Archive for January, 2011

Dear Danielle: Is Virtual Assistant Certification Necessary?

Dear Danielle:

I have wanted to start my own Virtual Assistant business for a while now. I’ve been with the same large corporation for 12 years, some of that time spent in the Medical Law department, as a human resources assistant and about six years as an executive assistant juggling multiple managers. Prior to that, I worked from a woman’s home as her assistant as she ran her own company bringing in over $400,000 gross per year. I have the experience, I have the drive and motivation; I learn quickly; I’m resourceful; I am able to work independently and have a record of excellent customer service and problem solving skills. I am concerned that not having a Virtual Assistant certificate from a college may hinder client selection. From your experience, are degree-less Virtual Assistants making a living out there? Do you know of a legitimate online Virtual Assistant certification?

Fabulous! You have listed just about everything you need to start an administrative support business:  experience, drive, resourcefulness, ability to learn quickly and excellent customer service and problem-solving skills. The only other requirement is going to be excellent business sense. Because running a business and doing the work and taking care of clients are two completely different things.

I’ve written extensively on the subject of certification. You do not need anyone’s piece of paper to “certify” that you have the administrative expertise to offer your services. I say this as someone who has been in this business for over 14 years and never once been asked by a single client–ever–whether I was “certified” or not.

Most of the certification programs in our industry are a joke. I’ve even had colleagues go through some of these programs where the administrators themselves can’t spell, litter their correspondence with typos, and get their own exams wrong. There’s a proliferation of opportunists and exploiters out there who are just using these programs as personal sales vehicles and will certify anyone willing to pay. These “certifications” will have absolutely no influence or affect on your success or client attraction whatsoever.

Pay for skills training. Pay for business knowledge and education. Pay for products and services that have actual, practical value and use in your business. But when it comes to “certification,” save your money.

There is only one thing you need to prove to clients and that is done by simply demonstrating your qualifications, competence and service in all that you do. Your site, your messages, your writing and articles, your networking and interactions… every bit of it is an example and sampling for clients of your skills, expertise and competence.

When you demonstrate a professional level of expertise and competence, no one is going to ask you about certification. Those questions only come when prospective clients don’t see those things exampled on your website, your business image, your content and your communications. But when you do demonstrate those things in all those places, you instill credibility. You instill trust. They don’t need to ask because they already get that sense of your competence through all your displays of marketing, presentation and interaction.

No piece of paper will prove those things. And any certification you get becomes meaningless if you can’t demonstrate on a daily basis, in everything you do, the qualities that the certification is supposed to “prove.”

Here are some other posts I’ve written on the topic of certification that may be of interest to you:

It sounds like you’ve got all the qualifications and experience you need to open a business as an Administrative Consultant and offer professional level administrative support and expertise. Learning to be a good businessperson may take some additional skills and education, if you don’t have those already.

Don’t bother with certification, though. Just become a good student of business. Read business books. Find business mentors (formal or informal). Ask lots of questions. If you do take some kind of course, I highly recommend training and guides related to business management and marketing, not a certification course.

And don’t confuse skills training with certification. They are not the same thing.

Good luck to you and thanks for the great question! We need more highly skilled and competent people like you in our field!

Business Owners Don’t Provide Resumes

I wanted to focus today on another of the words to delete from your business vocabulary: resume.

Business owners don’t provide resumes (or curriculum vitae), employees do.

And you are not an employee.

Here’s how to understand this stuff:

When you were an employee, the cover letter is what got your resume read. The resume is what landed you an interview. And the goal of the interview was to cinch the job.

But once you are in business, you need to use business terminology to set proper expectations and understandings in clients. When you use employment terminology and apply employee-minded ways to business situations, you confuse and miseducate your prospective clients about the nature of the relationship. It actually causes the kind of problems you live to regret later down the road.

In the business world, your marketing and networking become your “cover letter.” This is what lets your target market and prospective clients get to know, like and trust you, and leads them to your business website to learn more about you and how you can help them.

As a business, your entire website and other marketing collateral become your “resume.” This is what should be working toward educating qualified and interested would-be clients about how you can help them and lead them towards engaging with you further in a consultation.

And the consultation is what is used to learn more about the client, determine if and how you can help and that there’s a mutual fit of needs and interests, and ultimately decide whether or not to work together.

Here’s the visual:

Cover Letter > Resume/References > Interview > Job

Marketing/Networking > Website/Testimonials > Consultation > New Client!

Just because someone asks you for a resume, doesn’t mean you provide one. If you continue to indulge requests for resumes and references from clients, you have no one but yourself to blame when you keep getting clients who don’t extend you professional respect nor view the relationship in its proper context–namely, one of B2B (business to business).

Instead, steer them toward your website. In fact, you could even say something like, “My website is my business resume. It will give you all the information you need about the work I do/my company does, how I help clients and what kind of clients benefit most from working with me. There’s even a page where you can learn more about me personally, and I’ve included some words from some of my happy clients.”

You have to understand that many clients have been completely miseducated about the nature of our profession, the relationship and the work we do thanks to incorrect (and, frankly, idiotic) articles about our industry. When most of them ask for a resume, it really is because they think we are a sort of offsite, telecommuting employee.

The term “Virtual Assistant’” doesn’t help things either–when you call yourself an assistant, that’s exactly what people think you are. Go figure. ;)

Call yourself an Administrative Consultant instead and just see what a difference it makes in peoples’ demeanor and understandings. It’s like night and day!

Professional respect and understanding of the relationship are very important ingredients in shaping client perceptions, showing them how to treat you, and commanding professional fees. Insist on being treated as a professional. Use the right language to reinforce that expectation and understanding.

Ultimately, this is about providing superior service to clients. If you create misconceptions and confusion because you’ve used or allowed clients to continue using wrong terminology at the start of your business relationships, you make things more difficult for them in working with you because I guarantee you, it will cause problems and misunderstandings in the relationship in some form or fashion down the road.

Using correct terminology and engaging in business practices that subtly educate clients that you are a professional they hire for business, not employment, facilitates great working relationships.

Dear Danielle: What Else Should I Do?

Dear Danielle:

I have started to support a realtor and while we are working through some of the tasks that I can support her with I was wondering if you could provide me with any other services or ideas on how I can support her further? —KA

Thanks for the question and good for you for getting proactive! :)

Since I don’t work with real estate agents or that target market in any capacity (and thus have no clue as to how their businesses are run or what administrative work is involved), I don’t have much to offer in the way of specific service ideas.

Instead, what I would have you do is two-fold:

  1. Talk to colleagues who work with the real estate market; and
  2. Talk to actual real estate agents to learn more about their businesses, how they are run, what work is involved and what their common goals and challenges are. Doing that kind of market research is really the only way you will truly know what those particular clients need and want. And that is what should be steering and informing your next steps.

While I don’t have much specific insight when it comes to the real estate market in particular, what I can offer you is this…

Besides getting conscious and intentional about really getting to know your chosen target market, these are things you will also have to figure out together with your client. Except for the general, practical stuff that clients in a particular industry or profession commonly share, each client relationship and each client’s needs is different.

The support you provide to each has to evolve organically, at its own pace. You can’t rush it, and you’ll end up causing yourself and the client problems if you do.

(And by the same token, don’t let clients rush you or your processes either). You want to allow things to grow at a measured, controlled and steady pace. You don’t want to take on too much all at once. Start with a few areas of support and as you get those whipped into shape, and as you continue to keep the conversation going with your client, you’ll find more things you can take on and help them with.

This is exactly what my Activity & Time Analysis Tool helps you do.

Have the client keep track of their time and activities for at least a week, if not two. You can have them do this either before you begin working together or right at the beginning of your working relationship.

The tool comes with a sheet for this purpose which you can either have clients fill in directly or enter the information yourself when they send it over to you.

Then, once you plug the data into the automated tool, it spits out five different charts that give you a complete overview of their business and shows you exactly what they are doing in their business, what they are wasting time, where their obstacles are, where they’re doing well, where they definitely could use help and what tasks, functions and roles you could take over for them.

It’s a much more precise and “scientific” way to get ramped up with clients more quickly. It will allow you to make more purposeful recommendations and better facilitates the whole delegation process.

That’s the best advice I can give you there. Hope it helps. :)