As many of the thousands upon millions of my great friends and distant admirers who know me will no doubt confirm, I am the last person in the world who likes to blow their own tuba.
In fact, I tend to care far more about the welfare of others than I do myself. In my house even the cat takes precedence and I don’t even like cats or indeed possess one.
However, people continually tell me I am possibly bordering genius as well as also being an extremely nice , genuine , popular, modest, humble and generous person. I only hope that one day you all will reach my levels of spiritual enlightenment.
As there has been a huge demand for this from the LinkedIn community (plus the known universe as a whole) and I feel that there is a large proportion of the population becoming anxious about when it will appear, worry no more folks , I thought I would finally put you all out of your misery.
Therefore, I am proud to announce that this is my typical daily morning routine, which I label 'My Breakfast Journey of Discovery' :-
I wake up at 3am and meditate by performing Vajrayana Tibetan Monk chants to the calming sounds of a semi-confused aardvark.
I don’t sleep in my bedroom, as I think this is one of worst person-made modern scourges of our society, did cavepeople have bedrooms - no they jolly well didn't. Instead, I use a purpose built tee pee made out of recycled quinoa and organic tapas fixed onto the top of my roof. So I doze off each night gazing into the stars and take further enrichment and motivation from the sheer beauty of the night skyline.
At 3:30am I bathe in freezing saltwater laced with Goji berries and a dash of camel dung. I have a period of mindfulness, and reflection - contemplating my day ahead using the rhymical style thought patterns of a traditional Mongolian goat herder psalm.
At 4am I perform a quick 15 mile run around my block before the sun rises, just to sufficiently loosen up my body and spiritual soul for the day (the world is so wonderful and glorious at this time in the morning, as am I). I plan to run a marathon a day on my hands for a full year in the summer in support of my very own cause, ‘Liam in Need Aid.’
I then stop off at the local rescue centre, where I adopt an orphaned animal and take it home with me. Hedgehogs especially are really tasty at this time of year.
When I return home, at around 5am I stick knitting needles into my lower abdomen and nether regions. I find that it gives me a sense and understanding of all the pain that there is in the world and encourages me to be pro-active in ending this diabolical suffering for good. Next lent I plan to chop off a finger each day and then once I finally run out of them maybe move onto my toes and possibly a couple of limbs, before surgically removing my organs one-by-one.
Breakfast is at 6am , I generally eat nothing but ethically sourced, locally produced and fully sustainable samphire infused organic gravel nowadays, washed down with Dandelion and Oolong tea. For purification and cleansing purposes it has twice been through the urinary system of a hog-nosed skunk. Sometimes, if I’m feeling especially naughty, I will treat myself to a cement frittata.
Whilst I’m preparing breakfast I like to listen to the worldly, selfless, spiritually intellectual quotes and wisdoms of the Dalai Lama , Nelson Mandela, Albert Einstein , Joe Wicks, Gemma Collins and suchlike playing in the background.
At 7am I post thoughtful, inspirational and morale boosting messages to my fanbase / subjects on my free* Facebook self-help / support group, wonderfully entitled ‘Liam Loves You So Much Guys’.
7:05am and It’s finally a bit of ‘me time’ , even I can’t be totally selfless 24/7. I’ve given up music, alcohol, television , books , computers, cinema, radio, board games, newspapers, magazines, sport, hobbies, phones, holidays, fun, Netflix, Ant and Dec and any other forms of entertainment, as I feel that they cause only toxic harm and pollute our society and corrupting the mind. This enables me to spend more time tirelessly working on my various zero carbon footprint, lactose free, organic, gluten tolerant, aloe vera infused, spaceman I always wanted you to go into space, man (intergalactic Christ) and vegan friendly charity foundations.
So, my main form of enjoyment comes from jumping up and down in my fully sustainable herb garden, whilst shouting ‘hallelujah and God bless all sentient beings’ on my lemongrass and fennel matt - which is shaped like the head of famed TV AM weather forecaster and fellow philanthropist Wincey Willis.
And that’s little old boring me and my dull morning ritual!
At 8am I feel perfectly prepared and ready to face whatever sky-blue out of the box thinking is required for maintaining my fully methane neutral Virtual Assistant business in conjunction with me possibly saving the world.
Extreme kudos to you all for reading.
Do you have any similar morning rituals to me? Feel free to comment below!
(* a £12.99 a month voluntary contribution is mandatory.)
Passion is a word that I don’t use lightly (along with Black Holes and Humpty Dumpty) but I believe that many (if not all) humans have a joyous enthusiasm for something, even if it’s just one solitary pleasure that floats their particular dinghy, above all others.
It’s a topic that is on their mind regularly, that they would much rather spend their time doing than anything else in an ideal world and if they don’t possess a small fiber of it, then life would mostly be a somewhat miserable affair. It’s that je ne sais quoi of human emotions, it makes your endorphins kick and scream out at you like a box of drunken amputee wombats.
Some passions I just don’t (and probably never will) understand. For instance Formula 1 (watching cars go around in a circle for several hours without hardly ever passing each other , where the guy with the much better / more expensive components (surprise , surprise) usually wins and is consequently declared the world champion.) That’s like (although, admittedly less dull) giving a sprinter a gold medal when he or she or they have been gifted a 50 metre head start on the rest of the field or is transported to the finish line on a magic carpet charged with unicorn dust. It’s mind bogglingly ridiculous, yet curiously accepted by Grand Prix aficionados.
Add to this list the unfathomable worship of commercialised ‘repeat same recipe and stir just a little, ad nauseam’ ‘artists’ like Sheeran and Adele (why would people be moved by formulaic, contrived elevator music?) and extreme sports such as bungee Jumping from the top of the Grand Canyon….not for me thanks, N-E-X-T… Neither of these (and many other things, including Horlicks) are my cup of Horlicks.
It does , however, just goes to show that one person’s Dempsey is another one’s Makepeace and life is most definitely a rich tapestry of disparate mindsets.
There are some of us who are lucky enough to indulge in their passion as a career (whether it be playing a musical instrument, chasing hurricanes or working in a museum – the possibilities are limitless) and to some extent that applies to me , as my own passion in life nicely combines my core strengths of analysis and problem solving with that of writing creatively. No , it’s not watching ‘Pointless’, it’s all things to do with horse racing.
I was introduced to the sport of kings from a very early age in the late 1970s, when all of the family used to sit around the tv on a Saturday afternoon watching the ITV 7 with Brough Scott and Lord Oaksey (eating our Hovis biscuits around the fire – kids these days don’t know they are born etc…). In fact, my Grandad used to put bets on for me at the bookies around the corner from our house at the age of 7, yep seven!
It’s less about gambling and winning money (although that is always a nice cherry on top of the trifle.) It intrigues me, because every race is a puzzle / mystery to solve in itself. I enjoy the many different factors that apply to each mystery (one of them being a no uncertain amount of luck!) but I don’t think people realise how much of an advantage you have over others if you ‘do your homework’ because if you do, considerable insight can be gained.
With the sacred Cheltenham Festival looming on the horizon as I write this, these 4 days are easily my favourites of the year. It’s an extravaganza – a celebration of all things equine and when the first race on the Tuesday afternoon commences, it encapsulates an atmosphere like no other – the famous ‘Cheltenham roar.’
In fact , as a generally grumpy old man, it’s really the only 4 days of the year I get anywhere near excited about (I sometimes even surpass my general 6 out of 10 ‘meh’ persona and have been known to even spring from the settee (and consequently pull a muscle in my back) a couple of times when things get particularly exciting) and the other 360-odd simply build up to this fantastic spectacle.
But, whatever your personal passion entails (unless of course it’s something evil such as torturing kittens or Mrs Brown’s Boys) try to indulge in it all you can, because the ancient proverb ‘life’s too short and it can sure be an arse sometimes’ can be applied today as much as it has ever been.
As we all start the 2022 section of our unique ‘game of life’ campaign, then it’s only natural to take stock of where we are on the board and also where we are aiming for!
Although usually I’m not one to ponder such matters (and I do hate the mass commercially enforced participation events such as 'Dry January' / 'Veganary' / 'Movember' / 'Wacaday' etc) , I thought that this time I would make an exception (new year, new me and all that jazz). It’s as well a worn term as a wet Weetabix, but the years (and decades..) do fly by and I figure now is as good enough point as any to pause for a few seconds in mindful contemplation.
2021 was particularly eventful for me in a number of ways. The ‘biggy’ being when I decided in the middle of it (almost…) to quit my office job and set myself up solely to my own devices. There were various reasons behind this decision , not least because I did feel that I was considerably under-appreciated (I’m not saying that my employers used to gouge my eyelids out with Kerr Plunk sticks and try to force feed me with Huel or anything , it was more a case of feeling rather taken for granted - just like Bagpuss sitting in a corner , and nobody noticing I was there, gathering dust.)
More importantly though, I felt I could achieve more satisfaction and challenge my own natural boundaries that had built up inside me during the last few years of stagnation and stability. It was now or never and if I didn’t try my luck and come out from under the warm comfort of the safety blanket, I may have encountered bitter regret further down the line.
The transition to self-employed has not been a smooth path (in fact at times it’s unrecognisable to any that I’ve trodden on before – one that has the ability to change it’s direction, texture and gradient at will... a composition equivalent to that of Manimal) but it’s a life-changing decision I’m still glad that I made.
‘Learn as you go’, has never been a more truer phrase, and I’ve felt like a new kid eating Crayola on my first day at school more times than I can remember. However, for all the ups and downs, I’ve met a lot of good people along the way who’ve provided me with some sound guidance and advice. There has been smatterings of bull s*** too, but you always take the rough with the tumble.
Anyway, the last year has seen me get off the ground and work with some really great clients who do appreciate me on a level that I’ve not experienced much of in recent times. That’s one good thing I can take on board and vow to spread the seed of Liam, assisting more business owners in the current year with my unique brilliance.
So then, if my first resolution is to build up my own business affairs and help more clients to achieve their goals - then my second resolution has to emanate from the inside , outwards. This may not be a particularly original concept for a new version of me, but I’m taking a solemn vow to cut down on alcohol consumption by 75% (or so) and commit time to doing substantially more exercise.
Just to be clear, I’ve never been someone who needs to start the day off with a Marlboro in one hand and a bottle of Smirnoff in the other, but I am partial to the odd glass / bottle of red wine. However, it doesn’t help with productivity (especially as I’ve grown older) and having a clearer mind more often than not should work wonders and help me to focus more. I should also add that I’m equally not ‘one of those’ who purchases an annual gym membership in January and then attends one and a half times in the first month never to be seen again (in fact I’m ‘that’ one who is whingeing about them when I struggle for a parking space or have to bloody queue up for the treadmill at the start of the year.)
I did used to run (well jog..) a lot more than I do now, but I’ve always been (albeit less frequently, recently) someone who does the odd 5k a week. I want to try increase this positive habit proportionally to the time I would normally waste buying / drinking and recovering from wine at the weekends.
Lastly (I’ve only done three, because if I try and make a squillion resolutions I’m less inclined to stick to any at all for more than a day or so) I want to be more social. Not particularly venturing out more, but attempting to make a concerted effort throughout 2022 to keep in touch with the people I know (even (and especially) if I don’t feel like it). The pandemic has possibly made me become a tad more distant with friends and family. To give you a gameshow analogy , what I want to do is take steps to get closer to the Chaser and casually catch up with others more than I am inclined to do now. It’s become easier and more excusable not to do this with my new way of working and factoring in the on and off Covid situation.
So there’s my 3 personal (achievable?) propositions – naturally I will let you all know how they are progressing.
Finally, I wish everyone a rather belated Happy 2022. Get yourself strapped in for the rollercoaster journey, (slightly) further towards the day of reckoning. Whatever happens, I have a feeling that this year will probably be one for the memory bank..
So here we are (again)…
It’s the time when Noddy Holder , Jona Lewie, Wizard etc have their well worn tunes playing on repeat in Argos (and suchlike) from towards the end of September and onwards.
It’s the time when people around us have spent the last few months deliberating on what ‘stuff’ to buy their loved ones (obviously not ‘stuff’ they require, otherwise they would own said ‘stuff’ already, invariably it gravitates to the all too predictable stockpiling of generic ‘smellies’ and socks or some money in an envelope)….
It’s the time when Ed Sheeran , Elton John and Ladbaby are poised to cause even more distress for the bewildered Covid hit households across the land, with an ear achingly cloying (and equally self gratifying) festive number one campaign - just when you thought it was safe to switch the radio on again. It makes me hark back fondly to a few years ago when X Factor monopolised the Christmas charts – at least you knew where you were with the syrupy sweet , massively over produced karaoke by numbers. Don't I know it's Christmas...
Anyway , I digress….
These are the ominous tell-tale signs that the illogical commercial juggernaut we label ‘Christmas’ is on it’s way, even without any geese getting fat (as were the initial clues in much simpler times.) And (just like a migraine) although you are aware it’s coming, there is absolutely nothing at all that you can do about the ensuing madness that will follow.
Having a reputation for being ‘au contraire’ on occasions, it won’t be a complete surprise to many people who know me when I say that I am very much a baa baa humbug whenever it comes to this topic.
Here, are the most frustrating aspects of Christmas for me, some of which you will no doubt be all too familiar with yourself :-
1. I am asked (many times) from November onwards if I’m ‘ready’ for Christmas. Although we try to make it sound as if there is an exciting adventure on the horizon lasting a fair few months (and I know it’s meant to run right up until the 6th January) , Christmas is essentially 3 days (although Boxing Day is slowly turning into the end of year sale day)). So , I still don’t know what I’m meant to be preparing for? It doesn’t make much sense. “Are you ready to spend loads of money you don't have on presents that nobody actually wants and stuff your face four times as much as usual, whilst trying desperately hard to pretend to enjoy the experience?” Yeah , definitely ready... and it gets harder every year. The huge build up and anticipation is never justified by the event itself (this is why Gareth Southgate should be labelled Mr Christmas, as his teams never live up to the expectation caused by the many months of media induced bluster and hype.) Then shortly down the line you are asked if you ‘had a good new year.’ To which I would reply “I don’t know , it’s only January 3rd , wait until at least November and then ask me again when I would have a far better idea.”
2. As the build up to the Christmas bells seem to commence earlier and earlier (largely due to consumerism being both encouraged and exploited by the major chains) it’s not unknown nowadays for people to put up their tree before the Halloween cobwebs have been removed from the windows. This makes me wonder where is this all going to eventually lead. Christmas in July? , Christmas in February? Starting to mention Christmas for next year before the present Christmas build up has finished? Who knows. My Grandad once said that runners are getting so fast and record times are being reduced accordingly, that one day athletes will be passing themselves on their way around the running track. I can easily see us starting to build up to various Christmases in the future. “So, are you ready for Christmas 2028?’ , ‘Well not yet, but I just have to get Uncle Jim’s 2026 present (an Old Spice soap on a rope gift set) and at least I’ll be ready for that one…’
3. You can guarantee that you will hear the phrase ‘it just doesn’t feel like Christmas this year’ or ‘It doesn’t feel Christmassy.’ from several people before and during the event itself. What Christmas is meant to ‘feel’ like, I haven’t got the foggiest yule log. Or do they mean that it’s not like it is in the movies or on advent calendars … again? It never feels like Christmas because feeling like Christmas is an imaginary concept. It’s a fictitious pastiche that has been manufactured by everyone’s glowing, tinsel tinted, frosted recollections of Christmas past. The current Christmas will never compare to the photoshopped picture perfect ideal of your childhood memories and beyond.
In fact , the reality never lives up to the adverts we see on television etc. Yet each year we are fooled / cajoled into thinking that it will… that this year will be different, via the medium of John Lewis, M&S and co. They show a romanticised view, a magical ‘Love Actually’ winter wonderland with everybody smiling and loving the hell out of one another. A perfect postcard vision that is so far off reality chalk and cheddar don’t enter the equation - it’s comparing Danny Dyer with Marlon Brando. We just end up feeling deflated and disappointed that once again it’s arrived and then it’s quickly dispensed with. It’s a squib damper than an octopuses’ laundry basket.
4. My next bug bear is thankfully slowly being phased out anyway. It’s people making big, cathartic public declaration stating that this year they are not sending out their usual Christmas cards, because they have decided to donate a tenner to Oxfam / Red Cross etc instead to highlight the plight of the many unfortunate people around the world. It’s done in the overblown style of the late Steve Jobs announcing a major technological breakthrough.
To these people I would say :- a) Nobody truly cares. We don’t set up a 24 hour vigil around our letterbox throughout December waiting patiently for your card, like a dog waiting for its owner to return home from work, ‘Oh no , where is it , where is Bob and Sheila’s signed offering wishing me season's greetings? I didn’t hear any public statement that there would be issues with it being delivered to me this year, my Christmas and my life will be ruined forever without that bit of corrugated paper…’ and b) The two things aren’t mutually exclusive. I’m sure that there are a plentiful supply of people who choose to give to charitable causes and have been known to distribute cards as well, but choose not to make a gushing statement about it on social media. It’s cheap and needless virtue signaling from people who need to think about perspective.
5. Kevin the Carrot. No more words.
6. Christmas television, specifically TV Christmas Specials. Now I don’t think they have ever been good. Although there are possible exceptions, I can’t think of many Christmas Specials that have surmounted to anything more than mediocrity. You would think that by using the terminology ‘special’ and the fact that it’s Christmas, additional effort would go into making these programmes , however I feel it leans more towards complacency and diminishing returns. “Oh f*** it, just put a couple of hour long Mrs Browns Boys on at peak time, (don’t worry about anything resembling a script.) and then a few films that everyone has seen at least twenty times around it. And finish with some more repeats , topped up with wall-to-wall Alex Scott, Emma Willis and Michael McIntyre.”
Anyway , to all who have managed to wade safely through this festive blog without becoming overly despondent, I would like to wish you all a very Merry Christmas. I hope that you have made your preparations early and if I don’t send you a card (as I haven't done since 1997, so it won't come as a great surprise) , it means that the money I haven't spent will be donated to a truly worthy cause – thus you can rest safe in the knowledge that your cardless suffering will have helped somebody in the world somewhere... probably.
I'm now off out to finish my Christmas shopping for 2030 and then binge on some Morecambe and Wise Christmas Specials...
Okay, so you’ve started up your business on your own (or with colleagues) , working your fingers to the bone. It has gradually got to the point where the mandatory administrational bits and bobs have become an uphill task, almost taking on a life of their own.
You accept that you may need some outside help if you want to fit eating, sleeping and maybe even a bit of family time into your life.
However, you are not yet at that stage where you are ready to employ an additional someone… So you have conducted a comprehensive SWOT analysis and a trusty Virtual Assistant (that you can call upon as and when suits) seems to be the solution to all of your problems.
But where do you start? There are hundreds upon squillions of budding VA’s out there , advertising a myriad of different skills and offerings , it’s easy to feel slightly overwhelmed. Furthermore, it’s so important to you that you have got to get this right as it’s your business, it's your pride and joy, it's your livelihood. In truth , there is no identikit 'sheep dip' formula for VA’s. Just like in real life , or in Cabbage Patch Kid World (showing my age), every VA is different.
Logic would dictate you to spend several days compiling a checklist of skills and experience that this special someone needs to possess (just like in the Weird Science film - showing my age - again) e.g. a) Must be able to arrange Zoom meetings, b) Expertise in X and Y packages are essential , z) Vast widget industry knowledge is a pre-requisite etc etc... However, caution should be taken when matching up your specific requirements to said potential VA, to calculate a total score out of 258…
It’s important to remember that you don’t hire a checklist or a computer program , you hire a person. To a large extent I would apply the same rule whenever you employ someone. I can think of countless times in my own career where a candidate has got the job because of their apparent varied technical skillset and experience fitting the precise criteria for the position like a Bradley Walsh on a gameshow. It has subsequently been backed up with a mind-blowing and inspirational interview. Sadly, it has (on occasions) only resulted in abject failure, simply because in the real world they weren’t the right kind of person for the job in hand, within that particular organisation.
I have 3 important factors to consider when delving into the VA transfer market :-
1. Does the VA have the aptitude and the attitude (the two ‘A’s)? They may not have 10 years experience in your industry processes, but do they relate to what you are trying to achieve, thus they can be up to speed very quickly, without much fuss on what’s required? Gut instinct is undervalued, but is an essential tool when choosing somebody who will represent your business.
2. Beware of any potential selection promising Harry Potter magic and fireworks for a tenner a day. As a (general) rule of thumb, you pay for what you get (Salt Bae may be an exception). Straightforwardness, honesty and integrity are king. If someone offers you the world and it’s lobster combined with, say, a doctorate in astrophysics (“I was the only person who could beat Brian Cox in my Astronomy classes end of week quantum mechanics quiz etc”) thrown in, alarm bells should surely ring. This may force you to conclude ‘this is probably and therefore is too good to be true.’
3. Finally, the most important point to consider. Above everything a VA should be trusted. They will exhibit the care (and the passion) about any task or project that they are performing for your beloved business, as much (or almost as much) as you do, so it’s carried out how it should be. It’s like any relationship – if there is no trust and care, it doesn’t matter how many thousands of software packages that they’ve had first hand experience of. You need to entrust this person to get on with matters which directly effect your business under minimum supervision and not lose sleep worrying about it.
I guarantee that the right person is out there for you, so you can 'get back' that precious time. It’s just a case of knowing which stone to turn.
Recently I made the rather bold decision to quit my job and venture out into the unknown territory of running my own business as a Virtual Assistant. You probably are well aware of this given you are a) reading my Blog, and also b) the Blog is on my VA website - another rather revealing clue.
You may or may not know that I live on my own (I do have my daughter with me every other weekend) and additionally that I’ve always liked my own company (although sometimes I disagree with myself, no I don’t), so going solo and working ‘virtual’ probably wouldn’t affect me as much as many others – I suppose I’m lucky in that sense.
Obviously, while the lockdown period certainly acclimatised me to not being in the physical presence of others, I was grateful enough in my previous office role to (mostly) work with nice people and we generally had a good camaraderie. This subsequently continued as we crossed over (during the pandemic) to collaborating virtually.
Working in a largely solitary environment brings a different challenge, as the daily banter with my team mates is no more (although , admittedly I was always the funniest anyway) , as there are no longer team mates to have any banter with. You can’t adequately compensate for the non-presence of humans. This becomes more pertinent given the fact that over a decade ago I went through some turmoil in my life, as I somehow (as if by magic) developed an anxiety disorder.
It’s an unwanted beast in your head , (in my mind it manifested itself as a mini James Corden, who had squatted in my brain to conduct a talk show, but the show consisted of him on his sofa, watching me from the inside and shouting at me in a high pitched, screaming voice. Making it hard to think about anything else) bringing you down at every opportunity. It exists seemingly independently of your own consciousness, which is probably a difficult thing to get your head around (literally)… It is you but it’s not you…, it’s a different you and living with it makes you feel exhausted, even if you haven’t done anything physically.
It wasn’t pre-empted and I didn’t invite it. I initially scratched my head and thought ‘what is this and where did you find it?’ Strangely, almost from nowhere and very quickly it just crept up on me from out of the shadows. Granted, it was during a period where I was in a long distance relationship and I changed jobs and also location - all very much at the same time. It was this triple whammy that finally caught up with the generally carefree me. ‘It’s your mind’s way of telling you that it’s had enough’ , I recall one of my friends (who had had first hand experience of depression) explaining to me at the time, I think he was right.
It became such a problem , that at its worst I was filled with so much dread that I was terrified at the prospect of leaving the house and suddenly trips to Tesco became an ordeal on par with an Indiana Jones mission (other supermarkets and swashbuckling action heroes are available). This fear has a snowball effect, because you don’t want people seeing your fear - so you try to mask it - which then makes you even more self-aware and induces yet more fear and enhances the prospect of a panic attack. Before you know it, this ‘thing’ has taken pole position in your life, effects every decision you make and it is truly difficult to contemplate how on earth you are going to carry on.
My logical mind looked for a path out of the complex maze that had been created and went through many different permutations to find a solution - but there weren’t any and each attempt ended up as a brick wall dead end. You think you are a bit screwed for life really. I certainly didn’t see much future other than the grim reality that everything (within days) had catastrophically changed forever.
Before this hit me I was a typical ‘pull yourself together’ kind of person , so it vastly changed me and my attitude towards others. I would take this up a notch to state that you can’t truly comprehend what someone is going through unless you have gone through it yourself.
So what did I do about it? It took me a fair while to do anything to be honest, but ultimately the answer is what a Brexiteer would deem as ‘taking back control’ of this unwanted invader that’s camped out inside your brain. To the age old fight or flight question I eventually chose to fight back with a two-pronged attack. I consulted my GP and then I forced myself to join a gym.
Everyone is different and patience/perseverance is required, but (for me) eventually the winning formula was a combination of CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) which assisted me greatly with the thought process itself and exercise which helped me to gradually fight the battle and come out on top. Although even today it’s not completely eradicated (and I’m sure it never will be) I have coping mechanisms when I know that it’s on it’s way, so it doesn’t take over my life like it used to do and I’ve restricted James to the odd small squeal now and then.
That being said, I’m very well aware that my new chosen career path does increase the risk of this occurring once more and consequently I will be extra vigilant to ensure that it doesn’t and be quick in recognising any signs to the contrary.
My experience has made me infinitely more empathetic to people who are experiencing mental struggles, there are solutions and mark my words, there is most definitely more than one way out of the maze.
What do you need to create a complete Virtual Assistant, many will ask (well I have asked, anyway)?
Just like having that special touch to rustle up a precise geometrically risen chocolate soufflé on Masterchef (one that would make Gregg Wallace drool even more than usual) what would be the secret ingredients to ensure that a fabulous, impeccably cooked virtual assistant comes out of the oven each and every time?
Well I have compiled these vital top 10 attributes (in no particular order) that you can combine , shake (and stir), it’s certainly not weird science!
People – A good VA enjoys working with and assisting people and puts them first and central to everything they do.
Empathy – Understands the needs and passions of the client and conversely the troubles , the pressures and stresses that they face. They fill in the ‘hole’ seamlessly. They learn to see the world from another person’s perspective. Empathy over time in turn builds trust.
Resilience – ‘Never show surprise , never lose your cool.’ Enjoys working under pressure and learns from any setbacks. Sees any problem as an opportunity to devise a suitably innovative solution. Stays calm in any given situation (even when others are floundering) making them far more productive.
Flexibility – Is able to bring a range of various diverse skills to the table , learn other skills and be available at any time of day either on a long term or a one-off basis – as and when required. Is both a jack and a master of trades. Needs to multi-task, plan and juggle many disparate things at once.
Ear for Listening – Doesn’t just hear the requirements for a task or project – listens to them and clarifies / adapts where and when necessary. Pays attention to every minute detail.
Customer Service is key and if any discerning VA fails to recognise this then they will struggle from the off. Any business is built first and foremost around the paying punter.
Talent – Hard work, pride and drive is a given, but this must also be accompanied with a sprinkle of extra bit of magical talent dust , making them stand out from the standard crowd whenever the wizzy gets busy.
Ingenuity - Thinks creatively on their feet, regularly ‘outside of the box’ and is able to go that extra mile… or marathon or even a snickers every once in a while.
One and Only – Offers something different and unique so that they are used repeatedly for their (a 'je ne sais quoi'). Quickly becomes a one stop shop for clients.
Niche – Possesses a niche that they have and not many others do. Something they ‘excel’ in maybe? (do you see what I did there??)
So there we have it, we have built that quintessential VA that can be compared to a good hair shampoo (not that Gregg would be able to sample any, unfortunately) , in that they will add volume, depth and shine to any business, with minimum fuss, just wash and go!
I’ve found during my time on this earth that the majority of people usually fall into two categories when it comes down to everything Excel – either they think they know a lot more about it than they actually do or they are just slightly terrified of it. Ironically there’s a probability that the scared are more equipped than the apparent spreadsheet wizards.
The first category remind me of some of the football pundits that you see on television, who earn a comfortable living coming out with generic soundbites in a convincing , authoritative way. You know the type, the ones that say things like ‘it’s important that the team get a good start’ , ‘what the team needs is an early goal’ and ‘he/she should have done better with that’… as if they are stating insight that is both unique and revolutionary.
For those that openly identify as ‘Excelaphobic’ , its more than likely the reason for your fear is that you are overcomplicating matters in your mind. For instance, although the package has over 500 functions (apparently) you don’t need to know exactly how each one works, you don’t need to be particularly technical and you don’t have to know instantly how to resolve every single problem or issue, like some kind of Carol Voderman-esque Countdown Conumdrum calculating machine.
I could only tell you about a handful of functions inside out and I consider myself perhaps more proficient than most. It’s evident though that when people ask me out of the blue about a specific Excel question for a ad-hoc , random piece of work they are looking at , they expect me to trot out an exact solution within seconds for them. It’s similar to quickly describing several pieces of different sized planks of wood over the phone and then expecting someone to be able to instantly know how to put your loft conversion together, because they are ‘good at DIY.’ Technically I wouldn’t even say that I was ‘good at Excel’, but that I’m good with logic and problem solving and I use Excel as a tool for this.
Primarily the most important thing (and is the first thing I ask any of my clients) is knowing your end game. What do you want to achieve from this particular project / task and from then on you can work backwards to find a solution. Knowing verbatim the function (or functions) and formulas that are required is secondary to knowing what you want to achieve. I suppose having a logical and open mind does help, but once I’ve established what we need to achieve I’m still discovering different variations of getting there even now, over 20 years on from my first ever ‘date’ with Excel (when I first saw her she looked soooo beautiful, made up with all of her charts, macros and shortcuts showing for all to see and admire). I typically experiment with a few ideas before deciding on which way to go.
You see, there is rarely ever one definitive way to do anything at all in Excel in the same way as there are many ways to peel an orange, (I was going to say to ‘skin a cat’ , but I know in this sensitive day and age you have to be extremely careful when choosing your historical proverb selection and some Cat Deeley fans somewhere will probably be offended.)
As I’ve been told many times, the best thing to do with fear is to face up to it (not sure how that would work out if you were face-to-face with a Dingo mind). So don’t be scared, open that spreadsheet up, embrace it, let it in to your life and learn to cherish each cell , conditional format and pivot table.
As the Kids of Degrassi Street once sang ‘hey, you got a new friend’ maybe...
In a nut-cell – top 7 tips to living in Excel harmony :-
For businesses, utilising a good Virtual Assistant is comparable to setting up an Alexa in your lounge , using a remote control to operate your tv for the first time or going back even further in history, having two pieces of flint handily lying around the cave storage cupboard in order to cook and unveil your first ever woolly mammoth stew to your hungry family members. You don’t realise how much you need them, until you have them and once you have them you wondered how you had coped without them.
I hark back to the time when my work colleague first brought my attention to this thing called Facebook , as your typical late adopter my first words were – ‘this will never catch on , not when we have Friends Reunited’. It’s taken me a good 15 years and plenty of self denial along the way to admit that for once in my life I was wrong. Now uploading copious amounts of pictures of my infamous Sunday roasts for the entire world to see (the Yorkshire puddings get better with every single juxtaposition) and admire has become second nature to me… I still have yet to succumb to Twitter though..
My own desire to assist people can be tracked right back to its Crackerjack origins. As a kid I spent my Friday evenings witnessing Ed ‘Stewpot’ Stewart overloading contestants with cabbages and Spirographs, balancing precariously on a small circular podium they couldn’t see (health and safety clearly wasn’t a high up on the priority list back then) and had the strong urge to give them a helping hand, but I wasn’t ever able to do so. Since that very young age I’ve been determined to redress the balance. Thus the career path I have followed has gradually brought me here, writing this blog.
The most precious commodity for any business owner is time. Think of a VA as the office equivalent of a DeLorean, in that it can magically give you back this time by doing the administrational tasks that you don’t need to do yourself – it’s outsourcing at its most straightforward and effective. It can ultimately shape the growth, productivity and direction of your business by enabling you to concentrate on the areas you want to and/or provide you with an improved work / life balance as there are less balls that you need to juggle.
Figures confirm that more and more businesses in the UK are catching on to the huge benefits that an effective VA can bring them. Flexibility, reduced costs, increased efficiency, specialist skills and powers of telekinesis (maybe the last one is a stretch of the imagination – literally…) are just some of the advantages.
I can provide you with that extra hand to keep the cabbage firmly away from that studio floor, and you can help finally rid me of my lifelong Crackerjack frustrations.
It’s a winner , winner, woolly mammoth for dinner...