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. :)

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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.

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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

Might be a Great Target Market for an Enterprising Virtual Assistant

I love listening to NPR in the evenings. This week, they’ve been doing a three-part series about doctors in primary care. In this series, they reported on the catastrophic shortage of primary care doctors who provide basic health care (they make around $150,000 a year compared to the multiple six-figure incomes of specialists), and took at look at primary care doctors who were opting for solo practice.

As all of us solopreneurs know, going solo comes with some special challenges. We have to be more concerned about profitability and leverage. At the same time, as I’ve long been saying, small is the new big. Nothing wrong with those folks who want to be a big as they can get, but at some point, “big” begins to lose it’s structural and quality integrity. The left hand too often doesn’t know what the right hand is doing or thinking. And people become numbers and transactions instead of, um, people.

So anyway, in listening to this series, it occurred to me that primary care docs in solo practice might be a perfect market for an enterprising Administrative Support Consultant (Virtual Assistant). Some kind of knowledge or past background and experience in healthcare or family practice is likely to provide an advantage.

Big companies and corporations don’t really need what we are in business to do because their workloads are so big they really need in-house, dedicated staff–and can afford it–and because when they are interested, it’s more in the vein of impersonal, commoditized, transactional outsourcing as cheaply as they can get it. That’s not an easy way to make a living for the provider willing to offer that kind of service, and it inherently requires a much bigger business model that depends on volume business.

It’s the smaller companies and solos who really make for the best fit because they place more value in having a more personal type of ongoing support relationship that allows them to stay small (which many of us do by choice) while being as profitable and efficient as possible so they can give the best quality care and service to their clients. They see, understand and appreciate the value much more easily so it’s a much easier “sell.”

If I was someone interested in this market, what I would be doing is calling up a few of primary care solo doctors, taking them out to lunch (individually) and picking their brains about how they are running their practices, what kinds of administrative work are they fielding, who is doing what now and what areas might they see as not needing to necessarily be in the office, and offer up ideas and get feedback on other areas the doctor didn’t think of. Said enterprising Administrative Support Consultant (Virtual Assistant) could in turn, armed with this intelligence about how these businesses are run, what work is involved and where the doctors’ interests are, build a whole compelling message and practice around administratively supporting this very specialized target market. I see all kinds of potential and opportunity here!

It’s a group that certainly meets the first three criteria of a target market: 1) must be able to afford, 2) must have a need for the solution you’re in business to offer and 3) there must be enough of them that you can find them easy enough and there are enough to fill your practice. And because they are consciously and intentionally interested in being small, they are going to be very interested in your support because it will help them keep the quality of their practice while allowing them to be more efficient, streamlined and profitable.

Heck, I go so far as to say for any of our clients, we offer them an opportunity to actually improve or increase the quality of their own businesses because they can be more profitable and get more done with our help. On top of that, it will allow existing in-house staff to focus more on their core work, all of which again helps streamline and increase efficiency and quality. Just think of how much more and better patient care in-house staff can focus on giving (“practicing at the top of their license,” or doing what they are most trained to do) when they are freed from back-end administrative work that an Administrative Support Consultant can take on for them.

Here’s a link to one of the articles (which also provides an audio recording if you prefer to listen):

Happy enterprising! (I’d love to hear from any of you who are already targeting this market or who are interested in looking into it. Let’s hear your success stories!)

Virtual Assistant Business Contracts Templates Forms Guides

Virtual Assistant Business Contracts Templates Forms Guides

You Aren’t an Assistant

One reason I think administrative expertise has for so long or so often not been given the same kind of respect as other expertise is that it is/was always paired with being an assistant, which is automatically/inherently subjugating.

You don’t have to be an assistant to be an administrative expert. Beware of Virtual Assistant “gurus” (many of whom weren’t successful in their own businesses or who haven’t run their own practice in decades–or worse, ever!) and training programs that are simply training people to be glorified assistants who only call themselves business owners. That’s not a new paradigm; it’s just another name for the same old thing.

I see so many Virtual Assistants struggling because of the very fact that they’ve been taught to be “assistants.” Which is exactly what limits their earning potential and creates practices that enslave them. It’s why we see many of them turning into virtual staffing/multi-VA businesses or starting their own training programs or professional organizations instead of supporting and collectively strengthening the established ones already in existence for the betterment of the profession. They think that’s the only way they can begin to earn better and not be buried in the work. But it’s a lie.

If you are running a business, you are not anyone’s assistant. The term “assistant” itself causes all kinds of problems, misaligned expectations and confusion about the nature of the business relationship, which forces you to do double-time in educating clients. Our lives could all be a lot easier without it. It’s why I’ve moved on to the term Administrative Consultant/Administrative Support Consultant.

Being an administrative expert and being an assistant are not one and the same thing. Pick one. Or do both if you choose. But know this–you absolutely do not need to be an assistant in order to deliver value and expertise and have very personal, collaborative relationships with clients. I know I certainly didn’t go into business for myself to continue to be anyone’s assistant, but instead to provide my administrative skills and talents to help people and practice the craft and expertise of administrative support.

Virtual Assistant Business Contracts Templates Forms Guides

Virtual Assistant Business Contracts Templates Forms Guides

Get a Jump on Your Fall Cleaning

Here’s an article published this week in The Portable Business™, which you can subscribe to here.

I’m not much of a spring cleaner… I’m more of a fall cleaner. To me, it’s the perfect time to start gearing up for the coming new year. One of the ways I prepare is by purging, regrouping and organizing. Below are a few activities you might to consider doing as well.

1. Organizing Emails. I’m an Outlook user. Personally, I like using folders to store and organize emails. The search feature fails to find mail I’m looking far too often to be a reliable method. So what I do is create folders under the “Deleted Items” section rather than in my “In” box area. I don’t keep a lot of folders. The only emails I am a packrat about are those to and from clients. I give each client a folder and under each client, I create subfolders for each month.

2. Deleting or Archiving Old Emails. Around the end of the year, I go through my list of folders and archive those of clients with whom I am no longer working. I keep six months of current client folders and archive the rest.

3. Taking Stock of Your Online Documents. This is also a great time of year to do a quick run-through of your document files and folders and see where you can reorganize, consolidate and purge.

4. Cleaning Out the Supply Closet. Okay, I’m sort of an organizing freak so this is something I enjoy doing periodically. Supply areas are places where we tend to put “stuff” and forget about. Again, this is a great time of year to clean out the old, give away extra or old equipment to someone who can use it, and make room for the new year with a clean slate.

5. Streamlining Hardcopy Files. There’s a lot of paper that I put into PDF and store online. I’ve also gone entirely electronic billing and online bill pay. However, paper is still a fact of life. There are just some things that are easier to read when they are printed out. And scanning printed materials to turn them into PDFs does create an extra job that you might not have time for. So for the paper that I do keep, I have five different hanging folder filing sections:

Green – client files
Blue – tax, licensing and financial files
Red – accounts payable
Yellow – employee and contractor/subcontractor files
Clear – subject files

For those folders that deal with date ranges, this is a good time to add a new folder for the coming year. For example, say you have a file for bank statements and you keep these in a folder marked with the current year. Now is the time to create new folders for the coming year and stick them in the file. Then at the end of the year, when you are pulling out old files (such as old clients you no longer work with, for example), you can also pull out all your 2010 folders for storage and you’ll already have the new 2011 folders ready to go.

Virtual Assistant Business Contracts Templates Forms Guides

Virtual Assistant Business Contracts Templates Forms Guides

Another Idiotic Post About Virtual Assistants

Saw another idiotic post about Virtual Assistants come through on my Google Alerts. Articles like these are responsible for miseducating the marketplace into thinking Virtual Assistants are some kind of substitute employee–which they are not.

It’s also why we have so many new VAs coming into this profession thinking they are substitute employees filling a position. Just about every freaking article they read anymore talks about Virtual Assistants as if they were still working for bosses. They use terms like job, position, interview, resume, manage, train…

These people are such morons. Once and for all–Virtual Assistance is NOT a job. It’s not a “position” on your “team.” It’s a business. And it’s not any client’s place to be providing job descriptions. If that’s what they’re doing, then that person is an employee–a telecommuter–not a Virtual Assistant. Virtual Assistants are service providers who run their own businesses and specialize in administrative support. They tell clients how they can help them and what they can and will do for them (as well as what they can’t or won’t), not the other way around.

And Virtual Assistants and clients had both better get it straight because the IRS will get to you sooner or later if you don’t. (I’ve known about this coming and have been telling people so since 2005.) Getting people to work for you from home is not a license to misclassify employees and be tax cheats. Virtual Assistants: run your business like a business.

And by the way, contractor, subcontractor, independent contractor… those are all terms that mean the same thing–business owner. There is absolutely NO third classification where an employer gets to hire someone to work like an employee but not report them as such nor pay taxes on them. NO SUCH THING whatsoever. Someone is either an employee or they are a business owner, regardless of the term they use (e.g. freelancers, independent contractor, subcontractor). And any business that farms out workers, virtual or otherwise, is called a temp agency or staffing agency and those workers they loan out to people are employees.

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