School Animation & Website

This week in Virtual Head Office…a website and an animation for a school

Every once in a while we have a client who is different to the usual small business that we support, yet it’s often surprising how many similarities there are between the needs of different types of organisations.

Recently we worked with a school on a project to develop a new website for them.  The existing website was a bit out of date, didn’t really engage with parents or pupils and was impossible for the school staff to make changes to themselves, everything had to go through a previous web developer, who wasn’t particularly speedy with heeding their requests for updates.

The brief was to build an engaging website which wouldn’t date too quickly and, where possible to involve the children in making the website, as well as complying with the legal requirements for building a school website.  They also wanted to use animation to help further bring the website alive.

The project was an interesting one, and one that all the Virtual Head Office team have really been involved with.

We discussed with them ideas for the website and talked with them to get a feel for how they wanted to be presented on the website, as we do with all our clients, but the one thing that kept coming through was the staff and head teacher very much wanted the children’s voices to be heard as it is their school.

The animation project has been something that the children have been actively involved in.  We visited the year 5 and 6 class and Ed, our designer and animator talked to the children about what goes in to making an animation and the stages that he would be following in producing the animation.

We then asked each of the children to draw a picture of the thing they liked most about their school and to write a sentence about it.  We then took the pictures they had drawn and used them to inspire our own animation.  The sentences that they had produced were then put in to order to then compile a voiceover on which the animation would be based.  After putting together this voiceover we returned to the school to get the children to read out their sentences whilst we recorded the voiceover.  We then took this away and compiled the animation to go with the wording.  The children were really excited to see the completed animation.

There was a second animation also created in the same way aimed more at parents.  This worked in a similar way, although we didn’t make them draw any pictures!  Different teachers also featured in the voiceover of the school animation.

With regard to the website itself, this has been very much a process of working closely with the school to find out what they want, balancing the legal requirements of what they need to include with a visually appealing, modern site that teachers and staff can update regularly to communicate news to parents.

Each class has their own page where teachers can write updates of what has been happening within their own class, and other updates can also be made regularly, such as adding in weekly newsletters and a calendar of events.

Although this website went live a few weeks ago, we have this week made a couple of minor changes at their request.

The school website project is one which we have enjoyed working on immensely.  It was particularly lovely to see the children’s faces when they first saw their animation come to life.

Business Address

This week in Virtual Head Office…a business address for an online retailer

Not all of our clients take up multiple services, some will use just one or two.  This week I’ve decided to talk about one of these clients, an online retailer that we provide a business address service for.

We’ve worked with this busy home based business owner for about two and a half years and have got to know him pretty well over this time.  As is often the case it’s getting to know our clients personally that often makes our work all the more rewarding as we get to find out what a difference our service means to them.

The first time we met the business owner, he arrived at our office seeming rather troubled, the night before his garage had been burgled and some of his stock had been stolen.  He explained that he had been looking at taking up a business address for some time as he was aware that having his home address on his website, as all websites are legally obliged to do, was a bit of a security risk.  Although his home address was not where he stored the majority of his stock he was worried that the outside world would perceive his stock to be held there and he felt that this put him at risk.  The burglary, unfortunately had been the catalyst for him making the move to actually finding a virtual office to work with.

So what do we do for him?  Quite simply, we provide a mail handling service, which means we let him use the address of our building as his business address.  He can use this address on his website, on his business cards, his headed paper, his marketing material, wherever he wants to use it.  The address is a realistic one as we are in a multi-occupancy building with lots of small businesses based within it.  It’s also a lovely Georgian building on a very nice street.

We receive his post for him and as he lives locally to us, he chooses to come in and collect the post rather than have us forward it on to him.  His post can be anything from usual correspondence to items that have been purchased via his website being returned.  We receive it all here, store it securely and then let him know he has items to collect and then wait for him to call in.  In the meantime, he carries on working from home, enjoying the benefits of being near to his young family, having no commute and in general having a good work life balance

We always enjoy seeing our clients face to face when they come in to collect post from their business address and especially nice to see the smile that is always on his face these days.

Small Business Brand

How To Reinforce Your Small Business Brand Without Spending A Penny

Everyday Ideas To Promote Your Brand Without Spending Money

It’s difficult to measure the value of your company brand, but one thing is for sure if you have succeeded in developing a strong brand it will engender confidence in your business and help you win and secure clients. If you don’t really have a brand to speak of it will require more effort to develop business.

As small business owners, many of us will be convinced of the importance of a strong brand already, yet the challenge is often how to reinforce that brand on a budget.  Here are a handful of small ideas that everyone can do to reinforce their small business brand.

  1. Your brand is about so much more than your logo. If you haven’t already, ask yourself what kind of values your small business brand stands for and then make sure that you reflect that, in your actions, in the way you treat your customers, in the way you dress and present yourself in general.  If you employ staff make sure that you convey your message to them as well so that they emulate you and your business brand.
  2. Tell people. Get out there and network.  There are many low cost or even free networking events happening all over the country.  If you haven’t already attended any then get out there and start spreading the word about your brand.  It’s important to note here that whilst it’s important to get your message across you should always be polite and respectful to the other people you are networking with, listen to what they are saying and take a genuine interest in them.  Talking over other people or hogging the conversation will not do your brand any favours so take turns appropriately, you might also find some other great businesses that can help you out too.
  3. If you’re brave enough to get out there in to the world and network face to face why not also try social media? Promoting your business through Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+ or any of the other vast number of platforms is free and a great way to get your message out to a sizeable audience.  As with face to face networking be friendly and unselfish to be remembered for the right reasons. Post content that is relevant to your audience and true to your brand, reflecting standards appropriate to your business.
  4. Keep everything consistent. Assuming you have a logo, which every business should, make sure you are using it everywhere, not just on your marketing material, but on all your documents, on your email auto signature, your invoices and for any communication you have with anyone outside the company.  Make sure that your website, business cards and other marketing material all use the same version of your logo and that further than that you have a consistent image, for example always using the same font and overall style.
  5. Make sure your name is known. Just as ensuring that the logo and style of the business is across the board so should your name be.   This may sound obvious, however, businesses with long names may sometimes find themselves abbreviating the name, this is fine if that’s what you’re going to go with, but choose one or the other and stick with it and make sure that that name is known.  For example brief everyone who answers the telephone in your business to answer the telephone professionally using the same company name.

Do you have any other ideas to help small businesses, either in terms of branding or helping businesses to work smarter?  We would love to hear if you do.

Virtual Mailing Address

What is a virtual mailing address?

As our business is a virtual business we are sometimes asked ‘What is a virtual office and what is a virtual mailing address?  Does it mean that the building doesn’t exist?’

The use of the word virtual is really to indicate that you don’t actually have to be based in the office yourself, but a virtual mailing address, is very much a real physical address, staffed by real people! Virtual office services and providers of virtual mailing address services will be based in real office buildings, somewhere that your business could conceivably be located.  To the outside world it will seem as though your business is based within there.

You and your business can be located in a completely different area, you could be based anywhere in the UK or even overseas.  Mail will be forwarded on, scanned and sent, or if you are local it will be held for you securely until you choose to collect.

Many people wishing to use this service will use a telephone answering service as well in order to have a full virtual office service but it’s equally possible to just have a virtual mailing address if that’s all that is required.

If you’re looking at taking up a virtual mailing address service, it’s worth taking a look around to see if you can find images of the building and the vicinity if you don’t already know it.  You may not be physically sitting in this office every day, but is this an office that you’d like to give the impression of being based in.  Is it going to convey the right impression for your business?

You can usually use a virtual mailing address to receive anything that you would normally expect to receive by post and can normally use as the registered office address for your business as well.

Formatting Documents

What we’ve been doing this week – Supporting an entrepreneur, completing tenders, formatting documents and reports and much much more

So here we are at the end of another busy week.  As usual it’s been hectic in the office!

The client I want to talk to you about this week is one that we especially enjoy working with as, not only is he a very inspirational person to work with, but also we really feel that our admin support service makes a massive difference to him.  The gentleman in question is a true entrepreneur, a multiple business owner, who happens to be registered blind.

If you run a business yourself, you’ll know that it is a constant juggling act, there is always something to do, in short, it’s hard work.  Well imagine that how much more difficult that becomes when you are blind.  Yes, there is software that can read out documents, but this doesn’t always work perfectly, particularly if information is contained within tables or graphs, so part of what we do for him is typing out information into paragraph form, formatting documents so that they can then be read out by his software.

We’ve also, this week completed some tendering forms for him.  Again as there are forms within the questionnaires we have been able to read them and take his information to compile his applications.  This further helps him, because not only is he registered blind, but also English is not his first language and so we will often also help by checking the grammar and spelling within documents that he has produced himself to make sure that what he sends out gives a professional image for his company.

The tender applications submitted this week needed to be supported by further documentation including various policies and procedures, so we’ve been through his policies and procedures and updating and formatting the documents.  Previously as they had been compiled at different times by different people so they were all in different styles, he now has a complete set all formatted identically, all with his new corporate branding on so everything is up to date and consistent.

This week we’ve also typed up some massive weighty financial reports for him.  Accuracy is crucial here is one digit wrong on a financial report can have a massive implication so we need to check that the accuracy of the content as well as the formatting of these documents is spot on as we’re trusted to be eyes of this busy entrepreneur.

Somewhere along the way we also managed to squeeze in updating his LinkedIn profile.

It’s all been good fun, if at times, a bit crazy making sure we hit the deadlines, but everything has been done in time so now we can take a breath and look forward to seeing what next week brings!

What We’ve Been Doing This Week – Business Support For A Driving School

This is the first in a new series of blog posts talking about what we actually do during the week.  Each week we will pick one client to talk about and we will tell you about the type of work we do for them.

We are starting off with a very busy, Yorkshire based driving school who we have worked with for just over two years now.  We work with the owner of the driving school to coordinate the diaries of the whole team and deal with customer enquiries.  Although we’re not geographically close to this client, working virtually means that our clients can be based anywhere in the UK or even the world.

As the driving instructors are busy and unable to answer their phones throughout the day we provide a telephone answering service for them.  The majority of calls that we take are new business enquiries, people calling to make bookings for driving lessons and to make general enquiries about the price of lessons and availability and so forth.

As we answer the calls we capture the callers’ details, establish the geographic location that they are based in and then book them in with the appropriate driving instructor to a central Google calendar which we share access to with all of the instructors.  Instructors can also add their own appointments in the calendar.  This system allows the owner of the driving school to see at a glance what is happening with all of the driving instructors.  As no calls are missed the diary fills up very quickly, so much so that we also now manage a waiting list for this business.

Callers ring through on a local number, which is then diverted to us, as far as the callers are concerned, it sounds as though they are speaking to someone in the office in Yorkshire, not Bury St Edmunds!

Answering the telephones for a driving school is always busy, often there are urgent messages to get to driving instructors, from students who could need to cancel a lesson, or maybe change the pickup location, so it’s vital that we get messages to instructors quickly so that they don’t waste time and petrol by being in the wrong location.  Having a dedicated team here in the office means that we can continue trying to get hold of instructors, by phone, text and email to ensure they get the messages.

There are also times when instructors may need to liaise between themselves, for example to maybe see if another instructor may be able to take a particular student and often the instructors find that using Virtual Head Office means that they don’t need to have to keep on trying to call as we will do that for them.

This week, the owner of the driving school has been away on holiday, so we have been providing some additional support for her.  We have been dealing with the email enquiries that come through the website and again capturing details of all enquirers.  As the school is currently so busy that they are full we have been responding to enquiries, either by email or phone to see whether they would like to join the waiting list.  Customer service is top priority so it’s important to make everyone who makes an enquiry feel valued, even if they are not able to start driving lessons just yet.

All of this means that the owner of the driving school has been able to relax and take a proper break from the business, knowing that when she returns next week that she will receive a full report of every telephone call and email we have deal with whilst she has been away, the diary is completely full and that had there been any really urgent enquiries that she absolutely had to deal with personally, that we would have contacted her, filtering everything else out.

Enabling people to take proper holidays is probably one of the most satisfying things that we do, so we’ve particularly providing extra help and support to this driving school this week.

Save Time & Get More Done

Find more ways to save time during the working day

Find more ways to save time during the working day

September is here, the summer holidays are over and it’s back to business.  For most business owners time is an extremely precious resource that there is simply not enough of.  Using your time wisely can help you achieve more throughout the business day and stay focused on your objectives.

Here are some quick tips that you can adapt in to your daily working life to help you make the most of your time in your working day.

  1. Write a To Do List.  You probably all know that you should be writing a To Do List, but do you actually do it?  Make notes of everything you need to achieve during the day and then tick the items off as you achieve them. You will find that throughout the day things will be added to the list and equally you will probably also find that things get carried over from one day to another.  If there is something that continues to be carried over ask yourself why you keep putting it off.  Is it not important or just that you don’t want to do it?  If it’s not important then cross it off the list, there’s no point cluttering your list and your mind with things that are not important.  If it is important but you either don’t have the skills to do it yourself or you simply don’t enjoy doing it then delegate to a colleague or outsource the task.
  2. Carry out similar tasks in blocks.  For example, make all of your telephone calls in one go and block out time to respond to your emails all together as opposed to when they come in.  Performing similar tasks in a row means that you get in to a rhythm and actually perform the tasks quicker.  It also means that, for example you are not spending time logging in to different social media platforms multiple times when you could do it just once a week.
  3. Use only one calendar for everything.  Most people will have a work diary that is fairly up to date (if you don’t you should), but then sometimes you may find that you have another diary for personal life.  Combining the two, ideally colour coded so that you can see at a glance what is personal and what is business ensures that you can see everything at a glance so if you need to make an appointment you know straight away if you are free and don’t need to spend time comparing the two.  Google calendar is a useful free tool that I use and you can also share this with others.
  4. Use cloud based systems for sharing and storing files.  Tools such as Dropbox enable you to share files easily without the need to email or print off ensuring everyone has all the information that they need instantly.  You also know that information stored there is secure and backed up, therefore minimising your risk of losing important information.
  5. Keep your desk tidy.  Organise your desk with trays so that you know exactly where everything is.  Only keep things on your desk that you are actually working on.  Keeping your desk clutter free helps you stay focused and minimises your stress levels.  At the end of each day have a quick tidy of your desk so that when you come in to work the next morning you are starting with a clean desk, which will help you get the day off to a positive start.

You will find that these steps are quick and easy to implement and make a surprising amount of difference to your productivity levels so give them a go and see how you get on.

If you have any interesting and useful tips that you’d like to share we’d love to hear them.
Have a great September!

How to Design Small Business Websites for Mobile Phones and Tablets

It is becoming increasingly important, especially for small businesses, that your website is accessible on mobile devices. Prolific use of mobiles and tablets has reshaped the way in which web developers such as I have to think about designing and building websites.

Mobile phones with their miniature dimensions and touch-screen navigation present new challenges. These issues can only be overcome by breaking down the pre-existing model of a website and realising what users really want from your website. We have done the research so you do not have to! Here is our list of top-tip-improvements to make to your website to better facilitate mobile users.

Content is King

Users come to websites with an objective. It may be to find contact details, browse the products available, or read more about a specific product or service. Users tend to get frustrated if they cannot access the information they need quickly. Frequently designers forget that this is the primary function of a website and overload the user with needless sliders, images, news banners and popups that distracts the user from the task in hand. Try to bring the content to the top of the page, limit the amount that the user has to scroll below the page fold to view the important information on the page.

We provide website development and design, to read more about the services we provide click here.

Website Design Suffolk

Videos Vital

The world is becoming increasingly busy, visitors have less time to spend scrolling through your content. That is why on the Virtual Head Office site we place videos at the top of every page that concisely explains what that particular product entails. We have tracked better visitor retention since adding videos to our website. Truly a must-have for small businesses looking to massively boost their website engagement.

We produce promotional videos for small businesses, contact us to learn more about our services.

Mail Handling East Anglia

Never Neglect the Number

Presenting your contact number to mobile users is possibly one of the more important design decisions to consider. On the Virtual Head Office website we place our phone number at the top of the page, therefore making it really easy for mobile users to get in contact with us.

Virtual Office UK

Final word

When developing your website consider a few of these tips to ensure a happy visit for mobile surfers. Maximise your audience by designing your website for a wide array of devices and mediums.