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I love Facebook groups. Well, I take that back. I like active, helpful Facebook groups. Not all Facebook groups are equal, my friend. I’ve been in enough of them to know the difference between a Facebook group owner who is all about selling their latest product and the group owner who truly cares about their members and consistently shares valuable content.
I love the questions new virtual assistants ask and I love seeing their excitement, having finally launched their business, most often after some sort of struggle or challenge. Maybe a family member wasn’t too keen on them launching. Or they may have lost their job and they had to start their business sooner rather than later. I’m a sucker for a feel-good story!
The virtual assistant industry rocks in large part because veteran virtual assistants are eager to help new folks feel not so new. Even after eleven years of being in business, I am still learning myself. We all bring something to the table.
Regardless of where you are in your virtual assistant journey, there are some things you need to know. Below are some things I’ve learned along the way - many I learned the hard way after making a huge boo-boo. But that’s how you learn, right? I’m going to run down the 19 things all virtual assistants should know. And definitely feel free to add your learning moment in the comments, ok? Here we go!
1. The client signs the contract first.
Oh boy, this is embarrassing to admit but I’ll admit it: when I was wet behind the ears way back yonder, I made this huge mistake. In my excitement in landing a client, I drafted my contract, SIGNED IT, and then sent it over to the client. No harm, right? Wrong! The client, probably sensing I was brand new to the game, changed the hourly rate on the contract to a much lower rate. And then signed it. Well, that was a big my bad. But there was nothing I could do about it. My signature was on that piece of paper, basically saying I agreed to the terms. Man, I still remember how angry I was with myself about that one. Learn from my mistake: make sure the CLIENT signs the contract first. Use an online signing site like HelloSign to get the job done. HelloSign is very simple to use.
Let me stop here for a second and say this while we’re talking about contracts: never, ever, ever work without a contract! I don’t care if it’s your brother-in-law or your good friend from elementary school. If you don’t have a contract in place that outlines the terms of your agreement and the scope of the project, things can go south very quickly. Click here for the contract I use with clients or if you want to go the free route, create your own contract here.
2. Your subcontracting rate is less than your regular rate.
Whether you charge clients by the hour or you create monthly packages, you have an idea of what your hourly rate is. As a virtual assistant, you need to have two figures in your mind when you pitch: your regular hourly rate and your subcontractor rate. So, what is that?
When you subcontract with another virtual assistant, that virtual assistant is the middleman between you and the client. Sometimes you may have access to the client, many times you won’t. The work will be funneled through the main virtual assistant (contractor). The virtual assistant has done all the heavy lifting, like marketing, doing a discovery call and signing the client. All you have to do is come in and do the work. And that means your subcontractor rate will be less than your regular hourly rate.
For example, if your regular rate is $40 per hour, your subcontractor rate might be $25 per hour.
Remember that when sending proposals that ask for subcontractors. You don’t want to eliminate yourself from a position just because you submitted a bid that was way too high.
3. Blogging is for everyone, not just foodies or travel bloggers
If you truly want to stand out in the virtual assistant world, start a blog. Seriously. Yes, I know you’ve got client work galore but blogging can pay off royally if done well. The benefits of blogging for your business include:
Showing what you know
Driving traffic to your website
Getting people to know you
Instead of chasing clients, a blog can be a serious lead magnet and put your marketing on autopilot. Isn’t that a whole lot better than chasing potential clients all the time?
4. Don't sell cheap to seal the deal. Know your worth.
I know this is a touchy subject in the virtual assistant world but I’m just gonna say it: I know I feel some kind of way when I pitch my services and another virtual assistant bids way lower (like ridiculously lower) just so they can sign the client. There are a few schools of thought about that:
Some virtual assistants don’t care as long they sign a new client. For some out there, the main thing is to say they have a client. Doesn’t matter if they are getting paid peanuts - they can puff out their chest and announce proudly, “I have a client!” Yay, you! That’s great. High five and all that.
But what have you really accomplished? Will the client truly value your work or are they just thrilled with you because you bid some foolish amount? Will the client view you as a professional business owner or will they think of you as a worker bee who works for peanuts? Hey, the choice is yours. Not judging. Just something to think about the next time you submit a proposal.
Some virtual assistants really don’t know what they are worth. If you fall in this category, it’s time to educate yourself. Maybe you worked in an office job that paid $15 per hour and you had benefits: health insurance, life insurance, retirement, the whole shebang. Guess what, honey? All those perks and benefits are now on you as a virtual assistant and charging $15 per hour ain’t gonna cut it. Not knowing is not an excuse.
Some virtual assistants are too scared to charge what they are truly worth. If submitting a bid with $30, $40, $50 per hour frightens you, it’s time to figure out why that is. Could it be because you think your current skills aren’t worth that much? Then do something about it! Sign up for a class at VA Classroom or take a niche course like How to Become a Pinterest VA. If your skills are top-notch and you’re confident, you won’t bat an eye when you submit your proposals. And your clients (the right clients, that is) will have no problem paying it.
Bottom line: if you think cheap, that’s exactly what you’re going to get in return. You’ve been warned.
5. Figure out who you want to work with and hang out there.
Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest. You know you need to be on social media to get known and find clients, right? But here’s the deal: you don’t need to be everywhere all at once. Almost 90% of my website traffic comes from Pinterest (yep, you read that right) so guess what? That’s where I spend the majority of my time. I check my Twitter account several times per week, send out a Tweet here or there but I don’t put a lot of time into it. And that’s okay because my target audience isn’t hanging out there, anyway.
Do you offer high-level legal services? I bet you’ll find your ideal client on LinkedIn so spend your time and resources there.
This article explains how to generate leads on LinkedIn - a good read.
Back in the day, it was almost like a badge of honor to have a slew of social media icons on your website. Yep, I did it, too. Set up social media accounts for things I never even used just to say, “Hey, look at me! I’m out here.”
That way of thinking is, thankfully, long gone and successful online business owners (hey, I see you!) are focusing their energies where their ideal clients are.
6. Don't be afraid of your competition. Get to know them.
Luckily, the virtual assistant industry is a very helpful one but it’s still a business and you might be intimidated by some of the so-called “big dogs” in the industry.
But while you’re shaking over in the corner, wishing you were like that person, someone else has decided to bravely cross the dance floor and ask for that dance (aka - working together, or collaborating).
Instead of being intimidated, get to know your competitors. That doesn’t mean copy them but you can be inspired by them. Reach out to them and introduce yourself. Personally, I love getting emails from folks just launching their virtual assistant business or virtual assistants ready to grow their business. Seriously, we all started somewhere, right? No one should ever be too big for their britches to give the cold shoulder.
Plus, you never know when a collaboration will come about. Maybe you follow a well-known blogger and you notice they aren’t very active on Twitter. But Twitter is your jam and you can totally help them with that. Put together your best pitch and send it to that big-time blogger. You might be surprised!
Download my swipe file of the exact proposal I use to send to potential clients. Tweak it, make it yours and start pitching your competition. Sounds weird, doesn’t it? Trust me, it works.
7. Use the best tools you can afford and upgrade as you grow.
Startup phase doesn’t have to mean sub-par. What I mean by that is not all free tools are the same. No offense but email@example.com doesn’t sound very professional firstname.lastname@example.org does. Both are free but only one projects the professional image you’re aiming for. There are a load of free tools out there so definitely get familiar with them but strive to upgrade to other tools. If you try out a trial version of a paid resource, make sure to cancel it before the end of the trial period so you don't get charged for it. That’s why it’s so important to charge your worth. You want to be able to invest back into your business so you can afford the pricey ones one day.
8. You won't be able to do everything and that's ok.
When you take your car in to be serviced, you expect your car to be fixed, right? Do you also expect the mechanic to clean your house or represent you in a legal situation? No! The same thing goes for being a virtual assistant. You can’t do everything out there. It’s impossible. Sometimes you’ll see clients asking for the moon (“Need a social media manager, someone to design a funnel, set up an e-commerce store and set appointments.”). And that’s just insane. Some clients think virtual assistants can do all the things and truly don’t know that instead of trying to find one person to do it all, they actually need two or even three people. That’s where a bit of education and a whole lot of grace comes in to play. Don’t try to do it all. Determine what you’re good at and what you love doing and run with it.
9. Don't air bad client experiences online.
If you never run into a bad client, consider yourself one lucky duck. I’ve encountered a few in my day - clients who didn’t pay, unrealistic expectations, shady stuff. But one thing I’ve never done is air that on social media. Yes, I know social media is the place to go to share each and every little thing in our lives but before you march over to your keyboard and bang out a scathing post about your trifling client, I want you to do this:
Take a deep breath
And walk away.
Feel better? Good! You're better than any old nasty message that will be out there for the world to see. Be the bigger person in the situation because guess what? If you put your bad experience out there, not only will virtual assistants see it but other business owners will as well. And they'll wonder if you'll roast them on social media if something goes wrong. Don't do it, friend. It ain't worth it.
And speaking of bad clients…
10. Do your due diligence when it comes to researching clients
Totally get it - you want (and need) to sign clients ASAP. But don’t let that anxiety get in the way of good ol’ common sense. There are some things you need to do and look out for before you sign on a new client. And always remember this: the discovery call process is a two-way street. They will ask questions of you but you better be asking questions of them. And if something doesn’t sound right or feel right, ask for clarification. If you don’t get the answer you’re looking for, don’t pursue the client any further and consider yourself lucky.
Here are some things to look out for that spell scam:
The grammar and spelling are off.
They ask for your personal information right off the bat: your Social Security number, bank account information, date of birth, home address and phone number.
The pay is super high and the work isn’t too difficult or time-consuming. If it sounds too good to be true - well, you know the rest.
11. Send the best proposal you can and make sure you meet the requirements
This is so important because I’ve been on the receiving end of some not-so-great proposals. Spell check goes a long way. Clients want to know how you can help them and they don’t want to know about all the other things you can do, especially if those things have nothing to do with the requirements in the posting. Put your best foot forward because you only get one bite at the apple. A few things you can do:
Research the client’s company. Visit their website and dig around to find out as much as you can. Share some of those tidbits in your proposal. What does that do? It shows you get their business, that you care.
Just like this response I received this week from a cold pitch I sent:
Create a few samples that show the client you know your stuff. It won’t hurt ya and in fact, it will probably help by making your proposal stand out.
Remember, one chance.
12. Be authentic
It can be tempting to imitate someone you see online who seems to have it all together. You even try to sound like them on social media. But that ain’t you, boo. You’re trying to pass yourself off as someone you’re not. And the online world doesn’t need an imitation. They need you. So get out there and show the world who you really are.
13. Batch tasks and save yourself a boatload of time
I have a short attention span and I feel a bit off-balance if I have to do lots of different tasks at one time. That’s why I batch tasks. What the heck is batching?
Batching is when you do one particular task at one time. For example, I don’t schedule pins every day but only two days per week. I write blog posts on Sundays only.
Batching keeps me sane and focused. What are some tasks you can batch? Give it a try!
14. Don’t be a link dropper in Facebook groups.
I love hanging out in active Facebook groups (yeah, I may have mentioned that already) but one thing that kind of turns me off is when members just drop a link to their website and have no intention of engaging in the group. Or, they copy and paste the same promotional post to several groups. If you’re like me, you belong to multiple groups and you’ll probably see the same thing in each group. There’s a right way and a not-so-right way to promote yourself in Facebook groups and dropping and running ain’t it.
15. Learn how to sell your services
So many virtual assistants seem to have a problem with this concept: in order to grow your business, you must be comfortable selling, especially in the beginning. No one knows who are you are (well, maybe your family and friends know you have a business). But it’s time to show the world what you’ve got and strut your stuff.
16. Don't worry too much about getting it perfect in the beginning
You might not have a website, you might not have a logo. Don’t let what you don’t have get in the way of promoting your business. Promote while you build your website. And truth be told, you don’t need a logo right away. Folks just want to know you can do the work. I’ve seen too many folks stumble in the beginning because they want their launch to be “perfect.” And then when it doesn’t go perfectly, they get discouraged.
The purpose of mistakes is to learn from them so if you don’t make any, you won’t have too many opportunities to learn, will you? Focus on what you do know and build from there. And don’t be too hard on yourself, ok? You can do this!
17. Be patient
Rome wasn’t built in a day and I can probably share a bunch of other cliches to make the point that building a business takes time. Finding the right client takes time. Getting your groove takes time. Stay focused on what you need to get done and don’t worry that other virtual assistants seem to be zooming by you. Shoot, you don’t know what they went through to get to that point and frankly, it’s not your business. Your business is to market yourself and build a profitable business. That’s it. That’s all. But you’re gonna have to show patience. Slow and steady…(finish the sentence for me).
18. To build your business, start asking for referrals.
Don’t let opportunities slide by. When you finish a project with a client, circle back and ask them if they of anyone else who might need your services. I’ve found that many times you have to initiate that conversation. Make it easy for clients to refer business to you -- maybe set up a Google Form or a form on your website and offer some type of referral incentive. And you can learn more here about how to snag referrals.
19. And last but not least - treat your business like a business.
You’ve made the important decision to not only be a virtual assistant but you’ve decided to become a full-fledged business owner. And that’s big stuff, honey! Always maintain a professional air about yourself, treat others like you would want to be treated and put your best foot forward. Continue to learn, invest in your business. And above all, love what you’re doing. Because without passion for your business, you’ve got nothing but a time-sucking activity.
I hope this helps you wherever you are in your virtual assistant journey.
And for more resources, feel free to check out my resources page. Best wishes to you!