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Are You Alone In Your Tower?

I’ve found a lot of business owners have one thing in common – they think they can do everything themselves.

Feel that way? After all, you’ve built your business from the ground up. That didn’t require much help, right? Sure, you may have gotten some marketing help or worked with a web designer. And it’s likely you’re using an accountant. But basically, when it comes to the daily workings of your business, you probably go at it alone, right?

Yet running a business requires you managing and completing a whole bunch of tasks that have little to do with your expertise.

For instance, if your a business coach shouldn’t your time be spent working directly with prospects and clients? Or even better, planning how to increase your business to reach your revenue goals?

Yet if you look at your daily workload, how much of it is spent doing things that have little or nothing to do with either growing your business or working with clients? Likely quite a bit.

Let’s see, most business owners push around paper, set appointments, do their own billing, sort and answer all their own emails and phone calls, manage content updates on their website, act as a editor for their marketing message, do their own promotion, manage their own marketing campaigns – and the list goes on and on.

Aren’t these the tasks that business executives hire assistants to do?

Why should you be any different? If you own your business, you’re the executive. So why don’t you have an assistant? Why aren’t you working with an assistant who can take some of the daily work off your desk and out of your computer so that you can be freed up to spend more time developing and growing your business?

That’s where a virtual assistant can help out. Virtual meaning they don’t have to come to your office to do work for you. Rather, they can sit hundreds and thousands of miles away and take some of the load out of your workday.

A virtual assistant is not an employee but rather a contracted worker. That means you don’t have many of the expenses of hiring a someone into your business. Instead, you get all the benefits of having an assistant with minimal costs. Often, you can find a good virtual assistant for $15-$40 per hour.

So what can a virtual assistant do for you? Just about anything. I’ve found virtual assistants often have more than office skills. Some are accountants, web designers, graphics artists, copy writers, and have marketing backgrounds. They key is to find a VA who has you can build a relationship with and who has the skills you need.

How to find a virtual assistant? Start with a referral from someone you know who’s using one. Or, check out The VA Network, A Virtual Resume, VA4U, Virtual Assistant U, or Assist U’s VA Registry. There’s many directories out there. Or, simply Google virtual assistant + whatever skills you need. Of course, referrals work best.

Whenever I advise my clients of hiring a VA, I always get the same response – ‘I don’t know what a VA could do for me.’ Don’t worry about it. Contact a few. Do a few interviews. Find someone you’re comfortable with. Begin by giving them a small amount of work to do. Then, as you learn about each other, ask them more about what they can do to take work off your desk. They’re going to know much better what they can do for you then what you need them to do. In this case, they’re the experts.

So are you using a virtual assistant now? What’s your experience been like?

And if not, what’s keeping you from hiring out those mundane daily tasks that keep you from being more creative and productive in your business? I’d love to know…

(note: image from NotMarkAgain on Flickr)

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Comments

  1. Kelly @ Pass the Torch says:

    Wow – you hit on exactly some of the issues I’ve been thinking about. I am definitely going to check out your links.

    But will they do laundry?

    ;)

  2. Brandon K says:

    I like the article and the blog! Thanks for the link.

  3. I’ve been going it alone with my upcoming business (which is why it’s still on my harddrive). It’s hard. But I don’t know anyone I could share it with and I don’t have money to pay someone.

  4. Kelly,
    I’m not sure a VA can, but perhaps a house keeper could. But they wouldn’t be virtual, would they?

    Brandon,
    Absolutely. What benefits have you found in outsourcing?

    Jenny,
    Boy, I deal with both questions all the time. First, start with asking around and see if you know anyone using a VA. Else, poke around with one of the VA directories I’ve listed and talk to a few people.

    The second question is more pertinent, though, really. Think about this – if you paid someone for two hours of work per week, say $15/hr, and they could take 3 hours of your work off your desk, how much more revenue could you generate in your business with 12 more hours each month? Would it be more than $120?

  5. Chadwyck says:

    Wow, I hadn’t even thought of looking for assistants online. It only makes sense, though. I feel like I just noticed a building on the route I drive everyday… it was always there, but not.

  6. Well, you are right and I do feel the same way, just that you need to do it when there are not enough money to hire such people. And in the beginning of your business, you usually don’t have the money.

  7. Chadwyck says:

    Well, I’m not using any assistant right now. I’m just starting out in the world (graduated from college last May), but I’ve thought ahead to what my goals are and how I will probably need someone to take over the more time-consuming, less creativity-driven tasks. A VA would be perfect for that in-between stage when I don’t have much cashflow, but need to expand.

  8. The Virtual Assistance Chamber of Commerce is a fantastic resource for business owners seeking qualified and competent Virtual Assistant professionals. Of particular interest:

    Client’s Guide to Virtual Assistants:
    http://www.virtualassistantnetworking.com/client-guide.htm

    How to Hire a Virtual Assistant:
    http://www.virtualassistantnetworking.com/how-to-hire-a-virtual-assistant.htm

    Virtual Assistant Directory:
    http://www.virtualassistantnetworking.com/directory/

    RFP Center:
    http://www.virtualassistantnetworking.com/rfp-center.htm

    Get to Know Our Virtual Assistants:
    http://www.virtualassistantnetworking.com/subscribe.htm

  9. As a mentor for young enterpreneurs, this is something that I come across all the time. Take a newly established dentist. He and his nurse spend more time in administrative matters than actual time with patients. The simple solution of hiring an assistant was not thought of as a measure of economy, till the cost benefit analysis he did on my prompting showed clearly that he would gain! Pre-conceived notions are usually the culprits.

  10. Great article Dawud!

    I couldn’t have said it better myself. Too often business owners, or would be business owners look at the cost of hiring a virtual assistant and not realizing the benefits of working with one.

    For instance, in Jenny’s case (as you correctly pointed out) paying for two hours every week may be just what is needed to take the idea from the hard drive and into fruition. For others, a virtual assistant can make a great difference in your profits, especially if you stop doing tasks that are worth less than half of what you make hourly. Focus on doing the things that make you money!

    As a virtual assistant myself, I have had to practice what I preach and found myself an assistant in order to dedicate my time to my clients and nothing else.

    Keep up the good work!

  11. baby exersaucer,
    True. And I’m amazed at how few business owners consider it. Why do you think that is?

    Danielle,
    Awesome links. Thanks so much for adding them.

    Any advise for interviewing a VA?

    Home Recording,
    So true. Yet how much money is the dentist office saving now?

    Crystal,
    Great points. One I use often is to consider what you, as a business owner, make hourly and compare that to what you’ll pay a VA hourly.

    Any other criteria you’d suggest thinking about?

    Chadwyck,
    I hear you. VA’s came to my consciousness a few years back and I had the same experience.

    Are you currently using a ‘traditional’ assistant?

  12. I enjoy learning the new things it takes to get a business up and running and then being knowledgeable enough to implement the changes necessary to improve. (I think it’s more of a delegating problem for me).
    It is a great idea for some businesses however.
    Great post! As usual :).

  13. Allan Himmelstein says:

    There are many good points in this blog. A small business owner should always be concious of staying lean and mean, but at the same time spend 75% on the core strengths, and 25% on weaknesses. With technology the way it is today, there are so many time savers that should be investigated first. I just got a scanner that I can file everything on my computer in Acrobat. Go to http://www.ccaz.com and ask. Also really get into Time Management. If you don’t you cannot properly supervise any assistant.
    ,TOP TEN TIME MANAGEMENT TIPS

    1. Learn to say “NO”.
    2. STAY TIDY. Do you know where everything is?
    3. Work out a reasonable TIMESCALE FOR EVERY PROJECT YOU DO, AND SET DEADLINES
    4. DON’T ATTEMPT TO DO TOO MUCH TO FAST. It can lead to mistakes
    5. Set your day out in a planner and prioritized.
    6. Stop procrastinating.
    7. Manage your emails and phone calls better. You do not have to check your emails every minute. Twice a day is enough. Ask yourself, which is quicker a phone call or an e-mail?
    8. Try to complete one project before starting out on another.
    9. If you have a large project break it down into smaller tasks and tackle each part one at a time.
    10. Many tasks can be done in your spare time.
    Make a conscious effort to Grow Your Business in logical orderly way.

  14. Right on! Right on, right on, right on.

    Amazing watching as more and more people come to understand what people like (us) can do!

    Jeff Yablon
    President & CEO
    Virtual VIP

  15. Chadwyck,
    Where’d you graduate from? Have you considered doing a barter with a VA?

    Jeff,
    I hear you. I had to learn too. At first I didn’t know how a VA could help me. Then, I asked and lo-and-behold they told me.

    Any advise for people interviewing a VA?

    Kelly,
    I know what you mean. I had to learn that to grow my business and increase my revenue I had to delegate – otherwise I couldn’t grow. What keeps you from trying to delegate?

    Allan,
    True, there are tons of time saving tips – thanks for listing a few. My personal favorite is selecting one thing that must get done each day – and doing it first thing – before email, before blogging, before phone calls. It works great.

    Yet, one of the biggest time savings for me has been to delegate those tasks I don’t do efficiently or enjoy to someone who does. That frees up not only my time, but my mental space as well.

    Thoughts?

  16. I’m totally convinced that VAs–or even “As” can help. I get the model, I’m on board.

    At this point, I’m more interested in seeing where/how the people whom I admire (and whom I see as being in situations not dissimilar to mine) deal with handing off to VAs.

    Soooooo…Dawud! What, if anything, are you outsourcing? And what was your process?

  17. Hiring a virtual assistant is a big help especially if you are just starting your business and you don’t have enough money to hire employees for your business.

  18. That really depends on how dependable an assistant or other staff can be.

  19. Dawud,
    You are correct. I’ll try to give a real life example.

    I work with a coach/trainer. Two years ago, when we had just met she ran a one woman show. Did all her administrative tasks, did her own marketing, responded to all her emails. Basically spent 50+ hours weekly working in the business (stuck behind the computer) and less than a quarter of that time actually coaching and training.

    She thought she was saving money! Today all her time is dedicated to doing what she loves (and what she’s good at) because she doesn’t have to worry about setting time aside for invoicing, ordering materials and all the other small stuff that really matters.

    She is out there training (booked solid) because that is where she should be in order to earn revenue for her business.

    Think about what you’re earning and what you could be earning and work out the difference!

    In short, if you’re running a business and not doing the things that will earn revenue then you’ll soon find yourself Out Of Business. Hard words but true!

  20. communicatrix,
    I love your questions. Very big answer, though. I started with mundane tasks like billing and some communications and scheduling – especially initial meetings.

    Most recently, I’ve been recording myself talking on subjects and having someone transcribe my words so I can create some products and white pages from them. Best thing is I found someone who will edit what I say for readability and will format the text – including add pictures. And the price is great.

    I haven’t gotten into a VA doing some of my marketing, publishing articles, managing my ezine or marketing campaigns yet – but it’s coming.

    What are two things you’re thinking about outsourcing?

    …and hey, you were gonna call me…

    Phil,
    Absolutely. And it’s not as far out there as you might think. Your accountant, for instance, is like an assistant.

    How do you use a VA?

    Real Estate,
    True. That’s why you want a trial period. And it’s important that you can communicate well with each other.

    Are you using a VA now? For what sort of tasks?

    Crystal,
    Yes! Yes! Yes!

    Great example. Thank you. That’s one of the keys – hand off what you don’t enjoy so you can do more of the things you enjoy. Start there. The extra time can let you generate more revenue.

    Any other good stories like that one?

  21. I have been a VA for the last 6 years and to this day, most people still do not know what a virtual assistant is.
    I have on client in particular that I do just about everything for except make the coffee!
    If you are still on the fence about hiring a VA, check this out:
    http://tinyurl.com/26fbn8

  22. Dawad, I’m glad you appreciate the links.

    In answer to your question, my first suggestion would be to change the terminology you use… Virtual Assistants are not employees so you don’t “interview” them. The more accurate term would be “consult.”

    There are thousands and thousands of VA sites on the Web. That’s a lot of websites to weed through. To save yourself a lot of time, go through an organization. My organization, the Virtual Assistance Chamber of Commerce is the only one in the industry that actually screens Virtual Assistants for a professional level of competence and qualification.

    After utilizing a resource such as the VACOC’s Virtual Assistant Directory, find three Virtual Assistant sites that appeal to you and then schedule consultations with those VAs.

    And of course, refer to my guide, “How to Hire (Choose) a Virtual Assistant.” It helps you discern the difference between a truly competent, qualified and professional VA and those who are unskilled, unqualified and who don’t have their business set-up well enough to provide the long-term support that is necessary to really achieve your goals.

    Keep in mind that Virtual Assistance is not transaction-based. Where you are truly going to see and achieve far-reaching results in your business is when you “partner” with Virtual Assistant in an ongoing, collaborative relationship. That is the only platform where the VA can get to know you and take account of the work in the context of the bigger picture of your business.

  23. To answer your question, I think I’m a bit of a control freak, to be honest.
    I don’t know that I would trust someone else to be able to show results, and care enough about what I am doing. So, I guess it’s also a trust issue.
    I am just starting out and really don’t have a problem balancing the creative part with the rest. Not yet at least.

  24. Awesome post and some additional tips from Danielle. Bookmarked!

  25. Christine,
    Very compelling. Everyone – check out the link in her comment.

    How would you suggest is the best way to get started with a VA?

    Danielle,
    I love what you said about Virtual Assistance being about partnering with a business owners. That’s exactly what I think, as well – even if it didn’t come across. Matter of fact, I think that way of my own clients – that I become a partner in their business. Great feedback. Have anything else to add?

    Judd,
    I agree, Danielle’s resources and comments are great. I have to meet her.

    Kelly,
    Hopefully your business will reach a point where you’ll have to make the choice to either outsource or not grow. That’s the place many businesses stop. Yet outsourcing can make a huge difference.

    And don’t worry about the control part – we’ve all been through it. I still go through it – even with my accountant for gosh sakes.

  26. Why not list a VA network that is based in Australia too? Although we do have members in 16 countries. Often I find that people don’t realise we exist, even though we are on the search engines and were the second VA network established in the world in 1996. They tend to only seek out those they’ve heard about through others. But I forgive you Dawud.

    For those wanting to learn how to use a VA I always have great hints and tips at my blog at http://www.vadirectory.net/blog/ – there are links in the menu.

    Or they can read http://www.vadirectory.net/secindex.htm

    For those interested in becoming a VA then they can visit http://www.vadirectory.net/teamindex.htm

    I also have coaching available at http://www.vatrainer.com

    And thanks for sharing on our industry here – much appreciated!

    By the way, for the ‘control freaks’ – once you have a VA you feel comfortable with, you’ll never look back. My longest-term client has been with me over 11 years and she sends absolutely everything she doesn’t want to be bothered with to me. I have several other clients also – most of them in the business coaching/public speaking arena but I did spend several years managing not-for-profit organisations as well. My team provide many other services but I’ll let you visit my site to see more about that.

  27. Excellent article I am thank full to them…….

  28. Kathie,
    I stand corrected – or at least updated.

    I think working with people on other parts of the world offer some interesting opportunities. For instance, if I work with someone who’s time zone is on the other side of the world, they can sometimes get work done for me while I’m sleeping. Imagine sending out a audio clip for transcription at the end of your business day and waking up tomorrow with the transcribed text in your inbox. It’s pretty neat.

    growing business,
    I hear you. I wouldn’t be able to grow as I have without outsourcing.

  29. This is a truly intriguing concept. Do you think it would work with medical billing?

    Ok, that was kind-of a joke. On a serious note, I had never even considered hiring someone or contracting out to someone hundreds or thousands of miles away. The irrational fear that “something could go wrong” can be a major impediment for small business owners. Hiring and subcontracting can often provide business owners the boost they need to ‘get over the hump’.

    The funny thing is, there are just as many possibilities for things that could go wrong with an in-person employee as with a virtual assistant.

    Thanks for sharing the insights!

  30. Too true Dawud. In fact my very first international client was a lawyer who lived in Picardy, France in October 1997. He had to courier his tapes to Paris to get someone to transcribe them in English but they kept getting lost or damaged in transit. So he was looking for other ways and discovered that Phillips had created digital recording for the computer.

    After that Chris (the lawyer) looked to send the work back to his home state of New York and then realised if he could do that, he could send it anywhere. So he found me and sent me a Word file formatted the way he wanted it, and a .wav file for testing and we secured him as a client. After that he referred us to many others around the world and our international transcription service took off.

    Of course we can do many other things for international clients too – if the work can be done mainly via email then we can do it. And Skype has been a great tool for voice interaction.

  31. Yes Pam, it does work for medical billing and there are lots of VAs who do that kind of work. VAs can specialise in various industries based on their own corporate backgrounds so some work in the medical billing arena, some medical transcriptions, some legal, some focus on Real Estate, others conference/event management and so on.

    How often is a ‘boss’ physically present when their PA is doing work for them? It’s really not that much different having a VA do the work for them instead. We’re really as close to you as your computer.

  32. Pam,
    Couldn’t something go wrong just as easily right there in your office as it could working with someone thousands of miles away? It’s maybe even more likely.

    Kathie,
    Really good example, thanks. What’s been your biggest barrier in finding clients?

  33. I am doing most of it all by my self as well. SEO, web promotion, web design, blogging, and the core of my business – tax preparation, bookkeeping, and consulting. I enjoy learning the different trades. Hiring assistants and outsourcing have outstanding benefits, however, it is very important to know how to do the basics if for some reason your assistant happens to quit.

  34. I don’t know that I have barriers Dawud, other than perhaps people who don’t know the industry, giving out the wrong message about the industry on the web. I find myself working at educating the public about what a VA truly is. My VA blog was set up for that purpose over 3 years ago.

    Your post above has been good, as it also helps educate the public about our industry.

    I’ve been on the web since January 1996 and I find that developing a web presence is important but so is networking locally, face-to-face to meet prospective clients. Everywhere I go I meet prospective clients and have put processes in place to keep things happening. There are many new VAs online these days that seem to think they can only get a ‘virtual’ client and they forget that their neighbour, the guy down the road, the business around the corner, and so on, could all be clients. They don’t have to be in their office space to do work for them. My longest-term client lives 5 mins away from me and we work almost entirely via email. And yet I have other clients who are interstate and overseas. I find what I do for one works just as well for all the others.

  35. Cola,
    True. I think the right time to begin outsourcing is just before you get too busy to do tasks yourself. That way, you can learn AND continue to grow.

    Kathie,
    I wonder how your marketing would go if your website focused more toward problem-solution and specified a specific niche? Positioning yourself is key to grow your business. Love to chat about your marketing sometime, if you’re interested.

  36. Do you mean my website or my blog Dawud?

    My website is for a Virtual Assistant network so we promote a number of things our team do and get a lot of clients coming via the site. And many of the team specialise in lots of different areas so I wouldn’t want to focus on just one niche area.

    My blog was designed to educate people about the industry so I talk about all sorts of things, including problem-solving and different niches from time to time.

  37. Kathie,
    Yes, yet you might focus more on problem-solution so that potential clients could see themselves more clearly needing a VA, right?

    And on your blog, there’s nothing wrong with having a few ‘static’ pages where you can focus more on your marketing message.

    Just some thoughts…

  38. The clients that come to our main website come because they know they need a VA and are looking for one. But with respect to the blog, I hadn’t really thought about doing that – perhaps I need to explore it. I do have testimonials up there and a direct link to our main site and of course background information about my own experience and credentials.

  39. Hey Dawud, cheers for the post fella…
    Have you guys heard of Jeff Mills Outsource Secrets Revealed? I got myself the free Outsource compendium Ebook and heck I cant believe his just giving away so much great info for free… It’s crazy.

    Nowadays if you want to make a success you need to outsource, there simply isn’t enough hours in a day to do everything yourself, especially when it comes to new ventures and ideas!

  40. Colleen Johnson says:

    Kathie,

    The VACOC has a membership that is worldwide. Every member has passed stringent screenings to even qualify for membership. There are members from Australia. Danielle gave excellent resources.

  41. Thank you Colleen, like Danielle we also have a process for accepting new members into our global membership.

  42. Roll top desk says:

    Sometimes it is all about the money. You do everything yourself because in many cases you can not afford to hire somebody to do some ‘minor” things for you. You hire in the core of your business but not for assisting. Even if I know you are right because I get overwhelmed myself sometimes…

  43. Roll,
    Here’s a thought, for two weeks, track where you spend all your work time. Track it to the minute if you can. Then, sit down and look at where all your time went. Now, consider how your work life – and productivity levels – could change if you could give some of that work to someone else to do. Can you see yourself making more money when you have more time to lead and be creative?

  44. It is hard being a small business and in the tower by yourself! IT outsourcing has really helped us to grow, and compete with larger companies!

  45. Hi,

    Great Article. I love your thoughts. I have an outsourcing business which I am trying to promote but dont understand how to promote it. It deals with outsourced accounting and outsourced bookkeeping services http://www.businessvein.com. Please give give your guidance.

    Thanks

  46. It would be nice to have a virtual assistant to do my work, but like most people in business we like to know personally who we are employing. There is also the problem of trust, if you employ a person to work for your company then you expect that person to have your best interests at heart. Cost cutting in my opinion is not the right way to go. Respond.

  47. Nice share..I think Virtual Assistance is especially advisable for the starting businessman since they don’t need to hire many employees to keep their business going.

  48. It is worth mentioning again, that as helpful as virtual assistants can be, it is very important to be very careful when selecting one — gather/interview a few, select the best, then test him/her for a short period to see if he/she truly is a good fit and is someone who can fulfill what you need from an assistant. On the flipside, don’t expect the assistant to instantly know your business, don’t flood him/her with work — train your assistant at a steady/gradual pace and you will eventually make him/her into ‘the’ perfect assistant..

  49. The interview for any virtual assistant isn’t situated within an office, but can also be situated virtually, and therefore the best way to discover the there’s help different.

  50. Great guidance for owner responsibility and thinking. This will surely provide an innovated idea in the mind to the business owner. Keep it up!!

  51. I’ve been thinking about using virtual assistants in my own business a lot recently. I feel it’s important to get a feel of the work for yourself first (so you don’t send them off to do something you know nothing about) but once I’ve got a better idea of my own process I reckon I’ll try one out!

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