Clients, clients, and more clients.
Read any Virtual Assistant support page and you’ll see post after post of VA’s of all experience levels asking how they can get their first, or more clients. It’s not an outlandish request. Of course we want clients. Clients = money. It’s the reason we do Virtual Assisting. We as VA’s offer services and get paid in return.
The thing is there is no clear or right way to score clients. Sure, there are 100’s of tips and suggestions, pins and workshops, freebies, and posts in the blogosphere marketing promises of increasing your client base. But even if you follow them religiously, actually getting clients isn’t guaranteed. What works for one person, may not work well for you.
Besides, shouldn’t clients be coming to you? Isn’t that the ideal way this is supposed to work? Do you have services soliciting or cold-calling you (not commercials) asking if they can provide their services? Would you want that? I don't know about you, but other than Girl-Scouts, I'm not a fan of people selling items at my door.
The big question you should be asking yourself isn't "How do I get clients?". It should be “are you really ready for clients?” Have you set yourself and your business up to succeed? Do you have all your processes in place? When your first client actually does come to you you, can you give them the best and smoothest process possible?
You could get 10 client leads in your inbox tomorrow, and if your on-boarding process isn't ready, those 10 leads won’t turn into 10 clients when they won’t hire a VA that doesn’t have a professional system with a professional look in place.
And here's some good news. Believe it or not, if you’re starting out new without a list of clients in place, don’t fret! You’re in a great position. You have plenty of free time right now that isn’t being put to client tasks. Use it wisely! Focus on finalizing your on-boarding process instead of worrying how to get your first client. Stop updating your website, and tweaking your logo and brand colors for the 100th time. Those will come in due time, and honestly never seem finished. Let’s get down to the real business!
Services + Rates:
First, before you do anything, make sure you have a good understanding of what specific services you and your business are going to provide, and what rateyou want to charge for those services - whether by hours or packages. Sure, you may want or need to fluctuate and change here and there, but having a general list of services and the cost associated with them is going to be your solid foundation. After all, how will clients know what they need from you and how will you know how to sell yourself? I guarantee, one of the first things a client will want to know after they figure out what services you offer, is how much they need to pay.
For pay, I’m not talking about guesstimating what you think is a good rate based on what others charge, although that’s certainly a good reference to keep in mind. You need to actually do math and calculate:
- First, decide how you want to calculate your payments - monthly or weekly. It's easier for me to calculate monthly because typically mortgage, bills, etc. all run on monthly too.
- Second, figure out how much money you need to pay yourself to live on and cover your own expenses, for that duration you chose above. It could be $400 a week if you have minimal expenses, to $6000 a month. Make sure you account for everything you need money for like gas, bills, food, etc. Having a personal budget helps with this.
- Third, add about 30% in taxes (this is an estimate)
- Next, add how much money you'll need for business expenses in this time period as well. Maybe it's applications or services your business pays for, or maybe it's internet.
- Divide the final number of that month or week cost, by the number of hours you plan on working in that time period (see next section). This will be your base, minimal hourly rate to charge clients. If you are a professional, or have more experience, you charge more. It’s pretty simple.
Here's an example:
Sarah wants to pay herself and calculate her payments monthly. She needs to pocket (after taxes and business fees) $2500 a month to pay her bills, expenses, and have some money for her own personal savings. 30% of taxes on top of that is $750. That's $3250. Plus she adds her business expenses which are only $150 a month for her Quickbooks account, and for office supplies. That totals $3400 for the month. In that month time period for which she's calculating, she can spend 20 hours a week on paid client work (see next section on hours), and hopes to get booked out. That means she needs to charge at least $42.50 an hour to get by ($3400 divided by 80 hours a month).
Going hand-in-hand, once your services and rates are in place, you need to define your working hours. This includes what times each day your office is “open” for calls and general inquiries, but you should also really think about how many hours you honestly can give to your clients and business.
If you’re just getting started and you still work a full-time job outside this new side-hustle, maybe it’s only 12 hours a week for which you’re able to commit. This means you may only be able to take on one client who needs you 10 hours a week - and leaves you 2 hours a week to build your own business (answer emails, market yourself, etc.). If you’re ready to jump into this full-time, and have no other commitments, you may be ready to take this on a true 40+ hours a week, with office hours 9-5pm.
Regardless of what you’re able to commit to, make sure you know and stick to your hours. Otherwise you will become over-committed, overwhelmed, and burn out very quickly. Clients should be made aware of your availability as well. You don’t want a 10-hour retainer client calling you at all hours asking questions, taking up valuable time. Be transparent, direct, and clear.
Terms and Conditions:
Although not the most fun part of running a business, having your terms and conditions written out for all your clients and potential clients to see protects you and filters out any potential clients that may have a problem with any of them before reaching out to you. I strongly suggest you get legal counsel to review your actual terms and conditions. However, I started my rough draft by using another’s VA page page as a template for my own, editing where I saw fit. Put the terms and conditions on your website, maybe important ones in your proposal, and definitely in your contract. The more information the better.
These days if you don’t have a website, or at least a free Facebook page for your clients to find information, you’re truly missing out on a much preferred way to connect. Customers prefer to browse and research prior to making any interactive decisions, including email and phone. Plus having a website is a great place to ‘home’ all of your contact information, services, hours, and maybe even your rates (some prefer it, some don't). The use of photos and videos is a huge selling point you just can’t get with a phone call and a business card. Some other options? An "About Me" page with background information of you and your qualifications, a portfolio, and maybe even a blog. But stick to the important points first.
Congrats! You finally have your first lead. Now what?
Well, you may have already communicated back and forth with an email or two, set up a Discovery Call or video conference to find out more about your client and their needs and to distinguish if you’re a good fit for each other. Now comes the hard work. If you used your pre-client-time wisely, you created, edited, and finalized your Proposal Template, and are ready to start filling that baby out with your new lead’s information, problems, and proposed solutions, which isn't that hard after all. If you didn’t get your Proposal Template in place, you’re probably now scrambling to come up with something very quickly. And on top of that, you’re trying to make it look professional and consistent with your branding. How stressful. What fun is that? Potential clients should not have to wait more than 24-48 hours after a Discovery Call to get a proposal. Remember, quick and organized = professional.
Get your proposal in place BEFORE you get your first client. Fill out the template, and send it off right away. Let your client know you’re ready to go for whatever they need.
Ditto on the contract. This should definitely include your terms and conditions too, and be revised by legal to make sure it’s water tight.
You’ll also need to know your process for getting the contract signed. Whether through email-printing-scanning, or with applications like Hellosign.com, which have both free and paid plans, have a plan in mind when your client is ready to sign on the dotted line!
If you’re really on your game, and maybe still have some time, create a Welcome Packet too. Include all of the specifics information your client will need to work with you. This may include applications and log-in info, scheduling, and your process. Anything you didn’t include before would go here, along with a nice specific welcome letter to the client welcoming them on-board.
Process and applications:
Behind the scenes, many VAs use specific programs for their services and general business. This may be as simple as having a separate (yes, separate!) checking account with your bank to collect your payments (necessary), to something more technical like an Acuity Scheduling application or a Dubsado client management system account (optional based on needs). Make sure you don’t pay for programs you aren’t using yet (most have trial periods or free versions), and keep your processes and applications as simple as possible. One of my favorite applications is Trello. I use it with all my clients to organized thoughts and tasks. For me, it's really the main and only application my clients are requested to use from me (besides, paying an invoice). Clients shouldn’t be overwhelmed by working with you, as it’s your job to make their life easier!
As you can see, there's plenty to be working on and getting done. If you don’t currently have any clients, don’t be discouraged. Get yourself set up and running right now as you won’t regret it later. Once all your key components are in place, you're able to actually freely start marketing yourself to get clients. And when you do get leads, you can smoothly and quickly propose to them, so you'll nab them up with a contract right away. Now, get to work!