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Monthly ArchiveApril 2011

Business Management &Marketing &Mindset &Organization &Time Management Sydni Craig-Hart on 29 Apr 2011

Are You Making these 3 Common Mistakes?

Virtual Assistants tend to be really good at creating lists. We create to-do lists for ourselves, our clients, our families, the housekeeper, etc. These lists are created as a method for getting things done. But, how often do you go back and review your lists to see if “what” you’re doing is yielding the right results? In other words, is how you’re spending your time supporting or detracting from the life and business you want to create?

If perhaps you aren’t making the money you want to make, or you’re working with clients who drain your energy, or you find yourself working far more hours than you’d like, it’s time to step back, take an honest, objective look at your VA practice and decide what adjustments need to be made. Just as you would create an action plan for your clients, you need to create one for yourself. The first step is to answer this question, “Are you making these 3 common mistakes?”

1. Is my own mindset getting in my way? Have you ever gotten frustrated with how things are going in your business and thought, “I’ll never work with high-quality clients who happily pay my fees,” or “I guess I’m destined to discounting my fees if I want to stay in business?” If you answered yes, then that’s exactly what you’ll get. This element of the Law of Attraction is simple and it applies to EVERYTHING you do. Whatever you tell yourself is ABSOLUTELY true. If you put out negative energy that is what you’ll get in return. But if you consistently focus on positive, abundant thoughts, you’ll begin seeing ways to create the results you desire—and the opportunities you need will find their way to you. (Not to mention a positive attitude is highly client-attractive!) If your tendency is to have a negative attitude toward your business, stop! Make the decision to change your thinking, starting TODAY. If you consistently attract non-ideal clients, ask yourself: “What can I do to attract my perfect client?” Look into upgrading your services by taking new courses that expand your knowledge and justify higher rates. Participate in social networks to explore what kind of support your ideal client is looking for—and place yourself directly in front of your target market. Also, be honest about where YOU are standing in your own way. What fears do you have about your business? What limiting beliefs are you holding onto? Put forth the effort to stare your gremlins in the face. Then make the decision to start thinking differently from today forward. All these activities will help you tap into a new group of clients and move you closer to your goals.

2. Do you only market or advertise your services when you need more clients? This is one of the biggest mistakes that Virtual Assistants make. And it is an area where they struggle needlessly. Some may feel hesitant about marketing thinking they have to be pushy and sales-y in their approach. That is certainly not the case. Marketing is simply a matter of sharing solutions with people who were already looking for them. The most effective marketing strategy for Virtual Assistants is to get clear on what you offer, embrace the value you bring to your clients’ lives, get to know your ideal clients REALLY well so you know what their urgent needs and compelling desires are and then put yourself in front of them as THE solution to their problems. You should be marketing your business every week, bare minimum. (Ideally you should be doing SOMETHING to market yourself every day.) There are countless ways to market your services. Attending networking events and industry events has always been highly effective for me. Blogging about the benefits and results you create for clients is another. Publishing an email newsletter, getting involved in social media, and sending a letter to EACH person in your network explaining your services also yield positive results. The list goes on and on. The goal is to be consistently attracting new leads to your business and keeping your pipeline full. Even if you find yourself at full capacity, when potential clients contact you about your services, you can still have your introductory meeting with them to determine what their needs are. If their needs exceed the support you can provide at that time, just let them know your practice is full. Then, offer them the option of going on a waiting list or refer them to another Virtual Assistant. Either way, you keep the lines of communication going. And, if you have an opening, you now have a “warm market” list to contact. This will keep you out of “feast or famine” mode with your finances.

3. Is your business foundation solid? Building a business is like building a house—it needs a solid foundation. If you don’t have an effective bookkeeping method, your office and paperwork are a disorganized mess and you don’t have a marketing plan to follow, you do not have a solid foundation for your business. If you struggle meeting deadlines because you can’t find everything required for a project, it’s time to stop and get organized. Nothing is more important than a solid foundation for your business for it to grow and prosper. This means treating your business like a business, NOT a hobby. Outlining your standards, boundaries and operational guidelines clearly on paper will give you a roadmap to follow to successfully run your business for years to come. Remember, the best compliment a client can give you is to refer your services to a colleague. Make sure you earn that referral by being a competent business owner.

If you are making any or all of these three common mistakes, there is good news! You know now what they are and can take action to make improvements. Spending time assessing, planning and implementing proven solutions will help you to upgrade your business in short order. It will also boost your confidence, decrease your stress and move you that much closer to having the business you dreamed of when you first started.

Action Steps For This Week

1. Schedule one hour on your calendar to sit down and honestly assess your business. Make a list of what is working and what is not. Pat yourself on the back for having the courage to stare your business in the face and acknowledge that some improvements need to be made.
2. Once you’re clear on where you’re at, it’s time to get clear on where you want to be. Set a few specific, measurable goals for improving your business and assign a deadline to each.
3. Break down each goal into a series of projects or action steps. Schedule time on your calendar over the next 2-3 months to work on these projects and get your business affairs in order.
4. Reach out for help if you need it! No one who is successful in business has created that success alone. NO one. So, don’t be afraid to ask for help. You and I can work together one-on-one if you like. (Simply email me at Support@EAtoVA.com to schedule an appointment for us to chat.) You can register for a mentoring program. (www.SuccessfulVA.com or www.FullPracticeVA.com). Plus you can reach out to other VAs for ideas and support. (Check out my group on LinkedIn.com) Whichever option you choose is fine, but set yourself up with the support and accountability you need to take your business to the next level.
5. Leave a comment below and let me know how this business overhaul is working out for you! I love hearing about your successes (no matter how “small” you think they are) and celebrating with you!

Business Management &Organization &Time Management Sydni Craig-Hart on 15 Apr 2011

5 Steps to a Productive Work Environment

When you’re a Virtual Assistant, you are only paid for the time you spend on client projects. Therefore, maximizing your work time is key to the profitability of your company. As VAs typically work from home, it can be a challenge to create a productive work environment where you experience minimal distractions and can focus on running your business. Use the following strategies to get more out of your day.

1.  Create a dedicated workspace – There is such a thing as being too virtual! If you find that your “office” moves from your living room, to your bedroom, to your kitchen table or elsewhere, I guarantee that you aren’t nearly as productive as you could be. You are running a business, not pursuing a hobby! Your business deserves its own dedicated space where you show up for work each day. Regardless of how large or small your home is, you can carve out a space for your own office. A corner, a nook, even a closet can be used to create a highly functional office space where you can run a profitable enterprise. Retailers like IKEA and The Container Store have numerous resources to assist you with this.

2.  Clear the clutter – Some of us are more organized than others for sure, but there is not a single VA around who wouldn’t be more focused, productive and profitable if they got rid of their clutter. Do you have old pens, mail, folders or other materials piled up in your workspace? Whether you realize it or not, having clutter in your space is a huge distraction for you. It’s been proven that:

  • Clutter causes you to feel overwhelmed or depressed
  • Clutter robs you of energy
  • Clutter steals 50% of your storage space
  • Clutter makes running your business harder – You have to look longer and dig deeper to find what you’re looking for
  • Clutter makes it hard to think straight

Get rid of your clutter and you will instantly boost your productivity!

3. Eliminate all your notifications – Unfortunately, because of our technology focused society we are often inundated by notifications and so called “helpful” reminders. However, when you are focused on your client work and business operations during the day, you don’t need to notified of every little thing. Make it a habit to turn the ringer on your cell phone OFF. Turn the ringer on your home phone or business phone OFF. (You can schedule times to check your phone(s) during the day). Also, let friends and family members know what your work scheduled is and that you are NOT available to talk during those hours. Finally, turn your email notifications OFF. Your time during the day is much better spent working on various projects and being notified each time you receive an email is a costly distraction that you don’t need.

4. Stay OUT of your email Inbox – Email is one of the greatest productivity killers around. It’s a fabulous communication tool, and critical to the functionality of your virtual business, however it also has the potential to be a HUGE time waster if you aren’t careful. I recommend dedicated two blocks of time per day to process your email. Otherwise you’ll find that you won’t get any real work done during the day because you spent all your time answering email! Also, train your clients to communicate with you via a project management system such as Basecamp or Central Desktop. These systems will track all correspondence in a neat, organized fashion so you don’t have to keep a back log of emails but can still keep track of conversations around projects and tasks.

5. Choose the right workstation – Think about the functions that you’ll be doing at your desk. Analyze what you do in a day, and make sure that your desk or workstation suits your needs. Do have lots of cords between your computer and other equipment? Then you want to have a desk with built-in cable management and an adjustable keyboard drawer. Are you a person who likes to spread out while you work? You’ll want a desk with lots of flat space so that you can work comfortably.

By implementing these strategies, you can create a workspace that maximizes the time you spend on your projects and stay focused on the task at hand. Schedule time now to makeover your workspace by selecting one area to work from, cleaning out clutter, eliminate notifications, manage the time spent on email and choosing the right workspace. You’ll see the benefits pay off in no time!

Achieving Goals &Mindset &Organization &Resources &Time Management &Virtual Assistant Sydni Craig-Hart on 08 Apr 2011

Create Systems to Create More Free Time

Savvy Virtual Assistants use documented systems to run their business.  Using systems consistently will allow you to work as effectively and efficiently as possible.  The more you can systemize, the more you can monetize!

machineSystems are the key to your business organization.  It’s a way to ensure that you create consistent high-quality results in everything you do.  This includes bookkeeping, communication, administrative duties, client support and marketing.  Whether you realize it or not, you probably already have a system in place for all of these things. You just haven’t gone through the process of actually documenting the steps involved.

Documentation is the key to helping you streamline your processes so that you handle your workload more quickly.  Once you document your processes for how you handle different tasks, you’ll begin to see how you can either automate them or outsource them.   This will free up time for you to spend on your two primary business activities:  client work and marketing your business.

Another benefit of setting up systems and embracing technology to help you run your business is that your clients see that you are a true professional.  When you invest the time, money and technology to run your business efficiently, you demonstrate that you are running your business like the CEO of a large company rather than a “hobbyist” who makes decisions flying by the seat of her pants.  This sets you apart from your colleagues and makes you a more valuable and respected Virtual Assistant.

Think it this way: why would a client pay you top dollar for your services if you don’t demonstrate that you are the absolute best choice? When clients see that you invest money in your systems that help you work more efficiently on their projects, they will gladly pay you what you are worth because they know they are getting the best service possible.

Setting up systems and embracing technology uniquely prepares you for something else:  growth with your client.  As your relationship grows with your client, they will see you not only as their skilled Virtual Assistant but also as a trusted adviser and business partner.  And when it’s time for them to grow their business by expanding their services or looking at other solutions, they will feel comfortable coming to you for help.  That trust can only be earned by someone who can offer solutions to what the client needs.

At this point, you may be asking yourself, “So where do I start?”

The best place to begin is to document your tasks for a couple of days.  Once you start writing things down, you will see some areas where you can maximize your time by “batching” tasks together.

For example, if you read email every 15 minutes, you probably waste a lot of time reading emails and responding immediately.  This is ineffective for two reasons:  one, you are constantly reading emails and never get into a good rhythm for completing client work and two, you set an unrealistic expectation for your clients about when you’ll respond to them.  If you always reply immediately, a client may start to get impatient with you if you take more than a couple of hours to address their needs.

You can resolve this issue by putting a system in place to set aside specific times of the day to read and respond to emails.  This will allow you to schedule time to review emails and respond so that you free up time to schedule actual client work.

You can also embrace the technology within your email settings to be even more efficient.  For example, you can set up rules to automatically filter specific emails (like newsletters) into a folder.  This helps you control the clutter of your Inbox and you know where to find the newsletters when you have a chance to read them.

These are just a few examples of how you can begin to create systems in your Virtual Assistance business.  Once you get some practice with creating systems and using the technology to help you work more efficiently, you will be pleasantly surprised and how much “FREE” time you have available.  Now, you’ll be in a position to use that time to grow your business, work with more clients or take a well-deserved break!

Achieving Goals &Networking &Virtual Assistant Sydni Craig-Hart on 01 Apr 2011

3 Simple Ways to Attract More Clients…NOW!

“I need more clients!”  Have you ever made this statement about your VA business?

Attracting ideal clients and keeping a full pipeline is often the number one challenge Virtual Assistants face. Fortunately, it is also one of the easiest challenges to overcome. By consistently implementing a few simple steps, you will be well on your way to achieving your business goals.

The struggle to attract ideal clients is often rooted in a lack of clarity, focus and planning.  Remember, when you have clarity of vision for your business, it is easier for your ideal clients to see it as well. So, you first need to know WHO exactly is your ideal client, what makes them ideal and what solutions they are looking for. Also, it’s important to narrow and focus your attention on one particular demographic. This will allow you to be more strategic with your efforts and spend your marketing time wisely. The planning is important too, because allows you to outline exactly what you are going to do on a  monthly,  weekly and daily basis to connect with ideal prospects, instead of leaving it to chance.

Once you’ve gotten clear on your target market, ideal client and what they need, it’s time to start taking action.  Here are three simple strategies for attracting ideal clients to your business NOW:

  1. Reconnect with past clients – Studies have proven time and again that it’s far easier to sell to an existing client than a new one.  So use this to your advantage!  NOW is a great time to reconnect with past clients and catch up with them.  Find out what’s new with them, what their goals are and offer to help them create their next level of success.  You can even create a special incentive to honor the relationship and encourage them to engage your services once again.
  2. Networking – If you want to catch “fish” you’ve got to fish where the fish are.  In this case your ideal catch is your ideal client. Targeted, focused networking is an excellent way to connect with ideal prospects en-masse. That doesn’t mean randomly attending networking events just because they’re available or you’re invited.  It means researching where your ideal clients are congregating and meeting them where they are.  It also mean showing up as a friendly, helpful, engaging resource, listening more than you talk and focusing your comments on how you solve your clients problems.  Most of all effective networking is all about PROMPT follow-up.
  3. Power Partnerships – Obviously, you aren’t the only service professional targeting your ideal client.  For example, if you are a professional organizer, it’s likely that a personal chef, interior designer, landscaper, painter and real estate agent in your area are also seeking to connect with your ideal prospects.  Or if you are a virtual assistant you will find that graphic designers, bookkeepers, CPAs, business coaches and marketing coaches are targeting your ideal clients.  That is a GOOD thing! You can significantly boost the reach of your marketing efforts by leveraging their network and cross promoting one another’s services.

Marketing consistently is always easier when you see where you want to be, so clearly, you can almost taste it! You’ll have no problem putting in the time it takes, or coming up with creative ideas, when your own clarity has grown your enthusiasm to such a level that you’re actually energized by your marketing efforts.  Your energy is very attractive to others – your enthusiasm keeps the pipeline full of those who are looking for the very same in their own lives!

Which of the strategies shared can you implement in your business next week?  Share your thoughts and your plan by leaving a comment below!

Your Action Plan For The Week:

  1. Make a list of your past clients and what their situation was when they last worked with you.  Schedule time on your calendar to reconnect with them, and present a special offer to re-enroll as a client.
  2. Take inventory of your network and look for other service professionals who are targeting the same market as you and who could provide valuable information or resources to your clients.  Then, schedule a lunch or coffee date to discuss how you can collaborate to serve each other’s audience.
  3. Review your ideal client profile and research where they are hanging out, offline and online.  Get yourself registered to attend the next live event and start participating in relevant online networks to create visibility for your expertise and positioning yourself as a resource.