Appealing to the Needs of Small Business Appeal as a Virtual Assistant
Entire VA businesses are built to cater to the needs of the small business owner or single professional shops. There are "virtual offices" that are leased to small business owners for a minimum set fee each month. These offices lease for as little as $200 a month and provide professionals an address, a front office staff, and a meeting room available to them when the professional needs to meet with clients.
Regus, offers over 1,000 office locations in major cities worldwide and begins its office rates for as little as $99 per month. A local Texas provider, Meridian, starts its packages at $50 for basic mail and $120 for address and answering services. Although the virtual office is not the primary service of the Virtual Assistant, it is important to see the business side of your client's perspective.
For small businesses such as single practice attorneys, it is both frugal and sensible to lease virtual offices and retain a Virtual Assistant on an "as needed" basis. This arrangement can make the difference between a small business making a profit or not. The needs are minimal and your successful Virtual Assistant business is going to take the needs into consideration in order to best serve your client.
If a business is earning under $200,000 a year, then the revenue that can be spent on office expenses is extremely small [no more than $20,000 for everything, including the VA]. When you begin your VA business, small businesses can, and probably will, be your own bread and butter. The good news is that as the small businesses grow, your business will grow, since their needs will increase and the profit margin will not necessarily support rapid expansion or employee hiring.
A small business is considered an "upstart" in the first five years of business. It is during this time that the business will make it or fold -- usually within the first 3 years.
Upstarts have special needs, because they are very literally desperate to make the cash start flowing regularly and in quantity. So, one of their main objectives is to keep costs down.This is where the Virtual Assistant business helps an upstart to see it to the profit line.
In the beginning, you will also need to keep your own profit margin in mind so that you do not "shoot yourself in the foot," as they say. You will also want to keep in mind and take care not to give too much when negotiating the price with an upstart. If the company truly cannot afford you, then you will want to perhaps refer them to the local college career resource center and tell them to post a "help-wanted" under the "interns" section of the resource center. Never tell a client this unless you absolutely cannot squeeze out of them a decent contract because of their financial resources. Not everyone thinks or knows to seek an intern at the college for free office help and you certainly don't want to suggest it unless you either don't like the person or you cannot find a way to contract with them.
As you begin your own upstart Virtual Assistant business, you may want to keep in mind offering an entrepreneurial opportunity to an intern at your local college. For business-minded people, and those seeking business degrees, your new company offers them the opportunity to learn first-hand about up-starting a company, without the financial risk. Also, remember you may find future employees in the intern basket at the college. Check with the administrator first and then place the position online at the college's website. Be sure to remember to give your top intern an excellent reference when they depart. If your business volume can handle it, then you may want to offer them a contract or employment.
A Spirit of Excellence
Zig Ziglar is known as the "granddaddy of salesmanship." Indeed, he is America's leading salesman and he is keynote speaker in a number of business arenas focused on helping corporate America excel. In Zig's conferences, people learn to discern excellence and how they can communicate excellence to their prospective clients.
Ziglar did not get to his prominent position overnight; indeed when he died in 2012 at the age of 86, he had spent his lifetime teaching others the secrets to sales success. But he also spent his time refining his craft. In 1996, Anthony Robbins tried to swallow up Zig Ziglar by courting Ziglar's protégé, Peter Lowe, who promoted Ziglar. But Ziglar weathered the storm and Robbins failed to put the expert out of business.
As a business owner, you, too, must be prepared to spend the rest of your life refining your niche of excellence in the world. You must also be prepared to weather the storms of business when a competitor comes after your business because you are at the top of your game. Only a person with a spirit of excellence can withstand these types of business challenges. But it is still wisdom to embrace the spirit and standard of excellence and to continually strive to better ourselves in the business that we endeavor to operate.
Focus on What You Know
There is an old saying: "A Jack of all trades is a master of none." You do not want your clients or prospects to think of you in this manner. It is better to start small and focus on what you know, than to try to come out with a bang and fall smack on your face. After all, you do want to be successful.
In my own business, I was not able to expand until I brought in fresh talent that had mastered areas of my business that I knew very little about. In the first few years of your business, what you want to do is focus, focus, and focus on the area of business that you have mastered.
If you are a former paralegal and want to step out in your own business, then focus on serving the legal community of small lawyers' offices. Don't try to go over and run an answering service, or real estate leasing for virtual offices. Stick with what you know and where your connections naturally exist.
It is better to start with a small handful of lawyers as your clients, than to try to whip up small businesses that need start-up answering services. If you want to later offer your legal clients answering services, then step into it once you have a more office-service-oriented person come on board with you.
Expand Services As You Bring on Talent
In other words, do not over extend yourself, or try to learn a new type of service that you have not already mastered. When you bring on new talent, then you can do so with a type of talent in mind. Develop that person into their own specialty within your business and you will successfully expand your business. You will also build your company's reputation for really knowing your stuff.
New talent that comes to you with an already developed area of the VA business is a prime candidate to join your staff, help expand your business, and develop your market appeal. It is better to expand in this manner than to try to be something you are not to your clients.
All of these factors will determine the basic legal structure of your organization. In the United States, we generally choose from: sole proprietorship; LLC [Limited Liability Corporation]; LLP [Limited Liability Partnership]; Incorporation; or Non-profit. Before starting your business, consult with your attorney to determine which organization is right for you and your financial goals.
Some of the more popular services offered by VA businesses include:
- Phone answering services, including basic online reception services
- Messaging services, both computerized and live staffing options
- E-filing – For busy executives, this service helps keep their electronic files in order so they can find reports, incoming and outgoing emails, legal documents, etc.
- Personal services – Some VA businesses cater to the personal assistant services for the CEO or executives of a client. This portion of your business really requires no particular talent other than being organized and timely. The PS sector of business usually includes errands, such as: picking up and delivering dry cleaning; picking up and delivering personal mail to a post office or service; picking up children from school, church, or daycare; picking up or delivering personal items, such as birthday cakes, band instruments, ball equipment and other such things for the client's children; making and confirming flights and travel arrangements for the executive; scheduling a taxi or rental car in all locations of the client's travel; hotel accommodations scheduled; conference rooms reserved and accommodations made for the conference; and more.
- E-commerce services – This includes email marketing, email writing for marketing pieces, managing auto-responders or responding manually and live online, regular follow up for online purchases and those incoming emails, etc.
- Web design – Many VA businesses are specializing in web design, especially when the owners come out of the tech industry. The marketing for this type of VA service is directed more to new businesses as their dba notices are posted in the local papers. Sometimes, the VA owner has a broader market appeal or long-standing connections to reach the state, national or international levels.
- Freelance paralegal services – A very specialized set of services that usually are managed through local offices and restricted to one state. The Internet has quite a market of freelancers in this area. Besides needing strong connections to the legal services industry, you will need to check with your state bar association to find out how freelance paralegals are regulated in your state. In most states, the bar association laws require each paralegal to be legally accountable to a particular "managing attorney," who catches the fall out for the paralegal's errors. However, some states allow special circumstances for freelance paralegal services incorporated into VA businesses. Many states currently have pending arguments at the state level from both attorneys and paralegals pressing to break free from their 60-hour work weeks. Check thoroughly to find out before you try to jump into this area. Yahoo has some online groups that help paralegals take their services to the freelance VA sector.
- Transcription services – This is a somewhat specialized area of services and is best serviced by professionals who come out of the area of shorthand secretarial work and court reporting. There is software on the market to handle the majority of the labor intensive work involved in transcribing a client's tapes or books.There is a fairly large market for these services also, especially in the context of what is marketed on the Internet.
- Accounting services – Limited services in this professional area are in high demand for VA businesses. High demand for small businesses, especially in areas of monthly expense reports, inventory tracking, and basic business check services. You will likely want to limit what parts of this profession you accommodate, so that you do not run into financial and legal liability. If you are a certified public accountant and want to run a VA business of accounting services, then that is different and you should expect and plan for this type of liability/accountability. You will also want to check state licensing and insurance needs.
- Event planning and organizing services – This can be for full service of a company, or as mentioned above, at the personal level.
- Research services – Research can be necessary for any number of businesses and industries. It can include anything from very personal type of research (as in, missing heirs to an estate), to very public and broad research, such as market research for a company or industry.
- Traditional document management services – Document management can include filling the need for basic written communication, as well as managing what is already in the client's possession. In this area of VA services, expect to be ready to handle every type of need for the basic business documents in Word, Excel, and PDF files.
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