Tag Archives: Virtual Assistance

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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I’ve been instructed to be creative!

Where has the month gone?  I can’t believe I actually managed to type a blog back on January 5th, what with my hand still being really sore from surgery but I guess being pissed off helped.  Thanks to Witchy and some homeopathic remedies, I’m healing well and will be back into the blogging chair soon.

Since then, I’ve had a blog running around in my head about a company that displays customer service that is the antithesis of my recent bad experience with Pizza Pizza but have not written it yet as I’m trying not to strain my wrist more than I have to.

However, I saw my dear friend Witchy yesterday and my new instructions (aside from increase this dosage, keep doing the other, rub castor oil on your arm, etc.) include:  stop for a bit every day and either call a friend, write a blog or do something creative …well, I guess writing a blog can be creative but she meant draw a picture or do something artsy.

Well, I would love to pick up a pencil or piece of charcoal or conte and do just that, butluc studio-Entrance-150x150 I am intimidated.  I don’t have a problem using a pencil to try to draw an image of a person, but that’s not what Witchy wants.  She wants me to be expressive and uninhibited and boldly creative and I am, to quote the title of an art course at Luc Studio, a “terrified beginner”.   Therefore, starting in March, I am signed up for the course “Drawing & Painting for the Terrified Beginners“.

It’s funny that I’m so intimidated as I come up with creative solutions for my clients all the time, but pick up a piece of charcoal and apply to paper….shudder.  So for now, I will call a friend or write a blog …or possibly just journal and keep my thoughts to myself.

But as sooustamouseon as I feel able, you will receive my blog about Oust-a-Mouse and it’s incredible President, Jennifer Cambray.    I hope I emulate Jennifer’s level of customer service at The Virtual Alternative, but I’m not sure that’s even possible.  More on this soon, but for now, back to fixing a database.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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ACANAC…Don’t trust them and don’t sign up with them! by Liz Saunders

We moved to our condo a year and a half ago.  At that time, I took the opportunity to switch from Rogers (who I had always hated dealing with) to Distributel DSL.  Turned out that Distributel was no better (ISP-wise) but they were nicer to deal with.  So in October, out of desperation to get my VOIP phones working, I tried again…with Acanac.  They were advertising a great price and their “line” was that everyone else inflated their prices and it really wasn’t necessary.  They sounded like the Little Engine that Could.  So I took a chance.

Bad move.  I failed to read the small print which indicated that they would bill me for a year up front.  Well, I don’t know about you, but I’m not going to pay a year up front to an untried and true source.  So, the day I signed up, I cancelled the contract (they have a 30 day no fault cancellation clause).

And then the fun began.   Rather than cancelling the order immediately, they said “oh no, we have to charge your credit card but we will refund the money within 30 days”.  Right!  When I called the credit card company to challenge the non-reimbursed charge, they wouldn’t talk to me because I’m not the primary card holder (I still haven’t managed to get hubby dearest to call them).

So I kept nagging Acanac.  On December 1st, I finally got an email from them saying they had reimbursed the money – 2.5 months later!!!  Needless to say, the credit card company has charged us interest on the outstanding amount.  I have emailed Acanac repeatedly saying that in my opinion, that interest would not have been charged except for their actions (there’s nothing else outstanding on the card) therefore I want to be reimbursed for the cost of their unauthorized loan but nope, they maintain it’s not their fault.   I’m not sure whose fault they think it is, but they were the ones that had the use of my money for 2.5 months.

At the end of this week, post surgery, I will get hubby dearest on the phone to the credit card company to challenge the charge if I have to nag him the same way I nagged Acanac.  And if Acanac thinks they are finished here, they are wrong.  I will make sure everyone I know finds out about their disgraceful behaviour and attitude.

This is the antithesis of good customer service.  Had they never charged my card or reversed the charge immediately, I might have good things to say…as I did with Advantage Car Rentals.

At the Virtual Alternative, if a customer isn’t happy, work is redone – free of charge; money is refunded – even if not really necessary; money paid in advance for work that is subsequently not done, even if it’s the customer that calls a halt to the work – is returned.

For Acanac to have held my money so long that it cost me money is unconcionable and just plain bad business.

And for the record, I ended up with Tek Savvy but that has been worse than the DSL, so I’m looking for an ISP that will work …again.

 

A QUICK UPDATE:  Acanac finally refunded our money on December 1st after 2.5 months of nagging and interest being charged on my credit card which they would not cover.  Shame on you Acanac!

 

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Getting on with life! by Liz Saunders

I can’t believe two weeks have passed since my last blog.

During the cruise, when I was in so much pain from my arthritis, I promised myself that when I returned I would get on the phone to my hand and foot surgeon and make appointments.  Well, I like to keep my promises to myself so I did exactly that and my left hand will be fixed this month and right as rain for the new year.  Had to promise Dr. D that I wouldn’t do anything with my feet for at least six months after hand surgery.  When I saw Dr. C, he said “can’t do anything until June at the earliest”.  Perfect!  So, 6 months and 2 days after fixing my hand, I get both feet fixed at the same time!

Well god forbid I should relax and enjoy pain-free feet, instead 2 days after seeing Dr. C and having a cortisone injection in each big toe, my feet were feeling so pain-free, that I was moving too fast and slammed my baby toe (right foot) into a door frame!  Yup…broke it.  Doc thinks I may also have fractured my fifth metatarsal but I’m afraid to have x-rays.  If I walked into the hospital to have the hand surgery with a cast on my foot, surgery would be cancelled!  So, with the help of a cane, symphytym, arnica and calc phos (thanks Witchy Woman for the arnica) and okay the occasional Tylenol 3 at the beginning, I am soldiering on.  7 days later and I’m almost not limping…almost.

So, life goes on.  And that’s the beauty of being a virtual assistant.  I haven’t missed a day of work and none of my clients have any idea that I’m injured.  I continue to answer their phones, book their appointments, be the customer service rep, create their mailing labels (Xmas card labels and it’s already the 12th, but better late than never!) and clean up their databases.

Good thing they won’t be able to see my hand in a cast!

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It all boils down to customer service! by Liz Saunders

Yes, sitting on the floor of the plane between seats!

The trip is over.  I type this sitting on the floor of the plane because we’ve got the best leg room ever  right beside the emergency exit.  But I’ve never seen this much leg room, it’s awesome.  One of the best things of this trip.

The ship was quite impressive compared to the tug boat from 6 years ago, although as previously posted, I did run into an issue almost immediately.

Met and saw a number of interesting people… both on and off the boat.  Jamaica in particular was an experience.  The country is so poor that they natives are very aggressive with tourists.  It’s too bad because it really detracts from the experience.  And since tourism is one of their major industries, it leaves both a bad and sad taste in the mouth.

Imagine, as the voice of a number of companies, if I was rude, pushy and difficult because I was desperate.  People would not call back.  Have you ever had an experience with a debt collector or know what debt collectors’ reputations are all about?  Same idea.  You will pay…you will buy…you will take my illegal taxi on a trip you don’t want to take.

At The Virtual Alternative we pride ourselves on polite and appropriate customer service/representation of your business.   If you think of tourists the same way you think of customers you have to treat them well or they won’t come back!  I certainly will not be making plans to return to Jamaica any time soon, if ever.

So, the Jamaicans we met, while trying to survive, are actually biting the hand that feeds.

And a further example of bad customer service was that of Advantage Car Rentals.  My husband had rented a car – 4 seater with a trunk big enough for 2 suitcases.  When we got to Ft. Lauderdale – remember we were over 7 hours late – they told us they only had a Fiat.  A Fiat?!  2 seater with a trunk that would hold one small case.  Insisted that’s what we had ordered.  My husband would never have booked such a thing.  We argued and they insisted but we were both so tired and frustrated that he didn’t look for his confirmation paper.  Cost an extra $100 to upgrade to the 4 seater we had booked.

Do not use this company!By the time we returned the car, we had found the confirmation paper and we tried again.  Nope, Romel Jean insisted, we had booked a Fiat – that despite the fact that we had a piece of paper which clearly said “economy car” not “sub-compact car” and “4 seater” not “2 seater”.  Not wanting to miss the 2nd flight of our trip, we demurred to deal with it later.  What made it worth it was the horror on Romel’s face when I leaned in and read his name out loud – “What do you want my name for?”  “Well clearly”, said I, “we want it so that when we complain about the car we will also complain about your customer service…or lack thereof.”   Then he tried to fight with me!

Customer service.  It all comes back to customer service.  If you’ve got good customer service, people will return and tell their friends about you.  If you’ve got lousy customer service – or no customer service – people will not return and will probably tell even more friends the “horror story” they experienced.

If you want better customer service for your business, think of The Virtual Alternative, where customer service is our expertise.

And it bears repeating…look at this leg room! Those are my knees in the foreground. Look how far away my carry on is!

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Homeopathics, Rx and Cuba – Who knew? by Liz Saunders

In preparation for our vacation, I made a trip to Riverdale Homeopathy on the Danforth to pick up some Calcarea Phorphoric.  This is the most amazing stuff that Witchy Woman suggested I take for pain relief for my arthritis.  The one thing I know about Florida is that while there’s a Dollartree, CVS, Publix, Walgreen or Winn Dixie on every corner, finding a purveyor of homeopathic remedies would be more difficult than finding the proverbial needle in a haystack.

During the purchase, I said something to the young lady behind the counter about how Calc Phos is better than Tylenol 3 for my thumbs and out from a back room popped Ananda, proprietress of RH.  Turns out Ananda is putting together a documentary on the efficacy of homeopathics so we got into quite a discussion about them and my journey.

As she was very interested in what I’m doing, I mentioned that my naturopath (that’s you Witchy Woman) had specifically recommended Riverdale Homeopathy when I needed to purchase the B.C. and Ananda knew immediately that if WW was a student at CCNM, then she had to be a student of Dr. Ken L. or one other doctor.  She hit that nail squarely on the head as I see Dr. Ken every time I see WW.

When I mentioned that I was writing a blog about my B.C. experience, Ananda expressed some interest in reading it, so I gave her my The Virtual Alternative business card so she could check it out.  When we talked about what a VA could do, she mentioned that she knew of a pharmaceutical company in Cuba that might need a virtual assistant.  That’s when I told her I was also “Liz of iTMG” – one of my clients who happens to be her webmaster – and I was sure Jason would give me a reference.

So, who knows…pain relief, less itch…and a client in Cuba?

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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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And the journey continues….by Liz Saunders

It’s now been 17 days since I took the B.C.  I had a meeting with Witch Keila on day 12 and she tells me that based on certain incidents over the first 12 days, it’s working.  For the record, despite my threat to Google B.C., I have restrained myself.

I mentioned in a previous post that I thought I noticed improvement in my itchy head and painful hand…fleeting, but there.  Well, apparently that’s an improvement and I can’t argue with that.

 

One of the most stunning things that happened was letting my brother know, after yelling at me for things I couldn’t have understood, that he was out of line.  Sounds like something so simple, doesn’t it?  But it’s not something I would have done 6 months ago…indeed, not sure I have ever done something like that in my life.  I’ve always been too worried about losing something that might be important rather than standing up for myself.   Had another similar incident on day 15 with another family member that I still can’t believe I did.

After a very stressful weekend, a condition I have flared up (not surprising) but what was extremely surprising was that it only lasted 36 hours!  Instead of a week!

So… little steps.

Then the other night, I went to bed at the usual time but at 12:30 I was awake…not because something was on my mind, not because I had to take Jaden to the bathroom but because I had full body twitchies!  Unfortunately, although Witch Keila told me I can continue to take the Calc. Phos. for arthritis pain, I am NOT allowed to take my Cuprum Metalicum for my RLS (or full body twitchies).  Oh my god, it was agony.  I tried my Mindfulness Meditation breathing, I tried putting an extra blanket on my lower legs (heat and weight).  After about 2 hours, I finally went back to sleep, so very tired the next day.  But I’m sure Witch Keila will see it as a good thing.   She should try it some day.

But if that’s part of my progress, then I guess I will just have to find a way to cope.

On another note, there must be some emotional change going on for the good.  I’ve always believed that you send out vibrations to the universe and if your vibrations are negative, good things don’t happen.  When my friend, Bob, took his life, within 6 months The Virtual Alternative was almost defunct.  I had only one client left and she was a very small but loyal client.  When I finally came out of my depression over Bob’s death, business picked up.  Lately, not only did I pick up a client from a colleague who couldn’t accommodate his needs (5 day a week phone service), then an organization that I started talking to about 2 months ago finally committed and we start working together next week, but on Saturday I got another enquiry because of a LinkedIn connection.   If this keeps up, my daughter Siobhan is also going to be very busy.

On a personal level, yesterday when I woke up, my first thought was about a situation about which I had only had negative thoughts for years and that thought was “hmmm maybe if things keep improving, this can be fixed too”.  First positive thought in …I can’t tell you how long.

Woot woot! as my daughter Olivia would say!  Oh and for the record, my scalp is starting to feel like a scalp!  Another Woot!

 

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