Monthly Archives: February 2018

Five Powerful Tools for Managing Your Business Finances!

When I first started out as a freelancer, I thought that financial management meant I had enough money in my pocket to go out for coffee during my break from work. Those were the days when I used an oven timer to track time spent on a task, scribbled the numbers on a sheet of paper, and then added them up with a calculator. I’d manually create an invoice through Microsoft Word, email it to my client, and then receive a cheque in the mail for my Virtual Assistant services.

I can’t say I’ve ever enjoyed the financial management part of freelancing. It’s not as exciting as the work I do for clients, and it gives me the same feeling I get when I have to wash the dishes or dust the living room. But it is vital and relevant to virtually every small business owner, and with the right tools, it can be streamlined and relatively painless (if, like me, you don’t enjoy math).

Since I’ve been watching a lot of Olympic sports lately, I couldn’t help drawing an analogy between them and our approach to financial management in our Virtual Assistant businesses.

My favorite event to watch is Snowboard Slopestyle. Although the snowboarders are required to follow a particular course with various terrain park features, they’re allowed to create their own strategy and tricks to reach the end of the course.

In the same way, certain parts of financial management are essential, but you’re free to choose which tools you’d like to use to fulfil those requirements. With that in mind, here are some elements you’ll want to include in your own financial management plan:

Time Tracking: Whether or not you charge an hourly rate, time tracking is still important to measure your efficiency when performing tasks. If you charge a package or project rate, you can see whether the price is accurately reflecting the amount of time spent on the work. After all, lost time equals lost money. Also, clients may request to see a timesheet even if you are charging a package or retainer fee.

Billing and Invoicing: As Virtual Assistants, we need an efficient way to record what clients owe us and a method of communicating that charge through a professional-looking invoice. Below, we’ll discuss some popular tools that can help you do this.

Payment Management: Along with invoicing, many tools allow you to record and receive payments. Some can even send reminders to your clients in late or non-payment situations.

Expense Tracking: As a freelancer, it’s important to track your own spending. Depending on your contract, these expenses are not usually passed on to clients. However, in some cases, a client may ask you to buy a specific type of software or book for your task and allow you to include that expense on your invoice to them.

Payroll: You may not need to address this feature, but it’s good to keep in mind in case you decide one day to scale your business and expand to a multi-VA agency. Tools exist that can give you this option in the future.

Tools for Billing and Invoicing

In a previous blog post,  we provided a time tracking software review of Toggl vs. MyHours. For the purposes of this blog post, we’ll take a look at few more top tools that focus mainly on billing and invoicing. Here are some great options you can choose from:

FreshBooks https://www.freshbooks.com/

I use FreshBooks in my own business, and it’s brought me a long way from the tedium of using oven timers and calculators. It offers three paid plans designed for 5, 50, or 500 clients and a 30-day free trial.

Some of the features available in all plans are

– Customizable professional invoicing

– Ability to accept credit card payments

– Easy time tracking and timesheet creation

– Ability to import expenses and include them on invoices

– Project collaboration and budgeting

– Financial reports including tax summaries that you can easily share with your accountant

– Mobile apps so you can enjoy our laptop lifestyle and invoice clients on the go

For an additional cost, team members can be added on as you scale your business. And FreshBooks can also be integrated with a number of apps, including payment apps like Stripe and PayPal, as well as Gusto’s payroll app. The Plus plan is the most popular – it allows you to send payment reminders automatically and charge late fees when invoices are overdue.

 

Harvest https://www.getharvest.com/

This tool offers one free plan and two paid plans based on the number of people and projects, so you can scale it as your business grows. A free 30-day trial is available if you’d like to try it out.

Harvest’s features include

– Time tracking and timesheet creation

– Automatic or free-form invoice creation

– Stripe and PayPal integration to receive payments online

– Automatic payment reminders

– Expense tracking by taking a photo of a receipt

– Ability to review and approve team members’ timesheets

– Comparison of team members’ hours and capacity

– Project reports

– Apps and extensions for browser, phone, and desktop

– Integrations with Project Management tools, Accounting tools, etc.

 

Xero https://www.xero.com

A great tool for small businesses with a global reach, Xero offers three paid plans with the first month free for any number of users. The Premium plan includes the ability to handle multiple currencies.

Here are some of Xero’s notable features:

– Customized online invoices

– Flexible online payment options including third party apps like PayPal and Stripe, as well as Apple Pay

– Ability to manage expenses, full or part cash refunds and credits

– Multiple layers of security to protect your data

– Ability to collaborate with your accountant and bookkeeper in real time from any location, while controlling their level of access to your information

– Mobile accounting app for iOS and Android

– And many more useful features!

 

QuickBooks https://quickbooks.intuit.com/

This tool’s website soothes us with the comforting phrase, “We don’t expect you to be an accounting expert.” QuickBooks has many options that can grow with your business needs, including three paid Small Business plans (for non-profits, corporations, partnerships, LLCs, sole proprietors, etc.) and one Freelancer plan (on the U.S. site). A 30-day free trial is available, and the Small Business plans offer add-ons like Enhanced or Full Service Payroll. The Plus plan also lets you track billable hours through TSheets, Google Calendar, or QuickBooks time tracking.

QuickBooks’ notable features include

– Income and expense tracking

– Custom invoicing

– Ability to accept online payments (credit cards and free bank transfers)

– Customized business reports

– Invoice status tracking and automated payment reminders

– Free mobile apps

– Integration with apps like PayPal and TSheets

 

Wave https://www.waveapps.com/

This tool is unique because its invoicing, accounting, and receipt scanning software are all free. To use its credit card processing and bank payment processing, you simply pay for each transaction. For payroll, you pay a monthly base fee, plus a fee per employee (available in Canada and the U.S.). The advantage of Wave is that payroll is built in as a feature of the software, rather than relying on third party apps.

Here are some of Wave’s useful features:

– Income and expense tracking to get you “ready for tax time”

– Easy software designed for non-accountants

– Advanced security

– Free customizable invoicing

– Free “Receipts by Wave” app lets you scan your receipts by photographing them

– Ability to invoice and accept payments in a foreign currency

– Recurring billing and automatic payment reminders

– Free iOS and Android app lets you send invoices on your mobile devices

– And many more features!

Preparing for Tax Time

A common thread I see while researching these tools is the necessity to be ready for tax time. If we can keep our financial information organized along the way, it’s ready for us when we need to compile it. I have to confess that while writing this blog post, I’ve realized I’m not as organized as I should be, so I’m looking forward to taking better advantage of my accounting software’s features.

Unless you’re knowledgeable about tax returns for self-employment, I highly recommend finding a good accountant to help you file your taxes. I’ve hired the same accountant every year for the past 17 years, and he’s taken a load off my mind by preparing and filing my tax returns virtually, no matter where I live. It’s well worth the cost and allows me to skate through tax time stress-free.

So remember, financial management is your own Olympic Snowboard Slopestyle event, where you get to choose what tools and tricks you want to use to navigate the course. Except rather than sliding downhill, you’ll be heading upwards as your Virtual Assistant business scales and grows.

What financial management tools or tips have helped you in your online business? Please let us know in the comments below!

[Video] How to Build Your Content Marketing Strategy in 2018

The great marketing guru Seth Godin once said, “Content Marketing is the ONLY Marketing left.”

In the past few years, Content Marketing has become a serious buzz word online and yet most of your clients would probably say that they don’t really have a clear “Content Strategy” in place for their business.

Recently, I hosted a Facebook Live event on “How to Build a Winning Content Marketing Strategy here in 2018” that I think could be of great benefit to your business (and your clients). I was joined by one of our VAClassroom trainers and mentors, Susan Weeks, who is a Prolific Podcaster and Content Marketing Strategist and knows a thing or two about Content Marketing!

Have a watch of the replay:

How to Build Your Confidence In Times of Doubt!

Who here wishes they could feel more confident about their business endeavors? Okay, I can’t see your hands up, but I know that mine is up. Not always… but sometimes I feel those little nagging doubts creep in.

Whether you are just starting out or have been in business for a while, it’s good to do an internal check to see where your mindset is at. Are you facing most days with a sense of confidence and an accurate view of your skills and abilities, or are you feeling down on yourself and holding back from opportunities because you think you aren’t good enough?

In a previous blog post titled “You’re Better Than You Think,”  VAClassroom Co-Founder Craig Cannings shares a powerful video where he talks about his own experience with self-doubt and some practical ways we can gain an accurate view of our skills and abilities. He discusses the following strategies:

– Avoid the negative self-talk.

– Make sure that you’re tracking your progress in your business.

– Enlist a mentor or join a mastermind group or a group of other Virtual Assistants.

– Take an inventory of all the skills and abilities that you’ve developed in the last year or that you’ve developed as a whole.

– Never stop learning.

After watching Craig’s video, I was immediately struck by the first strategy. In a way, it’s the strategy that drives the rest. How does our self-talk impact our confidence?

Lessons from The Sound of Music

As I was preparing to write this post, I couldn’t stop myself from humming the song “I Have Confidence” from the movie The Sound of Music (with music by Richard Rodgers and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II). At first, I tried to drown it out so I could concentrate on more businesslike applications of confidence, but then I realized Julie Andrews’ character is actually on her way to a new business venture as she’s singing this song.

In a nutshell, while studying to become a nun, her character, Maria, is sent from the abbey to the home of a retired naval officer to work as a governess to his seven children. Now, I don’t know about you, but I’d feel daunted by that type of client work too! Show me a challenging blog post topic any day, but seven children to look after?

In any case, my mind kept returning to the part of the song where Julie Andrews/Maria is singing in a strong voice, dancing purposefully down the road, energetically swinging her suitcase and guitar:

“I have confidence in sunshine,
I have confidence in rain.
I have confidence that spring will come again!
Besides what you see I have confidence in me.”

Those are the lyrics I was remembering. What I forgot was how this character achieved her confidence mindset. If you look at the whole song, it’s evident she doesn’t immediately feel confident, and she doesn’t maintain her confidence without revisiting her doubts and boosting herself up again.

So what does this mean for us? It’s a great illustration of how to develop and maintain our own confidence mindset.

1. Acknowledge Your Doubts.

While there are certain behaviors and body language that can help us exude confidence, it’s best not to look at confidence as a mask we use to hide our doubts and sweep them under the carpet. While we can certainly act and feel more confident, we need to acknowledge the source of our doubts so we can give them less power and move ahead.

At the beginning of the song, Julie Andrews sings,

“What will this day be like?
I wonder.
What will my future be?
I wonder.
It could be so exciting,
To be out in the world,
To be free!
My heart should be wildly rejoicing.
Oh, what’s the matter with me?
I’ve always longed for adventure,
To do the things I’ve never dared.
Now here I am facing adventure
Then why am I so scared?”

Can you relate to those feelings when starting your Virtual Assistant or Freelance business? The idea of freedom and flexibility is exhilarating, but it’s also a bit scary. Will clients want to work with me? Do I have enough skills? What if I fail and have to return to a regular 9-5 job?

So, the first step is to acknowledge your doubts and determine the source of any negative self-talk you are experiencing. As Craig mentions in his video, everyone can benefit from a good therapy session now and then, so if you feel you need to speak to a counselor or therapist, seek out a professional who can help.

I was bullied when I was younger, so I’ve had to learn to acknowledge that my negative self-talk is often a reaction to ways people have criticized me in the past. I also tend to minimize my accomplishments to be polite and avoid making others feel bad. In your life, you may have family members or friends who are skeptical of your new career move. Whatever the case, it helps to give voice to our doubts and determine whether the voices of others are affecting the way we speak to ourselves.

2. Decide What You Need.

In an article titled “6 Simple Ways You Can Build Self-Confidence and Succeed,” Murray Newlands suggests that establishing objectives can improve your confidence. He says, “Do not make goals that are overly broad, such as ‘I want to make a lot of money.’ Instead, aim toward something like ‘I want to add three new customers a month’ or ‘I want to see a rise in my search each week.’”

Establishing measurable objectives can help stop negative self-talk because it gives you a positive focus and purpose. Do you need to take a course to learn new skills or update existing ones? Do you need to join a mastermind group or find a mentor? Do you need to meet with the people you’re already connected with for encouragement and advice?

Track your business progress to see what you’ve already achieved and where you can encourage small steps towards growth. Avoid shaming yourself with thoughts of inadequacy; instead, tell yourself these goals are a healthy part of owning a business.

In The Sound of Music, Julie Andrews’ character has very little time to formulate goals since she’s already on the road, just steps away from her new job. But she manages to assess the situation and decide what she needs to focus on in those few seconds:

“Oh, I must stop these doubts,
All these worries.
If I don’t I just know I’ll turn back!
I must dream of the things I am seeking.
I am seeking the courage I lack.
The courage to serve them with reliance,
Face my mistakes without defiance.
Show them I’m worthy
And while I show them
I’ll show me!”

3. “Talk to yourself like you would to someone you love.” – Brené Brown

I came across this quote a couple years ago, and it’s stuck with me ever since. How many times have you done something clumsy and said without thinking, “Oh, I’m such an idiot!” Now turn it around, and think of saying the same thing to someone you love dearly.

It’s hard, isn’t it? Often, we’re much harsher with ourselves than we are with others. So, part of developing positive self-talk is talking to ourselves in a loving way. If it helps, imagine yourself saying the same thing to your loved one and edit the statement as needed.

We can see some examples of positive self-talk in Susan York Morris’ article, “What are the Benefits of Self-Talk?” 

Morris warns against getting caught in a cycle of “rumination” that involves replaying “upsetting or cringe-worthy thoughts or events over and over again in your head.” This type of thought process can make problems seem overwhelming.

In the example below, Morris illustrates negative self-talk followed by a positive alternative:

“What an idiot! I really screwed up that presentation. Well, that’s the end of my career.”

Alternative: “I can do better than that. I’ll prepare and rehearse more next time. Maybe I’ll get some public speaking training. That would be good for my career.”

Now, back to our movie heroine, and here she is putting positive self-talk into practice:

“So, let them bring on all their problems,
I’ll do better than my best.
I have confidence
They’ll put me to the test!
But I’ll make them see
I have confidence in me.”

4. Rinse and Repeat.

When I first pictured this scene from The Sound of Music, I forgot that the character doesn’t maintain her attitude of confidence throughout the entire song. Towards the end, just as she’s nearing the gate of the officer’s villa, her voice falters, and she stops singing. After a long, uncomfortable silence, she says, “Oh, help.” Then she determinedly opens the gate and resumes her positive self-talk, singing with a strong voice and marching forward with confident body language.

This example shows us that a confidence mindset may need some nurturing and effort to maintain. Don’t be alarmed if one day you manage some great positive self-talk and the next day stub your toe and say, “I’m such an idiot!” And don’t hesitate to stop for a moment and gather your strength so you can refocus on your goals. At some point you may need to go back and investigate the source of your doubts again, and that’s okay.

So, as you’re building your Virtual Assistant or Freelance business, be aware of your self-talk and take time for self-care and goal-setting. Consider choosing a quote or vision statement you can return to in moments of self-doubt. Hang it on your wall to reawaken your confidence whenever you need to.

And if it helps to choose a theme song for yourself, do so! Singing along with a powerful, motivating tune or just listening to it can often stop negative thoughts in their tracks and return you to a more positive mindset. I know I’ll be humming along with Julie Andrews for days to come. ☺

Now we’d love to hear from you! How do you boost your confidence when you’re running on empty and need some encouragement to carry on? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

And of course, I thought it would be appropriate to close this post with Julie Andrew’s herself… Enjoy!