GIFT BASKETS: PART OF NETWORKING EVENTS

almond-milk-chocolate-dessert-giftbasketEveryone likes freebies or at least the chance to get a freebie. That’s why I always offer a raffle item, when I’m an exhibitor at an event. As a virtual assistant, I have so much to offer businesses with regards to completing projects and saving them money. I just need to get their attention.

Exhibiting at an event is a great way for me to present my business and stand out from the others. I really enjoy thinking of and creating the perfect give-away prize. I don’t repeat what I’ve already given away. In my opinion, it displays a lack of creativity. How can I convince business owners to give me a chance, when I can’t even get creative with a give-away prize?

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Virtual is a concept and not a concrete form, so in one way, my creativity can flow in many different directions. On the other hand, I do want the prize to somehow mirror or explain what I can do for their businesses. I’ve come up with a few ideas that I will share.

My business name is Virtual Colleague, LLC, so I want to capitalize on the “virtual” and “colleague” aspects. For the virtual aspect, I offered a pair of men and women’s sunglasses. They were stylish and I presented them in gift boxes. People asked me what that had to do with my virtual assistant business and I told them that the sunglasses allow people to look at the world with ease and eliminate any glare. The sunglasses assist them virtually, so people are comfortable using them and get great results. I’ve also given away smaller items like keychain flashlights that don’t require batteries, those purse-size little note pads with matching pens, etc. All of these items are small, inconspicuous, but produce great results.

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For the colleague aspect, I always thing in two’s, pairs, or groups. The most expensive prize I’ve ever given away is a massage for two people. I’ve also given away movie ticket packages for two, a few different his and hers gifts to signify that the colleague part of my business is a partnership and not just boss and worker each doing their own thing. A few times, I’ve given away group gifts such as coffee and donuts for their office, a pizza party, or lunch for the office.

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These give-away prizes can be expensive, but I’ve found that the contacts I make and the interest they generate in my business more than make up for this cost and some of this cost can be used as a tax deduction.

2 sided VC business card

If I’m just networking at an event and I’m not exhibiting, then I make sure I create an exceptional business card. The quality of the print, color, size, and paper quality are important. I use both sides of my card to put out as much information as I can and I give them to everyone I meet. Some may just throw it away, but many hang on to it as a reference and that’s how I get many of my clients. I achieve great results through networking, demonstrating style and professionalism, and showing the uniqueness of my business.

 What type of give-aways do you have at networking events?

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AM I VIRTUALLY HEALTHY?

It’s been several weeks since the holidays and most of the things I planned to do are not done and probably will not get done. I’m always overly optimistic about doing things and I have a “can-do” attitude. I think I can do it all, but sometimes I fall short. I always make a small list of things I want to do or changes I want to make.

One thing that I continue to work on is “virtual health”. I divide health into 2 categories. The things that crop up that I have to take care of: dentist appointments, mammogram, annual checkup, etc. These things are necessary, but there doesn’t have to be a medical problem to get them taken care of. I call these things “routine health”.

female-doctor

My second category of health is “virtual health”. What is this? This is my day-to-day health and habits. For example, what I eat or not eat? How much rest and sleep do I get per night? What type of exercise do I do and how much time do I spend doing it? How much stress is in my life right now?  Am I a caregiver for someone? Am I in a good relationship with the people around me and the people I love?

All of these things affect my health. Virtual health, in my opinion, is the daily things I have to do to keep myself in good health. If my daily lifestyle isn’t balanced, I won’t be in good condition to ward off colds, the flu, arthritis, and aches and pains.

business-woman-with-back-pain

Using the same comparison with my virtual assistant business, the two go hand in hand. I have to be fit for work. Learning new technology, working and meeting all project deadlines, and then making time to network and promote my business, Virtual Colleague, LLC.

My virtual health has to be in good condition, so I can get up every morning feeling refreshed and ready for a full day’s work. I need to take vitamins or any other medication that balances my system and allows me to feel well. I also need to be able to work under some pressure and deal with sudden changes in my life. This is not always easy and can send my business reeling, if I can’t recover quickly.

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Like networking, I must find the time to practice yoga and go for walks to refresh my mind and body. Yoga calms me and regulates my breathing and walking provides natural exercise and clears my head. It also allows me to think things through without interruption.

young-fit-woman-jogging

Virtual health is important, but most of us rarely pay attention to it. We only notice it, when we feel sick or think there’s a health problem. Although I have regular hours for my virtual assistant business, virtual health is really 24/7.

So how do I master virtual health? The same way I handle my business. I schedule time to do specific things. I take time to learn new skills, which strengthens my concentration. I schedule breaks and lunches, so I will have at least a half hour away from my desk. No eating at my desk and working at the same time. That’s counter-productive. If it’s a nice day, I may even take an hour for lunch and walk for half of that time just to stretch my body.

I’ve found that a quick walk at lunch time renews my energy and I can accomplish as much in the afternoon as I did in the morning. I am a morning person, so I schedule the difficult tasks for the morning. In the afternoon, I continue with the day’s work and create the schedule for tomorrow. In that way, I know exactly what I have to finish today and what I will do for tomorrow. All deadlines are met in advance using this method and it’s less stressful.

calendar due date

That’s the virtual health plan I use to stay healthy and active, while achieving a good work/life balance. What do you do to keep virtually healthy?

 

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Virtual Assistants are the Bread of Businesses

When I think of networking as a virtual assistant, I think of making bread dough! Both contain basic ingredients and are not easy to handle, but can turn out excellent results. You never know, if it will turn out as planned.

Sandwich

Bread dough is basically flour and water. Networking is you, the virtual assistant, and the event. Great care has to be taken to get good results. For the bread dough, fresh ingredients, a clean working surface, the determination to massage and finesse the dough to the right consistency, and time and patience. These are essential to getting good results.

Sliced loaf of bread

Virtual assistants are basically administrative professionals that have advanced skills and talents. They need to attend social events to promote themselves and their businesses. Virtual assistants have to take care of their own businesses by preparing for these events. They must look professional, have great social communication skills, and be able to gently extract pertinent information from potential clients, so they can initiate a meeting or set up some type of communication with them.

Networking

While making bread dough requires physical strength and coordination, the virtual assistant has to stimulate conversation and stretch themselves skillfully to attract new clients. In the bread dough, the yeast is the essence of the bread. This is a process of using just the right degree of warm water and yeast. The yeast has to sit there and “work” until it’s ready to be put into the bowl and allowed to rise to its full potential.

Virtual assistant 1

Virtual assistants go through the same formula. They have to have the right mix of skills, learning capacity, and they have to give themselves time to “mature” and be ready to formulate their own business and be successful. They’re ready, when they have mastered several skills and they’re ready to jump into the competitiveness of the business world.

What if the bread dough doesn’t rise or is too sticky or lumpy? We all make mistakes and sometimes things are just not meant to be. Learn from your mistakes. The greatest chefs in the world burned toast and failed many times before achieving success. Learn from your mistakes and keep on trying. You will not make as many mistakes as you think you will and you will become better at your craft, the more you do it.

Chef

The bread dough, if prepared and handled properly, will yield a delicious loaf of bread. It will look enticing, taste incredible, and compliment any food that’s served with it. So too, for virtual assistants, they must continue to grow and develop in many ways, while they’re preparing themselves for business ownership.

appetizers

 

When they’re ready, they will present a professional presence by being able to speak about many topics, act in a professional manner, and connect with their potential clients on several levels. Their expertise will impress their new clients and reinforce their business relationships. Virtual assistants and their businesses or brands will have a far reaching effect. Most of the clients will automatically promote their virtual assistants and their skills. Virtual assistants, if skilled properly and ready for a challenge, should complement any business.

Virtual Assistant 2

So the next time you sit down to eat any type of bread, whether it’s fancy, spicy, with seeds, crusty, thin-sliced, or hearty, think of the bread-making process and how long it took to get to what it is right now in your plate. Think of the work, the hours, and the care that made this bread what it is. Look at it and then taste it and feel the results of someone’s hard work, talent, and patience.

Bread Basket

These same principles should be applied to any virtual assistant business and if anyone is thinking about becoming a virtual assistant, I say “go for it”. Start right now to develop your skills and abilities, start working on your business plan, develop your professional brand and remember that time and patience yields a good harvest.

Check out my website Virtual Colleague LLC.

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Honesty Is the Best Policy

I recently had a client that wanted me to do a few “simple” projects. This is how he described his projects – simple. He was partially correct.

The first few projects were documents that either required research, product descriptions or how-to explanations, but the last project on the list was a real challenge for me.

He wanted me to create some kind of infographic. I don’t possess any of the software tools needed to do that kind of work, so I did some research. I finally decided to use Canva, because it’s free and easy to use.

Infographic

I have to stop here and tell you that the client didn’t exactly know what he wanted, but he gave me a brief description. I worked diligently on several images for the infographic. He was very vague, so I used my creativity to come up with different images and styles.

I sent them to him, so he could get back to me and I would correct or tweak anything he didn’t want. I want to add that this project was supposed to have a fast approaching deadline. He waited 2 days to get back to me and rejected all of my samples. I was a little upset with him, because we had worked so well on the previous projects. I listed a series of questions in my email to him about what EXACTLY he wanted me to do.

Clarity of Ideas

Usually my clients have a clear picture in their minds about what they want and how they want it to look. They just don’t know how to get it to look the way they want it to. That’s where I come in. As a virtual assistant, I find a way to make their projects come to live and make them successful.

He was very vague with his answers, so based on what little information he gave me, I started in again to design some samples of work for him. I got the feeling that either he really didn’t know what he wanted or he wanted me to copy someone else’s work and wasn’t sure if I would do that.

I would never just copy someone else’s work. I might use it as a base for my work, but I would never copy something and then just change the labels. A few days went by, I emailed the samples to him and again I got the same reply. Only this time, he was irate, because I was supposed to be a virtual assistant and I should know what he wanted. He told me that in the email.

After I got that email reply, I calmed myself and phoned him. He answered and I asked if it was a good time to talk. He said yes, so I continued. I explained to him what a virtual assistant is and what they can do to help business owners.

I then explained what they can’t do. Mindreading is one of them. I then went over with a polite, but firm voice, the emails he sent me and the samples I sent him. I wanted him to know that I was trying to accomplish the goal, but he was not specific enough. I didn’t want to alienate him, but I did want to emphasize my point.

Virtual Colleague LLC copy

In my business, Virtual Colleague, LLC, I partner with clients, who become colleagues. That’s my slogan, so what the client wants/needs becomes what I want/need. The client’s goals are my goals.

He listened patiently, but then said that he was trying something new and wasn’t sure how to use an infographic and how effective it would be. He thought I could just “whip something up” and it would be done.

I reminded him that I had created several samples, but without his input of percentages, totals, and estimates, the infographic falls flat and doesn’t convey any message.

He let out a long sigh and I realized that I could not continue to work with him on this project. The other projects were very successful, but I simply could not work with him under these conditions and take the blame for things beyond my control.

There was silence on the phone and I wanted to take the lead on this. I told him that maybe he should shelve this project until he had time to think it through. I assured him that no business person should blindly do something, because other businesses were doing it. It just doesn’t make good business sense.

He agreed with me and I told him that because he had already paid for my time, he could use the time for another project. He thanked me and agreed that that would be the right thing to do.

One of the most difficult things to do is to tell a client you can’t help them. This was the first time I ever had to do that, but it was the right thing to do. I usually find a way to do the projects, but I would rather give up a project than do it and alienate my client and others that hear about his dissatisfaction with me.

Have you ever had to refuse work from a client?

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Why Your Rates need to be What Your Client Expects Them to Be

Recently I took on a new client. I find it a “best practice” to discuss rates after I know what type of work the client wants, the software programs involved, the research needed, and the deadlines. Although I have a rate chart and stick to those rates, there are times when I need to deviate from those guidelines.

My new client was referred to me by one of business associates. He contacted me by phone and laid out what he wanted me to do. He didn’t know that much about me, except that the person that referred me raved about how knowledgeable I was in several areas and I was a virtual assistant.

If I have to reach out to get clients, I stick to my rate schedule, but in this case, I gave him a discount, because he contacted me. I enjoyed our initial consultation, which is always free. He knew what he wanted, when he wanted it; he just didn’t know how to do it. That’s where I come in.

After speaking with him, I told him I would draw up a contract and outline what I could do for him, my fees, and state the deadline in the contract. He liked that idea and I got to work on the contract right away. He seemed eager to begin.

I emailed the contract to him. He signed it and returned it to me almost immediately. He emailed me some of the documents he wanted me to work on, but he also made a comment. He told me that he had contacted several virtual assistants prior to contacting me. He said a few were unprofessional and didn’t follow up with him as I did with a contract. He felt very comfortable signing a contract, because each of us knew the expectations and limitations of the project.

He also told me that my rates were very reasonable. To tell you the truth, I really hated to give him a discount, because I could really use the money, but he did contact me. He was straight-forward about the work to be done and the deadlines.

Dollar Sign

I don’t regret giving him the discount. He has given me more work and promises to give me more work in the future. My rule of thumb is to have a new contract signed for every new project. It keeps things simple and in order and there is no confusion.

Many times in internet groups, I’ve seen posts about what to charge for rates, how to determine your rate, and are your rates comparable to other virtual assistants in your area. I think honesty is the best policy and if someone reaches out to you, they should be rewarded with a discount. You should have a rate schedule for services, but there should be room for discretion.

If I had not given him a discount, he probably would have only given me the one project. Because I showed him my professional demeanor, treated him to a special discount, and then got the project done correctly, on time, and within his budget, he felt valued and told me he would like to do business with me in the future.

Rates can be a sticking point. You have to determine the amount of time it takes to complete the work, what’s involved with the assignment, and then determine how much to charge. Setting your rates is a comprehensive process, because a new client can become a retainer client, if the rate is right. If not, you run the risk of losing a client and future business.

You may believe your rates are fair, it’s really your client that judges your business by your rates. That’s

 

Why Your Rates need to be What Your Client Expects Them to Be

For more information on my virtual assistant business, click on Virtual Colleague, LLC.

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THE 12 DAYS OF CHRISTMAS – TAKING THE TIME OFF?

The twelve days of Christmas starts on Christmas Day and ends on the day before Epiphany or January 6th.  I don’t know, if I want to take all of this time away from my business, Virtual Colleague, LLC, but I would like some time off around the holidays to prepare for the celebrations and then to enjoy family, friends, and yes, the presents I received.

12 days of Christmas

Some companies shut down between Christmas and New Year’s Day. It gives them time to clean up and fix anything that needs fixing and then start the new year ready to produce and make money.  The virtual assistant business is different for every owner. If you have a client that needs your assistance every week, then taking that time off may be a problem. You can always subcontract with another virtual assistant for that period of time, but unless you are familiar with the quality of work that the subcontractor produces, it could have a negative impact on your business.

Bad employee 1

On the other hand, if you can re-arrange your schedule and your clients’ so you can have time off, then this break will work for you. I would suggest speaking to your clients in advance and see how they feel about taking this time off. You may find that they, too, would welcome some down time.  You may find that they’re traveling during this time and you may be able to do some of the routine work in advance of this break.

Being a business owner is never easy, but with careful planning and consideration for your clients, you can arrange holidays, vacation time, and holiday time off without creating problems or leaving work unfinished. There are so many benefits to taking time off and resting, relaxing, socializing, or trying something new. There are many articles on that topic especially at this time of year. If you’re receiving signals that time off in not something your client wants to hear, then send him/her one of those articles to prove your point. This may convince them to give it a try.

VA Relaxing

Many people today shy away from celebrating the holidays. This happens because either they have no family, their family doesn’t live close by, they don’t have many friends or they don’t embrace the religious significance of the day. This leaves them with the feeling that a holiday is like any other day and this should not be.

Party Ideas

Holidays are used as markers. They mark certain occasions in history, religious events, or personal milestones. Holidays should be acknowledged and celebrated. True, there is always some work to do, so take time during this period and celebrate the holidays and the days in between them.

You may find that your clients thank you for thinking about them and wanting them to experience the holidays, too.

Note: If you decide not to celebrate the holidays, then post on social media that you are a virtual assistant and you’re looking for work during that time. You may be able to pick up some business and make some valuable connections.

 

In any case, celebrate the holidays and celebrate the work you’ve done throughout the past year. That’s cause for celebration in and of itself!

 

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SO MUCH TO DO, SO LITTLE TIME

 As I look at my calendar, I see it’s time to wrap up 2014 and anticipate 2015. My fiscal year runs concurrent with the calendar year, which makes running my business, Virtual Colleague, LLC,  so much easier. As I begin to gather my information for tax purposes and categorize my expenses, I realize how much work I’ve accomplished over the past 12 months. It’s not about how much money I made or how much can I deduct for certain expenses; it’s what I’ve accomplished for my clients.

This is my second year in business and of course, when I updated my business plan for 2014, I planned to increase my client list, my income, the hours I could work, but most importantly, to learn something new.

In this business, it’s all about being open to learning. Every client is different and want or need different services. They have different operating systems, so giving them directions on how to do something on their computers is sometimes a combination of patience and communication.

What have I learned?

  • Some clients take time to realize what a virtual assistant is and what they can do for them.
  • That working virtually is sometimes like working blind. I try to talk to my clients, but because I’m not sitting right there at their sides, they can’t seem to relate to some things I’m talking about.
  • To trust my instincts. If I have a bad feeling about someone or something, then don’t go there. As much as I want to expand my business, some clients just aren’t worth the time and effort it takes to make them happy. I could never do enough for them and they would never be satisfied.

I’m a forward-thinking person, so I’m starting to wrap up my work for 2014. I’ve archived my weekly blog posts and created a calendar for next year along with some ideas for those blog posts. I try to complete my posts a month before their due date. That gives me some flexibility to spend time on other projects.

I try to keep my pricing flexible according to the amount of work and degree of difficulty to complete it. I also give discounts for first-time clients and if they were referred by another client. It’s difficult to predict what my yearly income will be, but doing this has helped me gain clients, so it’s part of my business practices.

I also have to create spreadsheets and forms for the next business year to track all expenses, income, and possible tax deductions. I routinely update my website information and change the photos or theme of my blog.

Of course there’s the whole marketing aspect of my business. I changed my business address in July, so I need to create some new marketing materials with the correct address and any updates.

It is also time to look at the services I offer and decide if I should add or remove certain ones. I review my clients’ contracts for the past year and see what services they used, how much time I spent performing those tasks, and how much income was generated. I then decide what changes if any are necessary.

Another necessary part of being a virtual assistant is reviewing and updating my business plan. This may seem like a simple task or maybe even unnecessary, but it is a very useful tool. It’s similar to a yearly employee review.

I take my current business plan and go through it to see what goals I met and which ones I missed. It is a snapshot of my whole year and lets me know, if I’m on the right track to achieve my goals. My goals for 2014 are not necessarily my goals for 2015, but it is an indication of where my business is headed and at this point, the end-of-year evaluation, I get the opportunity to forecast my business growth and income for the next 12 months. It gives me a chance to re-direct my efforts to achieve new or existing goals.

So time is running out to finish and evaluate all that I have done. All in all, I had a good year and I look forward to another productive and prosperous year!

 

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GIVING THANKS OR THANKS FOR GIVING

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving Day in the United States. It is a day to reflect on all the good things we have in this country. It is customary as everyone gathers at the dinner table to list off many of the good things we have including gifts, talents, and family.

freedigitalphotos.net

freedigitalphotos.net

This is an important holiday. Not only because we re-create history, but it’s a good idea to step back once in a while and remember all the good things in life. We will always remember the sad or tragic moments or the moments of failure, but we NEED to remember the good times and the good things we have.

Some people consider this a “food holiday” meaning that you just sit there and eat and watch the parade and football games all day or is it all about “Black Friday”?

freedigitalphotos.net

freedigitalphotos.net

This brings me to the title “giving thanks or thanks for giving”. I am starting to prepare my business for a new year and to closer out the present year. In my business, Virtual Colleague, LLC, I am thankful for the clients I have this year. I learned from them and they learned from me.  We worked as a team and accomplish our goals. I’m thankful that I got to know and work with them.

What about “thanks for giving”. It’s difficult for some people to acknowledge a good deed. Thank you seems to be one of the hardest words to say in the English language. If I work with a client long enough (some are only short term clients), they usually end up saying “thanks for giving” …so much of your time to this project. My clients appreciate the time I spend to make their jobs run smoothly.

freedigitalphotos.net

freedigitalphotos.net

I think of giving thanks for things that I already have, but I think of thanks for giving as appreciation for my daily actions. In either case, thankfulness helps you to appreciate what you have and what you do. It makes some of the choices in life easier to make, because being thankful and giving thanks allows you to choose and evaluate what you will do.

Whether you celebrate Thanksgiving Day or not, it is a good idea to take one day a year and focus on the good things you’ve received and the good actions you’ve done. This resets your personal compass and motivates you to do even better.

What are the things you’re thankful for and how thankful are you for what others have done for you?

 

 

 

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