Even VSAs take vacations. Or need to take time off to take care of medical or family needs. That’s why it is important to have written office procedures so that anyone (even the speaker) can jump in at a moment’s notice.
What Procedures Should Be Documented?
Anything that happens in the office and between the VSA, speaker and others should be written down and documented in a way that the speaker or a temporary VA could fill in. These include the handling of:
- Communication Into and Out of the Office – for more details on communicating with Speaker’s Bureaus (see section 3-1), Meeting Planners (see section 3-2) and Speaker Prospects (see section 4-1)
- Database – for more details see section 4.3
- Travel – for more details see section 3-4
- Calendaring – for more details see section 4-4
- Products and Promotional Material – for more details see section 5-1
- Office Supplies
- “Red Flag” Emergencies
- Special Projects/R&D
Communication Coming Into the Office
At any office, the moment the telephone rings, concentration on whatever you, or the speaker, was working on is lost. If you are a speaker and in the middle or writing or rehearsing or doing something else only you can do, it becomes a big distraction and it can really throw a speaker off his or her game.
It is important to determine how you want to handle incoming phone calls.
Speaker Office Procedures Worksheet
There are many ways you can deal with this as a virtual speaker’s assistant and you may use different approaches different days of the week or times of the day.
1. The speaker can answer his or her own phone and when there is a a need to focus, he or she can forward the phone to you and you can answer the phone and take messages.
2. The VSA can be the primary person to answer the phone. If the speaker always wants a person to answer the phone, except non-business hours, then that is probably the best choice.
3. It is perfectly legitimate to have an automated voice mail system so that you only hear from the people who you want to hear from and have others leave a message so you can get back to them when you are prepared to answer their questions. Caller ID and voice mail are great tools that will allow you to listen to a message and then call back to get more details.
Phone Answering Services
Phone answering services are online services that allow you to take calls in, make calls out, fax, get messages via email. They are intended to help you integrate all communications. You can manage inbound calls by screening to voice mail or have them forwarded.
RingCentral.com offers a toll free number, auto-receptionist, smart call routing, call transfers, and an integration with Smart phones, faxing, record a main greeting and individual voice mail box greetings.
Grasshopper.com provides toll-free numbers (both local and national), call forwarding, voice mails can be read via email and unlimited extensions so you can have each staff member with a unique voice mail and message. There are a variety of plans, starting at $9.99 per month.
Typical Telephone Distractions
You should have a policy on how quickly you will respond to messages – either the same day or within 24 or 48 hours.
Many speakers tell callers that they have an assistant who is in charge of logistics and in charge of the calendar, so you will need to talk to him or her even to get on the calendar to have a more in-depth discussion later.
Check with the speaker about how he or she wants the phone to be answered: “Hello. This is Susan Jones Speaks, Pat speaking. How can I help you?”
There are many distractions that can interrupt a speaker’s office and your work. Many people will call to talk with you, not necessarily the speaker, to get information. They may want to share news about another speaker, hoping they can pump you for information or ask a favor. They may want your speaker to volunteer or help with an upcoming event in some way.
Other people may just be calling because you have such good judgment that they want to get your opinion – looking for free advice. It will be up to you to keep the distractions to both you and to the speaker to a minimum so the speaker can focus on what only the speaker can do – write a great speech and deliver it.
Calls will come in from speaker’s bureaus, prospects, the media as well as product inquiries. You will want to talk about how to handle each with the speaker.
Many speakers have multiple e-mail accounts. They have private accounts, they have public accounts, sometimes they’ll set up e-mail accounts for a specific project or need, like ExtremeMiniMakeovers@SusanJonesSpeaks.com, or speakinginquiries@SusanJonesSpeaks.com. All of these separate e-mail accounts have to be managed and responded to. A lot of what will come in will be spam, so this means deleting all the spam that the spam filter doesn’t catch.
Also check with the speaker to see if he or she wants you to have your own email account at the speaker’s URL (ex: Pat@SusanJonesSpeaks.com). You can send an email from your own computer that looks like it came directly from the speaker’s URL by setting up your own email that way.
Typical Email Distractions
The speaker will get general questions via email from people like students that most business people get from time to time. For instance, you might have an inquiry from a student that says, “I’m a student in public speaking, can you give me your secrets to success?” You will want to have a polite but canned answer you can use, thanking the person for getting in touch but explaining that the speaker is overwhelmed with requests for time and direct them to some articles on the speaker’s website. You would also want to refer them to the NSA or Toastmasters or a more appropriate place to learn about speaking.
Many people think if they have your business card, this means they have permission to add you onto their mailing list. The only thing you can do is unsubscribe. This may all seem like not a lot to do, but many speakers don’t regularly access their own emails when they travel and you may be the one who is called on to keep the email to a minimum so when the speaker does check it, it is only those things the speaker needs.
The speaker may also want you to organize shared emails in particular files so that he or she can access just the things wanted. For instance, there might be an email file category for the next upcoming trip with all the hotel and other pertinent information in one place.
Regular mail can be a little tricker since the speaker and the VSA will not be actually sharing an office and an address. The speaker can use his or her own address and forward mail to the VSA or use the VSA’s business address or a P.O. Box that can be forwarded to either place.
Some speakers want their VSAs to read their speaking and trade publications and pull out just those things that the VSA knows the speaker would want. Of course the speaker will want the VSA to just trash any of the junk mail that inevitably comes to any address.
Communication Going Out of the Office
Newsletters Versus Social Networking
Even with extensive use of social networking, email newsletters and other forms of email communication are still very important. Email subscribers have signed up to get information from the speaker and you never want to overlook the importance of this fact. They want his or her information and it’s your job to make sure that each particular audience receives the information that they have requested or are interested in. This might include where the speaker is speaking, new topics, new products coming out and more.
There are times the speaker will want to send something through the mail such as postcards, cards for occasions and gifts.
Many speakers have their VSAs use their own addresses for things like holiday cards so that the VSA can manage the list when cards are returned to sender.
You will need to determine if the speaker is using a Contact Relationship Management (CRM) system (like ACT or Goldmine or eSpeakers.com), or is using something much simpler such as Google Contacts or Outlook.
If the speaker has an old system, you may need to help them upgrade to a better system. Document what information goes into each field if the speaker uses a CRM system and how the speaker wants information collected – either by you or the speaker. The speaker may want you to input any new contacts within a day (or a week) by scanning business cards or rekeying directly into the system.
Most speakers will have physical files in addition to keeping files electronically.
There are great ways to share files electronically, such as ACT for the database, Google Documents and the eSpeakers.com calendaring system. For files on the speaker’s or VSA’s personal computers, it is helpful if you create a file naming convention you both can use so that it is clear to both the VSA and the speaker where to locate an electronic file. For instance, all Contracts could start with the word “contract”, as in “ContractABCOrgEventJune2011.doc”, and all handouts could start with “Handouts” such as “HandoutsABCOrgEventJune2011.pdf”.
It will be important to know whether the speaker wants the physical files to be stored at the speaker’s office or the VSA’s office or both. The speaker will want to keep hard copies of all contracts and will probably also have many other files regarding his or her intellectual property – notes on speaking topics and events.
Many speakers want files color-coded for easy reference. For instance, green for speakers bureaus, red for events, blue for contracts, etc.
The speaker may regularly use a travel agency or may have you set up all the travel plans and reservations. You will have the speaker complete a Travel Preference Checklist that will cover many of the things you need to know – hotel preferences, airline and seat preferences, travel time preferences and more. Then you will use the Event Detail Form to document information on the specific event you are planning for – such as whether this is a keynote, workshop or concurrent session, the date and time of the speaker’s presentation and the location of the meeting and/or hotel.
These items should be kept – preferably both electronically as part of your calendaring system – and in hard copy.
Part of your travel procedure should be to get a sign off – even if by email – with the speaker before you actually book any travel. Send all the information you gather from the Travel Preference Checklist and the Event Detail Form (see Section 3-4) that is pertinent to travel and give the speaker choices about when to travel and possible marketing opportunities before and after the event (if you can get those from the Meeting Planner). Once the speaker decides on travel arrangements, book the airline as soon as possible and send a copy of the itinerary to the speaker. Be sure to confirm the arrangements again a week to a few days before the event.
Getting the dates and times of events and travel right on the speaker’s calendar is the most important part of your job in scheduling the speaker. See Section 4-4 for more details.
You and the speaker must decide what will go on the calendar (personal time, client meetings, besides speaking engagements) and under what circumstances things will be added and deleted.
Products and Promotional Material
The first thing to note is where the inventory for various products are so you will know where to find them when orders come in. Will products be kept at the speaker’s office, the VSA’s office, at a fulfillment house or other location?
There should also be a procedure for what promotional materials are sent with product orders and how products are shipped (boxed) and labeled. See Section 3-5 for more details.
Office supplies can get very expensive and generally, as an independent contractor, the VSA will be buying his or her own office supplies. However there are special kinds of office supplies (such as special colored file folders, labels or packaging for which the speaker should pay. This is something important to work out with the speaker. In some cases, a local VSA may come into the speaker’s office and inventory what is needed in office supplies, shipping supplies and actual product inventory.
• Printer paper
• Mailing labels
• File folders
• File folder labels
• Computer disks (blank CDs)
• Ink cartridges
• Markers/Flip Charts
• Scotch tape
• Packing tape
• Boxes, other packaging
Emergencies – When and How to Get in Touch with Speaker Immediately
It is important for the VSA to know exactly what constitutes an emergency in the speaker’s mind and to know when and how to contact the speaker the moment this situation occurs. For instance, if an event is canceled, the speaker might want an immediate email or a phone call. If there is message on the voice mail overnight saying that the speaker’s bureau has a media opportunity for the speaker the next day, the speaker might want a phone call. Have the speaker list these “Red Flag” events and add to them as new things happen where the speaker says, “I want to know about that the moment it happens.”
Review and Edit
Once you have all the information about what procedures are important in this speaker’s office, write a narrative version with full sentences and paragraphs of what you and the speaker have agreed will be the office procedures. Make sure and have the procedures reviewed by the speaker to be sure it fits what he or she wants or for anything missing.
Of course procedures are only useful when they are kept up to date, so you might set aside a time quarterly to go through them and make any changes or updates.
Weekly Conference Call Between VSA and Speaker
Speakers and VSAs who have long term working relationships do a lot of communicating. Consider having a weekly conference call that is time for just the two of you to talk through whatever is important that week.
The weekly conference call should be structured and the VSA should be the one taking the lead, asking the questions and documenting the decisions for a follow up email. Here are the kinds of things you will want to be on the agenda each week:
1. First, discuss top priorities based upon upcoming deadlines and the goals that the speaker has set. The key question that the VSA asks is “What support do you need from me? Is there anything you need from me in order to complete this task?”
2. Second is what we call “problem children”. Discuss anyone who is causing a lot of disruption for the speaker and determine ways the VSA can run interference for the speaker. Sometimes obstacles come up. Most of the time they are related to a process that isn’t working or miscommunication between people. The key question here is can the VSA intervene on the speaker’s behalf in order to alleviate the log jam?
3. The third item is updates. What has been done since the last time you talked? The more the VSA can get the speaker to talk, the less chance things will be forgotten. This should be your time to share what is going on.
4. Finally, any outstanding items. What hasn’t the speaker accomplished since the last weekly call – “Hey, I just didn’t get to do it.” So then the question becomes, “What can I do to help you with these outstanding items? Do I need to step in to help? What are the reasons these things didn’t get done?”
This is the accountability piece. The VSA can really be an accountability partner and when the speaker knows you have to answer to somebody, even if it’s a VSA or someone you’re paying to support you, it’s great motivation to get things done.