Tag Archives: entrepreneurship

Happy Anniversary to me! 10 years in business today.

Wow, where has the last 10 years gone?  It seems like only yesterday that I walked through the doors of the Toronto Business Development Centre to apply for the Self Employment Assistance Program.  We were told to turn our phones off but Siobhan was expecting to give birth to Jaden any second so I refused and put mine on vibrate.  Two very important things happening at the same time!

Fast forward 6 weeks and I started the program.  It was a blur of information and on October 24th I graduated and The Virtual Alternative was born.  It was a very scary day but the TBDC took us out to lunch at a local Portuguese restaurant and Joe, not yet my husband, picked me up and whisked me off…somewhere,,, (funny the details we remember and the details we don’t).

There have been a lot of highs and lows since then…applied for my HST number at the end of 2005 – not bad going for 2 years in business – then suffered from a pretty bad low.  But here I am, 8 years after that, still going strong and loving being self-employed.

I have some terrific clients that I enjoy working with and every day is a new adventure.  Despite some days being at the computer at 5:45 a.m. and still at the computer past midnight, I would rather stick pins in my eyes than go back to working for someone else.  I’ve made some terrific friends, worked with some terrific colleagues and wouldn’t trade the last 10 years for anything.

So, to all my clients, friends and family, thank you for your support, it’s been a pleasure working and playing with you over the last 10 years and I look forward to another 10+.

Liz

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Customer Service par Excellence!

Some time ago, I blogged about an example of customer service that stood above the crowd:  when Jennifer of Oust-A-Mouse offered me a second unit, “on loan”, to help battle my cottage mouse problem.  Well, I am extremely happy to report that I have not seen any evidence of mice…no actual critters, no tell tale droppings, nothing.

And that, despite continuing to find new spots that we never cleaned in the first place.  Needless to say, those spots are being cleaned and bleached as they are found but still no new critters have made their way inside.

We even had renovations done to our fireplace hearth and the workman took the hearth out and left the inside wide open to the outside.  Still no critters!

Many years ago when I was newly in business, I had a client named Graham who gave me a fairly small job to do and for whatever reason, it just went wrong at every turn.  When I finally completed the tasks assigned, I was incredibly frustrated with myself that a fairly straightforward job had gone so awry.  I eventually handed Graham the finished job and never sent him an invoice.   Years later he came back to me with a $3500 project, which I was able to complete on time and on budget; a project I never would have seen had I billed him for the $100 job years earlier.

In the case of Oust-A-Mouse, it wasn’t that the product didn’t work, it was that I had so many mice, I needed two units to do the job properly.

In my opinion, anyone who stands as firmly behind a product as Jennifer does should be applauded and promoted.  In this day and age of disposable everything and an attitude of buyer beware, it’s truly refreshing to find a company like Oust-A-Mouse and an owner like Jennifer who offer an exceptional product and exceptional customer service.  I hope that at The Virtual Alternative we always strive to live up to Jennifer’s example.

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On our way to Fort Lauderdale…No Wait, Make that Montreal by Liz Saunders

 It has been a very interesting start to our vacation.  First thing this morning, I heard from daughter Siobhan – my computer would not connect to the internet.  This is a serious issue as she’s looking after The Virtual Alternative while I’m away.   I think it might stem from the fact that yesterday I had someone trying to help me with my internet connection and clearly he changed some setting or other.  He will remain nameless.

As today is B.C. plus 43, I managed to stay…well, relatively…calm and worked through how Siobhan could reach nameless (of course, his business card is at home on my desk).  So she’s taking care of that.  And he better show up or he will be named!

Then, husband dearest chose the wrong shuttle to take us to the airport, getting us there 2 minutes too late to catch our flight to Fort Lauderdale.  Who knew that they close off accepting luggage an HOUR before the flight?  Carry on luggage only from now on.

And of course, there was no room on any flight going to Florida – anywhere in Florida.  We asked about connecting flights in New York, Atlanta, Chicago…nope.

So, here we are, $150 poorer, sitting in the airport in Montreal where we have 1 (yes that’s right ONE) seat confirmed on a flight to Fort Lauderdale.  Thank god for free wifi!

There’s no doubt in my mind that without B.C. 43 days ago, I would not be handling this as well as I am.  So, thank you Witchy Woman for that.

I know that Siobhan will get the computer issue sorted out and in the meantime, I can check email as long as we’re on Canadian soil (which will be until about 3:45 p.m. today) and forward anything she needs to deal with directly to her.  So, The Virtual Alternative is taken care of – at least for today.

And husband is still alive to tell the tale.  Witchy Woman, I’ll tell him he owes you.

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An interesting month… by Liz Saunders

Where did the last month go?

Back at the beginning of September (I know, that was 2 months ago) I signed up a new virtual client, who was actually someone for whom I had worked as a subcontractor for a colleague, a few years ago.  Great fun, booking appointments, talking to lots of people on the phone; I am really enjoying this client.

In the meantime, another potential client has firmed up, their email is set up, I’m ready to go but haven’t heard what the client wants from me yet.  Hope they decide soon as in two weeks I’ll be winging my way to Florida and a Caribbean cruise.  Thank goodness I have my own assistant to leave the business with (I practice what I preach).

On top of that, the client for whom I do minutes of meetings has had one meeting a week since the beginning of September (I know, I know, that was 2 months ago).  So all in all, I’ve been very busy.

Almost too busy to notice what’s been happening since taking the B.C. (now that was a month ago – September 27th to be exact – although it feels like 2 months).  Since then, I’ve been writing blogs (as you’ve seen) but I have also kept notes on my calendar so that I can keep my naturopath up to date.  I guess I need to put them together for tomorrow’s appointment with my own personal  Witchy Woman.

Mostly things have been pretty good, although yesterday I was crazy itchy!  Overall, I do think there has been improvement in many areas though.

One other exciting thing that I did recently, I didn’t want to write about until I had heard from someone that she was aware it had happened.  Well, nothing has been heard, so I guess she’ll see it here too.

On my way to the Bala Cranberry Festival a couple of weeks ago, I stopped at a café in Bracebridge to pick something up.  Before I left, I said “when will she know?” and I was told “Oh, we’ll call her this afternoon”.  So I waited and waited and waited, patiently, for her phone to ring.  Nothing.  Then I waited for an email from her.  Nothing.  Well, I can’t wait any longer:  Wendie…Look what I own!

My first original Wendie Donabie!

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Can Political Correctness Actually be Dangerous?

A client of mine was recently approached, through her ticket desk (me), to speak at an event at St. Paul’s Church in Jarrow, UK.  The request allegedly came from Bishop Mark Jarrow.  I thought it odd so I did some research on the internet.  There is a St. Paul’s Church in Jarrow, UK (in fact, it’s the home of the Venerable Bede) and the local Bishop’s name is Mark Bryant aka Mark Jarrow.

This is where the political correctness comes in:  the language in the ticket and in subsequent emails wasn’t that of a native, English/British speaker.  My first reaction was scepticism but then I told myself, wait, maybe you’re being unnecessarily snobbish or prejudiced.  Britain is well known as a melting pot of many cultures – not all of whom speak English the way you or I do.  I remembered that at my Uncle’s funeral in a small town in northern Central Ontario, the Catholic priest was very Spanish.  Would he have been able to write an email in English that was completely grammatically correct?  Ditto a Catholic priest in a church in the Beaches area of Toronto a few years ago.   So, on with my political correctness hat and I let my client know about the ticket.

However, something never quite seemed right.  They sent a contract, which my client signed and returned (now they had her signature).  They needed her passport info, d.o.b. and full name to book her flight.  Then came the bombshell that she would need a work permit and would have to pay for it herself.

We both tried contacting the British Consulate here…they want $3.20 a minute to talk to a live human being.  After a tortuous search of the website we agreed to have the permit pulled in the UK – despite the fact that the British Consulate’s website said a Tier 5 permit would be 190GBP and the contact in Jarrow said it would be 430GBP.  I suggested they use part of the deposit they were going to send my client, but no…that was coming from a sponsor and not immediately available.  In any event, they said they were going to reimburse the cost so we were going to go ahead.

Still, something didn’t feel right at this point and when they asked me for the second time, when my client would like to travel, something clicked in me and, on my own time, I started really digging.  First I compared phone numbers and postal codes on the contract and the website (they were different).  Then I emailed the rector listed on the website and was put in touch with the real Bishop’s PA (who writes impeccable English).   Turns out it’s a scam that the local constabulary are well aware of but interestingly enough, the Toronto cops couldn’t care less about.

Thank goodness we figured out it was a scam before my client actually wired any money to them.  Oh, and for the record, my client looked up the IP addresses and they are in Nigeria.

So, when does political correctness become dangerous:  the minute we stop relying on our instinctive reactions and mask them with political correctness and the desire not to offend.

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Can you have too many friends? by Liz Saunders

In a recent blog I mentioned that we were late leaving for the cottage one weekend because of family.  Well, there was an interesting story that came out of that family incident.

We were expecting out-laws to come in for a wedding and stay with us overnight.  When I hadn’t heard from Jeff an hour and a half after their plane should have landed, I texted him saying “how was your flight?”  The response was “I think you might have the wrong number”.   And continued:

Me:  ?

Jeff:  who were you looking for?

Me:  you, of course…this is Liz…isn’t this Jeff?

Jeff:  This is Brian

This is Brian!

????  What?  Where’s Jeff?

Needless to say, I was very confused.  I know I had the right number but clearly it was no longer Jeff’s.

Eventually Jeff and Tina turned up and it turned out both had new cell numbers that I was unaware of.    So much for staying up to date!

But my conversations with Brian continued.   On the Saturday (the day we ended up in that terrible restaurant, Rombo’s) as we were driving north, I was thoroughly entertained texting with Brian and learning bits about him.  I discovered that he is a student at MUN, he likes Black Sabbath (I texted my daughter to get her to Google Black Sabbath for me which didn’t help.  When I finally Googled them and found that they had done War Pigs, I had an idea what we were talking about – who knew it was Ozzy?!), plays the bass, had a good summer job and is a fairly active individual.  I found out all of this while managing not to tell him that I am old enough to be his mother!

I admit to a certain amount of guilt at not telling him more about me but I was having such a good time, it was really stretching me to carry on this conversation and frankly, I was afraid he would run a mile.

Eventually, I did come clean about the fact that I am old enough to be his mother (a good thing that he knows, as I know he will read this story) and fully expected not to hear from him again.  But to my delight, not only did we continue to text, we are now also Facebook friends.

Didn’t you prefer it when you could talk to me directly?

There is so much talk about technology actually reducing the amount of time we interact with each other in a real time way but I feel that I’ve made a new friend in St. John’s and look forward to texting with him.  And in fact, the other day, I was messaging with Brian and a client needed to know something about the HST in Newfoundland.  I was able to tell him in an instant – faster than he was able to Google it; who knows, there could be more incidents like that in the future,  now I have a foot on the ground, so to speak

In the meantime, I have a new friend, can anyone have too many friends?  Now, should I tell him I’m a grandmother?

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A recent interview

Recently I was interviewed by Trudy Van Buskirk of Boomer Biz Builder about being a Virtual Assistant and how I got to where I am today.  It was a very interesting experience and I’m going to use it to do another “Interview” for Jim Pagiamtzis’ blog.

When I first decided to become a virtual assistant back in 2003, I applied for and got into the Self Employment Assistance Program (now called Self Employment Benefits Program, a government program then run by HRDC and now run by the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities, which assists budding entrepreneurs during their first year in business.  Included in the program is one year of mentorship by a Business Advisor.  Trudy was the Business Advisor assigned to me.  Although there were times when we butted heads over the direction I should take my business, Trudy competently steered me through the sometimes rough waters of early entrepreneurship.

So fast forward 9 years and Trudy asked me if I would be one of her interview subjects.  The interview itself was a very interesting experience, to say the least; the interview was held in a coffee shop, the Red Rocket Coffee, on the Danforth.  So aside from sitting within inches of another table, the occupants of which could hear everything we said, there was also all the attendant background noise of a busy coffee shop.  Although most of the interview is clear, at one point there must have been an influx of people, which I didn’t notice at the time, because the background noise almost takes over.

Thank goodness one of the things I’ve learned as a virtual assistant is to be prepared for anything, so I took my digital recorder with me and recorded the interview; good thing I did too as Trudy’s digital recorder didn’t work for some reason.  That’s me…just like a boy scout…always prepared.

In any event, you can hear the entire interview on Trudy’s blog at http://www.boomerbizbuilder.com/2012/05/14/meet-liz-saunders-mcmanus-a-virtual-assistant/

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