It is clear to me through the various VA forums that the industry is continuing to grow. That’s a good thing. And we see continued requests for VA support as well. But it is also obvious to me that there’s not enough information out there for budding VAs in how to set up their businesses – or perhaps they just don’t know where to look. I see the same questions being asked constantly at the forums and also get individual emails with similar requests.
And it’s probably been awhile since I’ve shared that information here so thought I’d do a new post. These are all things I’ve done myself to grow and develop my business over the almost past 16 years (anniversary in March).
1. Network – it is very important that you spend time getting to know people both online and offline. This means you don’t promote blatantly in people’s faces about what you do but you spend time finding out what they do and, in the process, show them ways you can help them. Networking is about building relationships – it’s not about meeting someone once (online or offline), shoving a business card in their hands or sending a promotional email and then expecting business will come your way. It won’t. It takes time for people to develop trust and confidence in who you are, what you know and your ability to assist them. I find it’s best to join a couple of physical networking groups of some type – business, social, sporting, or any other type of network. Somewhere where people physically meet on at least a monthly basis, but more is good. And yes, I did mean face-to-face – not just virtual and online.
2. Business cards/signature block. You need to have both and they should tell people who you are, your business name if you have one, something of what you do if it’s not obvious and some contact details. Business cards should be carried with you wherever you go and a signature block should be used in email and for any discussion forums you belong to.
3. Discussion forums – this fits in with networking but I wanted to address it separately. Join in and participate but DON’T use these to spam the lists and promote your business. If you join forums that relate to your industry then it’s no use promoting to your peers – they’re in the same boat as you. Learning about the industry and looking for clients. If you join forums outside your industry let your signature block speak for you and keep the discussions on topic. No-one likes being spammed. And please sign off your emails and let people know who you are. Also DON’T TYPE IN ALL CAPS. If you’re a VA, or planning to be one, this tells recipients two things – that you are yelling or demanding attention and perhaps you don’t know how to type.
4. Rates. It’s no use asking people at forums how much you should be charging. Many cannot tell you that and some forums don’t like discussions taking place as it may be perceived as price-fixing. You need to do your homework. Only you know the cost of living in your area, how much experience you have and what your service offerings will be. There are formulas available online to help you work out rates right for you and some memberships also help give you guidance in that area. What is right for one VA may not be right for you.
5. Service offerings. Don’t promote you can do everything, because you can’t. Think about what you’re good at and start with that. So if you’re an excellent typist with accurate and fast typing speed, that is your selling point. Perhaps data entry fits into that as well. Don’t tell people you can do bookkeeping if you have no experience, same with web design, copy-writing, proofreading and all the other types of services out there. Too many budding VAs get their egos deflated and give up before things have really begun because they bite off more than they can chew simply by telling a client ‘yes’ when it should have been ‘no’. Which is why building alliances at VA forums are a good thing. If you can’t help the client you can refer them to a VA who can – the client is grateful and you build working relationships with other VAs.
6. Promotions/marketing. This doesn’t have to cost you the earth and you should only pay out what you can afford. However, that does not mean you should be looking for things that are free. There is a saying ‘you have to spend money to make money’ and for the most part that is true. Advertising is a legitimate business expense and a taxable claim. Do your research, find out what works for your area or expertise and then try it out. Give things a good 6 months to see if they’re working – don’t give up after a week or one month as that is not enough time to know.
7. Join VA networks. These are your industry associations. There are many out there. Most of them have chat forums. Join these to check out the network and see how the members knit together and the culture of the group. If you like what you see and the member benefits on offer suit you, then join the network. Two or three is good to start with. I know that many VAs join the networks just to get work but the reality is that is only ONE of the member benefits for most networks. There are many others. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that joining a network is going to give you heaps of clients as it won’t. But it will help introduce you to clients and slowly build your client base and the networks will also help you shape your business and learn from many others who have trodden the path you are now on.
8. Get a web presence. If you’re operating as a Virtual Assistant, then by the very nature of our industry it is expected that you have a web presence. Some of the VA networks offer you a page which outline your services – that is often sufficient for those just starting out and you can give that page address as your site. But if you plan to have a website of your own, don’t opt for a free site that has advertising all over it. You can get a blogsite at www.blogger.com and edit it to suit your needs, or pay for a self-hosted site and have WordPress installed which is a really good option. Or pay someone to do the site for you if you don’t have the knowledge to build one of your own.
9. Email address. Don’t use a free address such as hotmail, yahoo, etc. Unfortunately many spammers also use these and you may not be taken seriously by those you want to do business with. The purchase of a domain address is very cheap and web hosting not expensive either. It wouldn’t take much to set up an email address with a domain of your choosing and later build a site with that same domain when you’re ready.