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How to Become a Virtual Assistant

By | Remote Support Services, Remote Work, Uncategorized, Virtual Assistant Support | 2 Comments

The most flexible types of jobs are those which you can do from home. And it’s becoming easier than ever to start your career as a remote worker.

While you can find all kinds of jobs online, one position that always seems to remain in high demand is Virtual Assistant.

Despite having great job security and pay, becoming a virtual assistant requires no experience. And with more companies switching to remote, the need for virtual assistants is only growing exponentially.

If you’re thinking about trying out virtual assistance, you couldn’t have picked a better time. This blog is meant to be your gateway to the world of virtual assistants and we’ll get you up to speed on how to get started today.

What is a Virtual Assistant?

A virtual assistant is an online worker who helps companies in their day-to-day operations. This includes a wide range of tasks such as checking emails, managing social media, scheduling appointments, data entry, preparing documents, writing blogs and so much more.

Job descriptions can vary greatly from company to company so it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly what a virtual assistant does. Basically, someone who can help reduce workload stress. 

It’s almost exactly the same as an assistant sitting in the office. But since most of today’s work is done on a computer anyways, a virtual assistant fills the role extremely well. Several major companies are beginning to realize this and have begun shifting to the work-from-home model at a rapid pace. This is why we predict that demand for virtual assistants is only going to go up. It’s not a question of ‘if demand will increase’, but a question of ‘how much will it increase’.

Skills Required to Become a Virtual Assistant

Most virtual assistant jobs require you to have the following:

If you have these, then you already qualify for most virtual assistant positions.

But like most people, you should always strive to do better than expected. So let’s talk about some other easy-to-learn skills that can improve your chances of getting hired as a high-level virtual assistant.

Administration

Helping out with general administration is probably the closest thing to what many view as an ‘assistant’. Checking emails, handling meetings and reminders, preparing documents, answering phone calls, you name it. High level managers are usually swamped on most days and wholeheartedly welcome an assistant who can do something even as little as read emails for them.

Glassdoor has a great guide for job seekers on which skills to learn for administrative work.  But rather than raw skills, most employers are looking for someone with the right personality. They want to hire someone who is forthcoming, honest, communicative, and most importantly hospitable since you might need to talk to important clients.

Even if being an administrative assistant isn’t your dream job, it’s a great stepping stone that could lead to some exciting opportunities in the future.

Content Creation

Publishing blogs, press releases and social media posts is something almost every business or entrepreneur is doing. Posting fresh content consistently on so many platforms can become overwhelming, and that’s where virtual assistants come in.

If you can help someone create high quality content on a daily basis, then your skills are in high demand. It’s not just about writing, sometimes you will need to proofread and edit content appropriately. If you’re willing to take it to the next level, learn some basic graphics design skills and you can serve as a social media manager. Online tools such as Canva make it extremely easy to put together a compelling graphics that matches the quality of a professional graphics designer.

Bookkeeping

Managing finances is extremely important to ensure smooth daily operations and companies need all the help they can get. More virtual assistants are now being hired to lend a hand with payroll, recording transactions, managing invoices, processing payments and so much more.

Most of these tasks require basic understanding of working with spreadsheets such as Excel or Google Sheets. But even without those skills, you can go a long way by just helping out with number crunching. In fact, most companies have already created their financial documents and just need someone to do the busy-work of filling them in.

Website Management

All companies with a digital presence will need someone to constantly check on their websites. You don’t need to be a professional web developer to take on this duty, you just need to be familiar with the platform.

The world’s most popular website builder is WordPress. Chances are that the company who hires you as a virtual assistant will already be using it for their business website so go ahead and familiarize yourself with it. The best way to do this is to actually build your own WordPress blog which is completely free. Even better, WordPress themselves conduct regular webinars which teach beginners how to use their platform, all free of charge.

Who is Looking for a Virtual Assistant?

Almost anyone with a digital presence is looking for virtual assistants. Small business owners, entrepreneurs, bloggers, youtubers, anyone with a website and so on. 

Larger companies have also built their digital channels using a crew of virtual assistants who are working from different parts of the world on different time zones.

Most who are willing to employ VA’s are very flexible with who they hire. Some of them are even aware of the fact that new virtual assistants may not have the necessary skills to take on the job. That’s why they offer in-house training or a grace period to allow virtual assistants to learn everything they need to handle their tasks confidently.

3 Steps to Becoming a Virtual Assistant

IdeasUnlimited has helped shape hundreds of remote workers into confident virtual assistants capable of serving all business niches. Based on our experience, we have developed a very simple checklist for aspiring virtual assistants to set them up for success.

Decide a Specialty

Feel free to scroll back up and re-familiarize yourself with what a virtual assistant does. As you’re reading through, find things you are most comfortable with. Perhaps a skill that you already know or a task that you have prior experience with. It can even be something you find interesting and wouldn’t mind learning.

The goal is to develop a focus. You could very well offer a wide range of services as a virtual assistant, but we highly recommend sticking to just a few. 

In our experience, virtual assistants should strive for LONG-TERM relationships with their clients. In order to achieve this, you need to focus on a few tasks that you deliver extremely well. If you try to accomplish many things at once, you risk underperforming and even losing your client.

Create an Impressive Portfolio

A portfolio is doubly important for virtual assistants who want to focus on content creation. Most clients demand to see a portfolio from virtual assistant candidates and you should therefore be prepared to present one at a moment’s notice.

If you’re looking for ideas for an eye-catching portfolio, be sure to skim through Pinterest for some inspiration from millions of content creators.

Items that could be added to your portfolio include social posts, graphics, website snapshots, blogs, articles and so on.

Even if you haven’t worked as a virtual assistant, we highly recommend using your free-time to craft a portfolio. For example, you could start a WordPress blog (which is free of charge) and begin submitting content on it for your portfolio.

One More Thing…

Becoming a virtual assistant, especially when starting from scratch, can seem daunting at first. IdeasUnlimited has worked with hundreds of remote workers who have shared their stories about the early days of their journey.

One of the biggest challenges of starting a work-from-home career is staying mentally strong. It can be demotivating not hearing back after interviews and or watching other freelancers who might seem much more skilled than you are.

But in the same vein, IdeasUnlimited is also home to amazing success stories where remote workers have built wonderful lives for themselves by working from home. Just remember that it takes time, effort and patience. Be positive and trust your abilities. Also, be open with other freelancers and share your stories as we’re all in this together. You can start right now by leaving a comment below!

Conclusion

Anyone can start their journey today to become a successful virtual assistant! Simply follow our plan, find your niche and stay positive. As the world is shifting to a remote workforce, building your career from home is only going to get simpler. Why not embark on your journey with us? Head over to careers.ideasunlimitedonline.com where you can find remote jobs and guidance from our recruitment team on being successful as a remote worker.

How to Design an Ecommerce Website While Keeping Cost Low

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Starting a retail business or taking your existing shop online begins by building an ecommerce website. There is no shortage of tools available to do this. In fact, there are too many options at your disposal.

In this blog, we’ll condense thousands of possible ways to build your online store into just three. Our goal is to block out unnecessary information and only focus on what matters. No prior experience with web development required. Let’s begin.

Shopify: Ecommerce Staple

Let’s start with the simplest option. Shopify is an ecommerce website builder that lets you get an online store up and running with turn-key solutions. This includes domain, hosting, inventory management and all the necessary security add-ons.

shopify packages

Shopify also includes built-in themes and templates that help you design a website that looks professional without requiring any coding.

Scalability is also a strongpoint. Shopify features best-in-class inventory management to handle a sizable stock of items. In our experience, Shopify has been great at building ecommerce websites that can host over 500,000 separate SKU’s. 

Many popular retailers such as Hasbro and Gymshark have built their online store-fronts using Shopify and many more are following suit.

At this point you’re probably wondering, “this is too simple and straightforward”. So what’s the catch?

Well, there are a few. Chief among them is how much Shopify relies on apps. Apps are essentially add-ons that give your website more functionality. For example, if you want to follow the drop shipping model, you will need to purchase one of the drop shipping apps like CJDropshipping. When you start thinking about other features you’d like to have such as customer service and email marketing, you realize that your cost is going to creep up a lot.

Another disadvantage is lack of control. When designing an ecommerce website on Shopify, you are limited to prebuilt themes. Also, if you wish to add a variety of content on your website such as blogs and articles, Shopify won’t support it by default. It’s laser focused on ecommerce.

One last thing we should mention is that Shopify requires you to channel all your data through them. While it’s difficult to ascertain how it affects your business, we believe it is still important to mention it as our readers value security of intellectual property. Not a big surprise in this day and age of concern over privacy.

Nonetheless, Shopify is still an all around great option. It is the closest thing to a ‘DIY’ for online stores. If you want to avoid investing in web developers or going through the hassle of learning web development, Shopify checks all the boxes.

But sometimes, what business owners are really looking for is flexibility. To lay a foundation to build on top of. For that, our next option might serve you better.

WordPress, Wix or Squarespace?

While researching this topic, you may have stumbled upon the “Big 3”:

  • WordPress
  • Wix
  • Squarespace. 

All three are basically the same thing; an all-in-one platform to build beautiful websites (as advertised on their front-page). 

These are called CMS or ‘Content Management Systems’ and can look oddly similar to Shopify. They all offer easy to use website building tools and they all come with pre-built themes. But there is a key difference. Shopify is first, and foremost, an e-commerce platform. The other three are more open-ended.

WordPress, Wix and Squarespace provide a starting point to build a website. You can make anything from blogging pages to shopping carts. This flexibility also comes with some additional complexity, which might not be in your interest.

While you can build your website with a CMS without coding, you will still need to separately handle domain, hosting and inventory management. Services like GoDaddy, Channel Spyder and Bluehost certainly help, but it’s still not as convenient as Shopify’s ‘all-in-one’ approach.

Plus, deep customization could require you to do some homework and learn the basics of web development.

To help you manage some of this complexity, here’s a checklist of items you should take care of:

  1. Domain; make sure to purchase one and have it ready to be linked to your website.
  2. Hosting; your website will need a server. Select one that is closest to your target audience’s region.
  3. Inventory management system; you will need to connect your website to a service that can manage your stocks and supplies. As mentioned above, Channel Spyder is a great choice.
  4. Website theme; all 3 services include free themes but you can also purchase your desired website template. Themeforest is a popular place to preview and buy professionally designed themes. Most of them will cost you $60 but can vary depending on the template.
  5. Payment system; be sure to include a seamless way to let users make electronic payments. If you’re using WordPress, a great option is the WooCommerce plugin.
  6. Security add-ons; make sure your domain has an SSL certification and your CMS has the necessary malware protection plugin installed.
checklist for ecommerce website

With all these taken care of, you should have most of the essentials covered to get your website up and running.

Now back to the question in the title, which one of these 3 should you pick? You might have guessed already, but our suggestion is WordPress. 

As for the reason, that’s a little more complicated. The truth is there really isn’t a single reason. It’s just that WordPress checks all the boxes; SEO, security, theme customization, accessibility you name it. Plus, it has a proven track-record over a longer period of time against its competitors.

This recommendation is backed up by numbers. WordPress is MILES ahead of the competition with more live websites than any other site builders.

number of websites for different site builders

Even better, you can buy a WordPress package through GoDaddy which should cover all the items in the checklist above. While it’s cheaper than Shopify, you’re going to have to do a lot more work.

Hiring an Ecommerce Developer

The final option to build your ecommerce website is to have a developer do it for you. Question is, how can you find a developer and know he or she is up to the task?

There are many places where you can find freelance developers. Fiverr, Upwork, Freelancer etc. On these platforms, you can create a project and wait for capable developers to bid on it. You’d be surprised how little you have to spend. It only takes a couple of hours for them to build the store. From there onwards, it’s up to you to continue working with them. If the developer has done a good job, we recommend spending a little extra to let him maintain your website.

It can be a little intimidating selecting the right fit for the job, so here are some pointers. When selecting a developer, the 2 things that you want to pay the most attention to is:

  • Portfolio
  • Communication skills

Notice how we didn’t even mention things like years of experience and technical expertise. Many developers like to boast their knowledge without any proven work. Therefore, you should only demand to see their portfolio. If they are capable, they should be able to show LIVE websites that they built which are up and running.

Communication is also important, if not more. Developers who tend to over-explain and say a bunch of techie jargon tend to be the ones you need to avoid. If they are unable to explain something simply, then it will become difficult to work with them long-term. When interviewing them, look for how well they break down a complex topic.

If you’re looking for questions to ask a developer, here are few to get you started:

  1. How many ecommerce websites have you built?
  2. What are some known issues that can occur in an online store?
  3. What SEO tools will you integrate into the site?
  4. How soon can you provide a mockup and a working demo?

Rest is very standard. Interview developers thoroughly, scrutinize their resumes well and make a confident judgement call.

If all of this seems like too much work, there are many services that can help you build a low cost ecommerce website using their tried and tested roster of developers. Going through a third-party to build your website might cost you a little extra, but the convenience of not having to worry about it is usually worth it.

CONCLUSION

In the end, it’s really a question of time. How much time are you willing to put into building an ecommerce website? We believe that business owners should focus more on their core products and services. Everything else needs to be secondary.

With that in mind, our three suggestions above are your best bet to quickly build an online store without burning through your cash. That’s how it should be. Start small, then expand based on how it performs.

If you’re interested in knowing even more, we’re always glad to have a call with you (for absolutely no charge!). We’ll share what we’ve learned after working on hundreds of ecommerce projects to guide you in the right direction. Good luck!

*Let us know in the comments:

Have you ever built an ecommerce website?

Did you use any of the above tools?

A Part of History

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Growth

The very popular online streaming platform known as Twitch, began in 2007 as Justin.TV to allow anyone to broadcast a video online. The original Justin.tv was a single channel featuring founder Justin Kan, who broadcast his life 24/7. By April 10, 2008, Justin.tv had signed 30,000 broadcasting accounts.

On February 10, 2014, Twitch‘s and Justin.tv’s parent company was rebranded as Twitch Interactive.

By 2015, Twitch had more than 100 million viewers per month. Twitch acquired Curse in 2016, an operator of online video gaming communities and introduced means to purchase games through links on streams along with a program allowing streamers to receive commissions on the sales of games that they play which greatly accelerated the platform’s growth.

As of 2017, Twitch remained the leading live streaming video service for video games in the US, and had an advantage over YouTube Gaming. As of February 2020, it had 3 million broadcasters monthly and 15 million daily active users, with 1.4 million average concurrent users.

Monitoring Content

IdeasUnlimited is proud of our history supporting Twitch in its early beginnings as Justin TV.  From approximately 2011 to 2014, our support staff offered content monitoring.  Broadcasts that were considered to contain potentially offensive content were available only to registered users over the age of 18. Broadcasts containing defamation, pornography or copyright violations, or encouraging criminal conduct, were prohibited by Justin.tv’s terms of service and IdeasUnlimited helped to flag violations. 

Our staff also had to be very flexible at adapting to feedback and suggestions that were invaluable to improving their system. Executives at Justin.TV concluded, “Setting up the contract with IdeasUnlimited was very easy and the rate was very affordable for the quality of work they provided” Aside from content flags, monitoring prevents adverse situations by checking the uptime of infrastructure components such as servers and apps, and notifying the webmaster of problems before they impact a business.

If you have live chat rooms or even just a high volume of user content of any kind, the importance of monitoring your content in the broader sense is ultimately protecting your brand and your reputation.  Even if the content is successfully removed, there is always a chance new material or similar issues can resurface on another site.

Changing Landscape

The Voice services industry continues to rapidly evolve with both remote workers and virtual services. More and more businesses of all types and sizes rely on services such as data entry, medical billing, content creation, payment processing, virtual assistants and voice services.  According to recent Clutch survey data, consumers especially value human interaction when calling a business. It is also important to mirror the consumer’s own language with broad multi-lingual service.

We are honored that Clutch.co recently  named IdeasUnlimited as a top BPO service company as well as a top Voice Services company.

Reach out to us for a customized quote if you are looking to find new ways to cover your customer needs globally 365 days a year.

Why Remote is the Future

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The pandemic has triggered a tectonic shift in the job market. In the US alone, an incredible 42% of workers have switched to remote jobs. Major companies such as Google, Facebook, Shopify and Uber have already announced that they are giving their employees the option to permanently work from home. According to Gartner, 80% of company leaders also plan to allow their employees to work from home, even after the economy reopens after the pandemic.

With over 10 years of experience of managing a remote workforce, IdeasUnlimited has been at the forefront of this change. We have always believed that this new model was inevitable but now, we are certain that it’s here to stay. The democratization of information technology has made it all too easy to build a substantial career without even visiting an office. In this blog, we’ll discuss the five reasons why remote work economy is the future.

Better Pay

There has always been a stigma in the society regarding jobs that don’t take place in a traditional office setting. Many don’t consider them as ‘real’ jobs that can afford a quality standard of living. This is simply not true. 

Extensive research on this topic has confirmed that the pay-scale of remote jobs is on par with regular occupations. One research group even found that on average, remote workers earn $100,000 per year more. Their data also suggests that long term remote workers have enjoyed a steady growth in their salary. Overall, remote employees end up earning 8% more than on-site workers with similar job titles and experience.

Another aspect that cannot be ignored is the fact that remote workers do not need to invest a large portion of their income on transportation and day-care. All combined, working remotely helps people earn more and spend less.

Happier Workers

While income is definitely important, work-life balance is also becoming increasingly paramount. The standard ‘Monday-Friday, 9 to 5’ work model has led to increased stress and low productivity. While a proposed ‘4-day work week’ could remedy this, another possible solution is to let people work from home.

Being in a comfortable environment and close to family has profound benefits for worker’s mental health. Mental Health America has done extensive research on this particular subject. A survey by them revealed that non-remote workers report ‘poor’ or ‘very poor’ mental health twice as much as remote workers. Furthermore, almost half of the people in the survey reported that they were ‘happy’ to ‘very happy’ with their work-life balance.

It’s hard to imagine that people will go back to an office environment after experiencing how much happier they are at home. From the employers perspective, it’s also more profitable to have workers that remain motivated and positive.

More Opportunities

One key area where the remote job market has a substantial upper hand is the variety of opportunities that are available.

When someone is required to simply login on a computer from their home in order to be ‘employed’, the job opportunity becomes incredibly flexible. People can be hired even if they live in a different country. Applicants who have physical disabilities or lack a means of transportation can also apply. Furthermore, remote jobs have also helped those who experience social anxiety to build successful careers. Our company has a long history of creating many success stories for people who have struggled in their professional lives.

While labor intensive work such as a construction worker or a restaurant waiter will still remain as they are, nearly all other types of jobs can be done online (and probably will be from now on).

Cost-effective

We’ve touched on how remote jobs are helping people save money, but it goes further than that. The cost saving benefits are perhaps even bigger for employers. While going to an office isn’t unfavorable for workers, employers themselves are starting to doubt the necessity of offices. In major cities around the world, such as London and Palto Alto, CEO’s have publicly stated their frustrations with exorbitant rents and taxes.

The recent switch to remote has given everyone a taste of just how much money everyone can end up saving. Workers won’t have to spend so much on transportation while companies can cut their operational expenses of running an office. It’s a win-win situation.

This is perhaps even more beneficial for small businesses and startups. The cost of establishing a brick and mortar has always been a huge barrier. But with more and more companies switching to ecommerce and online platforms to conduct business, the future is shaping up to an online only economy.

Automation

The pandemic isn’t the only thing that triggered the shift to remote. The surge in automation already caused many to re-think about the job market. For better or worse, widespread automation is on the rise.

Even without a world-wide health crisis, many had already envisioned a future where machines do all the labor intensive work. Therefore, now more than ever, the conversion to a work-at-home economy is happening faster than ever.

Some of the larger companies have already automated 20% of their work. Even many of the tasks that require a ‘human-touch’, such as human resourcing and operations support, can now be done out of office. Recently, these same corporations have been scrambling to figure out how to change all work to remote-based.

In a way, you can imagine that the pandemic did not cause a shift to remote. Instead, it only accelerated what automation set in motion years ago.

As we said before, on-site workers will always be in demand. But there will now be a substantial split than leans more towards remote. The increase in automation will only continue to favor remote jobs while the above mentioned points are strong arguments for their longevity.

What we must do now is figure out how to adapt to this new world. Employers need to morph their business structure to accommodate remote workers, while workers must learn how to find their footing in the remote job market. IdeasUnlimited will continue to help both.

If you’re looking to build your remote team, be sure to get in touch with our experts. And for anyone looking to find work from home opportunities, we’ll keep you posted over on our careers website.

Best Project Management Software and Tools for a Remote Team in 2020

By | Backend Support Services, Business Improvement, Customer Service, IdeasUnlimited US Remote Workers, Remote Support Services, Remote Work, The IU Way, Virtual Assistant Support | One Comment

A New Era and the Use of Project Management Software and Tools

Ever wondered how technology has encompassed every field of life today? For businesses, small or big, technology has enhanced the way teams are created and the way they work. Projects can now be delivered by a remote team spread across the globe, an in-house team, or a combination of both.

How is that convenient, you ask? Are you also wondering if such work arrangements will be productive?

The global remote workforce has been growing over the last few years because collaborative and interactive technologies have dissolved all geographical barriers to create efficient virtual workspaces. Reports on remote work show that 35% companies have currently employed a remote workforce, while 89% respondents are involved in fulltime or part time remote or virtual work. Moreover, a remote team shows 10-43% higher productivity as compared to an in-house team.

Benefits of Project Management Software and Tools for a Remote Workforce

Are project management tools effective for virtual teams?

Project management is difficult with an in-house team, and with virtual teams it becomes even more overwhelming. But technology provides the ideal solution. An ideal project management software helps a remote team in project planning, time management, resource allocation, and change management. As virtual workspaces are here to stay, effective project management is a must to build a remote workforce that is competitive, responsive, and successful. A good project management software serves to overcome the time-consuming communication issues and aids in efficiently streamlining processes and tasks.

Project management software and tools serve as a classic solution for keeping things organized and meeting deadlines—leading to greater profitability. Just like for an on-site team, the benefits of using project management software and tools for a remote workforce are innumerable:

 Better planning, execution, and monitoring

 Maintaining work schedules

 Better and clearer delegation of tasks

 Better collaboration

 Efficient problem solving

 Meeting deadlines

 Faster delivery of projects

 Better evaluation of performance

To give you a head start, we have compiled a list of the best project management software and tools for managing a team, especially a remote workforce. These have been handpicked based on ease of use, agility and advanced features, free trials, and quality of customer support.

Proofhub allows you to easily plan, collaborate, organize, and deliver projects—big or small—on time. This project planning software is based on Kanban boards where you can create custom workflows using tasks, assign user roles, choose a project manager, use Gantt charts, and do much more.

Create unlimited projects and add unlimited users, by paying a simple flat fee. Their free trial allows you to try it with your team and since there is a negligible learning curve, you can start using it for your business right away.

Proofhub - Project Planning Tool

Loved by over 85,000 teams and businesses around the world, including Google, Netflix, and NASA, this work management system ensures that nothing falls through the cracks. You can even bring on your clients, show them the progress made, and get real-time feedback and approvals from them. There is no need for lengthy email exchanges any longer. All you need to do is set up your client on Proofhub, give them the access they need, and make your life easy.

They promise to make work a “rewarding experience”, so go ahead and give it a try today.

Wrike is a cloud-based leading project management solution for team collaboration that serves well for both in-house and remote workers. It has won the Best Project Management Software award in 2018 and has 99% positive user reviews. It has a user-friendly, convenient interface, easy set up, and it works just as well on mobile devices. Wrike provides tutorials, documents, and live webinars for training.

It works well for prioritization, visualizing workflows, and analyzing results. Wrike’s features such as Gantt Charts, templates, built-in time tracking tool, scalability, and workload view are equally popular among project members and project managers.

It also offers cost-to-completion tracking for better budget management. Therefore, it has a dual functionality as a resource management cum project management tool. Wrike is a comprehensive software which comes with flexibility and customization to suit each team’s needs. Furthermore, it gives you the flexibility to easily integrate with various tools.

It is particularly beneficial for a virtual workspace because of its many data management and collaborative features. It helps in creating a remote team that is self-sufficient and productive.

Teams up to 5 members can reap its benefits for free. Bigger teams or enterprises can try it and then opt for a professional plan. However, reviews show it works best for marketing and design teams with 20+ members. It comes with a 24/7 support through a live customer service representative, which most definitely is a big plus!

Previously known as Dapulse, Monday.com has revived its image and has emerged as a fun, visually appealing, intuitively easy to use, and organized project management resource.

It offers collaboration and communication tools and provides integration with Google Drive, Dropbox, and Slack.

It is popular for remote workforce management because it is easily customizable, provides in-built tracking and monitoring, and can seamlessly become part of any established software system.

With a common dashboard, centralized communication and data management, the entire team stays in the loop. Different bright colors for each project stage, easy to add to-do lists, and member-designated tasks help the teams efficiently plan their timeline and use resources.

Its strongest feature is a URL mirrored Mobile Application. This is invaluable for those who are always on the move—as is the case for most remote workers. Monday.com offers the same interface on mobile as on PC/laptop, edging Monday.com over its competitors because of the easy integration and connectivity with the team.

It is most popular with creative agencies but is equally convenient for all other industries. It does offer a free trial and has different plans depending upon the features required and number of team members. Users find Monday.com intuitive but in case you have any difficulties, its robust customer service is always available to respond to queries.  This excellent and reachable customer service sets them apart from many other viable options.

This is one of the cloud-based software from Zoho with a focus of providing all basic features of project management. It has a simple pricing plan for both the web and mobile applications.

With clear user design, its best feature is its strong integration with other services from Zoho as well as Google and Microsoft. Moreover, the in-built chat option saves the user the hassle of opening external tools and keeps things simpler and timely.

It helps a remote team become organized through its time tracking, problem resolution, and document management tools. Progress tracking is also easy and quick due to easy-to-access Gantt charts, reports and analyses, and individual workflows.

It has a multiple view option and the members can choose their own style, depending on their preference for tasks lists. Impressively, Zoho Projects has shown continuous improvements, giving its users a better interface with many stable, customizable, and advanced features.

Along with tutorial videos and webinars, it also provides in-person trainings for the optimum use of the software. It has a free version for unlimited users, but the features remain restricted. For paid plans, you can enjoy a 10-day free trial to see if the plan suits your specifications or needs any revision. All their plans are flat rate and are very cost effective for larger teams.

Do you often find yourself scrambling at the last minute while trying to manage routine tasks and organizing work schedules for your remote team?

Asana might be a solution to your needs. It is another popular cloud-based project management suite that effectively helps you track the progress of your remote team and meet targets. It offers a simple layout, where all project and task details can be added for easy view.

The easy, flexible layout and mapped-out details for each task benefit the team in staying organized, identifying and rectifying any loopholes or errors, and adjusting schedules instantaneously. Thus, a remote team not only collaborates through Asana but efficiently completes a project by setting priorities, adjusting work structure, and assigning tasks—eliminating overlaps and delays. For routine tasks, a process timeline can be used and

shared as a template for all similar future tasks.

Asana can tie it all together for you with more than a hundred tools for integration, be it email, file sharing, data security, anything you can think of! It has gained popularity among small as well as large businesses and has 96% user satisfaction reports. It also acts as a resource management and collaboration software. Moreover, the mobile application helps with real-time updates and tracking.

It has a basic free version, while the premium and enterprise plans—with advanced and collaborative features—are billed yearly. For a larger team, the premium plan can come cheaply, and it offers exclusive projects, unlimited guests, unlimited dashboards, data export, central administration and other advanced features. Enterprise plans provide agile tools and customer support. Other than higher security and backup options, this plan also guarantees a dedicated customer success manager and instant customer support throughout the year.

Basecamp is most popular in creative agencies and it is very similar to a personal assistant who takes care of everything from assigning tasks and tracking the progress, marking them as done and then moving onto the next stage of the project. It is equally popular among entrepreneurs, contractors, small and medium businesses, and departments of larger organizations.

It has an easy, efficient system that helps in long-term planning and resource management as well. It gels conveniently for multi-customer and multiple projects firms.

It has all the features for collaborating on a project such as to-do lists, message boards, schedules, documents and file storage, and group chat. Since a decade Basecamp has been helping teams to organize, delegate, and monitor tasks.

It has a good file management system and integrative tools that helps virtual teams easily access what they require and finish tasks uninterruptedly. Team members can store, link, tag, share, and comment on project documents and files. The built-in real-time chat room is great for sharing ideas, proposals and discussions, and keeping the entire team on the same page. Therefore, Basecamp is your go-to tool when groups need to efficiently monitor their projects and achieve targets in a timely manner.

Basecamp gives you the freedom to set a date range, prioritize and rearrange tasks according to your needs. By the end of each operation, an automated report can be generated to analyze the progress and save time.

Use your google account to log in and you can enjoy a 60-day free trial of this software. The paid subscription is a fixed annual payment and depends upon the type of use.

For paid plans, the best part is that basecamp comes with all updates and IT issues are taken care of by 24/7 technical assistance. Users can also join a live Q&A base for instant solutions to their queries.

Here is another camp for you to join and enjoy some campfire with your team members!

Freedcamp is a cost effective, user-friendly software that has excellent features for seamless and convenient collaboration of remote teams. It is easily used through iOS and android applications too.

It is a project management solution that is not heavy on the pocket. It is used by a diverse clientele from many industries, ranging from retail, marketing, architecture, interior design to IT services, manufacturing, construction and many more.

Freedcamp features and tools facilitate project management through project scheduling, document and issue management, task management, reporting and time tracking. It has an in-built calendar for scheduling, reminders, tasks and monitoring events. It also has invoicing and billing and project templating tools.  Similarly, Wall is the interactive feature which allows instant communication between all parties. The settings can be used to adjust who sees what. This plethora of add-ons make up for the lack of a vibrant interface for Freedcamp.

It has a comprehensive and responsive customer service. Freedcamp has a general free plan for unlimited users and projects. Moreover, the company offers advance plans to non-profits, teachers and students without any costs.

Trello- Project Management Tool

You will love Trello whether you have just switched over to remote work or have had a remote global team for a while. All the features you need are completely free.

It is a Kanban-style project management app that helps you visually organize tasks, deadlines, and files. You can collaborate with and give updates to a team as well. Organized by cards, boards, and lists, it is a perfect tool for brainstorming a new idea or managing an ongoing project.

Best of all, use their amazing Power-Ups to sync your Google Calendar with the Trello boards, introduce agile elements to your workflow, connect to Dropbox, and do much more. You get one Power-Up free with each free account or you can upgrade to use unlimited Power-Ups. Trello even offers you the possibility of creating one for your own team, with custom functionality.

Conclusion

Using the right set of tools is necessary to reap maximum benefits of a remote team and its potential talent. At IdeasUnlimited, we have honed our remote workforce optimization strategy over the last 8 years to ensure the best quality of work from a geographically dispersed team. Our workers have a wide range of experience of using the above project management tool in several industries—be it real estate, sales, IT etc.

We would love to hear from you! If you have tried any other tool for virtual collaboration that has worked wonders for you, then please share your experience in the comments below.

 

How Remote Work Saved Me! Conquering All Odds

How Remote Work Saved Me! Conquering All Odds

By | Administrative Support, Backend Support Services, Business Improvement, Business Sustainability, Call Center Support, Customer Service, Ecommerce Support, Employee Management, IdeasUnlimited US Remote Workers, Remote Support Services, Remote Work, The IU Way | No Comments
Shahzad Yaqoob (Nick)

                                                  LinkedIn: shahzadyaqoob/    Facebook: shahzad.yaqoob.39948
 Upwork: shahzadyaqoob
Email: shahzad@osbprovider.com

Shahzad Yaqoob (aka Nick) is an entrepreneur, a philanthropist, a family man, and a human being with a strong resolve. He is an avid reader, a keen sports fan, and loves to spend time with his kids.

He has travelled across the oceans and built a remote career for himself, which no one except his brother believed could work out. He has been successful in establishing an award-winning company that not only offers a professional and flexible work environment but is productive and rewarding for all those involved—the IdeasUnlimited Family.

He is the founder and CEO of IdeasUnlimited, a business support services providing firm that is headquartered in Houston.

Self-discipline and a strong drive can help you overcome any situation and Shahzad proved that in quite short time. He has become an inspiration for all those who know him in a professional capacity.

A chat with him revealed much more about his struggles and relentless efforts to gain a reputable position for himself and help others see the light at the tunnel’s end.

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Social Anxiety and Remote Work

Nick's Story of How Remote Work Saved Him

Like me, most of you must have heard of and may have met people dealing with some kind of psychological struggle. But it is hard to fathom the agony they must be going through in order to meet day to day expectations as a family member and a worker. Typically, our society does not consider them fit to be a part of normal life.

Social anxiety impacts a worker’s life as soon as the day starts. A worker starts worrying about commuting to work, meeting people, deadlines, and the office environment. These worries also have spillover effects in their personal life.

It is usually advised to work on your anxiety disorders and then re-enter the workplace. However, it is neither financially nor professionally feasible. There are many different types of anxiety conditions but the proven key to success despite anxiety issues is to find an outlet and not let anxiety control your life.

Remote work has been a blessing in disguise for many of us facing geographical, health, and social constraints.

Shahzad had been struggling with acute social anxiety since his teenage years but in 2010 it worsened as a never-ending turbulence for his social existence. He was so perturbed that he could not contemplate any other solution other than ending everything, including his life.

As he left his regular job, he got called in for a part time remote job as an outbound caller. Halfheartedly, he accepted it and soon realized the opportunities that remote work could offer.

It gave me hope and that was a big thing… remote work can give you time to settle. You can explore the possibility of making likeminded friends or exploring other avenues of tackling social anxiety, or any other psychological or physical limitation you might have.

IdeasUnlimited’s existence shows me the importance of a support system in your life. It might be just one person. But someone to support and understand you, someone to show trust in your strengths and help you overcome your weaknesses, can take you a long way in life. For our CEO, this constant support has been from his brother. Today Shahzad considers all his colleagues as his support system, but it is primarily his brother, Shahid Yaqoob, who recognized Shahzad’s potential and guided him well at every step.

My brother has been the most positive influence in my life and career, my strongest support…I must thank my brother who helped transition everything without a hassle. I still look up to him for business advice…

IdeasUnlimited Making Lives Better

I had a chance to talk with Shahzad recently and it made me realize that everyone has their own battles and you never get a level field to achieve your ambitions. It is important to fall and then learn to stand tall. I realized that every company was once just an individual struggle, and every CEO-ship was once just a start…

In 2010, Shahzad took his brother’s advice and registered his company in USA. He worked day and night and built his credibility in the remote work industry and continued to build his team. Despite all hurdles, he stayed consistent and expanded his business to hundreds of workers from Pakistan, Philippines, India, USA, South America, and Europe.

I have been running this business remotely for nine years now! I manage call center locations myself in Karachi (Pakistan) and in Houston (USA), and then have partners run several call center locations in the Philippines.

Shahzad initially faced the common issues of remote team members. However, after sporadic work and trials and errors, IdeasUnlimited developed a very effective recruitment and monitoring process that facilitates competent workers in achieving the results expected by the clients. There is no discrimination and IdeasUnlimited promotes an inclusive workplace for anyone who is willing to unleash their potential and achieve results.

Now we have highly professional and trained HR and Administration teams, along with precisely tested processes to assure top productivity and efficiency, and a workforce that possess the required skills, attitude, and intent to do well.

Over time Shahzad has trained himself to stay calm and not let anxious thoughts take over his decision-making ability. He did not let initial failures deter his perseverance to achieve his dream. Interestingly, his dream has never been to succeed alone, it has always been about allowing people suffering in any way find HOPE for their future. And quitting was never an option.

This [quitting] never crossed my mind even when we went down to only one major project in 2013 for three to four months. We had a major downfall for no discernable reason, but quitting was just not an option.

The beauty of a struggle is that it helps you relate to those who are in the same boat. But the beauty of success comes when you work to let others be a part of the new possibilities too. It is when you build collaboratively to help others benefit from it as well. Shahzad proves how honest struggle creates empathy and the desire to improve the lot of others like you.

Knowing and having gone through such feelings [anxiety] and then finding remote work, which helped me gain my confidence back in life, has convinced me to show this path to others as well.

IdeasUnlimited in the Future

Shahzad often talks about mutual growth and giving back to society. He frequently initiates discussions about global social and economic concerns on the company’s platforms and I find him very ambitious towards finding solutions to major world problems. He envisions an inclusive company that provides opportunities for those with talent and one that sponsors education for orphans and the less fortunate all over the world.

He sees the remote work industry expanding in terms of innovation, coverage, and workforce. But he is looking forward to this industry getting globally regulated and judicated to meet new challenges of fraud and digital deception.

IdeasUnlimited is one of the highest-ranking companies for remote contracts and has recently won recognition on Clutch Awards and The Manifest. Shahzad thinks it is because of his team that his vision is gradually becoming a reality.

Shahzad values his workers and strictly believes in mutual growth. He always mentions each one of the senior members of his team in connection to IdeasUnlimited’s consistent upward track record.

With the same regard and passion, he wants to take the company forward in a way that it is rewarding for all those involved.

IdeasUnlimited is aspiring to become a company that meets the expectations of its clients at competitive pricing while the workers grow professionally, without being restricted by any personal circumstances.

Nick's vision for IdeasUnlimited

IdeasUnlimited gives me hope for all the conditioned workers in the labor force today—they too can work with a vibrant, growing company and build their remote careers. I will always be proud to have worked in an organization that values and builds its success with people, without discriminating or benching someone for something beyond their control.

It is a company that is future forward. It has the potency to help millennials choose their lifestyle as well as workstyle.

Shahzad Yaqoob has been successful in creating an organization that has commendable work ethics and quality of service while focusing on agility and technical standards required by their fast-paced, modern clients.

Shahzad has learnt the art of balancing life and work and not taking anything for granted. He is helping others strive for this balance too by believing in their strengths and conquering the odds set against them.

If you are interested in Shahzad’s complete narrative, you will find here a detailed question and answer session I had with the CEO of IdeasUnlimited. It is a story of his perseverance and personal struggles that have led to the success of many.

Please let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

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About IdeasUnlimited
Improve your customer service center for customer retention

What Are Customer Retention Strategies?

By | Backend Support Services, Call Center Support, Customer Service, Ecommerce Support, Multilingual Customer Service | 2 Comments

Successful customer retention is a major sign of business health and it is closely related to the growing concept of customer success through a well-established customer care center.

It works simultaneously as a marketing strategy while also aligning the company’s vision as part of its strategic goals. Customer retention means you are focused on developing a long-term relationship with the client rather than extracting short-term, temporary transactions.

Previously, marketing strategy revolved around convincing a consumer to buy your product/service and realize that it is at least marginally different from the other alternatives available in the market. Now, a customer care center must work on the entire customer purchase pattern and create consumer success—tangible rewards and benefits that the consumers will receive by making your company a long-term member of their consumption bundle.

This shift brings more challenges, but results in higher retention rates, lower costs of sales, and an improved bottom line.

It is crucial to understand that a customer retention strategy requires detailed study of successful consumers, their buying behavior, preferences, and disposable income. Top of FormThese customer retention strategies can vary from business to business. As a rule, it should be kept in mind that customer retention entails keeping the old customers with you, lowering exit rates, and increasing sales.

Let’s elaborate each of these concepts to help you formulate your own strategies for each step and retain customers successfully through your customer care center.

Keep Existing Customers Close to You:

A simple look around you can show you how expectations have changed and how an influx of choices has made consumption more complicated.

It is common for businesses to divide their customers into demographic profiles for setting marketing and sales goals. It is about time that these profiles are scrutinized to understand customers’ thought processes and buying patterns.

As customers are changing, your company should be able to keep up with their changed preferences to give them the choices and products they are looking for now. There can be a number of ways to retain your customers once you have outlined their preferences and are ready to meet their expectations.

Selling More and Often:

Brand Loyalty Programs can be introduced that are most likely to attract new and keep your existing customers coming back to you. They key factors here are features, designs, and quality you offer your customers. 66% consumers tend to stay loyal to a brand if they find features, quality, and design as per their changing demands.

Similarly, Coupons are a very effective and popular way of retaining customers. Offering coupons to your existing customers for their preferred item can motivate them to make an immediate purchase, especially after 30 months of association. This also gives them a feeling of personalized service, which further instills brand loyalty. In a study, 60% consumers agreed to Surprise Rewards being a major factor for their staying loyal to a brand.

Value Added Services or Cross Selling with a partner brand also keeps customers coming back to you.  Data-sharing partnership is also a potential avenue for increasing customer retention by letting partner companies share data and collaborate for time, season, and location-specific offers.

Rebrand your business to meet customer expectations. As Richard Branson has very aptly said, do not just meet expectations of your clients but exceed them.

It is equally important for acquiring new customers as well as retaining existing customers that a business is rebranded. Rebranding helps you move with customer preferences, as mentioned earlier. It is evident that modern customers are always on the look-out for something fresh and new. Therefore, it is feasible to rebrand and accommodate existing customers to show them all new customer success to convince them to stay. Rebranding helps to overcome an outdated image of a company and helps in exceeding the expectations of your existing clients.

Where Is Customer Churn Taking Place and Why?

In connection to the above discussion, reviewing customer behavior and company-client relationships can give valuable insights for retaining customers. One important information is to know where the customer exits and why?

Monitoring customers’ online journey can tell you the exact point which disturbed the customer enough to withdraw from your company and move onto someone else for a purchase. It may be long delivery times or dodgy/outdated payment options. It can also be the outdated overall layout of your website and poor social media presence. Most importantly, customer churn can take place due to improper handling at the customer care center.

Revamping the Customer Care Center

For modern consumers, online presence, customer service and delivery service have to be top notch. A well maintained customer service center can be an answer to all three of these goals.

To build a successful, longer term client relationship, your company has to build an effective customer service team. You require a friendly, personable team that is agile, technically smart and is trained to show gratitude and courtesy to the customers. Agents should have product and policy knowledge and the ability to resolve issues satisfactorily. This also leads to the capacity of a customer care center to quickly respond to a query in the required language, take required actions immediately, document, and follow up.

To have a versatile customer care center, it is most feasible to contract a company with prior experience of multilingual call center services, omnichannel support, and capable of managing and monitoring the teams to provide hassle-free best results for your company.

A good CRM tool is also a vital investment to keep your relationship organized and documented. It can cover all channels of support. To keep customer engaged through your online presence and product lifecycle, reemphasizing their customer success is important.  Influencers and arranging Q and A sessions can ensure a lot of engagement and build stronger relationships. A good customer advocacy program or creating online customer groups, webinars, and user group meetings are also some ways of bringing customers together.

Customer retention is a goal and strategy in itself. As the technology is advancing and nothing is inaccessible for a modern consumer, it is important that your business is able to deliver products and customer services that match the requirements and ideas of your customers. Targeting new customers improves revenue but keeping old customers intact helps in building company value and sustainable growth.

Originally posted as an answer on Quora for What are customer retention strategies?

Answer by Saira Zafar, Content Contributor, IdeasUnlimited

Disruption and Reinvention in the Telecommunications Industry

By | Call Center for Small Business, Call Center Support, Technical Support, Uncategorized | No Comments

Here is an important question for you: Why do firms run businesses?
The most common answer is: To generate profits and achieve a sustainable position in the market.

The telecommunication industry has been trying to replicate this capital-intensive industry synergy, but without moving beyond the orthodox consumer models. Therefore, with partial redundancy of voice and texting plans, telecom companies have been trying hard to balance their ROI and declining cashflows. Currently, Western European and North American Telecom is also selling broadband, TV, media services, and data services to manage profitability and capital returns. It is, however, more important to note that the landscape has been greatly transformed because Facebook, Google, Netflix, and other data-driven companies have taken it very far from the typical telecom market by creating new forms of communication, technical support, and viewer choices.

Now let me ask you my question again: Why do firms run businesses?

               This time a Million Dollar Answer should be: To maintain their competitive edge, evolve with time, and create positive customer experiences for profitability and sustainability.

Digital innovation can help telecommunication companies streamline operational processes, satisfy customers, reduce costs, and increase sales.

As the telecommunication companies have waited too long to understand and respond to this digital disruption, digital companies like Facebook and Netflix have jumped in and established themselves as the fiercest competitors to the telecommunication industry. These data-driven giants have grabbed a major share of the customer satisfaction pie—the main ingredient of success in today’s world. And to catch up, the telecommunication industry has to free up resources and employ trained, tech-savvy teams to support their customer care center and technical customer support units.

Customer focus is the main target. Telecommunications companies differentiate themselves and achieve success through customer-centric models. This requires drastic changes in operational, technological, and organizational processes.

E-Care

It is time for the telecommunication industry to step up their technical customer support to win big on customer experience and satisfaction. Providing technical customer support through digital channels is reported to increase customer satisfaction significantly.

Deloitte reviews how technical customer support teams can create differentiation and give businesses a competitive edge to retain and acquire customers. Giffgaff, a UK virtual network operator, has set a precedent in E-care or digital technical customer support. With just 33 employees, Giffgaff has a record of clearing customer queries/issues within three minutes. It has succeeded in building a community of users who help each other digitally and even developed Nokia and iOS applications through discussions and mutual help.

This demonstrates an excellent example of E-care, which also results in high levels of customer engagement and satisfaction. Digitization makes support services leaner, quicker, and effective. This reduces costs and capital commitment for the company.

The telecommunication industry hardly fares well when customer service metrics are compared. It has failed to fully appreciate the potential of developing digital technical customer support for tier one and two. As the market moves faster towards more sophisticated technologies and cloud-based systems and products and services, it is necessary to avoid communication delays and ineffective solutions.

Generation Y and Generation Z are tech savvy, have lesser time, and prefer online communication. Therefore, systems like E-care can accommodate and elevate their overall customer experience with a telecom operator.

Reports by McKinsey have shown that E-care also reduces customer care center costs by 25-30% while online technical customer support improves customer experience by 76%.  Another mobile operator reduced the number of support service calls by 90% by introducing sophisticated systems for E-care. This shows the significance of building and facilitating digital-only journeys for modern telecom users. A three-tiered system of technical support with advanced systems can easily navigate and anticipate problems and issue resources to the customers as required.

Omnichannel Experience

When digital services become extensive, they necessitate the introduction of a cohesive online/offline operations model for your business to deliver a consistent experience across all channels of communication and customer contact points. Your customer care center should be able to keep up with the evolving demands and preferences of your customers. Each touchpoint, whether operated digitally or through a customer representative, needs to deliver an expected level of service.

More than 60% of customers digitally interact with brands and request their services  through different mediums. They expect consistent and quality customer service across all time zones, mediums, and devices. Unified cross-channel services will bring loyalty and repeated sales for the company.

A well-managed omnichannel customer experience means a well-integrated and seamless experience for the consumers through which they can resolve service issues and communicate with the company. Different customers can have different communication preferences and the omnichannel support model enables them to choose different channels alternatively, simultaneously, and in combination, to build their own digital journeys.

Developing the omnichannel experience for your customers will also result in a wealth of customer data, which can further help to elevate customer service at multiple touch points by better personalization and service access. Big data and predictive analyses give a unified view of customers that is required for the omnichannel experience.

IdeasUnlimited has been assisting a number of companies in the telecommunication industry meet these contemporary challenges. If you are interested in knowing more about our services for telephone companies, internet service providers, wireless telecommunication carriers, network service providers, and media service providers, click here -> Read More