Get Started With the Basics – The Ground Work

Imagine Your VA Practice

Grab a piece of paper and jot down a few items that come to mind. Or better yet, since you are going to be a VA, jot your ideas using your word processor.

 

Imagine how you want your VA practice to look.

Imagine how your office will look.

Imagine what kind of equipment you will have.

Imagine who you will be partnering with.

Will you want a few clients working many hours or many clients working for each only a few hours; or a mix, or does it matter?

This is important. If we work with only a few people for many hours, it can become routine. Are you the type of person who likes routine? Do you need direction for every task? On the other hand working with a few clients can give you the advantage of really knowing your client and understanding their business. This leaves you exposed to a client who you may have been working with for several hours a month emailing you one day and telling you he or she needs to cut the hours. You then need to find another client to make up those hours. You can also work on a Team of VAs doing only your specialty.

If you choose to work with many people only a few hours each, you need to be extremely flexible in regard to tasks, people, your clients’ clients and so on.

Working a few hours for many clients leaves you open to limiting the amount of work you can do for a client and the flexibility of doing those tasks. This type of arrangement often turns into project work. An arrangement such as this is not conducive to grasping the client’s total business and helping with their total business goals.

Will your clients all come from the same niche? Or will they come from different backgrounds? This too can be important. If you choose to work only for coaches, the things you learn and do for one can easily be applied to the other coaches making your time efficient for all of your clients. The tasks will be very similar. If you choose to work for people with different backgrounds, it makes tasks interesting, however, again, you need to be extremely flexible and you need to keep abreast of a wide variety of technology.

What types of backgrounds do you think you can attract, why? What is your expertise?

Do you love new challenges, or are you more comfortable with routine?

How many hours per week would you like to be working? Don’t forget, you may want a 40-hour week, but you must still maintain your business. That’s bookkeeping, marketing yourself, emails, keeping up on the latest technology etc. And that’s on your time. Remember, as an employee you get paid for breaks, talking with others and making phone calls. Not so when you are a Virtual Assistant. You “‘punch-in” when you start working on a client’s project and you “‘punch-out” when you finish. And it is not fair or ethical to your client to be taking a coffee break on their time.

Take a look at your personal life…are you ready for the many hours of working alone?

Ask yourself: why would VAing be good for me?

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Understand Yourself – What Motivates YOU?

To help you know if you will be able to work in a home office, managing yourself, make a list of the times when you have been most productive, energized and content with your work?

Were you on a project with a team or working on an independent project?

Now make a list of the times when you have been least satisfied, miserable, unhappy and hated to do the work.

If your list includes many times when you are alone or not working with other people, you should review the assessment to see if being a virtual assistant is for you.

 

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What Skills & Equipment Are Required to be a VA?

Before considering entering the VA field, it is important to know that you must have fairly good computer skills, and an expertise that will benefit a business virtually. Computer skills would include the following:

 

  • Understanding the Internet and how to find and extract information

 

  • Understanding the use of email and how to use it effectively

 

  • Knowing a word processing program such as Word. We strongly suggest that you are extremely comfortable using Microsoft Office products

 

  • Being competent in what you do

 

  • Being professional

 

If you have skills in accounting, database, web site development, graphic design, real estate, finance, organizing, etc., you may need additional software and skills related to your niche.

 

What Equipment Will You Need to Get Started

 

  • Computer and a high speed Internet connection – Cable, DSL, and a reliable backup system
  • Printer, preferably a high resolution laser jet or desk jet
  • Fax
  • Dedicated telephone lines for the business
  • Depending on the requirements of your clients, you may need a copier, or easy access to a copier, scanner, a binding system and mailing equipment
  • Your space should be organized, light, and quiet. You should have a comfortable chair and a comfortable environment. Whether your space is small or large, create an environment that is pleasing for you to be in each day.

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Value? Billing? Money? How Much Do You Need?

Determine Your Billing Practice

The compensation that you seek will be a function of your education, experience and what the client expects of you. Secretarial work and word processing most likely will receive less pay than accounting, web designing, computer software and hardware consulting or doing Internet research. You will set your fee according to your abilities. However, it is common practice to charge one common rate for all tasks. In other words, if you are doing accounting work and word processing work for one client, you would charge the set rate agreed upon between you and your client. This should be made clear with your client at the beginning of your business partnership.

A total VA practice includes a wide variety of projects and tasks; some requiring little technical ability, for instance, doing mailings, and some that require high degree of knowledge about your client’s company and the Internet, such as research and working on specialized software programs.

A negotiated fee must be agreed upon up front between you and your client. You determine the method for billing and payment. It is common practice to bill on an hourly basis. It is important to emphasize to your client the date you intend to (e)mail your invoice and the date the invoice is due. Billing by e-mail is the preferred method unless your client requests and you agree to another method such as regular mail.

When determining your hourly rate, keep in mind that you are running and maintaining an independent business that will include paying for equipment, taxes, rental, supplies, insurance, utilities and miscellaneous items.

It is very important to use a time tracking software such as TraxTime (http://www.spudcity.com) to assure accuracy in billing your client for hourly work performed. Your client is paying you for the time you spend on his/her projects, not for breaks, not to answer the phone and not to maintain your equipment.

You will want to keep detailed records about direct expenses for specific clients. Some examples will be:

  •   Postage
  •   Copies
  •   Special paper supplies
  •   Binders, folders, etc.
  •   Telephone: long distance calls made on behalf of your client
  •   Special purchases for a client such as software that is requested by the client
  •   Press Release costs
  •   Subscription costs

When purchasing services and products for your client, you can either ask your client for their credit card number or purchase it yourself and bill them as an expense at your billing cycle time. I recommend that you use your client’s credit card information for any subscription accounts you set up on their behalf. An example would be Aweber.com for newsletters or 1shoppingcart.com for their shopping cart. You don’t want to be caught paying the bill in the event your client misses payment to you.

 

It is not normal practice to detail these charges to your client; only to bill as expenses. This is a trust relationship. You need to be honest with your client and your client needs to trust you. However, you should always keep records of client expenses and be prepared to provide them upon request or questioning.


What is Your Value?

 

Charge What You are Worth: It is not uncommon for VAs to undersell their services. Let’s face it, it can be scary to ask people to pay you for a new service that you provide, especially because you have not built up the confidence within that you ARE a VA and you are the best at what you do. Always keep in mind that you are a professional at what you do.

 

For most VAs in the start-up phase of business it can be a challenge to make the announcement to the world that ‘I am a VA’, I love it and ‘I am asking you to pay me well for it.’ Yet, this is exactly what you will need to do, right from the start!

 

Keep in mind that as a business owner who is in the stages of building a sustainable practice and business entity, you will have many expenses to handle and taxes to pay beyond what you will want to be earning for yourself. If you undersell yourself and your services, you won’t be in business long enough to help other people.

 

It is easy to think that by setting your price lower, it will take less time to attract clients. I assure you, this is not the case. Setting your price too low is a process that will slow you down and take you longer to recover. The bottom line is that people will value you and your service when you charge what you are worth. You will always have a learning curve of some kind when you are VAing. Start charging now.

 

There is a great section on this subject in the companion book, “How to Find and Work with a Virtual Assistant” at www.yourvirtualresource.com


$$ How Much Do You Need $$

What do you need to maintain your current life style?

What will it take to improve your lifestyle?

Fixed Monthly Expenses                                                          NEED                WANT

  • Rent/Mortgage Expense
  • Utilities (Gas, Electric, Water)
  • Telephone
  • Insurance (Medical, Life, Home, Auto)
  • Loan Payments
  • Credit Card Payments
  • Cellular Phone Bill
  • Internet Provider
  • Other
  • Other

Fixed Monthly Total

Variable Fixed Expenses                                                          

  • Transportation
  • Food
  • Clothing
  • Personal/Household Items
  • Entertainment Expenses/Recreation
  • Travel/Vacations
  • Education
  • Professional Memberships/dues/meetings
  •  Savings/Investments
  • Medical/Dental Care
  • Taxes
  • Charitable Donations
  • Gifts
  • Other
  • Other

Variable Monthly Total                                                                                                                                                                       _________________

WHAT YOU NEED TO EARN? (Fixed + Variable)                                                       $____________ $___________


Prepare a Business Plan

 

Writing the Plan 

What goes in a business plan? The body can be divided into four distinct sections: (Courtesy of United States Small Business Administration Web Site – partially listed)

 

1) Description of the business

2) Marketing

3) Finances

4) Management

 

Addenda should include an executive summary, supporting documents, and financial projections. The business plan is necessary for you to understand your goals and to refer to as you develop your virtual assistant practice.

 

Although there is no single formula for developing a business plan, some elements are common to all business. They are summarized in the following outline:

 

Elements of a Business Plan

1. Cover sheet

2. Statement of purpose

3. Table of contents

                I. The Business

               A. Description of business

               B. Marketing

               C. Competition

               F. Business insurance

               II. Financial Data

               A. Loan applications

               B. Capital equipment and supply list

               C. Balance sheet

               D. Breakeven analysis

               E. Pro-forma income projections (profit & loss statements)

Three-year summary
Detail by month, first year
Detail by quarters, second and third years
Assumptions upon which projections were based

               F. Pro-forma cash flow

          III. Supporting Documents

Copy of licenses and other legal documents

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Get Down to the Real Work – Plan Your Practice

Get out your worksheet and start putting it together:

Choose a business name.

List some ideas.

Determine a focus for your VA business.

Will you want to type manuscripts for writers, do bookkeeping, edit or create web sites? Write a list of all possible VA focuses.

List those ideas:

Create a web site about yourself and your services.

For a very low cost you can have a web site up and running for less than $20. ProSiteSetup is a complete domain and hosting service that I use for all of my websites and blogs. http://www.prositesetup.com. This is a great way to start with a web site, a good reference for you to add to your brochures, business cards and other marketing materials. If you are unfamiliar with creating your own web site, try their WebSite Tonight service.

Use professional looking stationery and envelopes for communication.

Create a professional signature to use with all of your email messages. Include a tag line.

List possible tag lines:

Create a business card.

Create a brochure outlining your expertise.

Join a local networking or a special interest group.

Newspapers often list news and meeting announcements for these organizations. Call to see if you can be a guest at a group meeting.

Start a list of possible client leads.

 

  • Look at your emails, check your Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn accounts – don’t have them, get started.
  • Follow up with a letter, email or phoning just to touch base.
  •  Ask current business associates and friends for referrals.
  • Set up lunch and coffee appointments to introduce yourself as a VA and to explain the VA concept. Think about the number of people who haven’t a clue they need a VA because they don’t know what a VA can do!
  • Do some research to find organizations locally that welcome new business introductions; send an introduction letter and a brochure.
  • Research and Subscribe to Virtual Assistant Groups and newsletters.

 

List The Skills That Make You Unique

TIP:  Having this list at hand during interviews and for your reference will help you remember to talk about what you have to offer.

Knowledge based skills: (examples: computer skills, software skills, corporate background, finance skills, marketing skills, management, writing, publication skills, social media skills etc.)

Skills that will work in different client niches: (examples: writing, customer service, coaching, researching, communication, sales etc.)

Personal traits – qualities that make you who you are. (examples: dependability, organized, quick learner, flexible, reliable, high energy, etc.)

We’ll be using these to create your “elevator speech” that quick 2-minute blurb that quickly describes what you, as a VA, can do for your clients.

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Why Entrepreneurs Want VAs & Who Do You Want For Your Clients?

Clients want VA services to affect an end result. People buy benefits, not features. Bottom line, they buy:

  •  More time for themselves
  •  Solutions to their problems
  •  Freedom to move forward in their work
  •  Credibility
  •  Value, not price
  •  Convenience
  •  Improve their bottom line (money)

Find the area where you can help and show them how you are able to help.

Ask them questions about how they are spending their time, what they are doing that they wish someone else would handle. Let them talk and you ask more questions. Allow them to talk and they will talk themselves right into understanding that a VA partnership with you is just what they were looking for! It really is a simple concept. It takes some practice, but with more practice but the job gets easier and then it becomes fun.

 

Who Do You Want Your Clients to Be?

Your clients’ needs must reflect your background and your experience. You have a unique set of skills to bring to the market. These skills and experiences are what are attractive to certain clients. With this in mind you must focus on bringing clients to your practice that require your area of expertise.

Take a few moments to identify and list good client matches that suit your skills and experience. Use the following worksheet to work up a client match that is suited for your skills. These will be your preferred clients.

Your Skills

Prospective Clients

Database expert

  Contact database requirements, such as ACT! (Sales & marketing professionals, coaches)

Spreadsheet expertise

  Engineers, accountants, financial consultants, coaches

Word processing

  Writers, editors, sales professionals, training consultants, coaches

Accounting

  Small business owners, financial professionals

Web Design

  Small businesses, entrepreneurs, coaches

Graphics Design

  Web designers, small businesses

Marketing

  Personal coaches, web site owners, sales professionals

Internet Research

  Corporate clients, writers, marketing professionals, coaches

Hardware/Software expert

  Small business owners, entrepreneurs

Writing/Publishing

  Personal and professional coaches, small businesses

Social Media

  Personal and professional coaches, small businesses

PowerPoint Presentations

  Personal and professional coaches

Keep in mind: 

  •  The specific type of work you want to do. Do what you find fun.
  • Your soft skills, including your personality, work methods, your ability to focus and your organization skills
  •   Clients profession and title
  • Geographic area should not be a consideration, however, many potential clients feel more comfortable when their VA is in the same proximity of the client’s location.
  • There are advantages and disadvantages to working with International clients. Of course there is a major time difference. Having said that, that can be an advantage for the client, giving him or her 1) a presence in the market where you are and 2) appearing to be a 24/7 company.

Make a list of your preferred clients on your worksheet

 Now you have the basis for who you should focus on as your preferred client. Put the concept of who your client is into a paragraph.

 

Example:

 

My preferred client is a high level sales consultant for the software industry. These consultants work a regional area typically in remote locations from the parent company.

 

Now, identify how you would market to this client. Questions to consider:

 

  •  What are the obvious time consuming projects in these types of businesses?
  •  What expertise do you have that they need?
  • What are the best ways to tell them about your services? Keep in mind these should be easy and inexpensive.
  • What image will make them want to do business with you?
  • Write in one paragraph the answers to these questions regarding your preferred client.

Example:

The greatest problem my preferred client faces is the availability of qualified support and the time needed to support his/her current clients, handling sales calls, follow up calls, responding to email and other office administration tasks. My preferred client does not want to hire and manage employees or purchase office equipment. I will be able to reach these people through networking with business contacts and referrals. I must be professional, innovative and flexible to work with this client.

 Write your paragraph on your worksheet

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