Routine vs. Initiative for Solopreneurs

busy businesspersonAmong the many conundrums solo business people must face is the constant question whether to stick with what you’re doing right now or to take some initiative to change and grow.

Every business has to strike a balance between getting the work done and dreaming up new ways to get it done better. But for solo workers, who lack the team decision-making available in other organizations, the individual person has to cover all the bases and make all the choices.

For virtual assistants, who work in partnership with their clients, often performing routine tasks or all wrapped up in the details of execution, making sure to spend time on your own business initiatives can be difficult. Available hours are all taken up with client work. But we’re business owners, and no one else is going to make sure we survive if we don’t do the job ourselves. If we get busy and let working in the business dominate, then we’re not working at all on our business.

And then what happens is that perfect storm of a day when you find yourself client-less and clueless. You had plenty of work, but then a new trend took away everyone’s attention while you had your nose to the grindstone. You keep bringing in clients at the same low rates you’ve always offered, but then your accountant tells you you’re in the hole. Or you dropped out of blogging in favor of sleeping while you had loads of work, and now that several of your projects are wrapping up, you wonder where your new clients will come from. [Read more...]

Saying Hello: How to Welcome New Clients

WelcomeMatOasisTehuantepecIn establishing a virtual assistant and client relationship, one key step is the way the parties say hello to one another.

By this I mean, the way they present introductory materials so that the other party can have an orientation that makes sense and effectively opens the flow of work around the project.

After you market and network and nurture, finally a lead converts to a customer. How do you say hello?

That magic moment immediately following your new client’s “I’m in!” What do you do with it?

Do you arrange a meeting? Distribute an info packet? Send questionnaires? [Read more...]

Virtual Assistant as Overcommunicator

definitionHow does your company usually communicate? What’s your norm for making yourself understood as you go about your work? The relationship between client and VA especially depends on constant communications – even what some would see as overcommunicating. When working virtually, insufficient communications will seriously threaten your success.

All professions have their communications protocols. We expect (if unfairly!) certain kinds of behaviors from certain people. Doctors, for instance, don’t write legibly but the good ones are verbally articulate. Lawyers use too many words and can win your case through sheer verbosity. Taxi drivers curse and tell heartfelt stories. Hairdressers gossip and know how to get customers to relax and tell their stories. Teachers tend to lecture but we benefit from their enormous patience.

And virtual assistants overcommunicate. We constantly change up the language on our websites, looking for perfect clarity. We are active on social media every day. We connect with clients via phone/Skype, email, text, project management software and whatever other vehicles may be available to keep the flow wide open. We ask questions, a lot.

A VA is first and foremost a communicator. This is because, without in-person signals to establish trust, the VA and client must be keenly focused on how well they are understanding – both one another and the work at hand. [Read more...]

How to Survive Business Dips

the-dipThe life of an entrepreneur of any stripe is one of highs and lows, a roller coaster opposing the productive months to long weeks of waiting, during which you juggle the bills and slurp Ramen. Waiting for connections, replies, decisions; waiting for the tyrannical “OK.”

The independent professional works for multiple bosses, because every client is their employer. So it’s no wonder that everyday stress for entrepreneurs is enormous. For that matter, no one would consider entrepreneurship unless they were extra-highly skilled in management and accustomed to large amounts of pressure.

Having thus acknowledged the heroic courage of entrepreneurs by definition, we also have to admit that – well, shit happens. The dark night descends, and our best intentions pave the road to hell.

Which is only to say, if you work for yourself, you are bound to experience dips now and then. You know, The Dip, as Seth Godin described it. And not only The Dip, but an ongoing series of regular dips in between The Big Ones.

Now it may not seem the proper season to talk about dips. In January, we’re all optimistic about the new year and all that. However, achieving a mature appreciation of dips is part of building a happier future; so listen in. [Read more...]

Staying Organized

messy-deskOrganization is sort of like New Year’s resolutions: everyone likes to do it at first but not many are good at follow through. It’s one thing to catch a wild hair all of a sudden and get organized right now; and it’s another thing to stay that way for any length of time.

It’s the natural way of things to deteriorate. No matter how spotlessly you clean, the dust and dirt will accumulate. Tall mountains slowly erode into the sea. Everything dies sooner or later.

Given this, it’s damn heroic for us to even attempt to stay organized, since the effort must be constant. Few of us have that kind of stamina. The enthusiasm of getting organized is quickly lost in the boredom of staying there.

But we yearn for organization, we crave and idealize it, for the most part. And in business, we know that disorganization is a killer. Tends to lose leads and upset customers. [Read more...]

Your Brain on Holidays

Candle_flame_(1)At holiday time, it’s interesting to consider the different ways that people choose to relax. For some, it’s all about the event: the rituals, the experiences, the parties, the activities that bring refreshment. For others, it’s the moments of quiet: the long and grateful exhale, the guilt-free indulgence in a snooze or daydream or simple contemplation that brings the holiday’s best rejuvenation.

I have a theory that those who are naturally spontaneous love experience, while those who are more naturally organized love it when experience steps back, giving way at last to stillness.

The winter holiday sets up this contrast sharply. It’s a time of noisy socializing as well as silent nights.  Red-suited Santas and single candles in the window. Over-the-top celebrations and New Year’s Resolutions. Feel a little jerked around? No wonder!

We have to pick and choose the parts of holidays that we want to adopt personally. Habit, family tradition, or my superego’s expectations notwithstanding, I’d rather have a comfortable personal connection to the celebration than just blindly go along with some popular meme.

For me, I have been realizing that my brain tends to calculate all the time. A holiday, to  people like me, is largely focused on stopping all the calculations.

Many of you may relate to this. Others will be more the imaginative sort, with brains busily creating, unhinged from space and time. For you, the pageantry and parties are delightful.

But for those of us who relax by tuning out, the mid-winter holidays can be especially delicious. The silent snow, a candle flame, a child’s smile. The matchless pleasure of sleeping through a long winter’s night. The freedom from calculation, regulation, machinations of any kind. Permission to let it all go.

Whether you’re the imaginative or the calculating type, I know the holiday holds pleasures uniquely for you, and I wish you full enjoyment of them!

Deadbeat Clients: an Occupational Hazard?

past-dueEvery virtual assistant has to pay serious attention to their business invoicing and altogether too many of us have had to deal with deadbeat clients who simply disappear without paying. Every business, especially those who don’t share a local community with most clients, risks this kind of betrayal. Here are a few reasons why it happens to VAs.

  • Clients often do not have clear measurements or do not share clear directives. Then, when the work is different from their expectations, they want to avoid paying for it.
  • The VA disappoints the client (which can happen in any of a million ways, given human nature and the long-distance relationship) and the client is reluctant to pay without receiving satisfaction.
  • The VA did not make a big fuss about the payment terms from the outset, and the client did not understand that payment is not under ‘net 30 days’ terms.
  • The VA and client do everything right: start with a small assignment, then contract. But during the first pay period, client for whatever reason decides to go another route. The VA is simply forgotten, in favor of the current shiny thing.
  • Sometimes the client needs just one or two small jobs done; the invoice is small and, sadly, sometimes people have no problem cheating someone they will probably never meet.

[Read more...]

Working with Your VA: What Do You Want?

letter to SantaWhen I was small, our family observed St. Nick’s Day on December 6. We children made our “Pig Lists” on that day, a letter to Santa listing the presents we wanted. It was especially exciting the next morning to find the letters gone, the glass of milk emptied, the plate of cookies bare but for a few crumbs. Perhaps we’d actually receive those gifts, come Christmas!

We’re entering again, as we do each year, into the season of wanting. The mid-winter holidays are essentially about the identification of wants: what we want for ourselves and what others want that we can give them.

Even the original seed of the celebration, the recognition of a light that divides the surrounding darkness, caters to our wants, our yearning for delivery from present circumstances, our passionate desire for a new life. In the spring, we celebrate the actual arrival of new life; in the summer, we are proud to mark existential and material success; in the fall, we reflect on our abundance. But at mid-winter, whether we’re Christian, Jewish, pagan, atheist, or anything else, the holiday is about what we don’t have. We mark this time with gifts that we hope will fulfill others’ wants and with plans for our own deep wishes. [Read more...]

What Kind of Outsourcing Will Work for You? It’s All in the Communications

bsabarnowlAt the heart of every transaction – and transactions are the heart of business – is communication. The level and quality of communications in any and all business interactions directly shapes the outcome for all concerned.

I was amused recently when a fellow virtual assistant posted on Facebook that she loved using fiverr.com, where she routinely obtained designs for logos, banners, and headers for her clients. In our shared Group of VAs, she suggested that this is a great way to get excellent designs very cheaply.

It wasn’t until several comments and replies had accumulated that it came out that you get fabulous designs out of fiverr.com if you supply very exact instructions to begin with.

Ah, there’s the rub. Because in general, people have a hard time telling someone else what they want, what they envision. When it comes to delivering the specs, most of us become tongue-tied.

Now this particular VA was worth her weight in gold. [Read more...]

Why You Need a Virtual Assistant

aesolerAs if you didn’t already know, right?

You’re over your eyeballs in work, with so much more to do than you can possibly manage.

You need and want to spend more time working your core skills;  but administration, marketing, or other business management demands tend to monopolize the hours.

You struggle endlessly trying to make your website look right, to post social media updates that engage your market, to attract the attention of your target market and convert their interest to sales;  but wrestling with the techie parts is frustrating and time consuming. [Read more...]