Last week I had the chance to sit down with my client Alison at AJ Lakes Consultancy to discuss being a virtual assistant working with hospitality and tourism businesses. Alison is an amazing business coach with lots of experience in the industry.
The Sunday Showcase is Alison’s weekly interview with local Cumbrian businesses working within the tourism industry. It’s full of useful tips and advice that anyone can find helpful, too.
When we sat down together, we chatted about what a virtual assistant does and how one can help a business. Watch the video or read the full interview transcript below:
- Introduction – About The Singing VA
- Virtual Assistants in the Hospitality Industry
- Five Top Tips from a VA
- Examples of VA Work with Hospitality Businesses
- Working with a VA
- Final Words
- Contact Details
Introduction – About The Singing VA
Alison: Hello, and welcome to #ShowcaseSunday! Showcase Sundays are here to bring experts in their field to help and support our hospitality and business industries, and today we’ve got the amazing Kim Brough, who is The Singing VA. So welcome Kim, and can you tell us all about you? Tell us who you are, what you do and why you do it.
Kim: Yeah, so my name’s Kim. I am a virtual assistant based in West Cumbria. I basically help small businesses do what needs to be done for them to get on with the work that they really like doing and what they set up to do. I’ve had a good few years of experience doing things like marketing, PR support, and I was also the Deputy Chief Executive for a national charity for a few years and did the marketing for them too. And I kind of discovered early on that I really enjoyed the admin side of things and found that other people didn’t so much. So when I got the opportunity to go freelance and set up doing that as a main career, I just jumped for it. I thought it would be a great thing to try, and it’s worked out really well.
So i set up my own business almost exactly three years ago now: the 1st of February. So my business birthday has just passed and it’s going great. I help loads of really interesting businesses get on with their work and sort themselves out, really.
Alison: Fantastic and congratulations. Happy anniversary!
Kim: Thank you
Alison: And I’d just like to say: Kim is actually my social media manager. She organizes all my posts and gets it all scheduled and all out there, so I’m very, very pleased and very grateful to you Kim.
But – I know what makes you unique and different – but tell the audience listening to our Showcase Sunday today what makes you unique and different as opposed to your competition.
Kim: Well, I often think of myself as a bit of a “Jack of all trades”. Virtual assistants vary quite a lot. Some will specialize in a specific area, whereas I like to dabble in everything. So I’m quite techy, but I’m also quite creative, which is a bit of an unusual combination. And I can offer people more of a wide range of things. You know, if they don’t have the amount of work to have a specialist in each area, then they can call on me to cover a big range and really help them. I like the fact that I can offer a lot of varied work and experience and support to people. I think a lot of virtual assistants might be a bit more specific, which is really useful for some, but for smaller businesses I think this [the variety] really helps.
Alison: And you work with other virtual assistants as well don’t you?
Kim: Yes, that’s right. I work alongside them. In some cases, we’ll take on different aspects of work. And I also work with a number of associates. So, if there’s an area that perhaps I’ve not got the skills in, or I need the extra support there, they can help to make sure the client’s getting all the work done that, they need which is really nice as well.
I’m part of a lot of virtual assistant groups and they’re such a friendly bunch. We’re all the kind of personality that really wants to help out, and that includes each other. You know, recommending each other and supporting where it’s needed. So it’s a really nice community to be part of as well.
Alison: I love that. And I know there’s lots of virtual assistants and you have to connect with the virtual assistants. I know I use you for all the AJ Lakes social media, and you come up with some really interesting and great comments and great areas to cover. And I teach it in businesses, but it’s very interesting to see your take on me as a person as well as me as a business. And it’s just fantastic to capture all the different elements that come through.
Kim: Yeah, I think, no matter how well a person is self-aware and knows what they offer and how they come across, it’s always really helpful to have that outer eye to look in and maybe pick up on something that I would recognize as someone who’s not you. Whereas you’re thinking: “Oh yeah, that’s great, and I knew that, but I wasn’t expressing it”.
I really love that: getting to know a business and a person, especially with smaller businesses. Everything’s so personal and it’s really about the person and there’s so much to express there. Everybody’s got such a personality and it’s so much fun to be able to help people put that across.
Alison: And when you mention small businesses – because some hoteliers might be listening now saying, “well, we’re a large business we’re a large organization” – you actually cover a range. So small businesses to you is small and medium-sized enterprises aren’t they?
Kim: Yes, that’s right.
Alison: I just wanted to clarify because I know, all the businesses that listen to this, I can hear them questioning: hold on, but what about us?
So I know what you do right now that’s relevant to the hospitality industry, but what’s relevant for now and in the future that you currently do within The Singing VA, because I’d like you to mention why you called it The Singing VA as well.
Virtual Assistants in the Hospitality Industry
Kim: Sure, yeah, so I’ll jump on that one first, no problem. So when I was first setting up, people always said: “Oh, don’t spend ages on your name because you can spend months on thinking of the perfect name and never actually get started.” So i just thought, what do I enjoy doing? I thought, oh well, I love to sing. I’ve sung since I was a little girl, I sing at my desk, I sing at work, I sing in the street… So I just thought The Singing VA has such a lovely ring to it, it’s so personal to me: that’ll do just nicely. And everybody asks about it, so it’s always a good place to start a conversation too, which is nice.
And, yeah, in terms of how you help in the hospitality industry now: I mean, if the last two years have taught us anything, it’s that you need to be proactive and jump on change when it comes and respond to whatever’s happening. Because I’m very flexible in work hours, and I work with several different clients, I can jump onto things very quickly and make changes as necessary. For example, I update websites for quite a few people. So if things change, you know, if the opening times have suddenly changed, we’re allowed to be open again now. So we’d better announce that and get it up there as soon as possible.
And it’s also important as well to encourage people to keep on talking on social media, even if things aren’t happening right away. It’s to remind people that you’re there all the time. You you may be closed right this minute, but you’ll be back.
These two years have obviously been really tough, especially in the hospitality industry, and it’s just nice to be able to help people pick everything. Because everything has been so sudden as well, hasn’t it? It’s like: “Oh, you’ve got two days and you can open again”, or whatever. And there’s just so much to think about and to do, and it’s just nice for business owners to know that they can sort out the PPC or getting staff back in, and I can deal with the website, and the social media, and this kind of thing
And, obviously, tourism and hospitality fluctuates so much throughout the year, and I think it’s a real comfort for people to know that I can jump in when it’s really busy or when everything turns around and suddenly something’s dropped and you need to sort this out. Or someone’s ill and you need to sort that out
And on the other side of things, you know that, when you don’t have much as much work, when the season’s quiet or it’s off season, you don’t have to be looking for work for somebody to do. And you can you can say “Thanks, Kim, you’ve been a great help. I don’t need you right now, but look forward to you joining us again when half term comes around.”
I think that flexible approach is really helpful, particularly in an industry like hospitality where there are so many seasonal changes.
Five Top Tips from a VA
Alison: Yeah, you’re right. And it’s really important, and a lot of businesses forget that little area and they’re panicking: we need this, and we need that. But you can actually use teams in different areas of the business. It doesn’t have to just be in one area, and that’s the beauty of hospitality, of having that flexibility and having the ability to work in all sorts of different areas, learning different new skills, etc. And you can back them up and actually keep a presence out there, making sure that they’re all okay.
So, as always, we always ask our amazing interviewees for five top tips. What are your five top tips, please?
Kim: One of the first things that I often start off with is: set up processes. Which sounds a little bit boring, but it’s so helpful, even if it’s just you on your own. Knowing these are the stages you need to take for this part of your business helps you avoid things getting missed.
And it’s even more important when you’ve got a few people working with you because then everybody’s on the same page. They know what they have to do.That’s instead of you trying to remember what to do, whether you’ve missed something, and worrying about things, losing sleep over it. [With processes] you’ve got it all there: these are the stages you need, and this is how you do these, and we’ll get everything done.
I think that’s a really important – and a maybe overlooked – element of running a business.
Looking back at what we’ve already spoken about: stay active on your social media and on your other marketing platforms. Make sure you’re there for your customers. Even if you’re closed during the winter, your customers still might be thinking about booking future holidays
I think, when it comes to marketing, what people forget it’s not about making the sale here and now, It’s not about making a Facebook post and then making a sale. It’s about reminding people that you’re always there and so, when they come to think of doing this activity or booking this place to stay, you’re the first person that comes to mind. Because they’ve seen you regularly, even when you weren’t actively taking those bookings
When you’re busy, when you’re feeling overwhelmed, or even before that, just get somebody to help.
It’s not a failure on your part, it’s not you losing control, it’s preventing that. And, honestly, just asking somebody for help can help your business so much, and help you so much. It stops you getting stressed out, it means things aren’t going to fall by the wayside.
It could be a virtual assistant, it could be a member of staff, it could even be the occasional family
member or friend who you just need to help move a piece of furniture or something. There’s no harm in asking for help and it will benefit the business so, so much and just help you relax.
Kind of following on from that: don’t spend ages doing something someone else could do better and quicker. I know so many people who will spend 10 hours on a task that someone could do in an hour.
If you’re worried about budget, and you’re worried about spending money and paying somebody to do that, just think about how much your time is worth as well. People forget to count this because they’re not getting paid by the hour. They forget to put a monetary value on their own time and so, if you’re charging yourself – say – £20 pounds an hour for 10 hours – that’s £200 pounds. Somebody else could do it for maybe £30 an hour and do the task in two hours, and you still save money that way. And they probably do a better job of it, and it saves you a lot of stress. So don’t be worried about spending money because it will probably help you save money at the end of the day.
I think you’ll like this one, Alison: set boundaries and expectations.
Hospitality is one of those industries where you don’t have the same kind of boundaries as other industries. So you’re “on” more often: you’re “on” weekends and holidays and evenings. But that doesn’t mean you have to be “on” all the time and that you can’t have boundaries. Because offering good customer service isn’t about being on the end of the phone or behind a door someone can knock on all the time.
You don’t have to pick up a phone call at 11 o’clock at night to take a booking.
You don’t have to say yes to everything your guest asks for.
Make sure that what you’re doing is still what you’re doing it because you enjoy it and that you can do it can continue doing it because you’re setting those boundaries. If you set expectations for your guests or your visitors, and set expectations for yourself, it can really help you enjoy the work more and keep going, even when things are hard because you know what your hard no is:
You can call me at 11 o’clock, but I won’t be picking up the phone. I’ll get back to you tomorrow.
That’s still great customer service, it’s just remembering as well to look after yourself and your own business as well as your guests and visitors.
Alison: It is, and it’s about that clear communication, because that gets forgotten about on every occasion.
And you’re right, you know, and some properties will be listening saying “But we always answer 24-7”. And, yes, that’s fine if you’re that sort of an operation, but if you’re a small business and you’re a three-star property, you’re not expected to answer the phone at 11 o’clock at night, 12 o’clock at night. But you would have staff and night porter’s if you’re a red star operation where you’re expected to be there. But it’s that communication with your guests and it’s also communication with your team
And I liked what you said, as well as all the other points of brilliant advice, about asking for help. I know right at the beginning of my business I was that person who would spend 10 hours trying to figure out something because i had a team in my past role and then I had to do it all myself. And that was the best advice I’d ever been given, you know, to ship things out that don’t serve you. That you could actually get paid more for working in your own business rather than actually really struggling.
Best thing ever. I’ve even got an ironing lady for home.
Kim: People do forget that your own time’s worth a lot of money too, and there’s no point stressing yourself out over it just for the sake of a few quid.
Alison: It is, and I think that’s where overwhelm kicks in and everybody goes into procrastination when they’re in a small business because they’re trying to do it all. And you can’t physically do it, and you could be out there selling your services and actually doing really well if you have someone backing you up and
pushing you forward. So it’s a cracking advice.
Examples of VA Work with Hospitality Businesses
So have you got any examples – because I know you help the industry a lot already, and i know you help me save a lot of time and energy and you you get things sorted very quickly. But how do you add value to your clients, what are the areas that you would highlight?
Kim: Well I’ve got one customer, for example, and when they came to me they were pretty much starting out. It was a kind of business on the side to the “proper” job. And they had a website, but it was a bit a bit rubbish, and it wasn’t really doing what it needed to do. They were manually taking bookings and dealing with phone calls and emails and all sorts of things.
And so I made improvements to the website and implemented a booking system.
I worked on search engine optimization so they were showing up better in Google, shouting out a bit more about what they were doing about how awesome they were. They had amazing reviews on TripAdvisor and, although it was kind of mentioned, it wasn’t highlighted very much.
And so it was just working on all these little things to bring them up, share the amazing work that they were already doing, and help them find ways to advertise and get themselves out there.
Now I’ve been working with them for about two years. They’re leaders in their niche, they’re one of the top ones in the area, they’ve got awards to their names that are advertised on their website so everybody knows. And they’ve got this booking system online, so now they’re taking a load of automated bookings and they’re not spending forever on the phone or checking emails or chasing up emails or losing bookings and that kind of thing.
And another one is similar but they’re providing a service that’s a bit more niche and personalized, you can’t really do it with an automated booking system.
But this person’s a one-man-band and they were doing all these emails themselves and everything was just – and they’ll be the first to admit it – it was all over the place. It was just absolute chaos. So they brought me on board and they more-or-less said: here are the emails, please deal with them.
This is one where, unfortunately, you can’t really set up a booking system because of the personalized nature of it, but now that they’ve got me dealing with their emails, I can follow up, I can make sure emails are responded to quickly. They’re not losing bookings because people have lost interest because they’ve not heard anything for weeks.
The bookings are all logged, we know what’s happening, we’ve got a good schedule and they’re able to focus on developing what they actually do, developing their service and focusing on that, and actually enjoying the work they’re doing without being overwhelmed.
So a lot of it – as i said before – it systems and getting these systems and processes in place so that you know what you’re doing, everybody knows what’s happening, everyone knows who’s responsible for what.
And, as well, it’s helping provide better customer service because, by putting these systems in place, you’re offering your clients and your potential clients this good service. They can get the information they need, they hear back from you on time, you can really grab them when they’re still enthusiastic and haven’t lost interest because they haven’t heard anything and forgotten about it
And sometimes it’s not even necessarily the work you [as a VA] do, but it’s bringing a fresh outsider’s perspective. I can highlight what you could be doing differently, or what you’re not doing but you perhaps could be doing. For example, apply for an award or tell people via the press what you’re doing, make sure your opening hours are on your website, that people can actually contact you and get a response.
This kind of knowledge and perspective can really help as well as the actual doing of the of the admin, or the marketing, or all that kind of work.
Alison: It’s so important isn’t it? I did my business strategy planning workshop today and it was interesting because I had some gentlemen who were seasoned business owners in different fields. But it was quite interesting how they’ve been in the industry a very, very long time in different areas of their industry. And they said, you know, some elements we know, but, my goodness, now you put it into layman’s terms and say how easy it is to implement within your business. It then becomes easy to do and to make a massive difference. It’s having those fresh eyes in your business that opens up to potentially pivoting into a new direction or innovating. And it’s so important.
And you’re right, you know, certain things on websites don’t work all the time. I have trouble with my CAPTCHA sometimes, it stops working. And it could be a Google algorithm that just slips and it’s important having somebody keeping an eye out.
And putting processes in place to make sure that things become streamlined and the customers get answered.
Kim: And then you’re not keeping everything in your head as well. You may know some things and I could go in there – or you [Alison] could go in there – and tell them “you should be doing this”. And they think, “Oh, I know that”, but their head has been so full of everything else that they’re trying to juggle there’s just no clarity or time to really focus on that point.
So yeah, it just it just really helps open things up and get ideas onto a piece of paper or to into somebody else’s head to deal with.
Working with a VA
Alison: So if someone was sat here now sitting on the fence and going, oh gosh, that sounds absolutely amazing, I could do that within my life, but I have no idea where to start or what to give her. What would your past clients or your present clients give you or say?
Kim: So it’s different for everyone, but the advice I give to new clients or potential clients who aren’t sure is just to take half an hour sit down and jot down everything you do in your business and you’ll be amazed at how much stuff there is.
Go really deep in it, break it down into smaller areas and then get a couple of coloured highlighters and highlight the bits that:
- You really love doing, and that’s why you set up the business and why you do what you do. Keep those because that’s that’s your motivation, that’s what you want to do.
- And then highlight the bits that you hate
- And then look at the ones that you don’t mind but really somebody else could do
Then pick out the bits that other people could do and pick out the bits that you hate doing and look at passing those over to somebody else.
I’m always happy to speak to people beforehand if they’re not sure. It’s always nerve-wracking passing work over to somebody, especially if it’s the first time you’re ever doing that, if you’ve never worked with staff, if you’ve never worked with a virtual assistant.
So start small. You don’t have to give away everything at once. Build it up and grow in confidence with it.
But just think about what your business would be and how much more enjoyable working in your business would be if you didn’t have to go every day and deal with all the same questions on those emails, or these tedious little jobs that you hate doing. Other people love doing them – I love those jobs, they’re so important to a business and that’s what I really love about it.
And pick out what you can get rid of, and if you’re not sure how you could pass that work on, if you’re not sure if somebody else really can do that, just talk to somebody. Most virtual assistants will be happy to have a chat with you with no obligation and suggest ideas. Because somebody else could have an idea or know a system or have experience in doing exactly the same kind of work you’re talking about, and suggest ways of doing it that you’d never thought of. And that task that you couldn’t possibly hand over to anybody else is suddenly so easy for somebody else to do.
Start small, just with the things that you know you don’t mind somebody else doing. Just start with that, even if it’s just half an hour a week, it’s something, it’s a start. You’ll see that your business isn’t going to fall apart from giving that to somebody else. And you can go from there and build up as you need to.
Alison: I think the other thing as well – and this is what I relate to – when I was in my old position as a hotel general manager, the one thing that I wished I’d have known about was a virtual assistant. Because I would run management meetings, board meetings, and we would be scratching around to see who could take the minutes. And all it needs is an NDA because you couldn’t use any of the team just in case down the line there were certain things being discussed that was highly confidential. But you could actually do a non-disclosure agreement with a VA and be confident that it remains highly confidential.
Kim: Yeah, most tasks are surmountable, there’s usually some way to outsource it if you need to or if you want to. It just could be that you’ve not thought of the way to do it yet and somebody else could suggest how to.
Alison: It’s worth that conversation.
So, have you got anything else to add?
Kim: No, i don’t think so, I think we’ve covered a lot of ground there. I hope it’s been useful. As you said a lot of people don’t know about virtual assistants and the flexibility that they can bring to a business. And it’s such a great way of getting that extra work done, or dealing with seasonal work, or getting extra expert help on a particular project, and just getting rid of the jobs that you don’t like doing.
And it’s really worth people thinking about and considering and just trying out. Because it’s so flexible, if it doesn’t work for you, you move on, you end a contract and that’s fine. You’re not really losing out on anything by giving it a go.
Alison: That’s that’s so true and. You know, I work with guys in America and we’re very clear that you’re only allowed to do 20% of your task list, your action plan, your actions and the other 80% is shipped out. And I’ll never when I first heard that. But it’s been the best gift because #TFM that I teach, which is
#TimeForMe, is so vitally important. And it’s incredible how so many people forget to have that time in the business to strategize and it’s so important.
Kim: Yeah, absolutely. If you’re feeling stuck you need more time for yourself, and just to see how much it relaxes you and helps everything else fall into place much more easily.
So how can anybody get in touch with you? What’s the best way to get in touch with you? Obviously we’ll put all your details at the end of this video for everybody and so how would you prefer people to get in touch with you?
Kim: Usually just dropping me an email. It’s just email@example.com. You can also find me on Linkedin, Instagram, Facebook. I’ve got my phone on me all the time if you try and get me on there you will get me. So drop me a message just to say hi or ask a bit of advice or learn a bit more about virtual assistants or anything like that. I respond pretty quickly most of the time.
Alison: That is brilliant, thank you so much Kim, it’s been an honour and a pleasure to have you on our #SowcaseSunday today. And thank you for giving so much content and ability to get people to understand what they could actually ship out to other people that would make their life so much easier.
Kim: Glad to help.
Alison: Thank you.