What does is take to take your business from amateur hour to expert status? Is it luck? Knowing the right people? Or maybe (just maybe) it’s all about hard and targeted work? Vanessa Infanzon is here to share how to start taking your business seriously and the mindset shift that you can work on to achieve expert status.
For four years, I stumbled along writing for just two clients.
I didn’t think of myself as a business owner until I started Gina Horkey’s 30 Days or Less to Freelance Writing Success course. Within days of starting, my mindset and attitude changed.
I also knew I had to get serious if I wanted to succeed.
In the last two years, I’ve grown my business, taken on more clients and made more money by learning new skills – ones that I continually work on.
And this is the point of this post. You can stumble around for years without a clear direction, or you can decide to get serious, get real, and focus on leveling up from an amateur to an expert, whether you’re a writer, a virtual assistant, or any other type of freelancer.
Since Horkey HandBook is focused on helping readers become professional VAs, let’s not beat about the bush.
Here are nine tips to become an expert virtual assistant:
1. You’re a professional, so get organized.
I remember laughing at another writer’s suggestion to make a spreadsheet for my writing assignments.
I had two clients to worry about and my deadlines were spread out over a long time. After I finished Gina’s course, I added 10 clients in the first year and desperately needed a spreadsheet. I no longer could operate by keeping all the information in my head.
I developed a system that tracked my work from pitch to payment. Now, whether I have 10 or 50 clients, I’m able to stay on track to meet deadlines, repitch unapproved story ideas and stay on top of unpaid invoices.
Question: What methods do you have in place to keep organized as your business grows?
Tip: Use Google spreadsheet to track your pitch through payment. I have a separate sheet for each month and a color coding system to mark story approval, completion and payment.
2. Get comfortable with building relationships.
None of my work would be possible without the relationships I’ve made.
Some relationships have started through social media likes and comments, but then developed IRL (in real life).
This year, I started a writer’s meetup group to connect in a supportive and non-competitive environment. I meet with public relations firms, work in co-working spaces and attend local events on a regular basis.
Question: What barriers have kept you from expanding your network?
Tip: Make a list of people you want to get to know and set a goal to meet one person a week or a month, depending on your schedule. They can be other virtual assistants, online solopreneurs or even brick-and-mortar business owners. Reach out to meet them virtually or offer to meet them for coffee.
3. Always strive to grow in your profession.
I learn the most from the tough assignments – the ones I am hesitant to take on because I’m unsure I can handle them.
One assignment pushed me to look more closely at my style, word choices and topics. Listening to constructive feedback and following others’ suggestions has improved my work. Other work has stretched my abilities or forced me to learn a new skill – it’s scary to do it, but in the end, I always gain something from the experience.
Question: How are you actively improving your virtual assistant skills?
Tip: Look for apps that improve your skills, read articles about best practices in your niche and ask other virtual assistants for tips when you feel stuck (and return the favor).
4. Learn to be social media savvy.
When I decided to grow my business, I opened Instagram and Twitter accounts.
I had no idea what I was doing, but I learned by watching how other companies similar to mine used their accounts.
When I saw companies using “Stories” on Instagram, I tried it. I flip through Stories to see what special effects other companies may be using to gain attention.
Hashtags are an important part of Instagram and I review which ones are being used and where – within the original post or added as a comment.
Social media changes so frequently that I‘ve got to read articles and ask a lot of questions.
Question: What’s one thing you’d like to improve about your social media presence?
Tip: Begin with one social media platform so as not to overwhelm yourself.
5. Get good at self-motivation.
When you work for yourself, there’s no one telling you to get out of bed or stop bingeing on your latest favorite murder mystery show (oops, that may just be me).
To be self motivated, you have to understand what motivates you to find new clients, pursue new work or cultivate long-term clients.
For me, I know the income I bring in helps our household achieve plans we have as a family – keeping our 100-year-old house in good repair, adding to our son’s college savings and taking family vacations.
I set work goals each week and make a to-do list for each day. I do reward myself with an afternoon of paddleboarding, a pedicure or a two-episode binge when I get to a good point in my week’s work.
Question: What motivates you to finish a project?
Tip: For every project, whether big or small, write down a list of at least three reasons why you should get it done. Use the list to motivate yourself.
6. Get in touch with your creative side.
Clients look to their virtual assistant for ideas that will make their company shine. You don’t have to be an “artist” to be creative – think about how you can design something to make it stand out.
How can a redesign attract attention or get the job done quickly?
One VA created a conference display from toy dump trucks she found at a yard sale. The attendees from the heavy equipment companies loved her ingenuity.
Question: What special services can you offer clients using your creative skills?
Tip: Be open to ideas around you that might work for a client’s project. What’s been done before may be adapted for your purposes.
7. Learn how to juggle multiple projects.
Although batching is the way to go when planning your daily schedule, managing many projects at one time is part of being a virtual assistant.
I use a spreadsheet system to keep track of projects, but I also use an old fashioned chalkboard for my upcoming assignments. It hangs next to my desk and serves as a daily visual reminder. I star the ones I must finish that week and cross them off when complete (I like the process of crossing off).
Question: Are you effectively managing your projects?
Tip: Design a system based on your own work style. Take advantage of what works for you – visual cues, color coding, voice memos, calendar reminders and handwritten lists.
8. Actively look for new resources
Whether you’re looking for new clients, more lucrative niches to specialize, or better sources of information, the important thing is not to get complacent. Yes, it’s easy to get too attached to your comfort zone, but that’s not what will help you become an expert virtual assistant.
I pitched a story about dog birthday parties to a local media outlet because I knew it would be a popular topic. The problem is I don’t own a dog and I’ve never been to a pup party. I turned to Facebook and searched for a local dog group and asked to be a part of the group. Once I shared my intentions, the contacts, photos and information flowed in quickly.
Question: What groups, acquaintances and professional organizations can help you get the information you need for your work?
Tip: Be willing to share your own contacts to help others.
9. Actively look for opportunities.
Work doesn’t always come from traditional avenues. Sometimes it takes being at the right place at the right time. It means letting everyone know about your business.
For the past five years, I’ve been helping a meeting planner at the trade shows she coordinates. When appropriate, I tell people that I’m a professional writer and give out my business card. Last week I received an email from the executive director of one of the trade organizations – they want me to give them a quote for writing a webinar.
Question: What unusual or non-traditional platforms may provide business opportunities for you?
Tip: Promote your business to everyone – give out your business cards, follow folks on social media, let people know what you do and then be patient. You never know when someone may need your services and you want your name to be at the top of their list when they do.
Whether you’re just starting out as a VA or you’ve been doing it a while, seeking expert status takes continuous practice. Which of these nine skills will you work on today?