Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Top tips for setting up a Virtual Assistant business

Whilst I was sat, thinking about what the next blog post should be, I received an email. It came from a former colleague of mine who now lives in America (nice for some!) with his fiancée.

His fiancée was looking at the next step in her career and considering whether setting up as a Virtual Assistant was a good option for her and her skill set. She essentially wanted to 'pick my brains' for some advice or tips.

This got me thinking about a new blog post. It isn't the first time i've been asked about setting up on my own and it is also something I did when I was doing my own research. So I sat with my notepad and pen and decided to write my 'Top Tips for starting out as a Virtual Assistant'

1/ Do your research - Seemed an obvious one to start with given the nature of the blog! As with any business plan or idea it is vital you do good, intensive research into your business model to see whether it is viable and sustainable. After all, we're talking about your future here.

  • Ask an expert - I found a local established VA (Helen Francks http://www.hfva.co.uk/) and dropped her an email asking if she wouldn't mind having a chat about it. She could not have been more helpful. There is more than enough business for everyone out there so don't think of other VA's a competition. Think of them as colleagues.  Many times i've had referrals from other VA's when they have been busy and vice versa . Not every VA has the same services either so, if I get an enquiry for a service I don't offer but I know a VA who does i'll always pass on the details
  • Understand your industry - I spent a lot of time on forums, asking questions and checking other Virtual Assistant websites. I wanted to know how everything worked, how others did things and what charges were the norm across the industry. The website for the 'Society of Virtual Assistants' (http://www.societyofvirtualassistants.co.uk/) is the best resource out there. Not only can you ask questions to hugely experienced Virtual Assistants on the forum the website is crammed with knowledge, tips, blog posts and ideas to help get you started
2/ What are you good at? - A Virtual Assistant can offer services in most areas of a business. You need to definitively set out what services you plan to offer right from the start and be confident in them
  • Jack of all trades, master of none - Be very careful not to offer too many services. You need to choose services you really excel and specialise in. Just because, at some time in your past you have worked on a particular project that included sales calls for example, does not mean you need to put Sales Generation as one of your skills. Know your strengths and use them. 
  • Let people know - Make sure it is obvious on your website and in your marketing what services you offer. Many people searching for a VA think they mainly offer admin or PA services and are pleasantly surprised to find out you can also support their Marketing for example. Make it obvious from the start
3/ Get your branding right - This is your one chance to create a lasting impression. There is no point in setting up a quick fix website with a rubbish brand just to 'get you started'. Remember, you never get a second chance to make a first impression
  • Make an investment - Your website is SO important. Don't go for an 'off the shelf' static, generic website, you need one which has the ability to show off your business and something which can change and grow with the business as you grow. Make sure it is SEO friendly..you need people to be able to find you. This is your chance to really show off your business and the website is your shop window so spend some time and money on it and think of each visitor as someone who needs to go on a journey. Can they do that on your website? Oh, and lose the jargon...just use real words.
  • Work with an expert - I did not know what I wanted as a brand to begin with and I really needed some help. I worked with a terrific designer (http://johnpears.co.uk/about/) who came up with a choice of designs and really helped me to define my brand. It took a long time to get my brand and website how I wanted it but I think it is worth the time to get it right. It's too important to get wrong
4/ Define your market - You really need to understand who your customer is before you start. Do you even have a market out there to sell to? Unless you can answer these questions there is little point even setting up

  • Who would use you? Seems obvious?! Take a look at why people use Virtual Assistants and for what reasons then make a list of who those businesses are. All you need to do then is get in front of them.
5/ Marketing - Have you got a plan? It's fine having a business and having the skills but you are now responsible for putting that business in front of your market.
  • Social Media - Social Media is free (except for your time of course) and a terrific way of putting your business in front of a huge audience. Get yourself out there. Understand who you want to talk to and have a strategy. You can put your message out there but there is no need to spam people. Start conversations and relationships and offer referalls. As with everything if you are helping others they will help you and if you are honest and available you will soon build a reputation as someone others want to deal with
  • Networking - There is nothing better than putting a face to a name and getting to know other businesses in your area. Networking events are set up to promote businesses. Go along, meet new people, arm yourself with business cards and start to build your network. Referalls are the name of the game but, as with the online world, you need to build a reputation as someone people want to work with
  • Testimonials - Ask everyone you've ever worked with if they would mind giving you a testimonial or recommendation. DO NOT make anything up! The first thing many people do on Amazon before buying a product is read the review and it is exactly the same when people are researching a company to work with. If you have a long list of satisfied customers people are more likely to trust you can provide a service
6/ Use your contacts - In the business world you will have worked you will, undoubtedly, have worked with a huge amount of businesses. Why not use them? 
  • Contact...but do not spam - There is absolutely nothing wrong with contacting people you have worked with to let them know about your new business. A friendly email explaining what you're doing and where you're going is fine for most, it will depend on each relationship as to how much further you might go with these conversations. Just be conscious of professional ethics. Never tread on the toes of your former employer for example
7/ Set Realistic Targets - You need to know you wont be making a fortune (unless you're very lucky!) in month one. Or month four most probably. Set yourself achievable and realistic business goals. This will help keep you grounded and focused.

8/ Going forward...Set out your stall - I was adamant I wanted a business guarantee on my website. I wanted to set out our stall from the off so people knew we were a business we could trust
  • Deliver when you say you will - If a job will take three weeks, let the client know. As long as both parties have agreed to a timescale then both parties are  happy but let a client know IMMEDIATELY if someone happens to derail this plan. Most people are perfectly fine as long as they have been communicated with and not left hanging
  • Don't take anything on if you're not comfortable - There is a temptation to take a contract in an area which is not quite in your skillset but you 'might' be able to deliver it. Just don't bother. It will stress you out and there is always the chance you wont deliver and that will really affect your reputation
  • Don't take on too much - Pound signs can sometimes see us all get a bit greedy and think about taking on more contracts than we can handle. It will affect the level and quality of your work. I'd far rather deliver 3 contracts to a high standard than 6 to an 'okay' standard. Always think about your reputation