January 2024 Newsletter
Omage of a desk with a clock on its back and pencil on a curriculum vitae with the text underneath saying: How can a neurodiverse individual effectively prepare for a jon interview/meetig

Free Online Tools for Virtual Assistants

 

Nowadays, there are plenty of online tools that make remote working easier and more efficient. However, a lot of these platforms use either subscription models or charge high prices.

You might not want to spend a lot of cash on online tools, especially if you’re new to working as a VA.

We’ve compiled a list of some of the best online tools to help your work as a virtual assistant. Some of these platforms do offer a paid ‘pro’ or ‘business’ version (very few online platforms don’t), but those listed below still have excellent features that are free to use.

As you grow and expand as a VA, you might find that it’s worth it to invest some of your earnings back into your business by paying for subscriptions of your favorite online platforms. However, there’s no need to when you’re just getting started. There are plenty of free options to explore first!

If you’re new to working as a VA, you might also be interested in learning more about the equipement you’ll need. Click HERE to read our blog about everything you’ll need to get started as a virtual assistant!

Drawing of a laptop with sticky notes on the screen and Stormboard written on the side
There’s nothing better than having an organized, visual way of showing your ideas. 
 
Stormboard (www.stormboard.com) is an online platform that allows you to create brainstorms, planners, calendars, and diagrams online. Stormboard creates an overview of your project using sticky notes, which you can then edit, link to other items and colour code. 
 
You could use it with clients to help them express their ideas and work collaboratively or you can use it alone to keep up with your projects. By far the best feature included in the free version of Stormboard is the library of templates that you can use to get started, but it’s also easy to create your own. 
 
Pros 
• Visual way of planning 
• Up to 5 people can collaborate (including yourself) . 
• Numerous pre-made templates 
 
Cons 
• Can only have 5 ‘open’ boards at a time (although you can ‘close’ the boards & have them as read-only). 
• Some customizable features are only available in paid-for plans. 
Drawing of a hand holding a mobile phone

We’ve all been there. You pick up your phone to check one email and then all of a sudden you realize that you’ve been mindlessly scrolling for half an hour.

Forest is a productivity tool to help you stay on track when you’re working. The app ‘plants’ a tree when you start a timer, which then ‘grows’ as you work without leaving the page. If you make it to the end of your timer without getting distracted, then you get a tree in your virtual forest!

You can also get an extension for Chrome so that you can use it on a desktop or laptop. If you’re someone who would feel guilty for letting a (virtual) tree die, then this one is for you!

Pros
• Forest also partners with a real tree-planting charity called Trees for the Future!
• You can use the calendar feature to look at all the trees you’ve grown in your virtual forest over time.

Cons
• The app doesn’t physically block certain sites, just discourage you from leaving the app – may not be enough to dissuade some people.

Drawing of someone painting on a tablet screen and the word Canva written on the side

Canva (www.canva.com) is a useful online platform for creating and designing social media graphics, posters, email headers, logos, and short videos. You can start from scratch or use any of the thousands of templates (all with customizable elements) to design almost anything.

Canva does have a Pro version (which you have to pay for), but their free offerings are still useful.

If you get frustrated with not having access to all of Canva’s stock images on the free version, you can always try using Pixabay or Unsplash to find royalty-free images that you can use instead.

Some templates are only available on the Pro version but, if you’re willing to spend some time, you can recreate them yourself.

Pros
• Simple to use & can create professional-looking graphics easily.
• Can customize templates, edit pictures and rearrange designs.
• Can download your designs in different formats and sizes.

Cons
• Some photos and templates aren’t available for free.
• Social media scheduler isn’t on free plan.
• Only has 75 free songs for videos – if you plan to make videos often, you may need to look elsewhere for audio.

Drawing of a pile of books on a desk with a desk lap shining on them

Trello (www.trello.com) is a great tool for project management. On Trello, you create a board (using their free templates if you wish) and can then fill that board with notes, to-do lists and attached documents. You can also share your boards with others and use it to assign tasks.

Trello is visually very pleasing and easy to organize; you can drag and drop lists and cards onto different columns when needed, and mark to do lists as completed when you’ve done them.

Whereas Stormboard might work best with short, simple ideas (so that you can look at the bigger picture), Trello is great for ‘zooming in’ on the finer details of a project.

Pros
• Intuitive to use – has a drag and drop system.
• Easy to organize and customize.
• Can add deadlines and colour coding to your cards.

Cons
• Can only attach large files with the paid version.
• You can only have up to 10 boards on the free plan.

Drawing of a storm cloud with bolts of lightening coming out the bottom

Can’t work without background noise?

Noisli (www.noisli.com) allows you to have continuous, non-intrusive background noise that’s perfect for keeping your focus.

Unlike ambient tracks that you might be able to find on YouTube or Spotify, Noisli allows you to mix and personalize your background track to include a blend of the sounds you like the most.

There are some noises that are only included in the Pro version, but there are plenty included in the free version such as rain, thunder, train tracks, white noise, and café din.

Pros
• Can customize and ‘blend’ sounds to suit your taste – for example, rain and railroad tracks.
• Can change the volume of each individual sound.

Cons
• Some sounds aren’t available for free
• Noisli compiles playlists for certain themes – most of which aren’t available on the free plan

Drawing of an egg timer that is slightly tipped to one side

Managing your time effectively can be one of the biggest challenges when you’re self-employed – so much so that we’ve included it in our blog about the challenges of being a virtual assistant. Click here to read about the challenges of being a VA and how you can overcome them!

Toggl Track is a time-keeping tool that allows you to manage your hours effectively. It works by starting a timer that records each section of work that you do.

Toggl makes it really easy to see on a calendar where most of your time is going, and which projects you are devoting most of your time to. You can tag certain projects to group them together, and the app has a ‘track again’ feature so that you can re-track a recurring task.

You can also see your weekly hours added up and Toggl Track sends you an email each month with a roundup of your monthly hours.

Pros
• Also available on a phone app so it’s more convenient.
• Can group similar timed entries together.

Cons
• Billable rates only available in paid plan.
• Doesn’t coordinate with iCal or Outlook unless you join paid plan.

drawing of people on a screen waving and smiling

Most of us are pretty familiar with Zoom, but that doesn’t mean it should be overlooked as a great online tool for VAs. When you are working remotely, it’s essential to have a reliable video-calling program so that you can have meetings with clients.

Zoom’s free plan contains everything you need – the paid version gives you a few additional tools that aren’t necessary unless you’re running a bigger business with multiple employees.

Zoom only allows for those on the free plan to have group meetings (more than two people) for up to 40 minutes, but you can have unlimited meetings with one other person without a time limit.

Pros
• Unlimited one-to-one meetings with no time limit.
• Can have up to 100 people on one call.
• Can customize backgrounds or have a blurred background.

Cons
• Can only have meetings up to 40 minutes (if you have more than 2 participants)

Now that you have an idea of some of the best free online tools, hopefully you’ll be ready to hit the ground running as a virtual assistant! Don’t forget to ask any other VAs that you know what their favourite tools are too – you may discover something new!

Not every platform listed above will be to everyone’s liking but testing out free versions of online tools should help you figure out which tools work best alongside your business.

I always knew I wanted to be my own boss one day, but the right time never seemed to present itself.

On a camping weekend, I hurt my ankle badly and I simply couldn’t drive, the mega Corp I worked for as an Executive Assistant were surprisingly sympathetic and rather than just be off work sick, they arranged remote access to work from home, happy days, no commuting. Eureka!! I could do this on a permanent basis if I took “The Risk.”

I handed in my notice and started building my business, sourcing associate work to tide me over until I had my own clients.

One unremarkable day I had a query from a potential client who literally changed my life, she explained that she was Neurodivergent, (something that I’d had a little bit of experience with within my former corporate life) and could really do with a VA that could cope with her particular way of working. I finally realised it wasn’t just the commuting I struggled with, it was the whole corporate world that I didn’t want to engage with, my passion has always been to try and help/assist wherever I can.

Neurodivergent clients are simply the best, no one client is the same as the next and the feeling of accomplishment when I know I’ve actually made a positive difference can’t be beaten.

So if you’re a Neurodivergent business owner, take that “risk”, arrange a call with me, join my Facebook group or take out a membership and see how me and my marvellous team could give any assistance needed.

Taking a risk could mean leaving that job you’ve hated for years. Maybe you’re dreaming of starting your own business or thinking about going back to school because the degree you got the first time just wasn’t the right fit. Or perhaps, it’s about finally saying NO MORE to always trying to make everyone else happy.

To really grow—both personally and in business—you’ve got to step out of your comfort zone and try something new.

Do you have the courage to take a risk?

What’s holding you back?

Are you stuck in the “what ifs”?

Are you just surviving or feeling stuck in your comfort zone, struggling to break free?

If you’ve been thinking about making a change but fear of failure is stopping you, it’s time to ask yourself: What part of myself am I losing because I’m afraid to take a risk?

Only you know what needs to shift for you to move forward.

When I started my own business in 2018, I had those same doubts and fears. Leaving a secure, full-time job with no clients lined up was a huge risk. But looking back, I have no regrets. It was the right move for me, and it’s paid off in ways I couldn’t have imagined.

Now, I wouldn’t tell everyone to just quit their job. It was a decision that took a lot of planning and careful consideration. I was lucky to have a backup plan and the support of my husband. Without that, I couldn’t have made the leap.

Back then, I was stretched thin, working over 70 hours a week at a demanding full-time job. I realised I couldn’t give my all to both my job and my personal aspirations. The thought of continuing on that path, neglecting my own dreams, was fast becoming a non-option.

Leaving a steady salary behind was scary, especially with no clients lined up. But staying in my comfort zone wouldn’t bring the fulfilment and success I wanted. So, I decided to take the risk.

My boss thought I was crazy and even offered to let me stay on part-time, working 20 hours a week. For some, that might have been a good compromise. But for me, it wasn’t just about the money. I pride myself on giving 100% to whatever I do, and I knew that splitting my time would mean I couldn’t give my best to either role.

So, despite the uncertainty and scepticism from others, I chose to just DO IT and take my own path. By no means was it an easy decision and on my last day at work I felt physically sick!  As I walked out of the office for the last time and got in my car, for the 1000th time, that day I had doubts and what if’s running through my head!  What the bloody hell had I done?  And more importantly, now I was on my own, where do I start?  There was no one to tell me what to do and I was seriously thinking of going back and asking for my job back!

Now 5 years on, I can confidently say it was the right decision. It hasn’t been easy, and there have been moments of doubt, but the freedom to pursue my passion has been worth every challenge and sacrifice.

I love what I’m doing!

Taking risks can be inspiring, enjoyable, and help you grow in so many ways. Embrace it!

What are the potential rewards of taking risks in life?

Sense of Accomplishment: Taking risks is scary, but it leads to self-discovery. Many people I know had no idea where their journey would take them, but the sense of accomplishment and pride they feel is incredible.

They feel alive for the first time, I know I did!

Personal Freedom: Imagine working with people you like and doing what you really enjoy – this is your path to personal freedom.

Letting Go of the Past: Challenging old routines and assumptions can be rewarding. By taking risks, you can disprove old beliefs and free yourself from negative thoughts and “what ifs”.

Self-Discovery: This is a biggie; risks help you learn about yourself, your values, and what drives you. With new experiences, you can find what truly makes you happy. My journey from being an employee to running my own business has been a profound experience of self-discovery.

Increased Confidence: Each risk you take builds your confidence and makes you more flexible and a better decision-maker.

New Opportunities: Stepping out of your comfort zone can lead to new opportunities, both professionally and personally and it’s so exciting when this happens and I LOVE meeting new people and learning. No more stuck in that 9 to 5 waiting for someone to leave before you get the opportunity to get promoted.

Resilience: Risks teach you how to handle setbacks, building resilience and the ability to navigate challenges like a pro.

No Regrets: If the risk works out, fantastic! If not, it’s a valuable lesson that makes you wiser. We learn from our mistakes.

 

For those who are neurodivergent, taking risks can feel daunting, but it can also lead to incredible personal development and success. Using a Virtual Assistant can be a game-changer, providing essential support and helping to navigate uncertainties.

Starting to take risks can be scary, but that’s okay. It’s natural to want to stay safe. Trust me, taking risks can be fun too. There’s a whole world out there with endless possibilities. To figure out which risks are right for you, just go with your gut. Don’t be afraid to try new things. Even if something doesn’t go as planned, you’ll learn from it and grow.

Curious about how Virtual Assistant support can change your risk-taking journey with a business that understands what it’s like to run a successful business. Schedule a FREE consultation with me—no risk here, I promise!

 

Ps. Yes, that’s me jumping out of a plane for charity!

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