Are you considering starting a VA business and selling your time, services and expertise while working from the comfort of your own home? In 2017, that’s more than possible and can easily become profitable
Yolanda Crowley, was an executive assistant for 16 years before starting her own Virtual Assistant Business and I am beyond thrilled to have her share her expertise in this industry in this guest post.
Without further ado, here is what you should know before you start a VA business:
Don’t Make These 4 Mistakes In Your Virtual Assistant Business & What To Do Instead
Are you interested in becoming a virtual assistant (VA)? Starting a VA business can be frustrating along with overwhelming. Make sure you’re making the right impression by avoiding the following four mistakes:
💎 MISTAKE #1 – Still thinking like an employee
I think a lot of us have seen this before. We may belong to some online groups or forums that advertise of a virtual assistant opening. Take a look at this example:
At the very end, this person states, “Please send resume and cover letter to…”
What do you do? You can do those tasks, you can work independently, you can meet deadlines, you can do it all. You want this, right? So you send over your resume and cover letter.
WHAT TO DO INSTEAD AND WHY
Remember, you are a business owner. You are not applying for a “job”. Someone is in need of a service and you can provide that service. Would you ask your hairstylist to see her resume before you went to her? What about a plumber? No. You ask around and get reviews and testimonials before you hire them. It’s the same with a virtual assistant.
What you can do when asked for a resume:
- Send them your website information, (be sure to have any social media links on there). Depending on what your expertise is, you can have an online portfolio embedded in your site.
- If you don’t have a website set up yet, direct potential clients to your LinkedIn profile. If it’s completely filled out, it shows where you’ve worked in the past, your portfolio (if you have one), any groups you belong to, and any recommendations.
- Make sure to create a bio about your business.
You may ask, why does it matter if a potential client sees you as a business owner (independent contractor) or an employee? If they’re paying you and you’re working, what difference does it make?
The difference is…if you end up with a client that is “high maintenance” and/or demanding, they don’t see you as a business owner. They see you as an extension of their business (one of their employees) and they’ll have expectations that align with that way of thinking.
For example: if your client demands you to answer their emails immediately or hop on a call right then and there.
If the client persists in seeing a resume, I would say that person is probably not a good fit because they don’t respect your position as a business owner. And as a business owner, you have control over who you work with.
💎 MISTAKE #2 – Not following directions
I recently had a client who was looking for a VA. I posted in a few VA online groups a detailed description of what the client was looking for. At the end of the post I requested that people email me with their information and rates. Seems straightforward, right? Here are some responses:
It’s amazing how many posts I’ve seen like this. The OP of the post will give instructions such as, “PM me your information” or “Email me at ____.” And there will be comment after comment saying, “I’m interested!” or “PM me with details!”
If you can’t follow a simple instruction, why should the client hire you and trust you in their business?
WHAT TO DO INSTEAD AND WHY
Take the time to read the entire post. This is one way potential clients filter out any unqualified people – the ones that don’t follow directions, don’t get call backs.
💎 MISTAKE #3 – Working for free
When clients start their hiring, they may provide a “test project” for a VA to complete. It’s usually a common task in their business and they want to see how you’ll perform this task. But there is a difference between showing off what you’ve already done (i.e. portfolio) versus spending time and effort creating something new for a prospective employer to “see what you can do.”
Early in my business, I spoke with a potential client. He traveled quite a bit and was particularly interested in the fact that I had coordinated a lot of travel for executives in the past.
After we had spoken for nearly an hour, he asked me to do a sample project: put together an itinerary for him. The thing was, he gave me nothing to go off of – no destinations, or times, nothing. I basically made it all up, flight, hotel, ground transportation, restaurant reservations, meeting information. It took me a good 2 hours. I was so proud of it, I was sure I was going to get this gig. I emailed it off to him, he wrote back to say he received it and would be in touch. And after a couple follow up emails from me…I never heard from him again.
The one mistake I made was not getting any payment from him. HE asked me to work on a project. HE should have paid me for my time. And I spent a lot of time on that.
If I could go back in time, I’d say:
“I’d be happy to put a sample itinerary together for you to show you how I work. My fee is $35 an hour” (or whatever your rate is) and get it in writing.
If he balked at that, I would have said, “I am spending part of my day working on something for you. Time I could be spending working on other projects. My time is valuable, just like yours. If you can’t pay me for my time, I feel this won’t be a good fit. Thank you very much.”
You want to work with people who respect your time and respect you as a business owner. If they don’t want to pay you for an hour or two, can you imagine what it would be like working for them? You’re basically telling the client “My time isn’t valuable enough so I’ll do free work for you.” And that makes you look less desirable and desperate.
WHAT TO DO INSTEAD
- Get it in writing – even if it’s just written in the position description.
- Wait for a contract before starting any work.
- Do NOT do any free work. If the client says they want to do a “trial run” for a week to see if it’s a fit but you won’t be paid, do not do it. Run.
- If asked to do a sample project and it’s going to take you longer than 15 minutes, you need to be paid.
- Getting paid is simple. You don’t need a fancy online payment system. You can use Paypal or the service I use, Freshbooks.
Keep in mind, when you work for free, you are robbing yourself of income.
💎 MISTAKE #4 – Setting boundaries with clients so you don’t get taken advantage of
One of the main reasons I got into my own business was that I wanted to be my own boss. I wanted to work on my time, not when someone else told me to. Back in the day, I had a boss that called and emailed me after hours and on weekends. I was expected to work on my free time. (And I was salaried which means I didn’t get paid for working on the weekends either).
I put up with this because I needed the job, I was paid well, and had great benefits. It’s hard to turn away money, right?
But even though we have our own business, why do we continue to put up with being taken advantage of? Simple. We ignore the unreasonable demands by a client because we WANT THE BUSINESS.
Have you ever had this happen:
Client calls you frantic, on a Friday afternoon, “OMG! I have the ABC presentation first thing Monday morning! I completely forgot! Can you help me put together a Powerpoint presentation? I need it by Sunday! Great! You saved me. Thanks!”
You: Uh…ok. (Thinking…there goes my weekend.)
Why didn’t you tell them no? Because you want the business, right? And you don’t want to appear like you’re not helping your client, which is completely understandable. But, keep in mind – WHAT YOU ALLOW IS WHAT WILL CONTINUE. If you continually jump in and help and give in to what your client demands, they will begin to expect that out of you. And that’s not fair to you.
Other examples of getting trampled on by clients include:
- Contacting you at all hours. Weekends included
- Asking you to do a project and get it done ASAP
- Asking you to do tasks outside of what you’re being paid to
WHAT TO DO INSTEAD
- Clear expectations need to be set up from the very start. Write it up in your contract what days and hours you will work. Stick to it and be consistent with it. If you’re answering their emails at 11pm, that tells the client that you’re available anytime.
- Do not allow a client to dictate your schedule.
- Depending on your work style, it could also be helpful to let the client know how to communicate with you. For example: Do you only answer emails at certain times of the day? If so, let them know that. But also be aware of how to communicate with them.
- Write it up in your contract exactly what duties you will be performing.
- Set number of revisions included (if applicable)
- Let your client know about your turnaround time
- Have a RUSH fee included in your contract
- It’s ok to say NO to a client. I had a client one time ask me to do a task that was definitely outside my duties and one that I wasn’t comfortable with doing. It wasn’t anything illegal but it was due to his poor planning in his life. I firmly said, “No, I’m not comfortable doing that task.” He said, no problem, and life went on.
- Be careful about working with friends or family. They might try to get you to discount your rates or do extra work (OR work for free).
You may need the work and you want to help your friend but you have to remember to keep it a business relationship. I know it may be difficult to set boundaries because you certainly don’t want to lose a friendship but remember: Keep in mind that it’s ok to get rid of clients that don’t respect you or your time.
Again, would you ask your hairstylist to work on her day off? No, you wouldn’t.
If you need to let a client go – Just be firm and tell the client it doesn’t appear to be working out. Finish any projects that need wrapping up and possibly have a few other resources for them to find another assistant. Yes, it can seem intimidating to set boundaries with a client. But for your sanity and success, it’s important to do so.
Set the boundaries early! Remember, we decide when we will work and how much. For many of us, being a business owner offers us freedom from those types of expectations – and we guard that freedom fiercely! If a client understands you have other clients who all need you every day, their expectations are going to be different than someone who views you as another employee.
Yolanda Crowley works with online business owners to save them the time and frustration of finding their ideal virtual assistant and offers workable solutions to help them create more time and generate more revenue.
She started her administrative career at Tiffany & Co. and worked for more than 16 years as an executive assistant in corporate America & she also works with aspiring virtual assistants to help them gain clarity and be a valuable asset to their clients.
Want to become a virtual assistant? Make sure to check her resources on this topic and take advantage of the free call she offers! I can think of no better person to introduce you to the VA world!