Bonnie Wooding's Blog

Things have been especially challenging for me these past few weeks.  I have the good fortune to sign on 4 new clients and I have been very, very busy integrating them into my workday.  As a result I was not able to post a blog last week and was late posting the previous two.  So I thought a good topic for this week’s blog would be “when business is good”.

Integrating a client has several defined steps that you need to complete to ensure each client can fit smoothly into your workday.

What needs to be done first?

You can pretty much guarantee that anyone looking for a VA is in a crisis.  They have lost a client, missed a deadline or their family & friends are planning an intervention.  It seems to be a rule that entrepreneurs do not look for help until catastrophe hits.

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One of the hard truths about owning a business is … sometimes you don’t have any business – or what you do have is not enough.  And this can happen many times.  So it helps to plan for this contingency.

There are a few things you can do to get you over any particular hump:

  • you can live off savings, a line of credit or your credit card;
  • you can work part time, or as a temp;
  • you can diversify, find additional streams of income.

Savings, Line of Credit, Credit Card

This is usually the most unpalatable choice.  No one wants to dip into the kid’s college fund, their retirement savings or rack up debt but you might be forced to make this choice.  If you do, treat this like a loan and like any other loan, it needs to be repaid.  Have a plan in place to pay yourself back. 

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No matter what your goals, where you want to be and how you plan on getting there, your journey will be that much easier with the support of your network – family, friends, mentors, colleagues, partners; I  cannot put a high enough value on having the support of these most important people in your life.

You have chosen your niche, defined your target market and drafted a business plan.  Your office is all set up, business cards printed and the website is almost done.  Now it’s time to define and build your support network – those people you will turn to for guidance and advice - your “Board of Advisors”. 

I have four people on my Board; one very close friend, one former mentor, a fellow VA and my husband, Brian.  Like most business owners who have a Board, mine has been built over time, one person at a time.  My Board has changed as well - one person moved, another had a “life changing event”.  When looking to replace these two, I realised that my business had changed, my niche has shifted slightly – and I found I really needed someone with completely different skills and experience, who now provides a whole new way of looking at the world.  My second choice was a former boss I have always admired, and I must admit, asking was a very intimidating experience.  I am so glad I did, her insights and perceptions have been invaluable.

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Time Keeping

Whenever I take a new client onboard, one of the first things I do is to set them up on my timekeeping software, so that I can provide a weekly or monthly report on what work I have done and, more importantly, how long it took me to complete it, which I send with my invoice. 

I do this for my client:  because everybody is on a budget and no matter how big or small that budget is, they need to be able to judge, with some degree of accuracy, what can be accomplished this month while staying within that budget;

and I do this for me:  because using a timesheet ensures that I get paid for all the hours I work.  Consistent use of a timesheet is also a very valuable tool when submitting a Proposal - it is a database that allows me to judge very accurately if I can afford to take on any particular project. 

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Responding to RFPs is one of the three main ways that I find clients. The other two are face-to-face networking and online networking.

RFPs are nice because you know that the company/professional who submitted the RFP is looking for support and that they know (at least slightly) what a Virtual Assistant is and does.  I find one of my biggest challenges when networking is that most of those you speak with are not actively looking for support and that so many either have never heard of a virtual assistant or do not understand the concept.  When networking, it helps to keep this in mind so that you are ready with your responses to “you’re a what?” and  “how does that work?”

I have noted in a previous blog that I do not participate on the various “freelance” boards –, eLance, Freelancer, oDesk, etc.  I have more than a few reasons for not doing so, but my major ones are money and supervision: the average hourly rate is less than 1/5

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NOTE:  This section took much more space that I had anticipated, so I will be moving Responding to RFPs and Getting Paid to next week’s column. 

The big question - how much should I charge? The easy answer to this is a quick google of other VA sites to find out how much they charge.  Many VAs do post their fees and a review of several will give you an idea of the range of fees being charged and for what services. 

But I know, based on many years of working (and several moves) that the money I can expect to be paid will be based on my experience and skills set – the more I know and the higher the demand for my particular skills, the more money I can earn;  and more importantly, I have also learned that the money I can expect to earn will also be dependent on where my client is located and what they expect to pay – a client in a large urban centre like New York will expect to pay significantly more than a client in a small town or rural area will anticipate paying – a simple economics lesson I learned when I moved from city to country.  Another significant factor will be the niche market I have chosen; a successful wedding planner would have a much larger budget than a speaker just starting out. 

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These days there are three major ways you can market your company – networking face-to-face, networking online in places like LinkedIn and Facebook and through paid advertising.  I am going to talk about face-to-face and online, but not paid because as yet I have not paid for any advertising.

Marketing is all about creating an easily and readily identifiable brand for you and your company.  Your brand is really the public’s expectation about your product (you) eg: Martha Stewart, “Domestic Goddess”, Warren Buffett,” Successful Investor”.  Once you have established what your brand will be, you can create your marketing tools – business cards, website, logo, banners & ads, printed materials and whatever else you might need as you move out into the business world and start knocking on doors.

A website and business card are the 2 most important tools in your marketing arsenal. When you work virtually, they are your shop windows. Pay as much as you can afford for a website and use the best card stock you can find for your cards.  They are investments in your business. 

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This is a longer post – which makes sense.  This is a pretty important part of business - without clients, we don’t get paid.

For as long as you have your business, you will need to search for, find and hopefully do business with other business owners.   Like paying taxes, you need to do this over and over and over.

People need to know that you are there and when you first start your business it is very unusual to have the capital for an advertising campaign.  Advertising is very expensive and most, like me, are on a budget.  I had to find other ways.  

What I discovered, on LinkedIn and on various online networks, is that entrepreneurs market themselves.  There are many opportunities online to market yourself – inexpensive and effective methods of shouting to the world “here I am”.  I will cover marketing in more detail next week. 

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You have made the decision to be a business owner and you are determined to put your wage slave days behind you.  You have set up your office and chosen your niche market.  But are you ready to serve your niche market?  Do you have the skills and knowledge essential to your clients?  Are you up to date on all the latest and greatest software, tools and apps being used by your niche market?  Working in the corporate world you typically have limited exposure to new software – maybe once every couple of years.  That will change now.  You will be looking at new software almost every month.  You might not adopt it, but you certainly will need to know about it and how it may (or may not) be useful to your client.

Most successful entrepreneurs will need an assistant and they run every conceivable type of business –real estate agents or financial planners, speakers, motel and resort owners, authors, internet guru’s, coaches, website designers, manufacturers, trainers, facilitators, wedding planners, event managers, retailers, etc, and etc.  And … there is a lot of technology out there and more being created every day to assist each and every segment.  Every day some bright light invents a new system or tool that will make yesterday’s tools and systems redundant, or at the very least a little too slow and cumbersome to be competitive.  This is why you specialise – so you don’t have to kill yourself trying to learn everything. 

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This is the part of working for myself that I find the very hardest to do, finding balance to ensure that I stay healthy and happy, my relationships (friends / family / network)  stay healthy and happy and my business stays healthy and happy.

When I first started my business, I acted exactly the same as I did when I got my first apartment - I went completely overboard with my new found freedom.  Because I could work whenever and wherever I wanted – I did.  I found myself working all the time – just a wee bit crazy.  My new world obsessed me.  I was having a ball, setting up my systems, finding clients, and networking.  Every waking hour was filled with working on my business. 

My husband was patient – for a while.  But soon it became apparent to him that I had jumped off the deep end – a frequent occurrence for me.  And, according to him, I have a little OCD as well – which

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One of the nice things about being a VA is that it is not difficult or expensive to set up your business, but some planning is essential. You will need a place work and tools to work with and it is easier to get these things set up before hanging out your shingle. 

Setting up your workspace. 

The very best option is a distinct space with a door and being able to separate your “home” life from your “work” life by closing it.  However, this is not always an option and you sometimes have to get creative and invent your separate space.  Entreprene

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What should I do?  What business would I find challenging and satisfying, and earn me enough money to pay my bills and support my gardening habit? 

The Small Business night school course I took said start with your skills.  What do you like to do that you can do really well?  Because this is how you will make the most money.  Running your own business is hard and staying motivated harder still.  Give yourself a head start by making things as enjoyable as possible. 

A few years ago, at the Toronto Chapter, we had a speaker come in who was (and still is), a Virtual Assistant – Preciosa Leal at Alliance Business Solutions.  I think that her presentation must have struck a chord with me because the first thing I thought of for my own business was being a VA.    Why not?  I would not need much in the way of start-up capital - no inventory to buy, no premises to rent and no employees to hire - and I felt I had a good solid set of skills to offer potential clients.

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This is my blog about my journey from Executive Assistant to Virtual Assistant.  I will take you through my ups and downs, my trials and triumphs, and hopefully, provide those of you who are considering taking the very giant (and very scary) step from employee to business owner with some useful information.

The sub-title of this blog is from my own exasperation at being part of company layoffs.  Whether you are shown the door or you remain – layoffs are miserable.  After my 3rd round, I felt it was time to get off the merry-go-round.  I decided that I would stop looking for the perfect job – I would create it !!  I would become a business owner.    How hard could it be?

Well, it turns out it’s pretty hard – but worth every effort. I can unequivocally state that starting my business it is the very, VERY best thing I have ever done for myself.  I LOVE being the boss and running my own show. 

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