Kathie is the owner of VA Directory and is former past President of the Australian VA Association. She founded the Virtual Assistant industry in Australia in the mid 90s, having already been operating a home-based secretarial service. Today the VA industry covers a multitude of office-based services for clients worldwide.
This is a comment/question I see regularly via forums, and particularly at LinkedIn. People just starting out in the Virtual Assistant industry but not sure how to source clients and build their client base.
This question can actually apply to anyone in business – not just the Virtual Assistant industry. But since I write for the industry, I’ll focus on VAs for now.
I began my business in March 1994, pre-internet. The way I found clients back then is still very much relevant today. The Internet just adds another dimension and another way of doing that same thing – networking.
Networking, and the resulting word-of-mouth referrals, should never be underestimated. Networking is a way of meeting people both online and offline, word-of-mouth referrals come as a result of people experiencing your service and telling others about it – both go hand-in-hand.
It is important to note that networking should NEVER be done just online. You are missing a good percentage of your audience otherwise. Locally there will be groups of people meeting for all sorts of reasons – business networks being just one of those reasons. And because the number of people is very much smaller than the internet, you have a higher chance of being seen, heard, and noticed.
Some places you could look for networks or groups of people in your area? Local Council, Chamber of Commerce, business network groups such as BNI, Leads Club, or perhaps even Rotary, Lions, and special interest groups.
Online you can use a signature block to help people know about your business, at networking and business events, your business card is an important tool. ALWAYS carry cards with you wherever you go as you never know who you’re going to meet or where. I’ve been known to pass on my card to a cashier when we’ve been engaged in conversation.
So, if you’re looking for clients – go out and mix and mingle with people. Be prepared to tell them about what you do – without telling your life story. Also be prepared to spend time listening – and not do all the talking. People give you respect when they feel that you are listening to them. And listening will alert you to their business needs.
When you’re a new Virtual Assistant, it can sometimes be difficult to determine where to find your potential clients.
All the obvious things come to mind: newspapers, flyers, Yellow Pages, noticeboards. Some of these things cost money and some don’t – just a bit of time and effort.
But there are other things you can do or use to help you find your potential client base. The important thing first may be simply working out what your client might look like. Not physically but more with respect to what they do, and perhaps what type of person they are.
Think about the type of service you want to offer. What service offerings do you have? Wordprocessing? Data entry? Database management? Social Media support? Transcriptions (medical, legal, conference) Knowing what you’re going to offer could go a long way to determining what type of client you are looking for. What might they do in order to need what you do?
Those can be the hard questions and once you’ve answered them, doesn’t mean it’s set hard and fast in concrete. You are allowed to change your mind later on. I have and my service offerings have changed considerably over the years.
Going along to business networking groups is a good idea. Find out if your local council hosts any groups of this kind and go along to the meetings. Spend time talking with other business owners and learn a bit about what they do. Don’t think that everyone you meet is going to become a client. They won’t. But in getting to know them you’ll be able to start working out who you would like to work with and why, or who might know who and whether they can introduce you to those people? They may tell you of other networking groups and events that you were not aware of.
You’ll also start to get an idea of what industries you can begin researching online as well, thereby opening more doors to possbilities and making you aware of a bigger and wider world out there.
Have fun exploring!