Here is a copy of the article I wrote for my local Chamber of Commerce’s quarterly publication. What is a Virtual Assistant?
“A Virtual Assistant (VA) is a highly-trained independent entrepreneur who provides a myriad of business support services virtually via phone, fax and internet based technology to support and meet the growing needs of businesses worldwide.” – VAnetworking.com
Although the virtual assistant industry has been around for many years and has been utilized by speakers, business/life coaches and real estate professionals, it has only recently been brought into mainstream business world. Entrepreneurs often find they need assistance with business related tasks but often do not have the space, resources or budget for an employee. Enter the VA.
A VA can help with virtually any aspect of your business. Although many virtual assistants are generalists, many VAs offer specialized or niche services. Services range from general administrative services such as data entry, calendar management, email management, transcription and proofreading to specialized services like bookkeeping, email marketing campaign management, desktop publishing and website design and maintenance. Partnering with a VA can significantly free up your time to focus on the money making aspect of your business.
“Why wouldn’t I just hire an employee?”
- If you run your business from home you may not want someone else inside your home.
- You don’t have the budget or space for an extra work station (desk, computer, printer telephone, etc.).
- You don’t want to deal with employment taxes.
“Why wouldn’t I just hire a temp from an agency?”
- Temp employees do not have a vested interest in seeing your business succeed.
- Temp employees are just that – temporary!
- Employment taxes are included in the fee you pay to the temp agency, but you still need the extra work station, have the issue of having someone inside your home (if you’re home based), and many times temps have only basic office skills and are limited in the scope of the work they can perform.
To quote one of my favorite artists, Chris Daughtry … Be careful what you wish for, ’cause you just might get it all. You just might get it all, and then some you don’t want.
So, what am I talking about? Success. Or, at least what I thought was success. We all want to have a full slate of clients. Unfortunately, I didn’t anticipate getting so many clients in such a short amount of time. While my bank account and my husband appreciate the influx of clients, my organizational abilities are stretched to the limits. I have the best intentions at being organized, but alas, it is something I definitely struggle with on a daily basis.
I am being forced to re-examine my daily routine now that my client base has expanded so rapidly and the demand on my time has increased exponentially from not only my clients, but my family as well (my husband is currently in training at the state Criminal Justice Academy and is only home from Friday evening until Sunday evening…leaving me do deal with a 2nd grader, a 23 month old and our 110 pound Lab by myself until January 2nd).
Could this stress have been avoided? Probably. In hind sight I should have implemented a more stringent routine months ago, setting aside a specific period of time each day for certain clients. But, to be honest, I did try that once a few weeks ago. Unfortunately the day I tried to “map out my day” was a day that terribly wrong and a single client project ended up monopolizing my entire day even though I had alloted time for 4 different clients that day. I shouldn’t have abandoned the idea of scheduling … I should have gotten right back on that horse the next day.
So, what this all boils down to is it doesn’t matter if you’re a virtual assistant or some other type of entrepreneur, find a schedule that works for you. If it doesn’t work the first time, tweek it until it works. Don’t wait until your client load is completely full to try to get yourself organized. Trust me, the stress will take it’s toll. And, as any good entrepreneur knows, if you work hard enough and long enough, the success will come – just try to be prepared for it.
When the topic turns to outsourcing, many times thoughts immediately turn to outsourcing “overseas” and immediately dismiss the thought, thinking it takes jobs away from your country – forgetting about the option to outsource locally. The definition of outsource according to Merriam-Webster.com is:
to procure (as some goods or services needed by a business or organization) under contract with an outside supplier <decided to outsource some back-office operations>
Virtual Assistants do not need to be in the same geographic location as their clients, but sometimes clients like that little extra security of knowing their VA is close. So where do you find a Virtual Assistant that is “close to home”? Most VA’s do not advertise in the Yellow Pages, but there are still ways you can find a local VA. You can visit the directories for VAnetworking.com or the International Virtual Assistant Association and search your state (or province, country, etc.), or you could submit a request for proposal (RFP) on either of those two sites requesting your VA be in a particular geographic region.
But, again, it is not necessary for a VA to be in the same town, state, or time zone for the VA/Client relationship to work. Although I am in South Carolina, I have clients in Massachusetts, Maryland and California.
So, the next time you hear the term “outsource”, don’t immediately think it’s a dirty word – you can outsource locally!
October is Women’s Small Business Month and October 5 – 11 is National Work from Home Week. One Kershaw County virtual assistant is celebrating both.
Sherra Scott, owner of Quality Practice Management Solutions, is celebrating Women’s Small Business Month and National Work from Home Week by attending various on-line networking events and seminars.
“Running my business out of my home affords me the opportunity to service my clients while still being available to my family,” says Scott. “I get the best of both worlds.”
In 2007, Ms. Scott made the transition from the corporate world to home based small business owner. Roughly half of all U.S. businesses that are home based and more than 10 million are woman owned.
Quality Practice Management Solutions offers Internet marketing assistance, administrative support, bookkeeping and desktop publishing services to small businesses, entrepreneurs and real estate professionals. Ms. Scott is a member of the Kershaw County Chamber of Commerce, Virtual Assistant Networking Association, International Virtual Assistants Association, and Southeastern Virtual Assistant Group.
If you think email marketing is just for “Internet” businesses or the “big guys”, your small business could be missing out on one of the most powerful, cost effective marketing tools available. I’m not talking about SPAM emails; I mean a properly managed, fully compliant marketing campaign.
It’s Targeted – A good mailing list will consist of current customers and those who have expressed an interest in your particular goods or services. With a properly managed email campaigns you can target your marketing efforts. For instance, you can send one version to current customers and another to potential customers who have expressed an interest in your product or service.
It’s Flexible – Email campaigns can help your company build stronger relationships with current clients, attract new clients, increase visits to your web site, provide up to date company and product information and build brand awareness.
It’s Immediate – Your mailing list can be notified almost immediately when you launch a new product or service – no waiting days or weeks for printed newsletters or post cards to be printed and mailed.
It’s Trackable – With the right program you will be able to track if your message was received, if it was opened and if the recipient clicked on any links in your email.
It’s Cost Effective – In tough economic times, cost effectiveness is crucial. With email marketing you are instantly eliminating the expense associated with printing, postage and the time it takes to prepare mailings.
It Works – A well managed email campaign and mailing list will yield response rates much higher than other direct marketing methods. Although there are many variables in response rates, overall email marketing has a response rate 5 times higher than direct mail.
Factoring in the cost to have a knowledgeable Internet marketing assistant manage your email campaigns for you, chances are you will be spending less per month for an ongoing email marketing campaign than a weekly ad in the local newspaper. I’m not saying you should abandon all other marketing efforts, but consider adding email marketing to your marketing tool box.
MediaPost Publications had an interesting article today about small businesses and networking via social media.