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Why Entrepreneurs Need a Virtual Assistant

Dr. Flora Brown discusses 'Why Entrepreneurs Need a Virtual Assistant'Listen in to a recent episode of BlogTalk Radio show Color Your Life Happy with host Flora M Brown, PhD to learn ‘Why Entrepreneurs Need a Virtual Assistant‘.

Dr. Brown chats with professional virtual assistant Melissa Barham of Barham Virtual Assistance about why outsourcing to a virtual assistant is less complex and more cost-effective than hiring an in-house employee as well as being a great way to delegate those to-do list tasks that just aren’t getting the attention they need.

Three Mistakes Clients Make when Delegating to a Virtual Assistant

Mistakes to Avoid when Delegating

Mistakes to Avoid when Delegating

Surround yourself with the best people you can find, delegate authority, and don’t interfere.

– Ronald Reagan

Dr. Jeff Cornwall blogs at The Entrepreneurial Mind today about the art of delegation. In his post, entitled ‘Learning to Let Go‘ he shares the three most common mistakes entrepreneurs can make when delegating to employees. Granted, virtual assistants are not employees, but the rules of engagement are the same when it comes to successful delegation.

In his article, Dr. Cornwall lists the three most common mistakes made in delegation:

– Being hesitant to delegate.

– Rushed delegation.

– Undermining the delegation process.

Dr. Cornwall explains the ways in which these three mistakes can interrupt an otherwise successful flow of business and also provides insight into how to avoid and/or correct the issues caused by ineffective delegation including his own ‘seven-second delay’ to help avoid the fallout from the third mistake, undermining the delegation process.

Cornwall closes his article with this analogy: “Delegation is a lot like raising teenagers. At some point you have to begin to let go so they can learn — and grow up. With your business, if you don’t learn to let go and delegate, it will never successfully “grow up” to the next stage of development.”

For even more information on how to effectively delegate to your own professional virtual assistant, read our previous blog posts on the topic.

Do you have your own tips for how to make letting go and delegating easier for entrepreneurs and business owners who are used to ‘doing it all’? Please share them in the comments!

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Virtual Assistants: Your Secret Weapon

Virtual Assistants - Your Secret Weapon

Virtual Assistants - Your Secret Weapon

Probably the biggest problem with being a small business owner is right there in that phrase. Small.

Small means few or no employees. Small means you end up doing most, if not all, business tasks yourself, whether or not you’re any good at them.

But even if you ARE perfectly capable at completing those tasks, is doing them really a wise use of your time? (Just because you CAN do something, doesn’t necessarily mean you SHOULD.)

As a business owner, you should be focused on the big things — a vision for your business, putting together a plan to reach that vision, developing new products, spending time with your clients and marketing. In other words, those “big picture” tasks that grow your business.

What you should NOT be doing is worrying about getting your invoices out, mailing products, providing troubleshooting help, scheduling your time and all those other administrative duties.

In fact, the more time you spend on all the minutia of running a business, the less time you’ll spend on tasks that can actually grow your business.

It’s a vicious cycle. Maybe you feel like you don’t have enough income to hire help. So you do the work yourself. Because you do the work yourself, you don’t have the time to work on growing your business. So then you don’t feel like you have the income to hire help. And so on.

The same cycle exists if you feel you don’t have enough time to locate and train help. You end up doing the work yourself because there isn’t anyone who can help. And because you’re so busy doing things you truly have no business doing, you’ll never have the time to locate and train someone to help you out.

In either cycle, you’re probably discovering you feel overwhelmed, drained and with zero creative energy. Instead of jumping out of bed excited at being in business, you wake up each morning facing a to-do list longer than War and Peace and wanting to crawl back into bed and put your pillow over your head.

So what’s the solution? Hire a virtual assistant.

Virtual assistants, also known as VAs, are freelancers who specialize in taking care of the “busy work,” freeing you up so you can focus on why you started your business in the first place.

Because they’re freelancers, you pay them for the hours they work. And you don’t pay for overhead, vacation, taxes, office supplies, a desk, etc. It’s a perfect win-win for everyone.

Virtual Assistants can break you out of both those cycles and put you on the path to building a successful business. They can help you with just about every business task imaginable (with the sole exception of filing — you’re probably stuck doing that yourself).

Some examples include:

  • Bookkeeping, including invoicing, paying bills and following up with unpaid invoices
  • Product fulfillment
  • Customer service
  • Answering e-mails and phone calls
  • Scheduling business and personal appointments
  • Maintaining databases
  • Updating Web sites
  • Submitting articles to article databases

And much more.

In fact, if you want to see a list of what a virtual assistant can help you with, check out IVAA.org (International Virtual Assistants Association) and AssistU.com. These organizations can also help you find the right VA for your business. Virtual Assistants specialize in different business services, such as marketing or bookkeeping, so make sure you find a VA who focuses on what you actually need.

I can tell you from experience that once you take the plunge and hire a virtual assistant, you’ll kick yourself for waiting so long. You’ll have more time to devote to the tasks you most enjoy (rather than struggling with the ones you hate), you’ll be less stressed and have much more creative energy. Plus you’ll probably find yourself making even more money.

Creativity Exercise — Hire a Virtual Assistant

Ready to try a virtual assistant but not sure how to begin? I suggest starting small. Like five hours a month.

Make a list of everything you do in your business each day. If you get stuck, keep a notebook on your desk and write down things as you do it.

Now look at the list. Pick something you could delegate to a virtual assistant and would take around five hours a month.

Once you find the right VA and have freed up those five hours, make sure you use those hours to do something to grow your business. Maybe do some more marketing or develop a new product line.

Now after you’ve started seeing more income, take some of that extra money and add to your virtual assistant’s tasks. Again, use the time you’ve freed up to continue to grow your business. Before you know it, you’ll have built a thriving, successful business with less stress and have more energy and income than ever before.

About the author: Michele PW (Michele Pariza Wacek) is your Ka-Ching! Marketing strategist and owns Creative Concepts and Copywriting LLC, a premiere direct response copywriting and marketing company that helps entrepreneurs attract more clients, sell more products and services and boost their business. To grab your FREE “Ka-Ching! Business Kit” with a FREE CD visit http://www.MichelePW.com/freecd

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Virtual Assistant Needed: How to Submit an RFP that Gets Results

Submitting an RFP that Gets Results

Submitting an RFP that Gets Results

We’re going to take a short detour today from the list of questions you should ask a prospective virtual assistant to discuss the importance of submitting an RFP (Request for Proposal) that gives the right amount of information to get the best results possible.

Many clients don’t realize that when they submit an RFP they have an opportunity to frame their expectations, needs, and more. Virtual assistants who read a well-written RFP can learn enough about a potential client and his or her business to draft a truly professional answer, and it also helps weed out virtual assistants who don’t fit what you’re looking for – saving you time and energy. As a consumer, it’s in your best interest to think carefully about how you see a virtual assistant fitting into your business operations and goals and give voice to those expectations in your RFP.

We’ve included the fields of a standard RFP form along with suggestions for how to fill in each section for an RFP that really gets results:

Client name:

This one is pretty straightforward. If you hesitate to share your name due to privacy concerns, check the RFP policy of the site you’re submitting your RFP to. Most RFP sites only provide client information to their registered members.

Client email:

Make sure you provide the correct email address and that your account has room to receive replies. Double check your email address before submitting your RFP. If you’ve provided enough information in the rest of the RFP, proactive virtual assistants may do the legwork necessary to track you down, but don’t make responding to your RFP more difficult than it has to be.

Also, providing a company email address as the contact point is an optimal choice as it helps potential virtual assistants feel comfortable responding to the RFP, knowing it’s a ‘real’ company. soandso@freeemail.com just doesn’t command the same sense of legitimacy as you@yourcompanydomain.com.

Company name:

Provide your full company name. Some clients, in the interest of privacy, will not divulge their full or real company name in an RFP, which is a mistake. The most professional virtual assistants will be motivated to research your company, but they can’t do so if you don’t tell them what that is.

Industry:

What industry do you cater to or service? Whether it’s law, medicine, photography, coaching, or widgets – defining your industry up front will help prospective virtual assistants tailor their response to your RFP as well as their approach to your request for more information. Think about it, would you rather receive replies from VAs who understand what you do or those who have no clue and are reaching in the dark?

Job/project title:

Give your RFP a descriptive title. Sure, you’re looking for a virtual assistant, but just typing that in the field isn’t going to do you or your prospective VAs any favors. Sum up the gist of what it is you’re looking for. What type of VA? What sort of work are you looking for help with? Are you looking for a long term contract or a one-off project?

If you’re ready to have a virtual assistant install and customize a new WordPress theme on your website, “Seeking WordPress Virtual Assistant for Website Redesign” will bring the right kind of virtual assistants to your RFP in the first place. Whereas ‘Virtual Assistant’ or even ‘Website Work’ don’t really help narrow down just what it is you’re looking for. Spare yourself responses from the VAs who are responding to your RFP just because you’re looking for help with a solid title.

Do you have a deadline?

This is particularly important if you need something done quickly or are contracting with a virtual assistant to help you complete a project that you’re on deadline for yourself. Letting VAs know up front what they have to contend with will again help weed out those who truly can’t help. If a virtual assistant sees your deadline is next Friday, but knows she is booked until then and cannot help you, she’ll spare herself and you the expense of time by passing over your RFP for one she can fulfill.

Of course, if you don’t really have a deadline and it’s not a rush job, don’t arbitrarily fill this field out. For some clients, every project feels like an immediate concern, even emergent – but carefully weigh if this is truly the case before you note that on your RFP form as it will likely dissuade busy virtual assistants from responding.

Job description:

This is where you get to wax eloquent about all the things you imagine your virtual assistant taking off your plate. Use the opportunity to clearly paint what you need done, what you want done, and what you’re hoping to accomplish.

Note that truly professional virtual assistants will appreciate more detail and information about what you are looking for. The more information they have about what you think you need, the better they can tailor their specific offerings as solutions to those needs.

It’s also important to realize that if you’re looking to contract a virtual assistant for the long term, as most clients are, you don’t have to know all the details of everything you need right now. At this early stage you can’t possibly be aware of all the ways in which a virtual assistant can positively impact your business. Once you’ve found your VA, you and he or she are bound to discover and create new directions and tasks. For now, start with the things that are getting in the way of you doing what you need to be doing (visiting with clients, making sales calls, writing, developing products, etc…).

If there are things you aren’t sure about handing over, share them anyway – you may find that a particular respondent offers a solution or suggestion relative to those tasks that impresses you to no end.

Special skills required:

If you have specific expectations of your virtual assistant’s skill level, expertise, or experience, share them here. This is particularly important if you’re in an industry that requires special knowledge or training and want a virtual assistant who has at least some understanding of the same.

Note that some clients actually prefer a virtual assistant with limited knowledge of or experience in a particular field so that they can teach and ‘train’ the virtual assistant to approach business tasks in a certain way. Your own preferences and working style will be important to consider when answering this portion of the RFP.

Length of job:

Are you looking for a long-term working relationship, or a one-time project? The distinction is important to make because some virtual assistants will not take clients on outside of a long-term retainer. Specify what works best for you in your particular situation.

Preferred terms:

Are you looking for a virtual assistant on retainer, where you pre-pay for a specific number of hours at a specific rate each month, ongoing? This can be useful for clients who want to ensure their virtual assistant is readily available to them on a regular, ongoing basis. It is also preferred by many virtual assistants, especially those in high demand. Another item to consider is that unused retainer hours generally do not roll over to the next month, and are rarely, if ever, refunded.

Are you looking for an hourly arrangement, sometimes called pay-as-you-go or PAYG, where you pay only for work you need, as you need it? This can be a simple arrangement and is often favored by clients who are new to working with a virtual assistant but it’s important to realize that this can sometimes mean waiting for available time in a busy service provider’s schedule. Note that virtual assistants who offer PAYG often require some form of deposit up front before beginning work.

Budget:

How much money are you looking to invest in your virtual assistant? This is an important question, and while there’s really no ‘right’ answer it should be noted that professional virtual assistants charge anywhere from $25 hourly on the very low end, to $75 hourly and up for highly specialized and technical services. With that in mind, it’s also important to realize that an experienced virtual assistant can often finish a task much faster, and with more accuracy than you or another VA may be able to, ultimately saving you money.

If you are really uncertain how much you are able to spend, write ‘Negotiable’ or ‘Market rate’ in this field and compare rates as responses to your RFP come in.

Working with a virtual assistant truly is an investment. Smart business owners approach the RFP process with this firmly in mind.

Proposal submission requirements:

This field is perhaps one of the most important in your RFP. This is where you can provide specific requirements for the submission of your RFP. And it can be an excellent way to weed out candidates who can’t, won’t, or don’t follow directions. To do so, simply provide a request for a specific subject line, a certain piece of information to be included, or the answer to a particular question.

Finding the best virtual assistant for you and your business is a process worth investing in. All it takes is a little time and clear communication on your part. Submitting an RFP is the first step – take that step with purpose and your RFP will get results.

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A Virtual Assistant is an Independent Contractor, not an Employee

A recent article, Get Organized by Hiring a Virtual Assistant, published by Dunn and Bradstreet, showcases how working with a professional virtual assistant can help bring organization, focus, and stability to a growing business.

While the article does a good job of explaining the overall concept of working with a VA and even points out the advantages of working with an independent contractor as opposed to an employee, citing “there is no need to pay for health insurance, FICA taxes, computer hardware, rent, or anything else necessary to do the job” several other points in the article are misleading and could actually serve to confuse the role of a virtual assistant as a contractor, not an employee.

A Virtual Assistant is an Independent Contractor, not an Employee

In a paragraph discussing the options for and process of locating a professional virtual assistant the author states that many websites “have a database that contain numerous prospective employees and provide registries of qualified professionals.” While professional virtual assistants are most definitely ‘qualified‘ they are not, under any circumstance, ‘prospective employees’.

This kind of language is dangerous for both the client and the virtual assistant for a myriad of reasons including the most obvious legal and tax-related implications – if you treat your virtual assistant as an employee by specifying when and how work must be done the IRS can legally penalize you and your VA come tax time. But perhaps equally important is to recognize the way this misperception of a virtual assistant as an employee can impact the working relationship in a negative way. While it can be difficult for some clients (and even some virtual assistants) to break free of the ’employer/employee’ mindset, it is crucial to the success of both.

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Tools for Business Owners Who Work With Virtual Assistants: Online Fax Services

Tools for Business Owners Who Work With Virtual Assistants: Online Fax Services

Tools for Business Owners Who Work With Virtual Assistants: Online Fax Services

In our Tools for Business Owners Who Work With Virtual Assistants series we have discussed several tools that can be used to easily communicate with your virtual assistant. Using an online fax service not only serves as a convenient way to stay connected and a quick way to transfer information; it has eliminated the need for another piece of equipment – the old school fax machine.

Listed below are some of the most popular and respected online fax services on the market.

RingCentral Fax features a toll free or local number, dedicated fax number, receives faxes on your PC, via email, or with our mobile application, sends faxes by email and from your PC from any application. RingCentral’s most popular pricing package is the Fax 500 which includes 500 free pages each month for $7.99. Others packages ranges from $19.99 to the Fax Pro rate of $39.99.

MyFax allows you to send and receive faxes through your email, the web, or smart phone. It also features a local or toll free fax number, no software download required, saves sent and received faxes online for one year and personalize your faxes with your logo. MyFax provides the capability to fax from up to 5 different email addresses. Monthly pricing begins at $10 for 100 sent and  200 received pages.  A  free 30 day trial is available. No contracts required so you can cancel at anytime.

eXtremeFax is an online fax service that uses technology developed by RingCentral, Inc. You can choose a toll-free or local number to send and receive faxes from around the world. eXtremeFax also allows you to send and receive faxes by email, either from your PC or your phone, receive notifications by SMS, email, and on your PC, whenever you get an incoming fax. eXtremeFax offers two reasonably pricing options at $6.67 per month for 500 pages and $14.99 per month for 1200 pages.  A free trial is available.

Nextiva Fax highlights includes sending and receiving faxes by email,  directly from Microsoft Apps and by cell phone. Nextiva also allows you to keep your fax machine for convenient sending of paper based faxes.  In many cases you can keep your current fax number. Pricing starts at $4.95 for up to 500 faxes if you pay annually. Otherwise, the monthly fee is $8.95 .  A free 30 day trial is available.

eFax is an internet fax solution offering the largest selection of local and toll-free fax numbers in over 3,500 cities and 48 countries around the world.  It features lifetime storage, local and toll free numbers, enhanced security, to send or receive faxes as email attachments and fax from up to five email addresses. eFax Plus is $16.95 per month with an one time set-up fee of $10.00. This option allows you to send and receive 150 pages. eFax Pro is $19.95 per month with an one time set-up fee of $19.95 allowing you to send and receive 200 pages.

TrustFax’s monthly plan includes a US local or toll free fax number, capability to send/receive 250 pages per month, free account setup, faxes sent to your email, digitized signatures tool, secure online fax storage and international faxing.  A free 30 day trial is available. Monthly pricing is $8.95 and discounted at $7.46 if you buy an annual plan.

Do you use one of the services on our list? What has been your experiences?

Top 5 Things You Wanted to Know About a Virtual Assistant: Benefits of Outsourcing

Top 5 Things You Wanted to Know About a Virtual Assistant: Benefits of Outsourcing

Top 5 Things You Wanted to Know About a Virtual Assistant: Benefits of Outsourcing

This is the third installment in the Top 5 Things You Wanted to Know About a Virtual Assistant series. If you have followed our series; you should understand the definition of a virtual assistant and that he or she does not qualify as your employee. This post will address the benefits of outsourcing to a virtual assistant.

Whether you are a start-up business or established firm with a sudden increase in clients; a virtual assistant can help. In either scenario, (and many more) you realize that you cannot continue to maintain and grow your business alone. Now you are pondering how a VA can truly benefit your business.

Below are two ways a professional virtual assistant can benefit your business.

Saves Money: We have already established that virtual assistants are business owners and not employees. They carry their own operational expenses and taxes. You are not responsible for any employee-related taxes, benefits or insurance. In additional, VAs works from a fully equipped home office, so there is no overhead wasted on training or equipment. Although, many virtual assistants work on retainer basis; others offer services on a project or an as-needed basis. This allows you to pay only for the time used for that specific project or task.

Saves Time: Another great benefit of working with a virtual assistant is saving time. You save time by delegating tasks that you lack expertise or do not enjoy to your VA. Saving time with a virtual assistant allows you to dedicate time to other meaningful priorities. For example, you will have extra hours every week to devote to your own clients, marketing efforts, networking, or with family. Working with a virtual assistant means more hours in your day for more things you want to be doing. As we say in the industry – time to work on the business not in the business!

If you are ready to delegate some of your small business administration tasks and hire the right professional virtual assistant to reap the benefits of outsourcing; submit a Request For Proposal to the Virtual Assistantville Directory.

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