What is a craftsman without the tools of their trade? What is a carpenter without his saw? What is a chef without good food and the proper utensils, pots and pans? As virtual assistants our box of tools and bag of tricks are seemingly endless. I have found the following tools to be the most valuable, no matter what you specialize in as a virtual assistant. Okay, so they are more ‘skills’ than tools, but hey, they’re still in my toolbox and they still get the job done!
Problem Solving. No matter your position as a virtual assistant, be it a business owner, mentor, partner or subcontractor, your ability to problem solve and find solutions, in my view, the mightiest tool in your toolbox. I don’t know about you but my VA business basically got its start by helping clients work through various issues and finding viable solutions. Even today, problem solving remains my bread and butter. Clients want to implement something new but don’t know where to start. That’s where the virtual assistant comes in. Your client doesn’t have the time to sift through research and how-to’s, that’s why they hired you! Don’t be afraid to roll up your sleeves, work through the issue or problem at hand, do a little (or a lot) of research and then make things happen. Your ability to problem solve and implement workable solutions will have your clients coming back for more, time and time again.
Organization. There’s more to organization than just putting the blocks in one tub and the pyramids in another tub. You can organize a client’s calendar for better usage of their time. You can organize their website for a better flow of information. I’ve even done this for a client’s devotional to ensure her devotions flowed in a specific manner. Sometimes it’s just a manner of organizing information in a spreadsheet for a better grasp of the overall picture.
Follow Through. This one can be a toughie but is important. First of all, think of contacts you have made. Just because your new contact CURRENTLY needs your services as a virtual assistant doesn’t mean that down the line they won’t need your services. In fact, I was at an event just this week in which I made multiple contacts. It wasn’t for the purpose of growing my business, but regardless, still follow through with your initial meeting of them with a quick email or note within a day or two of meeting. My services have been referred by clients and contacts alike, meaning they don’t have to use your services to know someone else who needs your services.
Secondly, the same goes for proposals, projects and tasks. When you submit a proposal to someone, be sure to follow that up by contacting them within a week if you don’t hear back from them. They could have been busy or just somehow missed your email. (I’ve actually had emails VANISH in the great vastness of the internet and never make it to its destination, so it does happen.) Don’t assume just because you have not heard back that it’s a no-go. Follow through and confirm before making assumptions.
Boundaries. Oy! So many of us struggle with the issue of not knowing where to set boundaries, I know I do. It’s hard to say ‘no’ when your bank account is low, but what good will it do if you work yourself into the ground? Decide on how many hours you can realistically work AND STILL HAVE A LIFE OUTSIDE OF WORK. Nobody expects you to work 24/7 just because you work from home. Okay, maybe some clients are out of their head and not always realistic, but those are the clients to step away from anyway. You are allowed to take a day off – even a weekend – so do it and do it regularly. Read More→
In my last blog post I discussed assessing one’s skill set. Life, whether as a mom or office assistant, may have equipped you with the skill set necessary to be a virtual assistant. If you want to take the next steps towards the goal of working from home as a virtual assistant, there is a lot of work to be done in getting your ducks lined up.
You see, anyone can put up a sign and claim to be a virtual assistant. The right way would be lining your ducks up before scrambling to convince potential clients your ducks are lined up. A little extra research, planning and preparation will make all the difference in getting started on the right foot. My goal with this blog series is to guide you through setting yourself up as a virtual assistant using my experiences as a trail map, knowing certain pitfalls to avoid.
At this point you may think you are ready to put out that sign and start taking on clients. I thought I was, too. Personal experience has taught me that the more research and duck lining I do, the smoother the transition. You seen there are so many things to consider, including your business name, your business and tax classification (i.e.: Sole Proprietorship, Limited Liability Corporation, Incorporation), what account your funds are paid into and so on. All this can be completed while you prepare your resume and portfolio.
Your business and tax classification are important. Many virtual assistants are too eager to get started and neglect this important step. To their dismay they end up paying a higher tax rate on their earned income than they had to had they done their homework ahead of time and such is the case if you don’t protect your business by making it official either as an Limited Liability Corporations or forming your corporation as Incorporated. There are many factors to consider. As you consider what to do, read up a little on the differences, in fact, here’s where you can get started: http://sbinformation.about.com/od/ownership1/Ownership_LLC_Inc_Partnership_Sole.htm. Read More→
In the last issue of this VA blog, I shared how various life experiences contribute to one’s overall resume with regards to working from home as a virtual assistant. Today I’d like to expand on that though and help you break down your experience and see how it adds to your skill set as a virtual assistant.
I want to begin with the definition of a virtual assistant. A virtual assistant (VA), through the medium of the computer, internet and phone, is one who assists clients with various tasks and projects. Because everything is done virtually there is no need for clients and VAs to work within the same office space. The client submits tasks and/or projects to the VA usually through emails or phone calls.
A few of you are probably shaking your heads, asking yourselves, “how do my work and personal experiences translate to a resume?!” Think of it like this, basically a VA is an assistant, many times an administrative assistant, who works from their own [virtual], remote office as opposed to the office of their client. Did you catch the key word, “…administrative assistant?”
There are many individuals out there who don’t have the time to accomplish all they want or need, whether personally or for their business, so they hire an assistant. Some assistants are administrative while others are more along the lines of being personal assistants.
Do you have administrative skills? If you have worked in an office, be it home or business, you have administrative skills. All of these are within the skill set of being a virtual assistant. You have many more VA skills than you probably realize. Read More→
As a work-at-home professional, you will face a different set of challenges and blessings in your job. There are many tips available as you progress with working from home, but some are especially important to keep in mind. These include the following points.
DO designate a specific time to work. Assuming that work will just happen because you are always home is a dangerous assumption. Instead, schedule yourself specific times to work and stick to those hours. This will also help you keep your work and home lives separate, according to Businessinsider.com.
DON’T mix your work and home areas. While working at home can make it seem easy to mesh the two, it is actually quite important to keep them separate. Entrepeneur.com states that this allows you to escape work at the end of the day and will help you preserve time and space for family.
DO take breaks. Of course, keeping these breaks to a moderate length is important. However, Businessinsider.com states that breaks in which you eat or exercise will help you focus better and ultimately get more done. In fact, Agmrc.org suggests that you spend 5-15 minute breaks doing something you enjoy that relaxes you. But stick to the time-limit on these breaks or they can eat away at your day. Read More→
Any mother can tell you how exhausting juggling family, home, and a 9 to 5 job. When spending too much time in an office job, your family life suffers. This is because you tend to miss out on the memories and your children growing up. In addition, some jobs require a lot from you in terms of long hours, out of town trips, and sometimes working on weekends and holidays. It is for this reason that a growing number of parents are all for working from home.
It is usually a terrifying experience leaving a solid source of income into a world of the unknown but you must look at it as a chance for growth and being your own boss. In fact, working from home trains you on time management. The great thing is that you now have the ability to juggle family life, errands, and your home office in a flexible manner. Working from home can have its disadvantages because you may be distracted by the kids when they cry or when company unexpectedly stops by. The trick to handling this is to train the kids to keep away from your home workspace within set hours and informing family and friends of days you can avail yourself socially.
The key to success in working from home is balancing work and home. It is not always easy but with time, you can definitely handle and enjoy both. One of the things you can do is to create a timetable for each day and how you intend to have family time, do your chores and errands and when to buckle down and get some work done. If you are doing work that excites you and requires flexible time to handle it, then it means you will have more time for other things in the home and about town. Read More→
For a busy entrepreneur not to have a virtual assistant on staff, or at least on retainer, is for a king not to have his knights or a coffee shop not to serve coffee. Scratch that. It would be the same as a king CHOOSING not to have or make use of his knights, being a wayward traveler and lone ranger or a coffee shop CHOOSING not to serve coffee. None of those work out very well.
Simply put busy entrepreneurs are just that – they’re busy! A virtual assistant is akin to an off-site employee providing web and general administrative assistance.
1. Versatile Skill Sets: Virtual assistants, like other employees, come in all manners of knowledge, experiences and skills. Often times their versatility enables them to easily switch gears, modes and even programs easily. Often times a virtual assistant you use for research and database collection might also be the same one you can use or web design or document formatting.
2. Cost Effective: You pay only for time spent on tasks as opposed to coffee breaks, late starts and vacations. Granted, you’ll want to check with your virtual assistant before you hire them to verify whether they round up their time ‘spent’ on projects to the nearest quarter hour, which is a common practice for freelance workers paid hourly.
3. Excellent Resource: Whether hiring directly or utilizing specific skill sets, virtual assistants are excellent resources, especially when used to manage off-site teams, no matter the project. Most virtual assistants, by nature, are capable of working remotely with very little input. This, in and of itself, reduces time spent on spinning ones wheels trying to complete specific projects and tasks. Read More→
Okay, I’m veering wildly off course today with my post. Instead of talking about virtual assisanty stuff, we’re going to talk about the business of people. Recently I was toodling along at what I thought was a good clip in my business. Things were picking up and my husband, who is also my business partner, and I made what we felt were sounds business decisions regarding goals for 2014. Business was good, my bank account was beginning to building some momentum and things were getting accomplished.
With everything being so good I was on top of things, right? Then why did I feel so torn? At the very same time I had several friends really struggling in their lives; between homelessness, life and death illnesses, surgeries, multiple hospitalizations, and even a death in the family. Business was great, but life not so much. People were in need. God put them on our hearts in a real way. Then BOOM, it happened. God opened up my schedule in such a way that I was no longer too busy to be with those who needed a little time and company.
Prime Example: It had been way to long in between visits with a dear friend of mine so I gave her a call. After several unanswered and unreturned calls and a few weeks, I was at the point where I was going to just head over to her house. Surely she’s just busy, right? Well, come to find out her fiancé had been in the hospital a couple of times with a debilitating back injury only to find out he had cancer. The doctors gave him 14-18 months IF the radiation treatments did its job. WHAT?! When did this all happen? He was healthy as a horse the last time I’d seen him and talked with her!
A week went by and I knew he had come home to the hospital and they were adjusting to their new reality and roles with my friend now being a caregiver. Several more unanswered calls and I figured they were just busy with doctor visits and the such. When I finally reached her, come to find out an infection had set in and he was now in the hospital IN A COMA. Wow. Where was I before he had gotten sick? I was too busy doing business. Read More→
I love autumn! It’s that time of year when it’s warm enough here in Nebraska for festive celebrations – and unintentional networking. I don’t ‘enjoy’ lugging a purse around with me, but I need to and was reminded of that recently. I had given my business card out to so many people that I ran out of my ‘pocket stash’ Sunday at a party that I almost lost an opportunity.
Seriously?! What was I thinking? Had I had my purse, I would have been properly prepared.
As a small business owner it is important to continually market my services. I gave numerous business cards out at a party to people I connected with. Some may call me this week. Some will call me later this month, and others will call me months down the road when they are ready to tackle their projects. Of course, there will always be some who don’t call, and that’s okay. Hence the reason to give out so many.
I love what I do. I mean, seriously, my job description spans from creative development to organization to implementation of new marketing procedures and beyond. Life as a virtual assistant is good, except when it’s not.
There are times when I am on top of my game and clients love my work. They praise what I’ve done for their project, ministry, website or business. Then there are the other times where life gets in the way or I take on too much and, well, projects drag on longer than they should. Why can’t my greatness be, well, more consistent?
Before you think I have a big head about myself, let me stop you. What I’m trying to point out is the importance of developing consistency as a professional. The glimpses of greatness are awesome. Those are the times we shine as professionals. Those are times our clients remember what we’ve done for them. Unfortunately, lapses in consistency are also remembered by our clients – sometimes more than our awesomeness.
While I am not the greatest, most consistent person out there, here are a few things which I’ve noticed helps:
Details. It’s the little things that make a difference. When proofreading a client’s blog post, it’s important that their best foot is always put forward on your watch. If the post is last seen by you before it is scheduled to go live, make sure every “t” is crossed and every “i” is dotted. Sometimes it’s a matter of too many spaces between characters. Don’t just let it by, delete the extra spaces. Some might consider it to be nit-picky, but details are important. The details will slow you down, but the consistency in your details contributes to your client shining as a professional. Read More→
Perhaps one of the most important tools to help establish and grow your business is communication. Look behind the scenes of a thriving business and you will find a lot of communication. Here are a few things I have found important to communicate as I have built my business.
It is important that we communicate what we understand our clients are requesting. It’s more than just “you say pōtātō, I say pōtătō.” Think of it as “you say potato, I HEARD potato.” Just because a client knows what they want does not mean you hear what they want through their communication. Err on the side of caution and VERIFY. (I do this with my husband and though it ruffles his feathers it saves time and energy in knowing I understood correctly what he wants.)
Don’t be afraid to speak up and bring certain things to the attention of our clients. Don’t assume they know about every little issue with their website. Often times it takes a fresh set of eyes to pick up on something overlooked by familiar eyes. This is a great way expanding your services to your client, too.
Just like raising a child, establishing working relationships requires boundaries to be stated outright, rather than merely ‘understood.’ Just think, you don’t know with 100% certainty your client’s point of view. No one can ever know exactly another person’s point of view. Every individual’s viewpoint is shaped not only by their experiences, but mostly by their reactions and innermost thoughts about said experiences.
While most virtual assistants often work non-traditional hours, make sure to ask your clients what their expectations of you are during each holiday. Different religious beliefs and customs may allow for more or fewer holiday time than you expected. Read More→