This is my first stop â€œdown underâ€ and I am honored to be a guest at your blog. I know I will have a great time visiting all my Australian VA associates during this drive to promote the VA industry and leading up to our Online International Virtual Assistants Convention (OIVAC). So Kathie, what do you have in store for me?
1. How do you know if a VA is brand new or experienced?
I have to think deeply about this question. My initial response is:
a) If a VA has difficulty understanding she is â€œin chargeâ€ of her destiny â€“ and not dependent on a boss or supervisor to provide work, directions, set policy, or compensation, etc.
b) A second way to know if she is new is if she participates in e-groups and constantly asks basic start-up questions without researching list archives, etc.
c) Third, if she has established rates consistent with her salary received as an employee. This clearly reflects the individual has not factored in business, insurance, vacation, benefit-related expenses and is unaware of all the elements required to create a profit-making rate for services.
2. What protection is there for clients who get ‘burnt’ by a VA?
Iâ€™m not clear in what context the term â€œburntâ€ is used, so I may not answer the intended question. However, my gut responses are as follows:
a) Little to none.
b) Filing a lawsuit against the VA, especially if the matter involved monetary or proprietary losses as a direct result of VA activity/inactivity (and it is clearly spelled in the written agreement penalties for breach of contract).
In all instances, I strongly recommend that confidentiality and proprietary protection clauses safeguarding clients and VAs be included in all written agreements.
c) Arbitration service for conflict resolution.
d) File a complaint with the VA organization the VA is a member of. Several VA organizations have instituted Codes of Ethical Conduct. The aggrieved client may contact the organization and request a hearing. If the VA is found in error, she may be asked to rectify the situation or forfeit membership rights.
3. VA certification is still relatively new in the industry, how important is it to VAs?
Certification is important in the eyes of the beholder. Let me explain. Currently, virtual assisting is a wide-open industry, meaning anyone can enter; there are no standards, requirements, etc. Essentially, anyone with a computer, keyboard and mouse can put up a shingle and proclaim â€œIâ€™m a VAâ€.
In some instances, individuals possess extensive corporate and office manager experience and bring all those skills to the business. In others, individuals want to â€œwork-from-homeâ€, for varying reasons, but have no â€œbusiness senseâ€ and become frustrated because they are not immediately successful â€“ and probably have turned clients off to virtual assisting during the process.
In those instances where an individual does not have prior manager, executive or business experience, I believe she should enroll in a program teaching skills required for running a successful, profitable virtual assisting business. (Please do not confuse this recommendation with training individuals on keyboarding, or Excel, Word, etc.)
If the individual desires to work within a particular niche, for example, realtor-related services, I strongly believe she should enroll in a niche-specific program and obtain a certification signifying she have successfully completed all its requirements.
Looking at the matter from a different prospective, especially as it relates to training programs, all programs are not created equal (donâ€™t get mad). I have witnessed situations where VAs unable to run successful VA practices opened coaching/training programs. I ask myself, if she couldnâ€™t be a successful VA, how can she coach others to be successful? So, if the training programs were required to pass â€œcertification musterâ€, the industry would at least be ensured that graduates would minimally have greater chance of running successful, profitable businesses. Of course, the question is, are training programs willing to participate in a certification process?
Finally, certification and standards are two different processes. Letâ€™s face it; in some cultures business owners donâ€™t weigh certifications as an important consideration when choosing a VA. In addition, there are many VAs who will never apply for a certification (of any kind). In these instances, a â€œgrandfatheringâ€ process may need to be instituted. However, maybe not today or tomorrow, but eventually, basic industry standards will need to be established, to protect the integrity of the industry and its practitioners.
This, of course, leads me to inviting VAs to participate in a workshop regarding basic VA standards that will be conducted during the OIVAC, scheduled Saturday, May 19, 2007 at 5 p.m. DST (New York). This is an open session and all VAs are invited to attend.
4. Many VAs struggle to get known, what are some of the best ways to market their businesses?
This answer could lead to my writing a book â€“ There are so many ways to market your VA business, but before you begin, you should establish a strategy to support your marketing model. I donâ€™t believe in hazard marketing. What is that? Thatâ€™s throwing your marketing message out there and seeing where it sticks. I believe in developing calculated, planned and executable marketing strategies that result in successfully attracting your targeted, ideal customer. To accomplish this, you should go through a process, creating a Marketing Ball (as Robert Middleton would say).
But, to respond to your question in the short term, I recommend:
a) Create a unique selling proposition (UPS) that quickly make your offerings different from, and more valuable than your competitors, in the mind of your target audience.
b) Build a web site that identifies and addresses your prospective clientsâ€™ WANTS and needs. Focus on the benefits of working with you, how you solve their pain â€“ not the processes you use to accomplish tasks. The client doesnâ€™t really care.
c) Identify the â€œmoversâ€ and â€œshakersâ€ of your targeted industry (assuming you have identified your ideal client), and connect with them â€“ introduce yourselves and explain the benefits they or others in their industry will obtain from working with you. Ask them for recommendations, referrals, and methods to â€œconnectâ€ with others in the industry. Make the pitch and close the deal.
d) Establish â€œrelationshipsâ€ and follow-through regularly, even if itâ€™s by sending a postcard or article about a topic of interest (business or hobby-related etc.) People only do business with people they know and like.
e) Become the â€œexpertâ€ in your area of specialty and promote your expertise via interviews, conducting seminars, ezines, media exposure, volunteering, etc.
Of course, I can describe the traditional methods of passing out business cards (only to qualified prospects), attending networking events (share contact info with â€œqualifiedâ€ prospects), create advocate groups, article marketing, blog marketing, conduct surveys, etc.). But these methods wouldnâ€™t be overly successful without developing an overall short/long term plan.
Therefore, I recommend that to develop a winning marketing strategy that will support your business for years to come, start at ground level, design a systematic plan and go for it. Before you know it, you have achieved success and more clients than you can handle. Note: If you would like one-on-one marketing consultation, feel free to contact me directly.
5. Should a VA operate under their own name or a business name?
Today, it appears Iâ€™m not offering any â€œdirect yes or no responsesâ€. The answer is based upon the long term business goal of the VA.
Some VAs operate under their personal name because they want to â€œbrandâ€ their name and intend to remain soloentrepreneurs. Also, it may imply the client will receive â€œpersonalizedâ€ services from the business owner herself. This option may have personal tax implications and legal liabilities; therefore, I recommend the entrepreneur discuss the ramifications with an accountant and/or attorney.
Most VAs operate under a business name â€“ many related to their targeted audience or specialty. In addition to the legal and tax protections, if the businessâ€™ model is to promote working with a â€œteamâ€ or it is the VAs intention to bring on more staff at a later date, then it is best to have utilize a business name. Clients will not expect (now or in the future) that you are personally servicing their accounts. However, they may feel more at ease knowing others will be available to handle the work in case of your absence or illness.
In a nutshell, itâ€™s all based on personal preference and your long-term business goals.
Well Kathie, Iâ€™ve hung around quite a bit today and its time to move on to our mutual friend, Becki Noles and Virtual Accuracy. If you missed yesterdayâ€™s stop, drop by Jennifer Gniadeckiâ€™s blog Atypical VA and grab your scrambled board puzzle clue. Weâ€™ve many great prizes that have been donated during the tour, and if you solve the puzzle you will be eligible to win. Todayâ€™s clue (#17) is mtgakienr. The drawing will occur during the International Virtual Assistants Day (IVAD) celebration scheduled Friday, May 18, 2007 at 5:30 p.m. (DST New York).
About Sharon Williams
Sharon is the Chairperson of the Alliance for Virtual Businesses and OIVAC, and president of The 24 Hour Secretary an administrative, secretarial and internet-based marketing support services company. She is the 2006 recipient of the Thomas Leonard International Virtual Assistant of Distinction Award and co-founder of Virtual Business University an e-learning environment for entrepreneurs willing to step towards their greatness.
Postcript from Kathie: Sorry Sharon, probably shows the different meanings in different countries. By ‘burnt’ I meant if a client feels that a VA has done the wrong thing it makes them believe that all VAs are tarred with the same brush (or is that another Australianism?) In other words how do we encourage clients to keep searching for the right VA if they have come across the wrong one?