Monthly Archives: January 2019

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How to Find Ideal Clients (in Your Own Backyard)

How did you find your first client? If you’ve been a Virtual Assistant or freelancer for a while, you may look back and see that you have an interesting story to tell. Unlike the corporate world, the virtual world doesn’t require us to put on our best power suit and attend a formal interview. Sometimes we just need to know how to find ideal clients right in our own backyard.

In a previous Virtual Office Hours session at Freelance University, we had the privilege of hearing an interview with Sabrina Espinal, our FreeU Community Manager. She’s been helping clients build their Social Media platforms for almost a decade through her business Sabrina&Company.

Image of a man wearing a dark turtleneck top and grey suit jacket, with dark hair, beard, moustache, glasses and holding a white cell phone in his left hand and right arm around the shoulder of a woman with dark curly hair wearing a dark top with flower prints while sitting in a booth with light blue fabric.

Sabrina has an interesting story to tell about how she found clients in New York. She had the idea of doing Twitter with local businesses, and her first client was a business owner around the corner from her husband’s job.

She says, “I literally stood on the corner, because I’m a little shy.” She then told her husband, “Go over there and ask him if he needs help with Twitter.” As she stood at a distance, the client motioned her to come off the corner and come over, and the connection was made.

Later on, she started doing Social Media for the restaurant where her husband works. She also went into a bagel shop and said, “Hi, I’m Sabrina. I buy bagels here all the time. Do you need help with Twitter?” And that’s how she found many clients, going to places where she ate and saying, “Hey, you remember me? Can I help you with Twitter?”

Sabrina’s story shows that often, the best way to start your VA or freelance business is to tap into your current connections and your local networks. It could be your chiropractor or a favorite restaurant you attend.

I like to think of our local networks as a series of circles.

In the middle, you have your close family and friends, then colleagues, acquaintances, and local business owners in the outer circles. The people in the inner circle are the ones you know best. They may or may not need your services, but they can help you spread the word. The outer circles are people you may have to approach more formally yourself, or they may be referrals from your inner circle.

As Brent Galloway says in his article “How to Find Clients & Market Your Freelance Business – The Ultimate Guide,

“The very first place to start is to reach out to your family, friends, past employers, past school instructors, and any other important people in your life, and tell them about what it is you’re doing. Let them be your first referrers! You’ll need their support, and the more people who know about your freelance business, the better chance you’ll have at getting a lead.”

Although putting yourself out there can be nerve-racking, Sabrina’s story shows that it can get easier. After connecting with her first client through her husband, Sabrina made further connections on her own and built a thriving social media business.

Here are some tips on how to find ideal clients in your local network:

  1. Be a good customer/colleague/friend/family member.

This first tip might seem a little obvious, but it’s important to keep in mind. It relates to how you behave around potential clients and also around your inner circle of family and friends. Your local network is where your personal life crosses over into your professional life, so be an upstanding person that others would love to refer.

– If you’re seeking clients at your favorite restaurant, for example, make sure you’re a pleasant customer and not the kind who gets cranky and sends the soup back if it’s a degree or so too cold.

– Maintain healthy relationships with past and present colleagues.

– Love your family and friends well, and support them in their endeavors.

– Think of your local network as people first, and potential clients second.

2. Listen to your network.

A large part of finding clients locally is listening and identifying the perfect moment to join a conversation or approach a business owner. In an article titled “15 Tips for Cold Calling to Get Freelance Clients,

Evan Tarver has some good advice. He says, “You might be inclined to talk more about your offer and dominate the conversation. But asking questions and actually listening to your prospect’s answers is a way to learn more about their needs and wants. When you listen, you can gain insight into their problems and you can provide actual solutions that will benefit them.”  

So before you hand out your business card at a family reunion or your favorite ice cream shop, feel out situations. Typically a moment will occur where a business owner will mention a need, or a relative will ask what you’re up to these days, and you’ll have the opportunity to talk about your business. Here are some strategies to keep in mind:

– Listen for needs expressed in casual conversation.

– Be brave enough to present your services as a solution to those needs if they fit your niche.

– Watch for needs expressed more formally (through advertising, etc.) at local businesses.

– Determine whether you should speak directly to the business owner, or if someone in your inner circles should refer you to them.

3. Research your client prospects.

Once you’ve identified your ideal clients in your neighborhood, take some time to learn more about them. Sometimes you’ll stumble upon opportunities and key connections, and other times you’ll need to seek them out yourself. Be sure you have a good grasp on their brands, products, and services so you know how they tick. Also pinpoint who’s in charge of the business so you know who to approach.

In the article mentioned above, Brent Galloway recommends finding the contact name and email of the person who would most likely have the influence to hire you. He also suggests reviewing a potential client’s online presence to see if there’s any value you could offer, such as building them a more effective website. A key question he suggests asking yourself is “How can you make their business better with your services?”

Here are some examples of information you could search for, depending on your niche:

– Do they have a website? If so, does it look like it’s been updated recently?

– Are they active in social networks, or was their last Facebook post or tweet eons ago? Could they benefit from joining a new social network?

– Do they have an opt-in box on their website indicating they send out an email newsletter? If not, could they benefit from one?

– Do they have a blog on their website? Has it been a while since they published a blog post?

4. Define your niche and business structure.

When you’re just starting out in the Virtual Assistant or freelance industry, you may find clients in your local network before you’ve even defined your business name and rates. That certainly happened to me. I found my first transcription client through a referral from my father, and then rushed out and registered a trade name.

As soon as you’re ready to start working, it’s a good idea to define your niche or at least a niche you’d like to try. When finding clients through a local network, there can sometimes be a bit of awkwardness if family, friends, or acquaintances misunderstand or presume what sorts of tasks you can or want to do.

Amelia Garvey has some good advice in her article, “Grow Your Freelancer Network: Solve Problems, Get Clients“:

“You’ll never be all things to all people, especially as a freelancer. This is why it’s important to identify in which niche you operate, and how your unique background, perspective, and experience makes you ideally suited to that niche. Understanding this will help narrow your networking focus, and ensure that your efforts are directed at the right audiences.”

On one hand, it’s hard to say no when a good opportunity pops up from a referral… On the other hand, it’s tough if you say yes and end up doing tasks you normally wouldn’t touch with a 10-foot pole.

Also, be sure to define your rates as soon as you can, and give yourself permission to charge them. If you know clients personally or feel indebted to your chiropractor, it’s easy to agree to work for free as a favor to them. But it’s important that you present yourself as a professional so you aren’t advertised within your network as a low-cost or free option.

5. Have clear contact information.

One of the tricky parts of communicating these days is that there are so many ways to contact people. In addition to phone, there’s now text, email, Facebook Messenger, LinkedIn Messaging, Twitter, Skype, and… you get the picture.

With so many communication channels, it’s easy to miss an important message coming in from your local network. I once missed a Facebook message from an acquaintance about an editing referral because I didn’t realize I was signed out of Messenger. Within four hours, the project had gone to someone else.

Ideally, it’s good to have business cards with your name, business name, website, and contact information. When the opportunity presents itself, you can hand these out so people know how to contact you.

But if you’re just starting out and don’t have a business card yet, be sure to let your inner circle know your contact information, and write it down so everything is spelled correctly. If you don’t have a business card yet, carry a nice pen and blank pieces of paper or cardstock with you while you’re out and about.

Here are some other things to keep in mind:

– If you receive messages from your Social Media accounts, activate email notifications so you don’t miss anything.

– If a potential client contacts you through your personal phone number or email, pass along your business information for them to use next time.

– Ensure your handwriting or font is legible and easy to read so no one phones a wrong number or emails the wrong person.

– Set a precedent for when you’ll respond to referrals. Although you don’t want to miss out on opportunities, it’s best for your long-term client relationships if you reply during your designated business hours. Also, be sensitive to their schedule so you’re contacting them at an appropriate time.

– In his article, “5 Public-Speaking Tips From Seasoned Experts,” Jayson DeMers suggests entrepreneurs get comfortable with public speaking. He agrees with Dale Carnegie’s advice to speak on topics that you’re sure you know a lot about.

So, as you’re looking for potential clients, don’t forget to consider the people in your neighborhood that you meet each day. We’ve included an infographic below that can help you brainstorm how to find ideal clients in your local network.

And if you’ve found clients this way for your Virtual Assistant or freelance business, we’d love to hear from you! Please let us know your thoughts and recommendations in the comments below.

A person walking up narrow, concrete steps wearing running shoes with orange, grey and white trim, with only their lower legs and feet showing.

7 Healthy Habits to be More Effective in Your Work (and Life)!

When you think of an effective entrepreneur, what image comes to mind?

I was raised to put work ahead of everything, so to me, an effective entrepreneur was someone who’d work day and night, sacrifice his or her personal life, and never take holidays or sick days. I thought a successful entrepreneur always looked like this:

But I was wrong. When I tried to work nonstop, the image would turn into an entrepreneur with a box of tissues and cough medicine beside the computer, or an entrepreneur with her head on the desk, fast asleep.

So, although the photo above is part of being diligent and successful, it’s not the whole story. An effective entrepreneur can also look like this:

And what links the two photos? Healthy habits… because HEALTHY entrepreneurs are EFFECTIVE entrepreneurs.

Now, the idea of building healthy habits can seem like an onerous task, but don’t let it stress you out. In an article titled “5 ways to build healthy habits and routines as a freelancer,”  Shannon Byrne recommends James Clear’s advice “to go super micro and start with an incredibly small habit. Make it so easy you can’t say no.” Byrne recommends doing that same thing every day and then increasing it in small ways.

So, as we go through the following seven healthy habits to be more effective entrepreneurs, don’t worry about tackling them all at once. Some you may already be doing. And if there are others you need to work on in your Virtual Assistant or freelance business, pick an easy one first and then build up these habits gradually.

1. Be Kind to Yourself.

At the start of a New Year, it’s hard to feel accomplished. We go from messages of “Eat, drink, and be merry,” to messages of “Take this vitamin, lose this weight, clean your office, hunker down and work,” among others. While you’re shopping, you may see promotions for nutritional supplements, workout gear, office supplies, and business success books. A month before, these same stores were promoting chocolates, games, and DVD movies.

In the above article,  Shannon Byrne reminds us to be patient with ourselves and celebrate the little wins when starting to build small, healthy habits. I also recommend taking some time to celebrate your wins now, even before you start working on your habits. Look at how far you’ve come, and celebrate how much you’ve achieved. Be kind to yourself and begin building healthy habits from a place of confidence and hope, not from a place of desperation and self-criticism. You’ll be more effective in both work and life when you’re in the habit of being kind to yourself!

2. Set Healthy Boundaries.

In a previous blog post, we talked about the importance of having boundaries. This habit can’t be emphasized enough – it’s crucial to our health and effectiveness.

Boundaries apply to both your personal and work life. Remember that as an entrepreneur, you have the freedom to set rules for when you’ll work and respond to messages from clients. Tough as it is, you also have the responsibility to establish rules for when you’ll accept social invitations and leave your desk to spend time with family and friends.

A good way to start building this habit is to choose your office hours and stick to them. Find the time of day when you’re most productive, and commit to it. If you’re in the habit of saying yes to invitations for coffee at any hour, block out your office hours in your calendar and organize coffee dates around it. If your children or family members walk in on you unannounced while you’re working, create a fun, friendly sign that says something like “Freelancer at Work! Next Coffee Break at X o’clock,” and hang it on your door so they’ll know to come back later.

To establish boundaries with clients, you can use a tool like Boomerang for Gmail that allows you to compose an email and schedule it to be sent automatically at a later time. This tool is helpful if you want to quickly answer an email outside office hours on occasion, but don’t want to give the impression you’re always available.

As much as possible, you can also negotiate deadlines with your clients to make sure you aren’t burning the candle at both ends.

3. Maintain a Healthy Office Setup.

To be effective entrepreneurs, we need to have a healthy home office. When we’re just starting out as freelancers or Virtual Assistants, it’s tempting to sacrifice comfort for price and use makeshift office furniture until our business grows.

One of the best articles I’ve seen on office setup is called “How To Design A Healthy Home Office That Increases Productivity” by Kelsey Roadruck. I recommend reading it in its entirety but will share a few highlights.

First of all, this article suggests we get in the habit of listening to our bodies when we work from home. If you have a sore back or your eyes hurt after working, it’s time to make a change. Roadruck shares the following tips:

– Reduce glare on your computer screen by pointing lighting sources away from your line of sight or setting up your desk so windows run alongside your workstation.

– If cost is an issue, make an adjustable desk chair your priority, and try sitting in it for a while before buying it. Also, make sure you can return it if you bring it home and it causes discomfort.

– Consider using a desk with a flexible height, or a sit-stand desk.

 

Above all, note any new aches or pains you experience. As Roadruck says,

“It’s also important to remember that bodies change. You may need bifocals one day, in which case your monitor will need to be adjustable for you to read the screen clearly without bending your neck. Or perhaps your doctor has finally put his foot down about your sedentary work life. It might be helpful to move your treadmill from the basement to your home office. The bottom line is that what worked for you three years ago may no longer work for you today. It’s crucial that your workspace evolve with you, your work and your body.”

4. Keep your Body Healthy.

Along with listening to your body, it’s good to get in the habit of keeping your body as healthy as you can. Many articles talk about the importance of staying hydrated, eating regular healthy meals, getting enough sleep, and exercising. If this is a struggle for you, here are some small habits you can start incorporating into your lifestyle:

– Keep a glass of water on your desk to sip while you’re working.

– Build mealtime breaks into your office hours routine.

– Set a regular time to do easy exercise. Even a 10-minute walk once a day can do wonders.

– Whether you finish working in the early or late evening, incorporate a “winding-down” routine to quiet your mind and help you sleep better. In her article “You Snooze, You Win: The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Healthy Sleep Habits,” Amy Rigby strongly recommends leaving your smartphone, laptop, and any other mobile devices outside your bedroom to help you make the switch from “work mode” to “sleep mode.”

– Use a blue light filter on your computer and mobile devices when working at night. Mark Coppock provides tips on how to change the color palette of your display in an article titled “How to use a blue light filter on your PC.” Filtering blue light prevents it from interrupting your circadian rhythm and disrupting your sleep patterns.

– If you wear glasses or think you might need some, see an optometrist regularly to ensure you’re wearing the right lens prescription. I wear a pair of reading glasses with anti-reflective lenses while I’m using the computer, and it does wonders in preventing eye strain and fatigue.

 

5. Eliminate Unnecessary Stressors.

While it’s impossible to eliminate all the stress in your life, reducing the number of small, unnecessary stressors is a good habit to have. For example, if your office door bangs into the trash can, making an annoying metallic sound that drives you crazy every time you leave the room, see if there’s another place you can put the trash can. If you’re stressed out because you have a coffee date with a neighbor early tomorrow morning and are rushing to finish a project the night before, ask your neighbor if you can change the time of your coffee date. If you feel you need more time to finish a project, see if you can talk to your client and negotiate an extension on the due date.

The point is to get in the habit of figuring out which stressors you need to accept and manage, and which you can eliminate by making simple changes. Start by asking yourself three questions:

– What’s stressing me out right now? 

– Is there a way I can eliminate this stressor?

– If so, what do I need to change or do?

In an article titled “7 Ways to Reduce Stress When You Are Overwhelmed and Need to Prioritize,” John Rampton recommends writing down everything that’s bothering you. He says, “Doing so will immediately lessen your stress levels; there will be less to hold onto, and your mind will be free to occupy other tasks and ideas.”

 

6. Manage Your Time.

As a Freelancer or Virtual Assistant, managing your time goes hand in hand with maintaining healthy boundaries with clients, friends, and family members. At first the flexibility of the entrepreneurial lifestyle can make it seem like we have all the time in the world, but very quickly we realize that it’s impossible to do everything. I used to have a bad habit of going out for dinner or to a football game and then come home and finish my work late at night. I can tell you, I had quite a few close calls when I underestimated how long it would take me to finish my project.

So, in addition to setting office hours for yourself, here are some other helpful time management habits:

– Batch your emails and social media so that you check them at certain times each day. I had to start doing this because answering emails and Facebook comments as they came in broke my concentration and made me less productive in my other tasks.

– Use online tools like Freshbooks, Toggl, Harvest, and RescueTime to track your time and improve your productivity.

– Schedule breaks to do whatever refreshes, recharges, and rejuvenates you!

An article titled “12 Habits of Highly Effective Entrepreneurs puts it this way:

“Effective entrepreneurs value time as their most precious commodity. They understand they must maintain their much-needed quiet time to avoid burnout. For this reason, they pre-plan vacation time, take days off when sick or otherwise necessary. Because they take the breaks to enjoy their lives, they are actually more successful than the entrepreneur who works non-stop, lives on caffeine, nicotine and fast food in order to not miss work. Time for self-care is sacred in an effective entrepreneur’s world.”

7. Be Social.

It may sound funny to call this last one a habit, but in our online world, sometimes it needs to be. The life of a Freelancer or Virtual Assistant can be lonely, especially if you’ve recently made the transition from the corporate world to a home office. It’s easy to get caught up in a cycle of working and taking care of our household, without a lot of social interaction.

Social needs vary depending on the individual, so you can design this habit in whatever way works for you. I’m quite introverted, so for me, a short exchange of witty Facebook comments is enough to make me say, “That was a fun visit!” If you’re more extroverted, you might want to schedule regular visits or phone calls with friends, or even a fun night out to recharge your social batteries.

As we often mention here at VAClassroom, belonging to business mentoring or mastermind groups is another healthy social habit. It allows you to connect with like-minded individuals who can support you, challenge you, and listen to your concerns in a welcoming environment.

You might even consider attending a networking event where you can connect with potential clients face to face. Doing so gives you a chance to work on your elevator speech and recognize your skills and abilities. Networking also builds mutually supportive relationships that can benefit you and your business.

So remember, a HEALTHY entrepreneur is an EFFECTIVE entrepreneur! These are just seven of the many healthy habits we can adopt to make ourselves more productive in our work and life.

Let us know in the comments below which ones you find most helpful and if there are any others you’d add to the list!