Every week as SmallBizLady, I conduct interviews with experts on my Twitter talk show #SmallBizChat. The show takes place every Wednesday on Twitter from 8-9 pm ET. This is excerpted from my recent interview with Rebekah Quintana @BekahQ. Rebekah owns Sidecar Executive Support, a Virtual Assistant company. She wants nothing more than her clients to succeed, and LOVE their business. When she’s in the “sidecar” of her client’s business, she’s able to help them stay on target, and grow their business—all accomplished through her diverse work history and mad skills. She offers her clients: general administrative support, social media management, general and e-mail marketing, copywriting and a jovial spirit. For more information, visit sidecarexecutivesupport.com
SmallBizLady: What is a Virtual Assistant?
Rebekah Quintana: People like to throw around the term Virtual Assistant and assign it to anything from automated services to high level business support. The description I use is:
A Virtual Assistant is a Support Professional who provides executive-level support to entrepreneurs and business owners. They are a growth partner, providing long-term, collaborative administrative and business management. All of this is accomplished from an off-site location.
At its highest and best, our role in your business is about collaborative partnership; climbing inside your business and supporting the changes that move you forward, in a mutually beneficial arrangement.
SmallBizLady: How can a VA help me as a small business owner or entrepreneur?
Rebekah Quintana It depends on your business, but here are a few key ways:
- More time & money — We take away all the things you can no longer handle, and free your time and energy for the things only you can do in your business, and pursue opportunities that will earn you more money.
- You gain a partner – We act as a big picture manager, and/or the detailed technician of your business. We are expert problem solvers, idea generators, proactive and receptive.
- You’re not isolated — You can brainstorm or problem solve with someone intimately acquainted with your business.
- VA’s are invested — VA’s are business owners, so when your business grows, their business grows too. That creates a mutually beneficial relationship, and not just a transactional relationship. That means they are invested in you and your success.
- VA’s are connected — It’s not important that your VA knows how to do it all. What’s important is that she knows how to get it all done.
SmallBizLady: What I can delegate to a VA?
Rebekah Quintana Take a week and write down all the things you do for your business. Look at the list through the lens of what you can delegate. Or just look at your to-do list. What has been sitting there the longest? What causes you the most irritation? Those are the things a VA can take care of for you.
Depending on the skill set of the VA and their service offerings, the most common tasks you can delegate are:
- Email management
- Calendar management
- Document creation
- Proofreading, editing and formatting documents
- Customer database maintenance
- Research of all kinds
- Travel arrangements
- Creating content for and publishing newsletters and blog articles
- Email list building & maintenance
- Website maintenance
- Managing social media strategies
- Marketing initiative research and implementation
SmallBizLady: What are the advantages of working with a VA vs. hiring an employee?
Rebekah Quintana: A VA is a collaborative partner; a VA works with you, not for you. VA’s provide strategic support, not just daily support. As business owners, we understand many of the needs and challenges you face. We’re focused on the goal of your business, not the tasks.
Employee: If you hire a full-time Executive Assistant at the average national rate of $52,000 and then tack on taxes, unemployment, health benefits, and retirement, you are now paying $65,000 per year for this support. This doesn’t even include the cost of office setup and equipment, or down time because of sickness, vacation or unproductive habits.
Virtual Assistant: You only pay for productive time and the hours you need, which greatly reduces the amount of hours needed. Working together just 15 hours a month costs approximately $10,800 a year. Twenty hours a month equates to $14,400 a year. The best part is, you simply pay one invoice a month without dealing with the complexity and cost of payroll, taxes, or health insurance.
SmallBizLady: What are the difference between off-shore and stateside VA’s?
Rebekah Quintana: The key is to remember—a stateside VA becomes your partner for success. An off-shore service helps you for the short term.
Off-shore VA’s can work out if you want to assign short-term tasks, or things that are easily replicable and automated. It’s true off-shore VA’s are cheaper by the hour, but that’s misleading.
Before delegating to an off-shore VA, you have to do a lot of up-front work to relay what you want—and even then, sometimes you spend more time (and money) managing that person than if you’d paid a stateside VA.
A stateside VA can speak for you. A stateside VA can write in your voice. Stateside VA’s can listen to you speak just a few words about what you want done, and make it happen. In addition, the more a stateside VA’s knows about your needs, the less time it will take her to do your work. So, where do you really get your best value?
One caveat here: Even with stateside VA’s, you want someone who gets what it means to run a business profitably. If someone is trying to run a VA practice for less than $30 per hour then they’re probably not going to be around for long because that is not profitable. A good median price is $50 per hour.
SmallBizLady: What should I expect when working with a VA?
Rebekah Quintana: Just like working with any other business partner or freelancer, it’s vital you both understand the expectations early so things run smoothly.
- Ignore the employee business model when working with a VA. We are not employees or interns. Just like your attorney or CPA, we are business owners, which is a strong advantage to you because we understand what owning a business means.
- People who live in the urgent are not in a good position to work with a VA. If everything you do is last minute, if your style is to procrastinate and then rush to deadline, if you’re not organized and centered, if you’re in a high-pressure field where things run you instead of the other way around, if you want someone at your beck and call, you probably need an in-person employee, not a VA.
- We extend ourselves for our clients and a reciprocal relationship is expected. We have many resources we share to make things happen for you, and it’s wonderful when clients share their resources as well. It’s a team effort!
- Don’t expect to delegate your business to a VA and then walk away. We are here to assist and manage all the moving pieces of a business, not to take it over. At the end of the day, ultimately you are responsible as the business owner.
SmallBizLady: What do I need to have in place before working with a VA?
Rebekah Quintana: Know yourself before working with a VA. Don’t look to a VA to create your vision, or to coach you. Know your business goals and some idea of your strategy. If you “sort of” know what you want your business to look like, and how you’re going to get there, you need some time to gel those ideas before working with a VA. Come into the relationship understanding that the VA is an equal. Hold your VA in high esteem for what she is–an integral part of your team, and tell her when you appreciate her work. Make sure you can afford a VA comfortably, and for the long-term. Do not work with a VA because you think she will directly bring in money for your business. Yes, your business will make more money with a strong VA in place, but it will be because you are opened up to explore more and new opportunities to generate that revenue. Know what you want to delegate, and how that will help your business grow and flow.
SmallBizLady: How will I know when I’ve found the right VA?
Rebekah Quintana: Skill set and experience are important factors. But, more importantly is the FIT between you and the VA. Tasks can be learned but fit can’t be faked! If a VA can do 8/10 of the things you want done, those 2 things can be learned, or delegated out, but a bad fit will not work no matter what.
With any potential client, I have a consult process of at least two calls; first to chat and see if we’re a good fit personality-wise. If all is good, we move on. The second call is to go over the nuts and bolts of your business, and where and why you need help. Then (or on a 3rd call) we go over deeper issues such as: Do we have complementary strategies? What are our views of time? Who leads and has control over what projects, and when?
I know you’re busy and need support fast, but take the time up front to choose a VA. Don’t speed date to find a VA; you could end up getting an annulment.
SmallBizLady: With so many sources, how do I find a quality VA?
Rebekah Quintana: You can ask successful business owners who they use. Or ask around when attending industry events; there may even be a VA present—that’s how I’ve found several of my clients. You can also search on Twitter, Google+ or LinkedIn to find VA profiles.
There are several reputable online sources, but I highly recommend AssistU-where I trained. When you work with an AssistU VA, you’re not only getting a highly trained team member, but you get the benefit of all the expertise in our community. AssistU has a great (free or paid) registry resource to match you with the right VA.
SmallBizLady: What is the mission of a VA when working with clients?
Rebekah Quintana: The client/VA relationship works best when the VA is able to climb inside your business and work closely together. The mission of a VA is to be in that “inside” position and alleviate you from the behind-the-scenes things that must be done to support your business, but that can prevent you from being IN your business. VA’s do this by either performing those tasks for you, or to help you find someone who can. Their goal is to always do things in a way that contribute to your overall success, in the way that you define success.
SmallBizLady: What type of services do VA’s provide?
Rebekah Quintana: By definition all VA’s provide general administrative support, and most offer personal assistance. They may also cover specialty fields that meld into administrative support such as:
- Event planning
- Client care/customer service
- Social community maintenance & management
- General marketing support: Internet marketing, Email marketing/drip campaign management, Product launch
- Content creation and publishing, blogging, copywriting, web copy, ezines, newsletters
- Graphic design
- Website design and maintenance
- Mobile marketing
The important thing to note is, anyone who offers any of these other specialty services without the administrative support, isn’t a Virtual Assistant. They would be a Social Media Manager, or Online Business Manager, or Website Administrator.
SmallBizLady: What type of clients do VA’s work with?
Rebekah Quintana: Each VA chooses the type of client they want to work with and usually that falls under two categories: Niche and Generalist.
A niche VA is someone who only works with men, or just women, or they may only work with particular industries such as coaches or writers. The advantage of choosing a VA that works in your niche is that you work with someone with a very specific set of skills that is highly experienced in your industry.
A generalist VA is someone who works with a broad scope of industries and with many types of people. The advantage to working with a generalist VA is that you work with someone who has a broad spectrum of knowledge and who can accomplish many different types of tasks.
Whether a niche or generalist VA, they are always looking for specific qualities demonstrated by clients. Most VA’s want to work with clients who:
- value partnership-based working arrangement
- see their VA as a partner for success
- have big goals
- are organized and focused
- can articulate their needs
- are reasonable in their expectations
- are trusting and trustworthy
- are friendly, kind
If you see yourself in any of these descriptions then a client/VA relationship should be in your near future!
For more tips on how start or grow your small business subscribe to Melinda Emerson’s blog http://www.succeedasyourownboss.com.