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Monthly ArchiveJune 2010



Finances &Virtual Assistant Sydni Craig-Hart on 23 Jun 2010

Stand Your Ground on Your Fees – Don’t Negotiate

Everybody likes a good deal and to save money.  Perhaps you clip coupons to use at the grocery store.  Or maybe you go out to eat on family nights when kids eat free.  You may look for “out of the box” or gently used items to get that new electronic gadget you want.

But one thing you should remember as a Virtual Assistant and a business owner is that your fees are not negotiable.

Despite the fact that the economy has changed, that isn’t a reason to reduce your rates.  Likely, you have continued to invest time and money into improving your skills and building your expertise that will allow you to provide more value to your clients.  Your clients need to understand that by choosing to work with you, they are working with the BEST of the BEST, and that your rates are simply a reflection of that.

Admittedly, dealing with the question, “Can you lower your rates?” can be challenging.  While you might feel like you want to reduce your rates, you should stand your ground.  It doesn’t have to be as difficult as you think it might be.

Here are some tips to handling the conversation if a prospect tries to negotiate your fees:

  1. Be confident! – You should firmly believe in your rates and your expertise.  If you don’t, your clients won’t either.  Nothing is more professional than someone who is self-assured and confident in their abilities and their value.
  2. Have a standard response – Knowing what to say in this situation before it happens will help prepare yourself for the conversation.  Don’t let yourself be caught off guard.
  3. Don’t grovel or waiver from your response – If a potential client reacts negatively or asks you again, don’t cave.  Stand firm with your rates and your decision.  If they can’t afford your rates or don’t want to pay them, then they are clearly not your ideal client and won’t ever fully respect your working relationship.

Here’s an example of what I have said to people who have tried to negotiate my fees, “No, my rates are not negotiable.  They are a reflection of my skills and experience.  So if you would like to benefit from the services I provide, that that is the fee structure I have in place.”

That’s it – don’t say another word.

There will be a kind of uncomfortable silence (perhaps uncomfortable for the prospect, NOT you) that will force the person either to say yes or no.  If they say yes, then they understand the value you can provide their business.  If they say no, then they are not the client for you and let them go.  Again, don’t grovel or waiver and don’t be uncomfortable.  Don’t underestimate your value for anyone.

When you are meeting with a potential client, it’s not just about them interviewing you — you are interviewing them to see if they deserve a place in your practice.  Remember, taking on a new client is starting a new relationship.  So you want that relationship to start off in the best way possible and with mutual respect.  NOT with the client trying to de-value what you offer from day one.

What has your experience been with clients who have tried to negotiate your rates?  Did you lower your rates for them?  What was your experience like with this client? Post your challenges here so we can learn from each other!

Mindset &Organization &Time Management &Virtual Assistant Sydni Craig-Hart on 21 Jun 2010

Create a Work Schedule That Gives You Time to Play

Starting your own home based Virtual Assistant business is a decision that involves a lot of thought and preparation. One of the biggest “perks” that comes with working for yourself and from home is having a flexible schedule.   However, that flexibility can become a liability if you don’t manage it well.

One common pitfall I see VA’s struggling with is the tendency to “multi-task“.  While you may think you can get more done, multi-tasking can truly be a detriment to your business and personal life.  It’s so easy to think you can do a load of laundry while you’re working on a website, and then take a break to fold the laundry and come back to the website when you’re done. While this may seem harmless, it actually is making you less efficient in your work as a Virtual Assistant and your housework (or whatever the other activity may be).  As a Virtual Assistant, it is important to create a work schedule for your clients’ benefit…and yours.

A key to creating a work schedule and maximizing your time is called “batching”. Batching refers to setting aside a specific block of time to handle similar tasks.  So, say for example you have 3 clients and all of them need you to do some phone work.  You might be making phone calls to clients, checking on insurance rates or whatever.  The important thing here though is to do all the phone calls at once.  By blocking out 2 hours in your day to do all the phone calls, you are focusing on just being on the phone and completing the project.  Even though you will need to track the time spent on the phone for each client so you can allocate the time appropriately, you are still being more efficient by doing all the phone calls at one time. If you were to make a phone call here and there throughout the week, the project would take much longer.

By batching your tasks, you become much more efficient which can free up time for you later in the day to do other client work, or take (some well-deserved) time off.  This technique works with virtually all tasks that you do:  bookkeeping, reading emails, transcribing files, client projects, etc.  You can even batch clients individually, rather than by task.  What this means is that maybe you designate each day of the week to a particular client and do everything in that day for them.  You’ll have to test this method out to see if it works out for you (and the client), but it can be a really effective way of getting projects done.

Another important thing to remember to schedule in your day is breaks. We all need a mental break throughout the day to ensure we’re on top of our game.  So maybe you find that you can work for a solid 2 hours before your mind starts to wander.  Then make sure you schedule your day in 2 hour batches with a 15 minute break to get something to drink, take a brief walk or just rest your brain.

By taking the time to outline your schedule and establish how you’ll get work done, you are setting yourself up for business and personal success.  You’ll have a clear “start” and “end” time for your business and family time.  This gives you the ability to make the time for doing housework (YUCK!) and of course enjoying your family time each day.  By focusing on one project at a time, you are also giving your full attention to the task at hand.  This is very important to completing clients’ projects, but also to your family who notices when you’re “distracted” by work.

What type of work schedules do you use?  How do you batch your day?  Please share your techniques with us so we can learn from each other and hopefully help someone improve their work and life balance!

Marketing &Virtual Assistant Sydni Craig-Hart on 15 Jun 2010

Showcase Your Expertise: Solve Problems On Your Blog

One of the best ways to showcase your expertise as a Virtual Assistant is to create and maintain a blog. As a VA, you want to show potential clients you hold the key to the solutions they’re looking for.

Now admittedly, one of the first concerns you may have about writing a blog is figuring out what you will write about. One way to create highly useful, relevant content is to answer questions or solve problems in your posts. Prospective clients (and even current clients) come to you for assistance because they are struggling with particular problems. So use those situations as your inspiration! If a client doesn’t mind, you can even use them as an example (with a link back to their website, of course) so that you can demonstrate your expertise and how you add value to their business and their life.

For example, let’s say one of your clients’ websites was hacked and they “lost” their website. This is a scary thing for business owners but that’s why they’ve hired you as the expert, right? So, in your blog post, you can detail how this “problem” was minimized because you create weekly backups. Your blog post can then detail 3 or 5 tips on how and why to run weekly backups and maybe even provide some solutions on what to do if they did not backup their site and how they can fix it.

As you see in this example, you offered a specific solution to a specific problem. Not only did you solve it for your existing client, but you also provided resources for other people to solve the problem on their own, or better yet, gave them concrete examples on why they should hire you to solve the problem for them.

There are 3 main goals of your blog:

1. Maintaining it as a marketing tool to attract prospective clients
2. Showcase your expertise and build your credibility
3. Encourage participation through comments and suggestion to build your community

By using examples from your own experiences, you can provide countless solutions to problems that you are already solving. All you are doing now is taking the time to document the problem, the solution and recommendations for avoiding the problem for someone else. Using this as a method to keep your blog posts fresh will help you avoid the “what do I blog about” mind block.

What other ideas do you have for keeping your blog posts fresh and up to date? I’d love to hear your ideas – please post them below so we can talk about them!

Marketing &Networking &Virtual Assistant Sydni Craig-Hart on 15 Jun 2010

Keep Your Client Pipeline Full With Public Speaking

Public speaking is one of the most effective ways to attract more clients to your Virtual Assistant business. Even if you’re not comfortable talking in front of a crowd – right now – there’s a good reason you should start. Why? Because it’s the fastest way to automatically establish yourself as an expert in your field.

Think about it.  When looking to hire a service provider, don’t you typically want to work with the BEST person for the job?  Would you really consider hiring someone who offers substandard services? Of course not! So neither would your prospective clients.

By speaking in public, you automatically put yourself in the driver’s seat. Whether your presentation is 5 minutes long or 30 minutes long, the room is focused on you.  Everyone is listening what you have to say and if you deliver great content, they are writing down everything you say and making a list of questions.  That list of questions is a good thing because they are trying to envision themselves working with you.

Also, public speaking adds credibility to the virtual assistance industry as a whole. There are still so many people who are unclear about VA’s, what they do and how a VA can help them grow their business. By delivering a content rich speech on what a Virtual Assistant is and how you can help business owners increase their business and reduce their stress, you elevate your expertise as well as that of the entire VA industry. Continue Reading »

Mindset &Networking &Resources Sydni Craig-Hart on 08 Jun 2010

Develop a Client Attractive Attitude For Networking

Networking is a great way to meet people and build your business.  While it may be easy for some people to just strike up a conversation and make all the right connections, it actually takes work to network.  But the more successful you are at networking, the more successful you will be in your business.

One of the biggest indicators of your success as a networker is your attitude.  Believe it or not, you demeanor says a lot about you before you even open your mouth.   For example, think about the last time you went to the mall and sat on one of the benches to rest your feet and drink some water.  What did you do?  Well, if you’re like most of us, you watch people.

You know, you looked at all the people walking by you and thought about who they were and what they were doing and thinking…all in the blink of an eye.  Admit it, you summed them up based on the way they carried themselves.

People make those same assumptions about you.

So, to ensure that you are networking for success, take these steps to make sure you are projecting the right attitude:

  1. Smile.  It might be a cliché but a smile is worth a thousand words.  People will be instantly drawn to you or repelled by you based on your smile.  Make sure it’s sincere and inviting.  Don’t know what that looks like?  Picture yourself at your happiest:  think of your kids, your favorite vacation spot, etc.  That’s the happy look you want.
  2. Stand up straight.  Now, I know this all sounds like your mother talking to you, but the rule still hold true.  Standing up straight and being confident makes other people want to meet you and get to know you.  Nothing is more attractive than self-confidence.
  3. Genuinely listen to others.  Make sure you focus on the other person, their story and their background.  Building a relationship with them first is the best way to build a connection for life.  There’s a reason for the saying, “Your net worth is directly proportional to your network.”  Make sure you are making lifelong connections.

Taking a few moments to get an attitude adjustment can make all the difference in your networking.  By making these few changes, you will find yourself looking forward to getting out there and meeting other people.   Networking is supposed to be fun and exciting, not boring and a waste of time.

One last way to ensure you are getting the most out of any networking event is to make sure you only attend the networking events that make sense for you and your business.  For example, if your ideal client is real estate agents, make sure you attend a networking event where you know real estate agents will be attending.  Don’t just go to the next Chamber of Commerce meeting because you “might” find a potential client.  In the long run, this will be futile and tarnish your perception about networking.

Remember networking is about building relationships and making connections.  Make sure you project the right vibes so people will want to connect with you.  And make sure you’re in the right place at the right time to make those connections.

Finances &Resources Sydni Craig-Hart on 03 Jun 2010

Get The Software You Need Without Breaking The Bank

One of the expenses you have to account for each year is software purchases and upgrades.  While you don’t necessarily have to have the latest and greatest version, it can be beneficial to take advantage of new features that are released. And when you do find it necessary to upgrade your software, it’s nice to know how to get a discount.

Here are some quick tips to check out to see if you can get a discount on software:

  1. Employee Purchase Programs – If you or your spouse work in a corporate environment, check to see if the company offers an employee purchase program.  Many companies are large users of software like Microsoft Office, so the company can extend their discount to their employees.  This type of program allows you to purchase some of the most popular Microsoft titles at a significant discount.  In some cases, as low as $20.
  2. Student Discount Programs – If you are in college, or have a child of school age, you can be eligible for some student discount programs.  For example, Adobe has several student versions of their software available for up to 80% off – all you have to do is show proof of student enrollment.  These software titles are available online or for purchase on college campuses.
  3. Purchasing older versions – When a new version of software is released, the company usually tries to clear out their existing inventory to make room for the new versions.  If you are on the company’s mailing list, you’ll probably receive advance notice or even special “pre-release” prices.  This is your sign to start looking for the deals.  If there’s really  something you want, it might be worth your time to check every day – sometimes the popular titles go fast!

If you need to purchase software, make sure you do your research to find out if you qualify for any discounts.  While it may take a you a little time to do the research, or even some extra steps to “prove” you qualify, the savings can be well worth it.

Just a special note about purchasing software:  I highly recommend that you purchase your business software directly from the manufacturer or approved reseller.  If you ever have a problem with the software, you know that you’ll be covered and can get a replacement if necessary.  When you buy a copy from a friend, or eBay, or wherever, there are no guarantees, no support and little chance you can claim that purchase on your tax return.

This is not a purchase you can afford to “go cheap” on.  If for any reason, the software is not usable, you can’t work.  Which means you aren’t earning money.  How can that be good for business?