If you’ve only recently set up your own Virtual Assistant Business, the likelihood is that you have spent the last few weeks or months learning new skills, setting up a digital presence (via a shiny new website or simply setting up some dedicated social media pages), sorting out hardware and software, registering with the ICO and sorting out your business finances, and investing in insurance (professional indemnity, public liability and cyber) and some good quality contracts and policy documents.
And that’s good – even if it feels as though a lot more money has been going out than has been coming in! These are all essential foundation blocks for a reputable and responsible VA business, so the investment has already been worth it.
Once your business is established, you’re ready to start reaching out to potential customers to generate retained support or project work, knowing that you’ve got everything behind you in your business that you need.
But how do you find potential clients, and who are they?
Here are some things that you might want to consider:
1.) What are you offering? Have you actually put pen to paper and outlined the kinds of services that you want to deliver? Do they work as retained packages (i.e. a certain number of hours per month to manage an email account or diary, or post to a social media platform) or are they one-off projects (ie. Creating a new website, auditing their email marketing efforts, etc.)? And have you priced them appropriately? Make sure that your hourly rate/project rate covers your business overheads AND allows you enough take-home to make it cost-effective for you to offer. These considerations are an important factor for any start-up, but don’t fret if you find you’ve priced yourself a little low after a couple of months, or if you find you absolutely hate one aspect of the work you thought you’d enjoy – as the owner of your own small business, you have the ability to change these at any time (within the confines of any contracts that you have issued to existing customers – for example, you may have advised that you wouldn’t put prices up for three months, so make sure you adhere to your contractual obligations).
2.) What problems do you solve? Once you’ve established your products/services, it’s worth taking things a step further, as many potential customers ‘switch off’ when you start reciting your price list at them. Why not consider how you make a customer’s life easier? Do you help carry out some of their more mundane daily tasks so that they can focus on what they are excellent at? Do you take away the stress of an email inbox with 8000 unread messages? Can you streamline some of their sales and marketing processes so that they can work more efficiently? These are the kind of things that people are interested in hearing, as they refer to pain points in business that many people have experienced first-hand, even if they haven’t previously considered working with a VA or freelancer.
3.) Who are your ideal clients? This might seem a little challenging at first, as it’s easy to think that every customer is a good customer! However, it’s not quite as simple as that. Some of the most positive working relationships I’ve seen between VAs and their customers are when they have something in common – a shared work ethic or common values. If you find a potential customer and find that you are annoyed/frustrated/perplexed even speaking to them, there’s a possibility that it’s not going to be a positive fit for them or you. Sometimes, these initial issues can be resolved, but in many cases I’ve found that these gut-feelings can be a good indicator of potential issues further on in the client-VA relationship.
4.) Where are your ideal clients? I know it’s challenging to get yourself out there in front of potential customers (particularly following the Covid-19 lockdown and social distancing regulations), but without engaging in some form of networking, whether that is in person, via video conferencing or via social media, it’s hard getting customers to come directly to you without some potentially costly marketing! If you are able to attend physical networking events, trial a couple in your local area rather than signing up to join one straight away as they can be costly and also differ quite significantly from group to group. Trust me, they aren’t all cold and impersonal – some can be fun and highly engaging – but it can take a little while to find a group that you like AND that provides a great network of potential business contacts.
5.) What marketing activities are most likely to catch the eye of potential clients? An all-singing, all-dancing website is great, but without search engine optimisation, paid ads, and an effective email marketing integration with a clear ‘call to action’ on the website, it may be that you are impossible to find by potential clients. If online marketing is your sole source of potential leads, think carefully about your budget and don’t blow it all on a shiny website without setting up some of the other digital marketing channels that can help to boost your visibility online. Also, think about your ideal customer – your target demographic; are they they kinds of people who use Instagram? Or would they use LinkedIn? Perhaps they’d respond well to a direct mail drop around a local industrial estate, or are more likely to hang out at local networking groups? Wherever they are, you should aim to be, particularly when you are just starting out and may have a limited budget for marketing your business.
Finally – have you considered whether an Associate role might work for you, either in the short term whilst you establish your business, or as a long-term opportunity to support your own direct work? If you’ve never worked with a customer directly before, finding a role as an associate VA (where another VA is the intermediary between you and a customer, and as a result, they take a proportion of the client’s hourly/project rate for your work) can be a great place to start, building your reputation within the wider VA community and helping you to pull together client testimonials etc. to support your own direct-to-customer VA services. I’ve seen a number of VAs build great long-term relationships as Associate VAs that last for years and prove beneficial to both the lead VA and Associate, so why not reach out to your peers to find out whether associate work could be a good starting point for your brand new VA business?