Dear Gritty VA: Can I Collect Unemployment While Starting My Virtual Assistant Business?

I am new to the Virtual Assistant world. I have been laid off so many times in the past 11 years that I have just lost faith in employers. I was given this idea back in 2003 to start a Virtual Assistant business, but was too scared. I was laid off again in September 2009 and my idea came back, but this time stronger, so I decided to pursue it and start my business. I am currently on unemployment and would like some advice on how to run a business while on assistance. My state’s Department of Licensing is no help to me and I am hearing that I have to be very careful having a business while getting benefits. As you all probably know, while on unemployment insurance, you must do job searches and this takes all day. Looking for a job IS a job in itself and is very time consuming. I am single and I have no other income so I need my benefits. –GA

This is a great question and I’ll bet there are lots of folks in the same boat so hopefully my answer will help guide them as well.

Unless they are from your state or local Employment Insurance office, it would be irresponsible for anyone to give you any advice regarding your unemployment benefits. Your state’s Department of Licensing is naturally not going to be any help because it’s not their place. You have to direct those questions to your local/state unemployment agency. Only they can tell you what the rules and guidelines are when it comes to collecting unemployment insurance benefits. Find out whether you are allowed to work on starting a business while collecting benefits. You should also ask how it works if you do happen to get a client and they pay monies to you. Are you expected to report that income? Will it affect your benefit amounts?

Many years ago, I had a friend who started a hair salon after getting laid off. She was able to collect unemployment benefits while still running the business and receiving payments from customers. This was because she was not personally collecting a paycheck and put everything back into the business. This was allowable under our state’s employment insurance rules at that time.

Who knows. Your state agency might have similar allowances. But again, I want to emphasize that you MUST talk with your own UI agency to get the facts pertinent to your state and your particular situation since different states may have different rules.

Starting a business in any circumstance is going to have daunting aspects. At the same time, someone who starts her business under more optimal conditions (like having savings and capital set aside or some other source of income to live on and run the business until money starts coming in) is naturally going to have an easier time of things than someone who just lost her job and has no other money to live on. It can be done, but it’s going to be a more difficult road.

If you get clearance from your UI agency, this will be a great time to really work on setting up your Virtual Assistant business foundations (policies, contracts, going through the business planning process, writing your marketing message, getting your website up, etc.). You’ll of course always be honing, tweaking and improving upon things as you go along, but getting the basics in place now will instill greater chances of success for your business once you are ready to start accepting clients. Once you know from your UI agency how to report client monies should you receive any and how that affects your benefits, that will help you decide how to proceed from there.

Either way, you’ll still need to comply with whatever job seeking requirements they have for you, but as they say, “One day at a time.” Plus, with today’s technology, people can also hunt for work electronically instead of wasting gas and literally spending hours beating the pavement. Find out what qualifies as job-seeking. How many contacts are you required to have each week? Do phone calls to employers and emailing resumes count? And who knows, depending on what you find out from your UI agency, they may allow your business start-up work to meet some of your job-seeking obligations. They may even have some further resources and programs to help you in that effort.

One last thought… I do want to tell folks to keep in mind that while employer paid, unemployment insurance is a benefit you earned by working. It’s not welfare so never feel ashamed about that. I mention this only because I know there are lots of folks who think unemployment is a handout. Those who didn’t work for a living are not eligible for UI, which means those who get it, get it because they were contributing members of society in the workforce. Plus, the goal of UI agencies is to get people back to work. I’m sure there are some backwards agencies out there with their heads up their bureaucratic butts, but I know there are just as many that offer a great deal of assistance and programs to help you in your business starting efforts, not hold you back. I know it might be a lot of work, but keep fighting to get the info and help you need. Good luck!

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Dear Gritty VA: Do I Have Enough Experience to Be a Virtual Assistant?

Dear Gritty VA:

I only have 2 years experience as an Executive Assistant and 6 years as a Receptionist/Data Entry Clerk. Could I still be a Virtual Assistant? Any suggestions are helpful. –BT

Well, it’s not really for me to say. It’s what the marketplace has to say.

What I mean is, yes, the Virtual Assistant/Administrative Support Consultant profession definitely has ideas, opinions and expectations about what the qualifications should be of those who want to enter its ranks. The Virtual Assistant community generally wants to protect the reputation and credibility of the profession in the interests of clients and VAs alike. But ultimately, this is an unregulated industry so no one can tell you that you can’t open a Virtual Assistant business if that’s what you want to do.

That said, clients have very demanding expectations. So the better question might be, do you have enough experience that you will be professionally qualified enough to meet those demands? Business savvy also plays a critical role here because if you don’t know how to run and manage business well, that also will directly impact your service to clients and their satisfaction. If you don’t have a sufficient level of these things, are you prepared to deal with the extra difficulty and rejection you might face? Do you have the stamina, perseverance and tenacity to keep working on whatever you need to work on to get to a level that is marketable? The less skill and experience you have, the much more difficult a path you face. It will be much harder for you to command the kind of fees that will earn you a real living and it may take you much longer to get established. You can be the most likable person on the planet and have no problem developing rapport with prospective clients, but when it comes right down to it, the proof is in the pudding. Clients get frustrated (and do not work long) with VAs who don’t have a business level of skill and ability.

What I might personally recommend is that it might be a good idea to stay in the workforce a few more years. Grab every opportunity to grow in your administrative and support skills and at the same time become a student of business (and I don’t mean enrolling in an MBA program–simply start reading business books). Use this time now to start thinking about a target market and studying what kind of administrative needs and challenges that market has and how you can support those needs and solve those challenges. Lay the foundation of your business now so that when the time is right and you’ve got enough business knowledge and marketable expertise under your belt, you will be more prepared for success.

Then again, maybe you feel you’ve already got what it takes. If so, go for it. ;)

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Dear Gritty VA: Should I Point Out Errors on Other Virtual Assistant Sites?

Dear Gritty VA:

I can’t tell you the number of times that I have looked at another Virtual Assistant’s website, taken a deep breath, sighed, and just continued reading.  But 5, 10, even 15 minutes later I will still be struggling with whether or not I should have emailed the VA and told them about the error.  You see, I am an administrative professional who has been in the business for 20 years and am now starting my VA business.  One of my special talents is proofreading.  So I think…this person is NOT going to appreciate me, the newbie in town, emailing them to point out the spelling error, grammatical error or formatting problem on their VA website.  Yet…it bothers me.  This is our profession and our website represents who we are and the work that we do.  I learned the hard way to review, review, and once again review.  I worked in the actuarial field for the last 5 years and let me tell you…those folks are very difficult to communicate with and they demand perfection the first time that you return a document to them.  I refused to make mistakes and be caught. So I walk away wondering if I should contact the VA and take a chance that they think that I am being rude by pointing out the errors or do I disregard it?  I know that my work is NOT always perfect but if these websites had been reviewed these errors would have been caught because they are obvious errors.  I prefer to do what I think is the right thing, take screen shots and send the VA the info.  I have found three websites with errors in the last two weeks and the Virtual Assistants all appear to be well spoken and high level (some of these websites were created by Virtual Assistants who are members listed in the VACOC Directory – I found some of these errors while doing research for my own company).  Personally, I think that these Virtual Assistants should hire me to proofread their websites (totally tongue in cheek there but I just had to say it). So…what do you think?  Do I contact them, or not?  By the way…I proofread this email several times before sending it (and pasted it in Word and performed a spellcheck on it).  Yes, I am a perfectionist but my name is on this email after all. –KG

The first question that pops into my head is why are you spending so much time on other Virtual Assistant sites? The people and sites and businesses you should be studying and getting to know are those of your core target market.

What will be helpful in this situation is getting really honest and clear about the underlying intention. The danger here, as you suspect, is that your approach may engender resentment, rather than appreciation. And the reason it could is because there’s a different feeling and tone between a) randomly reading someone’s site, finding a typo and shooting off a quick, friendly email to let them know, and b) going out of your way to find every error, spending an inexplicable amount of time and energy taking screenshots, and doing what really amounts to free work for people who aren’t even your clients. All that effort and energy would be more productively focused on developing your own business and clients.

As you mention, no one is perfect. One of my mentors is a multi-millionaire consultant renowned the world over who takes great pride in his vocabulary and command of the language. He can be quite pedantic when it comes to grammar and even he has typos and misspellings on his websites and blog posts now and then. It doesn’t bother me. It’s certainly always the goal to “dress the part” as much as possible, but a few occasional typos here and there do not diminish his standing and wisdom nor detract from the message. Those are cosmetic things that are quickly and easily corrected.

Personally, I always appreciate someone who takes a moment of their valuable time to let me know of little innocuous errors (which can happen even when you have your own proofreaders) as long as it is done in the spirit of helpfulness. Yes, it is true that there are always a few people calling themselves Virtual Assistants who have very poor grammar and communication skills. But it’s probably safe to say that the last thing you’d want is to be viewed as a busy-body. There can be a very fine line between being helpful and being presumptuous. It’s one thing to discuss standards and expectations in an industry, entirely another to barge into someone’s house, so to speak, via an email pointing out their personal gaffs and shortcomings (which is what that might feel like to the recipient). Ultimately, their business is their responsibility.

If you have impeccable grammar and proofreading skills, emphasize those attributes to your own prospective clients. If you come across a typo on someone’s site, let them know about it as a friendly favor if you are so inclined. Beyond that? Let it go. It’s not your kettle of fish to fry. Save your energy and focus for your own business. :)

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Administrative Support IS a Speciality All Its Own

Guess what, people? Administrative support IS a specialty in and of itself. You CAN specialize in just administrative support and do as well as any other kind of specialized service professional. The problem, the reason why clients don’t get it much of the time and why Virtual Assistants as an industry are not earning well, is because they continue to call anything and everything Virtual Assistance and lump everything under the sun under the Virtual Assistant umbrella. When something doesn’t have any definition, then it isn’t anything at all, least of all a profession. And clients don’t pay well for something that is nothing. They view it as merely gopher work.

If VAs would simply stop trying to call everything Virtual Assistance and learn to identify, define and separate business categories for themselves (and not let clients define that for them), they could begin to earn better. They could charge one retainer for administrative support and then charge separately for work and projects that fall under different business categories entirely.

A good example of this is the argument I hear new Virtual Assistants put forth constantly. “Well, when I was an executive assistant, I also did bookkeeping and web design and copyrighting and this and that and the other.”

So, you’re saying that because employers piled a load of other work onto the shoulders of administrative staff because they were trying to save a buck at your expense, that means as a business owner you should lump everything you know how to do under one banner and offer it as all one and the same? As an employee, you had no say in the matter and trooped along like a good soldier. And hey, learning new skills and tinkering with new programs can be just plain fun. But it is neither smart nor profitable to carry that kind of employee mindset over into your business. If you do, I guarantee sooner or later you will realize the consequences of this and the wisdom of the advice I give you today.

Just as a doctor is different from an attorney, there are different classifications of work and business. For example, Web design, a separate profession in its own right, is inherently project-oriented work. So, it immediately differs from administrative support in that respect. More importantly, it is something that requires entirely different skills, processes, knowledge and talents from administrative support. For this reason, it is a completely separate category of business and expertise for which you can charge separately as an additional income stream.

No one is saying that you can’t be a VA if you also do Web design (or bookkeeping or copyrighting or marketing or social media or whatever). You can be a VA and also a web designer (or bookkeeper or ghost writer, etc.) if that’s what you want to do. It’s just that they are not all one and the same thing. Once you start grasping this, you’ll begin to gain more clarity about which business you intend to be in and what to more appropriately call yourself. This will start you on the path to better earning because you’ll be able to see and think more clearly about what should fall under your administrative support umbrella and what falls under another business category altogether (you can call these “divisions”) and should be charged for separately.

YOU have to make these distinctions and classifications in your business. Don’t let clients dictate these things. Because that’s the other part of the problem–VAs doing (and giving away) all this other work beyond administrative support because clients keep trying to pile everything on without paying extra for it. And it’s keeping you in the poor house.

Of course, this is happening with your consent if you refuse to get conscious about these things. It’s not a partnership if you are being taken advantage of. By the same token, you aren’t being taken advantage if you are allowing it. If you keep lumping everything under the Virtual Assistance/administrative support umbrella, you will continue to deprive yourself of opportunities to earn better and grow your business in profitable, sustainable ways.

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Another Way to Supercharge Your Virtual Assistant Help

I was talking with one of the attendees of my Pricing & Packaging business intensive last month who mentioned that she wasn’t sure what to do with a couple clients she wasn’t feeling very energized by. I asked her what the problem was, and she related that she much preferred big picture work, and while she enjoyed these two clients as people, they were low-commitment as far as hours go–only 5 hours per month. The work always ended up being transactional, sporadic and disjointed, and she never felt like she was really and truly helping them get anywhere other than taking care of busy work.

I’ve spoken with hundreds of Virtual Assistants who experience similar issues and feelings. Administrative support consultants enjoy big picture work because it allows them to understand the client and the business much better. In turn, this allows them to apply critical thinking, grow in their knowledge of the business and the work, and thus complete work in ways that make much better sense and fit better in the overall scheme of the client’s operations, goals and objectives. This is much more gratifying and energizing. But with such a low commitment of hours, it’s incredibly difficult, if not impossible, to gain any kind of big picture sense of the business. It’s verrrry slow-going at best.

So there are a couple choices you can make. One, you can decide that in order to provide the kind of work that allows you to really and truly help clients AND which also keeps you energized, motivated and interested, your ideal clients must make a higher minimum commitment. And then simply decline to work with anyone who can’t make that commitment.

Alternatively, what you can do is take charge of the delegation process by consulting with the client, finding out what one of their most immediate goals or objectives is and then focusing the support exclusively on that one support area.

For example, let’s say the client really wants to get an ezine going. Well, implementing an ezine requires some initial project-related design and set-up. Once you’ve got that going, it requires ongoing management. So what you could do is charge a project fee for the design and initial set-up and then focus the retainer hours on establishing the publishing schedule, setting deadlines, formatting, editing and proofing articles, uploading issues, managing the delivery platform, scheduling issues for broadcast, not to mention taking care of all the details of managing subcriber lists and utilizing tracking and reporting features.

As you can see, when you sit down and map all the activities that go into implementing  and then managing/maintaining a support area, it’s a lot. And by focusing that small 5 hour retainer on just that one support area, you can help the client actually accomplish something that’s both tangible and important to them. They can clearly see results from your support and this is exciting to clients.  Once you’ve got that area of support all whipped and under control, you talk to the client about taking on the next support area and increasing the financial commitment.

Commitment requires a measure of trust. And trust isn’t handed over on a silver platter. Trust is something that is earned and just like relationships, grows in stages over time. You can help clients grow in their trust and esteem of you by taking charge of the delegation process in this way and focusing the work on a support area where you can better show tangible accomplishment, and then keep growing with the client from there. Most clients simply don’t know how to move forward and are unsure of what should be delegated. This is why it’s your JOB as an administrative support consultant to take charge of the delegation process, form support plan recommendations for them, and take that burden off their shoulders. It’s still ongoing support as it’s not project work or specializing in doing one thing–this is why I call it a support area. It’s just that it’s a much more focused and intentioned way to really help clients move forward in accomplishing the things that are important to them while also growing the commitment.

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Client Complaints Are Almost Always a Result of Setting the Wrong Expectations

Outside of sheer incompetence and lack of skills, almost every complaint between clients and Virtual Assistants can be traced back to one problem: working with clients and allowing them to think of you as a substitute employee.

If you are running a business, you are not anyone’s assistant.

If you market yourself as a replacement for employees, clients naturally expect that you are going to work with them and be available to them and do the same things for them just like an employee would. But that’s an expectation you will absolutely be unable to sustain, and you’ll kill yourself in the process of trying to live up to that kind of promise. Because that’s what an expectation is–the perceived or actual promise of something. And I say “perceived” because, if you don’t take charge of what expectations are set, clients will make their own assumptions, assumptions that might not be correct or that simply won’t work for you.

The problem is not that you need to be more, do more, be more available, create a bigger business model or turn into something else entirely. It’s that clients aren’t understanding what you are, what your role is and the true nature of the relationship. And most of the time, that’s the fault of Virtual Assistants and how they are currently marketing themselves in the industry.

You have to understand that you are not a contract employee. You are not a replacement for employees. You are an alternative to employees. And when something is an alternative, there are necessarily going to be differences and trade-offs in how and when you work with clients. Your value isn’t in doing everything, being everything, meeting every need or solving every problem. You can absolutely provide top-notch ongoing administrative support without being available on a daily basis or trying to fulfill every single role in the same way that an employee would. It’s what I call strategic support–even just a little helps clients make great strides forward in their businesses, keeps them humming and running along smoothly, and creates vastly more time and space at their disposal than they had before your help, even beyond the time they pay for in your retainers.

And since you are a business provider, not an employee or contract worker, you may need to make clear to clients that there are certain things you simply can’t do for them and that they may not expect, such as on-demand work or any work that requires daily maintenance and check-in. This sometimes means letting some clients know that what they really need is an employee rather than an independent administrative expert.

Once you start grasping this, you can begin to change the expectations, change your message and how you market. YOU’VE got to clearly and consciously create the definitions, set the expectations and discuss these things upfront. That’s when we’ll start seeing more harmony and alignment of understandings and expectations between clients and Virtual Assistants.

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Dear Gritty VA: How Can I Target Churches?

Dear Gritty VA:

What strategy would you recommend using for targeting churches with the Virtual Assistant business? I know a lot of churches depend on volunteers for help, but they might not have the right skills. And while some may have administrators, most do not. I think there is a huge market. –BP

What does your intended market say?

Whether it is churches or any other business, industry or profession, what you really have to do to answer this question is a bit of market research.  Job #1 for every business owner is to get out from behind the computer and get on the phone and actually talk to those in the market you’d like to work with.  Is there interest? Is there need? Can they afford professional fees? Does the research support your belief that there is a huge market? Because nothing else matters unless the intended target market has a need for what you are in business to offer and the willingness and ability to pay for it.

There are all kinds of ways you can collect information for this market research. Call around to churches and conduct telephone market research interviews with the people who would be in the position of making those decisions. Invite a few out to lunch (one at a time) to pick their brain. Set up an online survey and invite church leaders/administrators to give their feedback. Can you find out enough about their administrative work that you can create more attractive, compelling messages and packages that might influence their interest? What are their objections and how might you resolve those? You may find that there are certain denominations of churches that have more need and interest than others. You may find certain churches are in a better position to pay–what are their characteristics and is there a large enough group of these churches that you’d easily be able to fill your practice with them as clients? This is the kind of data that can emerge with research, which you can then use to narrow your focus, refine your questions and determine the best methods for reaching the right people.

Good luck!

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Are You Dripping with Friends?

BFFsThe term “drip marketing” comes from the direct mail industry. Studies show it takes at least 7 to 10 points of contact before a prospect even remembers a company, much less buys from it. So, the idea is to mail a series of printed promotional pieces (drip) to current and potential customers, and thereby keep the company in front of their eyeballs long enough to establish brand awareness and develop them into leads. But that sure doesn’t sound very warm and fuzzy, does it? In fact, it sounds pretty impersonal and a little too cold and calculating.

People want to be cared about. They want to connect with other human beings, not be a cog in someone’s marketing machinations. But you are in business after all. You have to somehow find a way to get in front of your would-be clients or customers. Marketing is a necessary evil. But guess what? It doesn’t have to be evil. Let me tell you how you can create authentic drip campaigns driven by heart (you might even be doing one of these already):

1. First, change your thinking. Instead of “marketing,” look at these efforts simply as a way to make new friends (prospective clients/customers), help those you are already friends with (past and current clients/customers) and continue to nurture and solidify those relationships. People do business with and refer those they get to know, like and trust. So what you’re really doing in all your marketing efforts is simply allowing people to get to know the real you and leaving a door open for them to enter a little further.

2. One way you can do this is to publish an ezine for your target market. An ezine (electronic newsletter) is a form of drip marketing because it allows you to stay in front of your audience on regular basis. It’s a heck of lot cheaper and easier to publish than a print newsletter, and there’s a much greater return for the effort. The keys to a successful ezine are:

a) make it about your target market (what do they want to read about? What advice, tips and solutions will be of value and interest to them? How can you make it fun?), and

b) publish regularly—at least monthly, but no more than weekly. You know you’re doing something right when readers email you when an issue is missing or late!

3. Publish a blog. Like an ezine, frequency is key. It doesn’t have to be on the same kind of schedule as an ezine, but you should post regularly to maintain a momentum of interest. Posting twice a year just isn’t going to cut it. If you do blog, you can be more personal and less formal, the content less structured. It’s another avenue for allowing prospective clients/customers to get to know you as a person, which makes you much more real and approachable.

4. Offer a free e-course via a series of autoresponders. Say you have some sort of how-to guide that you’ve been offering as a single download. What you could do instead is divide each of the how-to bullets into separate messages to be sent out one at a time each week. If you have 10 messages, that’s 10 weeks you can be helping those on your list and keeping in touch with them. Encourage questions and feedback, which will help you better understand their needs and challenges and develop further useful content and information for them..

5. With the lists you develop, continue to keep in touch. Send out a message whenever you come across news and information you think will be helpful to your list members. Send a message linking to an article you think is of interest to them. Tell them about happenings or products you recommend. Let them know whenever you have a special event or offering for them. Periodically spotlight one of your skills or services they might not be aware of. Map out a list of all the reasons you could contact those on your list. The possibilities are endless. Continue to add to it as you come up with ideas. There’s nothing wrong with letting folks know what you do and what you have to offer them. Just try to strike a balance. Remember that the point is to be helpful, not spam them with constant marketing and self-interested promotion. The simple act of being a helpful, knowledgeable resource for them promotes you in all the best ways possible.

All of this is about creating rapport and trust. When you show people who you are and what you are passionate about, you instill rapport. When you demonstrate that you understand their business problems and needs, you show them that they can trust you. There’s nothing evil about that. It’s simple consideration. Commit to more of that.

RESOURCE: Aweber is the most versatile autoresponder service out there in my book. Not only can you use it to deliver your ezine, it can be used for all kinds of other purposes including capturing subscribers, managing unlimited lists, communicating with those lists (separately or together) via sequential and scheduled broadcasts, setting up automated message campaigns, distributing blog post notifications and even incoporating those messages with social media. The reporting features are phenomenal and it integrates nicely with shoppingcart systems. Its double opt-in policy makes it one of the very top rated services for email delivery and open rates.

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Dear Gritty VA: What Am I?

Dear Gritty VA:

I am starting out my business and I am not sure what my focus should be and how to market myself. I have several skills/abilities that are not exactly in line with each other. 1. I worked as an executive assistant through college for high ranking military officials so I know that I can do great administrative work. 2. I graduated with an MBA and my emphasis was on project management. 3. I currently work as an education project manager (since 2006). I design training curriculum and online classrooms for a hospital. I am also involved in employee development (an additional duty as assigned) so I personally train most of the hospital staff too. 4. I am qualified to translate medical and legal documents (Spanish/English). Now, I would like to offer my skills (and education) to clients, but I’m not sure which way would be the most effective since not all clients will use all skills and I certainly don’t want to deter someone from working with me because of an expensive hourly rate. My husband says I’m stepping out of the virtual assistant realm and it seems to be more consulting because I can tell someone how to run their business. I somewhat disagree, hence the reason why I’m asking the question. I would really appreciate your thoughts on my little dilemma and I trust your advice. Thank you! –DL

This is where it is important and helpful to keep in mind what a Virtual Assistant is and what it is not. A Virtual Assistant isn’t someone who does piecemeal tasks and projects. A Virtual Assistant is someone who specializes in providing ongoing (month-to-month) administrative support. Administrative support is a skill, specialty and expertise in and of itself. At the VACOC, we are actually moving away from the term Virtual Assistant and transitioning over to Administrative Support Consultant. This term more clearly and readily identifies to clients what we are specifically in the business and profession of doing, where our expertise is, while at the same time setting more correct perceptions and understandings about the nature of the relationship. Namely, that we are not “assistants.” We are experts in our own right with our expertise being administrative support.

Getting clear about what you intend to do and be will help you answer these questions yourself. From the sound of it, my guess is that you are looking at things from the perspective of selling individual services. But that is not a Virtual Assistant business. That is a secretarial service. If your intent is to provide ongoing administrative support, on the other hand, I can see all of these being excellent supporting skills that would enhance your value and benefit to clients. However, do be clear–as a Virtual Assistant/Administrative Support Consultant, it’s not your job to advise clients how to run their business. If that’s the work you want to do, then you should look toward becoming a business consultant of some kind.

Now, where I think you’re really going to run into trouble, no matter what profession you end up deciding on, is this thinking you have when it comes to money. Your job as a business is not to be cheap or affordable. You will never ever win that rat race. There will always be someone else ready to undercut you even further. And then where do you go? No, you can’t make your value proposition about money or cost whatsoever. And ask yourself, why would you cater and slant your marketing right from the get-go toward people who can’t afford professional fees in the first place? What do you think is an “expensive” hourly rate? Why is that? Where does that thinking from come from?

If you don’t work to overcome employee mindset and the poverty mentality when it comes to money and charging professional fees, you will not be successful. And you won’t be in business long unless you are profitable. In fact, I always say that charging well is actually a service to clients because you can’t serve clients well unless you are served well and have your needs taken good care of first. And that includes being paid well so that you don’t have to burnout and overwork yourself just trying to make ends meet because you haven’t charged enough.

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How to Get Help When Starting a Virtual Assistant Business

Here’s a little pet peeve of mine… leaving a Voicemail with no message other than your name and to please call you. Rarely do I return those phone calls. Almost to a one, these folks end up wanting far more from me than I can provide them with in an unscheduled telephone conversation.

Every once in a very great while, I’ll make an exception and phone back one of these mystery callers. And nine times out of 10, it turns out they are wanting me to personally walk them through all the ins and outs of starting a Virtual Assistant business. And then I kick myself in the butt for calling back.

I really resent being hijacked like that. It’s rude, plain and simple. It shows a complete lack of regard for the other person’s time and interest. What makes you think I don’t have other things to do except sit by the phone waiting to help you start your business, for free?

Seriously. I get a jillion of these calls every week. I can’t help everyone individually. I have my own business to run. I have my own interests and priorities about where I spend my time and who I spend it with. Everything I can help them with is already on the VACOC website, in the free resources and paid products I offer, and in my blog posting here. Through these channels, I can help many more people at once with whatever time I have to spare.

So, if you want help in starting a Virtual Assistant business, here are some tips to help you avoid making major faux pas:

1. Don’t hijack people. You will be more likely to get help if you leave a full message with not only who you are, but WHY you are calling. Don’t be evasive and trick people into calling you back. They aren’t likely to want to help you when you do underhanded, manipulative things like that.

2. Better yet, email first. Be upfront and direct about why you are writing. Knowing your intentions, the person at the other end can decide whether or not to give their time and better schedule something in advance. Be yourself and let your personality shine through; it’ll certainly make you much more noticeable and interesting. I’m a real person and I appreciate real, unpretentious people who don’t put on airs. But do remember to put your most professional written foot forward at the same time. Be clear and specific in your request or questions. I can’t spend my time trying to wade through and decipher incoherent thoughts and poor communication. I am always happy to answer clear, focused, specific questions on my blog here, but no one can help you with, “How do I start a Virtual Assistant business?” It’s too big, too broad, too general. You’ve got to narrow that down by a lot.

3. Don’t just think about yourself. Consider the fact that someone who is knowledgeable, successful and in a position to help you is most likely in high demand from hundreds of people, all wanting the same thing you do. If they can’t help you personally, accept that graciously. Be respectful of their time and appreciative when they are able and willing  to give it to you. Your good attitude about this may even warm them up to you and help you make a personal connection where they are more inclined to take an interest in you. The worst attitude you can have is one of self-entitlement. No one owes you their time and attention.

4. Be prepared to pay. Really think about this. Why should someone who doesn’t know you from Adam set aside valuable time to give you a personal tour and advice in starting your business? It’s really self-centered to think like that. People like myself offer a TON of free info and advice to help folks. But if you want my personal time and guidance beyond the things that I already do, I charge for that.

5. Do your own homework first. No one is going to do everything for you. I never, ever help people who it’s clear have not lifted a finger to help themselves first. Read everything. Apply critical thinking. Take the first steps yourself. If you can’t narrow down your questions to be specific, you haven’t done enough reading and research on your own yet. The person who has specific questions has obviously done this. The kind of questions they ask make it very clear to people like me how much legwork they’ve done already and how serious they are about their business. Those are the folks I enjoy helping because I see the wheels turning and they’ve made some level of commitment. They’re easier to help, and there is more satisfaction in helping them because they really apply themselves and the advice given to them. When it comes right down to it, I just simply like those people more.

6. Give back. I’ll let you in on a little secret… those who contact me and the very first thing they express is that they understand that I may or may not be able to help them personally… those are the folks who get my attention. Because to me, that shows a person of character and awareness about the needs of others, not just their own. Those people are givers, and I enjoy helping them most. I have no use for self-absorbed takers who want to suck your brain dry (for free, of course), but then can’t be bothered to say thank you. Which leads me to the point of this bullet, how you can give back to those who help you. First, always, always, always, always remember to say thank you. Let them know how they have helped you. Then, remember the time and knowledge they gave you and give the same back when they put a call out for feedback, input, testimonials or contributions to a discussion. Those are things people in my position really, really appreciate in return.

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