Thursday, 12 November 2009

SMEs: The Survival of the Fittest

Everyday somebody starts a new business. Everyday somebody launches a business hoping that he or she will at last be doing something that they have always dreamt about doing but never got the chance. However, the budding new entrepreneurs rarely realise that launching their own business they are signing up for a great deal of things that they never wanted to do in the first place. Who in the world would start a business because of their genuine love for accounting, taxes, legal issues, people management and other boring administrative tasks? Of course, you can be good at one or two things but there is little chance you will be able to handle everything. What often happens is that the new managing director tries to ignore the problems for as long as possible and when he or she finally realises that the problems need to be solved it turns out that it is already too late. Hence many businesses go into administration and the beautiful projects their owners had do not survive the test of reality.

In fact, the business owner’s expectation that they will be doing what they are good at is an illusion. Many business owners say that at the start of their business they only spent 5% of their time doing the thing they liked to do and most of the time sorting out all those issues that happen behind the scenes, the things you only face when you start your own business. Is there absolutely no hope of fulfilling your dreams then?

Well, not exactly. For proof, look at all those who do succeed in their undertaking. So, here are the three ways you can remedy the situation. For one, you commit to deal with all those issues by yourself. This requires quite some will power but also time (which equals money), energy and other resources. The second option is to hire somebody or find freelancers that will do the job for you. However, having several freelancers doing bits and bobs here and there is not so efficient, plus you will need to constantly exercise control over their activities, which can be time consuming. And what happens if with all your attention and control they still mess something up? You would want to avoid that at all costs, but you can still keep those to a minimum.

Virtual Blue Bird virtual assistants can take away the most part of your burden, be it the administrative tasks, recruitment, people management or anything else that you simply do not have time for. What counts however, is that your business will be assigned a project manager who will control the work of the VAs and ensure that everything that needs to be done is done on time. The project manager will in fact take care of all those issues that you want to delegate so that you do not have to spend time on finding the right people and making sure they are doing the job properly. All this will be done by the project manager in charge. Just like a talented conductor, a project manager will know who to assign the tasks to and how to ensure the highest quality standards. The organised work of our responsible VAs is aimed to make your life easier and to finally free up your time to let you do what you enjoy doing most. In fact, the time you spend on the administrative tasks or hiring and controlling the freelancers is the time that you could have otherwise spend developing your business and getting new customers. It is also a fact that people earn more by doing what they are best at whilst carrying out day-to-day administration may have a diminishing effect on your very motivation of having your own business. Virtual Blue Bird offers you to take care of what we do best – managing and organising, while letting you do your favourite part of the job – growing your business.

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Do your customers trust your blog?

As you might have heard already, the recent study published by Forrester research shows that the company blogs are the least trusted information sources and customers trust them less then direct mail or even Wikipedia. What is wrong with corporate blogs, you will ask. The researchers say that it is not the medium that is ineffective, it’s the way companies use it that is wrong. The study provoked a lot of discussion and suggestions on how to make the corporate blogs more trustworthy. Essentially, there are three things you might want to consider changing.

First: Think why and how you blog

You obviously blog to raise people’s awareness of your goods and services, but read your posts. Don’t they sound too salezy when you always concentrate on your news, your goods and your offers? It has been proven that you should be adopting the customer’s perspective and voicing their concerns and needs rather than pushing through your own agenda. Advertising and newsletters are appropriate means of passing the message, whereas the blogs have a different function.

Second: Make it personal

Traditionally, people trust companies less than they trust other people and the study can vouch for that as well. Therefore, your customers should like your blog because it is different, because it has a face, because it’s not like other corporate blogs. There must be some personal interest for the readers to be reading your blog. Make the stories more interesting, stimulate discussion, interact extensively and you will see your customers’ trust for your blog and eventually for your brand rise.

Third: Make it professional

You can obviously try writing all of the blog entries yourself, but don’t you already have enough on your plate to worry about? Especially now that you know that your customers are looking for original and creative content, something they would be able to discuss with their friends, not just some writing in the space of the free time you have after all of the other tasks are dealt with. Virtual Blue Bird has come up with a solution for companies who would like to reap the benefits of efficient blogging, without having to do all the writing.

With a team of talented writers and a vast knowledge of the rules of marketing communication, Virtual Blue Bird is able to literally provide you a helping hand to be writing your blogs for you. By delegating the writing of your blogs to an expert, you can ensure that your blog is in accordance with the needs of your customers and is a valuable marketing instrument. Whether you are a business owner or an independent professional requiring blogging support we are able to accommodate for all of you blogging needs.

Quality blogging takes time, effort and creative talent and so does your company’s reputation. It does take a long time to build up a sound reputation for your business so you simply can’t afford making mistakes. Making your blog more professional, personal and customer-focused is essential for establishing a reputation for the success of your business.

Monday, 19 October 2009

Planning ahead: arguments for writing a business plan early

Virtual Blue Bird, a recognized provider of management support services, often works with entrepreneurs who have just recently launched their own business. They come up with all sorts of questions asking for advice and guidance. Drawing on our vast experience of helping business start-ups survive we have learnt a lot about how and why new businesses might fail. This has pushed us to share our experiences for the benefit of all of the new business owners and budding entrepreneurs. Today we would like to discuss when you should consider writing a business plan.

In many cases, managing directors start writing a business plan long after they started the business in order to get extra funding. If you write it at that stage it might already be too late. Moreover, if you require extra funding that usually suggests that something has already gone wrong and you need the extra money to mend the problem. If you do not want it to go wrong unexpectedly, you simply must write up a business plan as early as possible. And you have to do it for yourself even more than for your investors. A business plan provides clarity and a direction for your business development. In fact, studies show that businesses that have a business plan to follow generate higher profits.

So, as soon as you got a somewhat clear idea of what your business is going to be like, start writing. While writing and answering various questions about goals, missions and penetration strategies you will quickly improve your personal understanding of what it could be like and what you might expect to happen. By carrying out simple marketing research you will find out about your competitors and will be able to see your own competitive advantages more clearly. Learning about your target audience and their needs will eventually help you formulate you marketing strategy and roughly predict the sales. Furthermore, when you start writing about cost, pricing and break-even you will see for yourself if the business can be profitable or would simply be a waste of your time.

A business plan also allows you to allocate resources for your start-up. Be it the number of staff or any other finite resources you will be able to see clearly how much of the work can be done and what you should be prioritising. Writing up a business plan will also show you which of the tasks can be outsourced or delegated.

The last but not least of the advantages of having your business plan early is the ability to make everybody aware of your future plans. In order for a team to be working in the same direction, they need to be aware of the goals you have set for the business. Inspiring a shared vision has always been one of the most effective leadership tools that the business plan helps you make use of.

Having a business plan ready before you set out on your entrepreneurial adventure will enable you with a clear vision of future challenges and a realisation of the direction that you intend to follow. Being informed will therefore save you money, time and energy that you can otherwise invest in the growth of your business.

Friday, 9 October 2009

Getting noticed at the networking events

Networking is building and using your formal and informal connections for business expansion. Today in London various networking events are being organised on a daily basis. They attract large numbers of participants and during the event you would meet on average 10 to 20 new people. With so many people around it is often difficult to get noticed. The key thing, however, is being able to make a good first impression, so that people you meet can still remember you long after the event.

There are three things you need in order to make networking events work for you.

Body Language

You should always remember that no matter what you say or how creative and interesting your ideas are, people will still get their first impression from the way you look. Therefore, your body language should demonstrate confidence. There are many ways to make you look more confident, think about your posture, your gestures and do not hesitate to look straight into the people’s eyes.

Be a Good Listener

Another important thing people will remember you for is listening to what they have to say. At the networking events everybody wants to talk about themselves and their business and people usually forget about the importance of being a good listener; but think about it, listening could be beneficial in many ways. For one, listening to others would allow you to see new business opportunities. On the other hand, people like to talk about their experiences, so listening to their stories could open your eyes on some of the issues you did not see coming. And on top of that people will remember you for showing genuine interest in them, by simply letting them do the talking.

Make a Lasting Impression

Now that you have already made a good impression by looking confident and listening to your new acquaintance you would want to make sure that this impression is lasting. You might be wondering how to do that, but the answer is very simple. Now, it is your turn to say something. People will remember you if what you say is interesting and relevant to them, so make a business proposition, offer advice, recommend somebody. Whatever you do keep them interested in what you have to say. If the situation is such that there is nothing at all that you could say of interest to your new acquaintance, which is quite unlikely, there is still something you can do to be remembered. Try to make a clever compliment. You obviously should not compliment their beautiful eyes, but their professional abilities and talents could be an option. You will find out more about those from just listening to them.

Therefore the formula for your success at networking is very simple. Body language plus Listening, plus Relevant Information equal a lasting positive impression. After the event, remember to follow up with an email, in which you could mention what you talked about. This would be an easy way to remind the people you have met about yourself and your business.

Monday, 24 August 2009

I have a beautiful website, why am I not getting any traffic? (SEO and its uses)

Imagine a person who is standing in the middle of the room. His eyes are closed. The room is full of people. His job is to identify who each of those people are. Because his eyes are closed, he can only identify them by what they say and how loud they are say it. It also helps if they speak the language that he understands and if they are not being rude to him. Once he identifies the people, he starts helping them.

This person is Google. The people around “him” are the websites. If they make the right noises, speak clearly, use the right language and do not offend – Google brings up their ranking and puts them at the top. Because Google is the only one making the rules – you need to play by them in order to be helped.

Google “listens” to each website (old or new) and ranks them, depending on how many of its rules they follow. The highest rank is 10. The lowest – 0. Achieving the highest rank means that you follow exactly what Google tells you to do and in turn it recognises and respects your website. For example Twitter has a rank of 9. If your rank is 0, that means that Google cannot hear you at all. You can check your ranking here: (just put the URL in and click “check PR”). This website is very safe.

SEO is used to give the websites and blogs a “voice” that Google would like to hear and will understand. SEO experts know most of the rules (Google changes them quite often – so we monitor them carefully) and therefore know what to do.

Using the correct keywords is one of the rules. There is a ratio that you need to use in order for Google to start moving you up to the top pages. Those words are not necessarily the product that you are trying to sell (if your product is unique, people looking for it are very likely to be among your customers already). Identifying the keywords relevant for your business can be a challenge. Virtual Blue Bird can help you out by putting together a comprehensive list of the right keywords for your website.

Similarly, Google will also check out your pictures … are they labelled correctly? Another problem faced by many of our clients is that putting a hyperlink into an article does not necessarily mean that you will get traffic. Why? Simply because the hyperlink needs to be entered correctly.

There is also a large number of rules that relate to the blog posts, ratios, competitions, use of diagrams/pictures, videos, social media etc. that our experts are able to help you with.

If your traffic is low, give us a call and we will be happy to have a look at your website and see if there are any issues that can easily be solved by Search Engine Optimisation.

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Can a VA run your wedding?

Planning a dream wedding can prove to be a logistical nightmare, however, there are only 3 things you need to have to run an outstanding wedding:

1. Common sense,

2. Hard work and

3. A little bit of imagination

Personally, I have made a big mistake by delegating the organisation of my wedding to 2 wedding planners. Considering that I’ve ran over 500 events myself, the only reason why I’ve delegated my wedding was because I was running 16 large projects at the time and simply did not have the possibility of taking on another “project”. The planners were given 9 months to plan the event… 3 months before the wedding I have asked them for a project plan that would list all of the updates (outstanding tasks and those already accomplished). What a shock it was to actually find out that nothing has been done apart from booking the venue, which I did myself. As it turned out, they did not even have a project plan – apparently, you don’t need one for a wedding!

Armed with 1 of VBB VAs, we’ve pulled a project plan together in the space of 2 days. By the end of the first week, all the flower arrangements were booked, the cake was chosen, the decorations were bought, invitations were sent out (we designed a hard and a soft copy in-house); the website was put together (guests do want to know what is going on) and entertainment was selected and arranged for (I was flying in 7 musicians from different parts of the world). By the end of the second week, drinks and food were selected; makeup and nail specialists (for guests and myself) were booked; local quartet was provided with the music (my wedding was to be held in Switzerland – so everything had to be done virtually); visas for all of my guests were provided; flights were booked; accommodation allocated; transportation booked; menus designed and printed; photo/videotographers booked; wedding outfits bought; presents selected and guests were communicated regarding the events to take place over the weekend. Having finalised all my wedding preparations within this short time, all that I had left to do for the rest of the 2.5 months leading up to my wedding, was to spend 1 hour a week just keeping an eye on the developments and sorting out any of the arising little issues.

Therefore, my honest opinion is: a virtual assistant can run your wedding. In fairness, event management is not a very difficult task – it’s just hard work. I also do not believe that it takes more than 1 month to organise every single detail of the event even if you are dealing with something as complex as running a wedding in a foreign country. As long as the venue is booked and the entertainment is selected – everything else is a “piece of cake”. On the plus side, VAs do not charge you as much as the wedding planners would, as we are used to getting things done very quickly and efficiently. It is our job to make sure that you are happy and we make every effort so that every single penny you spend on the planning is made worthwhile by working as hard as possible to protect you from the organisational hassle. To ensure that everything runs smoothly on your wedding day we will fly out to the wedding itself to run the operational side of the event for you.

Armed with experience in organising large scale business events VAs are well equipped to arrange a wedding with the precision and attention to detail second to none. In organizing my own wedding, reliable and effective, one VA proved to be more efficient than two wedding planners, and I honestly cannot think of anything in the wedding planner’s responsibilities that a VA could not accomplish. Can you?

Friday, 14 August 2009

Should Facebook be used for business?

At Virtual Blue Bird, we love Facebook. Please don’t get us wrong, we know that Facebook is a temperamental beast. It’s protected by a large number of unwritten rules, with extremely lengthy response times and a power to block any account for a long period of time without an explanation. Yes, we are fully aware of those risks. However, the benefits that you get from exploiting this social networking tool are enormous.

Facebook is a lot like a mobile phone. Some people use it more actively, some check it every once in a while, but the benchmark fact is – everyone has an account. With Facebook providing free access to such a large audience, establishing a presence there is inevitable for most businesses.

In order to maximise your returns from Facebook usage, the most important thing to remember is that your account needs to be continuously nurtured over time. With the strict rules in place, your enthusiastic decision to build a presence quickly will lead to your account being blocked. And should you suddenly decide to message everyone about your new product – you will also find your account to be blocked. What’s more, and probably even more importantly, your customers will see you as much of a spammer just as Facebook will. Hence, the weighted solution is building your Facebook presence continually over time.

At Virtual Blue Bird we spend an hour a day updating our client’s accounts, adding friends, building up groups and creating interesting content gradually. Once a new product launches, we run a physical or a virtual party, to which all new (and happy) customers are invited. That’s usually the point, at which the conversion rates shoot up to around 2 out of 3.

Facebook requires constant attention and a good deal of patience, but use it wisely and you will see real benefits to your business that it has to offer!

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

How to choose a right PA for a CEO?

Every CEO knows that a personal assistant (or executive assistant - EA) is essential for the smooth running of their business. Your PA is someone who knows everything about you, knows how to handle your direct reports, understands how to make sure that you are not in a bad mood, knows exactly which contacts should be given a priority and protects you from a lot of unnecessary details that you do not have the time for. A good PA is your protective shield from the world of small issues.

Not surprisingly then, finding the right person for this role is essential. Most of the CEOs will usually take their PAs with them, whenever they move from company to company. Starting a new job and hiring a new personal assistant all at the same time might be very challenging. If your PA does not move to the new company with you, best to keep the one that the new company provides, as that person will at least know the business well. However, what happens if the chemistry is not right?

When hiring a PA, it is very important to remember that you are dealing with extremely well organised people. Therefore, most of the candidates will pass the interview stage with ease for two reasons mainly, with the first one being that they have the answers to everything prepared beforehand and the second - being professionally trained to be liked. Therefore, there are only 2 things that you will be looking for:

a) The right chemistry (a 20 minute chat should be enough to figure that out) and

b) The ability to handle your business affairs and cope with the amount of work you will be providing.

The second point is more difficult though, because there are no known tests to check that. You will therefore have to take the risk and hope for the best. If at first you do not succeed, the search will need to start again, leaving you without a competent PA for a period of time.

Realising how important the role of the PA is, we start looking after CEOs when they first leave their previous position. We get to know them in the interim period, before they start the new job. We also help them find the right full-time professional PA, because by then, we know everything about your professional and personal likes and dislikes, and therefore become equipped to identify the kind of person to be able to assist you. We will manage you up until the moment you get the right person on board. If you are concerned about how this can be done virtually, talk to us and we will be happy to answer your questions.

Friday, 24 July 2009

What's the point of Twitter

We all know that Twitter’s popularity has grown enormously over the last year. Everyone seems to be on it. “I don’t get it – what’s the point?” – our customers ask us. Well, from a business perspective, there are two very good reasons why you would use Twitter – to get more traffic to your website and to find the right people.

The reason why it’s so difficult for our customers to understand why Twitter is so popular is because our customers do not have the time to deal with it. Twitter requires effort, time and consistent maintenance, that is why many companies might need to use personal assistance services to look after their Twitter profile. To the naked eye it looks like a large amount of unrelated, useless chatter with quite a lot of promotion, that, frankly you don’t need. However, if you will look more closely, you will see that after about a month at least 30% of your traffic will come from Twitter. Furthermore, most of those will actually be customers, not just people who are casually browsing.

But how can that be, considering that people who chat on it look like the type of people who have too much time on their hands (and hence probably have no real spending power). Well, that’s the interesting part of the Twitter world. Twitter is a 21st century answer to traditional “buzz marketing”. If you want the news to spread – you need to be on Twitter – because, guess what? That’s where the journalists, researchers and PR get their news from. However, there is one catch: the content needs to be good. The beauty about Twitter is that if you are not a good Twitterer – no one will be reading your profile. You might have followers, but the buzz marketing effect will not take place.

I have been on Twitter since March 2009, and own around 20 profiles. The reason is simple – each profile reflects my audience. Hence, this allows me to message information that is relevant and therefore the traffic I get is very high. Furthermore, I do not work very hard at getting followers – they all come to me, as people keep recommending their friends to follow my profiles. My work is in providing the content that will be of interest in just 140 characters. For example, look at the following profile: I use this for Virtual Blue Bird. However, most of my content are jokes, why? Because that’s what time-expensive individuals will actually read if they come to Twitter and want to take a break from their busy lives. My other profiles have completely different content.

Give us a call and I will be happy to put a strategy together for you on how to use Twitter effectively for your business. Our virtual assistants can do all of the maintenance for you (including the design of your profile background).

Kind regards,

Anya Portnik

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

How to delegate?

The formula is very simple: if your customer pays you £100 to do a project and your Virtual Assistant can complete it for £40, then you are making £60 profit simply because you have a good relationship with your customer. However, as we all know, making the theory work in practice is a lot harder than it seems. Or is it?

Almost all of our customers know that they cannot cope with the amount of work that needs to be done and that they simply must delegate their work. But how do you delegate something that only you can do? Furthermore, what if something goes wrong? At the end of the day, it is your business and you are fully responsible for the consequences. And where do you start? – won’t you need to explain the whole thing to your Virtual Assistants before they can even start to comprehend what you are trying to achieve?

I get asked these questions a lot, especially by those customers who have never used a Virtual Assistance service before. To answer this, I will explain how you should delegate. But first, a few truths…

Truth 1

There is absolutely no way that we will be able to duplicate you – only you know where your business is going and all of the details that surround it. However, what we can do is help you with the tasks that will free up your time, so that you can concentrate on the work that you should be concentrating on.

Truth 2

Your business is unique. Your relationships, approach and thinking are also unique. However, the list of tasks that take up your valuable time and stop you from spending it on more important aspects of your business is not unique. We work with a large number of customers from very different fields, all with very different backgrounds, personalities, approaches, thinking, ideas and strategies – and yet, the tasks that we are assisting them with are very similar. This is not because we are limiting our services, but because there is only so much that a business can delegate. We undertake these time consuming tasks, including administrative support, leaving you to concentrate on more important aspects of your business.

Truth 3

There is always a “Catch 22” scenario when customers start to delegate tasks. On the one hand, you will need to test that your Virtual Assistant is capable of doing the job and not going to cause you problems. On the other hand, if you give out too much information there is a higher risk that something might go wrong (if it works out that your VA is not capable). So, how do you get the best balance? You can do this by testing us. Our VAs can perform a small number of tasks and you can judge our performance. Only then will you see the true benefit of a VA.

Step by step plan

1. Outline the tasks that we can do for you
2. Give Virtual Blue Bird a call and let me know what’s on your list
3. We then work together to prioritise the tasks to your requirements.
4. We will complete those tasks for you in the timeframes you have set for us.
5. You review the results and decide if you would like to allocate the Virtual Blue Bird VAs with more responsibility.

If you have trouble putting this list together (for example you have never delegated work before), call me and I will be happy to help you compile this.

Kind regards,

Anya Portnik

Monday, 20 July 2009


This blog is dedicated to both our existing and new customers. The reason why we are starting this blog is to answer the most common questions that we receive on a daily basis and also to help our new customers to understand not only what we do, but also how we can help them.

Who are our customers? The majority of our customers are SMEs. For them, we do a large range of tasks and in most cases they are very customer specific. We also have a few very large clients such as a high street bank; celebrities and a number of CEOs of large organisations.

Our clientele primarily comes from the UK; however, we also work with entrepreneurs in Dubai, Hong Kong, Australia and the USA.

If you want to ask us a question or just have a chat, get in touch – we are always happy to hear from you.

Kind regards,

Virtual Blue Bird team