Archive for December, 2007

Dear Danielle: Can the Visually Impaired be a Virtual Assistant?

Dear Danielle:

I am with a state vocational commission that enhances employability, maximizes independence, and assists in the development of the capacities and strengths of people who are blind and visually impaired. Would it be possible for a person who is blind or visually impaired to do the job as a virtual assistant. Many of our consumers have the skills and desire that is needed for these types of jobs. With assistive technology, such as a screen reader for the computer, accessibility is not a problem.  –CD

Great question, and thanks for asking.

There are first some basic understandings that need to in place so we can communicate properly.

First, this is a business one goes into, not a “job.”

Further, we do not use the term “virtual assistant” here.

“Assistant” is a term of employment and has no place in the vocabulary of business ownership.

We are Administrative Consultants. An Administrative Consultant is someone who is in the business of administrative support and works directly and collaboratively with clients in a one-on-one relationship.

If you are asking in the context of whether someone with some physical challenges can start an administrative support business providing administrative support to clients, my answer is ABSOLUTELY, as long as they have the administrative skills and extensive, real-world administrative experience, and are equipped with whatever assistive technology they will need to communicate with clients and perform services.

The business side of things is another skillset they will also need to learn if they don’t already have it.

If you are asking the question within the context of a “job,” then we aren’t talking about the same thing.

What you’d be referring to in that case is correctly terms “remote working/telecommuting.”

In that situation, the person is an employee of a company and is supervised, directed and paid a wage dictated by the employer.

Since that is not what we are, I can’t be of assistance there. My suggestion would be to search under the keyword “telecommuting.”

Caveat: Most telecommuting jobs advertised on the internet are scams. Typically, they will require a fee upfront and the person never receives the materials. Or they might receive materials, and it turns out to be bunch of worthless information. Or, they take the “training” or jump through whatever other hoops they just paid their hard-earned money to jump through, and then are never given a job and/or never hear from the company again. If someone is interested in a telecommuting job and not going into business for themselves, my advice would be to contact virtual staffing agencies or larger brick-and-mortar companies and explore opportunities with them.

Dear Danielle: What Is the Best Salary Structure to Offer Potential Employees

Dear Danielle:

I am very new to the Virtual Assistant business world. I have a question about hiring employees. I am a sole proprieter and would like to hire virtual recruiters, administrative assistants and sales/promotional/marketing staff. What is the best salary structure to offer potential employees? So many people are burned by work-at-home scams, I want to be able to offer a reasonable salary to potential virtual staff without insulting them with minimum wage or hiring them as independent contractors. What do other Virtual Assistant business owners do? —CT

 

What you need to do is talk to an accountant and bookkeeper.

Employers are governed by both federal and state laws. You will have employee, payroll and tax withholding and reporting obligations you are required to meet so it’s imperative that you get the correction information on this from your own local (city, county, state) agencies as well as the IRS.

Talking to an accountant will get you started in the right direction.

Do You Have a Client Who Is Stopping Up Your Work Together?

Sad to say, but there are lots of folks out there who think any flunky can do our work, that all you need is a computer, and you’re good to go.

But we know better, don’t we?

We aren’t merely administrative experts.  In working with clients, in many ways we also become a coach, consultant, advisor, cheerleader, and sometimes even a mentor, to them, all rolled into one.

I love that aspect about my work, but it can be a challenge sometimes.

For example, we know that our work isn’t just about the client telling us what they need, and then us doing it.

For much of the work, it simply can’t get done without there being a collaborative process.

That is, it requires the active participation of both the client and Administrative Consultant equally.

For our part, we obviously need to have masterful administrative skills.

We also need excellent follow-through and communication skills.

We need smart policies and systems that allow us to manage our time and work effectively so that ALL of our clients get the full benefit of the value they are paying for.

And we need to be able to ask clarifying questions and elicit the information we need from clients in order to accomplish their goals and objectives.

For the client’s part, they need to be able to clearly communicate their needs and expectations.

They need to respond to our questions in a timely manner so that we can complete their work and accomplish goals we have set with them.

Clients also need to be able to follow-through on the parts of the work that require their input.

And they need to be committed to the process, because getting them to the next level in their business IS a process.

There is no magic wand to wave and presto! it’s all better overnight. That just ain’t gonna happen.

The tricky part comes when parts of this equation are missing.

If you can’t finish a goal or project because the client is not following through on providing you with necessary information, making a decision, or completing a required step or task, it’s hard to know how to handle it.

What makes it even more tough is because when they hold up their own work like that, they also hold up your business and stop up your processes.

On the one hand, I do what I can to help keep my clients focused. I know that they came to me because they needed help, because they were overwhelmed with everything on their plate and need a helping hand in getting back on track.

And their work isn’t just their work anymore  — it ours.

We become invested in it because it is through our efforts that it gets accomplished. We have ownership and pride in that.

On the other hand, I’m not a babysitter. That’s not my role in the relationship and I’m not responsible for their business.

So sometimes it’s a real juggling act trying to maintain a balance between the two.

You want to help clients let go of work and allow you to help them.

At the same time, you can’t care more about their business than they do. Because then you become an enabler and that’s just not good for anyone all the way around.

So maybe at times it’s a good idea to check in with clients who are consistently having a tough time focusing and ask them, “For us to get things done, I need you to be committed to working together. Can you do that? Is this the right time for us to be working together?”

If they can’t or it’s not, let them go.

That doesn’t make them (or you) bad people, but you just can’t help them.

When that is the case, you aren’t serving them, and they are taking away from your other clients by forcing you to be inordinately preoccupied with their inert progress.

Do You Have a Business Plan?

Often, newcomers to our industry will ask questions that indicate they haven’t done any business planning at all.

As it is common with most small business owners, many have never run a business before and are learning things from the ground up.

Luckily for them, ours is a very welcoming industry and there are always lots of folks ready with helpful guidance and advice.

One of the things us veterans are always repeating like a mantra is “Do a business plan!”

A business plan isn’t just for securing loans and finding investors.

It’s foremost value to you is in helping lay the groundwork for building a successful business.

This is one of the reasons I created an official, comprehensive business plan template for the administrative support business.

To be clear, you should NEVER just buy a template and think it’s going to do all the work for you.

That defeats the entire purpose of doing a business plan! And that’s certainly not what the ACA business plan template is for.

The point of doing a business plan is to go through the exercises of mapping out the details and strategies for your business success.

The problem for many people, however, is that they don’t know enough about business, or perhaps even how one should look, to know where or how to even begin.

I created the Administrative Consultant Business Plan Set to help with this.

What my plan gives you is not only a template for how an official business plan should be put together and look, but also many concepts about business and marketing strategies that have proven very successful for solo-run businesses such as ours.

The idea isn’t to do the work for you, but rather to give you really detailed, in-depth information to get your juices flowing, and get you excited about the process of mapping out your business’ strategies for success.

For example, many people don’t realize that there are huge differences between a retainer-based ongoing support business model and a project-based one.

When you sit down to do a business plan, diagram the processes and crunch the numbers, however, you begin to realize that there are different operational and resource necessities involved with each.

Each has different cashflow models, administrative demands and profit margins.

And they necessarily have to operate and grow in different ways from one another in order to attain the owner’s income objectives.

But you would never begin to learn and understand these things without going through the actual process of completing a business plan.

The Administrative Consultant Business Plan Set helps you do just that.

How to Properly Educate Potential Clients About What We Do

An attorney was relating that he was a solo with no employees and was finding himself spending an inordinate amount of time on administration and paralegal-type work.

He was aware of our industry and wanted more information to explore that route. However, he had a few misunderstandings about what we do (e.g., he thought he wanted someone local who could run work-related errands around town), so I spoke up to better educate him and nip any misconceptions in the bud.

I thought I would share my response with you all here as well.

(Notice that I specifically emphasize terms like “independent professional,” “business owner,” “administrative expertise” for example. This helps convey the proper nature of the business-to-business relationship.)

***

Hello Solo Attorney,

I’m so glad you’ve asked about how to get the administrative help you need in your practice.

A few of the reasons business owners hire an Administrative Consultant include:

  1. They don’t have room/space/equipment for in-house staff
  2. They prefer working alone and don’t want another person in their “space”
  3. They aren’t a large enough business that they have the kind of workload to justify the expense (and administrative hassles) of in-house staff, much less attract the interest of anyone qualified.

That said, you have to understand that we are not employees.

Administrative Consultants are independent professional — exactly like yourself — who are in the business of administrative support. Many of them who have paralegal and legal secretary training and experience specifically cater their support to attorneys.

Knowing that you are are hiring a service and not an employee, it’s also important to understand that there are going to be some differences in how you work together and what work they can support you with.

In the same way that you are in the business of practicing law, Administrative Consultants are in the business of administrative support. They don’t “run errands” or things of that nature. You’ll want to contact a concierge service for that. A local college student or paid intern would also fit the bill.

We Administrative Consultants, on the other hand, are in the business of taking on many of your administrative burdens and supporting you administratively in certain areas of your business.

They do the administrative work that would normally take your time, energy and attention away from the real work — the practice of law — that makes you money.

The great thing about Administrative Consultants is that you are getting a higher caliber of administrative knowledge, expertise and service than you would generally find in a temp or college student.

My association’s industry surveys indicate that the majority of those in our profession have at least 20 years real-world experience and training before going into business for themselves.

(But you will need to be discerning and do your homework because in the age of the internet, anyone can slap up a shingle even if they have little or no skills or qualifications to do so.)

Working together virtually is inherently more efficient and cost-effective. There is a huge amount of technology available that makes it a breeze to work together virtually, and Administrative consultants are experts when it comes to this. These are our tools of the trade after all and how we run our businesses.

You also don’t need to have a huge amount of work for an Administrative Consultant to be interested in working with you like you would with other support options. We typically work with clients in commitments of 10 –30 hours per month.

Plus, you are getting someone who is actually IN business, which means they’re interest is in sticking around and supporting you for the long-haul, not here today, gone tomorrow.

You can’t make a real investment in students or freelancers or work-at-home types who are just looking for side income because there’s no real business commitment on their part. The minute their life/interests/priorities/circumstances change, they are gone or become unreliable.

Administrative Consultants understand your work and business is important. It’s important to us as well.

Besides being in this business myself for over 10 years, I also run a professional association for Administrative Consultants. Anyone who is interested in finding qualified professionals to help support you administratively can check our Administrative Consultant Directory.

To help you know what to look for in a qualified Administrative Consultant and how to find the right one, be sure to also check our the ACA Client Guide.

Scam Alert – Todd Mayer

Our industry is now being specifically targeted by con artists and scammers.

A couple of the main cons they are hitting us with is laundering money and passing counterfeit checks.

What they try to do is get you to work with them as an intermediary, telling you some variation of a convoluted scheme involving “their client” being “interested in working with you” and ultimately wanting you to receive money on their behalf where you keep a share and send the rest to them, or you getting paid for both of them, but handling the funds through your account only, and sending the rest to them.

One who has been especially prolific is Todd Mayer, supposedly from the U.K.

I’m sure that’s not his real name, of course, and more than likely it’s actually a ring of con artists rather than one person.

Once “Todd” realizes we’ve all got his number, he, she or they will probably change it to something new (just like he’s now started putting an address in his emails after people weren’t biting because they had no way of verifying if he was really who he says he is. (Whether it was real or not is another story, but when people see an address, they automatically assume the business is credible, which is a mistake, but it happens nonetheless).

Anyway, “Todd” has been a very busy little beaver writing to all of us.

New people in the industry are especially vulnerable because they often are so desperate for clients they will jump at anything, and several have fallen victim to this con because of it.

But “Todd” obviously doesn’t realize just how small of a world our industry is, and how much we all compare notes.

If you receive any variation of this type of email from anyone, steer clear:

“Hello, my name is Todd Mayer. I run a consultancy firm here with registered address 6353 Cronin Street, SE15 6JJ. A client of mine who is due to arrive in the United States in few weeks time is interested in your virtual services. Can you tell me a little more about your mode of operation? If interested, please reply. Thanks, Todd Mayer”

See how he’s getting a bit more sophisticated in his con?

Colleagues weren’t biting because they are getting savvy to these cons. So now he’s trying to figure out how we operate so that he can devise his scam to fit into that pattern, basically to get better at tricking us into accepting counterfeit checks, cashing them and then sending him money.

He’ll be long-gone by the time your bank alerts you that the check you just cashed was counterfeit, and you’ll be stuck paying for not only the check, but also any bounced check fees that begin racking up. That’s how these con artists scam you.

So be smart.

Don’t let $$ signs cloud your judgment. This is how these cons get away with so much — by using people’s greed or desperation against them.

If something is too good/too easy to be true, it usually isn’t.

  • HAVE a proper client consultation and vetting process.
  • DO your homework and due diligence, and verify who and what a client is before you ever work with them. (Examples: Do they have a business website? Is there contact information easily found on it? Have you verified the address and phone number? What state do they operate out of? Are they sole proprietor or incorporated? Are they registered with their state? Do they have a business license? Have you Googled their name and the name of their business to check for complaints or anything else that’s questionable?)
  • NEVER let prospective clients rush your process (these are in place for their benefit as well as yours).
  • NEVER act as an intermediary or “middleman” when it comes to money. No legitimate business will ever need you to accept monies on their behalf, and in fact, it’s considered money laundering which will get YOU into hot water with the law.
  • BE selective about who you work with.
  • ALWAYS stick to your standards and policies.