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

Whew, I ‘ve been gone awhile

Man, how time flies. I’ve been so focused on getting the new Administrative Consultants Association site done that I had to completely abandon the ol’ blog here (which will undergo its own metamorphosis soon as well). I have a zillion draft posts, too, that I could have been posting, but I just couldn’t spare the attention span needed to clean them up and get them posted. But you know, I just don’t sweat that kind of stuff.

I’m so excited about finally moving forward on the new direction. It’s been a long time coming. I actually started the site design last year, but got mentally blocked and had to put it on ice until I got some clarity again. And one I did, it started moving like gangbusters!

I’ve still got a few loose ends to take care so the site isn’t officially done, but do take a look and let me know whatcha think:  Administrative Consultants Association.

I also want to ask for your help. I’d like to spotlight a few stories from those of you who have embraced the new Administrative Consultant term and how it has helped you in your business.

For example, I recently received a note from a member who related how much easier it’s been for her in talking with potential clients and in networking situations since she began using the term Administrative Consultant. She said she doesn’t get any more of the eyes-glazing-over/deer-in-the-headlights thing that she would always get when she called herself a Virtual Assistant.

And I know of several people(myself included)  who have experienced a dramatic shift in how clients and business people at networking events treat them… getting rid of the word “assistant” from the equation makes all the difference in the world.

So if you have converted over or are still trying out the term Administrative Consultant, please email me your positive anecdotes and experience in using the term. My goal is to share these on our home page or a dedicated pate on the new site and will include your name and backlink to your site.

Looking forward to hearing from you!

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

Private or Public Forum?

If you’ve been by the Virtual Assistant Chamber of Commerce site lately, you’ve seen that we are in the midst of some major updating and site reorganization. One of the things we’ll be working on soon is our new forum platform, and I want to pick your brain about privacy.

The main question is whether the forum should be public (able to be viewed by anyone coming to the site) or whether it should be private (where only members with accounts can view the postings and conversations).

There are pros and cons to both and I honestly can’t decide which way to go.

The benefits of a public forum is that it attracts more users/members. Site visitors can see what’s going on and it’s great for PR and search engine rankings.

On the other hand, it’s not always a good thing that site visitors can see what’s going on. Some of the conversations I’ve seen on some of the public forums are quite embarrassing. If I was a client seeing some of these discussions and the questions asked, I’d be pretty leery about hiring some of these people if the quality of competence and qualification and lack of skill/knowledge was any indications of what I’d be getting.

Hey, I don’t blame anyone for asking questions, but clients and prospects just don’t need to see some of this stuff. Which is one of the benefits of having a private forum. I’ve always felt that VAs need a private sanctuary where members can let their hair down, vent on occasion if need be, and ask those questions and have those conversations without any fear that client eyes will ever see them. And in my experience, when there is a slight barrier to entry, you tend to attract the folks with a higher caliber of skills, competence, qualification and business sensibility.

The con of a private forum, however, is that you may not get the same amount of traffic and interest as you would with a public forum and people tend to lurk longer (which I can’t stand; I hate that feeling of someone looking over your shoulder, but never letting you know who they are).

So what do you think? If a combination of both private and public wasn’t an option, and you had to choose between one or the other, which kind of forum would you prefer? Which would make you feel more comfortable/safer participating in? Please select your choice in the poll below. I would love to hear your two cents and any suggestions you have!

Virtual Assistant Business Contracts Templates Forms Guides

New Video: How to Work with a Virtual Assistant

Hey, check out our new video to help clients understand how to work with a Virtual Assistant/Administrative Consultant. Would love you to subscribe to our channel, rate the video and leave your comments. Let me know how you like it.

Oh, and by the way, this was made for Virtual Assistants and Administrative Consultants to use on their websites so feel free!

Virtual Assistant Business Contracts Templates Forms Guides

Dear Gritty Virtual Assistant: How Do You Keep Work Synced Between Computers?

Dear Gritty VA:

How do you keep your files and information synced between computers and how do you protect your clients’ work or database getting lost in case of some kind of disaster (lost or stolen laptop, fire, computer meltdown, etc.)? –AL

Great question! This actually falls into two topics: systems and backup.


It’s always a good idea to have a backup system in place. There are a couple of ways you can go, which all boil down to personal choice: external hard drive or an online backup service. Personally, I use an external hard drive and do my own backups once a week or more. I just don’t like the idea of having all my personal business information on an outside party’s systems. I think any time you trust an outside third-party with potentially sensitive, confidential client/business info, you increase your liability if their systems become exploited or fail for some reason.

But like I say, it’s a personal choice. If you want to go the online service route, I’ve heard good things about Mozy and it is a lot easier to do daily backups when someone else is doing them automatically. My only caution would be to make sure you know and understand what is being backed up. Are they backing up your entire system (including system files and programs) or just certain kinds of regular documents and files? How easy it is to find and restore files should you need to do so? What are the storage limitations? Are you notified of fee increases for overages in advance? What is the customer service like? Can you quickly and easily get help when you need it or do they abdicate that to forums (where you could wait days for someone to respond)?

As far as backing up clients’ data for them (if that’s what you’re asking), that’s a bad idea. You’re not a storage facility. Don’t take on responsibilities and liabilities that aren’t yours to bear. Clients need to be responsible for their own businesses; it’s not your job to manage their businesses. You have your own to deal with. Their databases should be on their own computers and systems, not yours.


As far as keeping your files synced between computers, my best advice is to avoid duplication at all costs. Otherwise, you only invite confusion, mistakes, rework and inefficiency (which in itself creates more work). A business that does not run well also does not earn well. What I recommend is that you get an online virtual office and a remote access service.

I work from several different computers and laptops, but I don’t keep work in all these various places. All my files, my entire business, sits on my main office desktop computer. When I need to access files, I simply login remotely to my home office computer using LogMeIn. I could not live without this service. I can be sitting in our condo in Germany and working at my home computer in the U.S. as if I was sitting right there. No more dinking around and keeping track of portable/thumb drives that are easily lost or broken. It is simply brilliant!

My other best friend is my virtual office collaboration service, HyperOffice. This is a web-based service that allows you to organize clients, share calendars, project managements, documents, etc. and keep everything in a single online location that you both have access to. There is no moving files around or backing up between computers necessary whatsoever. This will not only simplify your work life immensely, it’s a convenience and benefit for clients working with you.

A new best friend that I can’t say enough good things about is DropBox. For those occasions when you do need to quickly and simply move, transfer or sync files between computers or with clients, DropBox is your go-to tool. It’s crazy how versatile it is and I’m constantly finding new uses for it. Super, super easy to install and use.

With these three tools, things are kept organized and not spread out all over the place and I never have to waste time and energy syncing stuff up. It’s a non-issue!

Virtual Assistant Business Contracts Templates Forms Guides

Virtual Assistant Business Contracts Templates Forms Guides

Marketing & Service Lessons from a Greasy Spoon

Sometime last year, I happened upon a greasy spoon in some out of the way corner of our city that I never knew existed. My guy and I absolutely love down-home food (especially of the breakfast persuasion) and we giggle like little kids whenever we find a gem like this.

If you blink, you’ll miss the place entirely. It presents such an unassuming face from the outside. But the minute you set foot into the small, crowded room and are warmly greeted by the friendly waitress, you know it’s something special.

You would think that a teeny tiny space might be a little off-putting, but somehow it just works. You feel like you’re in a cozy cocoon bundled up with friends, even though you don’t know a soul there. The tables have pretty, embroidered cloths on them and each is brightly accentuated with a vase of fresh meadow flowers. Customers sitting at different tables laugh and chat as if they’d known each other for years.

When the menu is brought to you (along with some iced water to sip on while you peruse your choices), you can’t help but notice the personal care and attention that went into the details. The pages are stitched together by hand with some happy-colored yarn. On the cover is a photo of the owner and a letter (written as if to you, personally) about her joy in bringing good food and good spirit to her customers. The love she has for what she does is undeniable and you immediately feel cared for.

After ordering, you notice a little guestbook with pens and crayons next to the flowers. You look around and see that every table has one. You open yours up and begin reading all the precious, sometimes hilarious, notes left by previous customers raving about the food, the owner and the atmosphere (or commiserating about their hangovers). On some pages there are drawings by children whose parents, I’m sure, were grateful to have something with which to occupy their attention.

Before you know it, your food arrives and you are unexpectedly delighted by the portions, which are neither meagerly small nor gluttonously indulgent. They are just perfect and you feel you are getting way more than your penny’s worth. As soon as you sink your teeth into the first bite, you realize the food lives up to every promise of the delicious aromas that have been teasing you.

You learn from the menu that everything is made fresh each day from scratch–right down to the jam, which you can purchase to take home with you–and locally grown whenever possible. You realize you will never again be able to stomach another processed, assembly-lined Denny’s meal in your life now that you’ve had this humble, yet sumptuous, repast.

As you bring your head up for air (which is difficult to do as your dish is just soooo good), you notice a couple maps on the wall, one of the United States and one of Europe and the rest of the world. Hundreds of little pushpins are tacked all over each map. A note to the side that asks, “Where do you call home?” invites you to push your own pin into your home town. How fun! As evidenced by the maps, customers here come from far and wide.

The other thing I should mention is that this little home-away-home only serves breakfast and closes by 1:30 p.m each day (except Sundays and Mondays when they are closed). They focus on doing that one thing so spectacularly well that they’ve gained a devoted flock of customers from around the world standing in line outside the door.

As I finished my hearty, satisfying first meal there, I couldn’t help but think about what an extraordinary service and marketing example this little hole in the wall sets for businesses of any kind. Big companies could take quite a few cues from them!

Look at the creative way they used guestbooks to generate testimonials and reviews. See how they build a sense of community in a fun, interactive way with their pushpin maps. Notice how all the attention to small details evokes the feeling of home and family. The owner makes a personal connection with her photo and her message on each and every menu. You really feel the warmth and enthusiasm she has put into her labor of love–her restaurant, her customers and her cooking–and it’s contagious.

Think about the last time you did business with someone where the experience was so wonderful it really sticks in your memory. How did that business deliver that experience to you? What was it they did that made it so memorable? What were the little touches that really brought it home for you? What could you be doing in your own business to have the same effect on your clients and customers?

I don’t have all the answers on this topic; none of us does. This is a journey each of us experiments with and sees and feels for ourselves. The point is that soulful business inspiration abounds in our world every day! Be conscious and aware of your own experiences as a customer. What kind of wonderful ideas can you adapt and implement in your own business to delight those you serve?

Virtual Assistant Business Contracts Templates Forms Guides

Virtual Assistant Business Contracts Templates Forms Guides

What Is a New Client Welcome Kit and What Goes In One?

Working with clients is a relationship. Sometimes it’s a very close, ongoing one. Sometimes it’s an impersonal or one-time encounter. Either way, it’s a relationship and it’s important to set the tone that best serves your interests as a business while serving your clients successfully. This is where a New Client Welcome Kit comes in handy—it’s a red carpet that guides clients where you need them to go.

What Is a Welcome Kit?

A welcome kit is a packet of information you give to new clients to help ensure you both get the relationship off to a great start. A really important function of the welcome kit is to help set proper expectations moving forward. When clients know what is what and how things work in your business upfront, they aren’t left to form their own (probably incorrect) ideas which inevitably causes problems in the relationship.

When Do You Give a Welcome Kit to a New Client?

Some might feel giving a welcome kit to every client with the smallest of projects is a bit overkill. However, I like to give all new clients my welcome kit because it’s not just good information for them, it’s also sort of a marketing piece. It’s a visual demonstration of my company’s professionalism and attention to detail. Sort of like dressing well for a first date. Sometimes I provide the kit to clients once the contract is signed; other times it makes sense to give a PDF copy to them in advance.

How Do You Present a Welcome Kit to a New Client?

I do this a couple ways: both hardcopy and PDF. I only work with clients in an ongoing retained relationship. Those clients represent the largest earnings in my business. Therefore, I don’t spare expense on making sure my welcome kit is as beautiful and professional as it can be. It shows respect and appreciation for the client, and it demonstrates the excellence of my company.

My retained clients get a hardcopy welcome kit which is mailed to them. This kit consists of a high-end folder with contents that have been professionally or laser printed. My retainer clients also get a complimentary virtual office when they work with me. So for those clients, I always set up a special folder for PDF copies of invoices, receipts and such and include a PDF copy of my welcome kit here as well for their added convenience.

For smaller clients—that is, clients I might only do a small, one-time project for—they are provided with just the PDF version of my welcome kit.

What Goes In a Welcome Kit?

Once you are at the welcome kit stage, it’s time to stop selling. That is, I often see folks including all kinds of marketing collateral in their welcome kit and it’s really not the time or place for it at that point. Your welcome kit provides information about you and your company, but you want to focus your mindset on the idea that the kit is for the client’s benefit. It’s about making sure clients have everything they need to navigate your services and processes easily and ensure that the working relationship gets off to a successful start. At this stage, it’s about nurturing the relationship, not continuing to pound them over the head with your marketing.

Since your kit is a reference and guide for new clients, you want to very clearly spell out how things work in your business. Don’t gloss over anything—that’s not helpful to you or the client. But do keep the tone light and upbeat. Inject some personality. There’s no need to be dry and monotone.

So here’s what I suggest you put in your welcome kit:

  • A bio about you (and no, not your life story, but some interesting facts, stories or life experiences as well as your values about the work you do and working with clients and what’s important to you about those things. The idea here is to help clients to get to know you a little more and give some insight into your belief systems and philosophies about the work and relationship).
  • Your office hours (the days and times your office is officially open).
  • Your communication policies (Do you require appointments for phone calls? What is your turn-around commitment for responding to calls and emails? How often do you check emails and voicemail?).
  • An overview of your operations and work processes (How do you manage your workload? How are requests prioritized? What turn-around time may clients expect?)
  • Instructions for submitting work requests. Once you have been in business for even a little time, you realize that you can’t accept work requests willy nilly. You realize that you simply must have a system and protocols in order for you to do the best job you can for clients. So be sure and explain specifically and clearly how you need them to submit their work requests to you.
  • An overview of your services and any other divisions in your company. Obviously, you’re in business to make money while doing good work. That means that different work will naturally fall under different categories and you presumably would charge separately for these different services. You can’t work or give everything away for free, right? So make it clear what work falls under what categories and how and when you charge separately. For example, if you provide administrative support and also web design, you would want to make sure clients understand what is included in administrative support (and what isn’t) and what would fall under another umbrella that you charge separately for.
  • Your expectations for working together. Clients have expectations of you and so should you have expectations of them. This is where you want to let them know how you expect to be treated, how quickly you expect them to respond to your questions, feedback and input, how you expect upset to be handled, etc. Of course, none of this should be put in an accusing or defensive way. You want to always frame it from the perspective that these things are necessary in order for you to give them the best support possible, which is absolutely what all this is ultimately about.
  • Your ideal client profile. This is something you would also include in your referral kit, but I recommend you keep your referral kit and your welcome kit separate and distinct from one another.
  • A list of frequently asked questions.
  • A copy of the contract.
  • A completed IRS Form W-9 (or your country’s equivalent).
  • A Credit Card Authorization form.

There are all kinds of things you could include. A good rule of thumb is if it’s something that will help clients and will underscore information you need them to understand, go ahead and include it. And for retained clients, I recommend scheduling a new client orientation to go over all this information with them.

Virtual Assistant Business Contracts Templates Forms Guides

Virtual Assistant Business Contracts Templates Forms Guides

I Got Top Billing on Biznik!

Biznik selected my recent article, “10 Tips to Harness the Power of Referrals” as their feature article today. Yay! I don’t know why this tickles me so, but it does!

If you all could check it out and then rate it and/or comment, you would make me so happy! Here’s the link:

Many thanks! xoxo

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