Project Management Tools

In this day and age, business owners are handling more than ever, multitasking and wearing a variety of hats. Project Management tools are available to help you and your staff access, utilize, and control projects either from a single user perspective or more intricate programs that allow for collaborative projects. They can be used to oversee everything from a simple marketing or sales plan to an elaborate construction project. These tools allow for scheduling, coordination, tracking issues and bugs, specified task lists, calendars, and messaging between staff and management, all in one meeting place accessible from anywhere in the world.

Businesses have long used integrated software for project management, such as Microsoft Office, a suite of programs each designated for one aspect of a project, including presentations in Powerpoint, spreadsheets in Excel, documents and mailings in Word, and email through Outlook. Another option is Google Docs – a free, online based office suite that allows users to create documents, collaborate with other users, and store data online.

There are also online and downloadable software options, some free with payable upgrades when you’re ready. These programs make project management far more seamless, typically with a simple setup process:

Trello
Podlio
Basecamp
Teamlab
Ace Project
Zoho Project
Huddle

See Office Solutions ME’s Business Resource Library page for more tools to help your business thrive today!

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Get what you pay for?

I recently asked the question on LinkedIn, “Why wouldn’t you hire a Virtual Assistant?”

BusinessWhile a few of the answers were typical, there was one comment that really stood out. Maria Marsala provided the following comment;

“Some don’t take themselves seriously as a business owner. They need to create contracts, etc. 
I didn’t hire a VA once because her prices were way too low. Since I didn’t know her work, I didn’t know if she was just broke and needed the money or unskilled.”

I found this interesting and the more I thought about it, the more I realized how much this statement  and the reality of price actually encompasses.

Think about it, if you are truly running a Virtual Assistant business, then you would be concerned with security (a major focus), reputation, customer service, continuing education (a huge differentiation), proper accounting, confidentiality (another major concern), legal protection, and efficiency.

In comparison, if you are just trying to make a few extra bucks on the side, then you really only care about income and keeping your overhead as low as possible, usually at the expense of building the necessary infrastructure to support and sustain the needs of your customers.

This all comes back to the issue of cost. Someone who is truly running a Virtual Assisting business, and investing both the time and money necessary to ensure the quality and security that their clients can depend on, will generally have to charge a higher price in order to remain in business. Here’s a post about what qualities to look for in a Virtual Assistant.

The next time you are considering outsourcing, think twice before you hire the cheapest person you find, after all it’s often true that “you get what you pay for”.

A rather simple example that comes to mind for me is travel coffee mugs. I bought a travel mug for $5 at a major retailer; it seemed like a good mug, at a great price. However, it didn’t fit in any of the cup holders in my car. I went back and bought a different mug for about the same price. This one didn’t hold a full cup of coffee without leaking. I bought a third, this one didn’t keep my coffee hot for more than 30 minutes. Finally, I broke down and bought a $20 mug from Starbucks. It’s perfect, holds a full medium coffee, without spilling, fits in all of my cup holders, and keeps it hot for hours. Had I done this to begin with, I would have saved $15 and a lot of space in my cabinet. Lesson learned.

QuestionsDo you have an example of how paying more actually saved you money in the long run?

Check out this post for ideas on how a Virtual Assistant might be able to help you in your business.

Still have questions? Contact Us!

5 Outlook Email Tips


Outlook is a widely used Microsoft Office program, however many people could still use some tips and tricks. Here are a few of my commonly used tactics for using Outlook more efficiently and effectively for email;

Email Flags

1. Flags – Flag important emails to come back and read them later.

How to – Click on the ‘flag’ symbol all the way to the right of the email

2. Sorting – Sort emails by sender or subject to quickly find a lost message.

Email Sorting

How to – Click the header that you would like to sort by.

3. Folders – Use folders to organize emails of similar topics. This helps keep important information together.

How to – Right-click over the ‘Inbox’ icon to the left, Click New Folder

Email Folders4. Drafts – Create and save drafts of commonly sent emails to easily use and resend regularly.

How to – After creating and formatting your email, click the Save button. Now a copy of this message is in the ‘Drafts’ folder. To reuse the content, copy and paste it to a new email.

5. Signature – Create a professional signature to include at the bottom of all emails

Email SignatureHow to – From your Inbox, Go to Tools, Click Options, Click the Mail Format Tab, Click the Signatures button at the bottom. Then, click new to create a new signature file.

For more help with using Outlook or general email, please contact Office Solutions ME!

How can a Virtual Assistant help thee? Let me count the ways…

Get an Assistant!Want to know how a Virtual Assistant could help your business? Here are a few ideas to consider;

  1. Software & Program Set-up – A virtual assistant can set up your social media profiles (i.e. Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, YouTube, etc…), newsletter templates, contact management imports, Blog widgets and applications, and more.
  2. Small Event Planning and Execution – A virtual assistant can advertise your event, book an appropriate location, collect RSVPS, send out event reminders, help prepare and format your presentation, compile survey results, follow-up with attendees, and in some cases even show up with the refreshments.
  3. Print Mail Campaigns – A virtual assistant can create and format your mailing list, create a mail merge file, prepare (stamp, stuff, and seal) the envelopes, and send your mailing for you.
  4. Data Input – A virtual assistant can input contact information, type meeting minutes,
  5. Research – A virtual assistant can perform internet research for you, such as; a competitor analysis, mailing list creation, market research, report research, and more.
  6. Word Processing – A virtual assistant can assist with editing and creating documents
  7. PowerPoint Presentations – A virtual assistant can format PowerPoint presentations for a branded professional look, ensuring appropriate font and transitions for viewers.
  8. Webinars – A virtual assistant can help with the set up and facilitation of webinars, including event promotions and reminders, performing the speaker introduction, assisting in facilitating a question and answer portion, dictating the Q&A, acting as a narrator during the presentation, and following up with attendees.
  9. Spreadsheets – a virtual assistant can create and format spreadsheets for sales tracking, inventory control, schedules, budgets, cost estimates, and much more!
  10. Customer and Prospect Communication – a virtual assistant can assist with reaching out to prospects, sending birthday wishes, sending holiday greetings, sending and receiving surveys, routine customer follow-up, preparing and sending collections notices, and more.

Get a Virtual Assistant!While we couldn’t possibly list all the services that a virtual assistant could provide, however these should get you thinking… about how a virtual assistant could make your life easier!

For more information on virtual assisting and for a free consultation to see how a virtual assistant can help you and your business, contact Office Solutions ME Today!

App of the Month – Drop Box

Our Application of the Month is Drop Box.Drop Box

Drop Box – The Drop Box application allows you to easily and efficiently share files on multiple computers, mobile devices (such as smart phones and tablets), and via a web-based system. When files are added to Drop Box, they become instantly available in all locations where the app has been downloaded, and via the Drop Box website. Files can also be shared with others, even if they do not have a Drop Box account. This is a great tool for efficiency, collaboration, and productivity! Perfect for virtual professionals!

Cost: Free

For more information on Drop Box, feel free to contact Office Solutions ME!

Mail Merge 101 – Easy!

A Mail Merge is a way to create a document once and then easily recreate the document with alternate information in specified locations. For example, the most commons use of a Mail Marge is a letter that is being sent to multiple recipients. The contents or body of the letter is the same for everyone; however the recipient information needs to be customized for each letter. 

A mail merge allows you to create a letter for 500 recipients as easily (or easier) than you could create one for 5 recipients.

  1. Create the letter that you intend to use in Microsoft Word
  2. Create a spreadsheet that contains all the information that needs to be substituted.
    For example; First Name, Last Name, Company, Address, etc…It may look something like this –

    Suffix FName LName Company Street City State Zip
    Ms. Jane Smith ABC Corp 123 C St Portland ME 04101
    Mr. John Smith 123 Inc 456 N St Portland ME 04101

    Hints: All column headings should be a single word, The ‘Zip’ column may need to be specially formatted if the zip codes you are using start with ‘0’. This can be done under the cell formatting options, Remember the name and location of the spreadsheet when you save it

  3. With your letter open and your spreadsheet closed, navigate to the ‘Mailings’ tab (5th from the left) at the top of Microsoft Word toolbar (or Ribbon).
    Choose the ‘Select Recipients’ option (4th from the left)
    Choose ‘Use Existing List…’ (Second option). This will open another windowMail Merge Select Existing Source
  4. Navigate to the location where you stored your spreadsheet
    Select your saved spreadsheet, Click ‘Open’
    Mail Merge Choose Database
  5. This will give you a list of the sheets available in that file, generally yours will be ‘Sheet 1’ unless you named it otherwise
    Mail Merge Select sheet
  6. You now have some additional options available to you on the ‘Mailing’ tab on the top of the page
    One of the new options is ‘Insert Merge Field’ this should give you a list of all of the column headings in your spreadsheet.
    Mail Merge Insert Fields
  7. Now you can insert the desired fields from your spreadsheet into your letter template by clicking on them

    Here is an example;

    Hi «Fname»,
    I hope business is going well at «Company»!

    Hint: Any blank fields in your spreadsheet will be skipped in your letter

  8. Once you are done adding your merge fields, you can ‘preview results’ or ‘Finish & Merge’
    Both options are also found on the ‘Mailings’ tab toward the right side of the menu

Hopefully this quick Mail Merge 101 tutorial helps you become more efficient and effective!

For more help with your mailings or any other word processing and administrative functions, contact Office Solutions ME!

5 Characteristics of GREAT Clients!

We generally work with small business owners in Maine, Companies with 1-15 employees that need a little more help or some specific expertise. We provide administrative help and expertise with no overhead costs, no employment costs, no benefit expenses, no HR headaches, and for as little as 2 hours per month.

So, what makes our clients GREAT? Here are a few things that come to mind;

  1. They trust us – Our clients have welcomed me as a part of their company, a virtual partner in helping them succeed.
  2. They value us – Our clients often call us about new projects or ideas. They use us as both a partner and a consultant. As a part of their virtual team, they see us as a resource.
  3. They don’t micro manage – Our clients understand that we are running a business, in the same way that they are. We negotiate terms, use technology, and time frames that allow us all to be efficient.
  4. They are open-minded – Many of our clients need help in an area that they are unfamiliar with. So, our tasks often include; educating, locating deficiencies, and helping to implementing new ideas.
  5. They pay us (Seriously!) Our clients have been diligent in paying us in full and on time, some are even on pre-payment schedules.

And, how do we get GREAT clients?

  1. We’re honest – We start every relationship with a contract of expectations and we stick to them. If for any reason these must be changed, we always notify our clients prior to the change and get their approval.
  2. We’re valuable – We take the time to learn our clients business and how they operate. Then we apply our own expertise and education to the needs that they have.
  3. We’re efficient – We use time and technology to deliver on or before negotiated time frames.
  4. We’re creative – We enjoy bringing new ideas and concepts to their projects and goals.
  5. We’re economical – We help our clients save time and money! We don’t use their resources and we only help when they need us!

Feel free to share your best client characteristics and what you look for! And if you think we could help you and your business, feel free to contact us!