App of the Day
How I Work October 20, 2014

My Favorite Apps - Alexis Morgan - Superstar Virtual Assistant

Valkyrie VA (Virtual Assistant) helps businesses connect the dots. A Virtual Assistant is a hybrid of freelance creative worker, business partner, and outsourced human resources.Tackling anything from managing your appointments to coordinating your assets, a VA is often as flexible as you need them to be. 

Meet Alexis Morgan, Superstar Virtual Assistant.

Alexis Morgan - Virtual Assistant - Moblized

Find out how she started her business and what tools she uses everyday to manage her productivity and make a living out of assisting other entrepreneurs.

Listen to the Full Interview

What do you do at Valkyrie VA?

Obviously, I’m a virtual assistant! I provide solutions and help for small businesses and entrepreneurs, particularly creative entrepreneurs in terms of helping them organize their back-end, get smaller creative tasks done, all of that sort of thing. 

For a lot of my clients, I’m the first VA that they’ve ever worked with, so there’s a huge sense of relief in finally being able to hand over things and be like, “Here, I need these things done. Help me. Help me, please!”

What’s the first thing you’ve ever sold?

The very first thing that I ever really sold was jewelry. When I was learning how to make jewelry and I first started working with jewelry, I was using AutoCAD software, like Rhino AutoCAD, to mock-up pieces. In addition, I also used Photoshop a lot to touch up my drawings and samples for clients. It’s really different from what I’m doing with Valkyrie, but there’s a lot of overlap in terms of having a creative eye and sort of knowing how to reverse-engineer things.

Before Valkyrie, what did you do? Why the change?

When I was in high school, which should tell you how old I am, I had the opportunity to do independent science research at the local university. I was working at Florida Atlantic University with the Center for Autism and Related Disabilities, and I ended up, at the tender age of 16, doing a lot of work with children on the autism spectrum and their families. 

One of the things that I ended up doing, that wound up placing me internationally and winning me some accolades and all that good stuff, was that I replicated a study from Yale Medical School on the visual processing abilities of autistic children.

In addition to that, I also did a brief stint in IT support, which is always delightful. Trying to walk people through, “Have you tried turning it off and on again?” I have a soft spot in my heart for all of the IT and customer service people now, because I know how that goes.

What did you carry over from that experience?

From the Yale research position above, I ended up bringing a lot of my research skills to my current job. None of my clients will ever have blog posts that aren’t well-researched on my watch!

But really, I didn’t necessarily think about it until I decided to actually, formally start this business (as opposed to running it as a sort of occasional side-gig), but when I had to start setting up my own systems, and figure out how I wanted to do things, I realized how valuable having such a fairly varied background, even at my age, can be.

Is there a particular value or features that set your service apart?

I’d say what makes me different is largely the way I approach things -- the "how" of what I do as opposed to the "what". 

Another thing is that a lot of Virtual Assistants (VAs) tend to focus more on technical and administrative things. I’m more on the creative side, and then I also bring all of these other experiences to it, too. 

As a result, I work better with creative entrepreneurs who are struggling to put together systems for their businesses; I create ways of doing things that help them stay organized and keep their business on track, but also give them the flexibility and the space to be creative and to innovate the way that they do.

Who do you primarily work with and how are they unique?

As far as my people, a lot of my clients are copywriters, graphic designers, and I have a few holistic health coaches and health people. 

I tend to attract... I wouldn’t say the misfits, but the quirkier personalities.

Probably because I myself am very quirky, and if you read my copy on my website, it’s very quirky and kind of in your face a bit. I tend to work with people who are not so tech-adept and tend to be a little skittish around the technology.

We already talked about their struggle a bit:

  • Struggling with systems and staying organized
  • Wanting to still being flexible but allowing them room to be creative

Alexis' Favorite Apps

Alexis Morgan - Favorite Apps - Moblized

Now that we know more about that varied background and why it lets you rock the VA work, let’s dig in to the apps that make your business run. What tools do you use to run your business?

What is the platform your business or business’s site created on?

I use  Strikingly

I really love the designs that they have and the fact that it was just super straightforward. I didn’t need a full-throttle WordPress site, I just needed a really clean, simple page that was more than a landing page, but not quite the full shebang.

I have used Wordpress before for my own personal sites and whatnot in the past for other things that I’ve done, and I love it, but in this case, I just didn’t need the full meat and potatoes that Wordpress offers you in terms of setting up and managing a site.

Using  Strikingly instead of a WordPress site actually helped me get started faster, because initially I was a little resistant to doing this business full throttle (since I’d done it off and on as a side-gig). I wasn’t sure if anyone was going to be interested in hiring me, so the low barrier to entry with Strikingly and being able to throw up a site and just have it done was really helpful.

What do you use to market, advertise, and promote?

Almost all of my clients have been word-of-mouth, which it seems like it is really unusual in the day and age of social media. 

But when it comes to social media marketing, I use my normal personal Facebook profile and just put regular updates into  Buffer and Hootsuite for it, so that I don’t forget to promote my business. 

Set it and forget it!

What services do you use for customer support?

It’s kind of my dirty little secret that I use  Pinger to let me provide SMS and phone support to my clients. 

Incoming calls are free and the number lets me keep my personal info private and have a dedicated line for my business, without being chained to a computer or juggling two different phones. 

I use that for texting with my clients, and whenever my clients need to get ahold of me for phone support, they can call that number.

What do you use for internal productivity and communication?

I am crazy about the stuff that the cats at Google labs put out.

I use the Preview Pane add on, so all I have to do is quickly click through all of my emails and I just see a preview of it. That way, I know if it can be answered later or if it needs to be answered now. 

I use  SndLatr (which is free while in beta right now) and it has snippets, as well as scheduled emails, which I love, so I can compose emails quicker and schedule things for myself and for my clients. 

One of my clients also has  Boomerang, which is really great and similar to SndLatr. I think everybody pretty much knows canned responses from Google apps. And also, filtering and whatnot, because inbox organization is good.

For appointments and project management (including client tasks), I use a combination of  Todoist and Asana

I do both my personal and my client task management in Asana. I put everything, all of the tasks my clients submit to me at the beginning of each week, into Asana under each client’s project. 

I also use  ToDoist to integrate with Gmail. I’m horrible at using calendars for some reason, but I put my appointments into ToDoist, and I can do it from inside Gmail. So I get a reminder three days or an hour or whatever, before the event, on my phone. Sometimes I also use Todoist for personal tasks.

I also use  Basecamp with one of my clients.

I’m kind of a freak about making sure that my inbox stays as clean as possible, and I wanted to set up my client workflows to support that. I made a promise to myself that if I was going to do this business whole hog, I’d be as organized as humanly possible. 

Because if you have eight clients, and you have to keep track of eight people’s different stuff all over the place, organization is necessary for survival.

That said, I have a trigger set up in  IFTTT so that when they fill out their client intake form, their email gets added into my client mailing list in MailChimp. Then they get the weekly reminders on Thursday and Saturday to submit their tasks for the next week. When they click the link in the reminder, it takes them to a Google form, so they can put in and prioritize their tasks for the week. 

I get that information in an email, and then I put it into  Asana. That way, I have a chance to review them and I can email them and ask for any attachments I need or anything.

During the week, if they have other things that they need me to do, they can email me. Each of my clients also has a Google Drive folder set up with my business email. Our client contract is in there, their invoices are in there, any sort of documentation that I need or that they need, everything goes in that folder and it stays in that folder, so I don’t lose anything. But they can also upload notes to me over there, too. So it’s not just email, they can use that to get documents or information to me as well.

Are there other software, gadgets, or hacks that you use?

For payment processing and invoicing, I use  Wave and Stripe

International clients have the option of using Paypal, but I much prefer  Stripe; their customer service is excellent. Every time I’ve had a hiccup or a glitch, they’re always super-nice, super-organized, and quick to respond. 

I was using  Harvest for awhile, and it’s a great app, but it had too many features that I wasn’t using, so I switched to Wave. Harvest does integrate with Asana, so if / when my business gets to the point where I need all of those features, I will definitely use Harvest.

I also use  Toggl for time-tracking, not really for the client-side of things but so that I know where I’m spending time in my own business, so that I can trim that down if needed.

Pretty much the only other app I use on the admin side of things is  PandaDoc, which is for getting contracts signed. It integrates with Drive, so all I have to do is go put together my documents in Google Drive as a Google Doc, and it imports it. I just have to drag and drop the various signatures and whatnot. It’s great, and I love it, because then I can organize all of my contracts within it, too. They have a pay-as-you-go option, which is great. I love it.

For creating images to go along with blog posts or social media updates, I use  Pixlr from Autodesk. I also love PicMonkey, which is fairly cheap for the paid version. I use Canva and I love the people at Canva, but I’ve had some problems with bugginess (things not saving properly, etc.). But when it works, it works beautifully, and it’s really easy to use in terms of putting together templates for PDF pages and things like that.

Are there any types of software that you’ve really wanted but couldn’t find for your business? 

I wish there was a timer that automatically turned itself off and on based on what you were doing and whether you were still on the task at hand or had finished it and gone on to the next things. That might sound strange, but that’s really my only wishlist software-wise.

[Note:  RescueTime doesn’t quite do that, but it’s a similar concept, if you’re looking for something similar.]

On that same note, if I could have one thing automated, it’d definitely be timesheets. Sometimes I have to manually adjust my timesheets, because I forget a timer is still running, but I’m usually pretty good about paying attention while I’m doing the task itself and know what the accurate measure is. I can be a little bit forgetful about turning on/off the timer when I get in my flow.

Do you have any tips for business owners to help stay productive and organized?

My big tips are:

1. Automate

Whatever you can automate, automate. That’s kind of a given.

2. Review your processes

I try to review my processes about every 3-6 months to see if I can make any little tweaks, but make sure that you’re really taking the time to sit down and think about the steps and go through your own processes. 

3. Try out your own intake / onboarding

If you have intake forms or some kind of intake process for your clients, go through those yourself, because if you understand what your client is going through, you can tweak it to make it easier on both of you.

And of course, not to be forgotten, Google Drive is your friend.

Trends and Advice

Alexis Morgan - Business Wisdom - Moblized

Alexis clearly has the apps side of her business down! Sounds like she's running a well-oiled machine at Valkyrie! I asked her to step back from her business and into the industry at large; 

We moved on to some challenges and trends...

What are some trends to watch for over the next year?

1. Social Media Outsourcing

As far as VA work goes, I think the thing likely to shift the industry the most would be changes in social media (because that’s the main thing that gets tasked out, to prevent the Facebook timesuck).

2. All-in-One Solutions

Another big change I see is products like  17Hats, that are much more all-in-one. I’m watching that very carefully as they work out the kinks and the bugs, because I think a lot of small business owners are going to hop on that bandwagon, and I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a need for people who know how to work that backend.

I think there’s definitely a trend of all-in-one apps and of apps integrating even more than they already do, because my clients are asking me about changing things up in their tech backend, because they’re tired of keeping track of fifteen billion different accounts that do fifteen billion different things. 

While I can understand that perspective, I personally like to have things separate, because generally I think apps should focus on doing one or two, maybe three things, really well. 

As a VA, it makes me nervous when I see an app trying to spread itself too thin, because I want tech that works well first. When you get into sort of the more spread out functions and whatnot, sometimes, they don’t do anything as well as they could if they were just standalone apps.

The other thing about all-in-one solutions is security; if you have your invoicing and your payment processing under the same roof as client relationship management, it creates other issues, both with security and with delegating. 

I tell my clients, “I will not do financial tasks for you,” unless I have multiple statements that are notarized from a lawyer specifically stating exactly what I’m doing. 

My concern for my clients is that if their account gets compromised, then their financial information is also possibly at risk of being exposed. For me, from a security angle, I’m like, “No, let’s not have all the sensitive things under one roof.”

If you could go back to before Valkyrie VA and give yourself business advice, what would it be?

Three things:

1. Your gut instincts are worth their weight in gold -- act on it.

2. Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good, but don’t let that be an excuse for not aiming for excellence.

3. The should isn’t real. The could is, though.

What are your top three pieces of advice for service-based business owners?

1. Prioritize your health and well-being

2. Have impeccable boundaries with everyone

3. Hire help -- including a VA -- as soon as possible and as frequently as possible. Skillful delegation and developing as a team leader will always yield a solid ROI.

Mentioned Apps

Software Name What it's For
Strikingly Website Creation
Social Media Scheduling
Social Media Scheduling / Feeds
Google Drive / Apps / Gmail File Management, Creation, and Email
Email Scheduling / Reminders
Free SMS / Phone Communication
Email Scheduling / Templating
Task Management / To-Dos
Task Management / To-Dos
Time-Tracking / Time Sheets / Billing
Accounting / Payroll
Mailing Lists / Email Marketing
Cloud Integrations / Automation
Task & File Management / To-Dos
Photo Editing
Image Creation / Templating
Photo Editing
Payment Gateway
Paypal Payment Gateway / Recurring Billing
Document Signing / Verification
Time Management Software
Time Tracking Software
Solo-Preneur Business Management Apps
comments powered by Disqus