Archive for March, 2009|Monthly archive page

Feeling lost?

For those days when none of your plans seem to be working out, here’s a bit of fun from Jessica Hagy’s blog Indexed. Hagy designs her daily posts using graphs and Venn diagrams sketched on index cards in order to “think a little more relationally without resorting to doing actual math.”

This one is titled “Following Directions to Nowhere”

card778

Feeling totally lost? It’s time to simplify. Ditch the 20-pound planners filled with unlikely goals, and choose one small step. Contact me at New Leaf + Company LLC.

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Kaizen: quote

A quote for the day:

Constant dripping hollows out a stone.
— The Roman poet Lucretius (98-55 BCE)

The Japanese Garden, Washington Park, Portland, Oregon USA

The Japanese Garden, Washington Park, Portland, Oregon USA


Kaizen: solve small problems

There are many instances when we must solve large problems because we failed to notice them when they were small. Tiny changes can add up for good and for ill. Consider these examples:

Just a drop in the bucket adds up to gallons of maple syrup

"Just a drop in the bucket" adds up to gallons of sweet maple syrup

  • The uncomfortable chair that causes a small back problem that flares into a major disability.
  • The daily 100-calorie indulgence that adds an unwanted 20 pounds in a year.
  • The small irritation imposed on a client (“…press 8 to speak to a customer service representative…”) that costs referrals and eventually the relationship itself.
  • The small pieces of insulating foam that regularly break away from the space shuttle’s fuselage, at first having no apparent impact, eventually damaging the wing, causing failure on re-entry.

Here’s a kaizen improvement technique that anyone can use, courtesy of Robert Maurer, author of One Small Step Can Change Your Life: The Kaizen Way. It will help to bring focus to small problems before they have out-sized consequences down the road.

Step 1: Each day identify one mistake you have made, without becoming angry with yourself. (This step alone will carry you closer to your goals for excellence by helping you notice what is available for improvement.)

Step 2: Ask yourself whether that mistake might reflect a larger problem. For example, if you misplaced your keys, is it an indication that you are over-committed, you are trying to multitask, or are too distracted?

Step 3: If so, ask yourself, what small step can I take to correct this situation?

There is nothing more productive than to deal with small problems before they become large. The kaizen mindset shows the way.

(For more about the concept of kaizen and how it relates to productivity, search my tags for earlier posts on this topic, and contact me through my website.)

The Virtues of Virtual Assistance

by Margaret Lukens, New Leaf + Company LLC

Word is spreading rapidly about virtual assistants, often known as VA’s – assistants who work from their office, not yours, to give you help with the projects and tasks you need to delegate.

I sometimes suggest that my small-business clients consider using an assistant – either virtual or in-house – so they can delegate parts of their work that aren’t their core business. I’m aware, though, that hiring and management of help can be a time-consuming and expensive process.

In my own business I have used online services such as elance.com to hire VA’s to help with projects, but I have been frustrated at the amount of time I spent sifting and sorting through online resumes to locate the right assistant to match my needs. I was looking for a less hit-or-miss way of getting essential help for my clients and myself.

Enter Assistant Match, a company that matches busy people with virtual assistants. Recently I spoke with Katie Gutierrez, owner of Assistant Match, to get her tips on how to get help when delegation is the right thing to do.

asstmatchimage11New Leaf News: Why did you start Assistant Match? Katie: I saw that there was a need. People would build their businesses and then hit that wall. They wouldn’t have the expertise to do what they needed to do, but finding, screening and working with the right person was pretty overwhelming. People would put an ad on Craig’s List for an assistant and get over 100 responses in 24 hours. There wasn’t a flexible, reliable way for people to get help.

NLN: How does Assistant Match work? Katie: First we work with the business person to find out what they need, what they want to delegate. We also learn about their work style. Then we find people who we believe can be top candidates. We do the entire screening process.

We do reference checks before the client ever talks to the VA, and we do criminal background checks if they’re going to be handling any personal information, online passwords, or bookkeeping information. If applicable, we get work samples. Then we summarize the information for our client.

NLN: Do you give clients several candidates to interview? Katie: Typically we present just one candidate at a time to our client. The less people they have to talk to, the better.

NLN: What are some common tasks that business owners delegate to a VA? Katie: There are two kinds of situations. One is where the person has project work. For example, they need to set up email templates for their email newsletter. Or they’re creating workbooks, e-books, or finalizing workshop materials. They may have the content in note format and they need someone to pull it together. Or they have a box of business cards they want to enter into a database. These are some project examples.

Then there are people looking for an ongoing relationship. They’ll ask for a VA to set up appointments for them, screen their phone calls, format documents, do online research – things that aren’t the best use of the client’s time.

NLN: Where are your clients and where are your VA’s? Katie: Our clients and VA’s are all over the country. Alicia, who set up our appointment for this morning, is in Michigan. (Note: Katie and I are both in California.)

Sometimes a client will need a VA in their area. For example, one client does a lot of driving and needed a VA who knows the traffic patterns in her area in order to properly schedule her time. Others may hire a VA to coordinate an event and then want that person to provide on-site help with logistics and registration.

NLN: How does Assistant Match charge for your service? Katie: At this time the charge to hire a VA for ongoing help is $295. It’s less for project help, as little as $95. The hourly rates vary based on the responsibilities and experience of the VA. The average now is $30 to $35 per hour, and there are plenty who are less and plenty who are more.

NLN: I think many readers will be surprised that a VA can be that affordable. When I consider what my time is worth, I couldn’t possibly find my own candidate for that little. Katie: Yes, it’s very affordable. Also, we handle the billing and take care of all the tax forms, the 1099s and so on.

NLN: What are the advantages of a “virtual” assistant over one that works onsite? Katie: One of the things I think is so great is that there are no supplies, equipment or space to provide. If you have to buy a computer and a desk for your assistant, those costs would really add up. But those are things the VA has provided in her home office. And the arrangement is completely flexible, so if you need five hours one week and 10 hours the next week and no hours the week after that, your VA can do that, where an employee typically couldn’t.

NLN: I imagine that some people who know about VA’s first heard of them from reading Tim Ferris’ book The 4-Hour Work Week. Ferris writes about his experience working with VA’s in India. Any thoughts? Katie: We’re certainly grateful for the publicity that book has brought to VA’s. But a lot of people think they can work with someone in a different country and get the same results as working with someone in their area. I believe there are some important reasons to work with someone closer to home.

NLN: Thanks very much, Katie. It’s good to know that you make finding a VA so easy. Katie: I’m happy to help.

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