Thursday, April 5, 2007

The Podcast & Blog Hopping VA tour visits Heidi Richards and the Virtual Woman's Day Blog!

"Don't sit down and wait for the opportunities to come;
you have to get up and make them." Madame C. J. Walker

Heidi, I’ve already met some fabulous entrepreneurs during this adventure and must say I’ve looked forward to stopping here and chatting with you about the virtual assistant industry. Here, we will get into the nuts and bolts of working with a VA. I can’t wait – let’s get started!

1. What kinds of work does a Virtual Assistant perform?
Virtual Assistants traditionally provide administrative support services similar to an onsite assistant, except we work from a remote location. Frankly, I cannot imagine too many administrative duties a VA generalist or specialist couldn’t perform, so I’ve provided a short list below and refer your readers to the Alliance for Virtual Businesses where you can find, broken down by industry, a very extensive list of tasks VAs perform.

Here’s the short list:

Desktop Publishing (Enhanced Word Processing), e.g., manuals, reports, detailed tables, etc.
Internet and Traditional Research
Organization and Association Management
Web Site Design/Maintenance
Web Site Check-up
Search Engine Submission and Optimization
PowerPoint Presentations
Newsletter Production (HTML) and Ezine Management
PDF Conversions
Appointment/Calendar Scheduling and Management
Autoresponders and Shopping Cart Creation and Maintenance

2. Isn't working with a VA more expensive than hiring an employee?
Definitely not! When you consider the hidden costs associated with retaining the services of a full-time employee, it makes business sense, financially, to retain the services of a professional Virtual Assistant. Here’s a simple salary comparison breakdown provided by the US Chamber of Commerce to illustrate this point.
Hiring a Full-time Assistant
Base Salary: $15.00/hr x 2080 (52 weeks) = $31,200
Benefits: 15% of salary = $4,680.00
Vacation, holiday, sick time: 13% = $4,056.00
Payroll Taxes: 12%* = $3,774.00
Administrative Costs: 7%** (recruiting, hiring, training, record maintenance etc. = $2,184.00
Space & Equipment for in-house employee: estimated at $2,000
Annual Total: $48,894.00
Partnering with a Virtual Assistant:
(Don't forget, you only pay for the hours worked!)
· Base retainer of 20 hours a month @ $50.00/hr
· Occasional overage of hours agreed on between partners @ $50.00/hr.
Annual Total: $12,000.00
As you can see, retaining the services of a virtual assistant can result in tremendous financial savings. Remember, you are only paying for time on task, retaining the services of an admin expert requiring little or no training, and due to the tremendous cost savings, can increase your financial reserves for marketing, client services or to take a much needed vacation.

3. What are some tips for working with a Virtual Assistant?
The most important advice I can provide is to communicate! Schedule regular meetings and keep the appointments. Your VA is an important member of your team, your right hand, and keeping her in the loop is very important for task completion and the growth of your business.
Communicate your needs. Create task lists detailing what you need done, along with the time frame in which you expect them to be done. You may also discuss how the task impacts your business goals, so the VA understands the relationship between the assignment and your objectives.

Set Your Priorities: Do not inundate your VA with a long list of tasks without also informing her of their importance and an anticipated complete date. One skill a Virtual Assistant hasn’t acquired yet – to my knowledge – is mind reading; so, don’t be afraid to tell your VA which assignment is most important. Eventually, she will become comfortable with your style and processes, and can make the determination on her own.

Provide Feedback: Regularly review your assistant’s performance to ensure she is complying with your requirements and meeting your needs. This is an opportunity for give and take between both parties. You can identify areas your VA needs to improve in and your VA can provide feedback regarding where you can improve. That’s right, open communication goes both ways, and your VA is NOT an employee, but an equal partner in the relationship, assisting you in achieving your goals.

Don’t Micromanage: You’ve retained the VA’s services because she is able to work independently and without strict supervision. Let her show you what she can accomplish! If you continuously check in/up on her progress, you are impeding her ability to complete the assignment. In addition, by constantly contacting the VA, you may be consuming your contractual hours or interfering with her ability to concentrate on other client work.
Pay on Time: By compensating your VA on a timely basis, you demonstrate that you VALUE and appreciate her services. No one likes a slow payer, as late payments impact a business owner’s cash flow. If you are consistently late, the VA may end the contractual relationship and seek clients willing to show they appreciate her services.

4. What are some things a virtual assistant can’t do (if any) or that I shouldn’t ask for? Wow, this is a difficult one. Since most VAs work remotely, we can’t naturally bring you coffee – although we can order it online for you! Really, do not ask a VA to perform unethical or illegal tasks, or even place them in situations that will negatively impact their reputations or business. Virtual Assistants abide by a Code of Ethics, and personal and professional standards. Traditionally, your written agreement specifies the responsibilities a VA will assume. Ever so often, the agreement should be reviewed as relationships and responsibilities change. If a VA is hesitate to perform certain responsibilities, it is probably because she feels it is morally or professionally unethical or in direct conflict with her personal beliefs and/or business mission.

5. How do I find the right VA and get started?
There are many ways to find your “right VA”. First, since there are more than 20,000 VAs worldwide, I would narrow my field of reference by first creating a list of expectations (do I need a specialist or generalists) – personal and professional attributes and skills I’d want my VA to possess, and tasks I initially want her to assume. Tracy Lawton, a member of the VA community, wrote an article entitled 7 Top Tips for Choosing the Right Virtual Assistant (VA). This article can provide the foundation to begin your search. I also recommend reading A Virtual Solution for Business Growth, Stability and Profitability, a blueprint to help business owners get on track, achieve goals and rejuvenate their passion, all with the help of a VA.

In addition, May 17-19, 2007, VAs from around the globe will participate in the 2nd annual Online International Virtual Assistants Convention (OIVAC). I invite you and your readers to stop by and meet VAs up close and personal by joining the free, open to the public networking sessions scheduled throughout the 3 days event.

As a matter of fact, I recommend that you attend a few seminars too, all of which are presented by successful entrepreneur and business experts. These Informative presentations are provided by experts in media relations, podcasting, business ethics, marketing, branding, writing sales copy, effective networking and much more. Visit OIVAC for the complete seminar schedule and registration process. Last day to register is May 15th.

Stick a fork in me, I’m done! It’s been great visiting today, but the next stop is calling. Let’s see, yesterday I stopped by OIVAC’s blog and left a scrambled puzzle clue – today’s clue is (#5) tancceihl. Tomorrow, I visit Janet Barclay of Organized Assistant.
Don’t forget to download the scrambled clue puzzle board, collect all the clues and become eligible for some great prizes.

Sharon, it was great chatting with you today! Thanks so much for the excellent information. Best of luck on your blog tour.

Warmest regards,

Heidi Richards

About Sharon Williams: Sharon is the Chairperson of the Alliance for Virtual Businesses and OIVAC, and president of The 24 Hour Secretary an administrative, secretarial and internet-based marketing support services company. She is the 2006 recipient of the Thomas Leonard International Virtual Assistant of Distinction Award and co-founder of Virtual Business University, an e-learning environment for entrepreneurs willing to step towards their greatness.

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