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Creating Your Niche as a Virtual Assistant
 
 

Creating Your Niche as a Virtual Assistant
The Virtue of Excellence

The difference between perfection and excellence is perspective. If you strive for perfection, you risk never producing anything, because perfection can be easily redefined by every person who looks at the work. The risk is that you will never see your work as perfect enough, so you never release it to help others.

Excellence, on the other hand, requires only that your work is produced with the highest of standards. A spirit of excellence says, "I will work to produce material that makes my client happy." To produce with excellence is to work with an eye toward what your clients desire, what they prefer, and what they measure as "excellent." In other words, the virtue of excellence is about pleasing your client and exceeding their expectations and standards.Your client should never have to ask you to redo something because it was done sloppily. If, and when, your client asks you to redo something, it should be a matter of preference – they want something changed, because they prefer it this way.

A great example of the difference between perfection and excellence can be demonstrated by pointing to my own work here. When I write for a client, I normally produce the work in a Times Roman 11-point font. I do this, because this particular setting is a publishing industry standard. So is double-spacing the page content. This is what my industry considers "perfect." However, a number of my clients ask me to change the font, size, and spacing to meet their standards or reading convenience.This change is a request to meet their preference, and is no reflection of the material content I produce. In a similar manner, you want to make sure that what your Virtual Assistant business produces for your client pleases them at the core. Any changes should simply be adjustments that reflect preferences – this is the virtue of excellence.

What Sets You Apart

A virtue of excellence will set you apart from your competition, but it is a quality that must be proven out, over time, as your clients experience you and your company.To jump into the Virtual Assistant business with a bang, you will need other things to help set you apart from your competition.

Some things that will help you distinguish yourself from others may include any or all of the following:

  • Unusual work hours – This could include a night service or 24-hour service; a company that operates outside of traditional business hours.
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  • High-end service – If you insure and bond your employees, then you will gain access to high-end clients; those with assets at risk.
  • Specialize in a particular profession – If you have a paralegal background, you can focus on catering to attorneys. The same is true of any profession – the more insights and connections you have to that profession, the better suited you are to become specialized in serving that profession.
  • Certified VAs on your staff – If your workforce is certified by leaders in the industry, or if you offer your clients a specialty group, then your employees become qualified and specialized -- tailored for their industry.
  • Punctual workers – Today's workforce is generally so stressed out that punctuality has hit an all time low. The "flex-schedule" has become part of the work place, primarily because of worker stress. However, your clients will still appreciate punctuality. If you can motivate your workers to be punctual on all assignments, your company will stand out in the eyes of the client. A simple "punctuality bonus" can be implemented rather easily; consider a percentage base, say 10 percent more per hour. You can also build in an additional monthly or quarterly structure that would motivate workers to consistently be punctual in all of their assignments. Punctuality is both easier to monitor with online services, such as VA businesses, and it is easier to justify lag time. After all, systems do go down, including Internet service, and clients are used to having to adjust to these incidents. But if you can find an effective way to produce the most punctual workers, you have set yourself apart from your competition.
  • A pre-order interview – Take the time to sit with your prospective clients before you ever assign anyone to work with them. If you cannot go into their place of business, because of location, then take the time out of your day to spend at least 30 minutes on the phone getting to know them. You will want to know their temperament, their expectations, their flexibility, their past experience with other VAs, and what your company can do to make them happier with you than they were with the last company/worker.
Your Niche and How You Define It

Your market niche is determined by how you define it. Some VA businesses handle only incoming calls to the client, much like an answering service. Some handle only administrative or word processing services such as typing, faxing, emailing, and researching. Some VA businesses provide all of it, and some businesses allow their clients to choose services a la carte.
To define your VA business correctly, you will want to research what fits your own background, as well as how you envision transferring your experience into a solid business. This is called market research and really should be accomplished at the same time as the other research . It is hard to start a business in a service or industry you do not understand. Understanding everything about your market is your number one job, before you try to open doors to your new business.

Which Services to Offer

To better understand which services to offer, let's take a look at how a profession may translate into Virtual Assistant work. For example, if you have a career as a court reporter, then you can consider creating a VA service specialized in transcriptions work. A court reporter has the skill, experience and connections to create a successful VA business specialized in transcriptions services. The market for transcriptions services is pretty large when you look across the range of companies served. Life coaches, professionals who teach on a subject, ministers, and anyone who regularly gives speeches of any type, needs and wants the services of a transcriptionist to convert their speeches or classes into written material.This opens a door of marketing for them, and helps them increase their sales.Transcriptionists are also used to help write books of all types, including eBooks.

The downside to opening a transcriptions-focused VA business is that traditional court reporting-type transcribing is being replaced in the marketplace by software that can do their jobs. The truth is, if you want to change your court reporting profession it into a VA business, you can focus on small businesses and small volumes, and still come out ahead of the competition and the software. You can purchase the software that threatens to put traditional transcriptionists out of business and run it from your office with a handful of competent VAs who understand how to run the program. So, you provide the service at a fraction of the cost of traditional transcriptions.

When you delve into an industry, such as the example above, you want to weigh all of the pros and cons before investing in software, people, equipment or start-up costs. Keep in mind that most VA businesses offer some type of phone answering service, typing/word processing service, and email service as part of their standard package. This is because most of the demand for VA services revolves around the basics. However, this should not impede you from exploiting your own professional experience and specializing in that area. Just be sure to add the basics into your plans when presenting your clients with your package options.
Technology and International Competition

Technology and the Virtual Assistant Business

Technology is something you must stay on top of in the Virtual Assistant business.Your employees are not located on your client's site and, depending on how you set up your business, possibly not located on your site either.Therefore the latest technology is important for you and your employees to have at your fingertips.

It is very likely that the technological tools you need to make a successful upstart may be the most costly portion of your upstart expenses, aside from advertising and company promotion.

Essential Tools for the Virtual Assistant:

  1. Internet Service – It seems to go without saying, but just to make sure the reader doesn't misunderstand what is needed for start-up – be sure to get the latest FIOS [Verizon] or fiber optic service that is available in your area. Fiber optic Internet service excels above other types of service, because the cables are new; information travels via light rather than an electronic conductor type of wire, the signal transmission is not subject to radio or other signal transmissions in your area, and it is faster.
  2. Sandboxie – Cool feature: This program gives you a 30-day limited "free trial". After the trial period, you are prompted to purchase the software for about $35, which includes a lifetime license, including all upgrades.
  3. Dragon – Most versions [except the Medical version] cost under $2,000, but the value and time saved should far outweigh your investment. To further check out the software, go to the Dragonpage on Nuance's website.The software essentially types as you speak – at an average of 140 words per minute as opposed to your normal typing rate. Even a good typing rate is about half of your speaking rate.
  4. Fax service – Purchase a traditional fax machine for under $200 at a supply house such as Office Depot. Both are reasonably priced under $150 per year and they make it easy for you to send electronic documents.This is especially helpful if your client scans documents into the computer or expects you to do the same for their work.
  5. Secured laptop Wi-Fi service – Check out comodo.com for Internet security services on your laptop while out and about. The service runs about $50 per year and is yours everywhere you go.
  6. Video Cam – An online camera may prove helpful in certain Virtual Assistant work, such as webinar production or online presentations. Commonly referred to as "webcams," these little cameras attach to your computer for online conferences, presentations, webinars, and similar seminars. Logitec makes a popular Pro 9000 model, which can be purchased for under $300 for the entire package, depending on where you buy it. Popular sellers include Best Buy and Amazon.com.
  7. Blackberry – Even if you have another version or style, you will want a PDA [personal digital assistant] that delivers instant text messages to clients and their urgent inquiries.
  8. Skype Account – Occasionally you may need international calling. International calling is Free through your computer, if you go through the Skype service. Simply set up an account at Skype.com.
  9. An 800 Number – This may or may not be an immediate need for your upstart VA business, depending on how you target your market and structure your business.
  10. Copyscape – You will want to set up an account to check the work your employees produce, if they write for your clients.The cost is minimal and the service insures original content for your client.This site also searches (and protects) content on your website. If your site or page has been copied somewhere on the web, this site will find it. When you create a document for your client, be sure to create original content, as many clients check the content here.

International Competition

In many online international companies, Virtual Assistant is synonymous with "outsourced" and "work-at-home." In some circles, any profession that can be managed or performed remotely via computer is considered a "virtual assistant." This is one reason I have encouraged specialized professionals with years of experience in their fields to avoid the "Jack or Jill of all trades" approach to Virtual Assistant businesses. When you specialize in your professional area, then you upgrade the VA business to a specialty shop or boutique that caters to a certain industry. There is clearly more money, more opportunity, and more satisfaction in creating a specialized business in this way, rather than joining the larger pools of people with minimum skills or training that all compete for the same low paying jobs.

In international circles, the Virtual Assistant is not necessarily considered a "low wage earner" due to the differences in currencies. But, when you create an American-based organization you must "one-up" the international pool of workers in order to compete. This is the primary reason for raising the bar with professional grade services, rather than general services.

The exception to that idea would be if you have family or business connections in a foreign country where you could open your business using the native workers of the land. In this case, there is a load of money to be made by establishing an offshore business that serves international businesses.
 
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