OIVAC Blog Hop Tour Stop 2: Q&A!

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We welcome the Blog Hopping VA, Sharon Williams, President of The 24 Hour Secretary and chair of the OIVAC steering committee, who is here answering your questions on the virtual assistant industry and OIVAC!

Here are Sharon’s answers to the questions posed over the last couple of days.

If you have further questions or would like to comment on Sharon’s answers please add your comments below. Sharon will be coming back to the blog to answer further questions and respond to your comments!

Blog Hopping & Podcast VA Travels to Land of Oz to Chat about the VA Industry and its Upcoming Convention

The Blog Hopping and Podcast VA has traveled to the Land of Oz and pulled into Executive Stress’s station, where Lyn Prowse-Bishop is the depot manager.  Well Lyn, I see you have an extensive list of questions, and I’ve prepared some very detailed responses. So, what’s next?

1.  Why would I use a $40/hr VA if I can get one for $2/hr?

A:  Ever heard the saying, “Affordability is value for your money and you get what you pay for!”  Traditionally, working with a VA consists of establishing an ongoing, one-on-one relationship with an individual who will become “invested” in the growth and development of a client’s business. The client seeks an experienced person that does not require an extensive amount of time or energy in training, explaining or editing assignments. They look for a VA with experience handling administrative and other back office services and/knowledge about technologies that can resolve an immediate problem and ultimately enhance the business operation.

However, when price is a major consideration, other important factors play a less important role in the decision-making process. These customers are amenable to working with non-native language speaking workers, who may have difficulty understanding the local colloquialisms. As a result, communication and follow through become a major issue.

In addition, if your VA works through a business outsourcing company, tasks may be assigned to different individuals each time you need assistance. As a result, the VA may not be familiar with your style, mode of operation, etc., and you may spend an inordinate amount of time orienting or reorienting the individual to your business.

Compatible work schedules (team availability) may also become a problem, as it is often difficult to relay changes in instruction or clarification during non-peak business operating hours.

The bottom line, it could become a question of trade-off and if the VA is a “value-add” to the business. If experience, ability to communicate, training, and developing a partnering relationship with a VA to help grow and sustain your business are important, the client should be willing to compensate the VA for their skill sets and qualifications, appropriately.

On the other hand, if the above criteria aren’t as important, the customer may chose to work with an individual charging extensively less, and in many instances, work with different individuals per assignment. These customers may be willing to forfeit the commitment associated with a VA willing to invest, long term in the business growth.

Remember, a good virtual assistant will add value to the client’s business, save money and enable customers to concentrate on building their business. And should be compensated accordingly!

2.  What can a VA do for me? I have secretarial/admin staff. Aren’t I just paying twice?

A:  Virtual Assistants typically fall into two categories: generalists or specialists, and assume responsibilities based on their individual knowledge, skills, experience, and training. As a result, a VA can bring an extensive skill set to an assignment, ranging from an Internet-related task focus (social media marketing, website design and maintenance, blogging, etc.) to back office tasks such as bookkeeping, invoicing, calendar management, etc.

To determine the services a VA can perform, I recommend that the client first have a clear understanding of the role the VA will play in your business. Create a list of tasks your staff perform on a regular basis and identify those you would like to delegate and why. If the VA’s services are to be retained for a “special project” or to take on new duties, have a clear understanding of how the VA can impact your business.

You would not be “paying twice” if you consider the cost/benefits ratio in your decision-making process. Cost savings could include retaining services of an experienced, knowledgeable professional for the length of the project or initially on a limited retainer basis, without incurring traditional staffing expenses such as taxes, insurance, purchase of additional equipment, furniture, etc.

Value-add benefits could include the ability to assign non-essential tasks to the VA, freeing key personnel to concentrate on their core competencies. Or, assigning duties your staff lacks the time, knowledge or technology for. The VA may provide a “new” outlook/perspective to your team, based on their experience of working with other business owners. VAs also have access to an extensive international network, and can potentially offer cost-saving or operations efficiency recommendations that can impact the business owner’s bottom line.

3.  It seems that lots of people still don’t know our industry exists. What can we do to get more exposure and educate the public?

A:   Ah, the question that has been asked since the industry’s inception. Actually, there is an extensive list of activities VAs can initiate to educate others about the industry (and their individual businesses).

For example:

  • Contact the local media and regularly submit releases and articles (related to current events, business achievements, etc.), and become an industry resource person.
  • Approach local business groups / associations, chambers, etc., and volunteer to speak about the industry and the benefits of working with a VA.
  • Become associated with a charity or hobby group, and form a partnering relationship: the charity will sponsor and promote your business in trade for volunteer services.
  • Approach (on and offline) business-focused radio stations and pitch interviews, based on topics their listeners would relate to, with a VA-industry-related twist.
  • Conduct virtual blog tours and visit non-competing blogs and showcase your business acumen to blog readers.

Finally, create a monthly/yearly calendar with specific goals, timelines, and action items, and stick to it.

If members of the industry completed one or two of these suggestions, it would go a very long way towards increasing industry exposure and individual business growth.

4.  I’m hopeless/uncomfortable at delegating – Can you suggest the best way for me to get started with a VA to ‘ease’ into it? I see the value of a VA but just don’t feel comfortable letting go of the business, or delegating tasks.

A:  I would first recommend holding a conversation with the VA, describing the reasons for your hesitation and the value of open communication between the parties. Implementing an “open communication policy” should substantially increase your comfort level.

Next, I would create a short list of non-essential tasks the VA can assume and evaluate for quality, timeliness, ability to follow directions, and overall performance associated with these tasks. As time progresses, I would gradually increase the complexity of the tasks.

Finally, you must have an “open mind” about letting go – even if it is a slow process. By delegating these tasks (non-essential first), you will gain time to handle income-generating responsibilities and other responsibilities you enjoy.

5.  Whilst VAs have great support with each other on forums etc do we have a back up plan in the event of lost internet connection (eg a USB wireless prepaid broadband connection for emergencies), power outages etc? How many have faced these issues and what do they suggest?

A: This is a problem all businesses face, and I strongly urge you to consider secure, (on and offline) affordable backup systems – offline protection should include one backup stored locally near the computer and another stored some distance away. The distant backup provides insurance against theft, fire, floods, hurricanes, and other local disasters that will destroy local backups, along with the computer(s).

Examples of online backup systems include Moxy, Carbonite, Backblaze and IBackup, all of which offer ease of use and simplicity. Advanced technologists may be interested in “customizable” settings offered by many of these services.

6.  How do I know this particular VA is suited to what I require?

A:  Initially you won’t!

Before meeting with the VA, I suggest that you develop questions/checklist related to the specific task(s) you want completed.  Once armed with the list, systematically ask the following or take the necessary steps to accomplish these tasks.

  • Prepare a simple questionnaire to obtain details about the candidate’s training, knowledge and experience. This will weed out non-qualified VAs.
  • Ask colleagues for recommendations, view testimonials on their websites or recommendations on LinkedIn.
  • Ask questions that are uniquely relevant to you and the tasks you want performed.
  • Find out what hours the candidate will be available and if flexibility is a factor.
  • Conduct research – do a Google search. Twitter accounts or forum posts come up. Read what you find carefully. How does the person communicate? What does her grammar look like? Is she overly negative? How does she relate to people?
  • Don’t over-commit – give the candidate several small, one-time tasks to make sure she does a good job.

Carefully review your collected information, evaluate your ability to communicate with the VA and her ability to finish tasks in a timely, efficient manner. If the chemistry is a good match, and she possesses the skills and experience to perform the required tasks, it should be a good match. Of course, even with the best evaluation, your gut plays an important role in making a final decision – so, go with your gut!

7.  Why should I pay to go to OIVAC when I can find a lot of the information I need for free?

A:  It’s all relative! VAs should first understand “everything ain’t free” and be willing to invest in their businesses beyond asking questions on list servs and forums, and potentially receiving inaccurate information from non-expert sources.

OIVAC provides a variety of niche-specific seminars covering a wide range of technology, general business and marketing topics, and led by knowledgeable and experienced VAs and business consultants, all at reasonable costs. Attendees access 30+ education sessions and the session recordings.

In addition, OIVAC provides other features/benefits for attendees:

•    International Virtual Assistants Day Celebration
•    Motivational keynote presenter
•    Structured networking with peers
•    Opportunity to create partnerships and joint venture relationships
•    Access to workshops on topics specific to the industry, such as:
o    Two Hotseat VA Panels
o    Intro to the VA Industry
o    VA Training Programs Panel
o    Successful VA Roundtable
o    Exhibitor Halls

Overall, the convention is not only about learning, but also about creating relationships, sharing experiences, networking, and a ton of other intangible benefits. It’s the once-a-year opportunity, spanning three 18-hour days, to connect, learn and network with VAs from around the globe.

Well Lyn, I’ve gotta run. Let’s see, yesterday I visited Tawnya Sutherland’s Virtual Business Startups blog and responded to her thought-provoking questions. Monday I travel back to Canada and stop by Janet Barclay’s Golden Horseshoe Virtual Assistants Group.

Don’t forget to stop by OIVAC and checkout our lineup of savvy business owners. Visit the schedule and register for the Technology or Business/Marketing Tracks to propel your business to its next plateau.

Remember – post your comment or further question below and Sharon will return to respond! (Be sure to check the ‘notify’ box.)

© Lyn Prowse-Bishop, http://www.execstress.com/

4 comments

  1. Lyn says:

    In response to #5 – I’d have to add that I have a UPS or battery backup. This is a must-have IMHO for anyone working virtually, online and/or at home. You never know when the power’s going to go out! This at least gives you time to save your work and shut down effectively. Plus many of today’s battery backups have surge protectors built in and the one I have has a lifetime warranty against lightning strike. You can also plug in peripherals like your modem, printer and screen.

    Would like to know more about the USB prepaid wireless broadband mentioned.

  2. Hi Lyn,
    Telstra has a pre-paid Wireless Broadband with typical speeds of 550kbps – 1.5Mbps download and up to 384kpbs upload.
    Telstra considers it to be a modem because it has a sim card so any queries are made to the mobile tech department of Telstra rather than Bigpond….It is convenient though and useful.

  3. Some great Q and A here Lyn. Congratulations Sharon on some very thorough and informative answers, many of which could be blog entries on their own!

    Very good food for thought …

  4. Thanks Anita,

    I’m glad I was able to provide answers to some great questions.

    I actually intend to expand on some of these from the entire tour, on my personal blog — as many of the questions raised (and others I haven’t had an opportunity to respond to) are fantastic and should make all of us put on our thinking caps.

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