If you use a proper email newsletter delivery service such as Constant Contact, Aweber or MailChimp, your subscribers will go through what is known as a ‘double opt-in’. This means that, after submitting their email address through your website form or other link asking them to sign up for your newsletter, they will receive an email asking them to confirm their subscription by clicking on a link within it. This is key, as it stops third parties from adding subscribers without their knowledge.
The following series will look at some housekeeping rules, which will ensure that you follow the strict etiquette of email marketing, while presenting yourself and your business in a professional and ethical way.
Make sure your subscribers actually subscribed
There is nothing more annoying than being inundated with unsolicited sales emails. We all hate it. If you are boosting your subscriber list by adding email addresses from business cards you have picked up, trawling the yellow pages or your local Chamber of Commerce’s mailing list, your messages risk not only going straight to the junk mail folder, but also alienating people with whom you might have established good working relationships. Make sure the owner of the email address has requested that you send them information, or, at the very least, has agreed to receive it.
Include a link to your newsletter sign up page on your Facebook profile and from time to time include it in your status. The day that you have sent out your latest issue is a great time to do this.
When you’ve added previous newsletters to your web site, add the page address to your Facebook status. Make sure there is a link to ‘sign up for more articles like these’ at the bottom of the article page.
When you’ve added previous newsletters to your web site, Tweet the link to the article page. Make sure there is a link to ‘sign up for more articles like these’ at the bottom of the article page.
Host back copies of your newsletter on your web site as an archive. At the foot of each article, include a link to your sign up page with a message to ‘sign up to our newsletter for more articles like these’.
Collect business cards and email each one asking for permission to add them to your newsletter list. Do not add them directly without permission as this will not win you many friends!
Ask telephone callers if you can add them to your newsletter list. If they have enquired about any of your products or services, they are a prospect and won’t mind your keeping in touch in this unobtrusive way.
Offer email only discounts and tell visitors to your site that you do so. If they are interested in your services, they’ll sign up in the hope of getting a discount.
Include a Forward to a Friend link in your newsletters so that your readers can forward an article to a friend that may find it interesting. Run a joint venture with a complimentary business. Choose a business that provides services to a similar target market, for example small businesses.For this reason, also include a link to your sign up page in each emailed newsletter.
It’s simple but very effective, include an opt-in form on every page of your web site. It’s also worth checking your web statistics to see where people leave your web site. Check the last page they view before they leave and make sure there is a note asking them to sign up for your newsletter at the bottom of this page.
Run a joint venture with a complimentary business. Choose a business that provides services to a similar target market, for example small businesses. Include a link in your newsletter for readers to opt into the other businesses list, in exchange for their running an opt-in for your newsletter on theirs.
Join your local Chamber of Commerce and email the member list (if it’s opt-in) about your services with a link to sign up to your newsletter. Again, don’t just add everyone to your newsletter list but introduce yourself by email and ask if they would like to subscribe.
Send an opt-in email to everyone in your address book asking them to sign up for your newsletter. Make sure you don’t just include everyone in your contacts list in your newsletter list, ask their permission first.
Include a newsletter sign up link in the signature of all your outgoing emails. You can include this in a PS at the bottom of your email after your name and before your contact details.
We all need to fill our marketing funnel with the contact details of potential clients and referrers of our business services. The following series gives you some ideas about how to collect contact details, and in particular email addresses, so that you can begin to build relationships with your prospects.
Put an offer on the back of your business card to get people to sign up for your newsletter. For example, “Visit www.mywebsite.com/freereport to download 20 Top Tips for Outsourcing to a Virtual Assistant”. When they land on your page, ask for their email address in order to receive the free report.
Initially writing the text copy for your website seems quite simple. You just tell them who you are, what you do and how to contact you, right? Err, no actually.
Many business websites drone on and on about when they started, what their “mission statement” is, what technology they use, blah, blah, blah. I hate to be the one to tell you this, but nobody cares. All that prospects and customers care about is “What’s in it for me”.
So the very first thing you need to do is put yourself in the shoes of your potential customer. What problem do they have that they are looking for a solution to by searching around the internet? If they have arrived at your website as part of their search they will look for confirmation that they have come to the right place. What solutions are you providing that solves their problem?
If you were the customer, what questions would you want answers to before parting with your cash? Make sure you answer those questions in your copy.
If you are selling an intangible or unknown service such as administration and business support services, how have you displayed your credibility? Have you shown testimonials or feedback from previous customers, or can you show case studies where you have made a real tangible difference to a former client?
If you are selling information, how have you established to them that you are the expert that they should listen to? Do you have any samples of the type of information you provide such as free downloads of tips?
How easy is it to contact you? Is there a telephone number for enquires? Have you got a proper mail address on your website or just a PO Box? Do you have a guarantee that will allow them to purchase a product or service without reservation?
Lastly, give them a compelling reason to buy from you now. Or if your product or service has a longer sales cycle, get them on your list by offering something in exchange for their name and email address.
While back in part 1 of this series we talked about personalising your website, but don’t spend all of it talking about yourself and how wonderful you are! Although your visitors need to know a bit about you, what holds their interest is the knowledge that you understand their problems and issues and have ready-made solutions that resolve those problems. Your visitor will always ask, “WIIFM?” (What’s In It For Me). Answer that question by making your web site about your visitor, not about you.
If you are not sure how to WIIFM your text, hire a professional sales copy writer if you can afford it or try the following format:
Do you struggle with getting your VAT return in on time, we offer a full book keeping service which means that your VAT return will never be late again and you will save expensive fines and a whole lot of stress.
Replace the italics with their pain followed by your solution and the bold italics are your WIIFM.
In summary: Your web site can function as an attractive online brochure, or it can be a client-generating tool to help you grow your business. As a virtual assistant, you need to generate clients from your website in order for your business to be successful, make the necessary changes and you will get more clients online.
One of the easiest ways you can create customer confidence in you and your business is to post testimonials on your web site. Don’t even think of writing these yourself (I’m sure you wouldn’t) but ask your clients to write something that clearly states what you do for your client and how working with you has improved their business or life, etc.
If you are new to virtual assisting and don’t yet have clients you can ask for testimonials, prepare some case studies outlining a problem and how your service helped solve it. These case studies are also very powerful in convincing a potential client that you can do what you claim.
One way to gauge the usefulness and helpfulness of a business is to have a look at their websites resources and links section. For example, the Resources and Links section of the UKAVA website lists a whole range of resources to help new and established virtual assistants and they are often featured in our email newsletter. In many cases the Association receives no compensation for the resource I recommend—I just know that it’s the best product or service to do a particular task.
Your clients want the same help and advice from you. The more you know about your industry, its problems, and how to find solutions – whether you offer the solution or not – the greater the perception of your expertise and, consequently, the greater value you offer your client.
As part of vetting the websites that we list on the UKAVA Directory, I have the job of personally checking every potential members website before it is added. It is quite obvious in a lot of cases that virtual assistants have simply visited the websites of their competition and formatted their own site in a similar fashion, but with their own information. I have found elements of my own VA website and articles on many of them, one time even finding a whole website that contained nothing but my website text added to a different design. The designer was blamed for this and it was soon changed, but you see my point.
Don’t fall victim to such behaviour and make sure you pique your readers interest by injecting your personality throughout your site. Give visitors a great experience of “you” when they visit. And, flagrantly flaunt your Unique Selling Proposition (USP), so that your visitor instantly realises why they should do business with you instead of your competitor.
When I’m doing online research for a particular product or service, I want to know right away what makes any company unique or different from their competition. Most virtual assistant websites just display a whole list of services they provide. While I agree that you do need to let your prospects know all the bases you can cover, if you love designing databases or have a passion for project management, tell the world about it on your website.
The beauty of this is that you will then tend to attract clients that need those services so you will be doing more of what you love. How great is that?
Have you ever visited a web site that you think offers the ideal solution to your problem, but you’ve got one question to ask before making your purchasing decision? You go to the Contact Us page to look for the phone number or an email address, and all you find is a contact form to send your question. How annoying is that. There you were, credit card in hand, and already to buy and now you have to fill out a form and wait…
Web site owners are often reluctant to have their contact info readily available on the web site, as they fear having their email address harvested by spammers or having their phone number added to a telemarketing list. There are ways to lessen the likelihood of either issue by using an email spam filter on your computer and, if you use a residential line for business, registering the number with the Telephone Preference Service.
Lots of virtual assistants complain that they get a lot of visitors to their website, but few of them convert into customers. Most marketing texts will tell you that it takes approximately 7 ‘touches’ for a prospect to decide to buy something from you. A visit to your website is just one touch. If you don’t have a system in place for capturing information about your website visitors so you can keep in touch with them, when they are ready to buy they will simply purchase from someone else they have got to know, like, and trust online.
The best tool you can have in place for this purpose is an email newsletter. You can create a regular publishing schedule to be in touch with your contact database, and you can easily demonstrate your expertise via the articles you write and resources your provide.
Virtual Assistant websites often boast about how proficient they are at solving their clients problems and I’m sure that they do, but where’s the proof?
If you’ve been in business for a while, you’ve got a good idea of the many problems your customers face, so providing relevant content that addresses these problems moves you into “expert” status. If you are an expert prove it by publishing articles, free downloads and resources for your prospects and clients.
Don’t think of it as giving away your expertise for free – think of it as developing a better educated consumer for your services and products. Will you lose customers because they read your information and implemented the solution without hiring you? It’s possible but unlikely because most prospective customers are unable to do it on their own and will need your expert assistance to help them solve their issues.
Have you ever been to a web site and been completely overwhelmed with all the directions you can go from the home page? There’s navigation buttons left and right and so many options you don’t know where to go next? Then in frustration you click back to the search results and go on to another website. Sound familiar?
Or perhaps you have found a website that had some interesting content or answered some of your questions but you weren’t ready to buy what you were researching just yet. You want to remember the site for future reference but you’re not sure if you’d find it again. You may bookmark it but if it had a newsletter or a free download of some kind you’d sign up just so that you know they’d contact you from time to time and you wouldn’t have to go looking for them next time.
The most effective call to action you can have on your home page and every other page of your website is to offer something for free, whether it’s an eBook, Newsletter, White Paper or Report, but something useful that’s attractive to your target market so that they’ll be eager give you their name and email address to receive your offer.
Many times the call to action is to telephone or email the business for a free consultation. That call to action is effective to some degree, especially if someone is shopping for an immediate solution to their problem. Overall, however, people want more time to make a decision about doing business with you. They want to determine your credibility and make a decision about whether or not they trust you before deciding to have a personal conversation with you. Expecting someone to call you upon first meeting you (viewing your web site) is not very realistic.
However, if they’ve seen enough on your site to want to know a little more, there’s a greater likelihood they will part with a tiny bit of personal info (first name and email address) to get a better sense of who you are while staying anonymous…and without making a commitment. Once you have their contact information, they then become a prospective client, and you can market to them as you would to any other prospect in your business.
As part of running the UK Association of Virtual Assistants I spend a lot of time researching online and checking other virtual assistant’s website. Occasionally I see an outstanding website, but what I usually see is a whole range of similar sites, each one fairly indistinguishable from anther.
When a potential client is shopping around online to find a virtual assistant they want to work with, the last thing you want is for that person to be bored in their search from continually reading the same thing over and over again and leafing through the same old format as virtual assistant’s ‘borrow’ from each others websites! If you want to get more clients from your web site, what follows in this series are 10 common mistakes to avoid:
Mistake 1: The business appears as a nameless, faceless corporate entity.
People do business with people, not websites. This is particularly true when working virtually as your potential client may never meet you in person but will always benefit from ‘putting a face to a name’. Before doing business with you a prospect will want know, like, respect, and trust you in order to let you lose within their business.
I become very frustrated when I can’t find any information on the virtual assistant behind a company name, and it often leaves me wondering what they have to hide. Are they actually a full time VA or are they hiding behind a website so their employer won’t find them? I realise many VA firms employ this strategy to appear bigger than they actually are, but don’t you prefer being able to pick up the phone or drop an email to someone you can identify within a company, rather than trying to penetrate a faceless corporate facade. Guess what, so do your prospects.
Put a photograph and a bio about yourself on the website and if you still want to maintain the illusion of size, put yourself as the Founder or Managing Director of the company and use ‘we’ instead of ‘I’ in your text.
As a virtual assistant, we deal with many different customers, using varying systems and programs to complete all sorts of tasks. If you offer book keeping services you will have come across everything from basic spreadsheets, to complex systems such as Sage, we’ve seen it all. My personal favourite has become KashFlow. It’s incredibly simple and designed specifically for small businesses.
KashFlow is an online system which has several overriding benefits, firstly your accounts are held online so you can access them from any computer with a browser (after entering your secure login details). This means several things; if your computer should crash you haven’t lost everything, you can give live access to your client and you can give access to your clients accountant to compile their required information. As there is one live copy of the accounts, the changes are available instantly to everyone given access so you don’t have multiple out of date copies everywhere.
Secondly, as you pay a monthly subscription for KashFlow, rather than a large upfront software cost, it is easier to budget as a small monthly fee. Critically within this fee the software upgrades are included. Anyone who has purchased accountancy software in the past will know that purchasing upgrades is necessary when you have several people updating your accounts at different locations. Generally the software is not backwardly compatible so as soon as one person upgrades, you all have to and upgrades can be very costly.
What is more, you get to try before you buy. You don’t even have to give a credit card number that you might later forget to cancel should you decide to use an alternative program.
Business advisors will tell you that one of the main reasons small businesses fail is cash flow. That is either they are not financed correctly in the first place, with sufficient funds to see them through the start-up phase, or that slow paying, or worse non-paying customers are destroying the financial health of the business.
When running a solo or small business there are two main reasons given as to why collecting payments from your clients can become an issue. Firstly it may be that you are so busy doing whatever it is that you do in order to make money, that you simply lose track of who has paid and which payments are late. Secondly, particularly if you are a solo business, there can be a level of embarrassment when the only person that can call the customer asking for the invoice to be paid, is the same person who provided the service.
Whatever the reason, it is imperative that you manage your cash flow effectively or you will soon be out of business. You should have a cash flow forecast that is made up of expected receipts and disbursements for the following 3 months (as a minimum) with some room for the unexpected factored in. With this information to hand you can easily see any potential difficult spots.
Once you have put together your cash flow forecast, it’s a good idea to take a close look at the expenses part of the forecast. Look for where you can cut some costs or find alternative suppliers, and think about what items are ‘nice to have’ but not essential to your business.
With the expenses under control you must make sure that the receipt part of the equation is taken care of with an effective collection system. Whichever system you use for issuing your customer invoices, set up a system for following up late payments. Get into the habit of issuing statements and following up by email, telephone or letter depending what is appropriate for you and your business.
So here we are, fast approaching another financial year end. It’s around now that I run a bit of a review of how we’ve done over the past year. What has worked and what hasn’t, what’s up and what’s down.
So if you haven’t done it yet, why not spend a couple of hours reviewing how you have done, and decide what changes you want to make in the coming 12 months?
Being a Virtual Assistant, just like any other business, is a numbers game. How many contacts you have made over the last year? Of these, how many have you turned in to prospects? And, how many clients you have secured as a result? You should also know the average value of your clients and their average lifetime value. These figures can tell you some really interesting things.
For example, if you know that over the previous 12 months you made:
- 300 contacts, of whom
- 100 became prospects (by showing a real interest in what you offer), which resulted in
- 15 new clients, each of whom spent an average
- £15,000 per year, and stayed with you for an average duration of
- two years
You will know that your clients have an average lifetime value of £30,000. And, to generate each client, you need to make 20 new contacts (15 clients from an original 300 contacts: 300/15). Suddenly, the prospect of attending a few networking events over the next couple of months to find 20 new contacts does not seem such a drag, as you know that, on average, you will make £30,000 for your efforts.
What you can also do is add up what you have spent on marketing, networking and other business-generating tools during the year. This will show the return on investment these have made. If you spent £2,000 on marketing your business and generated 15 new clients (with an average lifetime spend of £30,000), you know that that £2,000 has resulted in £450,000 worth of sales. That’s a return of £225 for every pound spent. Excellent! You can break that down further if you have monitored where these contacts learned of you. You can then identify exactly which marketing, networking and advertising methods have given the greatest returns.
When it comes to planning for the next year, armed with this information, you can invest more in your most effective marketing methods, and less on the less effective. So, if you spent £1,000 on a networking group, which achieved one client, but only £50 advertising in an online Virtual Assistant directory, which resulted in three new clients, it does not take a genius to work out that spending more on advertising in the directory might be a better idea than renewing the membership of the networking group.
Also, take a long hard look at your ‘sales funnel’ – the process that people go through from being contacts to becoming clients. What are your conversion rates from contact to prospect and from prospect to client? Where are you losing people? If you find that you have lots of contacts but few prospects, are your contacts fully aware of what you do? Are you tailoring your offering to appeal directly to these people? If you have lots of prospects, but they are not turning into clients, are you following up properly? Do you need to set up a better relationship-building system to develop their confidence in you? As you identify these gaps and plug them, you will need to spend less on generating contacts, as more of your existing ones will become clients? Happy days!
As a virtual assistant you need to share files in some way with your clients. Often you will find your clients are happy to email latest versions of documents and spreadsheets backwards and forwards and some even have a file-sharing system in place that you can have access to.
But what happens if your client doesn’t have their own systems and you will be both updating a ‘live’ file such as a contacts database or an expenses spreadsheet? How do you both have access to the same current version of the file? You can purchase file sharing software such as Microsoft’s Sharepoint, or you can use free software such as Google Docs which, not very helpfully, interferes with the formatting of some documents and limits the size and/or formats of the files you can upload.
Well now, there’s a free option that not only works brilliantly, but also has many other features including access to 30 days worth of back up copies, in case you accidentally delete or ruin a file. You can also access your files remotely when you are out of the office so there’s no longer a need to take that laptop on holiday!
You should allot a certain portion of your day to email and to regular mail. For example, allot one hour in the morning and one hour in the afternoon to handling all your written communications. Unless you dedicate specific time slots to the handling of email and post, you will soon find yourself on the downward slope of decreased productivity as you constantly check and respond to email to put off whatever you should be doing.
In a nutshell, the success of your VA business is entirely and completely reliant upon you and the decisions that you make. Success is within your reach, if only you can stay focused on your goals. You must decide to reach for your goals, and then, you must have the discipline necessary to reach them.
Don’t permit your friends and extended family to put on you. Many people are under the misapprehension that if someone works from home then they are not actually working. They may believe that you are fair game for a social call during the day or that you may be able to run errands that would otherwise mean them taking time off work.
It’s really important to set the ground rules early and then stand firm. You must make certain your friends and family understand that when you are working, then you ARE working and that when your time is interrupted, you will not be earning. You are the only one who can stand up for you. Your friends and family will seldom be able to appreciate your dedication to your business, unless you make the effort to make sure that they have the same respect for your business that you do.
When you are dealing with family in the course of your workday, it is important to schedule your activities as much as possible. With small children, you must take time when you need to, but you should also work hard to make sure you dedicate a specific number of hours to your workday.
With older children, it is much easier to tell them that you will be working between the hours of x and y. Then your children, and even your friends, must understand that certain hours of your day are devoted to the activities of your business.
Remember that owning your own business is not the same as being employed in a job. Some people go to work and coast along, playing games or enjoying online social networking (Facebook and the like), some socialise over the kettle or printer, and others, most often those who are paid in a commission or tip environment, go to work to work to make money.
When you work for yourself, what you make in terms of income is directly proportional to your productivity. Therefore, wouldn’t it make sense to stay focused on getting as much done in as short of a period as possible? Go to work to work and to make money. Leave socialising for when your workday has ended.
As the owner of a Virtual Assistant business, you will find that hundreds of distractions that vie for your time, energy and focus. Common distractions can include children, family and friends, neighbours, pets, constant telephone calls, post and deliveries, household chores, television (Lorraine Kelly or Loose Women anyone?) and so many more.
As the owner of your own Virtual Assistant business, you must always remember your purpose in bringing your profession home. What was your reason for wanting to own your own home based business? Was your goal to work from home so that you can share more in the lives of your children? Was your goal to be out from under the rule of a dictatorial boss? Was your goal to have the freedom to work when it is convenient for you? Was your goal to reap the rewards of your efforts and make lots of money working for yourself?
Whatever your reasons for starting your VA business, here are a few tips that will help you stay focused:
Stay Focussed Tip 1
Whatever your reason for going out on your own, you must keep your reason in the forefront of your mind. If you forget your reason for starting your own Virtual Assistant business, you will not be working for yourself for long. It is far too easy to let circumstance drive you and when circumstance is in the driver’s seat, you are more likely to crash and burn.
Make Yourself Clear
Make sure you are prepared for the specific situation. If you are attending a networking group, make sure you have perfected your one minute presentation and are prepared to speak to prospects on a one-to-one basis and have a ready answer to the inevitable question ‘What do you do’. If meeting a prospect who knows a little more about you and your business, make sure you are clear on what you are offering and how your service works and be prepared to explain this in simple terms without jargon.
What Else Can You Add of Value?
When you are meeting a prospect or attending a networking event you will understandably be focused on what you can get out of the experience. But be prepared to give a little too. It could simply be making an introduction to another of your contacts that could be useful to your prospect or offering a free piece of advice or your expert opinion. Small helpful acts like this will create a great impression and ensure you are memorable to your prospect.
Do What You Say, When You Say You Will
It sounds obvious but make sure you follow up. If you have said you will send through a contact’s details, make sure you do it. If you have arranged to send through more information by the end of the day, make sure you do. Nothing will kill a relationship faster than not following up as and when you say you will.
As the old saying goes, you only get one chance to create a good first impression. When you are running your own business, it’s imperative that within the first few seconds of meeting you or being introduced to your business, you create a great first impression.
In this article we’ll give you some simple tips that will have the prospects that you meet being impressed by you, liking you and, critically, wanting to do business with you.
Is your blouse ironed or are your shoes in need of a polish? It may sound immaterial but in the eyes of your potential client the care you take over your appearance symbolises the level of care and attention to detail you would take over their work. If you turn up with chipped nail polish and lipstick on your teeth they may wonder if you going to send out their letters with spelling mistakes or send emails to the wrong people. Make time to check your appearance before meeting your prospects.
Now you’re sure you look the part you can walk into any room with your head held high and confidence intact. Arrive in plenty of time for any appointment as you don’t want to be rushed. Stand up straight and tall and look the other person in the eye when introducing yourself, and don’t forget to shake hands firmly – no-one likes a limp lettuce handshake!
Are You Interested?
As well as having the opportunity to speak about yourself and your business, it is equally important to show interest in your prospect and their business activities. You will create a great first impression if you listen carefully and ask questions. By doing this you will be able to find common points of connection as well as identify areas where you will be able to help them professionally.
Look out for part 2 of this article coming soon.
We all hear about branding and how important it is to your business. But branding is not just about your web site or logo, it’s also about the associations your clients hold with you and your company name. The more positive that association, the more likely they may be to remain loyal to you when times get hard or competitors start knocking on their (virtual) door!
So how do you know how you are perceived by your clients and prospects and how can you set about improving or building on your brand:
What do your existing clients think of you?
The best place to start is by sending a questionnaire to your existing clients and anyone on your prospect list. It’s a good opportunity to ask for their opinion on what they like about your service and what improvements could be made. You should begin to see some similarities in the responses which will give you an idea of how your brand is perceived.
What Do They Like?
When you have identified the similarities, have a close look at what your clients and prospects love about you and your service. These are the positive aspects or your brand and are what you need to be communicating in all your marketing information.
What Weaknesses Can You See?
Some of these may be related to the industry as a whole, for example it may be that as you work remotely you can’t make the coffee ;o) However, be aware if things crop up that you can do something about. Perhaps you have missed deadlines or you are not up to speed with particular software that your clients use. Think about how you can improve on these for the future.
How Can You ‘Delight the Customer?’
Years ago I used to work for a holiday company who used the line ‘delight the customer’. The idea was that you don’t want the customer just to be satisfied with what you have produced for them. In order to get them singing your praises you really need to ‘delight’ them. So what can you do to delight your clients? Where can you add that little bit of extra value or really show some initiative? If you are seen to be going that extra mile, your clients will love you for it and that’s when they start to become your raving fans and tell everyone how great you are.
Better Than Advertising
As you can see, creating your brand or the ‘image’ for your company isn’t about expensive graphic designers or advertising experts. It’s about identifying what’s great about your business and communicating that in a clear and consistent way. If you can turn your clients into raving fans, they’ll not only stick with you through these turbulent times, they’ll also recommend others to you. Now that’s got to be better than spending a fortune on advertising!
Write regular press releases and send them to publications aimed at your target market. Even if your particular story is not run, you will be seen as the expert in your field and may be approached later.
Syndicate your articles online to article directories to attract new visitors to your web site and Ezine subscriber list.
Write articles useful to your target market then add them to your web site. You can also include them in your ezines. This showcases you as the expert in that particular field.