By Judy Vorfeld
Are you a brand-new Virtual Assistant? Did you spend a lot of time planning this move, or did something happen and you suddenly decided to take the plunge? Let's talk about how you can build a solid business. One you'll enjoy. Before we begin, let me mention three things you need: (1) to be passionate about owning and operating a VA business, (2) the ability to market yourself well, and (3) money (budget).
Money? Can't you just sit in a corner of your bedroom with your computer and phone and go about your work? Sure. Sit anywhere you like. But if you want to build a business that will sparkle and eventually show a profit, you need enough money to finance your business structure. Like equipment. Connectivity. Website. Supplies. Professional dues.
A few years ago, having a website didn't make that much difference when starting and operating a VA business. These days, it could make a significant difference. But not just any website. You want a site that is visitor-centric and written for search engines. One that works on all major browsers. It doesn't have to be fancy, but it should be sleek. You can go the online brochure route or have an interactive site, but make it outstanding.
Tip: look at investing in a website the same way you'd invest in a home or a car. You didn't just buy your home: you committed to paying taxes on it, as well as furnishing, maintaining, and insuring it. You didn't just buy a car: you committed to keeping the gas tank full, as well as registering, maintaining, and insuring it.
Choose a good domain name and a reputable website host. And if you need to hire someone to create it for you, do not use your cousin, neighbor, or the techie from work. Unless he (or she) is very good and very available. And if he's good: pay him what he's worth. Many Webmasters vanish after six months or so of working for no pay.
After you've launched your site, you may want to ask others to assess its effectiveness, but do it carefully and with people who'll provide valuable feedback. If you participate in online discussion lists and decide to ask for a website critique, pray that even one expert will take the time to point out areas needing improvement. And if your prayers are answered, don't be thin-skinned. These generous people aren't charging you a cent, and their tips could mean the difference between a website that fizzles and one that sizzles.
Pour everything you have into the website, and then go out and promote it like crazy. Create beautiful bookmarks and give generous amounts to bookstores (new and used) and libraries. Pass out business cards and bookmarks wherever you go. In the supermarket. At PTA meetings. Insert a biz card each time you pay a bill, and pen "Thanks" on it. Use your imagination. You never know whose mother-in-law or best friend's brother's dad might be looking for a VA!
Here's a tip: never say "This site is designed to be read at 0000 x 0000 in I.E. (or any other browser)." This is very un-cool. It un-rocks. In effect, you're telling people with other resolutions and browsers to go jump in the lake.
One of the finest small business resources available is IVAA member Janet Attard. (There are many others.) Her site, Business Know-How, has a special start-up section. Since you're going to need a business plan and a marketing plan, start with Attard's site. And bookmark it.
If you plan to work locally as well as virtually, study your community to determine the need for your type of services. If, at any time, you're not sure of the focus of your business, brainstorm with people who have business savvy. Once you have a focus, you may want more education and training. IVAA has a powerful VA certification program, and increasing numbers of community colleges in the U.S. and Canada are offering Virtual Assistant certification. It's worth investigating.
In order to grow in your VA endeavors, you'll want to network regularly. Particularly online. Surround yourself with people who can get to know, trust, and respect you.
You'll need the following during the planning stages:
- Business name
- Business plan
- Fee structure
- Good proposal/contract form
- Initial promotional material (website, brochure, flyer, press release, business cards, letterhead, envelopes, etc.)
- Marketing plan
- Sense of humor
- Software, hardware, and connectivity
Successfully operating a VA business depends as much on personal characteristics as on technical skill and talent. How do you describe yourself? What motivates you? What are your strengths and weaknesses? How can your strengths help potential clients?
In addition to a good product, prospective clients look for integrity and dependability. Most data passing through our hands is, to one degree or another, confidential. You must become known as someone people can trust and respect. Much of this can be reflected from your website.
Did you know you can google "what is a VA" and get over 250,000,000 links? More important than explaining what a VA is and does is explaining who you are and what you do for your clients. Be very clear when describing all your abilities and the tools you use to enhance them. This isn't bragging: it's listing more of the features of your business that can be used to your clients' benefit.
Don't print up too much of anything at the start. You'll need time to define who you are, what you do, and how to present yourself and your business. You need to learn how to fully describe your qualifications. Everything that's taken place in your life up until now can, in some way, contribute to your life as a VA. Things like:
- Education and training
- Employment history
- Family challenges
- Hobbies, sports
- Medical challenges
- Military affiliations
- Travel, moving, etc.
Volunteer work (school, church, community, scouts, etc.) If you find it very difficult to market yourself, get some help. How? The same way you'd get help creating a website. You're surrounded by professionals. Use them.
What an exciting time for us! The phrase "Virtual Assistant" is becoming well known, and new possibilities keep emerging. VAs now offer support in areas like coaching, real estate, bookkeeping, public relations, travel, speaking, publishing, photography, writing, desktop publishing, editing, Web development, organization and association management, training, graphic design, concierge, marketing, and consulting. And that's just the tip of the iceberg.
The only way to find out if being a VA will work is to try it. Do your homework. There's a world jam-packed with entrepreneurs waiting to use the services of effective VAs. With your passion and commitment, and IVAA as a support mechanism, it's practically a slam dunk!
For more information, contact Judy Vorfeld