. Not these days. If you don’t have a web presence, in some ways, your company may as well not exist. (Wow, that was harsh! But oh so true!)

This interview candidate even expressed a sense of nervousness about her upcoming interview because she could not find a company website. Her trust in the fact that this was a legitimate company was lost.

Now transfer that to a client’s perspective.

We rely on the internet for just about everything these days. If your business isn’t online in some way, even in the most minimal, your potential clients are going to seek out businesses that ARE online. We tend to look for information about a business online before we even set foot outside our door to make an in-person appearance.

Don’t lose potential clients simply because you don’t have an online presence. Simplistic web building sites are out there and some of them are free. Even if you build something basic, at least then your business has a presence on the world wide web!

If you need some assistance with building your web presence, drop me a line and let’s chat about your needs.

Stay tuned for the next blog where we’ll talk about the importance of a social media presence.

Please share any ideas, thoughts or comments below!

5 Ways a VA Can Keep Your Business Flowing While You Travel

Or, the way to do business stress-free!

In our last blog, 10 Tips for the Traveling Entrepreneur, we gave you some tips and tricks to making travel less stressful and more comfortable. As promised, we’re going to discuss ways a Virtual Assistant can be an advantage to your business while you’re on the go.

Whether you’re traveling for business or pleasure, a Virtual Assistant can ease your mind by taking care of your clients while you travel. Your business doesn’t have to come to a halt; the sales process can continue in your absence.

Let’s face it, we live in an instant gratification society and if you want to keep your clients engaged in your business, you have to provide them with that gratification.

A Virtual Assistant can benefit your business in the following ways:

Email Management

Imagine you’ve gone on vacation for a week and you’ve sworn to focus on relaxing with your family and stay away from your inbox. You return to find 400 emails waiting for you. Suddenly you wish you’d never taken a much-needed vacation!

Buuuut…imagine if you had a Virtual Assistant! Your VA could screen your emails as they come in, trash any junk mail, respond to anything urgent and keep your inbox at a manageable level. Even if your VA doesn’t have the proper answer to a client’s email, at least they can respond with something more personal than an “out of office” message.

Also, when a potential new client sends an inquiry, receiving an “out of office” notification could create some frustration (here is that instant gratification piece I mentioned), which could easily lead them to your competition for answers. And ultimately a loss of that potential client.

Customer Service

Your customers can still phone your business and receive assistance right away. When your clients call they’ll get a live person instead of voicemail. And your cell phone won’t be ringing off the hook when you’re trying to relax!

Setting up your VA as a Virtual Receptionist would be highly beneficial, not just as a temporary relief while you travel, but as a permanent part of your organization. Imagine the things you could accomplish if you weren’t constantly on the phone!

Create a list of common questions you receive, go over it with your VA and provide answers your VA can use to help your customers. That alone could cut your phone calls drastically.

Research

Are you an author? Do you need to research specific personal items that aren’t related to your business? And the reason you’ve been putting it off is that you know it’s going to take up more time than you have? Do you figure the only time you’ll have to do that kind of research is when you take time away from work?

Ohhh, the benefits of a VA that is a web research wiz are undeniable! Let your VA scour the web for that carpenter for your next reno project. Or that rare Mid Century Modern teak coffee table you’ve been dreaming of. If you find a VA who thinks outside the box, they’ll know how to dig deep on the internet and find exactly what you’re looking for.

Social Media Management

Clients will continue to see marketing posts via email, social media, blogs, etc. They may not even know you’re on vacation! Your VA can interact with clients via replies to comments on your social media posts (ahh, there is that pesky little need for instant gratification again!), keeping them engaged and interested.

Calendar Management

Appointments can continue to be booked, so you can look forward to a full schedule upon your return (without the stress of 400 emails to sift through first!). Your VA would also be available to reschedule or cancel any appointments on your behalf, if necessary. This way your client doesn’t have to wait for your return to reschedule.

I know some of these tasks may seem small, but in the bigger picture, your VA could save you a lot of time and energy. Not to mention, stress!

Vacations are meant to be relaxing, but how can you relax if your phone is ringing and binging with notification after notification? We all know that it’s difficult to ignore those sounds because sometimes even you, as the business owner, needs that instant gratification just like your clients.

With an experienced VA handling the ropes, you can feel at ease knowing your business is still flowing while you’re away.

If there is anything I can do to assist you in making your business successful, I have a plethora of skills and experience in my portfolio. Contact me today and let’s discuss what I can do for you!

If you can think of any other ways a VA might help you while you’re on the go, please share them in the comments below!

10 Tips for the traveling Entrepreneur

As an entrepreneur, it’s very likely you’ll need to travel to connect with clients. Traveling is stressful enough without the worry that no one is attending to your business while you move from airport to airport and airplane to airplane. The advantages of having a virtual assistant are huge for the traveling entrepreneur. You’ll have someone “on the ground” taking care of your business.

Between practically undressing to go through security (unless you’ve managed to get yourself one of those handy Nexus passes, you smart cookie you!) and grabbing something from an airport Starbucks to eat (like Starbucks prices aren’t crazy enough, let’s gouge you when you have little choice but to eat in the airport!) while running for your next gate, adding the worry of work tasks to that mix could easily send you over the edge!

I’ve put together a list of tips and tricks that I hope you find helpful.

Do you want to get that first class feeling without spending the extra dough? Here are a few suggestions that just might make you feel like a jet-setting rock star on a coach budget:

  • Buy a pass to access the lounge while waiting for your flight – comfortable sofas, yummy snacks, an open bar (go easy on the alcohol though, or you’ll end up a jet-lagged rockstar!).
  • Chat with the flight crew, be friendly and sincere, who knows, maybe you’ll get a bump up to business or first class!
  • Avoid first rows, exit rows and the seats just in front of the exit row (these often don’t recline!) – but there’ll be more leg room in the first and exit rows, you say! Of course, but that also means your hand luggage is out of reach, any screens for the purpose of in-flight entertainment will either be further away or smaller because of its access from the armrest of your seat.
  • If you experience motion sickness it’s best to choose seats over the wing section, it’s the most stable area of the plane.
  • Make friends with airline staff, it’s not what you know, but who you know – maybe your pal can get you an upgrade!
  • Bring your own entertainment – download a few movies, make a “travel” playlist of your favorite music.
  • Bring your own pillow and blanket – do you even know where those blankets and pillows offered on the aircraft have been?
  • Bring your own eye mask, one that’s comfortable and doesn’t put pressure on your eyes.
  • Save some money and bring your own snacks – this is a great idea, but considering how airlines nickel and dime you to death over everything, I’m of the mind to take whatever I can get in return! So I’ll take their offered free snacks, sometimes I’ll even ask for two AND a full can of pop!
  • If you can, stay loyal to one airline – more possibilities of discounts, free lounge access, priority check-in and higher chances of getting an upgrade when you’re a loyalty member.

Oh jet lag, you evil, evil tormentor!

Keep in mind, jet lag can affect you in different ways based on your age, state of health and stress levels.

I’ve compiled a list of suggestions on how to avoid succumbing to jet lag:

  • Keep a light schedule a couple days before your flight, don’t cause yourself added stress. If you can, throw out a rigid eating and sleeping schedule, this will make it easier for you to adjust to a new time zone.
  • Get a good night’s sleep the night before your flight. Sometimes I find it difficult to sleep the night before a flight, but here a few things that could help:
    • Put away the electronics an hour before bed.
    • Turn your bedside clock around so you can’t see it.
    • Try to avoid caffeine (ha ha! This is probably the most difficult one!).
    • Avoid alcohol, it might make you sleepy at first, but once it wears off, you’ll be wide awake.
    • Dim the lights 2-3 hours before bedtime to signal your brain to produce melatonin.
    • Run a white noise app or a fan while you sleep.
    • Take a warm shower or bath.
  • Try to book flights that arrive during the day – you’ll be more apt to stay awake and explore if the sun is shining.
  • Avoid alcohol – altitude and dehydration don’t mix! (Unlike Clamato and Vodka! – unless you’re American, then tomato juice and Vodka!).
  • Set your watch to your destination once you board the plane – a little psychological trick for your brain (just don’t do this beforehand or you could miss your flight!).
  • Stretch or walk occasionally, especially if it’s a long flight. Here is a helpful link to 10 Exercises You Can Do on an Airplane Without Looking Weird.

Free WIFI at 10,000 feet

There are a limited number of airlines that offer free wifi (maybe one day all airlines will catch up to this century and offer free wifi across the board) and most are not North American airline companies, which is too bad considering how reliant North America is on internet access.

Prices range from $4.95 (USD) to upwards of $49 (USD) depending on your device and if it’s an hourly rate. I researched the following websites and confirmed that these 4 airlines provide free wifi:

Emirates – 20MB and up to 2 hours free
JetBlue Airways – 100% free (if JetBlue can do it, why can’t all the other airlines?)
Norwegian – 100% free (select flights, not available on international long-haul flights, which is probably where you’d need it the most!)
Nok Air – 100% free

If there is anything I can do to assist you in making your travels stress free and help you grow your business, I have a plethora of skills and experience in my portfolio. Contact me today and let’s discuss what I can do for you!

If you have any tips and tricks of your own, share them in the comments below!

Stay tuned for the next blog where I’ll share what tasks a virtual assistant can handle to relieve your stress and worry while you’re away!

Safe and Happy Travels!

Is it Time to Outsource? 5 Signs You’re Doing Too Much

Do you ever feel like you have to do it all yourself?

This is actually a very common problem that many small business owners have. Entrepreneurs tend to be go-getters, people who like to take charge. So, it can be very tempting to take control of all aspects of your business, especially in its earlier days.

The problem with doing it all yourself is that, although you might be a talented entrepreneur, you aren’t an expert in everything and there are only so many hours in the day. A task that might take you a few hours to accomplish, an expert might be able to do in only a half-hour. You need to ask yourself, what is your time really worth?

If you find yourself constantly overwhelmed by a variety of small but essential tasks, you should consider outsourcing. Shifting the burden of these jobs to a professionals you can make a world of difference to your overall business growth.

The best part about outsourcing is that you can hire a subcontractor to help you on an ongoing or case-by-case basis, giving you the freedom to focus on the important tasks that only you can do.

How can you tell that it’s time to outsource some of your tasks? Well, does any of the following sound familiar?

Bookkeeping and Payroll Stress

Few things can stress someone out like dealing with money. If you aren’t an expert at working the books, this can consume vast quantities of your time. Thankfully, there are a number of reputable services out there that can relieve this burden and give you peace of mind that your books are in good hands.

Hiring a company or an experienced bookkeeping Virtual Assistant to handle your accounts can save you both time and money. These people are experienced in bookkeeping best practices, which can prevent costly mistakes. Similarly, by using an online payroll service, you can automate the process so your employees get paid on time without you having to think about it. You could also look at a variety of online services for invoicing.

The best reason for outsourcing these tasks is that they can save money. Hiring a full-time employee to take care of your finances is very expensive. By outsourcing, you get the benefits of an expert employee without the associated costs.

Digital Marketing Confusion

Digital marketing is a whole new world of advertising and it’s getting more and more complicated every day. From trying to second-guess search engine algorithms to planning out effective Facebook ads, it can be remarkably confusing for someone who isn’t immersed in the world of digital marketing. Thankfully, there are many professionals out there who can take care of your online marketing for you.

By outsourcing your digital marketing, you can get experts who can optimize your website (SEO), automate your tweets and social media posts, and help plan out your entire digital marketing strategy. Hiring the people who know exactly what they’re doing means that you’ll be extending your marketing dollar further while increasing your returns in new customers and business. Plus, you won’t have to stare at a monitor for hours trying to figure out which keywords would be most effective on your website. It’s a win-win.

Lost in Your Calendar Scheduling

Do you get to the end of your day and then wonder how exactly you got there? What on earth did you do all day!

It can be easy to get lost in scheduling when you’re doing it yourself. Planning out an effective schedule for the day seems easy, but what happens when something unexpected occurs to shake it up. What if you end up needing more time to do a task? Everything gets shifted, and pretty soon, you’re completely lost in your day.

Hiring a Virtual Assistant to help with your scheduling and calendar management can help clear up your day. They can shift things around for you and keep you informed of any unexpected changes. Many Virtual Assistants are also experts at scheduling best practices; they might be able to help you eliminate many of the inefficiencies that can build up in your daily plan.

Swamped by Administrative Tasks

Simple administrative tasks like data entry can be incredibly time-consuming and occasionally brain numbing. As the owner of a small business, do you really have time to be doing this when you have so many other things on your plate? A secretary or administrative assistant could easily help you with this kind of task, but hiring a full-time employee is often out of reach for new businesses, and not the best financial investment.

By outsourcing administrative tasks to a Virtual Assistant, you can ensure that administrative tasks are accomplished and minimal costs. You only pay a VA for the work that they do, with no benefits, overhead, payroll, or ongoing salary to worry about. A VA doesn’t need to be in the office to handle most of the small admin tasks that can drive you nuts. All you need to do is explain to your VA exactly what you want done and when you want it to be completed, and it will be “on your desk” before you know it.

Consumed by Emails and Phone Calls

Trying to get a good workflow going is impossible when important calls and emails are coming in throughout the day. Even checking to see who sent you a new email can easily break your workflow. Having a receptionist or secretary would be the logical solution to this problem, but can you really afford one at this stage of your business? This can be an extravagant expense, especially when a Virtual Receptionist is so much more cost-effective.

Based on your schedule (see #4), a Virtual Receptionist or Virtual Assistant can easily take care of your email and phone calls while you’re unavailable. If there’s actually an emergency, they can patch a call through to you. Otherwise, they can simply take messages and respond to unimportant emails that would normally take up hours of your day.

Prioritizing your Time

There are real benefits to hiring experts to do the little jobs rather than trying to take on everything yourself. Getting help can open up extensive extra time for you to spend on growing your business, not to mention how much less stressed you’ll feel.

An experienced and professional Virtual Assistant can take a load off your shoulders and free up your time at minimal costs. I would be happy to help relieve these daily pressures and help to improve your daily productivity. Please send me off a message and we can discuss how I can help to grow your small business!

How to Operate a Successful Business in the 21st Century

Can you remember what small businesses were like in 2000?

It doesn’t seem like that long ago, but the world has changed more than we realize in the last 17 years. Cell phones have gone from luxuries to replacing landlines. The internet has gone from AOL and Lycos to a vast network of interconnected businesses and social media. (And let’s not forget; cat videos.)

As a small business owner in the 21st century, there are some essential operating elements that would have seemed unnecessary only a few years ago. Here are some “musts” for entrepreneurs in the 21st century.

1. Virtual Office

Today’s business culture has shifted and we now need to be able to work from anywhere. Whether you have a brick and mortar office as well as a “virtual” office, or you work entirely remotely, it’s now entirely reasonable to work from home, a coffee shop, or even a tropical island resort.

Leveraging the advantages of the virtual world can help to get you and your business ahead. One of the greatest enhancements of today’s virtual marketplace is the ability to share and delegate work virtually.

How well do you understand the concept of a Virtual Assistant? A VA is a virtual employee who you hire to remotely do tasks for you. A VA can do everything from booking airline flights, to organizing your emails, to doing your bookkeeping.

If you really want to succeed in business in the 21st century though, you need to understand and leverage the concept of the Virtual Office. In 2000, it would have been unthinkable not to have a centralized office location where all of your employees go every day to do work. Today, with the availability of digital services to sync files and documents, you don’t have to be sitting side-by-side with other employees in order to get work done. You can simply communicate through digital means, such as chat or online voice messaging.

A virtual office is what makes a Virtual Assistant possible. From their workplace on the other side of the country (as an example), they can screen your calls, answer your emails, manage your scheduling, post to your social media, and do everything that a full-time, in-house employee could do, but at a much lower cost. Now that is the 21st century!

The virtual world can be both a blessing and a curse. It can be liberating to be able to work from anywhere, but sometimes it can also feel oppressive that business now demands that you’re so much more accessible. However, we believe in the importance of shutting off and taking a real vacation, and that’s completely possible when you have a Virtual Assistant who can take care of things for you while you’re away.

2. Lower Overhead

Lowering your overhead has always been a necessity for small businesses, but today there are more opportunities than ever to cut costs and increase efficiency. This is especially important now that rental office and retail spaces have become so much more expensive. One of the beauties of a virtual office is that you don’t need to pay rent for a large workplace. You can instead get a smaller and possibly much nicer office because you won’t have multiple employees working there.

Similarly, Virtual Assistants can save you a huge amount of money. A full-time employee costs you more than just their salary. When you have on-site staff, you need to equip them with office furniture, a computer, a telephone line, etc. and spend money to train them, pay their benefits, give them time off… It can really get expensive! With a Virtual Assistant, you don’t have to worry about any of that. Having a Virtual Assistant is a great way to cut costs for your small business.

3. Digital Marketing

The advertising game has changed an awful lot since the days of Mad Men. Today, you need to be savvy to digital marketing in order to get the word out about your small business.

A polished, professional website has gone from a plus to an absolute necessity. It should be professionally written and be optimized for search engines, ie. SEO. Essentially, this means that your business is easy for your customers to find–and of course you want existing and potential customers to find you! This is made possible through the use of keywords and links. When optimized well, your site will get a high ranking on search engines so it will show up early in search results.

Social media is another essential component in a digital marketing strategy. If you aren’t tweeting every day, you’re missing a huge opportunity to become part of the digital conversation. If you want something to tweet about, start a weekly blog and post a link to it. This keeps you alive in the digital world and makes your company look active and engaged.

Developing a digital marketing strategy can initially be rather confusing, but a Virtual Assistant can help you to create and implement a strategy that will bolster your business’ visibility, growth, and success.

4. Innovation

Innovation is possibly the most important 21st Century business must, and also the most vague.

When it comes to talking about the future, we have no idea what’s coming down the pipeline. All you need to do is look at predictions from the 1960s of what our world would look like in the 2000s to see that human prediction is rarely accurate. Do you have a flying car? Exactly.

Keeping on top of new technological developments and innovations within your business is how you can stand on the cutting edge of what’s to come. Ten years ago, who knew that Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, and Twitter would become essential business tools? If you keep an eye out for the next big thing, you might be able to spot it before anyone else. That is how you can get the edge in the 21st century!

Creating a Strong Business Foundation

If you want some help finding your business edge, I would be happy to offer my services as a Virtual Assistant. I have extensive experiences in multiple industries and can bring all of the knowledge to help your business grow and move ahead as we approach 2020. Just send me a message, and we can get started.

Email Tips for Busy Entrepreneurs

How much of your day do you think is eaten up by email?

For a technology that supposedly increases productivity and connectivity, it’s stunning just how much time managing our emails can take. Yes, it’s an extraordinarily useful business tool, but between sending, reading, organizing, and planning out emails, you can easily lose cumulative hours of productivity in a day.

There are a number of things that you do to optimize your email use, helping to maximize your productivity and make your business day go just a little bit more smoothly. Here are some tips:

1. Don’t Let Emails Disrupt Your Workflow

Who doesn’t love being in “the zone” at work? When you’re completely absorbed by what you’re doing so your productivity is sky high? You know that feeling, when you’re working effectively and you know that you’re going to be able to get the task done in… Oh wait, just got an email. Oh, it’s from Phil. Is it important? Nah, it’s not important. I’ll just send a quick message saying I’ll get back to him in an hour or so. And… sent. Ok, now, where was as I? Oh yeah, I was in the zone. I’m no longer in the zone. Nuts.

Do these events seem familiar? Nothing can break up a productivity streak like answering an email. The best way to keep this from happening is to set aside periods of the day when your email alerts are simply turned off. By building blocks of time into your schedule where there are no email or phone interruptions, you can greatly increase your productivity and focus.

If you’re worried about missing something important, leave your email management in the hands of your assistant or receptionist. If you don’t have an assistant or receptionist, why not? It couldn’t be easier or more affordable in today’s virtual world. A virtual assistant or virtual receptionist can handle anything urgent that arrives in your email, interrupting you only if the situation warrants it. A virtual assistant can handle all of the responsibilities that a dedicated secretary could handle for a fraction of the cost. By not letting emails disrupt your workflow, you’ll be maximizing your productivity and reducing your stress level.

2. Limit The Time You Spend On Email

Email is absolutely a very important part of your job but, as we’ve outlined, it can easily eat up vast chunks of your day. Not only should you schedule periods of time when you don’t respond to email, you should also set periods where that’s all you do.

Get “in the zone” of responding to email, just like you can with any other kinds of work by dedicating uninterrupted time blocks for it. Book a half-hour for email first thing in the morning, fifteen minutes after lunch, and a half-hour at the end of the day, or any other arrangement that fits your schedule.

You can greatly increase your email productivity if you already know which emails are demanding your attention and which you can safely ignore. This is why using a virtual assistant can be so helpful. They can go through your emails as they come in, prepping your inbox so it’s ready for your block of email time.

3. Get Your Inbox Organized

Have you ever received an important email that you can’t seem to find a week later? If you aren’t using an organizational system for your inbox, necessary emails can easily get lost in the shuffle or might even be deleted accidently.

Thankfully, most email programs come with a variety of organizational tools designed to label and categorize your email. You can mark email as important, very important, not at all important, or just spam. You can create subfolders to organize email according to topics, projects, or specific contacts. It can take a while to set up the system, but once it’s in place, it can save you a tremendous amount of time and frustration as every email will be exactly where you can find it.

If you can’t find the time to take on this kind of organizational task, a virtual assistant can take care of it for you. This is another instance when hiring an experienced virtual assistant is well worth the investment. Simply tell your VA how you would like your emails to be sorted with the various categories you want, and they’ll do it for you! After they’re done, you can give them notes to refine the system. You’ll never have to worry about misplacing another email again!

4. Unsubscribe from Spam

Nothing clutters up an inbox like spam. I don’t even mean junk mail or email scams. I’m talking about “legitimate” marketing emails from Amazon, a website you once visited, Facebook, LinkedIn, the list goes on forever. There’s an easy, if time consuming way, of minimizing all the clutter: Unsubscribe!

The majority of these marketing emails usually have a small link at the very bottom that reads: “Unsubscribe from this Email List”. Once you click the link, you’ll usually be taken to a web page asking you to confirm the unsubscription request. Once you’ve completed that step, you won’t have to worry about getting any marketing emails from that company again.

One important word of warning though; there are many email scams that attempt to trick you into revealing your personal information by sending out fake emails that are supposedly from many of these same companies. If you click “Unsubscribe” on one of these fakes, you might end up on a malicious website. Always confirm the website address of the “Unsubscribe” link before you click on it. It hould read, “https://www.linkedin.com/”, not a random Russian website.

If you’re concerned that you might accidently click on the wrong link, a professional virtual assistant is trained to know exactly what links you need to watch out for. You could save yourself a lot of time by hiring a VA to go through your email to unsubscribe or block any marketing or spam emails that you no longer want to receive. This will result in a much tidier inbox and less time wasted deleting worthless emails.

5. Use Email Template Responses

How often do you find yourself writing or answering emails with the exact same response. It might be an introductory letter, or a new client onboarding letter, information about next steps in your business process, etc. Every time you respond to one of these messages, it takes time to type everything out. You can save yourself a lot of trouble by simply creating email templates for your most common responses.

Instead of having to type out your message, you can simply pick from a selection of pre-written responses. You just need to write them once, and then they’ll always be on file. You can then personalize these templates with a signature, so it doesn’t seem like you’re simply sending out a form letter.

As an experienced virtual assistant, and someone who has worked in the heart of many high-pressure corporations, I know exactly how to help entrepreneurs manage their busy schedules. One of the best ways to optimize your time is to outsource your email management. I can check through your incoming mail, respond to non-priority messages, discard junk mail, and create alerts for high priority mail. If something important comes in while you’re working, I can quickly give you a heads up. If you’d like to discuss more ways that a virtual assistant can help streamline your business and simplify your life, please send me a message. I look forward to helping you grow your business!

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