I had an interesting email discussion with a member of my team in the past week. She’s trying to decide whether or not to renew her membership or whether to return to the workforce. She’s only been a member for just under six months, so not very long. I had to ask her some questions to get an idea of where she is at and what has taken place at her end to know what to advise her – she was obviously seeking advice, rather than just tell me she wasn’t staying with the team.
A number of items came out in her email back to me and I want to address some of them here, to assist other new VAs who are struggling to get their businesses happening.
You need to be prepared to put time in, in front of the computer, and in the office to develop systems, and get yourself organised to run your own business. Just casually checking in for email now and then to see if a job has come through will not get something happening for you. And this means more than just a couple of hours a day. If you were working 8 hours a day in a corporate office, then it’s realistic to expect you need to put in a good amount of time in your own office. Lack of motivation can be a key factor for many, if nothing happens quickly, i.e. in the first few months. Isolation can often hit too – no face-to-face contact on a daily basis with the people you work for or with.
How long should they hold on or give it a go before giving up? Income is obviously an immediate need and I frequently advise new VAs to get a part-time job so they have some income coming in whilst they are building their businesses. You just can’t quit a fulltime job and expect to be earning from day one – it does take time. The reality is it will probably take a good two years to get your business established so you have regular work coming in – for some it is less, for others more.
Look to see what VA networks are out there, join their chat forums and get a feel for their culture. If you feel the group are people you want to connect with regularly through your business, then consider joining their network as a paid member so you can experience their member benefits, which usually include exposure for your business via website listings and some have client referrals. Don’t make the mistake of thinking though, that joining one or more VA networks are going to keep you busy with clients, although it will definitely help towards that goal, but you need to do more than that. Consider looking for other online business forums too – I’ve often picked up new clients via discussion forums that had nothing to do with being a VA. No business should ever settle for one form of marketing and do nothing else. This applies to both large business and small business alike.
Whilst you will definitely get a number of client referrals sent to you, you also need to look at networking locally in your own vicinity. How many local business networks are there, with business operators who need the services you provide? I know many new VAs think that once they have an office set up at home they don’t ever have to go out in the big wide world to meet people any more, but that is not a reality. Word-of-mouth referrals, which are the best way to get new business, is only going to happen as you meet people, and they meet people. You need to show your face and it’s good to get outside of your four walls on a regular basis. Always take your business cards with you as you never know when you’re going to meet a prospect, could be at the post office, library, school canteen, council office – anywhere you pay bills, purchase something, mix with other people. The reality is that your first clients will more than likely be people who live not that far away from you. Being a virtual assistant does not mean that your clients have to be interstate or overseas – it just means that you are servicing them in a virtual manner.
Whilst I get a lot of online requests for work to be done today, my business was not built via internet access to start with. And evenso today, I still belong to several local business network groups and get lots of word-of-mouth referrals from existing clients and/or people who have heard about me via these business networks. Work is going to come from both offline and online sources and we should never forgo one and concentrate fully on the other. It needs to be an even mix. KMT