You’ve just signed a new client - hurray! You’re feeling happy, successful...and then it hits you. This.job.is.HUGE. Bigger than you’ve ever worked on before. And perhaps doing some things you haven’t really done a lot of before.
That’s when the fear sets in. What did you just sign up for? Can you really do this? How do you get started?
Take a deep breath. You’ve got this. You just need to get started on solid ground. Take these six steps and your project is going to shine for your client.
Vacation teaches me a lot. I come back so much more wise - in life, and in business. If you’re interested in hearing about a couple of previous road trip lessons, you can check them out here: 2012, 2013.
Let’s jump in, shall we?
I struggle as to where I should start this little adventure. And exactly what the moral of the story is. Because there are many. (Both starts and morals!)
I am the mother of a 16 year-old. (And that, right there, should be the beginning and the end of this tale, right?)
A few years ago we purchased, for Christmas, a laptop for said teenager. Nothing fancy, nothing expensive. It was a means to do homework. But, as kids get older, they tend to want fancier, more expensive items to keep up with their friends (especially for gaming). We let our son know that if he was going to get anything fancier, he’d have to pay for it himself.
So, money was saved slowly. Odd jobs, gifts, etc.
And then, through the gaggle of teenage friends I like to call his “Think Tank” my son decided it was better (and cheaper) to build a computer rather than buy one already put together. He assured me that all his friends did it. He assured me that he knew what he was doing. He assured me that this would be so much better. He assured me that this would be so much cheaper.
Thus, it began.
Trip One: 50 Miles round trip, 2 hours of time
We drove to “the” computer store where they assisted my son with the proper build, and actually got his price down $150 cheaper than what he built. All parts were purchased.
At home, to deaf ears, I stated: Clean up your work area. Organize everything. Do things methodically. Ensure that everything works. Ensure that everything is correct.
By that evening I was informed that my son purchased the wrong motherboard, and it wouldn’t fit in the case. Because he had already opened the motherboard and started messing around, we decided to replace the case.
Trip Two: 50 miles round trip, 1h 15m of time
Two days later (because I refused to go back again over the weekend), we went back and exchanged the case.
Then came the complaining. This wasn’t working. This part didn’t go in the right way. It’s “supposed to go in here.” The case is wrong. (After he had already bent some of the casing out of the way to get the graphics card to work.)
Finally, all the pieces were in. It doesn’t power on. More complaining. (Insert 2h of parental time helping to troubleshoot). I chat with the computer store support. I call live support with my son and troubleshoot some more. Maybe it’s a bad power supply.
Trip Three: 50 miles round trip, 1h 30m of time
We bring the tower to the store, pay for a diagnostic. We have to leave it there. Which means, of course, another trip back.
Later that evening, I get a message from the tech guy. I won’t bore you with the details. Let’s just say he told me “85% of it was hooked up incorrectly.” Oh, and we should replace the “broken” case, too.
(Insert moment where my blood pressure soars.)
Trip Four: 50 miles round trip, 1h 30m of time
We pick up the tower and come home. No, wait. We get in the car, and on the way there, I began my lecture on how (a) you learn everything you can before you start - especially when it’s doing something costly like this, (b) your friends don’t know anything, (c) sometimes you have to invest your money in getting help in the beginning, so that you don’t end up spending extra money later on.
And I’m sure there were a few other lessons I laid out, too.
We returned home, and everything was set out on the table where I would be able to monitor what was going on.
(Insert massive thank you to the tech guy who fixed all connectivity/build issues while doing the diagnostic.)
Trip Five: 10 miles round trip, 30m of time
Guess who didn’t buy a motherboard with WiFi? Out to the big box store to buy an adapter.
When you calculate all of the money and time spent, the “affordable” $750 computer build ended up costing around $1100.
The Moral of the Story
Get help. Get help. Get help. You don’t have to, shouldn’t have to, and don’t need to do everything on your own. There are people out there who are AWESOME at things, and they will help you. Pay them to help you. It is COMPLETELY worth the investment.
Every Project Needs a Plan
When I was younger...and not a virtual assistant...I worked in project management. And, truth be told, I am kind of a geek for it. Project management is all about organization, and structure, and having a starting point, a middle, and an end. It contains a lot of “if this, then that” and all the answers (keyword: contingencies) to any problems you can think of when you start are already written down.
I love that. You know what’s going to happen. Sure, there might be a problem that you didn’t think about in the beginning, but, for the most part, everything is in place.
Without thinking about it, a lot of what you’re doing has that project management flow behind it. Example: Buy groceries at the grocery store. You make a list. You have a plan on how to get there. You figure out “if they don’t have X, I’ll have to get Y.” You have a budget.
See - cooooool!
Over the holiday break I was subject to the most chaotic, frustrating lack of project management. A logistical nightmare. Of course, I knew I had to share it with you.
A few days earlier I heard on the news that an organization that gets a large group of musicians together to play one song was having a function in Detroit. (Yeah, I’m keeping this generic, but you can Google it all and find out more on your own.) My son is a guitarist, and so I mentioned it to him. He decided to sign up.
Thus, the nightmare begins.
I had, luckily, planned to take that day off already, to have some relaxation time. (Ha!) Unfortunately, there was no relaxing. Upon receiving the schedule, we learned that this would be from 9am to 7pm. That is a long, long day. We were told that they were going to film it for “an award winning TV show.” Okay, sure. We had already seen the videos of the previous events that were held, so we already knew it would be filmed.
My husband took the day off. Because this wasn’t something I could do on my own with our son. Not with all the equipment, the location, the length of time.
Let me break down how things progressed.
Poor Planning Point #1 (lack of proper communication)
A day or two before the event, we luckily logged into the website to find that the location was changed. It’s a good thing we checked.
Poor Planning Point #2 (lack of organization and scheduling)
Upon arrival to the location, we’re told that 9am check-in just got switched to 9:30. We, along with a line-up of musicians, all wait. At 9:30, standing in front of check-in, we’re told that it’ll be a little longer. They were still setting up.
Poor Planning Point #3 (lack of timetable understanding)
I think check-in finally began at 9:45. This was for all guitarists, bassists, drummers, horns, etc. Now, if you don’t know any musicians, let me tell you how long it takes for a guitarist or bassist to set up. It’s about 2 minutes. Plug in amp. Plug in guitar. Plug in pedal if needed. Tune. That’s about it. Horns? Open case. The drummers have the hardest job, but they’re pros, and they probably set up in about 15 minutes.
According to the schedule, set up was going to take three hours. Even if there had been three times as many musicians (there were probably 100), three hours is overkill. And this was the problem with the whole project. They initially planned for hundreds and hundreds of musicians to show up, but they knew how many they had two days beforehand. They should have had an alternate schedule for a smaller crowd.
Poor Planning Point #4 (timing)
Just to throw this in, this event was the day before 4th of July. The invitation was announced to the public a week before. The organizers (European for the music, and Californian for the TV show), apparently had no idea that we Midwestern types take vacation, and go up to our cabins and campgrounds for the holiday. (It’s a pretty big holiday, you know?)
Let’s continue with the terrible schedule. At 12:30, the singers were to show up and check-in. I’m not sure why they came in last. They didn’t even have to bring microphones. They just had to show up.
At 1pm, it was lunch time. That means for four hours, you’ve had a group of musicians sitting in blazing hot sun (it was about 90 degrees that day) for absolutely NO REASON. This brings us to the next point.
Poor Planning Point #5 (wasting resources)
If this was a real project, people would be getting paid. And there isn’t a company out there that wants to pay workers to sit around and do nothing.
At 2pm rehearsals were supposed to start - and go for three hours. They actually didn’t. It was a few short rehearsals. (These were all pretty seasoned musicians playing an easy song.) And then more waiting in the hot sun.
(One positive point: The organizers were nice enough to provide snacks, lunch and all the water and Gatorade people could drink, along with sunscreen, though if you’re keeping people all day, you should really provide three meals for them.)
Somewhere around 4pm we finally figured out why we were sitting around waiting instead of just getting on with the filming. The TV Show was a reality TV show, and they were waiting on the contestants to show up (which they figured would be 5pm, so filming would be 5-7pm).
No, I’m not telling you which show it is. I love me some reality TV and I refuse to say anything about it, or who the contestants were, or what they had to do, or why they were there, or anything. I HATE SPOILERS, and I refuse to divulge any info.
5pm comes and goes. Somewhere around 5:20? 5:30? Some contestants show up. That’s when the musicians have to start playing. And playing. And playing. The same song, over and over and over and over and… (and if I had any love for that song before, it has been played out of me completely).
Some more contestants show up. And the band played on…. But then stopped, because everyone was burned out, literally and physically. And then started back up again, and played and played…
Poor Planning Point #6 (environment)
If you are going to keep people outside in blazing hot weather in a city all day, you need to provide them with shade, at the very least. Provide a comfortable environment.
Poor Planning Point #7 (explain the project)
The musicians were there to play a song to be filmed as a fun group thing. No one was informed that they were going to be playing the song 20 or 30 or 40 times for the TV show. When the project is kept secret from the team, the team cannot do the project well. Honestly, I think if the people in charge had divulged this, they may not have had too many people show up. These musicians thought they’d play the song a couple of times, have fun and go home.
Poor Planning Point #8 (circle back to the lack of communication)
Around 6:50pm the head of this chaos walked away. Left. Where? Who knows? After the song ended for the nth time (who knows what # that was), he stepped down from the podium and went somewhere. No announcement. No instructions. Nothing. He disappeared. After 10 minutes of the disappearing act, several musicians started packing up (along with us) and left. It was 7pm, and was definitely time to go.
What happened after we left? Not sure. Based on some news reports I saw, we’re speculating that it could have been another couple of hours. For the sake of all the musicians, especially the drummers, who I think had it the worst, I hope things ended after the first group of musicians fled. I guess we’ll see how it all panned out when the show finally airs.
The moral of this story? Plan. Plan. And then plan again. Big or small, every project needs a plan. Every project needs to have those “what happens if” contingencies built in. Otherwise you’re just going to be mired in chaos.
One morning I was doing my walk on the track around the football field at school. It was a particularly damp and foggy morning. The day before we had buckets and vats and barrels of rain. It rained hard. Of course, you know that inevitably, a morning after a huge rain, there are worms.
This morning on the track there were definitely worms. Lots and lots of worms. At one point, I found myself goose-stepping around the fourth turn of the track so as not to squish the several hundred that were wiggling about.
As I started lap two, I noticed seagulls beginning to gather on the track. Halfway through my second lap, I counted around three dozen seagulls mulling about. As I rounded the fourth turn again, I noticed there were more seagulls and fewer worms. By the time I had gone completely through lap three, the worms were completely gone, and the seagulls had moved on to the center field. A few minutes later they had flown away.
So, why am I telling you this glorious story of worms and gulls?
I want to show you how can you be more productive in your day and how you can make things happen faster. Be like the seagulls. They went for the worms that were on the track first because they were right there, out in the open. Easy to see. Easy to catch. Easy to eat. Once the easy worms were gone, the moved onto the field where worms were still plentiful, but just took a little more time to find.
We should all work in the same fashion. Start the day with easy tasks. Check those simple little things off the list and you’ll feel more successful. When you feel more successful, you feel more energized to move on to more difficult tasks.
Don’t overwhelm yourself when you’re first starting your day. Be like the seagulls and ease into the workday!
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25+ years of business experience. 12+ years of virtual experience.