My Ultimate Guide to Working Virtually
Working remotely and running a remote team seem like “black magic” to many. So, whether you currently own a virtual business (like myself), work with a virtual team, run your own virtual team or hope to work in or run a virtual team in the future, this ultimate guide I’ve created will have all the nuggets of wisdom you can apply to your current situation. While this post may be a bit longer (just a bit – LOL!) than my usual, I think you’ll find the information quite helpful and inspiring. I hope you’ll agree. I would love to hear your feedback.
Think about it; a massive number of people in the workforce have left the corporate setting and set up their own businesses working for themselves. Frequently they call themselves consultants or freelancers, but the more accurate term might be “solo-entrepreneurs.” Often, they work alone, and many make their office in their home.
The sheer number of solo-entrepreneurs has created a need for virtual support staff. When you’re running a business with a “one-woman (or man) shop,” who do you turn to for administrative support? An entrepreneur working alone or with a small sales staff is the CEO, the CFO, the accountant, the Human Resources Director and every other top-tier manager it takes to run a business. That represents a lot of hats for one person to wear! That person needs some assistance!
Enter the virtual assistant or VA. In this context, virtual means the assistant is not co-located with the solo-entrepreneur(s) he/she supports. In fact, the VA is often a solo-entrepreneur as well — supporting more than one client! This position came into existence long before we coined a term for it, and the range of responsibilities being handled by VAs has expanded exponentially since those beginnings.
One reason why the VA role has expanded — in terms of the number of people working as VAs now, as well as our increasing range of responsibilities — is because the need for VAs is vast and growing. It’s a concept that has spread widely as more and more solo-entrepreneurs become aware of the resources VAs can offer.
Before the current VA culture, when a solo-entrepreneur needed an assistant, they hired a part-time or full-time staff person. Once they started expanding the business by hiring staff, they needed a real office. Office rental created the need for additional overhead. Each staff person needed a desk, computer, phone, office supplies, etc. Expenses added up.
Solo-entrepreneurs found they could save money big time by hiring individuals (freelancers, consultants) to handle very specific tasks that might not be grouped together into one “job description.” To make this scenario even more appealing, the solo-entrepreneur does not have to hire the VA to fill an eight-hour workday. They can hire the VA to perform a specific task, either by the hour, by the month or by the project, for as long as the task requires and not a minute more.
What happens when the solo-entrepreneur saves money on staffing? They have more funds to apply toward implementing and achieving their business goals faster.
What do Virtual Assistants do?
You name it, we do it! OK, that may be an exaggeration. But first of all, don’t let the name fool you. In this case, the title “assistant” means “administrative professional.” Each virtual assistant has an array of skills and services that he/she specializes in. We base our services on our previous experience, our strengths and/or talents. That usually means a solo-entrepreneur may work with more than one VA, depending on what specialized services they require. And each VA usually works with more than one solo-entrepreneur.
So, what do we do exactly?
Here’s a rough list from my “Begin Untangling” web page:
- Creating you an organized “to do” list
- Creating you a scheduled “to do” list
- Making your overflowing paper trails electronic
- Organizing and cleaning up your inbox
- Organizing your computer and/or “cloud” files
- Creating you a copyright-free graphic library
- Research for new platforms and/or projects
- Social media content curation
- Proofreading documents
This list does not include every possible service that I provide as a virtual assistant. It serves as a starting point for the conversation. As we talk, and as I learn about additional needs your business has, I will identify more services that I can provide to your business.
Because I am a graphic and web designer as well as a virtual assistant, I also offer these services that many VAs will not be able to provide:
- Graphic design
- Logo design
- Business card design
- Stationery/letterhead design
- Facebook cover design and profile
- LinkedIn cover design and profile
- Twitter header design and profile
- Custom promotional graphics
- Brand style guides
- Logo usage rules
- Colour palette
- Typography recommendations
- Brand messaging
- Photo/illustration guidelines
- Promotional video
- Brochure design
- Newsletter design
- Event banner
- Billboard design
- Menu design
- Postcard/greeting card/invitation
- Flyer or poster design
- eBook design
Here are some additional tasks virtual assistants might perform:
- Managing email, inbox, responses and follow-up
- Managing calendars
- Managing other social media (such as Pinterest)
- Managing email marketing
- Optimizing websites for SEO
- Monitoring Google Analytics for websites
- Keyword research
- Moderating comments on social media/blogs/YouTube
- Customer support
- Project management
- Client database management
- Appointment scheduling
- Data entry
- Special event management
- Website maintenance and updates
- Making travel arrangements
- Creating and managing spreadsheets
- Creating PowerPoint presentations
- Creating forms
I’m sure you could add more tasks or functions that a Virtual Assistant could take over for you either on an hourly/monthly basis or on a project basis.
So, if you want to start your own VA business …
You can (and should) choose to offer specialized VA services based on your experience and skills, but to run a VA business successfully you must start with the following baseline capabilities:
- Project management
- Problem solving
If you do not possess these four skills, you are going to have a difficult time building and sustaining a business as a virtual assistant. Some would say you need each of these skills to start any kind of business successfully, but that is a discussion for another day. These four skills are also the hallmark of a strong administrative assistant or executive assistant in a corporate setting, so it makes sense that the VA would rely on these abilities.
To build your VA business you need some marketing savvy. Even if you are not offering marketing as one of your VA services, you must market on your own behalf to build a client list.
Setting up a VA business is like starting any other kind of business in a lot of ways. You need to do your research—and reading this blog is part of that research!
With that being said, here are some steps that will take you far:
Business name – Select your business name and find out if you have to purchase a permit or business license in your locality. Decide if you want to incorporate your business.
Business plan – The internet is loaded with advice on creating a business plan. The business plan should include a list of your VA services, your niche if you have chosen one, your budget (projected income and expenses) and the pricing options you will offer. In my case I have decided to offer several pricing options:
- By the task: An example would be a Website Audit.
- By the hour: I have several Retainer Packages from 5 hours to 50 hours.
- By the month: An example is my Social Media Maintenance Package with a minimum contract of 3 months.
Client list – Start brainstorming ways you might look for potential clients.
- If you have chosen a niche, compile a list of businesses in that niche. These are your first prospects.
- If you prefer to generalize, compile a list of everyone you know (or know of) who you believe could benefit from your VA services.
Marketing plan – How will you contact your prospects? Cold calling is tough, but it truly is a numbers game. The more calls you make, the more potential clients you will begin to cultivate. Emailing prospects may be less daunting, however, especially at first. Your marketing plan may also include any of the following:
- Messaging: How will you explain your business concept? This has been called the “elevator speech.”
- Website: Can you build a website and write the content, or will you hire others for these tasks — perhaps another VA? (Consider the expense; you will need a budget. See Business plan, above.)
- Collateral: Will you need to print business cards or brochures? (Again, consider the expense.)
- Financial goals: What is your revenue target for the first month, 6 months, a year? Revenue equals income minus expenses. How much do you need to make each month/year to thrive and grow your business?
- Blog: My blog is a big part of my marketing plan. I post regularly about my services and areas of expertise, and this effort continues to pay off. My blog has been the catalyst for several ongoing client relationships. I recommend planning your articles on a calendar at least three months in advance and always having at least 6-8 posts written ahead of their scheduled publication dates. You do not want unforeseen circumstances to prevent you from posting on schedule.
- Social media: Think it through carefully. Where will you focus your efforts? Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Instagram? Be selective, and don’t choose more outlets than you can sustain! It’s better to start with 2 or 3 and expand than start with all of these and let some of the social media accounts dwindle. That does not look good.
While on the topic of marketing, I’d like to share a few thoughts about emailing and cold calling. Even if the person you’re asking doesn’t need VA services at that time, by reaching out you have accomplished two valuable things:
- You have made contact with someone who may need your services in the future. Follow up with them periodically so that when they do need you, they’ll know how to get in touch with you.
- You have started a lead trail. Each person you query may suggest someone else you should speak with about your business services. Follow this trail. Eventually it will lead somewhere promising.
Resources to help you with your VA business …
Facebook groups for VAs abound. The following list just skims the surface, and new groups are probably added every week. Most VA Facebook groups offer a place to share your experiences and ask questions. Some of them also serve as a source for job leads. Each group will have its own flavour, so you may want to join more than one. These groups can be time-consuming if you follow all their discussions. Once you determine which groups you prefer, I recommend following only one or two of them. Groups are listed here in alphabetical order, not by preference, and this is not a complete list:
- Business Savvy Virtual Assistants
- Smart Savvy Virtual Assistant
- Savvy Virtual Assistants – FREE Group
- Virtual Assistant Clinic
- Virtual Assistant Club for Leads and Mentoring
- Virtual Assistant Connections
- Virtual Assistant Empowerment Group
- Virtual Assistant Hub
- Virtual Assistant Networking Group
- Virtual Assistant Professionals Network
- Virtual Assistant Savvies
- Virtual Assistant Tribe
- Virtual Assistants Success Network
VA Facebook group members for the most part are friendly, encouraging and willing to share their experiences, successes and mistakes. We truly get a boost from helping others succeed on this path. I have followed many recommendations from the groups, and I have offered recommendations of my own.
NOTE: Don’t forget to search out some groups for entrepreneurs as well.
Online (apart from Facebook) you will find a number of virtual assistants blogging about their career choice. Many of the blogs are like mine in that we are (1) marketing to grow our client list and (2) sharing our experiences as VAs—what works for us and what doesn’t. If you type “online resources for virtual assistants” into your web browser’s search box, you will find more information than you can possibly use. Over time you will discover which VA blogs you find the most helpful. To conserve time, you will need to be selective about how many you choose to follow.
For those who want to work with a VA …
If you find yourself stretched thin and working too many hours, read back over the above lists of tasks VAs can take over for you. Make a note of specific items on your to-do list that you could delegate to someone, if only you had someone to help you. Help is out here! The VA construct has proliferated because it works. Stick your toe in the water. Hire me — or another VA who has been referred to you by someone you know and trust — for just one task, to start. Then another. And another. Soon you will be preaching the gospel of how using a VA freed you up, so you actually could do the work you most want to spend your time on.
Time is money. There are only 24 hours a day. You can’t work 24 hours in one day, but if you reach out and use the help offered by VAs, you may feel like you’re accomplishing that much.
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