Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Last Night I Dreamed ...

I had a personal assistant.

It was a glorious dream.

My office was clean. Supplies had been ordered and arrived and now were neatly stacked in the closet (toner, paper, pens and binder clips)

My calendar was updated along with alerts to remind me that I had promised to lunch with Nora Roberts next week and Cherry Adair was taking me to her spa.

My email inbox was under 500.

Books were mailed.

The to-do list had been slashed with red ink and DONE was penciled next to each item.

I had Twittered, updated my Facebook status, not to mention Goodreads, Library Thing, Shelfari, Google Friends and I even sent my agent chocolate that actually arrived on her birthday.

And then....

I woke up.
Reality is harsh. In fact it's downright nasty at times. (My office is proof!)

I woke from that dream, tripped into my office, knocking over piles of books and stacks of magazines. I don't understand what I'm doing wrong but I am determined to figure it out.

The truth is I'm following all my own time management strategies and advice. I Eat That Frog every morning, and I Don't Sweat The Small Stuff. I've tattooed the 7 Habits of Highly Successful People on my left arm.

Additionally, I live a life that is dedicated to batching. If you haven't read Michael Hyatt's post on batching you should immediately.

I am a writer. Writing is my business. I must think outside my 24/7 box to reconcile my dream with my reality.

That's when I decided to start thinking like a business and I began to investigate

Virtual Assistants.

This is not a sales pitch. Up to the point of actually writing this post I knew zero about the topic.

So I'll share what I've found and I will mention a few companies and names I'm checking out.

BTW, I've emailed the folks I am mentioning today in Seekerville to see if they might consider stopping by to share and to correct any lapses in my education.

Put First Things First

Know what you're looking for by evaluating yourself!

1. What are the parts of you the writer? Make a list and consider all the elements, writing, research, communication, publicity, social media, office supplies, organizing, mail lists, and on and on. I suggest you track your activities for a week for a concise list.

2. What parts of your job do you want to outsource? Social media? Research? Publicity? Query letters? Mailing lists?

3. What parts of your job are you unable to delegate? We all have those areas of our writing world that no one can do as well as we do.

4. What's your budget? Time is money but if you don't find some time you aren't going to make any money as a writer.

I've done my homework and here's what I want to outsource:

Mailing list updates
Mailing books and promo material
Entering contests
Publicity reservations
Social Media Feeds and personal blog updates
Birthday cards and holiday cards for professional contacts
Thank you letters
Amazon ordering

I've decided that purchasing weekly blocks of time is a better investment since my projects vary and are all short term, and constantly changing.

Here's a few sites I'm checking out:

Virtual Assistantville (has a nice ring to it!) This company will help you submit an RFP. Check out this article-How to Submit an RFP That Gets Results.

IVAA is the International Virtual Assistants Association (a non profit organization). Check out 101 Ways to Use a Virtual Assistant.

The Author's Assistants. I'm truly excited about this Colorado based firm that I found. They specialize in authors! Check out their services here. ( WHO KNEW??) (Virtual Assistant Services for Bloggers) is another great opportunity to carve more time in your day. I love the FAQ's section of their web page. They ask and answer all the pertinent questions you and I should be asking.

My Creative Assistant seems to be a larger virtual assistant platform than I need as a small business, but I urge you to check them out especially their links to some great tools! WOW!!

So what do you think? While I can't be sure I'll ever lunch with Nora or spa day with Cherry, this is a start.
Writers-if you could hire a virtual assistant, what tasks would you outsource? For all you readers, tell us what parts of your day you'd like to virtually outsource.

Comment today for an opportunity to win a copy of my October Love Inspired release, Oklahoma Reunion (print or Kindle format) and another commenter will win a surprise I DIDN'T GO TO THE ACFW CONFERENCE gift!

Winners announced in the Weekend Edition of Seekerville.


Helen Gray said...

Here's the coffee.

Would love a copy of Oklahoma Reunion. Don't qualify for the I DIDN'T GO TO THE ACFW CONFERENCE gift!

I'm retired and unpublished, so I guess I don't really need to outsource.

My guys threw me a curve Sunday night. They've decided to come home Thursday night and return Friday afternoon instead staying at the Hyatt with me both nights. So I have a big ole room all by my little ole self for one night.


KC Frantzen and May the K9 Spy said...

oh my that penguin and the polar bear... :)

Jury is out for me on VA's. I believe some are using them and using them well. We tried one for a previous business, but it didn't work out and we went back to doing the tasks ourselves. I don't know if it was lack of communication or we should have never assigned those duties to her, opting to complete those ourselves and having her do other things.

At this stage of my career, I'm not sure what I would have her do. I think I'd need someone to physcially come here to do most of the things I need. (Like house cleaning for example!)

However, one thing I've been meaning to get to is an update on Constant Contact. Even though I only plan to send things out quarterly, that is coming right up!

You've sure given me some ideas though, and I'll be checking out some of those links!

Thanks soooo much. Great post as always!!! :)

I brought muffins and assorted teas. Helen has coffee ready I see so - we're set!

Have a great evening/morning Seekerville! Happy travels to those heading to the conference! We're excited to see and hear all the doin's.

Tina Radcliffe said...

I have two words for you Helen,


Vince said...

Hi Tina:

Let me provide a male POV.

I’d figure how much time it would take to do the work you’ve assigned to the virtual assistant. Then I’d hire a maid to work that amount of time so I could free up the time to do the VA’s work. You’d be able to supervise the maid and you’d know the VA jobs were being done right.

What you are buying is time; not jobs.


Virginia said...

Hm. I think the best aprt about the VA might be the high tech service. I could be wrong, but they would have to be able to be a little more tech savvy than myself. for example, I got contest results back in .doc form. I tried saving it all sorts of ways, e-mailed the contest head, and eve downloaded a free reader... to no avail. It opens, but no comments or scores. *sigh*
Also, sometimes I've sent thigns through the Staples print site, and when it gets to me, SOMEHOW the font has been switched to 11 pt and the page numbers go from top right to bottom right several times in the ms. *double sigh*
Would a VA deal with that kind of stuff?? I would be in heaven. :) I'd gladly do dishes and mop the floor and fold clothes. But pelase don't make me put things in a zip folder and then send it compressed through cyberspace, etc. It makes my head ache.

Ausjenny said...

That would be a cool job being a VA. I could actually do a fair bit of it now after studying business admin.
I am sure some of it would be a bonus but until you got use to them there would still be time taken getting use to the VA and them working our your style etc. I like the maid idea. (I am qualified to do that too as I clean now for people and dont laugh but I like ironing).
would love to read your new book.

Tina Radcliffe said...

Yes, you are right Vince. Buying time!

But if I hired a maid I'd want to clean the house first.

I can live with the house a mess.

The undone work is undone income.

So VA first, maid later.

Ausjenny said...

Hey Tina, your comment about cleaning the house first this happens. I have been to a house to clean for the first time and thought boy this house is clean. the lady had cleaned before I got there. Her Husband commented on it. after a few weeks she would leave it for me. (I think she did a few things before I got there but learnt to relax).

Kirsten Arnold said...

Last night I would have given $1000to someone if they'd just make dinner. Unfortunately, I couldn't find a person willing or $1000.

The VA would be a great tool for an author. I'm unpublished, so I don't think I'd need to outsource anything. But as a published author I'd probably use a VA for quite a bit of social media and business correspondence. Let them do all that writing, while I focus on the good stuff.


Tina Radcliffe said...

It's a strange phenomena but true, Jenny. Hey and good to see you, btw.

Tina Radcliffe said...

See I'm with you, Virginia.

Take care of the time consuming tech stuff. Ever spent hour trying to figure out a new program? An hour you do not have?

Newsletters really are the perfect example.

Tina Radcliffe said...

And Vince, now that I have a cup of coffee under my belt, I'd like to add: I don't want to hire anyone I have to supervise.

The idea is to let it go, Joe!

Jeanne T said...

I like the way you dream, Tina! Being so new in this "business," I can't think of anything I'd need to outsource writing-wise. But, I'd love to have someone to clean, do laundry and pick up our groceries for us.

Social media, and some of the techy-stuff would be things I'd consider outsourcing in the future. I'll have to see what else can be outsourced so I can focus on the writing I'd like to do (on my wip).

Thanks for sharing all the sites for VA's.

Tina Radcliffe said...

Well, a girl's gotta dream. And if you're going to dream you may as well be a smart dreamer.

Jessica Nelson said...

Wow, who knew??? I'm keeping in the back of the mind for someday when I might have that much going on. Yikes!
Thanks for the links! Very interesting. :-)

Jamie Adams said...

Tina, you come up with the best links. If I could hire someone to do my research it would really help since I write historical romance. Actually I love to do the research but when I come to a spot I need to double check on I get lost in the excitement of going back in time and my story gets put aside.

Yesterday I just needed to see what the U.S. Calvary was doing around 1889 but ended up spending hours reading about them. It's really interesting stuff...really.

Missy Tippens said...

Tina, this is great info!! My list to outsource is exactly your list. I'll be sure to check these out.

Another service I know of is from Gayle DeSalles. It looks like she does newsletter and mailing lists. I've met her at ACFW, and she's very nice. She's also done some work for one of my RWA chapters.

And now, I'm off to read about batching!

Missy Tippens said...

Helen, enjoy that big room! I'm thinking room service...reading...sleeping in late...


Missy Tippens said...

Virginia, I was thinking the same thing. I could use someone who's better with technology--especially dealing with social media--stuff I do but don't do well.

Missy Tippens said...

LOL, Tina!! I'm the same way. If someone is coming to clean the house, I tend to want to clean first so I'm not embarrassed! :)

Missy Tippens said...

LOL, Kirsten! I was the same way. Instead, I just told everyone they were on their own. I headed out the door to go to Zumba, and when I got home asked what everyone ate. :)

Jan Drexler said...

Good morning Tina and everyone! I'm glad to see I'm not the only one who won't be seeing the arch this week.

Thanks for the link on batching - I was delighted to find out it's similar to what I stumbled upon while trying to get our homeschooling life to run smoother. It was great, once I figured out how to do it.

I hadn't thought about putting the same effort into making my writing time go smoothly - it wouldn't take much tweaking to get there - but I'm still in the mindset of grabbing time to write instead of scheduling. Time to make some changes!

Yup, it's all about working smarter!

A virtual assistant? hmmm, have to think about that this point I'm not sure what I'd need to pass on to her (or him).

Probably a newsletter

publicity everything

birthday cards (not for just professional contacts - I'd have them choose, address and stamp the cards for personal contacts too. I'd still sign them. Just let me know who and when)

Thank you letters

Book mailings

Okay, I can see where this is headed. I need someone to handle the areas where I'm weak! I could really get into this.

But they probably want to be paid, don't they?


Please put me in for the drawing - I'm buying Oklahoma Reunion next week anyway, but if I win I'll pass a copy on!

Cheryl Callighan, MVA, PVAA said...

Great article Tina!

Having been a Virtual Assistant (VA) for 22 years I can give your readers a few tips about working with a VA or author assistant!

There are varying levels of VAs with different experience and skills. I would suggest interviewing at least 3 and perhaps giving them a somewhat difficult trial task to complete. You can either pay them for their time or ask them to do it pro bono. This should help you gauge their abilities. Also, always ask for references and check them out. A good VA will gladly provide references.

Before interviewing know what tasks you would like to delegate, know your communication style too. Communication, while it's easy via the internet these days is key to a successful relationship with your VA or author assistant.

Not all VAs are familiar with the specific needs of authors. Look for an author's assistant who has completed training.

I will say that VAs and author assistants share many skills and technologies. It was very easy for me to make the choice to add author assistance to my menu of services.

Besides being able to help get a manuscript successfully published, author assistants (and some VAs) are very skilled with social media marketing. I use social media extensively in my own marketing.

Hope this helps.

Again thank you for the great post!

Glynna Kaye said...

What a wonderful dream, Tina, that can gradually be worked toward. I'd LOVE to just get CAUGHT UP for a change--I'm sure we all have mile-long to-do lists that are added to on a daily basis--and psychologically that can be a burden that inhibits the creative juices needed to write as well as taking up valuable writing time.

Glynna Kaye said...

CHERYL C -- what should someone know about contracting with a virtual assistant legal & tax wise?

Connie Queen said...

I'd like a maid whether I'm writing or not.

I'm not published, but if I was, social media marketing would be wonderful to outsource. I don't like to facebook or twitter. Makes my stomache knot up.

Thanks for the info Cheryl.

Virtual Assistantville said...

Thanks very much for including us today in your writeup!

Have you moved forward with your plans to work with a virtual assistant? As you know, you're most welcome to post an RFP at our site, or you can browse the listings and contact VAs directly via the contact form embedded in each directory listing.

For those here who are as yet undecided or uncertain about working with a professional VA, we've been blogging the how, why, what, where and when of finding, hiring and working with a professional VA at:

We sincerely appreciate being included in your article today and wish you the best of luck in connecting with a professional virtual assistant!

Tina Radcliffe said...

Wow, Cheryl! Thanks for stopping by.

Great, great, info.

I am just starting my due diligence. this is so helpful.

Tina Radcliffe said...

VirtualAssistantville!! Again! Love the name.

When you are overwhelmed you really owe it to yourself and your businesses to find a solution.

I have a demanding day job as do many folks here. MOST FOLKS HERE.

But I am unwilling, unable to give up my day job nor my passion which is writing.

I will be filling out the RFP -Thank you.

Tina Radcliffe said...

All of this really was an idea percolating in my mind for some time.

Years ago when Janet Evanovich visited our local Barnes & Noble I discovered she brought her adult dtr Alex with her. Alex is her VA.

Does her newsletters and her web page and all the techy stuff. Leaving Janet free to write.

Wonderful plan.

Tina Radcliffe said...

Okay, GK, it took me a few minutes to digest your question.

You're asking about the tax reporting part.

I would imagine you go online and find the print your own 1099 tax forms and fill it out. Send one to the VA and keep one for your taxes. They are contract positions.

Any other thoughts?

Missy Tippens said...

Cheryl and VA, thanks for dropping by! I'm thrilled to hear there are assistants specially trained to assist authors. Very cool!

Tina Radcliffe said...

Have fun all you conference goers. Just talked to Ruthy who is getting on the plane.

Woohooo!!!!!!! St. Louis here YOU Come.

Nancy Kimball said...

Can I outsource the day job???

Wait, that penguin just banged those symbols over my head too. Bummer.

I'd love a shot at the didn't make it to conference award... though I hear next year it's gonna be in my backyard. Yay!

Stephanie Queen Ludwig said...

Hi Tina!

Thanks for the advice on VAs. As an unpubbed writer still working on her first manuscript, I don't have a whole lot for a virtual assistant to do yet, but I like the idea for someday. I already have to schedule my writing time around my day job, time with hubby and other activities, and I don't even have kids yet! As my mother used to say, isn't that why you have kids, to do the chores parents don't want to do? :)

I'd love a copy of your book, so please include me in the drawing. And have fun, those of you at the ACFW conference. I'll be there next year ;)


Tina Radcliffe said...

You got it Steph, and thanks for visiting and saying hi!!

Sally Bradley said...

Mmmmmm, I like the way Vince thinks. Yes, if I could afford to pay someone to clean my house, I'd do that and happily do the other items.

I think the batching idea is a smart one; my problem is little kids still at home. They make doing any kind of batching--except cookie batches--next to impossible.


Joanne Sher said...

I don't have enough writing stuff to outsource - if I outsourced, I'd DEFINITELY do the cleaning thing (and i do NOT need to clean my house before someone comes in to clean it. Not even a LITTLE!).

Please enter me for both - I definitely qualify for the not going to ACFW conference (one quick pout), and I enjoyed Tina's first book.

Linnette R Mullin said...

All household chores!

Jan Drexler said...

Sally, I think multi-tasking is a necessity for mothers with small children! The luxury of batching (and having time to think) comes later.

Vince said...

Hi Tina:

I told you it was a male POV.

A man is not going to clean the house before the maid comes. He’s just going to pick up the big pieces. : )

Also the term ‘maid’ may not be the best. I meant a person who could do the dishes, laundry, sewing, ironing, watering the plants, light shopping, go to the post office and other things a wife normally might do (depending on the wife, of course.) I would, however, insist on doing all the outdoor work myself.

I knew that the word ‘supervise’ was going to cause a problem when I wrote it. (But it was late at night). I really meant something like this:

“You could be there in person at the start to watch and see that the job was being done right (not giving step-by-step instructions). If you got a bad cleaning person, then you could replace her quickly. The idea would be to get a self-directed, motivated, worker who would not need supervision. (You can see why I used 'supervise'.)

BTW: All you may have to judge a VA by are end results which might not be what you want and this might actually set you back.”

I read the ‘batching’ article and it’s not about living as a bachelor while the wife’s away. :(

I don’t particually like the ‘batching’ idea because if you have the skills and personality to organize and batchasize all your tasks, you probably don’t have a problem anyway.

I find that ‘clustering’ works well for me. That’s clustering tasks around a common set of resources. This way everything you need is always in reach and you’re not wasting time taking things out and putting them back again. (Think of cluster bombs which take out everything in the area – actually, don’t think about that.)

One last item: I don’t like the name “Virtual Assistant” because it's too much like “virtual food”. It’s a great sounding idea but it’s not actually there!


Patty Wysong said...

Sweet dream!!
I like the idea of a VA AND a maid.

Okay, so I dream big. LoL. I think knowing exactly what you're spending your time on is a good idea (one I need to do) and the bonus is seeing the time that's going for unnecessary things or time that's out of proportion.

Digging for Pearls said...

Love the dream.... :)

Jodie Wolfe

Anonymous said...

haha!~ on the batching, Vince. I love batching. I do all my errands during the week and none during my writing time. Saves gas and time.

I wouldn't think of saying yes to a committment on a Saturday or Sunday. It's programmed into me by now.

Tina Radcliffe

Anonymous said...

Try to keep in mind that TIME = MONEY.

You can have all the good intentions in the world. All the organizational skills there are..but we all get the same 24 hours. And except for going without sleep there are few ways around this..which is why a VA sounds so helpful.

Anonymous said...

oops that last one was by me.

Tina Radcliffe

Eva Maria Hamilton said...

A virtual assistant? Can't I just rope in family? Lol Much cheaper and they already know everything! :) Good luck in your search for one.

*lizzie starr said...

After a day when I could have used an assistant, real or virtual, (substitute help didn't show either!)I loved the dream. Having someone take care of those little chores would kinda feel like I've actually made a success of my writing.

A social media assistant would be glorious!

Tina Radcliffe said...

Social media assistant. Yes. I love that one Lizzie.

Someone to make it appear I know what I am doing. Or better yet, someone who will make it appear I am...SOCIAL.

The reality is most of us writers are really introverts. Sure we're bold with the internet between us and the world. But 90 percent of us are getting hives when we are on the way to a writer's conference.

Tina Radcliffe said...

Eva Maria, I am fortunate to have an IT husband who does much too much for me but there is still so much that an assistant can do.

I am serious here. I am budgeting for some help.

karenk said...

loved this posting...thanks for sharing :)

kmkuka at yahoo dot com

Vince said...

Hi Tina:

then the ‘COST of MONEY’
should not exceed
the ‘VALUE of TIME’.

Can any of the providers give us an estimate of the cost of services? Instead of saying that the cost depends on the services requested, please provide an hourly rate.

Everything depends on what these services cost. I’d sure like to get an idea of prices.


Anonymous said...

Vince, several of them do provide rates. Go check out the websites.

Tina :)

Edwina said...

Thanks for the info - defnitely will be checking out some of those sites while I'm NOT AT the conference this weekend! Or 'd be happy wth a copy of Oklahoma Reunion.

Pam Hillman said...

Hello from St. Louis! This place is crawling with ACFW members! lol

Registration opened 3 hours ago and now that people have on badges I'm not accosting strangers in the elevator asking them if they're here for the conference....

Or, worse, looking at someone I met 5 minutes ago and asking them their name again.

Met some of the nicest people!

Pam Hillman said...

I'm no expert on tax law, but according to current law, if you pay anyone over $600.00 a year for contract labor, you have them fill out a W9, and issue a 1099 for that year.

Pam Hillman said...

Read the batching article. I just bought my pomodoro timer last week. It arrived right before I left for conference, but when I get back home, I'm going to use it to get my writing time on track.

Jackie S. said...

Would love to win your book, Tina!
Thanks for the chance!

Tina Radcliffe said...

A W9. Will remember that! Thanks Pam.

Tina Radcliffe said...

You're in Jackie and Edwina.

Anonymous said...

Wow, Tina, thanks for the great links! As a writer, I definitely love the research and writing "paperwork," but not the filing and organizing. That and mail, packaging, organizing--those are the outsourcing I'd love to do, even if it only to my husband.

Thanks to you all for great information.

Mary Kay

Cindy W. said...

Great post. Unfortunately I need an assistant for just about everything. Never enough time in the day to do what I want to do because of doing the "I have to do list".

Smiles & Blessings,
Cindy W.


Jaimn said...

Oh my, things that I'd never thought of! Thanks for filling my head.

I would love to win you new book! Please add me too.

Thanks so much!

Patsy said...

Okay Helen, I really need that coffee this morning!

I love me some Love Inspired books!

I'm sure I'd have to clean my house before I let anyong clean it!

Tina Radcliffe said...

See, Patsy, understands how this works!!

Morning, Jaimn, you are in the drawing.

term paper writing service said...

very interesting! thanks!

Diana Dart said...

Love that Michael Hyatt post (and not just because I get to say "pomodoro" in an exotic accent).

A VA would be grand. Likely billing (for my freelancing) and basic file organization would be the first tasks dumped on, er, delegated to the VA.

One day it may be a reality. Thanks for the info.

Janet Kerr said...

Hello Tina,
Oh, yes. Time moves swiftly so that organization is key. Thanks for all the great suggestions.
And please enter me in the draws.

Jan K.

Alexander said...

Interesting post!! I really like this site, and hope you will write more, thanks for your information.