I may be a bit silent here over the next few weeks. We’re taking some leave (you can read about it on our family blog) and unless I have some fantastic thought or a sudden revelation, I’ll probably not post here. Much of my writing comes from things that happen during my working day and so I expand on what’s taken place, or on something I’ve shared with others, or something I’ve learnt. I will be meeting with some business contacts during the time away so perhaps something might be forthcoming, but if not I’ll post again on my return – I’ll probably have much to share! In the meantime, my great assistant Brigitte and my fantastic team member Anita, will be holding things in place for my business.
Discussions via the VA forums get quite interesting and it’s good to see really meaty topics take place. Recently one of my team posted a series of questions for other members to answer and it gave real insight into the background of many, their experience, why they started out as VAs, would they ever return to the corporate world, and so on. One answer given to a question asked brought to memory something I’d done a couple of times (hopefully I’ve learnt from it) where I became dependent on one major client for most of my business (and most of my income) and therefore didn’t actively continue to market my business. I’d been lulled into a false sense of security. And this is what had happened to the particular member answering the question ‘what main piece of advice would you give a new VA?’ She had advised not getting complacent about finding new clients.
I made a mental note I should add this to the VA blog.
Today I received an update to another forum where someone had replied to a post I’d made a couple of months ago and the following advice had been given:
Today networking can be done locally and online globally – I strongly recommend you do both. You’re going to pick up an audience from both avenues and you shouldn’t depend on only the one source for building your business.
Similar advice. Don’t depend on one or two clients, don’t depend on just the one source for clients.
Ok, time I did post this topic.
Sometimes we get so focussed on getting a client – any client – and then putting all our effort into that one person or business to the detriment of our own business. Keep focussed and keep building! If you get too much work you can always refer it on to another VA – better to have too much than not enough! KMT
Each virtual assistant works as an independent contractor in their own business. Some work full-time and some part-time and also in temporary positions. Because they work independently, prices vary amongst VAs, plus they are in many countries around the world, so feel free to shop around. Please understand that until the work is sighted, it is sometimes difficult to accurately price a job.
Thought to consider: The speed and experience of one VA may mean they charge higher than another VA who has a slower speed and less experience in their particular specialties. This could mean that the total sum of a job or project completed by the two separately would end up around the same price – even though one charges lower because they take longer to complete it.
Advantages for working with a Virtual Assistant (VA)
- They’re self-employed, therefore responsible for their own taxes, superannuation, insurances, etc
- They have their own equipment and work in their own office so you don’t have to have the space or equipment available to them
- They own their own software so you don’t have to buy it for them
- Available for short-term or long-term work, i.e. your personal assistant whenever you need them
- You pay $$ per hour for the work they do, not for their lunchbreaks, tea breaks, sick leave, etc
- Already experienced – you don’t need to train them, other than explain how you normally operate
Tips for working with a Virtual Assistant (VA)
- Be clear about your expectations at the beginning of your project to avoid misunderstandings
- Understand that the VA is not someone you are going to see every day and is not an employee but instead a business owner who will view your business in a different perspective – they should be seen as a business partner
- VAs do not need to be micromanaged – you’re paying for someone who doesn’t require a lot of supervision and who has experience on their side
- VAs are not sales people so do not expect them to generate sales for you. They are there to assist with aspects of your business that prevent you from generating more income.
The major thing to understand is that a Virtual Assistant is really a partner for your business and not an employee. They are almost a consultant in that they can advise you on the best way to do things – and then do it for you. KMT
Time again on VA forums I see the same request. “I’m just starting my business and want to know how to get clients”. They get a number of responses and are often encouraged to read the archives of the forums for further information. I thought sharing via this blog might help those considering a career as a Virtual Assistant.
Apart from the obvious requirements such as computer, internet connection, suitable software, good knowledge in how to use that software and suitable experience in providing the services you want to provide (I recommend at least 5 years, but some might say 2 would suffice), then there are these other things that should be done:
- Know what services you want to provide from the beginning and don’t make it more than 3 or 4 – it will confuse you on how to market and confuse others as to what you provide. It can be built up over time as you develop your client base.
- Have professional business cards printed and also develop a signature block – both go hand-in-hand. One for when you meet with people in the flesh, the other for when you connect with people virtually. Give them something that tells about you, what you do and how to contact you.
- Network, network, and network some more. Join online forums and networks and get to know your peers, but also join forums where you could meet prospective clients – your peers will teach you about your profession but few will provide you with work so joining forums of personal interest for example will put you in front of prospective clients.
- Join local business networks – where you have to go out and meet people face to face and learn about them and teach them about you. Don’t be afraid to get in the front line, i.e. help with things, perhaps get on a committee, give out papers, nametags, handle the registration for events, collect up papers, help others – if you’re where many people have to pass by you, they’ll get to know your face and want to know more about you.
- Software launches are a good place to network – especially if you already have good knowledge of that software. Many of those attending the launch want to learn about it and often need someone to help them.
- Take your business seriously and treat it as a business not a hobby.
- Get a domain name – don’t use a free email account for your business. It’s ok to use one for personal email but you want people to know about your business and a domain name is a good way to get them to take notice.
- Have a webpage (even 1 page is fine) using that domain so that when people look up the domain out of curiousity they can at least learn how to contact you (other than email) and perhaps a bit about what you do and/or your skills and abilities.
All of the above will assist you in getting started. The phone won’t start ringing, or the emails start coming, unless people know you exist. If you want to know more I have several books available at my bookstore – why not come over and check them out? KMT
I read today a newsletter that’s just been published online for the VA industry. Had some great information in it – it’s obviously tax time in the US! Along with it was a very useful article about how seriously VAs should take their businesses and the survey done in 2004 by the Brenner Information Group. The article is on page 6 of the newsletter (thanks Ramona). Please note that the figures quoted throughout the article are in USD and I believe a large number of those surveyed would have been in the US. However, the information is still very relevant for VAs the world over.
How seriously do you take your business and the services you provide? Are you charging appropriately? Do you have confidence in what you do and how you charge for it? The reality is if you are undercharging, you are not only damaging your own business (and undervaluing your skills) you are also damaging the industry as a whole. Clients won’t take us seriously or appreciate what we do, if they think they only have to pay ‘hobby’ rates. And let’s face it, if you only see your business as a hobby you are not going to be charging appropriately.
Before the year gets too far underway a good exercise for you to do would be to set up a spreadsheet of your monthly outgoings, and what you would like your monthly income to be. Work out how many hours you plan to put into your business (be realistic and recognise that there will be chargeable hours to clients and hours you spend outside of that on your own admin needs), then divide the monthly income by the chargeable hours to get an hourly rate. How close does that come to what you are actually charging? Could be a scary exercise – and one that wakes you up! In the survey it is mentioned that some VAs are only charging $10USD per hour for work they’re doing. If they are charging out 30 hours a week, 120 hours a month, that is $1,200 a month. I don’t live in the US so do not have a good idea of monthly incomings and outgoings but that seems it could be low.
May I suggest you look at the big picture first? What you need annually or monthly and then work backwards from there to get a good idea of what you need to be charging. I have a complete formula on how to do this exercise in a couple of my books if you want to look into this further.
And just so you don’t feel too bad, it actually took me around 2 years in business before I began looking at my business in this way too – I just kept doing the work and wondering why the invoices at the end of the month didn’t seem to match the time I’d put in. Once I changed my emphasis and focus on my business I began to track weekly and daily what I was bringing in so I knew how things were going.