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How to Choose a Niche and Why It Matters

Are you going to specialize? As a virtual assistant, will you offer specialty services? Or will you offer anything and everything? Experts strongly recommend specializing. Here’s why:

Specializing makes you competitive.

When you specialize in a service or an industry it helps set you apart from your competition. When a potential customer is looking for a virtual administrator chances are they have a very specific task in mind. If you provide that service or specialize in their industry then you’re going to make it to the top of their list.

Not specializing can make you crazy.

Choosing a specialty means you don’t have to juggle too many tasks and responsibilities. It’s challenging enough to own and grow your own business. The last thing you want to do is add more challenges to your day. If you specialize in a task or an industry then you can focus on being the best provider possible.
Specializing helps you raise your rates.

The truth is, specialists make more money. It’s not limited to the VA industry either. It’s everywhere. If you specialize, there’s a presumption that you have specialized knowledge and skills too. People pay more for that knowledge.

Specializing helps you market.

It’s tough to market your business to a target audience if you offer everything. However, if you offer forum moderation and blog management for the parenting and child care industry then it’s much easier to market your services. You know exactly who you’re marketing to and the benefit you can provide them.

So How Do You Choose a Specialty?

There are a few considerations when choosing a specialty. First, it should be noted that you can specialize in:

An industry. For example, parenting and childcare.

A task. For example, blog management and creation.

An industry and a task. For example, blog management for the parenting and child care industry.

You might think that this degree of specialization limits you. However, consider this. If there are 500 blogs on parenting and child care and you gain five of them as clients. You probably have a full schedule. There’s plenty of work to go around. Specialization simply makes your business easier to manage and grow.

Back to choosing your specialty…

Specialize in what you know. If you are skilled at transcription then specialize in transcription. If you’re an expert blogger or bookkeeper then specialize in those tasks. If you know the ins and outs of coaching then specialize in virtual administration for coaches.

Specialize in what you like and enjoy. If you love social networking then specialize in managing and creating social networking profiles. You’ll be much happier and productive if you’re doing something you enjoy.
Specialize in something that’s in demand. Take a look at the job boards. What jobs are commonly posted for virtual assistants? Chances are, that’s an in demand niche. If it’s also something you enjoy and are skilled in then you have a winner.

Remember, you can grow and change.

You might be worried about limiting yourself if you specialize. However, you can always add more services to your portfolio. Your needs, tastes, and business will grow and change. It’s perfectly acceptable to change your services as you grow. Specializing simply helps you attain the success you desire.

Software for Professional Billing

time is money!As a business owner, you will need to send invoices to your clients in order to get paid. Sending a professional-looking invoice not only creates a good image for your business, but it also aids in helping you get paid on time.

Clients are going to treat you in a more professional manner if you treat your business in a more professional manner. Plus, as a business owner it is imperative that you are able to manage invoicing and billing in an organized manner to keep your business running smoothly.

One way to manage invoicing is to use invoicing software. Today there are a variety of different invoicing software options available that you can use to manage your invoicing in a professional, organized way. There are both free and paid options around. Here are a few that you can consider.

FreshBooks

This is cloud-based professional invoicing software that allows you to send professional-looking invoices no matter how your client likes them - by email, in the mail, or even directly to their Freshbooks account. It also allows you to track time and manage expenses on each project so that you can track profitability of everything that you do. FreshBooks syncs with a variety of other systems such as Outright.org, Basecamp.com and Zendesk.com to help you manage your entire business.

QuickBooks

Available both as cloud-based software and as local software on your computer, QuickBooks offers advanced invoicing options. If you often send estimates first to your clients, you can convert your estimated invoice to a regular invoice automatically. You can also schedule automatic invoices to be created and sent to clients on a particular date. You simply keep track of all the work you do for that client and the system will grab it and make the invoice for you.

Wave

This is a free unlimited invoicing software that allows you to create professional-looking invoices. You can customize your invoices by altering the template with your own logo and colors. You can even add a pay now button to your email invoices that allows your customers who use credit cards to pay your invoice automatically. This free software is also totally mobile ready and completely in the cloud.

PayPal Invoicing

Many people don't realize it, but you can also use PayPal's free invoicing tool to send professional invoices via email to all your clients. If you have a business account, you simply go to "Request Money" then choose Create an Invoice. You can save invoices and client information so that each time you create them you don't have to re-enter all their information. You can't customize them as much as the other offerings but you can add your logo to them. They are free and a lot of people like them.

No matter which software you choose to use, you'll be sure to look more professional if you use a professional program for invoicing. Not only that, you'll be more organized because you'll know who owes you and who has paid you at a glance.

References:

FreshBooks
http://www.freshbooks.com/

QuickBooks
http://quickbooks.intuit.com/invoicing/

Wave
https://www.waveapps.com/invoicing/

PayPal Invoicing
https://www.paypal.com

How to Stay Committed To Your Business

YES!When starting your own business it’s often easy to get yourself started, but a lot harder to keep yourself going when things get a bit more tough.  Here are ten tips to help you stay committed.

Set goals.  Without goals, there’s really not much reason for you to be in business.  If you want to stay connected to your business, it helps to make yourself realize why you’re in business to begin with.

Keep goals in mind.  You started your business for a reason.  You need to keep that in mind so you don’t get weighed down by the day-to-day of your work.  Keep little pictures or other memorabilia around that remind you of why you’re doing this is the first place.

Be flexible.  There’s not a one-size-fits-all method to success; you might have to try a lot of things before you find what’s right for you.  The key is to be flexible and willing to try new things when things aren’t working for you.

Be persistent. While you may want to change when things aren’t working, you can’t give up on everything so quickly.  You have to be willing to keep trying and keep going even if things don’t go well.

Make it fun.  We all want to do things that are fun, and shy away from things that aren’t.  Make sure the avenues you pursue are not only profitable, but enjoyable to you.  If you have stuff you need to do that isn’t as fun, try turning it into a game, just like you probably do with your kids to get their chores done.

Find supportive people.  It’s a lot easier to stay committed to something if there are people on the sidelines cheering you on.  Take time to talk to people who are supportive of your business.  If you don’t have many, try finding people like you online and at local classes so you can encourage each other.

Get help.  If you’re like most people, you probably think you can get your business going on your own.  And if you’re like most people, you probably can’t.  Starting your own business is a big job, and it’s perfectly normal to need a little help or guidance.  Try to find a mentor who has already been successful in your area to guide you and give suggestions.  They will also be a constant reminder that what you’re

trying to do is achievable.

Review what you’ve done.  If you’re feeling like you want to give up or just feel beaten down, take out a pen and paper and write down what you’ve accomplished since you started your business.  Even if it’s just little stuff, write it down.  By the time you’re finished you’ll probably feel better realizing how much you’ve accomplished.  Then keep the list and review it and update it every so often to keep yourself going.

Expand yourself.  You’ve probably found that when you have a new idea or project, you get very excited about it.  Try to constantly expand yourself by going to seminars, reading ebooks, getting newsletters, and doing other things to keep yourself coming up with new ideas and getting new projects.  The more new things you do, the more excited you’ll be about just doing your work.

Stay positive.  A positive attitude goes a long way in keeping you motivated.  Take steps to keep yourself looking on the bright side of life and work and it will be easier to keep yourself going.

Ten Ways To Balance Work and Family

balanceBalancing a work life and a home life can be difficult, but with a little knowledge and planning, you can make it work for you.  Here are ten tips that will help you balance your work life and home life.

1.  Set realistic goals.  It's pretty much a given fact that if you want to achieve something big, you have to make some sacrifices.  While the select few can manage, most people can't become a CEO and run a successful household.  When setting your goals, be realistic and don't stretch yourself too thin.

2.  Make schedules.  Keeping track of work and your family can be difficult to plan.  Try to keep a set schedule from day to day and week to week if you can.  Always remember to make a written schedule and give everyone a copy.

3.  Take time for yourself.  It's a natural instinct of mothers to sacrifice themselves for the good of their family.  However, it's important to remember that if you don't take care of yourself, you can't take care of anyone else.  Try to schedule in at least a few minutes of "you time", whether it be going for a run, watching your favorite TV show, or just sitting in a room by yourself to relax for a few minutes.   

4.  Work from home.  If you can do your work over the Internet or phone, you may be able to swing working at least part of the time from home, giving you more time to spend with your family.  Just remember that there are a lot more things at home to distract you from getting your work done.

5.  Get some exercise.  Working out is not only a great way to stay healthy and gain energy, it's also a great way to spend time with your kids.  Instead of hitting the gym, go play ball in the park or take them for a walk.

6.  Take advantage of leave.  Most jobs allow you a certain amount of leave, but a lot of us end up not using it.  Make sure you know how much time you have and take it, whether you go on a vacation with your family or just use it to take a well-deserved rest day every so often.  

7.  Prioritize.  When making your to-do lists, figure out the things that are most important for you to do and get them done first.  If there isn't enough time to do everything, you won't feel as bad about what you have to cut.

8.  Take classes.  As many people will tell you, there's no manual on how to be a good parent and have a successful career.  But if you search around your community, you can find classes and seminars from people that have been where you are and managed to do well.  They can give you inspiration along with helpful tips and tidbits to get through your day.

9.  Watch for burn out.  Even if you schedule everything, take breaks, and do everything else above, what you're doing may just be too much for you.  Watch yourself for changes in mood or physical problems.  They could be a sign that you're burnt out and need to make some changes to your plans.  Remember, your health is important too.

10.  Learn to say no.  If you want to have a successful career and family life, you will have to learn to say no occasionally.  If you try to do everything, you're going to burn yourself out and not be able to take care of anyone.  Being a good employee and a good parent doesn't mean you need to do everything you're asked.

Expanding Your VA Business

TeamAs a virtual assistant it’s very easy to fall into the trap of working around the clock and doing everything all on your own. If you’re getting lots of clients and repeat work, that’s fantastic and speaks dividends about your services. How about now using that to your advantage?

Expanding your VA business makes sense on all levels – you’ll have the ability to grow a client base, you’ll have a pool of other VAs to help you on a regular or as-needed basis, and you can slowly make the transition into being more of a manager rather than doing all the work yourself.

Here are a few tips to help you expand your business.

Don’t turn down clients.

If you’re getting so busy that you’re turning down clients, it’s time to expand. Find a VA or two to start which you know provide quality work. Contract work out to them on an as-needed basis. This means that you deal with your clients and they remain your clients at all times, but you sub-contract some of your work out to other virtual assistants. The VA’s deal with you (not the client) at all times and you pay them for their services.

The best way to do this efficiently is to systemize the process right from the start. Set up a simple yet efficient billing system so that you pay subcontractors on the same day each month. Ask your subcontractors to submit invoices to you to help make record keeping easier, and keep track of all assignments so that you can check the accuracy of all hours billed.

It’s also important you keep efficient records of all projects. You can use an online system like Basecamp to help you do this or a simple calendar – it’s really up to you – just make sure that you can easily track all projects.

Drum up new business. 

As you build up a database of VAs who are available to take on new work, start drumming up new business. Market your services online and offline to gain new clients. Use online forums to let business owners know that you’re available. Advertise your services strategically both online and offline. Write and distribute articles on topic with your business. And basically let potential clients know that you and your team can help them with their projects.

A professional, well-laid out website will play an important role in helping you build your business. Include a full FAQ about your business and services. Let clients know that you have a wide pool of assistants that can help with a large number of tasks. And give them a detailed list of all your services. And don’t forget to make contacting you easy – include an email address, postal address and telephone number where possible.

Build up a great team. 

The key to making your expansion a success will be a great team working in the background. To do this, ensure that you treat your subcontractors fairly – offer good rates for their services, be respectful and try to give them new projects as regularly as possible.

Communication is also extremely important. Set up a system so that there are no chances for miscommunication. Ask your subcontractors to confirm new projects. Set clear turnaround-times and ask them to notify you in case they can’t meet their deadlines as soon as possible.

Building up your VA business is possible. It’s just a matter of thinking “big” right from the start. Good luck!

Fear Is Good ... Here's Why.

Guest Post by Tina Forsyth
www.OnlineBusinessManager.com

Fear is getting a bad rap.

Fear is often the reason a virtual support professional does NOT do something … versus the reason for them TO DO something.

Would you agree? As a Virtual Assistant, freelancer or other virtual support professional, you likely experienced some fear when you decided to officially open your business doors.

For me, fear is a big indicator that I need to do something. If I’m scared, it means I most likely need to go in that direction.

My personal believe is, that as human beings, we are meant to grow. We are meant to take on new stuff. Learning new things, supporting clients in new roles and new challenges – it’s natural to feel fear when you step into these areas – especially when you haven’t explored them before.

Fear itself can take many different forms, and will vary by individual and situation. Here are a few fears that many virtual support professionals face”:

  • fear of looking like a fool
  • fear of losing money
  • fear of not making money
  • fear of upsetting people close to you
  • fear of not knowing if you can do what you want to do… etc.

Which of these can you relate to?

My previous mentor David Neagle calls this the “terror barrier”. The “terror barrier” is a natural part of life and growth.

We all come up against our own terror barriers – especially in business. And we have to decide whether we want to work through them or run away.

A word of caution - even if you run away from those terror barriers, they will follow you. And the longer they follow you, the bigger they get – darn them!

So, you may as well face the fear … right?

I’ve done my fair share of having to ‘stare fear in the eye’ and put plainly, it can suck at times.

For example, a few years ago when I decided to sign up to work with a mentor, that was a HUGE fear moment for me. I was terrified to take that step, as I knew it was a commitment to me and my business to play a bigger game. Quite honestly I didn’t know if I could do it.

Want to know what thoughts crossed my mind? You might be able to relate

  • Who am I to create a super cool and thriving biz?
  • What if I fail and lose oodles of money?
  • What if I suck at it and people point and laugh at me?
  • And many more other crazy thoughts

Here’s what I believe: Fear is an invitation. It’s an invitation for us to learn a lesson.

Whatever it is that we fear, there’s a gift waiting for you on the other side … but only if you’re willing to step into it. If you don’t step into it, you don’t get the gift. It’s as simple as that.

Facing fear is like building a muscle, the more we do it the more we are able to do it.

Fear doesn’t always get easier as there is always a s-t-r-e-t-c-h required when facing fear (and it can be uncomfortable!). However, I do believe that half the battle is actually resisting our fear – running away takes a lot of energy! If you stop resisting fear and instead step into it then the entire process could be much less painful in the long run.

Fear acronym positiveNow, when I reach that that “eek!” moment – that nauseous feeling in the pit of my stomach – I know it’s something that I need to do. This is the main indicator for me of what I need to do next in my business.

When was the last time you did something that scared the pants off of you?

What is it that you are most afraid of doing right now, in this moment, for you and your business? Please share your comments … I really would love to know.

Breaks Increase Productivity

take a break

Are you working and working but just can't seem to focus and get stuff done?  You might even be considering seeing a doctor, but the solution may be much more simple than that - just take a break.  Taking short ten minute breaks throughout the day can help you refocus and re-energize so you're more productive once you get back to work.

Scientists and psychologists have actually done many studies that show how effective breaks can be.  In fact, many large businesses have now started adopting break times into the course of the regular day.  Employees are actually paid to sit at their desk and read, research topics they enjoy on the Internet, and do other things that interest them.  It's been shown that allowing these breaks actually increases productivity and employee satisfaction enough to compensate for the lost time plus some.

To get the most good out of your breaks, try making your activities something that will help increase production when you return to work, rather than something that simply distracts you.  Some great options include aerobic activity or relaxation exercises.  They'll clear your mind, while producing chemicals in your body that will boost concentration when you get back to work.

If physical exercise isn't your thing, or you just don't have the chance to do it at work, there are other things you can do to relax and clear your mind so you can get back to work.  Meditation or other breathing exercises only take a few minutes, but can help you feel better mentally and physically.  Not only does it help you focus, it can also lower your blood pressure and help reduce the physical signs of stress.

The biggest danger in taking breaks is not getting back to work when the break is done.  A lot of people will try to skip breaks because they're afraid they won't get back to work and the work won't get done.  But when you skip breaks, you can significantly decrease productivity and actually end up getting less work done.  The key is setting a time limit to your breaks and sticking to them.  If you have trouble, try setting a timer when you take a break, or having someone back you up by making sure you get back to work.

If you've been pushing too hard and have reached burnout, a ten minute break just isn't going to be enough.  If you are finding yourself feeling sick, tired, and only ever in a negative mood, especially about work, you are probably burnt out by work.  In this case, you not only need to incorporate short breaks into your day, you also need to alter your how and when you work and may even need an extended vacation.

Breaks are an easy and effective way to increase your results and become more successful with very little effort.

How To Prove You Are the *Right* Person For the Job

Guest Post By Tina Forsyth www.OnlineBusinessManager.com

Over the last years I’ve spoken with a lot of business owners who are searching for a new virtual team member. One of the questions I get asked all the time is “Tina, how do I know if the person I’m hiring can actually do the job.”

Young Woman Working at Home, Small OfficeToo often, business owners jump into a relationship with a new virtual support professional after just two brief conversations. After a few short weeks, things start to crumble – leaving the business owner (1) unsure of how and why things started to crumble and (2) feeling a little ‘gun shy’ about working with virtual support professionals moving forward.

So how can you, the Virtual Assistant, freelancer, virtual support professional of any kind, prove that you are the BEST person for the ‘job’ and are worth hiring? If you feel confident in your skills and abilities, you know you’re great at what you do AND you can clearly and concisely communicate this – you will make it super easy for clients to make a decision to hire you.

Here are three things you can do that will help you prove that you’re “the one”:

Get Testimonials

Most virtual support professionals don’t do this enough. When you do great work for your clients, ask them for a testimonial that you can post on your website and use in other marketing materials.

Here’s a tip to make it super easy: Draft the testimonial on behalf of your client and give it to them to edit. Business owners will often have a tough time coming up with a testimonial from scratch … but if they have something to edit, they will realize what they really want to share.

Keep Track of Your Own Successes

What successes have you helped your clients create? Those are your own successes as well, and are proof of your contribution to the business.
Keep track of these successes so that you can share these stories/examples when talking to new clients. If you offer visual/graphic services, create a portfolio of your work so people can see what you do.

This exercise is also a great confidence builder for YOU. You will likely be surprised (and very proud) to see how much you actually contribute to the success of your clients.

Date Your Clients First

There is no better way to prove yourself then to actually jump in and do some work for the client.

Offer to help out with a project before you commit to a longer working relationship -- I call this ‘dating’ the client. Make it clear that in the dating stage there are no strings attached – either you or the client can decide to discontinue at any time during the dating stage without any hard feelings.

If things go well, you can both jump into a longer term relationship with confidence.

By implementing these three simple steps, you will not only boost your own confidence, but also the confidence of the business owners you want to work with.

I’d love to hear from you – what else can you do or have you done to prove that you are great at what you do and are worth hiring? Please share your thoughts.

Strategies to Become a Better Decision Maker

good decisionBeing a good decision maker can help you in business and life. It’s been said that highly confident people make decisions clearly and stick to them rather than changing their minds or being indecisive.

And even if decision making doesn’t come naturally to you, it is a skill which can be built on. Here are a few tips to help you:

#1 – Start small. Even making small everyday decisions will help you accomplish the bigger goal. Small decisions such as what food to eat at a restaurant are not to be underestimated. A good way to start is the next time you’re eating out, look at the menu and decide what you’d like to eat. Then put the menu down and don’t change your mind. Don’t ask your companions what they’re having and base your decision on that - make the decision on your own and then stick to it.

Small steps like this can be empowering and help you to tackle the bigger decisions to come in the future.

#2 – Approach decisions logically. Many of us tend to make emotion-based decisions rather than logical ones. In business this can spell disaster. A good way to help you approach decisions in a logical manner may be to write down a list of pros and cons.

Simply grab a sheet of paper and label one side pros and one side cons. Then list all the good and bad points of your choice. Logically think through your comments and then make your decision. This way you can leave emotions out of the equation and concentrate purely on the facts.

#3 – Cut yourself some slack. Making decisions is a skill which can be learned but even pros don’t always make the right choices. Realize that making decisions effectively takes confidence and is a great first step, but your decisions may not always be the right decisions. If you happen to make the wrong decision, give yourself a break and take comfort in the fact that you thought out your decision clearly and logically and made the best choice possible at the time.

Being a good decision maker takes time and practice. However, it’s a worthwhile skill to develop. Making decisions regularly may help build your confidence level and also help people know where they stand with you – two great entrepreneurial qualities.

How to Get Low-Cost and Free Advertising for Your Small Business 

computer work

If you want your business to make you money or even just get off the ground, you’re probably going to have to advertise.  For many companies, advertising becomes a huge chunk of the overall budget, but it doesn’t have to be.  There are plenty of free or inexpensive ways to let people know about your business and get them coming back.

Email

Email is a great, cost-effective way for get your name out there, contact potential customers, and keep existing customers up to date and coming back.  And while developing an email list may take some time and effort, sending out an email once you have a list takes very little time.

You can get email addresses by simply asking for them on your webpage about a related topic to your products, asking for them from your customers when you take an order, or offering a free product or service in exchange for an email address.

Many people get emails by offering people products in exchange for the email addresses of their friends, but these are often far less useful than when people give you their email addresses themselves.  Ninety-nine percent of the time, the friends really aren’t going to be interesting in what you have to offer.

Word of Mouth

Word of mouth is also a great way to get word about your business out there, and it generally costs you nothing.

The key to starting word of mouth business is not only to tell people to pass the word on to their friends, but more importantly, to treat the customer right so they want to spread the word.

Social networking sites are a great way to start a word of mouth campaign about your business.  These are sites like MySpace, Facebook, and other sites where people can ad their friends, bands they like, and businesses or products they might be a fan of.

Then, if someone is a friend, the site will often automatically suggest they become a friend with or a fan of the same things.  Soon, you’ll have a bunch of people who are all fans of your business - then you can use the page to send updates to all of them about new products, services, and promotions.  It’s all free and pretty simple to get started.

Blogs

Blogs are another way to get people interested in your products and keep current customers up to date.  Starting a blog is simple, there are tons of blog sites that will pretty much set the whole thing up for you.  The trick is actually getting people to read it.

You can use different SEO techniques including microblogs like Twitter, but you also need to provide quality content that people actually want to read.  Start your blog by not only talking about your business and ideas, but also those of other people.  If you refer someone to a good article or great deal, they’re much more likely to keep reading.

While you may decide to spend some money on your advertising, you can still supplement with these methods to boost your exposure even more.