SaaS for Micro VA Tasks? Ifttt is Here!

Oooohhhhh …. I am excited. And of course it has something to do with a tech breakthrough. Check out http://ifttt.com/recipes. Found out about them from Robert Scoble’s Twitter (@Scobleizer) and G+ update. You know all those silly, little things that hardly make sense but you just must do just because – like blog a YouTube video you like to WordPress, or make sure your Twitter and Facebook profile pics match, or save a backup of mobile uploads on your Facebook to your Dropbox, and a gazillion other things? Now you can do them in one easy step through ifttt.com. In Scoble’s words:

What does it do? It lets you write little macros in this syntax: “If This, Then That…”

So, if my profile picture on Facebook changes then also change it on Twitter. That kind of thing. Already has a ton of different pre-done ones, and you can add your own.

The service is free – you can read more about it here while I go drool over it a bit more.

How to Manage your Projects

So, you have entered the virtual workplace and are cursing me because I never told you anything about managing your projects. Now, firstly, I never told you to get greedy and take on more work than you could possibly handle, and secondly, I was waiting for you to ask me politely through a comment on my blog which you obviously didn’t and am sure never will since no one comments on any of the posts so I’ll tell you anyway – here we go …

Use Excel – dahlin’s – excel is your BFF … trust me. You want to keep track of your invoices, use Excel. You want to put all your projects in one place – use excel. Want to send professional looking invoices – use excel? You betchya! And, if you have a team you need to share everything with then just use Dropbox.

However, if you insist on having something a bit more fancy, then try a project management software. I won’t go into much details of what that means – follow the link to the Wikipedia article and you should be good. However, I’ll give you a few names and the ones that seems to work best.

Basecamp – You could say Basecamp is the most popular online project management tool. People swear by it. I have used it – not bad – you can add multiple projects, assign them to teammates, upload files to projects. Why I don’t like it is because of the vomit-worthy interface and also because it’s pricey. It was for me – $99/month = Rs. 8500/month.

Yammer – This is a serious competitor to Basecamp. Yammer offers everything Basecamp does and it’s FREE! Only catch – whereas BC allows customers and other stakeholders to be included in a project, Yammer only allows people with a @Yammer email address to access it. Sure you could give a @Yammer address to your clients but some clients just don’t like switching between various email addresses so it may cause a problem. But is great for inhouse project management.

Central Desktop – This looks prettier than both BC and Yammer but is lesser known. I kinda like the interface much better than the 2 mentioned above. It’s cleaner! However, cleaner doesn’t mean it’s easier to navigate. BC has that instinctive feel about it where you just know where everything is. With Central Desktop, you have to find your way around. It supports web meetings so you don’t have to pay for another service to manage that. The Basic package is free for small teams but obviously lacks some of the more advance features. Scores over Yammer in that it’s not limited to accounts with @CD email addresses.

Feng Office – Started using this just recently. How do I like it? Eh – it’s OK. Has the features of Basecamp, includes time tracking, and can be integrated into your website/server (sorry, may be using the wrong terms here – am not very techy). BUT – does not offer a free plan, is not user-friendly at all. Am still trying to find a way to send internal emails through it.

Asana – This is still in beta but has got Silicon Valley abuzz with excitement. Like it or hate it, they all know about it. I watched the demo and despite the fact it took me a lot of will power to watch it to the end (I think Justin Rosenstein is cute) it has got me excited. Again – probably because I think Justin is cute. :P No, seriously, because both him and Dustin Moskovitz come from big league companies (Dustin Facebook’s co-founder and Justin worked at Google) and built Asana ‘coz of the gaps they felt existed in all other management tools they used. Necessity is the mother of invention (ever since my 32nd b’day I been feeling a bit grandmother-ish) and this is something that came out of their frustration of all the options offered. Has everything Basecamp, Yammer, Central Desktop, Feng Office and a gazillion others offer and then some, and it’s FREE. Hopefully will be launched around end of this year and I’ll be able to give you a better evaluation.

Anyhoo – so now you know how to manage your projects – play around with the tools using their free trials and see which suits your business needs best. Until next time ……

Byeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

Some of you may not want to take a risk …

Some of you may not want to take a risk taking a dive into the virtual business full time. You may want to keep your full-time job while you find your footing around the VA market, see if it suits you. Well, firstly, it will suit you unless you are addicted to office flings and the thought of no dude in close proximity depresses you. Secondly, no need to worry. You can become a part-time VA and test the waters before deciding if it’s something you want to take up full-time. Let me show you how (obviously, it always has to be me!!):

  • Take on “projects” that have a definite end date to them rather than ongoing tasks. This way, you know how much needs to be done and by when so you can work at your own pace after office hours. You also don’t have to worry about being online all day long so you don’t miss a task from your client.
  • Be honest with your client and only offer to do tasks that you can complete while working full-time on your day job. If you plan to subcontract to other VAs, tell your client. Chances are, so long as she is getting what she wants for her money, she wouldn’t mind you getting someone else to do it.
  • Try nail a client who is on a different timezone. For example, I try and keep a balance between clients in the UK and the US. This gives me greater flexibility to be available at their timezones and for their work not to overlap. By the time my US clients wake up, I am already done with the ones in UK. Pure genius, eh? ;)
  • Get organized! If you want to take on more than one small time project you better keep a record of what project you have taken on, what are the hours you are dedicating to it. Use dear old Excel or if you would like to get a bit fancy, use Google Spreadsheets.
  • I keep stressing how important it is to keep a good communication with your client. If you are working part time it doesn’t have to be a problem. Use your lunch break or the time you spend at the coffee machine to send a quick note to your client informing of your progress, any queries you may have regarding the task, etc.
  • Keep the tasks you are doing for your client at hand at all times. Carry them on a flash drive, in your laptop, use DropBox. This is important because you never know when she might want something. This way you don’t have to suffer from a stroke and see a sad ending to your already miserable life. :P
  • Right from the beginning work out with your client the best times to reach her and how she likes to be contacted. This way you don’t loose time trying to reach her when she is shopping at Bloomingdales while you are toiling at her credit card bills. I already hate your fictitious client.
  • Do you use GMail? I advise you to create an email address on it. It has lots of cool tools that can make life easier. For example, it’s very important that you set aside a time for checking and responding to emails. Its important to stay focused at that time especially if you have multiple clients with very different tasks for you. The chances to go wrong are many. Trust me, I know. Google allows you to Label messages with certain keywords like the address of the client or the name of the project and differentiate them from the rest of the emails so you can easily find the ones you are looking for. This also helps you keep a track of how long it takes you every day on just emails form that particular client so if it adds up to a lot you can ask to be paid for that time.
  • Use voice mail when at work so if a client wants to reach you she’ll know you are busy, and you’ll also get an idea of what she wanted.
  • Do yourself a favor and check your end product before sending it to the client. As a VA you are supposed to be saving your client’s time. If you only add up to it by having her proofread and send back for corrections you are not much use to her.

Phew! That’s a lot to chew. I don’t mean to scare you. You’ll inevitably make mistakes – we all do. But it helps to know what to do to avoid them. So, best of luck.

Plus, my blog finally got a 100 hits. Yayyyy … happy day.

Byeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee