Build a Top Notch Training Program… The Systematic Way

Training and StudentsYour customers and potential customers are looking all over the web for information – and training. They want to learn what you, and your business, know how to do. Of course, there are hundreds of people that offer some e-course, webinar, e-book or coaching program that purports to teach what folks want to know. There is, however a distressing reality. Very few people come away from these supposed learning experiences knowing how to, and actually doing, what the course attempted to teach. I’ll bet you have done that yourself… taken a course and not followed up and implemented what you learned.

Here is a fascinating fact. Knowing how do to something does NOT mean you know how to teach others to do it. You may even be an expert… but knowing how to design a web site does not mean you can teach others how to do it as well as you do. So what to do? You would like to help others learn the craft or trade you know well, maybe even earn some extra money for yourself or your business, but you aren’t really sure how to make sure your students continue to succeed after they finish your course. Well, good teachers will always tell you, you need to take a systematic approach to creating your teaching program. You need the step by step path to your students’ success.

Yes, there is a process you can follow that will make your training programs the ones people learn from. And when people learn something useful from you, they will keep coming back to you for more training, or become the customers you are looking for.

What is this Systematic Way to Create a Successful Learning Program?

There are really just a few simple steps at the core of all top-notch training programs. Instructional design professionals call it the ADDIE model:

  • Analyze
  • Design
  • Develop
  • Implement
  • Evaluate

Step 1: Analyze

As with any program you undertake marketing your business, this is the first and most critical step. (see my related story: Marketing for a Business: First, Think and Plan!, shows the importance of the analysis step.)

You need to know what your audience doesn’t know – and what they do know. Find out:

  • Find out what do they already know
  • Define what do they need to succeed?
  • Analyze what successful people in this area are already doing
  • Define the gap between what your learners know and what they need to succeed
    Hint: Find this out by talking to someone else who is already succeeding and find out what they are doing right.

This analysis will naturally lead you to the learning objectives for your course. Your prospective students will want to know what they will actually be able to DO after the course – knowing is NOT DOING!

Training for Flower ArrangingFor example, for your floral business, you may want to help people with simple flower arrangement ideas for flowers from their home garden – they’ll come to you for your professional arrangements for more advanced needs. You know from your own experience that one of the basic skills involves substituting a direct link to a pin with an affiliate link. Here are both good and bad examples for that objective:

A useless learning objective:

“Participants will know how to create simple floral arrangements.”

A better learning objective:

“Participants will be able to create simple floral arrangements.”

The best learning objective:

“Participants will actually create a simple arrangement.”

See how the power of the idea grows? First one, they just know… but can’t really do. Second one, they may be able to do, but still haven’t actually done it. In the best example, your audience ACTUALLY DOES an arrangement. They complete the course with a hands-on skill they have done, and can easily do again – and again. You give them that skill, you are the hero – and they’ll be back for more. That’s the objective of your training, to get people back for more.

Step 2: Design

Your learning objectives drive the design of your training. Now is the time to determine what will actually deliver on the objectives.

So ask questions like these:

  • What is the best method for meeting the objectives?
    Hint: You may WANT to do a webinar, but is that REALLY the best way?
  • What basic knowledge must attendees have before they can accomplish your learning objectives?
    Hint: You may actually need to survey your attendees before you start designing so you make sure they finish with all the knowledge they need.
  • What will people actually DO to achieve the objective?
    Hint: Hands on training is ALWAYS the most effective.
  • What tools can be included in the course to ensure attendees can continue to do what you teach them to do?
    Hint: Even if they only have their own written action plan, you have been a success – but physical items are more memorable, and offer branding opportunities.

Let your creativity shine! Think outside the usual webinars, workbooks, or videos. – Teaching photography, go on a field trip. Teaching auto mechanics, do it in an actual garage where attendees will get their hands dirty.

Step 3: Develop – Implement – Analyze

Now it’s time to bring it all to life. Your strong analysis and training design leave you ready to DO IT! Build the tools and materials your students will need. Register them, and start teaching.

The last step, of course, is survey your attendees, measure, analyze, adjust, and repeat. As I said in my three part article, “If You Didn’t Measure It, You Didn’t Do It!” (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3) you must take the time to measure your results, compare them with your goals, and adjust to improve.

If you’ve done a good job defining your training objectives and the program, it is possible that you could outsource creating the materials, and even the actual teaching. But, most likely, you will want to handle it on your own for a while to make sure it is actually achieving your goals before you hand it off to others.

And, after your survey, you may want to send follow-up emails. If, in a month or two, you find your attendees still practicing what they learned, you were a success. Your attendees will appreciate the contact, but more important, this is an opportunity to offer follow up courses or coupons for future purchases – remember, you now have a legitimate relationship with your attendees, and a legitimate reason to stay in touch… use it. Build autoresponder series with an email company such as AWeber to follow up and offer your continued support, and keep the information and offers flowing.

Systematically building your training program, both online and in person, will lead to informed customers who will be back for more – and will continue to support your business, especially if you keep use the training as the basis for continued contact.


Marketing for a Business: First, Think and Plan!

Marketing for a Business - Pie ChartWhen businesses create marketing materials and presentations as part of their marketing mix, they invest money, and, rightfully, expect a return on this investment. Otherwise, the money is wasted. The best way to ensure marketing programs and marketing communications “pay their way” is establish what you need to achieve… what are the programs and materials’ goals, before starting writing or production. From there, establish the cost of the problem that you need to solve – that will help determine how much money it will be wise to invest in the solution, plus you have a goal to measure the performance of the project.

Take a systematic approach to marketing for a business to bring together and organize the ideas to create your marketing materials. The output of this thinking and research drives internal staff or outside writers and producers to assure the desired result. By devoting serious thought at the beginning of a project, and honestly answer these questions, the people charged with creating and presenting the program will stand a much better chance of actually accomplishing the program’s goals.

Many times, in small business marketing, actually surveying your audience before you even start planning will give you a more accurate insight into the problems that actually need to be solved, and therefore give you an actual milestone against which your efforts can be measured – paraphrasing Lord Kelvin, “If you didn’t measure it, you didn’t do it!”

THE BACKGROUND – (Without knowing this, your program most likely will not work)

  1. What is the BASIC problem that we are addressing? What is costing us time, money or customers?
    It could be as simple as a New Product Launch, Sales Program, etc… Or as complex as a poorly motivated audience where this attitude must be dealt with BEFORE anything else can take place. Addressing this question would lead to….
  2. What is the dimension of the problem?
    This is usually the actual money cost of the problem we need to address. This is where the yardstick against which success is measured comes from. This then helps us define….
  3. What are we willing to spend to address the problem?
    An actual amount of money that becomes the budget for what we produce to counter the problem.
  4. What action do we want from our audience after learning about the program?
    Use action verbs like; GO, DO, INCREASE, SELL, BELIEVE, HAVE, ACT, THINK, etc. in short easy to act on sentences.
  5. Are there any secondary issues we need to address?

THE CONTENT – What will actually go into the program, brochure, etc.?

  1. What’s new?
    This includes hard goods like copiers, cameras, fruit cocktail, musical instruments, etc., or it might be an idea or concept such as a marketing strategy, sales program, or incentive. It may even be ideas like companies or groups, whose services a potential client or customer wants or needs.
  2. What important information is available?
    This can be existing preliminary information sheets, press releases, brochures, pictures, management directives, tour brochures, marketing bulletins, procedure outlines, sales guides, etc. This is critical, and the production group should see it right away.
  3. The, “elevator presentation.” Take two minutes – and only two minutes – to synopsize the important parts of this program. What is it critical that your audience understand?
  4. Is there any additional relevant information that must be given?
  5. How would you best demonstrate the reliability and quality of your subject?
  6. How will the weaknesses and strengths of competitive products or companies affect this new product or service? What do you have that they don’t?
  7. Why would your customers want YOUR product rather than your competitors’?
  8. Where did this product, company, or idea come from? What logically led to this development?

THE ENVIRONMENT

  1. How will the product or idea be presented? In what form, presentation, print, webinar, etc.?
  2. When is the presentation, brochure, or program due to be introduced?
    (Remember, approvals, printing, previews, travel time, setup, rehearsals, etc., will affect this date.
  3. How big is the group that will receive this new information?
  4. If it is a meeting or presentation, is it closed, required meeting, incentive or award type meeting, individual presentation, etc.
  5. The character of the audience?
    Education, motivations, occupations, likes/dislikes, externally motivated, or self-motivated etc.
  6. Does the audience need more motivation than the scope of the presentation… in other words, is a lack of motivation part of the problem, or is the audience already highly motivated?
  7. Will there be any awards, giveaways, prizes, or premiums?
  8. How might this program or presentation be repurposed to expand its reach? For instance, it might be a Video that can be additionally distributed through other channels like YouTube. Could the information or presentation be used as a Press Conference because of its PR value? Could this also be presented at a Trade Show for additional exposure? Or if is designed as a Trade Show Presentation, are there other ways it could be used?
    Other uses such as these can help justify producing a better quality program because it is used in several ways.
  9. What other comments or information will help the program be the most effective use of your company’s money?

You can see that answering these questions honestly and using the answers to guide the preparation and presentation of the communication will virtually guarantee success. You can also see that you have a yardstick against which to measure the success of the program – as I said up front, “If you didn’t measure it, you didn’t do it!”

For a real world exploration of this process, see my three-part article:
“If You Didn’t Measure It, You Didn’t Do It!”

Part 1 is Here

Part 2 is Here

Part 3 is Here


What to Do When Your Virtual Assistant Isn’t Working Out

Man doing researchI’ve already mentioned how valuable I think that Virtual Assistants and Freelancers can be to any business, large or small. They can represent additional skilled hands, either day in and day out, or on a per project basis – without the hassles of adding staff, then having to keep them busy during those slack times that always come up. Today, most businesses can benefit from VA help, and many wouldn’t survive without them. Occasionally, however, your VA or freelancer doesn’t work out exactly as you expect – or need. Problems like this need to be resolved quickly or your extra hands will become a liability rather than an asset. Let’s look at some possible problems and how you might resolve them.

Missed Deadlines

If your Virtual Assistant or Freelancer puts out great work… but not on time – this must be addressed; or it costs you money. As with everything else relating to your business, communication the critical first step. When you define your projects to your VAs and freelancers, emphasize the time important nature of the work. If they work slowly and they are not too expensive, you might consider boosting the rate at which you pay them – but always make clear that you only pay these bonuses for on time delivery. You can also “cushion” your deadlines… give your workers due dates earlier than needed to still get the work on time.

You may also want to establish a regular amount of work delivered each week. This creates a “routine” of work and delivery that may work to both your and your workers’ advantage.

Shoddy or Inconsistent Quality

If your VA or Freelancer’s work quality isn’t up to par, gently but firmly tell them they’re not doing it right – remember, you’re paying them to get what your business needs and poor work reflects poorly on your organization. Make sure your instructions were clear and understood, then show them again exactly how you want the work done and what it should look like. This is where printed instructions and videos are a tremendous help. You may even want to share your screen via Skype or GoToMeeting.com to insure understanding. You may want to reverse the process so you can watch them do the work and correct as you go to ensure correct processes.

As always, it is good to do a small, “test run” to test your Virtual Assistant or freelancer on just a small segment of a project to make sure they are doing what you need. This way, you can make the necessary, “mid-course corrections” before you get too far off course. You can present this as a “small quick” project to see how well they handle it without committing to a large, and possibly unsatisfactory result. Don’t mention long term work until they have proven their worth. This gives you a quick and easy exit if necessary – otherwise, go ahead with the full job.

Lack of Communication

Phone, IM, email. If you find it difficult to communicate with your Virtual Assistant or freelancer, you may want to look at all your options. Of course email is the standard, and exceptionally convenient because it is, “asynchronous” – you don’t have to be on the phone or online together, and this can be quite convenient. However, other, more “synchronous” methods may be better and deserve a try. Instant Messaging Chat is certainly one, and can be seen as the “bridge” between phone and email – it doesn’t require that both participants are constantly “live.” But the most immediate is, of course, telephone. However you wind up staying in communication, it is critical that you keep this channel open and available for both of you all during normal working time. Find out from your assistants and freelancers what works best for them. I have said for many years, “Find out what others need from you so you can get what you need from them”… this goes for communications also.

Communication is also something that’s good to talk about in your initial contract phase. Tell your new VA that you’re most comfortable using, for example, Skype and ask if they can do that. Make it a condition of hiring them.

Know and Understand Your Virtual Assistants and Freelancers

Whenever you have a problem with your outside workers, first try to fix the problem. The last thing you want to do is stop working with them – especially if you have put in extensive training time.

But always remember, your business is what is on the line. If they are not working out, then it is time to break the relationship and find someone new. Since no one person is good at everything, by understanding your Virtual Assistants’ and Freelancers’ strengths and weaknesses, you can suit projects you assign to just the right person, and, most likely, avoid many of the problems that might arise.

Many years ago, a video director I had the pleasure of working with always had a saying that he lived by… “I’m only as good as my last job.” In other words, I was never obliged to pick up the phone when I had a new project – so the onus was on him to make each project experience right for me. Fortunately, he always did, and working with him was not only a pleasure, but extremely productive, resulting in many award winning programs. The same is true for Virtual Assistants and freelancers you hire… the onus is on them to get it right. Your obligation is to do everything you can to make sure they get it right, but if they can’t, the only thing you can do is not hire them again.

Managing Virtual Assistants and Freelancers – Best Practices

Office TeamWhether you are a one-person solopreneur business, or part of a small business office or retail store, you do not need to do everything yourself. That’s why most of us work with virtual assistants and freelancers. Your, “extra hands” pick up both what you don’t want to do, and what you aren’t able to do well. Either way, this frees you up to do the things that you do well that bring in the most value to your business or organization. Managing these people can take up a lot of your time if you have not trained them well on exactly what you need them to do. Let’s look at a few steps that can keep everything running smoothly and productively.

Before You Ask Your VA to Do Something, You Must Be Able to Do It Yourself

First, if you can do the task yourself, you know how long it will take. Next, you will know if they are doing it right… or if they have actually found a better way that will save time and money. Of course, there are specialized tasks like web site design and construction best left to experts; you don’t want your business to look amateur and inexperienced. But the typical, routine task you want your Virtual Assistants to take off your hands should be ones that you know well so you can teach others to do it correctly.

Create Written and Visual Instructions and Tutorials

For each task you would like, “taken off your hands,” take the time write down all the individual steps with their expected outcomes. Then, if possible, back up the written instructions with a video using Camtasia or similar screen capture tool. You should go over each step of even the simplest processes to make sure your VA or freelancer understands the process and exactly what you expect the end result to be.

Start Slow and Keep Expectations Realistic

It’s your business, so don’t expect your Virtual Assistant or Freelancer to do all the work. Even if you find an outstanding individual who actually could replace you, if you did that, it would be their business, not yours. Manage their workload, and yours, to create a balance that gets your routine work done, and leaves you to do what you are best suited to doing. This works best if you start small. Give them small projects that you can watch and correct, “in process,” if necessary. Then, as you and your VA get used to working together (even though they may be across the country), give them larger and more important projects. Ultimately, you must manage their workload for maximum productivity. If you give them too much work, they may actually become LESS productive – detrimental to your business and your long-term relationship with the VA.

In addition to video instruction, you can also create lists and charts to illustrate the steps and results for every task. Your freelancer or Virtual Assistant can follow these to make sure they stay on track.

Don’t Ask for Too Much

You most likely will not find one person who can do everything you need done, so you will probably have multiple VAs or Freelancers, each better at one particular thing than another, and each doing their part for your business. In managing your outside help, by understanding their strengths and weaknesses, you will get the best and most efficient process running smoothly. And, since they are not full time employees, you can work with the people best suited to the tasks needed to make YOUR business run productively.

Communicate – Communicate – Communicate!

The most important thing in working with Virtual Assistants and Freelancers is Communication. Always make sure you can reach them, and they can reach you. As you work together, you will get to know each other on a more personal level (“How did the little league game go last night?”). As in a full time work relationship, a good one keeps the wheels moving freely with no lost time from bad information exchange.

And, of course, part of good communication is always give your Virtual Assistants and Freelancers immediate feedback and encouragement. When aren’t going right, let them know in a friendly and professional manner so that they can do it correctly. And when things are moving along exactly as you want them, let your team know how much you appreciate what they’re doing and how well they’re doing it. And, of course, an occasional bonus or incentive for a job well done is always appreciated.

So remember, always spread your workload to Virtual Assistants and Freelancers to keep yourself at your most productive, and keep your business, whether you are a solopreneur or part of a small company or retail establishment, running productively and profitably.

Virtual Assistants and Freelancers – Great for Your Business

Customer Service Rep on Headset PhoneDo you realize that there is actually an upside to the current economic downturn?

Quite simply, it is an abundance of highly qualified knowledge workers who have been recently separated from companies around the world and are looking for work. The reality is today, that many businesses are not in a position to hire them, but could very much use their help. Quite a few of these experienced workers are moving to a new form of independent work, the Virtual Assistant. It is an exciting prospect for both the businesses that need help but cannot afford to add staff, and for the folks who make themselves available, “online” on an hourly or per project basis to help businesses, “get things done.” There is no burden of hiring staff and then having to lay them off when business slows down or projects are finished. See my article, “Hybrid Teams Increase Small Office Quality and Efficiency – and Save Money.”

Since this situation is becoming more and more common with the current economic conditions, I thought I’d share some Q&A about Virtual Assistants:

What is a virtual assistant?

A VA, or Virtual Assistant is an experienced, self-employed, home-based, generally solopreneur, person who has a definite skill or set of skills who can assist businesses on an “as needed” basis. It may be administrative work, technical work, answering telephones remotely, or many other tasks that an “office assistant” might perform, but they never set foot in their clients’ offices. In addition, most business owners have particular tasks that they will turn over to their virtual assistants, and these can go beyond basic office or business administration.

What skills do I look for in a VA?

The basic skills a VA needs are office and business administration skills. A VA also needs to be highly organized, communicate effectively, and pay careful attention to detail. Many clients look for additional technical skills, such as writing, marketing, social media, blog or website maintenance, and multimedia production – even podcasting!

The skill set you’ll need as a VA, or look for in a VA that you hire, depends on the type of clients you want to work with. Find out what they NEED and build your skills to respond effectively.

What kinds of work can you expect a Virtual Assistant to do?

  • They make pick up some of the email correspondence load from the business
  • Many are very good making travel arrangements, either for individuals or groups
  • Though this is getting rarer, they may send out faxes
  • Many are very good at research and reporting findings
  • Other VAs have business writing skills
  • Some VAs with specialized equipment will transcribe audio recordings, and may also transcribe notes into editable documents
  • Many Virtual Assistants write blog posts and moderate a blog
  • Many will use their writing and internet skills to work with email autoresponders
  • Some will rewrite private label rights (PLR) materials to create original content for web sites and blogs
  • VAs with internet Search Engine skills can do SEO (Search Engine Optimization) to help a business increase traffic to their web site
  • Some more experienced and skilled VAs can create visual presentations
  • Some do basic website maintenance including writing and image research
  • Some businesses find Social Networking an unpleasant task, and let a VA maintain their presence on FaceBook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and others
  • There are many VAs and freelancers who have come out of the video production industry, and bring production and organizing skills to companies that do not want to invest in that sort of specialized talent

The common thread throughout all these tasks is relieving business owners and other workers of some of the day-to-day tasks, freeing them up for other more critical work… all without the burden of full time staff people.

One of the greatest pools of Virtual Assistant and Freelance talent is stay at home Moms and Dads: Highly skilled and motivated people who have left the office world to be there for their children, but still have much to contribute. With the ease of communication brought about by the internet, these people are ready workers who very much enjoy the best of both worlds… continuing the work they love and being always available for their children.

Virtual AssistantOne of the earliest great freelancer experiences I had was actually pre-internet, back in the early days of moving files over telephone lines via modem. In our production department, when we needed type set for our programs, we used to fax storyboards to a typesetter, and they would send back galleys for us to use. A slow procedure, especially for dealing with many last minute changes from presenters. As personal computers and modems came on line, we evolved to faxing storyboards to a freelance artist… an artist who had a, “day job.” She would come home in the evening and create the type for us on her computer. Next morning I would get into our office (which was 50+ miles away from her) before she left for work. We would connect and modem the completed files into our computer, and she would head off for her regular job. Then we output the type on an internal laser printer for production as slides. Using this process, we saved many thousands on production costs and a LOT of time. Good for us, good for the artist who was not on my staff, and would just invoice me for her time at the end of the project. She was also able to earn more money for herself as she had the full time day job, plus what she earned from us in her evening hours.

Again, in those early, pre-internet days, we would modem scripts from writers into our production environment ready for production – fast and efficient, saving us many hours and many messenger fees. Good all around.

How Much Do Virtual Assistants and Freelancers Cost?

Though you must always be responsible to your budget, either your overall business budget, or a project budget, I prefer to evaluate using Virtual Assistants and Freelancers based on how much more work I can get done because of the work that they have taken off my hands. This is a winning strategy because, whether they cost more than my time is worth or less, the value is always there. Remember, relieving you of work you don’t really like to do has value. I certainly can write, but I just don’t like to very much. So any writing I am able to offload relieves my mental stress, and leaves more time for me to do the things I enjoy more. Depending on VAs skills or experience, and their value to me, I generally find people ranging from $15 per hour to rates approaching $100/hour. But, I won’t hire a VA or freelancer unless they have value to my business or a particular project, or any certifications they may have (certification adds value).

For me, Virtual Assistants and Freelancers are truly valuable for my business, and have been for many years.

For those of you interested in becoming a Virtual Assistant, you might look at trade groups like: VA Forum, you take a look at a great book by Jen Houck and Nell Taliercio who have many years virtual assistance experience. They share their success stories and step-by-step tips in the Just Add Sweat Guide To Becoming A Virtual Assistant.

Prayers For All Who Got Beat Up by Hurricane Sandy

Though we were only without electricity and heat for about one day and internet service for about a week after Hurricane Sandy, many people in the New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut area of the United States had a much, much rougher time, and some lost everything.

To all those who lost so much, our prayers are with you always.

To all those who have worked so VERY HARD and such LONG HOURS to restore heat, light, transportation, and communication throughout the area, our heartfelt thanks.

To those people who opened their homes, and houses of worship that opened their doors to those needing shelter, you are the people who make the USA great.

Bless You All!

The Search for Virtual Assistants and What to Look For

World with HandsA virtual assistant is that extra set of hands that you occasionally need for your business, but who may not live or work in the same area of the country, or the world, as your business. With the internet, people can help you get work done from anywhere in the world. They can be around the corner or around the world. So step one when you are ready for that extra set of hands is to decide whether you will hire from around the corner, or around the world.

Home Country vs. Overseas

I always try to hire within the US – as that is where I live and from where my business comes. The primary reason is to avoid any language or cultural delays or problems in the work they produce for me. Communication is easier from me to them, and I find I have fewer “adjustments” to make the work sound the way I want it to sound for my clients. Harking back to my pre-internet days at Minolta, it was necessary to hire the freelancers locally as most that I hired worked within my department on the equipment I had there. The exception was when I was able to start actually having work delivered electronically – for instance, we would fax a storyboard to an artist who had another day job, but would do our type layout in the evening. Then, first thing in the morning, we would modem (yup, the old phone modems) the layout files into our system for output and production. Same with scripts, the writer would work his magic, and then we would modem the files into our production environment. We saved MUCH time, and, as we had the actual word processing files, were able to do some simple edits ourselves (and, for speeches and video scripts, reformat them for teleprompter) rather waiting for him to make corrections and then re-downloading the revised files. Therefore, for many online business owners, it’s ideal to work with someone locally who you can call and even meet face to face.

When cost is an issue, many times it is necessary to hire out of country. Workers in non-western countries many times have the advantage of lower cost of living, so often can compete favorably with our local freelancers and virtual assistants. Though you may be a bit uneasy sending work so far away, there are many very high quality freelancers, virtual assistants, and virtual assistant services operating from many places, “around the world.” Make sure you carefully examine their representative work, and check references – as you would with anyone you hire to work in your business. If the VA is experienced and professional, it doesn’t matter how far away they are.

All that said; I have hired project work from India with extremely good results. Though I wanted to hire in the US, I couldn’t find anyone in this country to do what I needed to do, at all… much less within my budget, so outside I went, and had no problems whatsoever. So by all means, try to hire within your country, but do not be concerned about hiring outside your market.

Characteristics to Look For

When choosing a freelancer or Virtual Assistant, what are some of the things for which you want to look? Your first task is to define carefully exactly what work you need done. You’ll find that as you carefully create your project brief, you will become better at defining the project for your hired help, and get better results more quickly. Once you have this kind of careful project description or specification, then make sure your intended worker has demonstrated skills that will get your project done quickly, well, and accurately. Most important, your carefully designed project brief should limit responses to people who will most likely have the required skill set. Moreover, your attention to detail in the brief helps you spot potential workers who really aren’t suited to this particular project. And, when you find workers suited to your project, you will spend less time training them.

You definitely want a freelancer or virtual assistant who is reliable and trustworthy, so check references very carefully. One of the ways I recommended freelancers in the past, when I was mentioned as a reference, was to tell the person checking that, yes, I would hire the person again. To me, that is the best recommendation I can give – it means I would trust my business to this person – again. Next, give your new assistant a small, less important task to start with, and evaluate from that. If you like their work, you can give them larger, more important tasks until you have built a good working relationship.

Of course, price will always be a key deciding factor. But a low price doesn’t always guarantee low cost. In my experience, many times, the cheapest worker takes more time to complete the task, which will cost you more than a higher priced worker who needs less time for the same work – which also affects your project timeline. To maintain your proper profit margin, as you plan your project, establish a budget for your freelance or virtual assistance help and hold to it. This has always worked well for me.

Where are Virtual Assistants and Freelancers?

The Internet puts you in touch with the worldwide workforce and there is no shortage of places to look for help. The social media, Facebook and Twitter are good places to start. Then, make an announcement on LinkedIn, or use their groups. LinkedIn is a great site to use because it’s designed for professional networking.

And there are also sites specifically designed for finding freelance and virtual assistant workers: ELance, Guru, and Freelancer. You can post jobs on these sites and VA’s will respond. Also consider posting an ad on Craigslist if you want someone more local.

Finally, there are actually websites for Virtual Assistant services, and you can negotiate and contract with the workers directly through them. One of the nice features of sites such as these is that many times they also facilitate payments – especially convenient when dealing with out of country workers and different currencies… you pay in your currency, they get paid in theirs.

When is the Right Time for a Virtual Assistant or Freelancer?

Adding Virtual Assistant or Freelance help is a big step for any business. You may not want to wait until your business is making a profit and you’ve got the funds to spare, it may be better for you to get the help sooner and get the cash flow started. Your own business plan will tell you when outside help will be most beneficial. And the sooner you can shed routine tasks to your Virtual Assistants or Freelancers, the sooner you have the freedom to grow your business and spend more time with your family.

What is a Virtual Assistant and How Can S/He Help Your Business?

Virtual AssistantDo you realize that there is actually an upside to the current economic downturn?

Quite simply, it is an abundance of very qualified knowledge workers who have been recently laid off from companies around the world who are looking for work. The reality is today, that many businesses are not in a position to hire them, but could very much use their help. Quite a few of these experienced workers are moving to a new form of independent work as a Virtual Assistant.

In many smaller offices and businesses today – often with reduced business income and margins, we often don’t have the luxury of having enough employees to get everything done in the best way. And with the wide variety of tasks to be done, often with fewer people, help is badly needed. Two ways to fill these needs: hire temporary help from a local agency, or hire people to help you… virtually: People who work in their home, on their computers, on their time, and are responsible for their benefits.

You hire, or contract, the Virtual Assistant, V.A., through the internet, indeed, you may never actually meet them in person. They can work anywhere: around the corner or around the world. Though you have the world’s work force at your fingertips, I always recommend hiring virtual assistants and freelancers within you own country to get people most familiar with the language and vernacular: In the US, hire in the US, in Germany, hire in Germany, etc. There are many advantages to a Virtual Assistant, low cost being the most visible.

Why Hire a Virtual Assistant?

The main reason is to get more done – at less cost! A Virtual assistant allows you to “pass along” the mundane tasks that eat away at your time. Your VA can handle items that are a real chore, or maybe even beyond your normal knowledge. They may even pick up more detailed aspects of your business while you go out of town or on vacation. Virtual Assistants come from many different skill areas:

  • Responding to emails
  • Travel arrangements
  • Sending and receiving faxes
  • Researching and reporting
  • Business writing, proposals, letters, etc.
  • Transcribing meeting notes or audio recordings
  • Create blog posts
  • Email auto-responders
  • Revise PLR content
  • Web site SEO (search engine optimization)
  • Create PowerPoint presentations
  • Create web site updates
  • Maintain Social Network presences
  • Create informative videos and post them to YouTube or you web site
  • And MUCH, MUCH more!

The magic of Virtual Assistants is like the magic of freelancers (see my related article) when the work goes away, so do they, so they you don’t have to keep them busy – and paid – when you don’t have enough work even for yourself.

The Benefits of Virtual Assistants

An article I wrote a few years ago highlights the value of Hybrid Teams for Small Office Communicators. Based on my experience operating an award winning Communications Department at Minolta, it highlighted the value I found using a mix of in house and outside resources. It also introduces the concept of the Virtual Assistant, one of the greatest values brought about by the internet age.

I still believe this is the most practical path to communications excellence, especially for the smaller company. My next series of posts will be about the magic of Virtual Assistants: how to find them, and how to use them to your best advantage.

For instance, one of the battles that small office communicators constantly fight is with computers, the programs they work with, and working on the internet – for instance, with WordPress Blogs… like this one. For this, your Virtual Assistant is, a GEEK. The Geek Guidebook introduces you best practices for finding and working with these specialized virtual assistants. Check it out.

Tune in for the upcoming posts to explore the wonderful world of Virtual Assistants.

Referral Marketing Communications Plan — Conclusion

A strong and productive referral marketing communications plan is not difficult… but it is important! But remember: keep it simple, consistent, visible, and always in play – that will turn it into an annuity or an oil well – always producing new leads and new business.

Make no mistake; a constant flow of referrals is the lifeblood of any serious business. As your customers continuously pass quality leads your way, it’s like having a large additional staff – staff that doesn’t cost benefits or salary!

These tips will help you keep your referral program as productive as possible. If you have a question, always opt for the simplest solution you can create. That will keep your referral-marketing program running smoothly and producing well.


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