Innovative VA: Practical solutions for modern business.


Why Fly Solo? Delegate Work to a Virtual Assistant
January 2, 2009, 11:50 pm
Filed under: outsource, Uncategorized, VA, virtual assistant

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One of the toughest issues that solopreneurs face is in scaling their business. How do you grow when it’s just you doing the work? I help my clients to get past the word “solo” and learn to delegate. Yes, delegate. But to whom? For business owners who wish to remain in one-person -business model, it’s a surprise for them to discover that they don’t have to do it all alone AND they don’t have to hire an employee either.

I reached out to the International Virtual Assistant’s Association, better known as IVAA, for a few pointers on finding and hiring a virtual assistant. According to IVAA, VA’s are independent entrepreneurs who provide administrative, creative and/or technical services. Utilizing the internet and other technology, a professional VA assists clients in his/her area of expertise from his/her own office on a contractual basis. In other words, they take the work that you don’t like to do, or don’t have the time to do off your hands and voila! – You get to focus on growing your business.

Lauren Hidden is the Acting Marketing Director at IVAA and she offers these helpful insights:

Q – Lauren, what types of jobs can a VA take off my desk?

A –Think about what is holding you back from making the most profit from your time. Things like mass mailings, scheduling appointments, research for your articles or blog. Start with the simple items and try a VA out with a small project or a few hours worth of work.

Q – What if my business doesn’t necessitate a lot of “administrative” work, can a VA still be useful to me?

A –Many VA’s do traditional administrative work, but many provide specialty and creative services; writing, graphic design, programming, bookkeeping, and website design are a few examples. VA’s don’t just do “secretarial” work.

Q – Let’s talk about the hiring process. How do I know if it’s a good fit?

A –To maximize the chances of finding the right VA, make sure you ask for references. Also be certain that the VA has the skill set you require for your own particular needs; someone who can grow with you and your company. Call them and converse – ask for samples of work. Also ask about their preferred method of communication; phone, email, instant messaging. Make sure they communicate the way you like to. You might find it frustrating if you put in a phone call to your VA and it gets returned via email because that’s what they prefer. Also, some VAs will work by project or on an as-needed basis, others will only work on a guaranteed monthly retainer. The best VA will be a mutual fit.

Q – Lauren, you talked about types of services that VA’s offer, are there also certain specialty niches in VA’s work?

A – Absolutely. Some examples would include working for realtors, coaches, professional speakers and authors, professional associations, and even musicians. There is now an emerging group of “green” VA’s too!

This article was written for INC.com by Marla Tabaka. Ms. Tabaka is a life and business coach who helps entrepreneurs in achieving their business and life goals faster and smarter.



Don’t Miss a Beat During the Holidays
December 17, 2008, 8:24 pm
Filed under: outsource, Uncategorized, VA, virtual assistant | Tags: , , ,

The holidays are upon us – a chance to rest, relax, and spend time with family and friends. But how can you fit in the fun when you’ve got your business to run? That’s where Elancers come in. Elancers can help your business stay on track and even get a jump on the competition during the holidays…

Upgrade your website
Consumers, customers, and other businesses increasingly look to the web for information.  Make sure your first impression is a great one. If your website is dated, potential customers will assume your skills are less than cutting-edge as well. A great web designer can deliver the look, feel, and features you need to win new business.

Get a new corporate identity
Start the new year with a bang – upgrade your corporate identity. Consider a new logo, stationery, brochure design… or if you already have a logo you love, have a graphic designer extend your look to all of your print and web materials.

Or maybe you’d like to revamp your offices or workspace; an architect can create plans to perfectly match your needs. Imagine how exciting it could be to come back to work and have drawings and blueprints ready for review in your inbox.

Review and revise marketing tools
Many companies budget spending and initiatives on a year-to-year basis and for that reason, project spending often increases at the start of a new year. Make sure you’re ready to win new business by updating your marketing collateral, or by hiring an SEO or SEM expert.

And if you’re not sure what advertising actions to take, a skilled market research professional can help. Many companies cut back on marketing expense during a recession, which means this could be a prime time to stand out in your industry.

Develop a new product
Do you have a great idea for a new product but you haven’t had time to flesh it out? Turn your ideas over to an industrial designer and start the new year with drawings, specifications, and plans to make your idea a reality. While your competitors are celebrating the holidays, you can too – but you’ll also be taking steps to build a new revenue stream while you enjoy time with family and friends.

Answer email and phone calls

Stay in touch – even if you or your staff are away – by hiring a virtual admin assistant to respond to emails and answer and return phone calls.

Send personal cards and/or gifts to business contacts
Hire an office admin to not only write, address, and mail cards and notes, but even to find the right gifts at the right price. In fact, you can even hire someone to do all your personal holiday shopping.

Plan gatherings for clients or employees
Putting together a successful event is tough. Take the stress of your back and leave the planning to an event planning professional.

Take care of last-minute 2008 details
Don’t wait until it’s too late to take advantage of tax planning. Hire a financial management professional to evaluate your financials and suggest strategic moves to make before the end of the year.

Refresh your web content for the new year
Hire a freelance writer to change out any old or holiday specific web content with revised content appropriate for the new year.  And if needed, hire a freelance programmer to help integrate the new content into your website.

Arrange holiday travel

A travel planner can evaluate and create the perfect itinerary for your getaway.  And if you follow some of our earlier tips, you can feel confident that your business is in safe hands while you’re gone.

This article was written on December 8, 2008 by Cathy Siciliano of Elance.

Visit my Elance profile: http://www.InnovativeVirtual.Elance.com

Visit my Web site: http://www.InnovativeVirtual.com



How to Find a Virtual Assistant
December 16, 2008, 2:20 pm
Filed under: outsource, VA, virtual assistant | Tags: ,

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Now that you’re Linking In, Twittering, and posting to your blog and your Facebook group, maybe you don’t have time to keep the books or handle your correspondence. There’s a raft of virtual assistants out there waiting to help you.

Do a Google search on “virtual assistant,” and you’ll come up with over 1 million listings. Some of those million plus, naturally, are better than others. You can use a VA in the same town—handy if you want to meet in person before you give the assistant the virtual keys to your business information—or use a VA in the Philippines, India, and many other countries.

Costs vary. Cal Evans, a Nashville-based editor of a site for Web developers, paid only $12 an hour for a virtual assistant he found on Guru.com and $10 an hour when he hired his daughter to do data entry from her college dorm room in Savannah, Ga. But $30 to $50 an hour isn’t unusual, especially for complex tasks like building or maintaining websites.

If you’re going to try out a VA, learn from the pitfalls of people who have gone before you. Always get references and talk with the VA—don’t simply E-mail—before you sign a contract. Michael Port, author of Book Yourself Solid, advises hiring a company, not an individual. “What happens if this individual goes down?” he asks.

But perhaps the best advice is to be aware of your communication style. If you’re used to giving direction only to experts, you’ll be in for a shock directing far-flung generalists via E-mail. When Evans hired both of his VAs, he expected that they’d be able to follow his cryptic directions—for instance, to talk with potential speakers for his upcoming technical conference. But neither knew anything about programming.

“If I shot off a quick IM, they would have no idea how to do it,” he says. “They were speaking a foreign language.” Once he explained his directions more clearly, both did excellent work, he says.

This article was written on March 25, 2008 by Elaine Appleton Grant for U.S. News & World Report.



5 Ways To Find, Hire, and Use a Virtual Assistant
December 12, 2008, 12:41 pm
Filed under: outsource, Uncategorized, VA, virtual assistant | Tags: , , ,

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“Consider giving yourself a special treat this season; you deserve it. I’m not talking about a new gadget from Best Buy or your latest must-have find while you were out window shopping. I’m talking about giving yourself the gift of time.

As much as we try to conquer the world on our own, we often wish we had a clone to do the rest while we do what we do best. This time of the year is especially easy to become overworked and overwhelmed managing our daily grind. Don’t get lost in the hustle and bustle, invest in a virtual assistant to help you tackle your to-do list one task at a time.

If you never worked with a VA (virtual assistant), if you are considering hiring one, or if you have had a bad experience with one, you definitely have to read this article to find the perfect, savvy, tech-friendly, professional virtual assistant in all of cyberspace. Let the mission begin.

  • Assess Your Needs
    Before working with a virtual assistant, you should assess all your needs–personal or professional. It is important to develop a to-do list of what needs to be done and what you are willing to delegate to your VA. They can manage your calendar and schedule your meetings.They can complete your research tasks and data entry. They can even create an article like this. Intrigued? They can do virtually anything. Once you develop your list, create concise working instructions ready for your future VA to have a jump-start on all your tasks.

    With great instructions, your VA can complete virtually any task with minimal guidance. Based on your list, estimate how much time you will need your VA each month and what you are willing to pay for their services. Most VA’s require the purchase of a monthly retainer plan. They typically charge $15-$55/hr and give great discounts if you require their assistance for more than 10 hours per month. Once you figure out what needs to be done and how much you are willing to invest in a virtual assistant, you can begin your search.

  • Finding a Virtual Assistant
    Finding a virtual assistant is fairly easy; locating a trustworthy, responsible professional is a task of its own. You have several options when searching for your right-hand time-saving, productivity-gaining partner.You can post a free ad on sites like Craigslist, search freelance sites such as Elance, “Google” the term Virtual Assistant and pick the top three search results, word of mouth, or do like me–tweet about it on Twitter.

    Be very specific about your requirements because virtual assistants all have different specialties and may not be able to accommodate to your requests. You don’t want to hire a VA who specializes in transcription for a podcast project–although, you might find one who can handle both, like mine.

    Upon placing your ad or shouting it out on Twitter, you will instantaneously receive messages from inquiring minds worldwide. This is when you will begin round one of the elimination process.

  • Qualifying The VA
    You can easily see which VA’s are qualified and would be a great choice or those that simply won’t work. Beware of emails with resumes attached- a VA is your business partner, not your employee and those sending a resume may still be in “employee” mode.You can always ask for testimonials of their services as you would a lawyer or marketing consultant. Feel free to ask about their background such as work experience and education. If you posted an ad asking for very specific information, the VA should respond answering all your questions.

    If they fail to do so, this can translate this and assume that this VA does not take the time to read basic instructions and will often forget minor details that contribute to the successful completion of any task. Also search for grammatical errors, you need a professional who can effectively write and convey their message in English. You never know when you may need your VA to write an email on your behalf; remember to look out for the clues to see if they can effectively communicate via email.

    Once you narrow your selection, it is time to dig in the details. Most VA’s have an online presence, outlining what they can do, what they have done, and what they will do for you. You will find tons of clues on their website to guide you through the round two elimination process. Is their site polished and professional or does it look like a butchered template from the ’90s seasoned with poor grammar?

    It sounds a bit biased to judge them on their site’s appearance, but you have to take into consideration they are a business owner–their business is your business. If they have a strong online presence free of inaccuracies and errors, that clearly indicates they are committed and in this profession for the long-run. You need to search for a long-term collaborative partnership in order to fully benefit. Time is money; you don’t have time to repeat this process. That is why it is important to find a VA that will fit perfectly with your needs.

  • Making The Selection
    By now you should have 3-5 applicants that really stand out like a sore thumb. Don’t let this be a time-consuming selection process–remember, your goal is to save time. Contact the applicants and arrange for a complimentary consultation.Look for more clues such as the response time to answer your email. If they take a while to respond, more than likely they have a full plate with more than they can chew. Most consultations are conducted over the phone, chances are you may never meet your virtual assistant face-to-face.

    When speaking to your VA, this is where the magic takes place in finalizing your selection process. Remember, always look for clues. Did your VA speak with confidence and have great phone etiquette? Were they timely and prepared for the call? Were they able to guide you through the phone chat and initiate the conversation? Did you feel a sense of trust and chemistry? Did the VA listen carefully and show interest in what you do by asking smart questions?

    You need a VA who demonstrates great skills and a strong business sense so they can manage your workload effectively. After the consultations, you should have the details in order to make your decision.

  • Finalizing The Contract
    When you finally choose your savvy virtual assistant that compliments your budget and your day-to-day needs, it is time to get the ball on the roll. Contact your VA and let them know it is a go. If you need their services on a long-term basis, negotiate contract details such as billing, terms of service, and privacy.Once the document is signed by you and your VA, you are good to go. Be sure to clearly indicate your requirements and never leave room for assumptions. Your VA is your partner and their goal is to help you save time. It will take time to adjust but if you plan accordingly the delegation process should be a easy as 1-2-3.

    First assign the task(s) including all information and clear and concise instructions that will contribute towards the success of the project. Be sure to indicate your deadlines–most VA’s need a 24-48 time frame to complete assignments so once again, plan accordingly. Also include your time zone to ensure a timely delivery. Provide your contact information and indicate the best way to contact you. Once you delegate the work, the VA will begin the task and update you of the status.

    Lastly, the work gets done and you didn’t have to do it. It feels great when you actually have time for yourself. Maybe with the extra time you have created by working with a VA, you can plan for that much needed vacation–Oh, wait. Your VA can do that for you too!”

This article was written on 12/12/2008 by Alex Shalman. Alex is an avid reader and is constantly learning how to improve his life. You can catch him at Practical Personal Development .



50 Ways to Use a Virtual Assistant

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Virtual Assistants (VAs) are excellent resources because they provide an impressive array of business support services.  I’ve compiled a quick list of some of the tasks that are commonly outsourced to VAs. Of course, not all VAs offer all of the following services, and this list is by no-means all-encompassing, but it should give you a general idea of the type of work that can be managed by a qualified VA.

50 ways to use a Virtual Assistant:

  1. Accounting
  2. Administrative support
  3. Answering service
  4. Appointment setting
  5. Art buying
  6. Blogging
  7. Copywriting
  8. Consulting
  9. Data processing
  10. Database management
  11. Desktop publishing
  12. Ebay selling
  13. E-commerce
  14. E-mail responses
  15. E-marketing
  16. Editing
  17. Errands
  18. Event planning
  19. Fulfillment
  20. Graphic design
  21. Grant writing
  22. Holiday cards
  23. Human Resources
  24. IT support
  25. Link building
  26. Mailing service
  27. Marketing and advertising
  28. Media buying
  29. New business assistance
  30. Newsletters
  31. Out-of-office replies
  32. Pay-per-click
  33. Payroll
  34. Presentations
  35. Proofreading
  36. Public relations
  37. Purchasing
  38. Realtor & broker support
  39. Reminder service
  40. Reports
  41. Research
  42. Search engine optimization
  43. Software training
  44. Shopping / gift buying
  45. Talent booking
  46. Transcription
  47. Travel arrangements
  48. Web site design
  49. Web site maintenance
  50. Word processing


What Does it Take to be a Virtual Assistant?
December 4, 2008, 4:34 pm
Filed under: outsource, small business, Uncategorized, VA, virtual assistant | Tags: , , ,

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It takes an entrepreneurial spirit and a positive attitude to be a Virtual Assistant (VA).  It also doesn’t hurt if you can leap tall buildings in a single bound!  VAs frequently have a background as an Executive Assistant, Event Planner, Desktop Publisher, Writer, Editor, Medical Transcriber, Bookkeeper, Non-Profit Coordinator, Graphic Designer, Marketing or Public Relations Representative. Regardless of their prior experience, successful VAs will usually have the following skills and characteristics in common.

What it takes to be a VA:

  • Excellent communicator
  • Organized
  • Ethical
  • Disciplined
  • Focused
  • Manages time well
  • Trustworthy
  • Accurate
  • Well-informed
  • Flexible
  • Accountable
  • Computer savvy
  • Thorough knowledge of the Internet and technology
  • Particularly strong in a specified area of expertise
  • Willing to go above and beyond the call of duty to get the job done


What is a Virtual Assistant Anyway?

Typing on a Grey Laptop.

Virtual Assistants (VAs) are independent entrepreneurs that provide administrative, managerial, professional, personal, creative, social, technical and business-related support services from a home office. They usually work for other entrepreneurs and small businesses.

VAs communicate with their Clients ” virtually” and will usually have at least 5 years of prior business experience in the fields that they are offering.. VA professionals tend to work on a contractual basis and a long-lasting cooperation with their Clients is standard.

What is a VA?

  • VAs provide many of the same services as a full-time employee, at a fraction of the cost.
  • VAs become a client’s business partner, enabling them to grow their business.
  • VAs help alleviate the client’s regular day-to-day work assignments and allow them more time to focus on other things.
  • VAs do project work if they are specialists or have extensive knowledge of any subject.
  • VAs are personal assistants, able to manage a wide variety of assignments.
  • VAs have advanced knowledge of computers and technology (Internet, phone, fax, email, IM, blog, social media, online work spaces, etc.)
  • VAs are economical and practical alternatives to full-time or “temp” employees.



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