Going Virtual

Technology has made it very easy to communicate with professionals all over the world.  In fact, I am sitting in a cafĂ© in a little town outside of Milan, Italy as I write this.  Later today, I will be speaking with clients, interviewing prospective employees, processing credit cards and conducting a training for my sales team - all from my laptop.  Everyone I interact with will have the same experience with me that they would have if I was sitting in my office in Los Angeles. All of this is made possible through the use of simple and often free online tools.  This month I want to share some of the tools we use at ProREA Staffing as well as some of the resources our clients use to bring their business into the virtual age.

My hope is that you will see how easy it is to build a virtual team that can streamline your business and help you to become more productive and more profitable.  Creating a virtual office lowers costs, improves productivity, and since you are not limited by geography it provides you access to the most talented professionals in the world.

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There are a wide range of tools available on the web, but these are virtual tools that we use, which I can vouch for their quality and usefulness.

1)      Top Producer Contact Management Virtual Database

The most valuable asset to a real estate agents business is their network of contacts.  To make the most efficient use of that network of contacts, a real estate agent needs some form of contact management database that is user friendly and easily accessible.  Top Producer provides easy access to your contacts, calendar and tasks through a database that can be accessed online.  We use Top Producer to manage our client database and to stay in contact with potential clients.  There are several other good online databases.  The one that works best for you is really a matter of personal preference.

2)      RingCentral.com

RingCentral.com is a virtual phone system that makes it possible for you and your staff to have main business phone number with multiple extensions just like a "traditional" business when in reality your team is spread throughout the city, the country or even the world.  Calls are made either through your computer or through a VoIP phone.  Callers can be transferred to other extensions and your calls can be forwarded to any number of additional phone numbers.

Some of our clients use extensions to provide information about their listings.  We assign an extension to each of our assistants and we forward their calls directly to their cell phones.

3)      Skype.com

Skype is an online service that offers VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) technology allowing users to make calls, send instant messages, and make video calls over the web.  The most effective use of Skype is as a long distance carrier because its cost is a fraction of a landline.  Furthermore, a call from one Skype member to another is free. We use Skype to make video calls. Video calls feel very similar to a face to face meeting and this makes it easy to communicate and build rapport with your assistant even if you never meet them in person.

4)      GoToMeeting.com

GoToMeeting is an online meeting platform that allows you to share your screen with other meeting participants.  We use GoToMeeting when we conduct virtual trainings.  Our assistants use GoToMeeting with their clients when discussing the layout of a flyer or editing a document because it is easier to work on projects like these when both sides are looking at the same document in real time.

5)      LogMeIn.com

LogMeIn is an internet based tool that connects two computers and allows you to tap into a computer from the other computer.  If you have ever been in the office and realized that the file you needed was sitting on your desktop computer at home you can understand how helpful this tool can be.  By linking your computer to your assistant's your assistant can access files that you have saved on your hard drive.  This is one of several ways to share files.  The method you choose really depends on your personal preference.

6)      eFax

I think by now most people have transitioned to an electronic fax solution.  Your virtual assistant will strongly prefer this to traditional faxes.  When you receive a document that needs to be filed or saved simply forward the email and attachment to your assistant.

7)      MailStreet.com

MailStreet is a Microsoft Exchange hosting program that allows you to use Outlook and share contacts, calendars and tasks with your team.  If you are a loyal Outlook user I highly recommend that you look into this program.  The program is very inexpensive.  Set-up can be a hassle but once you have completed the set-up process the program works like a dream.

8)      Carbonite.com

Carbonite is a remote file back-up program that runs in the background whenever your computer is connected to the internet.  It saves a complete copy of your computer online and it makes it very easy to restore files if your computer is ever stolen or corrupted.  You can also access all of your files remotely which makes it another solution for file sharing.  I love this program because it makes my file back up effortless and if I ever experience problems with my computer I know that I can access any file I might need.

9)      Gmail email hosting

Gmail will host your company email for free.  This service makes it easy for you to create branded emails for your team and using the Gmail format means that it is easy for your team to sync their email to the phone, Outlook, etc.  I also like Gmail for its excellent search ability.  I have never lost an email since moving to Gmail.

10)  DocUSign.com

This tool is very useful even if you never work with an assistant.  DocUSign reduces the time it takes to get contracts fully executed, eliminates duplicate copies of partially signed forms, and of course, reduces the amount of paper waste your transactions generate.  The only complaint I hear about DocUSign from agents is that files must be uploaded to the program and then saved again once executed.  Most assistants I talk to count this as a small price to pay for the convenience the program does offer.

As you can see, working virtually isn't what it used to be!  If you have questions about any of these tools or if you would like to learn more about working with a virtual assistant please contact me.