I regularly get people contacting me through LinkedIn to ask how I started being a virtual assistant (VA). In fact, the frequency and number of enquiries prompted me to write this blog post – after all, I’m all about boosting productivity and efficiency, which is why it made sense to write an informative post and direct wannabe VAs towards it.
First and foremost, before I started my VA business, I did huge amounts of research. I spent a lot of time online digesting as many free resources as I could and absorbing all the advice and tips I was finding – there was a lot!
Google is your friend
A quick Google search for ‘how to become a virtual assistant’ yields a whopping 8.4 million results (at time of writing). Even if you just take the time to go through the first page of results alone, you’ll glean a huge amount of relevant info (as I did more than six years ago).
Next, I looked to satisfy the avid reader in me and checked what books relating to becoming a virtual assistant were available on Amazon. There wasn’t actually that many (at the time), but one did stick out, so I placed an order. It was “The Virtual Assistant Handbook: Insider Secrets for Starting and Running Your Own Profitable VA Business” by Nadine Hill. It’s a great resource because it’s so easy to read. I couldn’t put it down once I’d started and read it from cover to cover in no time. It was definitely worth the cost as it contained information about things I hadn’t thought about.
With my interest seriously piqued and my passion to learn more in overdrive, I joined the Virtual Assistant Forums. Like most Internet-based forums, this one allows you to post questions and discuss topics with people who are virtual assistants already or working towards becoming one.
A great way to gain some exposure in such forums is by linking your blog and Twitter accounts, then adding real value to the conversations that are going on. People will naturally look at your profile if they see you as someone who knows what they’re talking about and may click through to your website/social media accounts as a result.
I then joined the International Virtual Assistants Association (IVAA). It’s a non-profit organisation dedicated to VA development, education and raising public awareness of what VAs do. There are several different membership categories, all of which boast a number of benefits. Check out the IVAA website for more information.
There are two VA directory sites that I’d recommend to anyone looking to start out in this industry: Virtual Assistantville and BeMyVA. They are great places to advertise your services and potentially secure your first clients. Be sure to check out the membership benefits of BeMyVA, as there’s a chance you could feature on their social media accounts and have your articles featured in their newsletter.
Twitter lists featuring virtual assistants are great; all you’ve got to do is find some. The easiest way to do this is by using the Twitter search feature to find out profiles relating to virtual assistance, VAs, etc. One you’ve started following some of the profiles you’ve found, go through their accounts and look at any lists they’ve created and been added to. Chances are there will be some relating solely to virtual assistance, which can join or retrieve more useful contacts from.
Hashtags like #VA and #virtualassistant are also a great way to find tweets and profiles relating to the industry.
Last, but certainly not least, are all the virtual assistant Facebook groups out there. There are so many, each with their own benefits, that I would never be able to review each one separately. However, I have compiled this list of groups to get you started:
Chances are you’re already utilising Facebook to engage with the people who matter to your business and build a rapport with your followers. But have you ever considered using Facebook ads to further boost the visibility of your small business online? If you haven’t, maybe 2018 should be the year you give them a try.
With 2.07 billion monthly active users [source: Statista], Facebook is the most popular social network worldwide by quite a bit. In fact, the number two social network (if you exclude YouTube and the various instant messaging apps), Instagram, has (only) got 700 million monthly active users [source: Statista].
As you can see, given its immense popularity and reach, Facebook is a force to be reckoned with, which is why its native advertising platform is so powerful for businesses.
Still not sure?
Here are my top 5 reasons why you need to be leveraging the power of Facebook ads this year:
1. People eat, sleep and breathe social media
Today, Internet users spend a ridiculous amount of time on social media, especially Facebook. According to a study by influencer marketing agency Mediakix, people spend, on average, 35 minutes per day on Facebook. That equates to 1 year, 4 months on Facebook in a person’s lifetime.
There’s no denying that there are people who may be interested in your business on Facebook. All you have to do is find them with some clever advertising.
2. Potential reach is immense
As I’ve already mentioned, Facebook dwarfs the competition when it comes to monthly active users. Let’s put that into a bit more perspective.
Right now, it’s estimated that there are almost 7.6 billion people in the world. That means almost 30% (27.24%) of the world’s population has a Facebook account. Okay, so some people will definitely have more than one, but it’s still a staggering reality and highlights just how many people you can potentially reach on Facebook.
3. Audiences are laser-focussed
Facebook lets you laser-target your ads so they reach the people who matter. For example, you can target users by location, age, gender, ethnicity, education, interests, connections, behaviour and more.
This is possible because of the enormous amounts of data Facebook has stored about its users. Every time you share a post by your favourite author, Facebook knows and it logs that information for future use.
4. Facebook ads work
Because of Facebook’s massive user base and the laser-targeted advertising capabilities, your ads can reach people who are likely to be interested in your business and its products/services. The fact you can immediately exclude people based on their preferences or demographics means you’re not wasting your advertising budget reaching individuals who are not your ideal customers or are likely to have zero interest in what you have to offer them.
5. Organic reach is dying
Last but certainly not least, is the fact that organic reach on Facebook has been reduced significantly in recent times. It’s not surprising really when you consider how lucrative Facebook’s ad platform is for the social network. In fact Mark Zuckerberg made an announcement just last week about their aims for the future, which you can read here.
The good news, though, is that you can create Facebook ads that reach a large number of people with only a very modest investment.
With Facebook ads, you can drive more traffic to your business website, generate more leads, encourage people to interact with your page, expand your reach and secure more sales.
It had always been a dream of mine to start my own business and I finally got the opportunity to do so back in 2011. That’s when I founded my VA business and started the most exciting and rewarding stage of my life so far.
Furthermore, starting my own micro business (one that has 0-9 employees) enabled me to fulfil another dream and move to rural France. My business allowed me to work from literally anywhere in the world and, therefore, enabled me to operate from France.
Now, when I look back at the past six years, I realise how lucky I am to be living in a place I love and enjoying the best work/life balance I’ve achieved to-date.
But it hasn’t always been plain sailing and I’ve had to work extremely hard to build my profile and establish a professional network of clients, partners and supporters.
You see, the problem that many micros businesses, like mine, have is that they lack the huge marketing budgets of some of the bigger players in the market. This is why having a supportive professional network is so vital.
For this reason, I grab with both hands any opportunity I get to help out other micro businesses and that’s why I’ll be happily supporting Micro Biz Matters Day on January 12, 2018.
Micro Biz Matters Day is the brainchild of Tina Boden and Tony Robinson OBE, who founded Enterprise Rockers back in 2012. The idea is that on January 12 people will spend 12 minutes of their day (roughly the time it takes to have a short coffee break) to help promote micro businesses.
Even if you don’t run a micro business yourself, you’ll undoubtedly have clients or people in your own professional network who may have certain requirements; requirements that could be satisfied by a micro business.
By promoting these micro businesses on your various social media channels, you’ll inevitably boost their profile and perhaps even get them seen by decision-makers from other companies.
You can even get involved now by using the #MicroBizMattersDay hashtag to raise awareness of the upcoming event. Then, on January 12, if you’ve got 12 minutes to spare, why not consider helping even further by taking one or more of these suggested actions.
Just 12 minutes of your time could make a huge difference to micro businesses that have a huge amount to offer but maybe aren’t getting the full exposure they deserve.
You’ve probably read quite a few headlines recently relating to the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). But how much do you know about the far-reaching implications of this new legislation?
If you’re feeling in the dark about the whole thing, don’t worry, you’re not alone.
According to the Close Brothers Business Barometer – a quarterly survey of more than 900 SMEs across a range of sectors and regions in the UK and Republic of Ireland – less than a third (31%) of businesses polled answered “yes” to the question: “Are you clear what ‘personal data’ means in a business context?”
What is GDPR?
GDPR is the result of four years of work by the European Commission to update data protection laws so that they address the new, previously unforeseen ways that data is now used today.
It will come into effect on 25 May 2018 and will apply to all EU member nations. That means any businesses operating within the EU, as well as any outside of the EU which offer goods or services to customers or businesses in the EU will need to comply.
In other words, pretty much every major corporation in the world will need to be in compliance when GDPR comes into effect – that includes me and probably you (depending where you are based, etc.).
Why is it important?
GDPR is important because it is such a major shakeup and will effectively give consumers more control over how their personal data is used by organisations.
Let’s not forget that existing data protection laws were enacted before technologies like the cloud were being used in anger and before the internet created new ways for data to be exploited.
Companies like Facebook and Google swap peoples’ data for access to their services and know everything from a person’s email address to who they are currently dating.
In addition, GDPR will simplify the legal environment in which businesses operate, by making data protection law identical across the EU.
How will it affect me?
If you are a ‘controller’ or ‘processor’ of data, GDPR will apply to you.
In a nutshell, a data controller is an entity that states how and why personal data is processed. A data processor is the party that actually does the processing. So, for example, a data controller could be an organisation (a charity, government agency or profit-seeking business), while a data processor might be a third-party IT company that does the actual processing of the data.
Under GDPR, the definition of personal data will be extended. So, in addition to covering things like names, addresses and photos, personal data will also include information like IP addresses, genetic data and biometric data.
Once GDPR comes into force, data controllers will also be obliged to report all data breaches to their data protection authority, unless the breach is unlikely to result in a risk to the rights and freedoms of individuals. This breach notification must occur within 72 hours of the organisation first becoming aware of the breach.
Furthermore, if a breach is serious enough, the organisation must also notify the affected individuals directly in a one-to-one correspondence. In other words, it won’t be good enough to inform people via a press release, company website or social media channel.
In the UK, the authority is the Information Commissioner’s Office. In France, it’s the Commission Nationale de l’ Informatique et des Libertés (CNIL).
While the European Commission says that GDPR will save businesses across Europe around €2.3 billion per year, the associated fines for non-compliance are rather hefty.
There will actually be two levels of fines under GDPR. The first is up to €10 million or 2% of the company’s annual worldwide turnover of the previous financial year (whichever is higher), while the second is up to €20 million or 4% of the company’s annual worldwide turnover of the previous financial year (whichever is higher).
For failing to notify of a data breach within 72 hours (and other data mishandling issues), the first fine will apply. For not following the basic principles for data processing, such as consent, ignoring individuals’ rights over their data, or transferring data to another country, the second, larger fine will apply.
Those of you who are friends with me on Facebook and/or follow my Facebook business page will know that I’ve been suffering with pain in my neck and back for the past few months.
While I’ve had neck and back pain before on and off, it got to the point this time where I couldn’t even sleep, so I had to go see a doctor. The doctor said it was my thoracic spine that was the root of all my pain and discomfort, most likely caused by me being sat at my desk working too much.
Now it has been a busy few months and I’ve been spending a lot of time working. However, I thought that walking the dogs twice a day would be enough activity to keep me from killing myself.
The doctor referred me to a physio and I managed to get a cancellation appointment. I also made an appointment with an osteopath recommended by my mother.
After about 2/3 appointments with the physio and 1 with the osteopath, I was able to function without the strong painkillers the doctor gave me. It’s now only at night that I am in some pain and find it difficult to get comfortable.
Then, by a massive coincidence, a friend of mine who runs a gym/personal training business called Limelight Fitness advertised on Facebook about a new 6-week mobility course she was running. It focussed on helping people with, well, mobility problems, so issues with pain in their knees, hips, back, etc. I booked in with her straightaway and started 3 half-hour sessions a week, last week.
Despite the fact it’s pretty hard going, I can already feel as though my general mobility is getting better.
Unfortunately, it’s been a pretty stressful couple of months, what with physio and osteopath appointments 30 minutes away from my house (office). Trying to juggle my work and focus on getting myself better has been difficult – especially as I’m a routine freak!
Getting used to being out of the house at random times during the week – especially now I have started the mobility course – has been a challenge.
To try and arrange my days better, I have put a schedule together and blocked out times in my calendar by client/task.
This has worked really well keeping me on task rather than jumping around multi-tasking and not really getting anything done. As well as turning off notifications during the times I’m working on a task, this has made a massive difference in my productivity.
Now that I’m on the mend, I thought it would be useful to share with you some of the tips given to me by the physio and the osteopath that have helped improve my condition.
1. Set a work timer
My osteopath suggested that I set a timer to go off every 30 minutes and have a 5-minute break every time I hear it. Admittedly, I have mine set for 45 minutes, but this has still worked well.
I’m using an app called Awareness that gongs every 45 minutes and records when you stop using your computer. Five minutes is actually a long time when you’re waiting to get back to your desk, so make a list of things you can do in those 5 minutes e.g. make a cup of tea, tidy your desk/office, pre-prepare your dinner, wash-up, whatever you like really.
2. Invest in some ergonomic kit
Repetitive strain injury is really common in the wrist/arm you use your mouse with. My osteopath suggested I get a vertical, ergonomic mouse. I did and while it took some getting used to, I must say I’ve noticed my wrist/arm pain is a lot better.
3. Exercise your upper body
I had always thought walking for about an hour a day was enough, and for activity purposes it is, but the upper part of my body was not getting any exercise. I now have a set of exercises from the physio that I do each day and with the mobility sessions, my upper body is moving as it should be. These exercises should also sort out my posture – after working at a desk for around 24 years, no wonder my body is finally telling me to stand up!
4. Standing desks
Have you seen them? They are a great idea, but only in small doses. My osteopath says that standing all day working is going to put pressure on your legs, so alternate between sitting and standing. I now have my laptop on my kitchen counter which I use a couple of times each day for around 15-20 minutes at a time.
Do you have any daily routines or top tips that help to prevent aches and pains while you’re sat at your desk working? I’d love to hear them!
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