FYI: Sayanara Gritty VA

My new blog is up and you can subscribe over there:

I won’t be publishing here on Gritty VA any longer so you’ll want to update your RSS feed and Networked Blogs subscriptions accordingly.

See ya over on the new blog!

Virtual Assistant Business Contracts Templates Forms Guides

Trust and Confidence: Are Your Potential Clients Feeling It?

(This was published today in The Portable Business™ weekly ezine–be sure and subscribe here!)

Here’s what you have to always remember about clients looking to hire you: They don’t know you.

You know you, but they don’t know you. Sure, they might have seen something you wrote–an article or a post on a forum, perhaps–and had their interest piqued. Or they were given your name by someone they know and whose opinion they value.

But other than that, they don’t really know you.

And so they are nervous. It’s a big commitment to work with a new provider. They have a lot riding on the line. They have a challenge to solve or need to make their business run easier. They dread having to start all over again with someone new and want to make sure their decision is the right one.

This is why they are always looking for evidence. They want to see things that back-up your message that you are great at what you do. They want to feel trust and confidence.

So how do you do that? How do you help instill the trust and confidence potential clients are yearning for? It’s surprisingly simple:

  1. Present a website to them that demonstrates your competence. What does that mean? Well, let’s put it this way, if you say you’re the grammar queen, but your site is littered with misspellings and incorrect punctuation, um, you can forget about clients thinking you are any good. No matter what you say you are, it must be backed up visually and in practical demonstration.And even if the thing you do for a living has absolutely nothing to do with spelling, writing or typing, people still buy with their eyes (an analogy coined by the awesome Harry Beckwith). They will directly correlate the professionalism and competence of your website with your actual skills and qualifications for the thing you are in business to do. It all has to match. It’s called walking the talk and looking the part.
  2. Present a website that shows you care. When you care about the presentation of your own website, you are telling your site visitors that you take pride in what you do (a pride-filled service provider is a MUCH better service provider) and that you are invested in their business and the work you want to do for them.Soooo many people think this isn’t important, but it is actually one of the most important things you can do to instill trust, confidence and rapport. If your site shows a lack of effort, if it’s sloppy and lacks any originality whatsoever, what gets communicated is that you are someone who will only exert the least amount of effort possible. That’s not very inspiring, is it?
  3. Give them someone to connect with. Whether you are a solo or the head of a big company, people do business with people. Put your name and face up there prominently so they know who is talking and they have someone to relate to. It’s an instant rapport builder and will make them feel so much safer and more comfortable.
  4. Talk like a real person. Corporate speak is soooo over. Please know I say this in the most loving way, but you really gotta take the stick out of your arse and be a human being! Stop with all the pretensions and being so stiff, formal and uptight.  Speak directly to your site visitor as a person, as if you were in a real conversation with him or her. Do this in your writing and in your recordings and videos. Look in their eyes and smile. Let your words be warm and human.
  5. Talk about them, not you. Sure, there’s going to be a sprinkling of “I” and “we” in there, but overall you should be talking about your ideal client and his/her goals, challenges and objectives. Your copy should mostly be using the words “you” and “your.” If it’s not, go in there right now and turn those sentences around.

CHALLENGE: Today, go through your website. Fix typos and misspellings. Ask someone else to proof. Reword your sentences to focus on “you” and “your.” Make sure all your graphics are rendering correctly and fix any sizing that make them appear wonky. Double-check that all links are active and go to the right pages. A site that is checked and updated regularly is a site that will instill trust and credibility in clients.

Virtual Assistant Business Contracts Templates Forms Guides

Dear Gritty Virtual Assistant: I’ve Got a Bunch of Questions!

Dear Gritty VA:

Thank you so much for all of your offerings through the Virtual Assistant Business Store! Getting my company planned and put together has been much easier thanks to you than it might have been.  I just need some clarification:

  1. How exactly do referrals work?  I am giving a two-hour free referral bonus to any client that refers another paying client.  What do you think of that idea?
  2. What marketing tools have you found the most effective?  I am on unemployment which is not enough to make ends meet, and I have had to get things for my business by raiding my grocery money (maxed out credit).  I am trying to get a micro-business loan, but have not done so yet.  Are online directories and search engines the way to go?
  3. How did you find your industries small prospects for sales calls?  Do we have to worry about “Do Not Call” lists if someone uses one phone number for everything?  How much “cold calling” did you do to get started?
  4. About your website screening intake form:  I could not find your business website, only the Gritty VA, nor could I find anything in the store about an intake form.  Is there another resource or should I just pull together my own and tweak it through experience?
  5. If a client asks for a particularly dicey project that I am not sure I can handle, how do I address that without looking incompetent, undersupplied technologically, or setting myself up to fail?

I apologize if you have already addressed these issues.  Thanks for your help! –AJ

Whew! I’ll do my best to answer these, keeping ‘em short and sweet…

1. I’ve written a couple things on the topic of referral recently:  “Dear Gritty Virtual Assistant: How do I Advertise for Referral Partners?” and “10 Tips for Harnessing the Power of Referrals.” Those should cover your questions on this topic (particularly the part about paying for referrals–not the best thing to do and unnecessary).

2. It’s helpful to be in directories, if only for the added SEO, but in our industry, hands down the most effective marketing strategy is networking. Not ads. Not cold calling. Not direct mail. The great thing is that networking doesn’t cost anything but your time. And the reason it’s so effective is because people look to work with those they have established some kind of relationship with, that they feel some kind of rapport with and have come to know, like and trust because of it. Every opportunity you glean that let’s a group of people get to know, like and trust you is going to make it that much easier for you to attract clients.

3. How did I find my industry’s small prospects for sales calls? I didn’t look. ;) I never did cold calling. People don’t like to be sold to; it’s completely the wrong strategy. Professional services are a bigger ticket item and require more relationship building that that. And I can just about guarantee you, you don’t have the kind of money and energy to ever make cold calling a worthwhile ROI. Even if you get one project, it isn’t going to come close to covering all the time, energy and effort you put into getting it. And think about it–you really think you can keep putting in that kind of work just to get one or two measly nickel-and-dime projects? There are MUCH quicker, more effective means to getting clients and that’s by deciding on a target market to focus on and then getting involved with that group in any ways you can (online forums, business groups, events, etc.). The more you interact, the more they get to know, like and trust you.

4.  My own site is undergoing an overhaul (although to be honest, I haven’t had time to deal with it lately), but I think you are referring to the online form to request a consultation. If that’s the case, I’m not sure specifically what your question is on this, but I use this form on my site to help screen and pre-qualify prospects. I can’t work with everyone and as a Administrative Support Consultant, I’m not looking to work with anyone and everyone.  I want to make sure they understand what I’m in business to help people with, that they belong to the industry/profession I focus on and whether they are ready to find a support partner (or only looking) and can afford it. These are the kind of things that inform me as to what my next action with them will be. That is, if someone is only “browsing,” you don’t want to waste time and effort on a consultation. It’s the wrong approach at the wrong time and you want to reserve those things only for those who are ready. Instead, you’d want to refer folks in that category to a white paper or video perhaps and then ask them to contact you again when they’re more seriously interested in working together. You could also invite them to subscribe to your ezine or mailing list so that you can keep them in your pipeline. The fact is that most clients are not ready to work with us immediately. It’s all a process. But you can read more about the consult form and pre-qualifying clients here: “One Way to Sort the Ideal from the Unideal.” Oh, and I would HIGHLY recommend you get my Client Consultation Process as it walks you through ALL of these things and gives you a system from start to finish for targeting clients, prequalifying them, going through the consultation and all the kinds of questions to ask and how to follow up afterward.

5. Well, first you have to distinguish what kind of business you are in. Are you in the secretarial business where you’re simply doing one-off, transactional, piecemeal project work? Or are you in the business of administrative support? Because the two are entirely different things and once you answer that question, it will help answer subsequent questions about what kind of client needs that work, what work is entailed and so forth. When you know what you do and who you do it for, this kind of thing isn’t as much of an issue. However, let’s say you are in the administrative support business and the client asks if you do X. Honesty is always best so tell them if that isn’t something you know how to do. However, you can always let them know (that is, if you are even interested) that you are willing to learn how to do it. Otherwise, you might look at the thing and realize, you know, this really doesn’t fall under administrative support at all and they really need to be working with an “X” expert. In that case, you might offer to help them locate that kind of expert who is in business specifically to do that thing. Or, you might have a separate division in your practice that does “X” in which case you could charge them separately for that project work. You have to always remember, Virtual Assistance is not a catchall term for “anything and everything.” Just because a client asks doesn’t mean anything. YOU have to decide what administrative support consists of in your business and what it doesn’t. When you have that clear idea yourself, you shouldn’t have any qualms about letting clients know when something doesn’t fall under that umbrella, that you don’t do it because of that, or that you are willing to learn (and maybe charge separately) for it. Always be honest about what’s what; you’re not going to look bad at all about not doing or knowing how to do something if that’s not the business you’re in in the first place. I mean, if you’re a plumber and someone asks you to fix their car, they’re the ones not making sense and you would naturally explain to them that you are a plumber, not a mechanic.

Virtual Assistant Business Contracts Templates Forms Guides

Virtual Assistant Business Contracts Templates Forms Guides

Get Ready to Toss Those Timesheets Out the Window for Good!

I know buying business products can be tough. The really good stuff does cost money. There’s just no way around it. But it’s an investment in your growth and success. And those of us with the really good stuff to offer can’t devalue ourselves and the knowledge we share. That’s a really poor business example, and none of us should help others at the expense of our own interests. Right?

I also know that cost can sometimes make great tools and training inaccessible for a lot of people
. Which is why I price my products at a range I feel honors the value and expertise I offer while still being accessible to a large number of people. Internet marketers charge literally thousands of dollars for the kind of learning, knowledge and guidance I offer in my products.

That’s why occasionally I offer a sale to make it a little easier for those who are still struggling financially
. I really want to help this profession grow and succeed to the next level. I have heard from many of you who would really love to get my new Value-Based Pricing & Packaging Toolkit, but the regular $147 price tag was still a bit out of reach. Sooooo, I’m going to open a window here to give you a really great savings…

From now until September 25, I’ve reduced the price of the Value-Based Pricing & Packaging Toolkit to $97 (a savings of $50). What’s also cool is that I’ve added a ton of new information to the product so you’re getting the benefit of all the added resources I’ve realized people need in implementing this new methodology in their business.

You’ll get:

  • 2 videos where I walk you through the entire presentation.
  • Written guides to teach you how to implement value-based pricing in your practice.
  • Success and profitability tips.
  • Visual illustrations and graphics to make the concepts crystal clear.
  • A diagram of my own successful business model.
  • Samples and templates to use in your own practice.

I’m probably leaving something out. The product page will give you the full low-down.  There’s just so much I’ve included that you will get with this product. And be sure to read the reviews on the product page from folks who attended my original clinic and purchased the product. I’m telling you, this is REALLY good stuff and I hope this price break will help give you access to it.

Virtual Assistants and Administrative Support Consultants: get ready to toss those timesheets out the window once and for all!

If you have any questions at all, please do email me. I’m always happy to help. :)

Virtual Assistant Business Contracts Templates Forms Guides

Dear Gritty VA: Do I Need an Address on My Website?

Dear Gritty VA:

There’s a conversation going on in another forum regarding addresses. Some people think it’s important to have one on your site and others think it’s unnecessary. What’s your opinion? –KH

Oh, I’ve talked about this before on more than one occasion. Let me take the slightly longer road in answering because it’s important you understand the psychology behind this.

One of the reasons we talk so much about standards and serving ourselves first in business is because the Virtual Assistant industry continues to really, really struggle in this area. I think a big part of the problem is the term “Virtual Assistant.” When you keep calling yourself an assistant, it’s hard to look upon yourself as a business owner. And many people in this industry literally don’t understand that they are business owners. They really do think they are simply assistants only working virtually. And like good little assistants, they let clients tell them what to do in their own businesses. They think it’s all about the client and whatever the clients want and need. <Give that good little girl who knows how to follow orders a pat on the head.>

And that just doesn’t help anybody. It certainly doesn’t help those Virtual Assistants grow successful businesses. And whether they understand or realize it or not, it doesn’t help clients who much prefer not to have to shoulder the burden of leading everything in the relationship. Um, that’s what they come to professionals for. But if they aren’t looking at you like a professional, they’re looking at you like a trained monkey. And we’re back to square one.

You don’t have a business if you aren’t leading it and aren’t making any money.

And so we talk constantly about getting over employee mindset, remembering that you are a business owner, having standards and making sure the business meets your needs first and that you get to say how it all works and how it doesn’t. You’ve heard the saying, “You can’t care for others unless you first care for yourself.” That’s exactly what all that is about.

But then there are some folks who get carried away with all that to the point that all they think about is themselves in business. They think (and we’ll use the topic of the question here), “Well, I don’t want to put an address on my website. I don’t need to–I’m virtual!” To that I say, what on earth does being virtual have to do with anything? A business is a business.

They forget that being in business is about being in a relationship with clients. And a relationship is a two-way street. It’s not all about you and what you want and what works for you. Me, me, me, me, me.

Sure, you get to say how things work in your business. And you get to have high standards around the kind of work you do, the kind of clients you work with, and the kind of money you charge. You can not truly  and superbly help clients without those things.

At the same time, there are some considerations you must be willing to extend to clients–because you don’t have a business with them.

So having an address on your site isn’t about what’s important to you. It’s about what’s important to the clients visiting your site. It’s about helping them view you as credible and legitimate. It’s about trust and and helping them feel safe about potentially doing business with you. It’s not for you that an address should be on your site, it’s for your would-be clients.

Long story short–yes, it’s absolutely vital to have an address on your website. It doesn’t have to be a physical address–and if you run a home-based business, I would absolutely tell you NOT to use that one. It’s unsafe, and you do not want clients or anyone you don’t know showing up on your doorstep one day out of the blue.

Get a post office box instead. My PO box costs me $36 every six months. And I can format the address to the physical location instead of using “PO Box X.” If a post office isn’t close to you, businesses like Mailboxes Etc. come to mind. Alternatively, you can get a mailing address with a service like Earth Class Mail (which is a phenomenal service, by the way).

I would add that besides an address and phone number, put some kind of photo of yourself on your site, in your email signatures, in your forum profiles. Get a gravatar so that when you post comments to blogs, people see your smiling face. Being able to “see” who they are talking with goes a LONG way in establishing rapport and facilitating conversation. It helps folks see you as a person–not a nameless, faceless entity–and they’ll remember you much better when they have a face to go with the name.

Virtual Assistant Business Contracts Templates Forms Guides

Is a Web Designer an Assistant?

Is a Web designer an assistant?

Is a bookkeeper or accountant an assistant?

Is an attorney an assistant?

Aren’t all these very specific areas of expertise?

Then why do you think you have to be an assistant in order to deliver your administrative support and expertise?

Change how you think of yourself, your expertise and what you are in business to do, and you will absolutely revolutionize your ability to be more financially successful and have more freedom in your life and business.

Don’t ever let anyone tell you have to be an assistant in order to be of value, deliver your administrative expertise, and help clients move forward. It’s absolute crap.

Virtual Assistant Business Contracts Templates Forms Guides

Client Profile Sheet

One of the tools I offer in my Virtual Assistant Business Forms store is the Client Profile Sheet (which is offered individually and also as part of the VA Business Pack) . What this form does is create a central library of all the bits and pieces of info you would want to collect from clients, both business info (such as passwords you need to work with, for example) and personal info (such as birthdays, special dates, etc.). On this form, I include my personal recommendation that you fill this form out instead of having clients do it.

Today I received a great question about this product:

“Hi Danielle. On your (FRM-06) Client Profile Sheet, you stated that ‘this isn’t a form I recommend that you have clients complete.’ So my question is, have you created one that we can give to clients to complete?”

This is a great question so let me elaborate on that…

I don’t have separate forms (one that clients fill out and one that you fill out). You can have clients fill out the form if that’s what you choose to do. Or you can split the form into two parts–the business section for the client to fill in and the personal section for you to fill in.

My recommendation was related more toward the personal info and what I meant was that you want to collect the personal information on your client behind the scenes. It sort of forces you to take an interest and look for opportunities to learn about your client personally.

For example:

Getting a birthday card from someone because they asked you to fill out a form so they could perfunctorily send you a card or gift isn’t nearly as delightful or fun or meaningful as receiving a card or gift from your Virtual Assistant/Administrative Support Consultant because she made the effort, quietly, behind the scenes, to learn and care about when your birthday was, what kind of things you enjoy, and then remembered.

See what I mean? It’s all about the red carpet treatment. Remember, it’s the small things that can mean so much.

When I work with a new monthly retainer client, I keep that sheet out whenever we have our weekly phone meeting during those first months of working together. During that phase, you are both learning so much about each other and this is the time to keep your ears perked for those details and write them down.

Hope that helps everyone!

Virtual Assistant Business Contracts Templates Forms Guides

Virtual Assistant Business Contracts Templates Forms Guides

Dear Gritty VA: How Do I Find Virtual Assistant Jobs?

Dear Gritty VA:

How do I find Virtual Assistant jobs? –SH

From your question, I’m thinking you might not be understanding what Virtual Assistance is. Virtual Assistance is a not a job, it’s a business. As a Virtual Assistant, you don’t look for “jobs,” you look for clients. And you do that like any business does–by marketing and networking. To be sure, this is no small task. It’s a process and area of ongoing learning. But that’s where everyone has to start once they decide to go into business for themselves.

Your question may also indicate that you really haven’t done much or enough reading and research yet on your own. So where I would recommend you start is by reading everything you can about Virtual Assistance, including the back posts on my blog here. Once you do that, it should become clear where you need to adjust your understandings.

Of course, you may actually be talking about work-at-home jobs. If that’s the case, what you are talking about is telecommuting, not Virtual Assistance. Two completely different things.

Using the proper terminology is very important, as you can see, because if you don’t, you won’t be understood, you’ll ask the wrong people the wrong questions and you won’t find the right answers. Which is the situation here since my blog is specifically focused on helping Virtual Assistants/administrative experts grow stronger, more financially successful businesses. I can’t help with you with telecommuting since that’s not what I discuss here.

Virtual Assistant Business Contracts Templates Forms Guides

Virtual Assistant Business Contracts Templates Forms Guides

What Are You Most Proud of About Yourself?

I can’t remember what got me starting thinking about this, but I know it was some little, innocuous thought that eventually led me to musing about some things that I’m really proud of about myself.

For one thing, I’ve always created my own opportunities. Like when my daughter was a little less than a year old and I was ready to get back in the workforce. I was still really young and at the time, the job market wasn’t that great. I ended up hearing about a volunteer opportunity at a family services organization and I thought it would be a great way to brush up on my existing skills, learn some new ones and gain some more recent references.

And it turned out to be just that… a really wonderful experience and opportunity all the way around that eventually helped me get into a great job working for the city/county and later, an even better job working for a labor union. I have always been proud of the fact that I created my own opportunity in that respect, as well as the fact that even though it was a volunteer position, I treated it as if it were a paid position. I showed up on time, every time, on the three days per week that I committed to work. If the organization had had more money in the budget, they would have hired me in a heartbeat, but even so, I gained an enormous amount of respect and admiration (and references) because of the dedication and helpfulness and skills I demonstrated while I was there.

Another thing I’m really proud of is the fact that I always pay those who do work for me. I got to thinking about this from a conversation I had recently with my guy. Somehow we got on the topic of this one really icky client I had way back in the day. I tried making a go of things with this client for about year, but I finally realized his lack of honesty and integrity simply wasn’t going to change.

This was back when I was still doing bookkeeping, in addition to administrative support, in my practice. This guy was always paying vendors late, he wouldn’t submit employee monies to the agencies they were supposed to go to, etc., etc. For example, he had a couple employees who were having their checks garnished for child support. Well, he was having the money taken out of their checks, but he wasn’t sending it in to the agencies. (I did the bookkeeping and completed and filed the various tax/business forms and reports, but he wouldn’t let me do any actual bill paying or transferring of funds.) And it ended up causing some very serious, stressful problems for these employees.

He also wasn’t turning in the social security, medicare and other taxes to those agencies. I tried to impress upon him that these weren’t monies that were his to play with. They belonged to the employees and it was really going to end up coming back to haunt him if he didn’t take care of these things. He was already going through employee turnover like crazy because of his shoddy treatment and practices. And all the while, he was buying himself Harleys, living in a condo beyond his means, and generally not depriving himself of anything whatsoever while stiffing everyone else. He’d make a show of acknowledging what I was saying whenever I brought it up, just enough to make me think he wanted to make things right. Always wanting to think the best, I ended up being strung along for far too long because the bottom line was he didn’t care who he screwed over or how.

Anyway, we were talking about that situation and it reminded me of how I have always paid everyone I’ve ever worked with. I’ve never stiffed anyone, tried to cheat them, or made them wait for payment. I think that is absolutely wrong and I’m proud of myself for always living up to that value and walking my talk.

So those are just a couple things I’m proud of myself about. What about you? What kinds of things in your life or business are you most proud of? I’d love to hear your stories!

Virtual Assistant Business Contracts Templates Forms Guides

Virtual Assistant Business Contracts Templates Forms Guides

Another Reason I Can’t Stand Internet Marketers

I was just listening to a podcast and something that was said reminded me of an Internet marketer who contacted me awhile back. She sent me a message on Twitter asking to talk with me. She didn’t say what it was, and I’m not interested in talking to just anyone, expending my time, unless I know what it’s about and I’m interested in it. Duh. So I replied with something to the effect of “Possibly. What is it you want to talk about?”

Never got a response.

Lord, I hate it when people do that. Don’t fricking waste my time asking me a question if you’re going to ignore me when I reply.

So whatever. Didn’t give it another thought until my phone started ringing off the hook a few weeks later. And I’m talking literally every single day, at least two calls or more from the same phone number, never once leaving a message.

Can we say I-R-R-I-T-A-T-I-N-G?!

Well, I don’t answer the phone. I simply don’t. I don’t need to. I’m not looking for more clients at the moment and if I were, I only talk to the ones who come through my website and go through my consultation form. And I’m sure as heck not answering anyone who refuses to leave a message. It’s phone harassment, plain and simple. If you don’t want to leave a message clearly stating your intentions–who you are and what you want–then I’m not interested. Simple as that. I might be running a business, but I’m a human being first and I refuse to deal with anyone who thinks they can treat people like a number and expects me to prostrate myself for their purposes. Have more respect for those you are calling and, gasp, you might get some back.

Well, after literally over a MONTH of this, whoever is calling from this number FINALLY leaves a message. At the same time, I get an email from this person. She states she is the Virtual Assistant to So-So Internet Marketer and launches into a short spiel about some program this Internet marketer is gearing toward Virtual Assistants, yada yada. Blech. I HATE those things because they are just exploiting Virtual Assistants. I absolutely detest those people. NO ONE has any business teaching VAs anything about Virtual Assistance except other VAs (and then, only the successful ones who have actual experience and substance to offer).

At this point, I’m thinking, how many hundreds of unanswered calls does this person need to get the message that “I’m not talking to you unless you tell me who you are and what you want.” And this is besides the fact that I’m really annoyed at this point and definitely not interested in speaking with anyone who engages in phone tactics like this.

So I reply to the email in the most direct way I can: “Not interested.”

And do you know they still continued to call me several times after that?!

Virtual Assistant Business Contracts Templates Forms Guides

Virtual Assistant Business Contracts Templates Forms Guides