Tag Archives: Virtual Assistant

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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Art is a Messy Business! by Liz Saunders

Today I walked into class late (they would reduce the Woodbine bridge to 1 lane in the direction I was going on today of all days) and was extremely pleased to see that Reissa had joined us!   Yay!  And she did really well for her first day, although much like Elizabeth and I on our first day, she didn’t think so.  She’s wrong and I’m not afraid to say so.

Today was very messy.  Kathy had prepared a page of paper for Elizabeth and me that was covered in charcoal.  Then we had to do the opposite of what we did before (conté on construction paper) – we had to erase the charcoal for our contrast!  And not an easy thing – the watering can with leaves wrapped around it.  Well, I wasn’t thrilled with the outcome, but it is what it is.

charcoal watering can and plant

 

 

 

 

 

 

Next we got to play with ink!  I had been looking forward to ink but not really sure I’m happy with this either.  And the problem with ink is that you can’t erase it, so again, it is what it is.Leaf in ink

 

 

 

 

On Sunday I ordered myself some watercolour coloured pencils because Kathy had told us that if you’re going to work with coloured pencils, these are the best – just as pencils – but have the flexibility of being water colours as well.  So, hoping they might arrive today, I drove the three students over to DeSerres and I picked up a selection of brushes.

first brushes

Then to my delight, my pencils arrived this afternoon!  Only thing is…Kathy hasn’t taught us colour yet and I forgot about watercolour paper.

New pencils

So, this week’s experimentation will be very messy at home too! But what the heck, the one thing I’ve learned is that you can’t really do anything wrong in art – especially since if I try some watercolour pencil fruit – I can eat the evidence!

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Oust-A-Mouse Bait House Exemplifies Exceptional Customer Service by Liz Saunders

Back in the fall, our friends, Wendie and Hugh, came down to Toronto and we went to the Cottage Life Show.   While we were wandering around, I saw a booth displaying various types of insulation and I stopped to chat.  One of my questions was:  is your insulation mouse proof?  The response:  Are you kidding?  Nothing’s mouse proof.  They will eat anything…wood…steel wool…insulation laced with arsenic.  Nothing keeps mice out.  But there will be a presentation at 3:30 pm over there about how to mouse proof your cottage.

Fabulous, I thought and wandered “over there” at the appropriate time.  To my surprise, the presentation was by Jennifer Cambray, the President of JNC Innovations and she was talking about Oust-A-Mouse Bait House.  I say surprise because I had already had an Oust-A-Mouse Bait House at my cottage for a few years and I couldn’t say that it had really helped.  I still had mice everywhere I’d ever had them.  Jennifer’s presentation was both very interesting and quiet scary (Deer mice, Hantavirus) and she was fielding questions as the expert she is.

oustamouse

One woman was being quite rude in her challenges to Jennifer and Jennifer handled it like a pro.  Never having been one for confrontation, I decided to wander over to the Oust-A-Mouse booth and speak to her quietly.  She was held up for some time after her talk so I spoke to her husband who gave me Jennifer’s card and suggested I contact her directly.

This is where the incredible customer service comes in.  I contacted Jennifer a couple of days later (after the Cottage Life Show was done and she was home).  I told her that we had seen no appreciable difference after using an Oust-A-Mouse for a number of years and going through copious amounts of poison.  After a discussion of where it was, how I was using it, how much poison, etc., her response:  Then you probably have such a large infestation that you need another bait house which I will send to you free of charge.  If it works, you can pay me for it!

But that wasn’t all.  As she visits Bracebridge regularly, she dropped the bait house off at Wendie and Hugh’s for me.  She also included some rat poison – just to make sure I was using the right stuff –  and gave me instructions on exactly where to put it.

Now this is where it gets even crazier:  If I’m not mistaken, she also offered to drop by the cottage in the spring to help me make sure I had everything set up right and make sure I had bleached everything that needed to be bleached, stopped up holes, etc.   I was already so blown away by her offer to send me a bait house without payment in advance that I could have misunderstood that part.

In any event, between Xmas and New Years off we went to the cottage with our 2nd bait house to place under the bathroom.   Topped up the poison in Oust-A-Mouse bait house number 1 while we were there and then couldn’t get out of the driveway (a whole other story).

So, the days are getting longer and it’s only a matter now of a few weeks (okay, maybe 7 or 8) and we’ll be able to go see how the mice did over the winter.

But in the meantime, I have Jennifer’s card on my desk as a constant reminder of what truly exceptional customer service (not to mention standing behind your product) is all about and I strive daily to give the same to my clients.

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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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