You know how it is, you’ve been in business for a few years, you’ve got a few clients on your books, but things are feeling a bit stale.
You feel that your business needs a Gok Wan style make over, but where do you start?
Virtual Assistant Business Make-Over Tip 1
If you’re not already doing it, create pre-paid packages to entice clients to pay in advance for blocks of time. They benefit from a small discount, you benefit from not having to chase overdue invoices and increased budgeting capacity.
As a small business owner it is easy to become frozen in place trying to keep up with all the day-to-day tasks associated with running your business. You cant possibly be proficient in every skill required to effectively run your business so lot of time can be taken up with trying to perform even the “smallest” of tasks. Trying to learn how to do everything can literally take hours of your week away from you. Hours better spent on developing relationships with your prospects or clients, updating your web site content, creating new products, and just being there to respond to new enquiries. Unless you are willing to give up some control, the grind of trying to do everything in your business too often takes priority over the human approach to being there for your customers. Do your initial digging online with a directory such as The UK Association of Virtual Assistants then pick up a phone and call or send email enquiries to those that appear to have the skill set you require. Make sure your questions are addressed intelligently and at a level of understanding that you feel most comfortable with. Look for a company that is interested in what goals you are trying to achieve by outsourcing and how you like to work. The conversation should be an effective two-way open communication and you should come away with a feeling of trust and confidence. By weeding out any company that is vague in their explanations of how they can achieve what you want them to do and you should easily find the best Virtual Assistant company to work with for your business needs. In Summary, don’t try to do everything yourself. You may have many fine strong points, but running your business single-handily should not be one of them. Learn when and delegating responsibility can actually make your business grow by leaps and bounds. Then find an outsourcing service you can work with – one with a complete understanding of your business and one that is proactive and willing to go the extra mile to make your business a success.
To make any outsourcing relationship work effectively, the business owner must be able to step back and make an honest evaluation of his or her talents. We are not all created equal. We all have different strengths. One thing is certain; to ensure business success a business owner must cultivate the ability to delegate responsibility through the use of outsourcing. That’s how a well-run, profit-pulling online business accomplishes its goals.Today’s businesses – large and small – gain immense benefits by finding other companies outside their own arena who possess the technological know how to analyse, plan, and implement target objectives. In the case of the smaller business owner finding an outsourcing service to handle tasks such as marketing, diary management, bookkeeping, and word processing is one such effective strategic move.To discuss the best way to outsource your administration tasks, why not speak to one of the professional virtual assistants listed in the UK Association of Virtual Assistants Directory.
Today sees the first in a new 3 part series – Why Outsourcing Takes Your Business To A Higher Level.
Outsourcing is a term often used in business and it is gaining popularity on the Internet as millions of web site owners discover they do not have all the tools and skills necessary to handle each and every function necessary to the efficient running of their businesses. Unlike having to recruit, interview, and take on an employee – and thus incur the tax and NI liability of a new employee, not to mention the additional costs incurred such as holiday pay, sick pay, maternity leave, etc – savvy business owners often turn to outside companies. Outsourcing services take on the tasks underlying a business leaving the owner more free time to pursue the front-end of his or her business.Wikipedia states:”Outsourcing” involves transferring or sharing management control and/or decision-making of a business function to an outside supplier, which involves a degree of two-way information exchange, coordination and trust between the outsourcer and its client.”Doesn’t that sound like the perfect client/virtual assistant relationship? Outsourcing, therefore, becomes an integrated part of your business. The importance is to determine what should be outsourced, why it should be outsourced, and who will provide your outsourcing services. If you would like to discuss the benefits of outsourcing a whole range of administration and business support tasks, why not speak to one of the professional virtual assistants listed on the UK Association of Virtual Assistants Directory.
So we’ve already established that getting quality inbound links to your web site from industry related web sites is brilliant way to leapfrog your way up the search engines rankings. But how can you also get noticed specifically by potential clients within your target industries?
Testimonials. How does it work? Simple.
As an example lets say that you have chosen to work with aromatherapists. Have a chat with your aromatherapist client (or potential client!) and explain that you are intending to write a testimonial about them that they can add to their web site. Customer testimonials on a web site improve the credibility of any business and they will be glad to include your unsolicited one. Book yourself an aromatherapy massage and then write a testimonial saying how great the experience was. Don’t forget to include at the end of it your name, business name and WEB SITE ADDRESS. Send it in an email to your client so that they can easily cut and paste the testimonial onto their web site.
You can also ask for reciprocal testimonials. If your web site could do with a few more client testimonials, ask your clients for a reciprocal one in an “I’ll write one for you if you write one for me” fashion. If they are too busy, ask if you can write both, yours and theirs, and send them back to the client for approval before publishing “their” testimonial to your web site. This is great as you can highlight any service or industry you want to focus on within the text, and the client can just approve the content and their quote before you add it to your web site.
Inbound links to your web site keep the search engines happy and testimonials are great for establishing credibility with any potential clients visiting your web site so using testimonials for inbound links is a real win-win.
Any virtual assistant who has a little inside information on how the Internet search engines work will tell you that the most effective way to get your web site picked up and listed high within the search engines listings, and particularly in Google, is to have lots of high quality inbound links.
So what is an “inbound link” and what makes one high quality?
An inbound link is simply a link from someone else’s web site to yours. But the key is what makes that link high quality? Now I could bore you for hours with the intricacies of how a search engine spider reads and interprets the detailed visible and background information contained on a web page then decides, in its robot wisdom, the theme of what the page is about. The key is it will then leave that page by following one of the links it includes. That could be a link to your web site. If it has decided that the page it has just visited is all about the Virtual Assistant industry and then it ends up following a link to your web site and it sees that your web site is about the same subject, it will deem that your site is an important resource in this area as the first web site has effectively “voted” for yours by linking to it and therefore list it higher in the results it returns for associated searches. Have I lost you yet?
The crux of it is this, the more links you can get to your web site from web sites within the same field so much the better. Now this article could be seen as self-serving because an obvious connection here is the UK Association of Virtual Assistants web site. Become a Full member and your web site will be linked to from our Directory, thus making your web site look “important” to Google and the like. Of course becoming a Featured member puts you on the front page of the UKAVA website so the search engines will see you as even more of an authority.
More information about how to be listed in our Directory can be found here: UKAVA – Choose A Listing Plan
But think a little further on; who are your target clients and what industries are they in? How could you get them to link from their web site to your web site? Answers on a postcard!
Seriously, we will cover this neat little trick next time so stay tuned.
We all know that in order to work virtually, we need to have an online presence, a web site. But it’s amazing how many virtual assistants don’t have one. There can be many reasons, or should I say excuses, including “a web site’s too expensive”, “I want to see if I get any interest before I spend a lot of money on a web site”, “it’s too hard to get someone to update it”, “I don’t know anyone who can build me one”, “my brother/cousin/friend said they’d make me one, but they haven’t done it yet”, the list of reasons why a web site is missing from your armoury is endless. It’s also absurd when getting your web site up and running is as easy and inexpensive as this.
You need to have a web site to run a “virtual” business; it’s as simple as that. And now it’s just a simple to build one yourself, quickly and inexpensively. We recommend Create. as you can build your own web site, add your own images and text and be up and running in minutes. It’s simple and from £8.49 per month including hosting what more could you ask for? Once built you can update your pages whenever you want to, and if you want to add additional features later on, such as a shopping cart or additional password protected pages for your clients, you can upgrade when and if you want to.
What is more, Create. offers a thirty-day free trial so you can see what the package has to offer before spending a penny. Genius!
For more information and to claim you free trail, click the link below:
Our latest time saving tip is a simple one – Limit the amount of time you spend checking email and switch off email alerts. If you are constantly checking your inbox or are responding immediately to email alerts you could be wasting hours every week, not to mention finding it very difficult to concentrate. Limit email checking to 3 to 4 times a day and stick to it. Your email will still be answered within a reasonable time but you will be able to concentrate on more involved projects without constant distractions or interruptions.
Alternatively, let your virtual assistant handle and filter your email for you. They can pick up your email on your behalf, filter out the junk and spam, answer requests for information as you instruct and only forward on to you the handful of messages you actually need to deal with yourself. How many hours would that free up each week to work on the more important things?
To find a virtual assistant to help you in your business, browse the Virtual Assistant Directory at the UK Association of Virtual Assistants.
The UK Association of Virtual Assistants was formed to fill a void in the virtual assistant market. Virtual assistants and virtual personal assistants were becoming more and more in demand as small businesses and sole traders began to flourish but there was no real association where prospective clients or existing and new virtual assistants could go for information, advice and recommendations. What the industry needed was a one-stop shop for both potential clients and virtual assistants alike. The UK Association of Virtual Assistants was born.
For potential clients looking for a part-time home based secretary, a virtual assistant, personal assistant or even a full blown virtual office, our Virtual Assistants Directory provides an online source of contacts listed by location and skills. Each listing provides details of the services offered by each assistant, their contact details and links to their web site where appropriate. There is also the added assurance that each virtual assistant listed agrees to adhere to the associations CODE OF CONDUCT. To find a virtual assistant to suit your needs, visit our DIRECTORY OF UK VIRTUAL ASSISTANTS.
For virtual assistants, the Association gives the opportunity to become part of a virtual team, to share ideas and experiences. It also gives you the opportunity to be recognised as a professional in your field by becoming an accredited member of the Association and adhering to our CODE OF CONDUCT. If you would like to become a part of our professional team and have you details listed within our DIRECTORY why not JOIN US today?
As a virtual assistant, we deal with many different customers, using varying systems and programmes 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.
Does you have sufficient insurance cover you for your business activities? It’s important to consider if your household insurance covers you for public liability, particularly if you allow clients to visit your home.
In addition you should look at profession indemnity insurance to protect yourself and your business in the event that a client should have cause to take you to court.
For lots of advice and free tips, check out the FREEBIES page at the VA Success Group
Also consider your household. What’s the normal routine? Does the postman always knock the door around 10am or do the kids come home mid afternoon?
Working for yourself means that you can be flexible enough to schedule your day around your most effective times. If your concentration is better in the mornings, use that time to work on projects that require concentration. If you know you will be interrupted at certain times, use those times to complete low concentration or quick tasks.
When you work from home make sure you don?t get drawn in to doing all the household chores when you should be working. Now I?m not saying leave a pile of dirty dishes in the sink, or damp washing in the machine but fit it in around your working day.
Going to put the kettle on for a cup of tea? While it?s boiling do the dishes. Stopping for lunch? While it?s on the cooker or in the microwave, hand out the laundry.
If you start each working day running through the chores before you start work, it?s very easy to become sidetracked and not get any work done before lunchtime!
Although one of the joys of working from home in your own business is that you can work whenever you choose, unless you set specific work times, one of two things will happen. You’ll either spend all day dipping in and out of work and end up achieving very little, or, you’ll find yourself working all the time.
Set specific hours of work and concentrate on work only during that time. Make sure your family and friends know you’re working during those times so that you are not disturbed. Also make sure that your clients know your hours of work so that they contact you when appropriate. If you have different working hours to the standard 9-5 that’s fine, just make sure your clients are aware so you are not constantly interrupted outside of your work time, or they are frustrated if they can’t get hold of you.
Consider an all in one printer, scanner and copier as it saves space. You can also get one with an integral fax machine, although you can also use an online fax services from your 0844 number provider or Efax if required.
You will also need a shredder for confidential documents and you may need a transcription pedal if you offer the service and are asked for it and potentially a binder, laminator and guillotine again only if you need them for a specific job or your own use for marketing materials.
When deciding which type of computer to buy, consider how you will be working and which option would be best for you. If you are going to be working away from the office from time to time, you might choose a laptop. Make sure when you are using if for extended periods at your desk that it is on a stand with the screen at eye level and use a proper keyboard and mouse.
Consider a large external hard drive for making mirror back-ups and storing large files and make sure you also have an online back system such as Carbonite.
Firstly you need to consider if you will use your home telephone number, set up a new line just for business use, perhaps use Skype (providing you have excellent broadband) or register a non-geographic or 0844 number that will divert to your home number during office hours.
There are benefits to all options so consider each one carefully before making your choice. Don’t use more than one or they WILL all ring together!
Just a note about using a mobile telephone number, don’t use one for your main business number as it will destroy your credibility. It screams ‘one-man-band’. If you want to use a mobile, divert your landline to it using BT Call Divert.
When choosing a desk make sure it is large enough area to accommodate the work you will be completing. It is tempting, particularly when using a small space, to go for a small desk or one of those cupboard work stations. Just make sure you have enough room to spread out.
Make sure the chair you choose is fully adjustable and comfortable. You will be spending a lot of time at your desk so ensuring a healthy sitting posture is essential.
Tip 1 – Create a dedicated space that is your ‘office’.
Ideally this should be a dedicated space, an entire room if possible or at least a sizable portion of one. You will need a clear space to work that has sufficient power sockets and a phone line connection nearby. Make sure your work space is clear from noise and distractions like a t.v. or washing machine.
Also think about the additional room you will need for other furniture you will need including a filing cabinet, stationery storage etc.
President of The AA Edmund King comments: “Our figures show you can save £8.40 per day by working from home. That adds up to more than £2,000 per year and if you can do without a second car, that leads to annual savings of in excess of £6,000. These are cost savings that any family would be pleased to see. What we like to see is that not only are homeworkers saving costs, they are also saving the environment.”
When you add to this, that according to Homefinder UK having a home office can add up to £28,000 to the value of your property, working from home certainly seems to make you better off.
So is this time of financial uncertainty the right time to be starting a business? With job security more ambiguous than ever and everyone interested in saving on everyday costs, there’s never been a better time to make the leap into working for yourself from home. The opportunity to make and save more money, and spend more quality time with family or friends instead of simply commuting to and from your workplace makes more sense than ever.
If you’re interested in starting your own virtual assistant business, working from home during hours that suit you, with the full back up and support of an established business behind you, why not find out about license opportunities with
My Virtual Assistant at www.myvirtualassistant.co.uk
Ever fancied dumping the 9-5 and starting your own business working from home? Well now it’s official, what we all suspected has finally been confirmed, working from home makes you better off!
According to recent research conducted by Homefinder UK, having an office in your home can add up to £28,000 to the value of your property. In addition the AA estimates that the average commuter could make travel savings of around £2000 a year by working from home and save between one and two hours a day in travelling time – that adds up to nearly a whole extra day per week! Time that could easily be spent with the family or building a new business.
If you’re interested in starting your own virtual assistant business, working from home during hours that suit you, with the full back up and support of an established business behind you, why not find out about license opportunities with
My Virtual Assistant at www.myvirtualassistant.co.uk
Do not forget to ask your readers for their comments, questions or future topics they would like to see covered. The whole point of writing an email newsletter is to build a relationship with your prospects and invite further interaction. You want them to take the next step by picking up the telephone or sending you an email. Make it clear that not only is this an acceptable way of contacting you, but the best way.
With a blog you can post content in the form of text and pictures and it is possible to have a two way dialogue by way of people commenting on your posts. You can have control over what comments actually appear on your pages if you manage your comments using your preferred blogging software so you can approve, delete or mark them as spam.
Blogs can be written in many styles from the very informal personal right through to a professional corporate blog. It’s important as a small business to inject some personality into your blog as your followers are trying to get to know you as well as read your material.
There are various social media platforms you can use to deliver messages to your readers and followers which we’ll look at through the remainder of this series. But before embarking on any marketing activity, it’s important to know why it’s useful.
Social media is instant so your messages can be delivered as they happen, and most importantly, it’s interactive – you are actually inviting comment and suggestion. Of course the most important point to remember is that the search engines love social media is its content is current and fresh. Your comments will be picked up by the search engines – how exciting is that?
In short, social media is a term that encapsulates a number of online communication platforms which make it easy for people to not only publish their own news and views but also comment on that posted by others.
Why Is Social Media Important?
Social Media has provided everyone with a platform to air their opinions, views and grievances with anyone around the world. People who use Social Media often become highly influential and are seen as experts in their own sphere and can develop large audiences around their area of interest.
Communities of like-minded people are forming around common interests over the Web regardless of where they are based in the world because the regular restrictions of geographical locations do not apply.
As much as is possible, you should always test your advertising and marketing efforts. You might want to jump in and try a range of different ideas and formats and that’s great, but try and keep tabs on where each enquiry comes from, and which enquiries go on to convert into paying customers.
With this data to hand you can then look at has been cost effective and what has not. For example if you paid £500 to join a networking group and attended 50 breakfast meetings costing £10 each over the course of a year, and as a result you got one new client, that client would have cost you £1000 to source. If you put an advert in the UKAVA Directory for £49.95 and over a year that advert resulted in 5 new clients, each client has cost you less than £10 to source. In this scenario you may decide to drop the networking group and advertise more widely in the Directory.
The important point is that you can’t improve on what you don’t measure so if you don’t know what is working for you, and what is not, how can you expect to improve your results next time around?
Sometimes you may find that the lower cost advertising and marketing strategies are the ones that bring you the most business.
For a listing in the UKAVA Directory visit: http://www.ukava.co.uk/html/join_the_uk_association_of_vir.html
It goes without saying that as a virtual assistant you need a website. But have you really thought about the best way to use it? Some visitors will arrive at your website as result of you telling them about it or seeing the URL on your business card or marketing material.
What you really want though is visitors who have arrived at your website because they are actually searching for a virtual pa. These are not just visitors these are prospects. They have actually gone to the trouble of going to a search engine and entering a relevant term into the search bar and are busy looking through the results to find someone they want to work with. So how do you make sure your website ends up in front of them?
Search engine optimisation (SEO) companies charge a small fortune for ‘optimising’ your website in an attempt to make is appear at the top of that search engines results. And with good reason. The search engines constantly change their indexing criteria to keep out the spammers so the SEO companies have to consistently keep one step ahead. If you don’t have the budget to compete with the big players the best thing you can do is get listed on their websites. Visitors to their websites will then see your information and click through to your website.
There are several directories advertising virtual assistants and their services in the UK. Ours consistently appears on the first page of Google and can be found at http://www.ukava.co.uk
Press Releases are useful for generating a buzz about your virtual assistant business. The business editor at your local newspaper will always be on the lookout for a good business story to fill the business news section of the newspaper.
Of course, the business editor understands the economics of running a paper and is more inclined to run your story if you buy advertising in his/her publication, but will still print stories for special events and openings. Think of an angle, could you offer a competition prize, could you help a local charity.
The important thing to remember about Press Releases is that it must be constructed in the form of a news story. Even if you are a sole proprietorship, quotes from you should be written in a third person format: John Doe said, “Your quote here.”
A Press Release should pack the most important information at the beginning of the copy, and leave extra details towards the end.
You should always provide the reporter who gets the task a simple and easy way for him/her to contact you directly. Often the reporter will want to contact you to get details that will enhance their take on your story.
If up until now you’ve been an employee, you might never have been to a networking event before. The whole idea is that everyone who goes along is a business owner or key decision maker in their business and is there, like everyone else, to promote their product or service. The beauty of networking is that if you attend groups regularly, people get to know and trust you and are happy to work with you if they need a virtual assistant or refer business your way.
Now I could write a whole series on the subject of networking alone but these are the basics. If it is your first time networking I would initially go to an informal group as this will help you get your confidence and see how they work. Do an Internet search on networking and you town and you should find a whole range of groups in your area. Have a look for one that takes your fancy and book on. Most groups will let you attend one or two meetings before asking you to take out a membership so make full use of all the free trails until you find a group that you like. Some groups are free but you will find that those that charge a membership fee are often more formal business networking groups and produce more clients and referrals.
Again don’t forget that anyone you speak to may know someone who needs a virtual assistant so don’t dismiss anyone on first impressions and also remember that networking is two-way so if you can put those you meet in touch with anyone they would be interested in, do it. You will be remembered for it and that’s the first step in getting referrals.
Sometimes it’s not about who you know, but about whom they know. We’ve all heard the theory about the six degrees of separation, that you are only six people away from anyone you want to get to know. Well the same applies to business. The person you are talking to may not have any requirement for a virtual assistant but who do they know that might?
If you make an impression on the person you are talking to they will remember you and possibly refer on to you anyone who may need your services. This is particularly true at networking events, which we’ll cover next time. But how can you make sure that they will remember you and refer you when appropriate. How about offering a referral fee?
A referral fee can be a gift or cash and is usually related to the amount a referred new customer spends. You only pay out on the referral if the potential new client signs up so you have nothing to lose. You may want to offer a free bottle of champagne or gift vouchers for each new referral or perhaps 10% of the first invoice total. It’s up to you but it can be a very effective way of getting your contacts to refer their contacts to you.
When you are starting out as a Virtual Assistant and no one knows who you are or what you do, one of the biggest challenges you will face is how to drum up new business.
You probably have already done some research and already know that there are people who need your services or you would not have started your business in the first place. But once you have spoken to those you already know who may need you, your next task is to find others who will help you make your business a success.
At this point most people turn to advertising. If I had a pound for every VA that has said to me, ‘There’s a little local magazine that comes through my door each month. Should I advertise in it?’ I wouldn’t have to run a VA business myself; I could retire on the proceeds. The answer, by the way, for many reasons is no. There are many better ways to spend your limited advertising and marketing budget.
It is a misconception that you have to spend lots of money to advertise your Virtual Assistant business. Unless you have some sort of financial backing, it is unlikely that you will have a huge budget so it’s better to get a little bit creative and use what you have wisely.
In this series, I will be letting you in on a few tips and some of the lessons I’ve learned on how to advertise your virtual assistant business on a budget.
Advertising Your Virtual Assistant Business on a Budget – Lesson One – Word Of Mouth
If you’ve just started out and you’ve done a piece of work for a client who is pleased with the results, they will talk about it. My advice in the early days is to under promise and over deliver. Think about how you can ‘delight’ your customer. What can you add or improve that would really ‘wow’ them? Could you deliver the work early, could you suggest some ideas that might improve it, could you put them into contact with a potential new client that you know? Anything that is seen as going the extra mile and helping your client within their business will be appreciated. When they thank you for it, ask them if they know anyone else who might need your services. Put it in their mind that you are looking for new clients in this way and they may send you referrals. More on referrals next time!
With a large number of virtual assistants to choose from these days, how can a potential client select who they want to work with? How can you project a professional image and create synergy with someone you’ve never met? What can you do or say to make them think ‘I’ve got to work with this person’?
When I first started out as a virtual assistant, more years ago than I care to remember, there weren’t many other VA’s around and therefore not much competition. Nowadays, a sizeable proportion of the clients I take on have worked with at least one other VA in the past. When I ask what differences they notice between how we work and what they have experienced in the past, it is often commented on that what they like more than anything is that we work as a partnership with our clients, being proactive in their businesses and looking for opportunities for them and suggesting ideas, as opposed to those VAs that just sit and wait for work to be delegated to them.
So how do we achieve that distinction? Part of it is the mind-set. When you make the leap from being an employee to a sole trader or business owner you will quickly realise that if you sit around and wait for work to be delegated, you won’t get very much of it. At that point you learn to make yourself an active member of your clients ‘team’ very quickly or you will soon start to flounder.
To give a great impression straight away it’s important to ask the right questions at the first meeting with your potential client, before they sign up. You need to ascertain where you can be most useful to them. What are their weak points? What work do they have to do that they continually put off either because there is no time or because they don’t enjoy it? Find out what their plans are for their business. What do they want to achieve?
Once the client has come on board you need to maintain the momentum with scheduled meetings as an on-going process both with regular and ad-hoc clients. By having detailed monthly catch up meetings, either in person or by telephone, you can identify what is coming up in their calendar and how you can help them by sharing some of that workload.
Setting yourself up as a virtual assistant is an exciting step but one which should not be taken without some serious consideration. Starting any new business, particularly one where you work from home, can appear either a stimulating or frightening prospect, or both, depending on your perspective and experience. Breaking out from the ‘employed’ world and into one where you are your own boss is an exhilarating prospect, but being responsible for that business and solely reliant on yourself to generate your income can be a very daunting reality.
We have published a guide designed to raise some points you may not have considered and pose a series of questions you need to ask yourself in order to decide if setting yourself up as a virtual assistant is really for you. If you decide it is, what follows is a list of steps to help you navigate your way through this new alien self employed environment and put you firmly on the road to success – all for just £9.95
You can work with Associates in one of two ways, or indeed, a combination of both.
Firstly you can retain all the client contact so that he/she never knows that the work they are sending you has been completed by a third party.
The plus side here is that you will never have to worry about unscrupulous associates who may attempt to take the client from you, or underhand clients who think they may save a pound or two if they cut you out of the equation and work directly with your associate.
The downside is there will be inevitable delays as you send work back and forth, and you will have to be not only very aware of every piece of work as you will have to discuss it with the client where necessary, you will have to double check everything that goes out. All this additional admin can become very time consuming.
The second way to work with an associate is to effectively pass the client over to them and allow direct communication.
This frees up much more of your time as all discussions about the tasks performed are direct between the client and the associate. However, do make sure that you have very solid contracts in place with both your associate and your client to prevent them working directly together.
Also bear in mind that associates will not be with you forever so make sure you keep yourself up to speed with the clients account information, that you have access to all their files and the work completed by the associate, and that you maintain a relationship with them have contacting them regularly to check in and see how things are going.
It’s imperative to have an Associate Agreement in place so that everyone understands the boundaries of the relationship.
When you have filled your virtual assistant business with clients, you will soon run out of time that you can sell to new prospects. After all, you only have so many hours in the day that you can work. So how can you expand and take on more business without the overheads of getting an office and taking on staff?
It’s time to introduce you to the Virtual Assistant Associate.
Working with associates is a very popular business model in several industries as it works in much the same way as working with a virtual assistant. When there is work you don’t have the time to complete, your clients outsource it to you. When you have an excess of client work you don’t have time to complete, you outsource it to an associate.
Associates work at a reduced hourly rate to that you have charged your client, as they have been handed the work ‘on a plate’ without having to do all the marketing and relationship building associated with bringing that client on board.
You also continue to manage the client relationship and invoicing, and the client remains a customer of your business rather than becoming a direct customer of your associate.
It’s imperative to have an Associate Agreement in pace so that everyone understand the boundaries of the relationship.
There’s often chat in the virtual assistant world regarding contracts versus terms and conditions and whether the formal approach of issuing contracts actually puts off potential clients. Some hold the opinion that published terms and conditions are enough and that displaying these on your web site or issuing them to new clients should be sufficient. To an extent I agree that issuing a 10 page contract to a new client who is only looking to work with you for a few hours on a one-off project can seem a little over doing it. Of course in this instance you should ask for payment up front. But when it comes to long term clients, a word of caution…
Several years ago I had my first non-payer. We had worked together for several months and he had always paid on time. Then, over a period of a few months things slipped and he ended up owing me a couple of thousand pounds. When I had the audacity to ask when my invoices would be paid, his response proved that actually he no longer needed my services and was simply looking to get as much work as possible from me for free before the penny dropped with me that he was actually not intending to pay. The long and short of it was that I eventually got the money but it was after a lengthy court process and a lot of stress.
Lessons learned? I immediately took advice on what should be included in my contract because, although I had one at the time, it was nowhere near watertight enough and I hadn’t included things I could charge for such as penalties for late payment and interest. If at the time I could have produced his signed contract accepting these clauses, I could have been much more effective in collecting the debt before it went through the whole legal process. After all, if you were presented in an option of pay the invoiced amount today, or in 7 days it will cost you 15% more in penalties plus interest, wouldn’t you pay now?
I also now only accept clients on a pay up front basis and have never had any prospect or client comment or complain about this way of working. This in itself won’t cover you completely as there are always the extra hours you may work over and above what has been prepaid, and then of course there are the additional expenses which can mount up. But, in general, it does prevent a similar situation from occurring again.
In summary I would suggest you do both, get a proper, legally binding contract in place AND charge your clients up front for the hours you will work for them. Contracts for both short term ‘Pay As You Go’ clients and those on more long term ’Retainer’ arrangements can be found at the VA Success Group.
Many Virtual Assistants start out in their businesses by working towards the finish line of what they perceive to be a successful VA business. They will research online what everyone else is doing and strive to achieve something very similar. They will spend time deciding what services they will offer, how they will offer them and going about finding the right clients. But before this process really starts, you should begin by defining what success really means to you. You need to drill down and establish the type of success that you want and how you want to achieve it.
Successful doesn’t necessarily have to mean the largest or most profitable VA business. It could be a business that fits in around your lifestyle, or one that develops a fantastic reputation within a very niche market.
It’s also important to understand that there are several levels or models of virtual assistant businesses you can operate. From the one-man band to the office based team, these can follow in sequence as you grow or you can start with you favoured business model in mind and develop that to its full potential. As you also develop with experience, practice and gaining the knowledge that you need for the job, you will be able to become more successful with your business. Continuing to define what you need and constantly growing into your virtual assistant business will help you to find your success.
The most important thing to keep in mind with your virtual assistant business is that the satisfaction should come from the process, not the goal. No matter what stage you are at, there is always room for growth. This may mean that you will grow into success by redefining the services that you offer or by continually refining your professional standards. Or it may mean developing your skills in certain areas or learning new ones to make you a well-rounded and progressive virtual assistant. The more you know and the more you can offer, the better of a chance you will have at continuing your success.
Becoming a successful virtual assistant simply means taking the steps that you need to be successful and achieve your own goals, whatever they may be. By beginning with your own idea of what success in your business would mean to you, and moving forward one step at a time.
The first step in this process is to say that you would like to meet with them again and that you will call to arrange a time and place to have a coffee and a chat. Then call when you say you will and make that arrangement.
When you meet for that coffee, make sure you have done some research about the business of the person you are meeting and prepare in advance ideas about how you can help them within their business.
Do they publish an online newsletter you can produce for them? Do they send out information packs or quotations to prospects and could you do this for them? Do they work away from the office most of the time, could you handle their telephone calls or check their email for them?
The more prepared you are the more you will be able to drop ideas into the conversation without sounding as though you are ‘selling’.
Don’t forget also to think about who you know that could potentially be a client or useful contact for your prospect. The whole point of networking is to give and take and if you start the relationship by giving something of value to your prospect, you will instantly win their respect and trust and they will see you as someone they would like to work with in future.
We have all heard that networking is a successful strategy for gaining clients for your virtual assistant business, but why are some people very successful at it while others wonder if they’ve just wasted their money and eaten too many fried breakfasts?
One of the most common reasons for the divide between who is successful at networking and those who are not, is those that are successful follow up.
By following up I don’t mean saying hello again at the next networking event, I mean actively keeping in contact with the people you meet outside of the networking event. How often have you met someone at an event who has expressed some interest and could use your expertise, but you never heard from them again? Did you follow up with them after the event, or did you leave it to them?
You are the service provider in this relationship so it’s up to you to get in contact with that prospect and tell them, in whatever way is appropriate, how you can help them.
Look out for part 2 of this article coming soon.
Any successful Virtual Assistant that’s been bouncing around the industry for a while will tell you that the road to success in virtual assisting can be a bit of a bumpy ride. Becoming a self-employed business owner can often be a scary prospect as suddenly, there’s no-one to ask. No-one to tell you what equipment you need, no-one to ask how to best protect yourself with your client agreements, no-one to ask about the best way to grow and expand your business.
The VA Success Group was set up to deal with these issues and you probably already know that there’s a hugely informative Start Your Virtual Assistant Business Online Course to teach you all the basics and you can download all sorts of Document Template packs to help you with the legal aspects and client management.
But what happens when your business is up and running and you decide that this year is going to be the year when you really push your business forward. What do you do?
The first thing is to identify what ‘success’ really means for you. It sounds simple but it is different for everyone. Do you want a six figure income, or do you simply want to replace your old full time salary and only work part time hours? Or do you even want to build a highly successful business that you can then sell on as a going concern and retire on the profits?
Once you’ve decided what you want to achieve, the next step is to decide how you will get there. You need to set out your objectives, define your marketing strategy, set your budget and organise your operational process to take it all into account.
You’ll also need to decide if you already have all the tools you need, or if you need some training or professional advice in order to achieve your goals. You may also need someone to hold you accountable as without it, it’s all too easy for the big goals to get lost in the minutiae of the day to day.
Keep your goals written down and place them somewhere you will see them every day, if they are in the forefront of your mind you will be more likely to take advantage of any unexpected opportunities that come your way. Also remember that there are many paths to reach your goals, and if one goes a bit off track, try another.
If you would like advice and support from two of the most successful virtual assistants in the UK today, people who have really been there and done it’, along with the feedback and accountability of a whole group of VA’s dedicated to building their own successful businesses, the VA Success Groups Mentoring programmes could be just what you need.
Have you heard of Hootsuite? Hootsuite will allow you to post social media updates across multiple accounts and even schedule them in advance. There are analysis tools, so you can see your success and you can even have multiple contributors to your social profiles without sharing passwords (so great for nervous virtual assistant clients!).
Many Virtual Assistants shy away from the idea of marketing to attract a particular niche as they are concerned that they will be turning away hoards of prospects from other industries. But if you have ever tried to be everything to everyone, you’ll soon learn that you end up appealing to no-one and as your marketing efforts are spread too thinly, you end up out of pocket and frustrated by poor results.
When you market to a niche you are targeting a very small select group of people. With research you can identify what that group of people have in common and in what areas where they will all be struggling. This way you can tailor your marketing message, the words that you use, to suit the target market. For example, if you were to target a group of individuals that were constantly away from home due to their line of work, you could say something in your marketing material like ‘Are you constantly away from home and worrying that the post is not being dealt with or you’ll come home to find that your car has run out of tax or the boiler has not been serviced?’ Do you see how someone who was away all the time would identify with that question? They may well have already experienced a situation like that or know that it will happen at some point.
Now you can follow up that question with your solution, something like, ‘Our Mail Handling and Lifestyle Management services mean that we can run your home and life for you while you are away meaning that you will never have to be reliant on public transport or have a cold bath ever again!’ Do you see how that would appeal to them?
You can of course use the same approach with any niche market. With a bit of research you can establish where you might be needed and what services you can offer to add value. So don’t forget next time you are out networking, chat to people in niches that interest you, find out what they struggle with and if these are general issues for people in their industry. Then even if that particular person doesn’t need your services yet, you can still tailor your marketing message using what you have learned and target others from their industry.
A little bit more research will also tell you where you can find these people, what publications do they read, what groups or associations do they belong to? When you know what message to put before them, and you know what channels you have available to get in front of them the rest is child’s play. So as you can see, marketing to a niche is an effective way of streamlining your marketing efforts and achieving better results.
When starting your virtual assistant business, after getting together all you equipment, getting excited over your business cards and web site, there comes the sudden realisation that here you are, all ready to go and there isn’t actually a queue of people knocking down your door to work with you. Yikes!
One of the questions I’m asked most often is ‘Where do you get your clients’. Usually the question is asked by new start up virtual assistants, but more recently I’ve been asked by more established VA’s who have started to struggle during the recession. Newbies have generally spent lots of time putting together their business by purchasing equipment and organising their office, but have forgotten the fundamentals of putting together their marketing plan. Then when they are all set up and ready to go and have opened their virtual doors to the world they find that the phone isn’t ringing and the email Inbox isn’t full of enquiries. More established VA’s, once they have enough clients, put marketing on the back burner until such a time as they need to look for new clients again.
If either of these sounds like you, you need to develop a marketing plan, and fast.
Firstly take a long hard look at your contacts and include everyone you’ve ever worked with, all your contacts through previous businesses if appropriate and family and friends. What contacts do you already have that you can ask for referrals? If you are already running a VA business, when did you last ask your clients for referrals? Don’t discount anyone because you think they wouldn’t need your services. They may well know someone who does.
Next take stock of all the skills you have and the industries you have worked in or that interest you. Consider what services can you offer and to whom? If you have been a book keeper with an IT firm for many years, you are going to find it far easier to offer your virtual book keeping services to other IT firms as you know something about their market and their ‘language’. If you target an industry or sector you have experience of, you will be seen as the virtual assistant who is an expert in this field and have an advantage over any other VA.
When you have decided on your target market, or niche, think about how you can reach them. Do they belong to particular organisations, read certain publications or as is the case with one of my niches, do they all drink on a Thursday afternoon in bars within a square mile of a certain point in London?
When you know where to find them, consider how you can get your message to them. While advertising in general is expensive and often pointless unless you can afford to take out a run, perhaps you could write an article for a trade publication, or give a presentation at an event your ‘suspects’ will attend. Think outside of the box for some interesting and inexpensive ideas that will have impact on your particular target market and keep you stimulated and motivated.
Above all, keep marketing as a continual process and recognise that although you may not get clients immediately from you efforts, in time your consistency will pay dividends.
Not sure what you need to know, how to avoid all the pitfalls, what to charge or how to make it all a success?
How would it feel if you could just click your heels together and land in your very own successful business that is up and running with all the tried and tested systems and processes already in place? And wouldn’t it be a dream if your business was already a market leader, with a raft of very happy clients and an enviable reputation for service and professionalism.
It’s a bit of a given these days that in order to be taken seriously in the business world, you need to have a web site. When hearing about a company or service for the first time, how many of us head off to the “www.” to find out more? We all know that when work “virtually” in particular, we need to have an online presence, a web site. After all, we don’t have a shop front or an office building to impress our potential clients so our web site is our “shop window”, our opportunity to display our expertise and professionalism. Or is it?
It’s amazing how many virtual assistants don’t have a web site. There can be many reasons, or should I say excuses, including ‘a web site’s too expensive’, ‘I want to see if I get any interest before I spend a lot of money on a web site’, ’it’s too hard to get someone to update it’, ‘I don’t know anyone who can build me one’, ‘my brother/cousin/friend said they’d make me one, but they haven’t done it yet’, the list of reasons why a web site could be missing from your marketing armoury is as endless as it is senseless. It’s also absurd when getting your web site up and running is as easy and inexpensive as this.
You need to have a web site to run a ‘virtual’ business; it’s as simple as that. And now it’s as simple as it is cost effective. Web sites from the UKAVA cost from just £245 for everything you need. We even and include a years free hosting and an advert in the UKAVA Directory. Now there’s really no excuses for not getting your web site underway today!
Oh, no! Panic! What information do you need to give them about you and your business and how it all works? What questions should you ask them? How do you cover yourself? What terms and conditions should you have? Contracts… what contracts?
Relax; it is all here in the New Client Document Templates Pack. Simply cut and paste in your business details and you are ready to go!
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.
For lots of advice and free tips, check out the FREEBIES page at the VA Success Group