Is your business short on help? Good help, that is? Did the best administrative assistant you ever had leave because her husband was relocated to Timbuktu? Now what? You’ve been through countless resumes and none of the candidates seem to measure up. Maybe you need extra help once in a while, just to keep your regular assistant’s head above water. Are you a small business owner who can’t afford, or don’t have enough work, for a full-time secretary?

Why not hire a virtual assistant or VA? Gaining in popularity among large and small businesses alike, VA’s can help bail you out of a rough spot on a temporary basis or even work long-term just like a regular employee.

In today’s soft economy and world of corporate scandals, failures, and layoffs, many a good employee has been ousted from his or her job. The ambitious ones are out there daily trying to find a new position. Trouble for them is the help wanted section of most newspapers has become extremely thin. Most people can’t go very long without some sort of income. So, the most ambitious and resourceful are making their way back into the working world any way they can. For many, this means starting a business of their own.

What does a person do when what they know is secretarial? What do they do when they need to feed their family and pay the mortgage? Many create their own business and several are opting to become virtual assistants.

What does a virtual assistant do?

In short, a VA can do just about anything a regular employee can do. You just won’t see his or her face every day. Many virtual assistants are Jack’s or Jill’s of all trades, some are more specialized, but here’s a list of some of the things a virtual can do:

• Bookkeeping
• Human resources
• Concierge services
• Collections
• Sales
• Marketing
• Travel arrangements
• Research
• Word processing
• Appointment setting
• Meeting arrangements
• Event planning
• Letter preparation
• Transcription
• Reports
• Proof reading
• Manuals
• Newsletters
• Flyers
• Mailings
• Data entry
• Data processing
• Document scanning
• E-mail processing
• Answering phone calls
• Procedure documentation
• Customer support

Virtual assistants are typically a very intelligent bunch as well. Many are college educated and even more have countless years of excellent business experience to draw upon. This comes in very handy when you’re looking for ideas.

How does a virtual assistant work?

Virtual assistants come in all shapes and sizes, just as any business does. Typically, however, VA’s work from home-based offices. They’re the savviest of the savvy when it comes to operating on a low budget and using technology to their advantage. Most are equipped with the latest software (and lots of it), multiple phone lines, Internet, e-mail, fax machine, cellular phone, copy machines, scanners, and a great attitude. Many even come with a cat or dog! He or she will use all of the latest technology to communicate with the client and get the work done as quickly as possible. And, possibly best of all, they only “clock in” when they’re on your project, not while they’re sitting at your desk, using your electricity, playing solitaire!

What’s all this going to cost?
All well and good, right? But aren’t virtual assistants more expensive than regular employees? Absolutely not! Actually, a virtual assistant is far more cost effective than a regular employee. You may pay more per hour than a regular employee, but leave out the FICA, state unemployment taxes, Social Security, health insurance, vacation time, sick time, 401(k), profit sharing, Christmas bonus, holiday pay, and other benefits you need to offer a regular employee, and a virtual assistant’s wage comes out far lower than that of a regular employee.

A virtual assistant can save money in other areas as well. How much does it cost you to maintain office footage, a computer, a phone line or two, a refrigerator, a microwave, a desk, electricity, heat, air conditioning, and parking for your regular employees? With a virtual, you don’t need any of those things either – he or she supplies his or her own.

The fee for a virtual assistant usually depends upon the area of the country where he or she is located and their area(s) of expertise. Virtual assistants charge between $15 and $75 per hour. But, you only pay for the time he or she actually spends working on your tasks. Some will ask that you pay for a “minimum guaranteed usage” each week or month. Many will also agree to work for varying hourly rates depending on the task. For example, if they’re to perform basic word processing, the fee might be $18 per hour, but if they’re expected to research the legalities of transforming your LLC into a Corporation, they may charge $45 per hour. Yet, others may agree to a flat fee based upon individual project requirements. Either way, you come out ahead.

Why should I trust someone I’ve never met?

VA’s are as concerned with your business success as they are with their own. In fact, their success depends on your success. So, a virtual assistant can become one of the best assistants and business partners you’ve ever had. Just like you, they are business owners and very interested in helping their clients.

Virtual versus temp or temp agency

Virtual assistants tend to work harder than the average person issued to you by a temporary agency. Keep in mind that the temp agency is charging you as much as 20% more than the worker is actually getting paid. This practice often leads to the use of unskilled or unacceptable laborers. Hiring a virtual assistant allows you to choose who works with you. You’ll also need to provide all of the temp’s supplies like paper, toner, pens, computer, electricity, etc, whereas, the VA comes with his or her own supplies.

How many times have you hired a temp who you spent time training, only to have her stick around for three weeks, then you had to train yet another temp? A virtual assistant, as we mentioned, is in this to succeed and help you succeed. You’ll have to train him or her too, but only once!

Oh, yes, and you still need to pay the temp while she sits there and waits for another assignment from you. Not with a virtual assistant. While she’s waiting for the next assignment from you, you can bet she’ll be working on something for another client.

Choosing a virtual assistant

Now that you’ve decided to hire a virtual assistant, how do you go about choosing one? There are several things you need to know before you start looking:

• What exactly do I need help with?
• What expertise does the VA need?
• How much do I have to spend?
• How quickly do I need this project done?
• How long will I need virtual assistance?
• How often will I need my VA to work?
• What hours should he or she be available?
• What days of the week?
• Is there any specific software he or she needs to have?
• Is what I need accomplished so specific that I’ll need to incorporate some training time?
• How will I pay him or her? Visa, MasterCard, Check, Paypal?
• How do I want to communicate with my VA? Phone, e-mail, snail mail, or a combination?
• Does my VA really need to be located in a particular time zone, country, part of the country, city?
• Any other particular qualities you’d like your virtual assistant to have?

Just as you would screen someone who would apply to work in your office, you’ll still need to spend a little time screening your virtual assistant. You’ll need to tell him or her what you need and want, and what is and isn’t acceptable. You’ll also need to negotiate pricing and terms with the virtual.

The best thing you can do to ensure you receive the help you need, is behave as though you’re choosing a new car. Push the buttons, turn on the stereo, kick the tires, and ask, ask, ask. Listen to what the potential VA has to offer you as well. He or she may even be able to do several other tasks, which you hadn’t counted on, or even offer some very sound business advice.

Who benefits by using a virtual assistant?

• Large corporations
• Small businesses
• Home based businesses
• Busy executives or managers
• Entrepreneurs
• Students
• Even individuals who just need a little extra help

What happens if I don’t like the VA I’ve hired, or s/he doesn’t work out?
Unless you’ve signed a contract guaranteeing a particular amount of time or pay, the answer is rather simple: you just don’t offer any more assignments.

If you do happen to have a bad experience with one virtual assistant, however, don’t let is sour you from finding another. Treat it as though you simply had a bad date. Bad dates do happen and some people just aren’t compatible. Get back out there and look for another VA that better suits your needs or personality.

A win-win for everyone

The use of virtual assistants truly is a win-win for everyone involved. For the employee-challenged business, VA’s dramatically increase your labor pool. And, for the cash-strapped entrepreneur, virtual assistants save money – lots of money. What’s more, it’s better for the environment to hire a virtual assistant. Just think of all the vehicle emissions you’ll be saving by having one or two workers telecommute. As for the VA, they typically enjoy a better quality of life, as they are also able to be home and raise their children in between working on your projects.

If your looking into hiring a virtual assistant and need assistance in finding one we can assist you in this, contact us for more information.

In today’s world it is easy to underestimate the importance of internet marketing. Advertising and communications are everywhere, and people can forget how delicate a process marketing can be. To get the full benefit of internet marketing, you need to make sure that you understand how to use it in the right ways.

1 – Do Your Research

Researching your internet marketing strategy cannot be stressed enough. You need to know what it is and how you can use it to your advantage. Most importantly, you need to know how your competitors are using it to their advantage. Only then will you be able to grasp the importance of internet marketing and be able to use it to its fullest extent.

There are many places where you can learn about internet marketing. Lots of books are released on the subject every year and there are even periodicals devoted to it. Finally, you can look around online for information as long as you are careful about the websites you get your information from.

2 – Doing it Right

By investing time in research, you can learn various very effective ways of implementing marketing strategies online. Some people really don’t think there is a right or wrong way to market online, but this simply isn’t true. There are the basics, such as having good grammar and a captivating ad campaign, but it goes beyond that.

One thing you need to think about is that you can’t just stick the online equivalent of a brochure up and think that is marketing. Maybe that is part of it, but it isn’t going to cut it overall. The importance of internet marketing lies in the ability to really communicate with your potential customers in ways that cannot be done with off-line advertising.

You need to know what internet marketing is capable of before you get too far into it. Only then will you be able to do it right and get the very best results possible.

3 – Continue to Grow Your Marketing

As with other types of advertising, you need to constantly shift and change your online marketing. People easily become bored with seeing the same campaign over and over. They get inured to certain things over time. So you need to be ready to change up your marketing.

This is another aspect of the importance of internet marketing that many people overlook. Just like your business, if your marketing doesn’t change and keep up with the times, it will fail. To keep this from happening, keep your eye on popular shifts in advertising and communicating. Also make sure that you watch your client feedback carefully when you make changes in your marketing. If you don’t you could miss crucial fluctuations in your sales or visitors.

By understanding the importance of internet marketing, you will put yourself in a better position for success. Read up on internet marketing and the trends that it goes though so you can anticipate changes. Also make sure you are using the internet to its fullest advantage. By doing this, you will make it more likely that your business will end up on top.

Social media is a powerful technology but it’s also misunderstood. In its simplest form, social media is a way to connect with old friends from childhood or college and a way to share snippets of your daily life. In its more complex form, social media is a unique way to market your business and products to the entire world in a short amount of time. While you can take months or years to study the intricacies of social media and craft business strategies, there are three common myths about social media that business owners can dispel today.

Myth #1: You must use every single social media platform.

Expanding your reach is certainly a goal for business owners and coaches as that yields more sales and personal clients, which equals increased income. However, the real question to ask before signing up for every platform is: where is my ideal client? Using Facebook just because it has over 1 billion users doesn’t mean those 1 billion users will find you and start purchasing. Identify your ideal client and find out where they hang out. Those are the platforms you should use.

Myth #2: Aim for every post to go viral.

It’s always fun to see a post go viral as they are usually entertaining or thought provoking but of the viral campaigns you’ve noticed recently, could you say what company sponsored them? I can’t either. Aim to provide value in your posts mixed in with some of your personality as opposed to aiming for shock or entertainment value. Your ideal client wants to learn from you so your valuable lesson will be heard and remembered long after the latest viral video fades away.

Myth #3: Having a large number of followers equals increased profits.

It sure is an ego boost to see a large number of social media followers but are these followers interacting with you? Are they liking or sharing your posts? Are they leaving comments? If not, then chances are they are not your ideal client and chances are they will never purchase one of your packages. Evaluate your own posts; it’s quite possible they’re boring and that’s the reason for no response. Be more creative with your posts and watch for audience interaction. This directs back to the need for niching down to your ideal customer. You’re not appealing to everyone; you’re appealing to a small fraction of the world’s population. Pay attention to finding that demographic and the number of engaged audience members will follow, as will the profits.

With all the different social media platforms available today, it’s easy to focus your marketing time here because it’s generally less time consuming to engage from your computer than it is to attend real-life functions and talk to people in your community. However, if you depend solely on social media for your marketing, you’re missing a vast opportunity to market your business to locals right in your own backyard.

Your marketing goal should always be to build relationships with people you can help with your products or services. Even though you may be tempted, don’t push the hard sell on people you’ve just met. They don’t know you, so they likely won’t spend their hard-earned cash on your product. However, by interacting with them at networking events, in addition to engaging them on social media, you have built a foundation upon which to build a stronger relationship, which may ultimately lead to them buying from you.

How to Get Started Networking Offline

The idea of walking into a room without knowing a single soul can no doubt be daunting. But the alternative of not sharing your story and your mission to those who may be seeking this exact answer to their problems is equally troubling. No matter how you want to start networking in real life, put on your brave face and tackle your social fears head on.

1 – Join a Relevant Business Networking Group

Very often there are dozens of business networking groups and chambers of commerce spread across the country in every locale, so you really can pick and choose which group is best for you. Yes, you want to reap a reward for being a part of the group, but your acceptance into any business group will depend on what you can contribute. After all, it’s all about building relationships. Some groups are more formal and have standard meeting rules, while others may be much more casual and usually smaller in scale. Ask to visit a meeting or two before submitting an application and never be afraid to ask questions about the other members or when the group was formed.

2 – Hold Live Workshops

What better way to showcase your authority and expertise than to speak to your local community! Turn an online webinar into a live presentation or create a presentation customized to your community’s needs. Contact your local library, business association or community college with your ideas and very often if the presentation is unique and relevant to the community, you will get a booking.

Even if live events are not your forte, choose a topic you are passionate about and that you could speak about for hours. Your passion will carry through and you’ll be less likely to be nervous or get tongue-tied. Make sure to collect business cards or to have attendees sign in so you can connect with them on social media and continue the relationship building.

3 – Volunteer in the Community

Look for groups or charities that are relevant to your experience, but don’t go in thinking you need to change everything. Building relationships should be a positive experience, so offer your guidance and input when asked. Otherwise, enjoy conversing with other volunteers, board members, and administrative personnel, all of whom hold the possibility of referring you to their family, friends, or other networking contacts.