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Posts Tagged ‘virtual assistant’

“Yes, A Virtual Assistant Has a Contract.”

Posted by collinsadmin on August 19, 2008

Recently I read a blog post about virtual assistants.  This person wanted to know if anybody has used one and what they thought about it.  There were some positive posts about virtual assistants but there were also some negative posts and of course, the negative posts stuck.

One of the comments was that virtual assistants had contracts that needed to be signed and they didn’t want to sign them.

Yes, virtual assistants do have contracts but they don’t only protect the virtual assistant, they also protect the client. A well written contract will protect the rights of both parties in a balanced way – you really DON’T want to work with a VA who does not use a contract (unless the work involved is a very small amount and non-sensitive in nature), since it is both unprofessional, and risky!

Some common contract clauses:

  •  Intellectual property rights and copyright protection clauses. This protects the client because it is in writing that the VA will not use or sell any material belonging to the client.  If this is not included, virtual assistants would be free to use and sell any material that their client provides to them. That means trade secrets, articles, etc.
     
  • Most contracts state that the VA will return all materials to their client should there be a reason that they no longer work together. If this was not in the contract, the VA could hold those items “hostage” – this can happen with an unethical assistant of any kind, including in the office, if you do not have the requirements legally spelled out.
  •  Many contain confidentiality assurances. This protects you and gives you a legal option if your information is carelessly shared with others.

Another commenter said that it didn’t work out not only because the client didn’t take the time to plan what needed to be done but also because the VA didn’t take the initiative to do anything without detailed instructions.  When you do an initial consultation with a potential VA, you need to have a list of what it is that you don’t believe are the core tasks of your business and what you really don’t like doing. If you don’t have a list, you need to be able to explain what a typical day entails for you, then a VA can help you figure out the best things to outsource.

Working with a VA is the same as working with an in-house employee, neither can read minds so they need to know what it is that needs to be done, at least at the beginning.  Once you have worked together for any length of time, the VA will be able to get a routine going and know when you like articles done, or when to backup your website, etc.

Communication is essential – a good VA will remind you occasionally, or ask questions to clarify, but YOU must state definitively what you need to have done, and how you want it done. Again a VA can not read their clients’ minds, and if you want the job done completely, and correctly, you must give clear information about what that means.  If you send them a spreadsheet with no specific instructions, it is just a spreadsheet.  VA’s are there to make their clients’ lives easier and to do the work the way the client wants it done, or to find a way to do the same task more efficiently without compromising the results. You can’t just send them a file with nothing else.

Over time, a VA will get to know how you want many things done, and will be able to lessen the amount of instruction needed for routine tasks. If instructions have been given, and the work is still not done without prompting, then you may be working with a VA who lacks motivation. If that is the case then by all means “fire” them and find a different VA that is a better match.

Another person stated that they need more of a relationship with people they work with. There may be VA’s who prefer to be professionally reserved, and everything is work, work, work with them but there are VA’s who really like to get to know their clients personally as well as professionally, you just have to find the right match.  To do this, when you initially consult with a potential VA, talk about business but also ask them about themselves personally. If the VA tends to shy away from talking about themselves and you can’t carry on a casual conversation with them, then that VA might not be right for you.

Just remember a VA can not read your mind, they have contracts so they can protect themselves as well as their clients, and as in all industries there may be a few bad apples but for every bad apple, you will find a dozen good apples. Also remember the most important tip of all, you get out of a VA what you put in, so take the time to build the relationship, convey your wishes clearly, and you can build a working relationship that benefits your business for years to come.

Posted in business, Virtual Assistance | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »

The Economy and Small Business

Posted by collinsadmin on July 8, 2008

Due to the status of the US economy right now, many small businesses are having a hard time with sustainability.  Even though the price of gas, food, and other necessities are rising, small businesses are reluctant to raise their prices.  They don’t want to put any more of a hardship on their clients but yet they also need to be able to run a business that is profitable. 

 Raising prices for products/services should be a last resort.  A few things can be done to cut corners without compromising the service to clients. 

  1. Do you really need the newest gadget? In a world of cell phones, laptops, computers, blackberries, Iphones etc who wouldn’t want the newest greatest gadget to go with the technological world that we live in?  This is when you have to really sit back and think, do you really need it?  Are you losing time and productivity because of the technology that you have now? If the answer is yes then by all means if you can afford it, go out and buy it, but if you just want the latest, greatest, coolest gadget out there for the prestige, walk away. If you do feel that you need new equipment, check out sites like www.ebay.com, www.amazon.com, and www.woot.com for low-cost alternatives.  If you use Ebay, just be leary of what you are purchasing and make sure they have good feedback from previous customers. On Amazon, you can read reviews, and often choose between new and used. Always test a trial version of new software before you buy.
     
  2. Do you really show your clients that you care? There is more to customer satisfaction than just getting their work to them by the deadline. Your clients need to know that you care.  This doesn’t need to cost anything.  It can be something as simple as talking to them and finding out about their problems and then finding a solution for them. I don’t mean selling them more services/products, I mean actually listening and offering a solution. Doing small and thoughtful good deeds can mean the difference between retaining a client or losing one.
     
  3. Are you flexible in how to get more clients? With the economic woes, people are going to need different types of things than they once did.  People need to be more cautious about how they spend their hard-earned money.  Do you have a plan on how to capitalize on this?  At times, this may mean offering different types of services/products at different prices.  I don’t mean a lower quality but I do mean a lower price product. For example, if somebody only needs a letter tweaked, instead of charging hourly, just charge a flat rate or don’t charge at all unless it is intensive tweaking.  Are you willing to barter, will you help someone with a custom solution, and can you revise your product or service to meet a new need? You will gain more clients by showing that you care about them and their needs.
     
  4. Can you outsource any of your business tasks? Outsourcing does require you to spend money but it can also help you to receive money. Some people may think they are saving money by handling everything themselves from administrative work to website design and everything in between. If you are one of those people, next time you start working on your website or you administrative work, make a mental note as to how much time you are spending on these things and what you could be doing in that time to help increase your profits. If you are spending 5 hours doing a task that a pro could do in 1, you are losing money at it – if you charge $45 per hour for your time, and a pro charges less, you are losing money even if you can do it in the same time. If a pro can help you avoid costly mistakes due to inexperience, it also makes more sense to hire it out. 

Being a small business in hard economic times is doable it just depends on what you do to create the sustainability factor. It may require thinking outside of the box a little bit but it can be done in a wildly successful way.

Posted in business, Customer Service, Virtual Assistance | Tagged: , , , | 3 Comments »

Working With A VA-Third In A Three Part Series

Posted by collinsadmin on February 26, 2008

Working with a VA – When It Doesn’t Work Out 

There may be occasion when the client or the VA feel that there is a major compatibility issue between them and when/if that time arrives it should be dealt with professionally. If compatibility is a problem then both the VA and the client will feel increasingly frustrated, and work will be impaired – this can be harmful for both the client’s and the VA’s business.

If it doesn’t work out, the following standard of professionalism should be observed:

  • Both parties should give each other a reasonable amount of time to discontinue working with one another.
  • The client should pay any remaining fee pertaining to work that has already been done by the VA.
  • Once payment is received, the VA should return any and all materials provided by the client, and when necessary, facilitate a smooth transfer of needed information to another VA.
  • Emotions should not overcome either the VA or the client in which either party starts to spread rumors or complaining publicly about either one.  This is both unprofessional and may result in legal action if harm is done to the business of the other.
  • The client should seek out another VA if they believe that those types of services could benefit them.  

No one wants to have a business association that just does not work out. But sometimes it does happen. Keeping things professional, and following through on the details helps to avoid personal trauma, and potential legal liabilities due to harm that is caused to the business of another.

Posted in business, Virtual Assistance | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Working With A VA-Second In A Three Part Series

Posted by collinsadmin on February 26, 2008

Working with a VA – Once The Contract Is Signed

All VAs should have a contract outlining their processes, their liabilities, their confidentiality pledge, what is expected of the client, warranties, return of materials, terms of the contract, payments and any other issues that are necessary for that particular situation. The VA should then go over the following with their clients:

  • Instructions on how to get files from point A to point B.
  • Any usernames and passwords that are required for back office access.
  • If necessary, begin learning new software required to manage documents and projects.
  • If required, invoice for first month’s retainer. Retainers are standard in the industry, and may be required for many months.
  • Ask if there are any questions, comments or concerns.
  • A contract WILL contain legal language. It cannot protect your interests if it does not!  

The First Work Assignment 

Once the contract is agreed upon and signed by both parties and the necessary information is given, now is the time for the actual work to begin. By following the next set of procedures, it helps to ensure a long, successful partnership with a virtual assistant.

  • The VA and client should be prompt in returning phone calls and emails (24-48 hours).
  • The VA should be willing to send updates on projects when/if it is requested.  The client should also be willing to send updates quickly if they require additional or different information than previously discussed for that particular project.
  • A VA should be able to supply clients with some type of documentation showing exactly when and how long a project was worked on, when requested.
  • A VA should address any concerns, comments or questions promptly with the client should the need arise.
  • Both VAs and clients should take suggestions with an open mind from either party. A good VA will make suggestions to help you, while still listening to how you do business. 

The first few assignments are a time of getting to know one another, testing the waters, and learning a new way of working, for both parties. Patience with one another helps to facilitate the process of growing into a strong working team.

Once a VA is found to satisfy your needs it can become an extremely profitable and smart business move. Working with a VA not only relieves your stress, it also helps take some of the anxiety away that comes with running a business and being a solo-preneur.

Posted in business, Virtual Assistance | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Working With A VA-First In A Three Part Series

Posted by collinsadmin on February 26, 2008

Working with a VA – Before the Work Begins 

Many business owners do not understand how to work with a virtual administrative assistant (VA) – it is a fairly new industry, and involves fairly contemporary use of technology.  While many different variables can occur with each process there are some standards within the industry for working with a VA.

Before work can even begin, a virtual assistant should offer a consultation.  This consultation should be about learning about the potential client as well as giving the potential client the ability to learn about the VA.

 What a VA hopes to achieve 

  • Information about the potential client’s business such has what type of business, how long been in business, where the client would like their business to go, etc. This helps the VA offer more personalized service.
  • Challenges that the business is trying to overcome such as marketing, competition, administrative etc. This helps the VA know what services will benefit you most.
  • What the business owner expects from their virtual assistant. This information helps the VA meet those expectations more precisely.
  • The client’s personality type and compatibility, so the VA can work with the client more successfully.
  • Closing the deal – the last point of this meeting is generally an agreement to work together, if such a decision has been reached.

     What a consumer should hope to achieve 

  • Information about the VA’s background such as business, experience, history, client satisfaction, etc. This may have been given earlier, but here you have a chance to ask specifics.
  • How to work with a virtual assistant. A VA will let you know if they have an online back office for your convenience, whether project documents are typically emailed, and how, or in what manner project specifications are delivered and returned.
  • What to expect from the VA such as communications, project updates, etc. They may have a policy for deadlines, and usually have a policy for issuing updates or reports. You’ll also learn their billing and retainer policy.
  • The VA’s personality type and compatibility. You’ll learn whether you can work with this person, or if they just drive you nuts.
  • Getting the biggest bang for your buck. A good VA can offer suggestions for streamlining the work to keep it as affordable as possible.

Once the initial consultation has taken place it is then the VA and the clients’ responsibility to decide if the VAs services can benefit the client, if working with a VA is a right step for a client, if the clients needs are something that the VA can address and provide solutions for and most importantly if there is compatibility between the client and the VA.

Compatibility between the VA and the client is extremely important because if there is an issue of trust, micromanagement, or just two completely different personality types there may be issues in the future and then both the VA and client will be frustrated and nothing will get accomplished.

An initial consultation can take place over the phone, in person, or occasionally, by email. It is an important first step in beginning to work with a VA.

Working with a VA is not just a quick 10 minute process. It takes planning, consideration and dedication.  VAs are there to help businesses succeed for the long haul.

Posted in business, Virtual Assistance | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

A Few Ways To Use A VA For January 14th’s National Clean Off Your Desk Day

Posted by collinsadmin on January 11, 2008

Many small business owners work late into the night just trying to see the top of their desk, getting to the point where they see a small square of the desktop and feeling as if they accomplished something; only to come back in the morning to see that the ever elusive messy desk fairy has struck during the night. After letting out a huge sigh of disbelief, they sit down at their desks and gradually one by one start going through every post-it note, scribble paper and other papers hoping to find that one little square of desktop once again. This gets frustrating and overwhelming.

Being that January 14th is National Clean Off Your Desk Day, small business owners could always spend this one day a year and forward all their calls to voicemail, lock their doors and post a sign that says do not disturb but chances are potential clients will just go to a competitor and what about those other 364 days a year when their desk is cluttered.

Maybe they should think of hiring a Confidential Virtual Assistant. A Confidential Virtual Assistant can assist in keeping small business owners’ desks cleared by:

  1. Taking those scraps of papers and organizing them based on importance in an easily accessible computerized document where each task can be marked off as it’s completed
  2. Any papers that have daily reminders can easily be computerized so it automatically pops up on the clients computer when it is turned on
  3. Any correspondence that needs to be sent to clients, a CVA can very easily type it up and send it to the business owners clients.

The list of ways a CVA can help keep that desk cleaned off is endless.  Using a CVA would allow that desk to stay clean and clear for more than just one day.

Posted in business, National Clean Off Your Desk Day, Virtual Assistance | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Confidentiality and the Virtual Assistant

Posted by collinsadmin on September 24, 2007

Confidentiality is of huge importance to the small business owner in this ever changing technological society.  Every day, secrets are exposed, online and off, through carelessness or harmful intent. Confidentiality and trust have become major issues in outsourcing work of almost any kind.

I repeatedly hear the questions, “How do I know you won’t sell the information I give you to somebody else?”, and “How do I know you will be careful about protecting my information from exploitation?”  These are valid questions, which should be asked of ANY assistant, whether they are in your office, or outside your office.

Virtual assistants are small business owners who have worked hard to get their business off the ground.  They have spent hours and hours researching their industry, creating a website, creating logos, and marketing just like you have. It could take months maybe even years before their business is thriving, and they have invested heavily to get that result. It isn’t just a job to them. It is their passion, their life, and their livelihood. No thinking business owner will risk their hard work over an issue as important to the client as confidentiality. If an in-house assistant is careless about confidentiality, they may receive a reprimand or lose their job. If a VA is careless, they lose much more, because they are much more dependent upon their reputation to secure additional work – there are no laws which say you cannot tell someone EXACTLY why you fired them.

Information must be protected from accidental loss, as well as from carelessness and outside threats. A computer virus is costly to both the client, and the virtual assistant, but the virtual assistant has the most to lose. They lose time, may have to spend money for repairs, and they lose credibility, and if important data is lost, they must make restitution to the client. Anti-virus, anti-malware, and anti-spyware software are essential components on the computer of any virtual assistant. A firewall, encryption software (for encrypting emails on request), and security passwords are also basic elements that a virtual assistant installs and uses.

Print information is just as vulnerable as the technological information. The simple precaution of shredding and then burning all sensitive documents when the project is completed ensures that the information is destroyed in a way that cannot be reconstructed. Sensitive documents can be protected during the project, by storing them in a locked cabinet. The key is kept with the VA.

If you have confidentiality concerns about hiring a VA, here are some questions you can ask them:

  • 1. How do you secure confidential information on your computer?
  • 2. How do you secure confidential printed documents?
  • 3. What do you do with confidential documents at the conclusion of an assignment?
  • 4. What is your policy in regard to sharing information between clients?
  • 5. What do you consider to be confidential information?

The answers to these five questions will give you valuable information in regard to selecting a diligent and careful assistant, so you can begin to build a long term relationship with a professional who will aid you in growing your business.

Posted in Confidentiality, Virtual Assistance | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Virtual Assistant Pricing

Posted by collinsadmin on June 4, 2007

There has been a lot of buzz on a few forums that one of the biggest objections to hiring a virtual assistant is the price.  While I understand the concern, there a few things I want to throw out there explaining why the prices are what they are.

One of the biggest misconceptions is that a virtual assistant (VA) is only a secretary. If you think that, then you are still in the mindset of employer and employee. While some VA’s do provide general secretarial help there are others who are more specialized in their practice.  Such as web design, transcription, internet marketing, bookkeeping etc. With this in mind, the ones who provide general secretarial support are also business owners.  Being a business owner, they know what is needed to be successful. They are there when you need somebody to bounce ideas off of, show you ways to better enhance your business etc. Also, knowing the costs of retaining new clients are extremely high, the VA that you work with will more than likely be in it for the long haul. This means, they will not just walk away when something “better” comes along.

As stated in previous articles that I have written, hiring an in-house assistant is actually more than you think. Sure it seems like it is a lot less than hiring a VA but one thing you have to take into consideration is that when hiring somebody in-house after taxes, legally required insurance, break time, productivity (or lack of) you are paying at least double their salary. Not to mention the purchase and servicing of computers, printers and other technological items. 

Here is something to consider if your CPA only charged you $10 dollars per hour, what kind of service would you expect to receive? My guess is pretty poor service.  The chances are you probably wouldn’t get your taxes done on time, and if they were done on time, you could probably expect a visit from the IRS because something would be amiss, or your books would be a mess.  Sure they have a degree in something but why aren’t they just considered good in math? I will tell you why, because they have been around for a long time and you expect them to be good at what they do so you are willing to pay the higher price.

It’s the same concept for a VA, they are professionals who take business extremely serious and they will give you the kind of service that you expect for what is charged.  They are just a new and different type of industry. 

Surf the net for a virtual assistant that you might be interested in working with and have them do a small project for you and if you don’t like what they do or how they do it, then just don’t send them another project.  It’s that simple. The best part is, if you decide not to work with that VA you have found out immediately and you don’t have to worry about any type of retaliation from them (as long as you paid them) such as a lawsuit.

Tracy

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