How to refine your internet research

How to refine your internet research

Most business owners will need to conduct internet research at one point or another and the first point of call is usually Google.  According to a Google search they receive over 63,000 searches per second on any given day, or 2 trillion searches a year, or 3.8 million searches per minute, or 228 million searches per hour and 5.6 billion searches per day….

Internet research is one of those activities in which we can easily get side-tracked by information and waste a large amount of time (see above example). Whilst asking Google a question may eventually lead you to your answer if you want to conduct more in-depth internet research you are going to have to spend more time sifting through results or narrow down your search results.

Instead of asking a question we can use “search operators” which help narrow the search results produced by Google.  It is important to note that Google usually ignores punctuation unless it is part of a search operator and it wont recognise a search operator if spaces are inserted between words and symbols.

Below are a few search operators which might help you narrow down your research quicker.

1. Search an exact phrase

Instead of asking a question, search for an exact phrase by using quotation marks.  For example, search “shortcut keys” and this will search the exact phrase only.

2. Use +, – and OR in your searches to include, exclude or combine a search

If you want to research a topic and specifically a sub-topic you can use the + symbol to include both in your search results.  For example, “Jaguar speed +animal” will produce results for all these elements i.e. the speed of a Jaguar animal.  However if you use the – symbol “Jaguar speed – animal” it will exclude “animal” from the search results (and give you information about the Jaguar car speed.

If you want to combine search results, insert “or” between the two search items i.e. Jaguar speed animal OR car.  This will give you information on the car and the animal.

3. Search for a specific site or related site

If you want to search a specific site add “site” in front of the website you want to search for, for example,  If you want to search for related sites add “related” in front and it will and it will search all related sites (for this example all related news sites).

4. Search a price or range of numbers

If you are looking to purchase an item and have a specific budget in mind put a £in front of the number it will search for that item and that price.  If you have a range of prices put … in between the price range.  For example: printer £50 or printer £50…£100.

5. Search social media

If you want to search a social media platform put @ in front of the social media platform you want to search.  For example, therapist@facebook will search for “therapist” on the Facebook platform.

6. Search a hashtag

You can search a hashtag by just putting a # in front of the hashtag you want to search for.

Internet research is something that you can easily delegate to a Virtual Assistant.  We can spend the time trawling the internet more efficiently and report back to you with our findings in a clear and well presented fashion saving you time and giving you the information you need.


Hopefully this list will help you save time when researching and save you getting lost in a loop of interesting but irrelevant information.

Do you use any of these in your existing internet research or which do you find the most useful?

I hope you and yours are safe and well and look forward to catching up next month.




What to look for when hiring the RIGHT Virtual Assistant

What to look for when hiring the RIGHT Virtual Assistant

So you know you need help with your business and you’ve decided that hiring a VA will help you.  How do you know that you are hiring the right person – what are the key things to look out for and the red flags?  I will take you through what virtual assistants need to have in place to operate professionally and explain why they are so essential. 

Domain specific email

This might not seem terribly important but it’s something that you can check before you even make contact.  Domain specific email addresses are relatively cheap, easy to set up and are more secure than free domains such as outlook, yahoo or gmail.  Domain specific email addresses look more professional and if an individual isn’t willing to invest in their business for even the most basic of services, how seriously are they taking their business?  What other corners might they cut when handling your client’s data or doing your work? 


A website isn’t an essential attribute – desirable but not essential.  I would expect some kind of online presence such as a LinkedIn profile if they didn’t have a website. From either a website/LinkedIn profile I’d want to see testimonials – are people willing to put their name to any feedback.  This isn’t the be all and end all as people can obviously fake it, but it shows experience, can build trust and give you confidence in your VA’s skills.

Contracts and Due Diligence

Lots of virtual assistants offer a free “discovery call” to explore what support is required and to get to know their client.  During this call I would expect the virtual assistant to take you through how they work, what they need to do to get started and take information to enable them to draft contracts and complete any due diligence that is required such as proof of identification and address for money laundering checks (if they are going to be helping you with financial administration).

Contracts are an essential part of business and professional relationships.  They set out what has been agreed and are for the protection of both parties.  If you don’t have this and the relationship breaks down, you have no record of what was agreed and what your recourse might be. I wouldn’t work with anyone without a contract in place and don’t think anyone else should too.

Not all virtual assistants that undertake financial administration need to register for money laundering supervision with HMRC as they may have qualified and applied for an exemption.  However, if you are outsourcing any of your financial administration, I would definitely ask your VA’s status.  If they aren’t registered or have an exemption it is unlikely that they are operating legally. If they are registered, they will have an approval document and you could (if you wish) ask to see a copy for your own due diligence.

Essential Paperwork

As with running any business there is quite a lot of essential paperwork required, such as:

Insurance: I would expect professional indemnity and cyber insurance as a bare minimum.  Professional indemnity insurance covers VA’s for errors or issues with their work and cyber insurance protects against internet based risks such as cyber-attacks or data breaches. Public liability insurance is desirable but not essential unless the virtual assistant works on-site as public liability insurance covers for losses or damage whilst at your business premises.

ICO Registration: A virtual assistant should be registered with the ICO for data processing.  All organisations who process’ personal information needs to register and issue a certificate.  You could ask to see a copy of their up to date certificate (as they need to be renewed each year) to prove their compliance.

GDPR: You need to be sure when hiring a VA that they are working in accordance with GDPR good practices and that they know exactly where their (and your) client’s data is stored to ensure that it is stored safely and securely.

If your VA has a website, does it have terms and conditions, privacy agreement and cookie policies.  All these documents go to show that they are working in accordance with GDPR good practices.

If your VA will be working with your clients data they should be asking you how you process your clients data and you should set parameters for how your clients data is processed.  For example: where do you store and share your client’s data DropBox, GSuite, OneDrive, how will you secure clients personal data i.e. passwords etc.

Cyber Security and Business Contingency Plan

When outsourcing you need to ensure that your virtual assistant protects and backs up their (and your data).  Ask them what their strategy is to ensure that all information is secure as possible and backed- up appropriately.  For example: I use OneDrive which backs-up automatically to the Cloud. As I back up to an encrypted hard drive regularly I have additional security so that data is retained across a couple of platforms.  I also have anti-virus software which updates and scans regularly to protect my laptop (and client data). If my laptop breaks and ceases to function the data that I process shouldn’t be affected (I also have a back up laptop in the event the first breaks).

Ask your virtual assistant if they have a business continuity plan.  Do they use associates? Do their associates have the same level of security and systems and they do?  What would happen in the event they were hit by a bus? Do they have a system in place whereby they would be notified and services secured and disconnected etc.  Whilst these aren’t anything anyone wants to think about, a professional business will have systems in place to be able to cope with and manage every eventuality.

Qualifications, Accreditation and Training

Has your virtual assistant achieved any qualifications, accreditation or training to enable them to complete the tasks that you are outsourcing to them? Don’t be afraid to ask – a professional Virtual Assistant will be able to explain their qualifications and any training undertaken to enable them to complete your tasks.  For example, some virtual assistants are registered Bookkeepers, Xero Certified Partners, Infusionsoft Certified Consultants etc.

Qualifications, accreditation and training aren’t essential for business, but they are definitely desirable.  The more that your virtual assistant has trained and invested in their business the more you should be able to rely on their professional service and they aren’t just winging it.


My mother used to say, “if something appears too good to be true, it usually isn’t”.  As a guide, the average (according to the VIP VA survey) hourly rate for virtual assistants is around £25 per hour.  To put all the above criteria in place costs.  If your virtual assistant is charging significantly less than this, it is unlikely they will have the necessary, insurances, contracts, training, software and hardware in place to conduct a professional or secure service. 


There are lots of things you as potential clients can do and look for to ensure that you are hiring the right virtual assistant to ensure that you are getting the best possible service.  Knowledge is power and I hope that you’ve found this guide useful if you are thinking of taking on a virtual assistant to ensure that you are hiring the RIGHT virtual assistant for your business.

I’d love to hear what you think and look forward to catching you up next month.



My top tips for managing your Inbox

Hi and welcome to my new blog.  This month I’m focusing on emails and specifically how to manage email and your inbox.  Do you have a method for managing your emails or are they overflowing, disorganised and stressing you out?  Are you able to respond quickly and easily to emails or do you feel overwhelmed and emails frequently slip through the net and un-actioned?

What happens if we don’t organise our inbox?

So what happens if you don’t respond to an email from a client?  If you don’t respond quickly, you can guarantee your customer will contact one of your competitors and will quite simply take their business elsewhere.  You haven’t just lost one customer you’ve also damaged your reputation. 

If you share access to an inbox it’s even more imperative that you have a system in place for dealing with emails.  You need to know who has dealt with what and what needs responding too otherwise you will be either duplicating work or losing customers hand over fist!

A structured inbox

Having a structure or plan of how you deal with your emails allows you to simply spend less time in your inbox and more time on activities that will earn you money, grow your business or allow you to simply spend less time working. 

Merlin Mann (a productivity expert) in 2007 devised “Inbox Zero”, a method for organising our inboxes and increasing productivity.  The link to the talk is here: .  This method focuses on categorising and responding your emails as follows:

  1. Delete: delete all unnecessary emails that you don’t need to respond to;
  2. Delegate: if your email requires input from someone else before you can respond, delegate immediately.  Don’t sit on it, action it immediately so that it can be worked on and responded to ASAP;
  3. Respond: if you have everything you need to respond to an email.  Do it immediately! Try and touch your email once i.e. you read it, you respond.  You don’t save it for later, you just deal with it and file/delete it;
  4. Defer: this is for emails where that aren’t urgent or require immediate processing.  Defer them for later but decide when you will deal with it and be strict (so it doesn’t get forgotten) and/or set a reminder; and
  5. Do: anything that you can do to clear the email quickly (in around 20 minutes) you should just do and clear off your “to do” list.

This system might not work for you but it’s advisable to have a structure in place to process your emails so that you can spend less time managing your inbox and more time doing what you do best!

My top tips for email organisation

With all the above in mind, I have created a few tips to help you manage your emails/inbox:

  1. Set boundaries
  2. Touch an email only once
  3. Create a structure: organise and categorise
  4. Use templates
  5. Unsubscribe – reduce the amount of emails that you receive each day

Set Boundaries and Time Limits

Instead of constantly checking your emails, getting distracted by incoming email notifications and responding haphazardly, set times where you will check your emails and deal with them.  Try check and respond to emails just 3 times a day for around 20-30 minutes only: once in the morning; once at lunchtime and once before you finish in the afternoon (or whatever schedule works for you).

It can be very easy to get distracted by incoming emails so turn off those notifications and give your whole attention to the task you are undertaking. 

This will help you work proactively and intentionally, giving each task your undivided attention but not letting your emails run your day.

Touch your Email Once

Where at all possible, touch your email once.   By that I mean if you have everything you need in order to respond – do it immediately, don’t put it off – JFDI, “Just F**king Do It” (apologies for the potty mouth but what are you waiting for?).

Organise or Categorise your Emails

If you don’t want to use Merlin’s Inbox Zero method, devise your own method which works for you but do it and stick to it so that if you were hit by a bus it would be immediately obvious to anyone what you had and hadn’t dealt with.  Have as many categories as you want/need but be strict and process your emails according to your rules.

I speed read emails and categorise them according to my system. I then apply my filter and work through the emails responding accordingly.


Do you have to send the same response regularly – why not create a template?  Instead of typing out the same response time and time again, why not create email templates which you can use and plug in the necessary information.

Or you could create a structure or ideal timeline as to how your sales process will go and how you will respond.  For example:  Your (potential) customer will contact you, you will respond with an email about their query (email template x), you will respond to their request (email template y) and follow up after the sale/task (email z).  This cuts down the time it takes to deal with customer queries but also creates a standard for customer service for your company. Win: Win


A useful method for cutting down the time you spend dealing with emails is to reduce the amount of emails received.

Have you signed up to a newsletter or mailing list?  Do you actually READ the emails received or do they just sit in your inbox?  If you have received two emails from the same sender and not opened them, chances are you aren’t going to open them at all.  If so, unsubscribe and reduce the volume of emails received.


Merlin was more of a bin it and move on kind of man, whereas I like to read and file all my emails so I have the information at my fingertips.  For example: I have many folders structuring my inbox and once I have dealt with an email, I file it accordingly.  

If you are finding that you are spending too much time in your inbox, you have 1,000,000 emails in but can’t find the one you need, why not get the help of a virtual assistant?  Getting help with your inbox is one of the toughest things to delegate as you might have personal emails mixed in with business but if you’re really struggling with your inbox you have two options: you can either filter personal emails to a personal account or just let you’re your VA deal with the emails warts and all. 

The one thing that I can guarantee is that once you start working with a VA to help clear your inbox and deal with your emails you will have more time to spend on other activities.  Your inbox will be checked at regular intervals, set responses will be sent and your email will be categorised and filed (using a system that works for you) so that you can hit the ground running when you open your inbox allowing you to deal with your emails quickly and efficiently.

If you’d like to find put more about my email management service or have any queries please email me at

I look forward to catching you up next month.



Our Top Tips for getting the most out of your Dictation

In my December blog I explained what dictation and transcription is and why you would use it.  This month I decided to focus on my top tips on how to get the most out of your dictation. 

Done properly dictation, should save you considerable time (especially if you are a two finger typist). Using these simple tips your dictations can be returned to you quicker and with a higher level of accuracy meaning that there will be ultimately less work for you to do when your dictation is returned.

Introduce your document

When starting to dictate.  Spend time introducing your document.  Tell us what your document does and what you want it to look like.  If you want us to update headers/footers – tell us the detail so that we can update it.

Dictate what font, size and spacing which should be used throughout the document for titles and paragraphs etc.  Don’t just assume – “teach granny how to suck eggs”.  Give all the information that you can about this document and your document will be returned exactly how you like it.

Speak clearly

The clearer your recording, the better/more accurate your dictation will be. 

Sometimes we receive dictations where we cannot hear or understand what is said.  For example, there may be sounds which are interfering with the recording (background noise), the speaker is speaking too quickly or mumbling so it is not clear what has been said and what needs to be typed.

Speak as clearly as possible, don’t rush your recording, the faster you speak the more difficult it is to understand what you are saying.  Slow down and enunciate.  Speak into the microphone, reduce background noise as much as possible and don’t eat, drink or do anything that will interfere with the recording (such as playing with the microphone).

If any part of the recording is inaudible, we will time stamp it as inaudible so that you can go back and listen to the recording in the hope that you will be able to piece together what was said.

Consider the location of your recording device and the environment

Eliminate as much background noise as possible and place your recording device close to the speaker(s).  Remove any background noises such as radios/TV’s, close windows. The clearer the recording the more accurate the final piece of work.

Consider the device and the environment, for example, if you are recording outside dictating on a windy day your dictation will be affected.  If you need to dictate outside, find a sheltered location so that wind isn’t an issue.  Record a small piece and then go back and listen to the quality.  If it’s poor quality, try and find another location to dictate or take measures to reduce external elements on your dictation.

Spell out words, dictate punctuation

Spell out all words which aren’t in everyday use i.e. company/material names or industry specific words. Don’t assume that we know.  Whilst we will always do our best to try and find what has been said through research, take away the doubt.  Spell out technical or industry specific vocabulary.

Visualise your document.  Dictate punctuation such as bullet points, new paragraphs, brackets, speech marks etc.   If you don’t, we can take a best guess at how you want the document formatted but our vision of the document might not be yours.  To ensure you get exactly what you want, provide us explicit instructions.

Everything else

If you make a mistake when dictating, rewind the tape and record over the incorrect instructions/dictation.  Remember that you pay per minute of dictation supplied so you will literally be paying for your mistakes if you don’t!


Those are just a few of our top tips to help you improve the quality of your dictation and your finished typed up document.  Just keep it simple, don’t assume the typist knows what you want even if they are highly experienced in this area and dictate EVERYTHING.  Make your recording as clear as possible.

If you would like to know more or have files for dictation or transcription please get in contact today.

I look forward to catching you up next month.



Our three top tips to help you spend less time in the office

First of all, Happy New Year!  I hope this year brings you peace, success and happiness.

The start of a new year is a great time to make some resolutions to take stock, evaluate how things are going and make some changes.  Most people’s resolutions tend to focus on losing weight, exercising more and saving money/spending money etc, but do you do the same with your business?  Do you spend time over the Christmas break (or at any time of the year) to evaluate what worked and what didn’t and make changes?

I’m no expert in conducting formal business reviews, but if you want to spend less time in the office, working evenings and weekends doing business admin and more time with your family or working on your business and growing it, I can help.   Here are my 3 top tips for reviewing your admin processes to help you spend less time doing admin and ultimately make your business more streamlined and more profitable.

1. Review your processes from start to finish

Look at the processes in your business.  Map out what happens when your customer first makes contact, what is your reaction to that contact and the process from start to finish.  What would an ideal transaction look like?

What is your ideal response to every eventuality?  For example, if something should go wrong.  What is your complaints procedure? 

Create a company handbook with templates, so that for every event you have a policy/procedure and template to work from and give your customer everything they need and help them with their next steps (even if it doesn’t involve you). 

For example: if you provide residential building surveys.  Do you have a list of recommended solicitors, estate agents, moving companies, builders, decorators etc?  You can gain cross referrals whilst providing your client with everything they will need to move house and beyond.

Make your process as simple and as easy as possible for you and your client.

2. Outsource areas which aren’t your expertise

Do you spend hours two-finger typing, working on spreadsheets or creating email campaigns?  Are you an expert in these areas? If you aren’t, chances are you are spending a lot more time doing a task which it would take an expert a quarter of the time to complete.  Business owners have to wear many hats but there comes a time when we as business owners need to realise that our time costs money.  Time is finite, utilise it wisely.

If you have an hourly rate, look at how long it takes you to complete a task and compare it to the cost for getting a task completed by an expert.  What could you do in that time? Could you be out getting attracting more customers instead?  If you do something like social media or Facebook ads yourself – do you know how successful your efforts are?   Chances are your efforts wont be as successful as an expert in this area.

Letting go can be difficult but chances are once you do, you will wonder why you didn’t do it earlier.

3. Automate repetitive tasks

Automation means using technology to operate or control a process without human intervention or input from an operator. For example, Calendly is free appointment scheduling software which allows you to make appointments and add them to your diary without human interaction. 

There is so much automation technology such as chat bots, Zapier, IFTTT etc out there just identify your repetitive task and no doubt there’s automation software out there to help you!


As business owners we need to ensure that we are continually reviewing processes to ensure that we are spending our time and energy wisely.

If you would like to find out how a Virtual Assistant can help you streamline your business and processes or have any queries please get in contact today.

I look forward to catching up with you next month.

Best wishes



Dictation and Transcription Explained

What is dictation and transcription

Dictation is defined as “the action of dictating words to be typed up, written down or recorded”.  Historically, a professional such as a doctor or lawyer would dictate correspondence or reports to their secretary in their office and their secretary would record this in “short-hand” (an abbreviated symbolic writing system) which would allow them to type what was said on their typewriter/PC.

Transcription on the other hand is a “written record”.  This is less of a formal written document rather than a written record of what happened, not just what was said but all noises including background noises. 

There are two types of transcription: strict verbatim and intelligent verbatim:

Strict Verbatim: includes all utterances (such as coughs, laughter), fillers, repeated words, non-standard language (such as ain’t) and background noises.  This written record should be a true reflection of the recording. 

Intelligent Verbatim: this is just a record of what was said but excludes repeated words, fillers (such as “you know”) and background noises.

You might use strict verbatim if you were analysing a focus group, an interview or coaching session if for example you were interested in how things were said not just what was said.  However intelligent verbatim might be used to record board minutes or a podcast when you are more interested in what was said.

How is it done?

As technology has developed, how dictation and transcription is recorded has changed.  Whilst minute taking is still a valuable skill to have there is no need for a PA to be present when dictating as things have gone digital. 

Whilst big companies may use specialist dictation equipment, no special equipment is required to record your sound files.  In fact, most phones have apps that can record sound files.  iPhones have the “Voice Memos” app and there are many voice recorders apps for Android phones in the Google Play Store.  There are even Olympus Dictation even do their own app which is compatible with their transcription hardware.

Online video conferencing can also be used to record sound files for example, Zoom video conferencing has an option (even on the free version) to record the sound file.

There are even apps/software and websites that utilise voice recognition software to convert sound files to text.  Whilst voice recognition software works and accuracy levels are increasing as the technology develops it can’t always cope with accents or poor sound files.  It also doesn’t format text into a document so it may not be suitable for every type of transcription/dictation.

So why dictate?

Quite simply dictating should save you massive amounts of time (if you do it properly).  One source puts it as 7 times as fast as typing yourself. Dictating should allow you to concentrate on the content which you are writing about rather than the act of typing.  You should also spend less time formatting as your dictation will be formatted as per your instructions as it is typed.

What can I dictate or get transcribed?

Quite simply you can dictate or transcribe any sound file you want written down or read.  Below are a few examples of what dictation and transcription can be used for:

  • letters, emails, newsletters or any type of correspondence;
  • documents, reports, presentations, power point slides etc;
  • site notes/inventories: instead of trying to decipher your handwritten notes, dictate on the go;
  • instructions: dictation isn’t just for typing.  You can also use it to give instructions too.  Imagine driving from one meeting to the other and being able to record your instructions for follow up whilst you are travelling.  How much time would that save?
  • market research/research: recording focus groups or interviews for analysis;
  • counselling and coaching sessions can be recorded or analysed at a later date and passed onto the coachee after the session;
  • recording business or employment meetings;
  • if you use videos/podcasts for your social media or online courses/training.  You can add subtitles (and tags) to videos or provide a written transcript of the video/podcast to ensure that it is accessible to everyone. 
  • Similarly you can use repurpose your content.  You can change a podcast into a newsletter or blog.


Quite frankly there are loads of ways to use dictation or transcription to help you save time (and effort) for your business. 

I am an experienced and accurate typist who can turn complete dictations and transcriptions quickly and easily with competitive rates.  Don’t just take my word for it check out my testimonials.

If you would like to know more or have files for dictation or transcription please get in contact today.

I look forward to catching you up next month.



What is Virtual Assistant?

So what is a virtual assistant?

Whenever I go networking or people ask me what do, I tell them that I’m a virtual assistant (or a “VA”).  Nine out of ten times I get a blank look.  No-one knows.  So what exactly is a virtual assistant?

Whilst I use the title virtual assistant, it’s more of a way or working rather than a job title. Virtual assistants are self-employed people who assist businesses from a remote location i.e. not in the office/in person (although some do offer In House support). 

So what do they actually do?  Well, virtual assistants can help with a variety of tasks from specialist tech tasks such as building websites and SEO, to appointment scheduling and email management to running personal errands!  There are many types of virtual assistants:

  1. Tech VA’s who might specialise in building websites, SEO, branding etc;
  2. Social media managers who help businesses with their social media, creating advertising campaigns and email marketing;
  3. Accounts VA’s who specialist in providing bookkeeping/accounts administration support; and
  4. PA/EA types who specialise in providing PA support such as email/diary management, minute taking, document production, organising travel and are general admin ninjas;

This list isn’t conclusive but merely shows that some virtual assistants are experts in particular fields whereas others are general admin ninja’s.  The skillset varies massively and no virtual assistants are the same.  I attend a local networking meeting for virtual assistants and there isn’t a lot of cross-over or overlap with skills. 

So virtual assistants are all singing, all dancing saviours of the day, but how do you know whether the virtual assistant you want to use is any good?  There isn’t any regulation at this time, but there are a few things quality virtual assistants (whatever their specialism) will have in common.

  • They are insured.  They have appropriate professional indemnity/public liability in place.
  • Registered with ICO – you can request a copy of their certificate.
  • They follow GDPR good practice.
  • They use contracts/terms of business and have appropriate policies in place.
  • If they work with accounts administration they are registered with HMRC for AML supervision.
  • Should they ever get hit by a bus, you should be able to know exactly where they left off and have full access to all the systems they help you with.

VIP VA are setting standards for virtual assistants and I am proud to be an accredited member.  This means that I adhere to the highest of standards and gives my clients peace of mind that they are in safe hand and I’m a professional.

If you are looking for a Virtual Assistant to support you, make sure you look out for the accredited VA badge from VIPVA on your VA’s website, or alternatively, ask for proof that they have the above systems/registrations etc in place to ensure you and your clients are looked after properly and professionally.

I specialise in traditional VA/PA support which means that I can help with document production,  email/diary management, raising invoices, accounts administration etc.  If I’m ever asked to undertake work that doesn’t fit within my specialism my accreditation with VIP VA means that I have access to experts in every field and I can help you source the right individual for you and your business.

If you’d like to find put more about virtual assistants or have any queries please email me at

I look forward to catching you up next month.