Looking to Become a Virtual Assistant? These Resources are Invaluable

Looking to Become a Virtual Assistant? These Resources are Invaluable

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.

Another great book written by an acquaintance of mine is How to be a Virtual Assistant: Start and run your own successful VA business by Catherine Gladwyn.

VA Forums/Associations

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.

VA Directories

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

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.

Facebook Groups

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:

Two other Facebook groups I highly recommend are Freelance Heroes (great for general freelancing discussions and lead generation) and my own Online Productivity Tools & Applications group (great for insights into all the best tools and apps designed to boost productivity).

Over to you…

Are there any resources you use/have used that I haven’t mentioned? I’d love to hear about them. Drop a note in the comments or tweet me @JoHarris0n.

Make Your Working Day as Productive as Possible with My Top Tips

Make Your Working Day as Productive as Possible with My Top Tips

If you’re like me and have a whole bunch of different clients you work with on a regular basis, your daily task list is probably pretty hectic – I know mine is! And while this isn’t necessarily a problem in itself, it sometimes means I can’t see the wood for the trees, which makes planning my day that bit more difficult and can (occasionally) impact my productivity.

That’s why I wanted to write this post and share with you some of the tips I use on a daily basis to keep my productivity on track.

Use a task management tool/app

Task management tools and apps – like Todoist (my current fave) – allow you to see at a glance all of the tasks you’ve currently got on your to-do list. They also enable you to sort them by priority and flag ‘must do’ tasks, allowing you to easily see exactly what you ‘have’ to do that day. But to use these tools effectively you have to remember to add every single task and flag/label it appropriately, that goes for non-work tasks too!

Don’t spend too much time on email

I always try and get a couple of tasks out of the way in the morning before I start replying to emails. It gives me a nice sense of achievement early on in the day, which puts me on the right track.

In addition, I use an app called MailButler (for Mac) that allows me to stagger (schedule) my email replies, preventing a deluge from coming in a little later.

Minimise client distractions

It can be hard, but try not to let your clients/customers distract you by constantly calling or instant messaging. Instead, set some time aside for having these types of discussion and ignore/turn off notifications at the times you really need to work.

Learn to triage and say ‘no’

A triage system for clients and customers that lets them know you can’t complete tasks at short notice can really help. It manages their expectations and reduces the likelihood of them asking.

If something urgent does crop up then decide if you can stop what you’re doing easily and assess how it will affect the rest of your day.

Also, remember that saying “no” sometimes is a fact of life. And even though it might cause some extra stress for your client, you need to look after your own stress levels too. Having a clause in your contract that says urgent work will incur a surcharge on their invoice may deter clients/customers landing you with priority tasks all the time.

Swap email for chat apps

Something that has worked well for me is using Slack with a couple of clients rather than email. All our projects are in different channels and it’s very easy to see what’s going on at all times. It definitely cuts down on emails, but do be careful with new message notifications and don’t get sidetracked chatting rather than working.

Save time (in the long run) by making templates

If you often get clients/customers asking you the same questions (I tend to with my author clients) a great way to save time is to either set-up an email template you can customise (MailButler offers email templates) and/or do a short video of your screen (I use Zoom) which walks them through the process. This saves massive amounts of time and lets you get on with the things you need to.

Spread recurring tasks throughout the week

Many productivity experts say you should batch similar tasks together in one day, but when you’re scheduling social media updates for upwards of 2/3 clients such an approach means you’d need to spend a whole day or more just doing that! I find spreading these tasks throughout the week means I get a nice variety of jobs each day.

Set aside some time for yourself

Try and have a couple of days each week where you’re not totally bogged down with tasks. It allows you to do things for your own business and not have clients on your case. For me, Wednesdays and Thursdays are my designated ‘quiet days’ where I can take a bit of a break (and publish a blog for instance – like today), but still be on hand if anything urgent crops up.

Over to you…

I’m always on the lookout for new tips to make my working days more productive. Do you have any you can share? I’d love to hear from you!

My Top Marketing Tip for Freelancers and Solopreneurs

My Top Marketing Tip for Freelancers and Solopreneurs

When I first started out as a virtual assistant in 2011, social media was my first port of call for marketing. Six years on and I still view social media as one of the most valuable marketing channels out there.

But it’s not for everyone.

First, let’s not forget why social media has become so phenomenally popular today. Its roots lay in providing a platform for people to effortlessly interact and be “social”.

Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and all the other social networks out there enable people to share photos, memories and life updates with the push of a button.

Now you might be wondering, what’s that got to do with marketing myself as a freelancer or solopreneur?

A lot actually, as it goes.

That’s because social media is a fickle beast when it comes to marketing. It was never designed to be full of brands bustling for attention and plying their wares in people’s news feeds.

That’s why you need to be smart and patient when looking to leverage social media for marketing purposes.

My top advice would be to get yourself on social media. In particular, the channels you think your target audience is on. Then, you need to spend time interacting with them, getting to know them and providing immense value in everything you share with them.

Share personal successes, images and videos. Show them who you are and what you are all about – do not try and sell to them directly! Then, and only then, will you have gained their trust and attention.

When people like you and see that you know what you’re doing, they will come to you! 😀

This blog post is part of the Freelancermap.com Book Carnival.

The Importance of Client Contracts for Freelancers

The Importance of Client Contracts for Freelancers

Being my own boss is great. It allows me to manage my time however I want, and that enables me to do a lot more of the things I enjoy in life. In fact, since I moved to France back in 2011, my work/life balance has been better than at any other point in my life.

However, being a professional virtual assistant isn’t without its challenges, and one area that I have had to give special consideration to is the need for client contracts.

Many freelancers – especially those just starting out – often overlook the importance of having some kind of contract with their clients. I know I did! Luckily, several of the virtual assistant training courses I completed highlighted that client contracts were nothing short of a necessity, and I’ve used them ever since.

It can be very tempting to overlook the paperwork when you’re in talks with a potential new client. Both of you are inevitably excited and singing from the same hymn sheet in terms of what you want to achieve, and there is a massive urge to want to jump in and get to work. This kind of enthusiasm is natural and definitely isn’t a bad thing, but you must make sure you get a few small formalities out of the way first.

Everyone I’ve had the pleasure of working with so far as a virtual assistant has been honest. Let’s face it, in an ideal world we’d never need contracts for anything. The reality, though, is that we don’t live in an ideal world, which is why contracts are used throughout our daily lives.

Here are a few reasons why contracts are so important for freelancers today:

Contracts protect you

As I mentioned earlier, I’ve been extremely lucky with all my clients, but not everyone is. Non-payment is the biggest issue faced by many freelancers and without a watertight contract there’s little recourse for them.

Late payments are also a problem, especially when you are living on a carefully-calculated budget and have bills to pay on specific dates. Your service providers expect you to pay them as per your contract and that’s why you should expect the same from your clients.

Some freelancers also find that when they eventually do get paid the amount isn’t what they were expecting. Their clients have seemingly made adjustments, and the lack of a binding contract has enabled them to do so.

Contracts protect your clients

It would be wrong to think that contracts should only be put in place to protect the freelancer. All of our business relationships are two-way affairs, and that’s exactly how contracts work.

I’ve heard many stories where a client hired the services of a freelancer and ended up high and dry because the project was left unfinished, or the end result was completely different from what they expected and ultimately served no purpose for them.

The whole situation is made even worse if the client also loses money in the process. It could mean they are unable to hire someone else to complete the project and it leaves a bad taste in their mouths about working with freelancers.

Contracts boost your credibility

We all like to think of ourselves as consummate professionals. So why would you even consider entering into a new client relationship without a contract?

By starting every new project off on the right foot with a contract in place, you are automatically showing your client that you take your responsibilities seriously and that you mean business. It affords a sense of reassurance and sets a professional tone for your relationship going forward.

While a contract might not be able to prevent bad things from happening or relationships going sour, it will stand you in a stronger position should the worst happen.

As a final point, it’s always best practise to get any contracts that you are considering using checked over by a legal professional to ensure they cover every aspect you need them to. As contracts get edited to suit different purposes, they sometimes lose their enforceability, which is something that can’t be fixed after the event.

Have you ever had any problems with clients, which may have been okay if you’d have had a contract in place? I’d love to hear about your experiences…

Why You Need to Break the Outsourcing Vicious Circle

Why You Need to Break the Outsourcing Vicious Circle

When new business owners are first starting out, there’s a massive tendency for them to try and do everything themselves. After all, their fledgling companies haven’t yet found their feet and any tasks they can do personally ultimately helps them keep costs down.

But it’s usually not long before these solopreneurs, or small business owners, realise that they need to let go; outsource the day-to-day tasks that are consuming their time; and focus on what they do best: driving their business forward.

So when a new client approaches me, I know it’s because they’ve reached the point where they know they need some help with their workload. Accepting the fact that they need to outsource some work is actually a crucial stage to reach.

However, while they know they need to take advantage of a virtual assistant’s services, they often find themselves in a catch-22 situation. That’s because they’re often too busy to take the time to explain exactly what they want their new VA to do. This is especially true if they’re new to outsourcing.

office-620822_1920The bottom line is they’re busy and that’s exactly why they’re looking to hire a VA.

Obviously, there are certain tasks which are pretty standard across the board and don’t require much explaining. The majority of clients, though, have particular ways that they like things done; certain systems and methods which have become engrained in their routines.

Just because they’re going to outsource some of their tasks doesn’t mean they want them completed any differently. This is why it’s so crucial that they spend some time handing the tasks over properly.

If they don’t take the time to explain things properly, they often end up completing the tasks themselves (as they’ve always done). This defeats the object of having a VA in the first place and this is the outsourcing vicious circle I was referring to in the title of this post.

By taking some time to fully handover tasks, clients can break the outsourcing vicious circle and really make the most of their new VA.

It’s so satisfying for me to be able to help a client alleviate their workload and concentrate on their core business activities.

Even though I’m Jo Harrison, Virtual Assistant, I want all my clients to think of me in the same way they would a conventional assistant sat in the same office as them. My virtual desk is always ready for them to drop things on and having explained something once, they can turn their attention elsewhere safe in the knowledge that their tasks are being done just how they want them to be.