Author Archives: Jena Kroeker

How to Pick the Right Tagline for Your Business

Did you eat “The Breakfast of Champions” today? Was your coffee “Good to the Last Drop”? Many of us may recognize these taglines from two famous brands – Wheaties cereal and Maxwell House coffee.

According to Entrepreneur.com’s Small Business Encyclopedia, a tagline can be defined as  “A catch phase or small group of words that are combined in a special way to identify a product or company.”

This article by Laura Lake titled “The Marketing Definition of a Tagline” also give a helpful description:

“That’s a tagline, a short, memorable description that–hopefully–becomes something like a public earworm, getting stuck in people’s brains. A good one may be used for years to come, tossed into conversations as a long-living reminder of the product [it’s] attached to.”

The moment I hear the words “good to the last drop,” I immediately think of Maxwell House coffee. And “The Breakfast of Champions” tagline reminds me of old commercials from the late ‘80s and early ‘90s where basketball player Michael Jordan would say, “You better eat your Wheaties.” In fact, I used to quote that commercial at school, saying, “I’d better eat my Wheaties before that exam.”

Screenshot via https://www.wheaties.com/

In our Freelance 101 course, co-founder and instructor Craig Cannings explains that as a freelancer or virtual assistant, you are a brand too. And your tagline uniquely identifies your business so it can become a household name.

But how do you choose the right tagline? Here are four steps you can follow:

1. Brainstorm what your business is all about.

When creating your tagline, Craig says the big question is “What kind of brand do you want to convey?” Or “What do you want your business to be known for?” First you need to step back and take a close look at yourself and your business. Understand who you are and what you do.

Some key ingredients that make up your brand are

• Your unique personality traits
• Your values
• Your passions
• Your skills and experience
• Your target market

In an article titled “How To Write a Great Tagline For Your Company,” Paul Suggett also recommends listing your strengths and weaknesses to spark ideas. For example, Avis Car Rental used the tagline “We Try Harder,” acknowledging that they were a smaller company than Hertz.

At this stage you might want to use an online tool like MindMeister to visualize your thoughts.

Screenshot via https://www.mindmeister.com/

2. Describe your business in a few sentences.

After you’ve brainstormed the key ingredients that make up your brand, pick out some words and phrases from your brainstorming and mould them into a brief description. You can think of it as the type of description you’d include on an About Page or a LinkedIn profile, about five or six sentences.

As you create your description, focus on these elements:

• What you do (the main purpose of your business)
• What services you offer
• What clients you work for

Michael Luchies gives some good advice in his article “The 8 Characteristics of a Perfect Tagline: Picking the Right Motto or Slogan for Your Small Business.” He says,

“One of the simplest and most important characteristics of a great tagline is that it aligns with the brand it’s associated with. Your brand isn’t just the name of a business, a logo, or a building; it’s a cohesive collection of everything your company does and represents to the world. Your tagline is a piece of that, and it has to fit in with everything else your brand stands for.”

He stresses the importance of making sure your tagline represents your brand properly and flows with the name of your business. For instance, the tone should match the lightheartedness or seriousness of your brand. Ali the Happy VA is an example of a company whose name and brand inspire a lighthearted tagline.

3. Edit your description down to two or three sentences.

This process is good practice for editing content. Your goal is to make your description as concise as possible so you can grab its essence. Now that you have five or six sentences, try whittling them down to two or three sentences. Sometimes at this stage you might even end up with one long sentence.

Here’s an example that Craig provides, describing his personal brand:

Screenshot via https://my.freelanceu.com/courses/freelance-101

If we consider the Wheaties cereal example, we could craft a short description like this:

“Wheaties is a hearty, satisfying breakfast cereal to help people start their day off right. It gives athletes and sports champions the energy and strength to succeed.”

And if we think about Maxwell House coffee, we could say,

“Maxwell House strives to provide quality coffee products that taste good from the first sip to the last drop at the bottom of the mug.”

As you can see, the taglines for these last two brands are hidden in the descriptions. It’s simply a matter of manipulating the phrasing to tease them out.

4. Trim your description into a bite-sized phrase or sentence.

In the Maxwell House and Wheaties descriptions above, I worked backwards from the taglines. But let’s pretend we’ve never heard their taglines before so we can watch them emerge from the longer sentences.

And a word of warning for this stage – As Charles Gaudet advises in his article, “How To Craft A Powerful Tagline For Your Business,” you don’t need to worry about creating a tagline that’s “overly clever or cute.” People just need to be able to decipher what you do and what your value is. At the same time, he advises injecting a little personality into your tagline.

But as you inject personality, try to resist the urge to make your tagline a joke. In Paul Suggett’s article, he says a tagline is “not an attempt to make people laugh; it is something that should make people think of your company and what your product or service represents when they hear or see the tagline.”

The same could be said for taglines that are negatively political or shocking. Be sure that your taglines are memorable for positive reasons.

So, turning to our Wheaties example, what phrases can we pull out of these two sentences?

“Wheaties is a hearty, satisfying breakfast cereal to help people start their day off right. It gives athletes and sports champions the energy and strength to succeed.”

We could come up with a few possible taglines:

• “Hearty, satisfying breakfast cereal”
• “Breakfast energy for athletes”
• “Cereal for success”

And from the Maxwell House example, we could pull out these phrases:

• “Quality coffee that tastes good”
• “Good from the first sip to the last drop”
• And the actual tagline, “Good to the last drop”

With your own tagline, you’d just continue to follow this process, whittling down the description into one bite-sized sentence or phrase that distinguishes you.

Since we already know that Wheaties chose the phrase, “The Breakfast of Champions,” it’s easy to see why it’s a great tagline. First, it’s short and succinct – very catchy and memorable. Second, who doesn’t want to feel and perform like a champion when they eat breakfast? And how many cereals can boast that? In just a few words, Wheaties has communicated its value and how it’s distinct from other cereals.

Screenshot via https://www.wheaties.com/history/

The Wheaties website explains the origin of its tagline:

“In the 1930s, testimonials from athletic greats like Lou Gehrig and 46 of the 51 players on the 1939 Major League All-Star team turned the modest wheat flake into something of a legend. It was what you ate if you wanted to be like the professionals. They even revamped the product to match the marketing, truly making it The Breakfast of Champions.”

Sometimes your tagline finds you. But if not, you can create the ideal one for your business using the steps we’ve outlined in this quick guide. As Craig says in the Freelance 101 course, we should think of taglines as a “Mini Mission Statement.” In a few catchy words, they communicate what we do, what we’re all about, and the benefit that we offer clients.

Have you found it difficult to create a tagline for your freelance or virtual assistant business? Please share your thoughts in the comments below. And If you’ve already created a tagline, we’d love to hear any tips or strategies that worked for you!

Three Keys to a Winning Business Card

Picture this scenario: You’re at the grocery store, and you run into a potential client for your freelance or virtual assistant business. He expresses interest in contacting you about your services, so you… ask him to pass you his cellphone so you can type your details into his contacts.

Ummm… no, let’s try that again.

You reach into your purse or wallet and hand him a stunning business card. Your potential client reads it, smiles, and says he’ll be in touch shortly.

Much better!

You’ve just made a lasting, tangible impact. As our world becomes increasingly digital, we still gravitate towards “real things.” David Sax discusses this trend in his book, The Revenge of Analog: Real Things and Why They Matter.

And how do you ensure that you’re impressing potential clients? Here are three keys that make up a winning business card:

1. Content

In a small space like a business card, you need to strike a balance between including enough content, but not too much. I’m sure many of us have seen business cards where we almost needed a magnifying glass to read the text. In his article “11 Tips and Tricks for Creating Stunning Business Cards” Igor Ovsyannykov says, “Think carefully about which contact details to include – you need to strike a balance between providing enough points of contact, without making your card look cluttered.”

So, before you create your business card, ask yourself the following questions:

• How do I show who I am?
• How do I communicate my business’s BIG WHY?
• How do I illustrate my services?
• How can my potential client contact me?
• How much of this information needs to be text, and how much can be communicated through images?

Below is an example of a business card created by instructor Lindsay Marsh in our Graphic Design Foundations program.

Some of the elements included are

• Name of business owner
• Business Title
• Phone number
• Email address
• Social Media icons
• Website address

Other elements you may choose to include are

• Your business logo
• Your tagline
• Your service offerings (in words, images, or icons)

This business card from The Stock and Sauce Co. has a cool way of using the back of the card to illustrate its product and highlight the tagline.

 

Since this company has a physical presence at the Calgary Farmer’s Market, it also includes the physical address on the front of the card. For online business owners, a physical address is usually unnecessary. You may, however, wish to include a P.O. Box address if you anticipate receiving mail from your clients.

2. Comfort

The word “comfort” can mean many things. In this case I’m referring to whether a business card fits comfortably into your client’s hand and whether it fits the style of your business.

Here are some ways to make your business card “comfortable”:

Select the right size and shape. In his article “How to design a business card: the ultimate guide,” Matt Ellis shares the following size recommendations for business cards in different parts of the world:

North American Standard: 3.5 × 2 in. (88.9 × 50.8 mm)
European Standard: 3.346 × 2.165 in. (85 × 55 mm)
Oceania Standard:  3.54 × 2.165 in. (90 × 55 mm)


Although you don’t have to limit yourself to these sizes, it’s good to know what the standards are. In any case, knowing your audience is the key. You’ll want to tailor the size and shape to the clients you’d like to attract. For example, do you see them putting business cards in their wallet, their purse, a special holding case, or simply their pocket?

Use your business’s style and branding colors. As with your website, social media, and other channels, your business card should be an authentic representation of your brand.

This business card for Gramma Dee’s Gourmet Snacks echoes the packaging on its gluten-free food products.

Screenshot via https://www.grammadees.com/products

So, as you’re planning your own business card, think about how you can incorporate your individual branding colors, logo, and style. When clients visit your website or social media accounts, they should see a continuity between these channels and your card.

And when your business card fits your brand, it’ll create a sense of familiarity, comfort, and confidence in your services.

3. Creativity

So far, we’ve talked about a lot of “shoulds” when designing business cards. Now let’s talk about some “coulds.” As you’re thinking about your virtual business, visualize how you’d define your brand using paper and ink. In addition to different paper stocks, you can get creative with shapes, finishes, and specialty styles.

Here are some options offered by Vistaprint (screenshots via https://www.vistaprint.ca):

MOO offers this MiniCards option.

Screenshot via https://www.moo.com/ca/products/minicards.html

And Jukebox offers this embossed design.

Screenshot via https://www.jukeboxprint.com/embossed-business-cards

But these examples just scratch the surface. Online printing sites offer many more options to choose from.

And you may find inspiration in this recent article by Ryan McCready. It contains an infographic with “The 8 Biggest Graphic Design Trends That Will Dominate 2019.” Some trends that could be applied to business cards are

• “Pops of vivid color”
• “Light & dark color schemes”
• “New colorful minimalism”
• “Dynamic & detailed hand-drawn illustrations”

Depending on your target audience, try something new and creative or stick to simpler, more traditional designs. The choice is up to you. Just make sure that the design accurately reflects your personal and business brand. In an article titled “How to use design to build your personal brand,” the Canva website shares this advice:

“Design is important when building a personal brand because above all the minutiae of imagery, color, type, and layout, ‘designing’ yourself demonstrates that you have considered how to communicate who you are and what you stand for,” says [Marc] Anderson, designer and founder of Rainfall, a design and branding studio that’s produced work for major brands like Chase and Spotify…. “Design simply means that you are conscious of what you are doing or saying, and how that is perceived.”

The Best Places to Get Business Cards Printed Online

We mentioned a few online printing services in the examples above. Below are some more details to help you choose which one works best for you.

Vistaprint – https://www.vistaprint.com

Screenshot via https://www.vistaprint.ca

Vistaprint is available internationally and offers a wide selection of shapes, paper stocks, finishes, and specialty designs. They’ll send you a free business card sample kit that allows you to feel the different types of paper before making a decision. Vistaprint’s prices are reasonable, with frequent discounts.

MOO – https://www.moo.com

Screenshot via https://www.moo.com/ca/products/business-cards.html

MOO’s prices are more expensive, but they have a fantastic selection of premium and luxury papers, as well as cotton business cards made from recycled t-shirt fabric. You can choose foil, matte or gloss finishes, among many other options. MOO offers a free Sample Pack too.

Jukebox – https://www.jukeboxprint.com

Screenshot via https://www.jukeboxprint.com/

Jukebox offers standard, specialty, and recycled options with prices more comparable to Vistaprint. You can check pricing using “basic mode” or “advanced mode” for more specific instructions. The selection of styles, finishes, and stocks is impressive. You can even choose to print cork business cards.

It’s amazing how such a small piece of paper can make a big impact. Even though we work in a virtual world, we can share tangible reminders of the quality of our freelance or virtual assistant business.

So, before you run into your next potential client, consider these keys to a winning business card. You never know when you might have an opportunity to make a lasting impression.

What elements do you consider important in a business card? Do you have any other online printing services you’d recommend? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!

Image of an orange colored light bulb with tiny filaments visible inside the bulb. The bulb is at the center with a pinkish background and light blue at the upper and lower right corners.

Five Ways to Create a Winning Entrepreneurial Mindset

In a book called Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Carol Dweck says, “The view you adopt for yourself profoundly affects the way you live your life. It can determine whether you become the person you want to be and whether you accomplish the things you value.”

In your Virtual Assistant or freelance business, are you the person you want to be? Are you accomplishing the things you value? As virtual business owners, we are entrepreneurs, but do we always think and act like entrepreneurs?

Sometimes we might catch ourselves behaving as employees, especially when we’ve come from or are still working in the corporate world. And chances are at some point in our younger days we were employees, even if it meant working a summer job at an ice cream shop.

In our “Entrepreneurial Mindset” course at Freelance University, co-founder and instructor Craig Cannings defines entrepreneurs as having a “growth mindset.” This type of mindset is characterized by qualities like problem-solving, adaptability, decisiveness, leadership, optimism, and many more. He also stresses that if we don’t want our clients to treat us as employees, we need to set the tone from the beginning.

But how do we set that tone? I think that we need to start with ourselves. We need to believe that we’re entrepreneurs before we can act like entrepreneurs.

To help us win the tug of war between our employee and entrepreneur sides, here are five ways we can create a winning entrepreneurial mindset:

1. Choose Your Words Wisely.

We often relate this advice to how we speak to other people, but in this case it applies to how we speak to ourselves. To foster an entrepreneurial mindset, it helps to think and speak in entrepreneurial language. If you’ve worked in the corporate world in Human Resources, for example, you may be able to identify many “employee/employer” words.

For the purposes of this blog post, I’ll share a few words and phrases that I and other freelancers or VAs may say or think about, along with some possible alternatives:

– Instead of “employer” or “boss,” say “client.”

– Instead of “job,” say “business opportunity” or “service.”

– Instead of “failure” or “mistake” say “learning opportunity.”

– Instead of “working for” your client, say you are “working with” your client.

– Instead of “change,” say “transition,” “new chapter,” or “new journey.”

– Instead of “problem,” say “challenge.”

– Instead of “worker,” say “business owner.”

The list goes on and on. As you travel on your entrepreneurial journey, you may come across instances where you find yourself speaking and thinking like an employee. For almost 18 years, I submitted what I called a “resignation letter” to my clients when I ended a contract. Then a couple months ago I discovered that the more entrepreneurial way of describing it was not “resignation letter” but “written notice.”

So, be prepared to learn more entrepreneurial words along the way and incorporate them into your self-talk.

2. Employ Yourself with Tools.

If you’ve been a Virtual Assistant or online professional for a while, you may already have collection of software that helps you run your business. When you look closely at these tools, you’ll find that they also help you think like an entrepreneur:

– Project Management Software like Trello (https://trello.com/): You’re setting vision and goals for your business.

– Accounting Software like FreshBooks (https://www.freshbooks.com/): You’re responsible for what happens in your business.

– Client Onboarding Tools like 17hats (https://www.17hats.com/) or Dubsado (https://www.dubsado.com/): Your client is not your employer, and you’re creating healthy boundaries and expectations.

– Virtual Assistant or Freelancer Conferences and Online Training: You’re committed to continuous learning.

– Time Tracking Software like Toggl (https://toggl.com/): You’re making good use of your time and optimizing your productivity.

When you think of the apps and software in your business, take a moment to identify how they illustrate your leadership, vision, and goals as a business owner. Observing these qualities will help shape your view of yourself.

3. Schedule Your Communication.

When your client emails you, do you jump to attention and write him or her back right away? Many of us may carry a feeling left over from the days when we needed to be at our employer’s beck and call. Maybe you worked in an office where someone would come over to your desk and summon you to a meeting. Maybe your employer would walk by your desk and deposit a pile of papers for you to process immediately. Or maybe you worked on call and had to keep your phone by your side at all times.

As an entrepreneur and online business owner, you’re free to decide when you’ll answer messages and respond to requests. You may need to read that sentence again and repeat it to yourself, because it can be a tough one to accept. But to embrace an entrepreneurial mindset, you need to give yourself permission to communicate on your terms.

Here are some ways you can communicate as an entrepreneur and still serve your clients well:

– Decide on a reasonable response time and let your client know when they can expect a reply from you (e.g. within 24 hours, unless you’ve prearranged to be more responsive during busy times like a product launch).

– Decide how you’ll communicate with your client (e.g. which types of communication you’re comfortable with and which are off limits).

– Batch your emails and other messages so that you respond during the time frame you choose and give your full attention to answering requests.

– If possible, turn off your device notifications while you’re working on other tasks so you aren’t tempted to respond immediately.

This strategy can take a lot of work, but try to be consistent. As long as your client is aware of your prearranged response time, they won’t worry that you’ve dropped off the face of the earth. If you’re onboarding a new client, you can be upfront about your communication schedule in your contract.

4. Govern Your Own Work Schedule.

In addition to scheduling your communication, you are free to schedule your own work times as an entrepreneur. Good clients who are aware of the entrepreneurial mindset often reflect it in their requests. For example, they may say things like this:

– “I’d like to create an ebook on such and such. What is a reasonable time frame for you to complete this project?”

– “I’ve sent you such and such pieces of content. When you have a moment, could you please review them and send me any revisions?”

– “I’d like such and such task completed. I’ve set a deadline of such and such. Let me know if that works for you?”

When they word things this way (and even if they don’t), give yourself permission to decide what time frames work best for your business. If you do consulting work, tools like Acuity Scheduling also give you freedom to block out times when you’re not available. In his article, “Entrepreneurs Are Scheduling Their Days Down to the Minute for Ultimate Success,” John Rampton recommends maintaining proper balance by adding personal events with friends and family to your Google Calendar too. He says, “If it’s important enough to be in your schedule — then it’s important enough for you to stay committed to the event.”

Embrace this freedom, and you’re embracing an entrepreneurial mindset. Unlike the days when you needed to submit a vacation request to Human Resources or to your employer, you make the call as a virtual business owner. Of course, there may be circumstances where you schedule vacations to work around your clients’ busy times, but remember that is always your decision.

5. Enrich Your Client Relationships.

I remember times when I worked as an employee, and I strictly followed the rules and performed tasks just to finish them. In an office, I would file papers and never stop to consider whether the filing system could be improved. I contributed nothing beyond following orders.

If there was a problem (which I’d think of as a problem and not a “challenge”), I’d rely on my employer to fix it. Or I’d take his or her advice on how to fix it, without offering any suggestions or stepping outside the box to find a solution.

In an article titled “6 Tips For Growing With An Entrepreneurial Mindset,” Arash Asli says that “by treating tasks as problems to be solved — and thinking about how you can provide value at every single turn — you can continually put the entrepreneurial mindset into practice.”

So, instead of merely completing an ebook project, an entrepreneur would take the client’s suggestions and consider whether there are other ways to add value to it. If a challenge arises, entrepreneurs may consult a client but also embrace the freedom to make suggestions of their own.

And when it comes to mistakes (or learning opportunities), I like this advice given by Jayanth Sharma in his article “How to Build an Entrepreneurial Mindset”: 

“Successful entrepreneurs never imagine that they are perfect and know it all. Their curiosity for knowledge and their motivation for self-improvement transcend any setback that a mistake can create. Mistakes are opportunities to understand yourself and the problems in your approach or your implementation. As long as your intentions are correct, making mistakes and persistently trying to resolve them lead to better growth as an individual.”

Creating a winning entrepreneurial mindset is a process that may last throughout your virtual career. It starts with your own perspective and then flows through your behavior to your relationships with clients and colleagues. And by embracing this mindset, you’re sure to become the business owner you’ve always wanted to be!

How do you create an entrepreneurial mindset in your Virtual Assistant or freelance business? Do you find it challenging to shed the attitude of an employee? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!

Five Best Ways to Share Your Message on Video

In your freelance or Virtual Assistant business, do you think of yourself as a celebrity? If you use online video to share your message, you are! And if you haven’t yet, you still can be!

When I was in high school, a local cable TV station interviewed me about some miniature sculptures I’d made and displayed in an art festival. They asked me how I made them and gave me a chance to share my thoughts and creative process.

It was the early ‘90s, so the show aired at a certain time, and students walking through the school hallways caught a glimpse of it on TVs hung in the corner. My parents recorded the show on our VCR so we could watch it again.

Image of a black video cassette.

Image courtesy of Pixabay

After the interview, I enjoyed a small burst of popularity. People said they saw me on TV, and they were interested in learning more about my art. For a while, I was seen as a bit of an authority on miniature sculptures.

Fast-forward to today, and being on TV still has that sparkle and excitement. It gives a person star power and 15 (or more) minutes of fame. In the old days, you had to catch someone on your TV set at the right moment. But now online video is available 24/7. You can catch someone live on your mobile device, or watch on demand from the palm of your hand.

It’s a great way to share your message with the world in an accessible manner. If I had been making those sculptures now, I wouldn’t have had to wait for someone to request an interview. I could have created my own instructional videos and broadcast them over the internet. And it would have been possible to get a lot of exposure.

The online videos would also have a longer shelf life. I have no idea where the VHS recording of my old interview is, so I have no way of replaying it. My miniature sculptures have been long forgotten.

But your message can be long remembered! Wyzowl recently published some eye-opening statistics from their survey on “The State of Video Marketing 2019.” They discovered that 87% of people would like to see brands create more videos in 2019. And 96% have learned more about a product or service by watching an explainer video.

So the time is ripe to leverage this important content marketing channel in your online business! And to help you get started, here are five of the most popular video platforms people are using to broadcast their message with the world.

When choosing a platform, consider these two factors:

• Which one will most effectively reach your target audience?
• Which one provides features that suit the types of videos you’d like to create?

1. Facebook Live and On-Demand – https://live.fb.com/

Screenshot via https://live.fb.com/about/

If your target audience hangs out on Facebook, you may want to use Facebook Live. This platform lets you connect with viewers instantly and interact with them in real time through your Facebook Page or profile.

Your followers can receive a notification when your live broadcast begins, and you can respond to their comments either verbally or in writing. You can also see people’s live reactions throughout the broadcast – their “Like,” “Love,” “Haha,” “Wow,” and other sentiments.

After the live broadcast, your recorded video can remain on your Page or profile, allowing followers to watch it on demand. If you’re a student of Freelance University, you may have seen co-founder Craig Cannings’ Facebook Live sessions that take place once a month. We look forward to these sessions as a way to hear Craig’s message and interact with him through comments either during or after the broadcast. It’s a great way for both Craig and students to be heard.

Facebook Live is free with a Facebook account.

2. IGTV – https://business.instagram.com/a/igtv

Image of a man and woman dancing on a wooden floor with light curtains closed behind them.

Screenshot via https://www.instagram.com/

If you use Instagram as a social media marketing channel, you may already be familiar with Instagram Stories, where you can post photos or short one-minute videos that disappear after 24 hours.

IGTV is available through a standalone app or on the web. It lets you upload vertical, full-screen videos that can be up to an hour long, and they won’t disappear. Instead, they remain on your IGTV page. Each page is called a “Channel,” and viewers can search for channels to watch through their regular Instagram app.

An Instagram Business article titled “Introducing IGTV” shares the exciting potential of this new platform:

“As with stories, IGTV is built on Instagram leveraging a global community of more than 800M people. When your followers open IGTV, they will instantly see original content from you, and new people can also discover your brand.”

IGTV is free with an Instagram account.

3. YouTube Live –  https://www.youtube.com/live_dashboard_splash

Screenshot via https://www.youtube.com

According to Statista’s “YouTube: Statistics & Data” page, this online video platform has “almost 1.5 billion users worldwide,” a figure that’s “projected to grow to 1.86 billion global YouTube users in 2021.”

So, if your target audience is on YouTube, your message can have a wide reach! If YouTube were around when I was creating miniature sculptures, I could have started my own channel and broadcast tutorials to my classmates.

For your freelance or Virtual Assistant business, you can reach your audience through the “Stream now” option, where you spontaneously “jump online” to share your message. Or you can schedule “Live events,” where you can control when to start and stop the stream, and preview it before you go live. You can also reply to your viewers’ comments during the live broadcast.

If you’d prefer not to broadcast live, you can create videos beforehand and upload them to your YouTube channel to be watched on demand.

Screenshot via https://www.youtube.com

YouTube is free with a Google account.

4. Vimeo – https://vimeo.com/

Screenshot via https://vimeo.com/

If you enjoy being part of a video creation community, but with higher video quality and no ads, Vimeo might be the right choice for you and your business. According to the Vimeo site, you can “distribute your videos across devices to 240M+ creators, viewers, and fans.”

This platform provides an ad-free player that supports HDR, 360 video, and 4K Ultra HD. You can easily publish videos as native posts on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, or you can embed a playlist on your website. The Vimeo player can be customized and branded with your logo.

Another great feature is the new Vimeo app on macOS, which includes automatic uploading. You can also integrate Vimeo with tools like Dropbox, Google Drive, Final Cut Pro X, Adobe Premiere Pro, iMovie, Slack, Squarespace, and more. The Premium paid plan lets you use live streaming to reach your audience in full HD 1080p, with unlimited live events streamed to multiple destinations.

With a Business or Premium paid plan, you can add email capture to your videos for lead generation, and sync your captured emails with Infusionsoft, MailChimp, Campaign Monitor, or Constant Contact. Videos can end with a call to action, sending viewers to any desired link.

The Vimeo Basic plan is free with limited features. Paid plans start at $13/month CAD (discounts with annual billing).

5. Wistia – https://wistia.com/

https://wistia.com/video-marketing

Another option for video marketing is Wistia, a popular platform built specifically for businesses. This platform is also ad-free, and it doesn’t show suggested video content.

You can customize the player, as well as the video thumbnails, and add calls to action and Wistia’s email collection form, Turnstile. Wistia also includes video SEO elements so your videos will rank for your website’s pages rather than for YouTube.

Wistia can be integrated with tools like MailChimp, ActiveCampaign, and Constant Contact, as well as HubSpot, Zendesk, and many more.

By installing the free Wistia for Chrome extension, you can share a video via Gmail and include it on a Squarespace or WordPress website. You can also share videos via social media.

In addition, Wistia offers a free or paid Soapbox Chrome extension to create quick presentation videos.

Wistia is available as a free plan with a 3-video limit. Pro plans start at $99/month USD. The Soapbox Chrome extension is available for free, or you can access Pro features for $300/year.

So there you have it, five best ways to share your message on video! There’s a star power to traditional TV, but it’s hard to beat the personal connection you can build with your target audience through online video.

And the sky’s the limit – it’s YOUR message, so be unique and tailor it to your own particular Virtual Assistant or freelance business. The tools are there to expand your reach far and wide.

Have you used these video platforms in your virtual business? Are there any others you’d recommend? Please share your thoughts below!

Image of someone holding their cell phone with their left-hand with two pictures as a background.

5 Common Distractions and How to Overcome Them

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to run your Virtual Assistant or freelance business from a desert island? Although this situation is not ideal, there are certain advantages. I imagine there’d be fewer distractions than there are at home.

No family members asking when dinner will be ready… no guests arriving unexpectedly… no laundry to fold… no ice cream in the freezer, beckoning you to come and have a snack…

Now think about a day in the life of your online business. How often are you able to really dig in and complete a task? How often do you feel like you’ve been productive?

A Steelcase article titled “Think Better” shares some interesting statistics about distraction in the workplace. For example, a University of California, Irvine, study found that it takes 23 minutes to return to a task after being interrupted.

Stats like those mean we could lose hours of productivity per day. What we really want to achieve is what the above article describes as “flow”:

“The direct contrast to multitasking is what psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Ph.D., has famously named ‘flow’—being completely immersed in a challenge over time. It’s considered by many to be our most productive state. Flow rarely happens by accident, and it can’t be sustained indefinitely. During flow, however, we’re absorbed and engaged in what we’re trying to accomplish.”

With that in mind, here are some strategies for overcoming 5 common distractions that can interrupt your flow:

1. Friends and Family

One of the perks of working from home as a freelancer or Virtual Assistant is that we get to have a flexible schedule and be closer to friends and family. And one of the challenges of working from home is that we get to have a flexible schedule and be closer to friends and family.

The key is not to bend to suit everyone in your life. Instead, use your flexibility to design a schedule that lets you be productive during work hours and fully present during family and social times.

Here are some common challenges you might face when it comes to the important people in your life:

  • The expectation that because you work from home, you’re available 24/7
  • Your own feelings of guilt that you’re taking time away from your family to work
  • Some confusion among friends and family about when you work
  • Misconceptions that if you’re working from home, you aren’t really working

The benefits of your flexible schedule is that you can be original and handcraft your own workday to suit your needs. If you have kids, you may find that early mornings or late evenings work best. If they go to school and you have the house to yourself, you may find the daytime works well.

Olivia Krauth shares some great advice from remote workers in her article, “11 ways to eliminate distractions while working from home.” One suggestion is to post a schedule on the door of your home office to help your family know when you’re available and when they shouldn’t distract you. Krauth explains,

“A schedule can also make working from home seem more official, so people might be more inclined to respect your boundaries, and less inclined to ask you to run errands in the middle of the day, Trinity Manning, CEO of OnceLogix, said.”

2. Communications and Notifications

As I’m writing this blog post, my phones and other electronic devices could interrupt me at any time. In the last hour, I’ve received an email, a Facebook notification, and battled my own urge to check Instagram. Earlier this afternoon, the landline phone rang with an important call that lasted half an hour.

In a previous VAClassroom blog post, “Seven Ways to Thrive While Working From Home!” we talk about the importance of batching emails and social media so that you only check and answer messages and comments at certain intervals or certain times of the day.

To keep myself focussed, I often leave my iPad and smartphone on the other side of the room so I won’t be tempted to check Trello or browse Facebook and Instagram. I also try to silence notifications and hide our landline phone in another room.

In an article titled “How To Keep Productive And Motivated While Working From Home,” Bryan Collins recommends using an app called Freedom to schedule times to block distracting sites on your devices. This app can also block internet access with the click of a button.

Screenshot via https://freedom.to/

3. Food and Entertainment

Since my first freelance job was creating closed captioning transcripts, I’ve always had a TV in my office. But now that I no longer work as a closed captionist, I sometimes turn on the TV just for fun. I also get distracted by naps. And years ago, I got distracted by Candy Crush Saga on Facebook.

Sometimes the fridge can be distracting too! Have you ever sat down to work, and your mind drifted to a favorite snack you had just bought? Or some leftover dessert from a dinner party you hosted last night?

This is another case where the benefits of working from home are also challenges. It’s wonderful to have our creature comforts nearby, but if they distract us from our client work, we need to do something to boost our productivity.

Here are some strategies that can help:

• A dedicated home office with a door you can close
• Folding room dividers to create an office nook for yourself if you don’t have access to a dedicated room
• Scheduled break times so you can look forward to some food and entertainment to refresh yourself
• A change of scenery, taking your laptop to a library or coffee shop so you’ll be less tempted by your own fridge and entertainment… and less likely to nap, although I have napped in a library before! 🙂

In his article, “7 Proven Strategies for Overcoming Distractions,” Deep Patel suggests that distraction can also be caused by boredom with our tasks, when our skills exceed the demands of our work. In this case, he advises taking on more challenging work that consumes our attention so we aren’t drawn to the nearest distraction.

4. Housework and Errands

I can’t say I’ve ever had a passion for household chores, but when I first started working from home, it’s amazing how committed I became to dusting and vacuuming. I’d sit down at my desk, and then all of sudden I’d get distracted by dust and clutter. Housework was a way of procrastinating from client work.

Errands can also be a distraction. You sit down to work, and then all of a sudden you realize there’s dry cleaning to pick up. Or you need a certain ingredient to make dinner. Or your child needs a set of pencil crayons for school tomorrow.

In her article “How to Stay Focused When You’re Working from Home,” Elizabeth Grace Saunders suggests that we pretend we’re not working from home and decide what’s appropriate to do during office hours:

“If you do need to take on non-work-related requests during the day, set expectations for how much time you have, based on what your schedule is like in the office. For example, if your family asks you to run errands, estimate what you can do during a lunch hour, then commit only to that. For example, say, ‘I’m happy to pick up the dry cleaning and some milk at lunch, but I won’t have time for full-scale grocery shopping until after work.’ Or break down errands into smaller pieces, such as, ‘I can drop off the car at the mechanic today, but won’t get to calling about the health insurance question until tomorrow.’”

You can also decide which types of housework should be left for non-office hours and which ones might actually promote productivity. For example, if you put laundry in the washer, the cycle often lasts long enough for you to get some work done. You can do a burst of concentrated tasks before the buzzer sounds and lets you know you need to transfer the clothes to the dryer.

If you need to bake muffins, you can mix the batter during the day, put it in the oven, and work until the oven timer sounds. Even better if you get to eat one of those fresh-baked muffins during your break!

5. Background Noise

Sometimes, no matter how carefully we organize our working hours and environment, we’re at the mercy of ambient noise. You might hear traffic sounds, lawn mowers, doors slamming, children practicing violin… The list goes on.

If you’re finding it hard to concentrate, try these helpful tools:

• Noise-cancelling headphones
• Earplugs
• A quiet fan to create white noise
• An app like “A Soft Murmur” to choose your own ambient noise
• A favorite music playlist through apps like Spotify or iTunes

When it comes to music, you have to be careful you don’t end up distracting yourself with your selections. In an article titled “What Listening to Music at Work Does to Your Brain (It’s Pretty Amazing),” Tom Popomaronis provides guidelines for when you should or shouldn’t play music.

For example, if your environment is noisy and you’re doing repetitive work, music can block out distractions and help you focus. However, it’s best to play music you’ve already heard before and choose lyric-free music if your work involves linguistic processing. If you’re participating in a learning activity, Popomaronis says it’s best not to play music at all.

Separating Work Life and Home Life

As we establish productive working hours, we need to figure out a way to separate our work life and home life so our work doesn’t distract us from enjoying our home.

Here are some ways we can create boundaries:

• Take your office hours seriously. In urgent situations, you’ll need to bend, but be consistent so people respect your routine.
• Try to set a limit on the amount of time you’ll talk to friends and loved ones about work. Debriefing the day can be healthy, but venting for too long can cause stress and eat into your non-work hours.
• Create a physical barrier between yourself and work at the end of the day. Turn off your computer, close your office door, cover your laptop with a blanket or remove it from sight.
• Avoid checking emails and social media notifications at mealtimes or family times. Let your loved ones know that you’re present, and give them your full attention.
• Don’t take on more client work than you can handle.

Tyra Seldon gives some wise advice about setting boundaries in her article “3 ways to build a work-life balance”:

“Saying ‘no’ may be incredibly difficult, especially when you are first starting and you are trying to build up your clientele and/or establish your brand. The sooner you become comfortable saying no, or at least having criteria for when a request requires a ‘no’ answer, then the better off you will be in the long haul as those requests start to multiply or they become more time-consuming. The good news is that saying ‘no’ to one thing frees you up to say ‘yes’ to something else.”

For the sake of honesty, I confess that I was distracted several times during the process of writing this post. So I’m definitely a work in progress. But once you know your distractions, you can choose effective strategies to boost your productivity as a Virtual Assistant or freelance business owner.

What distractions do you face when working from home? If you have any tips that have helped you get work done, we’d love to hear from you! Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

Your Guide to Optimizing Your Daily Schedule

“There’s never enough time to do all the nothing you want.”

Have you heard this quote from Calvin and Hobbes, a comic strip by American cartoonist Bill Watterson? As a Freelancer and Virtual Professional, I often feel like I never have enough time to do nothing. I love to just daydream, watch a sunset, putter around, and recharge.

But if I look closely at how I’m using my time during work hours, I notice that I’m often doing nothing when I want to be doing something. As I sit down to write this blog post, I find myself staring into space, thinking about another project on the go. Or in the middle of writing, I’ll hear an email notification, and all of a sudden my attention has shifted to answering messages that aren’t always urgent.

Although I have been doing something, by the end of the day, I feel like I’ve accomplished nothing.

If you’re in this boat too, remember that it’s not always a case of being lazy or irresponsible with our time. Sometimes we’re unproductive because of how much we care about our clients. We get distracted because we want to respond quickly to emails, and we daydream about other projects because we want to do them well.

In any case, here are some tips and strategies to help you optimize your daily schedule so you can get work done:

1. “If I had nine hours to chop down a tree, I’d spend the first six sharpening my ax.” – Abraham Lincoln.

Many activities in life include a warm-up or a “sharpening” of tools. If you play sports or a musical instrument, there’s a period of time where you limber up so you can safely and proficiently accomplish great things.

It’s interesting then that in our businesses, we often hit the ground running before we’re even out of bed. In an article titled “5 tips for optimizing your crazy workday, from a productivity expert,” Courtney Connley shares advice from productivity expert Julie Morgenstern. To start our day off right, Morgenstern recommends “ditching” the smartphone and using a traditional alarm clock to wake up. Doing so can help us “create an enriching morning routine that does not immediately begin with work” instead of reaching for our smartphone and checking emails as soon as we’re awake.

Since YOU are the most important tool in your business, easing into the day with an “enriching morning routine” will make you sharp and ready to accomplish your tasks. This routine may vary, depending on your individual needs and preferences. Some examples are

• A healthy breakfast
• A great cup of coffee
• An early morning workout
• A little bit of TV, music, or reading
• A time of quietness and reflection
• Whatever you need to start the day off right!

2. “Starve your distractions. Feed your focus.” – Anonymous

I like to think I have a good memory and a sharp focus. I can remember watching my parents put up wallpaper in my bedroom when I was two years old. But when I’m distracted, I forget whether I put water in the coffee pot two minutes ago. I also have the dubious distinction of forgetting to put coffee grounds in the filter and brewing up a tasty mug of plain hot water.

As much as possible, it’s important to limit your distractions and create an environment where you can focus deeply on one thing at a time. You may want to silence your email notifications and plan regular intervals to check your messages. You may want to close the door to your office so that other activity in the house won’t interrupt you. And you need to find a way to focus your mind on the task at hand.

If you charge by the hour, or if your client requires timesheets each month, you may already be familiar with time tracking software and Pomodoro timers. Setting a timer like Toggl for a certain period of time, especially when it’ll be recorded on a timesheet, is a good way to “feed your focus.” Even better if your promise yourself a nice break and reward at the end of your concentrated work time.

In a previous blog post titled “Ten Tools for Working Smarter and Faster in Your Virtual Business,” we also discuss RescueTime and other handy software and apps that can help limit distractions and optimize your efficiency.

And if your mind drifts and you have an “Aha!” moment about another project, sometimes scribbling the ideas down on a piece of paper or typing them into an app like Evernote can help you do a quick brain dump and then return to the task at hand.

3. “Success is 20% skills and 80% strategy. You might know how to read, but more importantly, what’s your plan to read?” – Jim Rohn

It’s hard to be productive without a plan. Depending on what stage you’re at in your Virtual Assistant or Freelance journey, you may have one client or twenty clients. You may have varied tasks or similar tasks. Whatever the case, coming up with a plan of attack can help you optimize your daily schedule.

Sujan Patel recommends we “eat the frog first” in his article, “Optimize Your Daily Schedule for Maximum Productivity — Here’s How.” He explains,

“If you eat a frog first — do your worst task before anything else — then the rest of your tasks will seem easy in comparison. You’ll be able to better focus on them because you won’t be thinking about that dreaded task.”

He also recommends grouping your similar tasks together and getting those done in one chunk of time. In my case, I would follow his advice by answering emails and social media comments within the same time frame, and designating a different time frame for all kinds of research (like content research for an article I’m going to write and internet research for a client). Then I would group all types of editing into one time frame, and article writing for another separate time frame.

And these different groups of tasks should ideally fit within a defined office hours schedule you create for yourself. Setting office hours can help you reach your goals for completing tasks and give you a finish line to strive towards.

4. You can have it all. Just not all at once. – Oprah Winfrey

The first few strategies we’ve talked about apply to those hours when we’re working from home on our online businesses. If you’re a full-time Virtual Assistant or Freelancer, you likely have some flexibility for how you plan your time. But what if you’re juggling a job on the side?

You may feel like you’re spinning plates, and the minute you focus on one plate, another one is in danger of falling to the ground. Oprah’s quote is good encouragement to pace yourself. If your goal is to transition to working full-time from home, there may be a few bumps along the way as you prioritize items on your daily schedule. But it’s doable.

In her article “How to start freelancing (without quitting your day job),” Lindsay Van Thoen says, “The trick is making sure that your freelance life doesn’t interfere with your day job.” She advises setting expectations with your clients so they’re aware that you’re unavailable at certain times.

In other words, avoid doing your Virtual Assistant or Freelance work while you’re at your other job. It’s like the strategy we mentioned above about grouping similar tasks together. It’s hard to focus and be productive if you’re dividing your attention.

And then there’s all those good things like sleep, recreation, and quality time with family and friends. If you’re working an eight-hour job outside the home, it’s hard to fit everything in. But the juggling act can be beneficial, as Ayush Goyal explains in an article titled “How Freelancing is an Energy Booster for Full-Time Working Professionals.” He says,

“Working on something apart from what you did throughout the day at the office actually maintains a balance in work. It has a huge impact on the mind game that makes one feel more relaxed during office hours too.”

In my freelance journey, I’ve found that it’s important to pinpoint when you’re most productive and decide what type of schedule works for you. If you’re a morning person, you could get up earlier and fit in some virtual work before you head out to your other job. If you aren’t a morning person, that type of schedule may quickly burn you out.

If you’re a night owl, you could get up at your usual time and then spend some hours at night on your virtual work. The important thing is to try not to burn the candle at both ends, and make sure you schedule time to recharge on your own and with your loved ones.

So, optimizing your daily schedule is a bit of give and take. But it can be done! As Calvin and Hobbes would say, these tips and strategies we’ve talked about can help you do some of “the nothing you want” by freeing up time that might otherwise be wasted.

How do you maximize your time in your Virtual Assistant or Freelance work? We’d love to hear from you! Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

How to Fire a Client (the Right Way)

Did you know that you have the freedom to fire a client? Sometimes, no matter how long we’ve been Freelancers or Virtual Assistants, it’s hard to shake an employee mindset. We think that if anyone’s going to be fired, it’s us.

But remember that as an online business owner, you have the freedom to choose who you want to work with. If a client relationship becomes unbearable, you aren’t stuck with it. You can choose to fire that client and find another one.

In a recent VAClassroom University Virtual Office Hours session, co-founder Craig Cannings discussed ways to manage client expectations and tactfully address concerns. In every client relationship, the hope is that we can come to a mutually beneficial agreement that respects both parties and upholds the terms of our contract.

But sometimes difficult clients ignore our concerns and continue the way they are. That’s when you need to consider finishing off your project and leaving them. Craig calls these types of clients “Demanding Dan.” Their behavior is degrading and disrespectful, akin to workplace bullying. As Craig says, “There’s no place for clients like that in your business.”

Important note: If you are being sexually harassed or feel unsafe as a result of your client’s behavior, please contact your local authorities and seek professional help. In other circumstances, the below strategies may apply.

Warning Signs for When You Need to Consider Firing a Client

In an article titled “How to Fire a Horrible Client,” Felicia Sullivan explains the difference between a terrible client and a challenging one:

“Bad clients don’t respect your expertise, time, or work ethic, while challenging customers might simply have a work style that clashes with your own, or they’re dealing with unnatural levels of bureaucracy, or they’re likely raising the bar for the work you’re able to produce.”

This difference is important because, as Sullivan says, “You can adjust your style and process to the challenging client, but the horrible one will never be a true partner.”

With that in mind, let’s take another look at our Demanding Dan character to see what prevents him from ever being a true partner:

1. Communication Issues

• You send him an email, and he takes forever to respond. Sometimes you ask him a question in advance of a project due date, and he leaves you hanging until the very last minute.
• He texts or phones you outside of your defined office hours, expecting you to take business calls late at night and on weekends or holidays.
• He refuses to answer your questions clearly. Sometimes it seems like he’s being purposely vague so he doesn’t have to commit to something.

2. Unreasonable Expectations

• He expects you to be at his beck and call for everything from “What’s the URL for such and such,” to “Send me this document right now.” When people ask your work schedule, you start telling them that you work “on call.”
• He expects you to finish projects in an unreasonably short period of time. When you explain why it will take longer, he refuses to accept your timeline.
• He expects you to learn complicated, specialized tasks outside of your training and niche. When you refer him to another Freelancer or Virtual Assistant who specializes in that skill, he complains that it should be easy for anyone to do.

3. Unacceptable Scope Creep

• Demanding Dan loves scope creep. Unexpected tasks are not added to the contract as an amendment. You’re still being paid the same as you were before, with the same timelines.
• Your tasks change drastically from what you were originally hired for. He tells you that it’s part of your role, and if you don’t like it, too bad.
• Your skills are not valued. He prefers to think of you as unskilled labor he can train and shape for a desired role rather than benefit from your specialized skills and training.

4. Disrespectful Behavior

• He micromanages and continually second-guesses your competence. No matter how long you work for Demanding Dan, you get the feeling that he still doesn’t trust you, and you have to prove yourself.
• He’s domineering and demanding. His manner towards you is patronizing, and he gives you the sense that you should feel lucky to work for him.
• He attacks your self-esteem, either through overt insults or more subtle backhanded compliments like “You did a great job on that project… I’m surprised.”
• He pays late or doesn’t pay you at all. We explore this topic more thoroughly in our previous blog post “Help! My Client Won’t Pay Me!

These are just a few examples of warning signs that you need to fire a Demanding Dan. You may have some examples of your own. If clients like this are unbending when you tactfully express your concerns and propose mutually beneficial changes, it’s time to let them go with grace and dignity.

Strategies for Letting a Client Go without Burning Bridges

There’s something oddly satisfying about those scenes in movies or TV shows where an employee shouts, “I quit,” and storms out of the office. With clients like Demanding Dan, many of us would be tempted to do the same.

But first of all, we work remotely, so we can’t storm out of their office. And secondly, it’s best to keep our reputation intact.

Here are some tips to help you fire a client the right way:

1. Maintain your professionalism.

In her article “5 Signs That It’s Time to Fire a Client,” Jen Hubley Luckwaldt advises resigning with professionalism the same way you would resign from any other freelance or full-time job. She recommends giving your client plenty of written notice and abiding by the terms of your contract.

She also shares this wise advice:

“Don’t get into the weeds with all the reasons why you’ve decided to quit. If you’ve really decided to go, now is not the time to talk about the poor pay rate or the unreasonable hours. All you need to do is to let them know that you’re not going to be working for them anymore.”

By this point, you’ll have already attempted to address those concerns, so there’s no need to bring them up again.

2. Speak to them in person.

Out of respect for your client, you may want to book a video meeting or phone call with them to follow up on your written notice and give them a chance to share their thoughts. Or you may want to speak with them in person first before submitting your written notice.

In either case, we recommend recording the conversation. Zoom video conferencing is a great option that allows you to record both video and audio from a meeting. Just be sure to let your client know you’re recording this conversation for your own records, not to share with others.

3. Don’t leave them in the lurch.

Treat your client as you would like to be treated. Although you might prefer to drop everything and run, it’s often best to finish a project or negotiate an appropriate endpoint.

Nicole Fallon Taylor gives the following advice in her article “4 Clear Signs You Need to Dump a Freelance Writing Client”:

“Once you’ve given the client your reason, you can offer to stay on for a little longer (through the end of the next project or a specific time frame, depending on the work you had been doing) until they find another freelancer to replace you. Your willingness to ease the transition will assuage any hard feelings, and may even earn you a good recommendation or future referral.”

If your work involves systemic tasks that other members of their team can easily take over, try to time your resignation with downtimes in their business. For example, don’t leave right in the middle of a product launch or major event planning.

4. Don’t air your dirty laundry.

When I was a kid, I was often told to “mind my Ps and Qs”; in other words, mind my manners and be careful what I say. When it comes to a difficult client, be careful who you talk to and where you talk about them.

A good rule of thumb is to never post complaints about them on social media or in email exchanges that could be forwarded. If you belong to a group like our VAClassroom University Facebook Group, you may want to ask for advice on how to handle certain issues. But it’s best to write about them respectfully and never mention clients by name.

The same goes for how you speak about them in person. Be careful who you confide in. Don’t vent about them to mutual acquaintances, and avoid complaining about them in a public place where you may be overheard by their customers or colleagues.

And above all, encourage yourself to frame the experience in a positive manner. Think about what challenges you faced and what you learned. Remember that by walking away from this client, you’ve empowered yourself to seek work that’s fulfilling and enjoyable, with clients who respect and honor your relationship.

Now we’d love to hear from you. As a Freelancer or Virtual Assistant, what strategies do you recommend for letting a client go gracefully? How would these strategies impact your online business?

Are Facebook Messenger Bots the Next Big Marketing Channel?

Does your online business need a bot? The first image that comes into my head is a robot that will make me coffee, bring me lunch, and clean my house when I’m too busy working. But, no, in this case we’re not talking about Rosie the Robot Maid from The Jetsons cartoon.

We’re talking about Facebook Messenger Bots. In a recent report by Facebook IQ titled “Why Messaging Businesses is the New Normal,” statistics show that people and businesses exchange 8 billion messages each month, a growth of 4X, year over year. The report also states, “While convenience and reliability are both important elements of a positive experience, response time may be the key that unlocks meaningful connections.”

When surveying people across 4 markets, Facebook found that 70% in Brazil, 66% in India, 54% in the UK, and 61% in the US expected a faster response when messaging businesses than if they had used another more traditional communication channel.

The report goes on to say, “The expectation of an immediate response may even help explain people’s rising in interest in bots: US conversation on Facebook around chatbots grew 5.6x in a year.”

So, given these statistics, bots could provide real benefits to your business and your clients:

Virtual Assistants and online business owners often serve an international audience. This means living in different time zones where we might be sleeping when a message comes in. If faster responses are expected, the 24/7 availability of a bot could help maintain a vital connection with your audience when it’s physically impossible to answer.

We might be busy working when messages come in. To manage time effectively, we usually recommend batching email and other messages instead of answering them as soon as they arrive. In this case, setting up a bot to take care of some of your immediate messaging needs can keep your audience engaged throughout the day.

Bots can be used to reach out to your audience. In addition to answering support questions, Facebook Messenger bots can market your business or your clients’ businesses through content marketing or sales funnels. We’ll talk more about that below.

Understanding What a Bot Is

Rob Mathison provides a good definition of a bot in his article, “Facebook Messenger Bots for Business: A Guide for Marketers.” He says,

“A messenger bot is a piece of software that uses artificial intelligence (AI) to automate tasks and converse with you. The more you chat with a bot, the more it will learn and the more useful [its] responses should get.”

He further explains that “Bots use AI technology to understand your question, find the right response, and deliver it in as conversational and ‘human’ a way as possible.”

Essentially, if you have a Facebook business page, you can set up a bot to send and receive messages on your client’s or your behalf, either through the Facebook Messenger platform, or with third party software. As in all cases when it comes to marketing, a bot is best used where it will add value to your target audience, and you should be prepared to step in and provide a live human touch when needed.

How Bots Can Effectively Target Your Audience on Facebook

In your business or your clients’ businesses, think about how people connect with your brand. Do they message the Facebook business page frequently? Do they often ask duplicate questions? Do they want a rapid response? Or do they infrequently message, and you’d like to increase their engagement through Facebook Messenger?

With those questions in mind, here are some examples of how bots can effectively target and engage with your audience on Facebook.

Customer Support

If you’ve been working in an online business for a while, you may find that you’re receiving the same types of messages with the same types of questions. When providing email support, you may create a series of canned responses to save you time, or a FAQ page to help people find answers quickly on their own. In Facebook Messenger, a bot can be programmed to automatically answer common questions in a friendly, personable way.

Alexandra Hayes has some great advice in her article “3 Uses of Facebook Messenger Bots to Improve Your Business.” She recommends using Facebook Messenger chatbots to provide automated customer service that’s available instantly 24/7:

“Generally, people ask the same questions again and again. Using a chatbot, you can write down all of the most frequently asked questions and program a personalized response for each. This way, every time customers ask a question that has been already asked, you won’t have to waste any more time or effort.”

She warns, however, that you should let people know they’re talking to a bot and offer them the opportunity to contact a real customer service representative. And she says, “You should create a customer service bot only if you believe it’s truly necessary.”

Content Marketing

According to Alfred Lua in his article, “7 Facebook Messenger Marketing Strategies You Can Try Today,” HubSpot decided to find out whether Facebook Messenger might be a better way than email to deliver content to readers. For four weeks, they tested giving people the option of receiving content through Facebook Messenger rather than filling out a form to receive it by email. Lua says that at the end of the test period, HubSpot discovered that using Messenger to deliver content resulted in a 242% higher open rate and a remarkable 619% higher click rate.

Although email is still a strong marketing channel, it makes sense that Facebook Messenger would be an effective way to deliver content. After all, how many times have you sat with your smartphone and chatted with people on your messaging app, or clicked on a video or article to pass the time. It’s a handy way to digest content during your coffee break or while you’re waiting for an appointment. And even better if you can enjoy the personality of the bot who’s delivering the content.

To provide value and encourage increased engagement from your audience, John Hall gives the following advice in his article, “How Chatbots Are Influencing the Future of Content Marketing”:

“You shouldn’t view bots as robot servants, blindly delivering content to users. Instead, treat chatbots as extensions of your brand — because a customer who has an experience with a bot, positive or negative, will remember that as an experience with the company. If your bot does what it’s designed to, then you’re better poised to stay top of mind with your audience and engage them with content over time.”

Options for Creating Facebook Messenger Bots

Although it’s possible to create a bot within the Facebook Messenger platform itself, a simpler way is to use free or paid software like the ones below:

ManyChat – https://manychat.com/

This tool has a visual builder that lets you drag and drop elements to set up your Facebook Messenger bot quickly and easily. You can set up an automated sequences that will be sent based on time delays or user actions.

Screenshot via ManyChat.com

And an important feature is the ability to be notified when you need to step in and answer a question yourself through live chat.

Screenshot via ManyChat.com

Chatfuel – https://chatfuel.com/

In the article above, Alfred Lua recommends Chatfuel as a great free option for creating a Facebook Messenger Bot.

Screenshot via Chatfuel.com

The Chatfuel site shows an illustration of how you can easily set up conversational rules to train your bot to recognize phrases and respond with answers predefined by you.

Screenshot via Chatfuel.com

Hope you enjoyed this overview of the growing popularity of bots and how they can be used to effectively target your audience and engage with them on Facebook. It’s an amazing technology that could end up being the next big marketing channel for virtual professionals.

One example of how realistic bots can be (or maybe how gullible I can be) 🙂 is when I mistook a bot for a human. I was on a website, and a chat box with a friendly-looking avatar popped up and displayed the text, “Hi there! Can I help you with anything?” Because it looked like a real person texting me, I thought it was a live chat.

Indignant that someone was suddenly interrupting me, I rudely clicked the chat box off to silence it. It wasn’t until later that I discovered these types of chat boxes are bots.

My apologies to that poor bot – but a good lesson that it’s important to let your audience know when they’re being messaged by a bot and when it’s a real human like you, your client, or a person on your team.

Now we’d love to hear from you! What do you think of Facebook Messenger bots? Do you use them in your business or your clients’ businesses? And if not, do you see yourself using them in the future? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

Budgeting Success Strategies for Your Virtual Assistant Business

Budgeting – one of those things we often learn about when we don’t do it.

It’s not one of the most glamorous parts of running a Freelance or Virtual Assistant business, but it’s certainly one of the most vital.

My first experience with budgeting came during university. I lived on campus and paid for a certain number of food points in advance each year. Every time I went to a cafeteria, the cashier would swipe my food card, and points would be deducted depending on what food items I chose. Many of us didn’t bother to keep track of our food points, and by the end of the year, we realized we should have budgeted better.

Those who ate solely at the residence cafeteria got the most food for their points. Those who bought boxes of cereal and ate breakfast in their rooms had points left over at the end of the year. But those who ventured to the fancier campus eateries and bought nachos used up all their points and had to buy more.

Image courtesy of Pixabay.com

In my early days of self-employment, I approached my freelance business budget the same way… In other words, I didn’t have one. And when income tax time came that year, I’d spent too much and had to borrow money to pay my taxes.

It was a tough lesson to learn, but a good wake-up call. Whether you’ve been a virtual professional for a while or are just starting out, here are some tips and strategies on budgeting for your business:

1. What to Include in Your Budget

As with any budget, you’ll want to include the usual categories of estimated income and expenses. But since virtual work doesn’t always provide a reliable fixed income, it’s important to look at a variety of factors. We’ll break these down in more detail below.

a) Estimated Income

First of all, choose an easy method of listing your clients and how much income is derived from each. An Excel or Google spreadsheet template often works well for this.

Screenshot via Microsoft Excel software

Screenshot via docs.google.com

Categorize your clients based on whether they pay you a monthly retainer, one-time project fees, per-hour fees, etc., and how much you expect to receive from them each month and in total each year. In an article titled  “How to Budget as a Freelancer,” Alicia Adamczyk also recommends familiarizing yourself with when your clients tend to pay, and making note of how often they either miss payments or pay late. This will help you gain a realistic picture so you aren’t caught short at the end of the month.

If you sell products like e-books or online courses, also include how many items you expect to sell each month. Brainstorm all sources of business income, and include as many columns as you’d like so you can note any important information that will help you build your budget.

b) Planned Expenses

If you work from home, a portion of your rent, mortgage, and utilities may be considered business expenses. Consult an accountant or tax expert in your region for more information on how these expenses will be calculated at tax time. But in the meantime, simply record how much you expect to be paying each month throughout the year.

Here are some examples of expenses that typically apply to virtual work:

• Rent/Mortgage
• Property taxes
• Utilities
• Internet
• Telephone
• Insurance
• Office supplies
• Marketing (website, printing, etc.)
• Software subscriptions
• Education (courses, conferences, etc.)
• Any other business-related expenses

You can use a Google Spreadsheet template like the one pictured above, or one like this that’s available through Microsoft Excel software. These templates are often designed with corporate jobs in mind but can be adapted for freelance work.

Screenshot via Microsoft Excel software

c) Unplanned Expenses and Planned Savings

Many times as freelancers or virtual assistants, we encounter unexpected expenses. Your computer may suddenly break down, you may require new office furniture, or rent and insurance costs may skyrocket.

It’s a good idea to have a bit of a nest egg set aside for these types of expenses, as well as enough to pay your taxes next year. Consult an accountant or tax expert if you have any questions about how much you should save toward taxes.

In his article “How To Budget Wisely And Save Money As A Freelancer” Abdullahi Muhammed recommends aiming for “50/30/20 proportions,” that is, live on 50% of your income and devote 30% to flexible expenses and 20% to savings.

Depending on what stage of business you’re at, you may want to include how much you’re saving for retirement. You may also have personal expenses and savings, but for the purposes of this blog post, we’re focussing primarily on business expenses and savings.

2. How to Track Your Budget

If you like tech tools, you’ll enjoy this part because there are many cool apps and software that can be used to track your budget. In a previous blog post titled “Five Powerful Tools for Managing Your Business Finances,” we discussed some great software options that include income and expense tracking, as well as many more financial management features. Here are a few other options you might want to try:

Mint – https://www.mint.com/

Screenshot via Mint.com

This free tool helps you create a budget and track your bills. It can also give you tips for saving money and reducing fees, as well as alerts for low funds, unusual spending, and bill payment deadlines. Mint is available for desktop, iOS and Android apps.

You Need a Budget (YNAB) – https://www.youneedabudget.com/

Screenshot via Youneedabudget.com

YNAB provides bank syncing, goals, and debt management so you can see where you’re at and stay on top of your spending. Its graphs and pie charts help you assess your total spending and average spending for certain time periods. You can access this info through your web browser or on the go from any device.

Clarity Money – https://claritymoney.com/

Screenshot via Claritymoney.com

This free mobile app helps you stick to your budget by tracking your spending and showing where you overspend. It also suggests wasteful account subscriptions you might want to cancel and savings you might want to take advantage of.

3. How to evaluate your budget

Depending on how you’ve chosen to record and track your budget, you should have enough information to evaluate your progress periodically. Miriam Caldwell recommends reviewing your budget both monthly and annually in her article “How to Evaluate Your Budget.”

During the monthly evaluation, she suggests adjusting any categories that are consistently under or over budget. Annually she recommends doing a complete assessment of your budget and financial goals.

As a freelancer, your client load may have a significant effect on your income, so it’s important to take note of any clients you’ve gained or lost, as well as any late or missed payments.

Haele Wolfe has some great advice in her article “The Freelancer’s Guide to Personal Finance.” If your client income is falling short of your expenses, she suggests speaking to current clients about the possibility of long-term work so you can build a roster of “anchor clients” that will give you greater stability. She also recommends committing to frugality and making sure you’re putting away extra savings and higher than estimated income in a separate account each month to tide you over if you lose any of your anchor clients.

So, to summarize, here are a few things to consider during your budget evaluation:

• Are you reaching your goals?
• Do any categories need to revised?
• Are you spending too much on your expenses? (If so, how can you streamline them?)
• Is your income as expected? (If not, do you need to do more marketing, find more clients, or speak to current clients about more consistent work?)
• Are you able to contribute to your savings, or did you need to draw on your savings to stay afloat?

Many of the tools discussed above provide summaries that help you with the budget evaluation stage. For example, the You Need a Budget (YNAB) tool features graphs and pie charts that display your progress.

Screenshot via Youneedabudget.com

You can use tools like this to visualize your current situation and decide how to make adjustments and move forward.

So there you have it – some tips, strategies, and tools that make budgeting for your freelance or Virtual Assistant business pain-free and effective. Keeping our finances in check and planning ahead is one way we can reduce stress and enjoy the freedom of our virtual lifestyle.

If you have any budgeting advice that’s worked for you in your online business, please share your thoughts in the comments below.

Image of a person sitting with two hands typing on a keyboard in front of a monitor, with a cell phone to their left, on a large wooden desk in a boardroom with other people sitting in chairs around the table and light coming in from windows.

Quick Guide to Building an Email List from Scratch!

Vinyl records are back, and email is here to stay. Did you think you’d be hearing that statement here in 2019?

Although the way we play music has come full circle, email has never really left us, especially when it comes to online business. In fact, an article titled “U.S. e-mail marketing – Statistics & Facts” states that “There are 3.7 billion e-mail users in the world as of 2017” and that “e-mail advertising spending in the U.S. is expected to increase from 270 million U.S. dollars in 2015 to 350 million U.S. dollars in 2019.”

What’s the reason for our continued reliance on this older communication channel? Kyle Nordeen puts it best in his article “Why Email Should be the Cornerstone of Your Digital Marketing Strategy”:

“Email provides a credible, long-lasting way to connect with subscribers. Sure, you can reach subscribers with a Facebook meme or a tweet, but the lifespan of social posts fade quickly. Research shows a tweet’s lifespan is 18 minutes, according to Moz. Your tweet lasts for mere minutes and then disappears into the newsfeed abyss never to be found again. An email is different. It gets prominent placement in an inbox and is easy to reference later on.”

But how do you go about building an email list from scratch when you’re just starting out in your Virtual business? Here are some tips that can help you get started on this important component of your online marketing campaign.

#1. Identify Your Target Audience

First of all, consider an email list like an invitation to a party, not a petition. Although you want the list to grow, it’s best to focus on the quality of the connection rather than the quantity of subscribers.

Here are some things to think about:

– What is my niche?

– What are my virtual services?

– Who might benefit from a long-term connection to my business?

In an article titled “Email Marketing 101: 6 Foolproof Steps to Build an Email List From Scratch,” Kali Hawlk suggests some more important questions to determine why your audience would gladly give you their email address:

“Why should they share this information? What’s in it for them? Why do emails from you matter so much that they need to appear in that person’s inbox?

“Answering these questions requires you to consider the needs, desires, problems, and challenges your target audience has. If you can meet a need, provide for a desire, or solve a problem, you likely have a compelling reason for someone to give you their address.”

And if you’re just starting out in your virtual business, don’t hesitate to reach out to people in your local network who might be interested in joining your list. The above article also recommends starting with your friends, family, business contacts, and past customers as long as you ask them first and give them the ability to opt in to the email list themselves.

#2. Brainstorm content that is important to your audience.

In the realm of email marketing, it’s common practice to provide what’s called a “lead magnet,” some sort of free offer people receive in exchange for providing their email address. If you visit the Freelance University site,  you’ll see this pop-up offering our “Ultimate Freelance Tool Kit” e-book.

It’s content that benefits freelancers and virtual assistants who visit the FreeU site and provides an opportunity to keep in touch with them about future training and other support services that may benefit their businesses.

In the same way, the website of digital marketing pioneer, writer, and speaker Ann Handley https://annhandley.com/ contains this opt-in box that invited me to sign up for her newsletter. As a writer, I was more than happy to give my email address in exchange for valuable tips that could benefit me in my virtual work.

Screenshot via www.annhandley.com

After subscribing, I received a welcome email that invited me to write Ann back and let her know why I subscribed and what I hoped to learn so that she could offer me real value in return. Here’s an excerpt:

I emailed her, and she wrote me back personally! It truly means something to know how much she cares about her subscribers.

So in your own business, brainstorm what type of offer would make it worthwhile for people to join your email list. And at the same time, think about what offer best fits your brand and services. Here are some examples:

– Infographics, mind maps, or checklists

– Written or video tutorials

– PDF e-books or reports

– Weekly, biweekly, or monthly newsletters

– Online classes or webinars

– The list goes on….

And in an article titled “20 Great Lead Magnets to Build Your Email List,” Leslie Truex also describes how bloggers can build their email lists using “content upgrades.” These types of lead magnets are niched or specific to a particular blog post. So, for example, on this blog post we could offer a free checklist people receive as a content upgrade when they sign up for the Freelance University email list.

#3. Establish your credibility and position yourself as an expert in your niche.

Now, this is something that won’t happen overnight, but is important to keep in mind. When people opt in to our email lists, we hope they aren’t doing it just to receive the free offer before hitting “Unsubscribe.”

To help new subscribers join with the intention of staying on the list, it helps to be a visible and active presence online. You can do this by consistently sharing valuable content that lets your expertise (and your personality) shine.

After all, many of us still receive emails in our inbox from friends and relatives, so we appreciate a bit of personal connection when receiving emails from businesses too. And we like to feel secure that the people sending us email know what they’re talking about.

Here are some ways you can establish your credibility:

– Consistently publish content in your online network of choice (e.g. regular blog posts, YouTube videos, podcasts, social media posts).

– Host your own online events like webinars, teleseminars, Facebook Live videos, Facebook Watch events, or Instagram Stories.

– Connect with your target audience by sharing valuable social media posts and participating in Facebook or LinkedIn groups.

– Write guest blog posts and participate in other live events.

#4. Make it easy for people to opt in to your list.

No matter how much people value your content and expertise, your email list won’t grow if people either don’t know about it or find it too hard to join. Thankfully, technology makes it possible to place lead capture boxes in many locations to collect people’s names and email addresses.

For example, Optin Monster is a powerful tool that allows you to create customizable forms using templates.

Image of a blue t-shirt with a light green monster with one large eye on the front.

This tool can use “smart triggers” to display the form according to certain visitor behaviors, such as exiting your site, scrolling down the page, or returning to your site.

And opt-in boxes on your freelance website are just the beginning. Ryan Pinkham shares some more great options in his article “15 Creative Ideas to Grow Your Email List. He suggests adding a sign-up button to your email, collecting emails when people sign up for an event you’re hosting, putting a sign-up form on your Facebook Page, or running a Facebook Ad.

When promoting your email list through buttons and opt-in boxes or forms, remember to keep the experience as pleasant and unobtrusive as possible so people aren’t turned off (by multiple garish pop-ups, for example). At the same time, don’t miss an opportunity to place an attractive lead capture box or sign-up button in as many places as possible.

#5. Start gradually and keep at it.

Building an email list from scratch can seem like a daunting task when you’re just starting out in your virtual business. But with an attitude of generosity and caring toward your subscribers, it can be a rewarding experience, not just in list growth but in relationships.

When you’re starting out, you may need to experiment with different ways of promoting your list. Thankfully, email isn’t going anywhere soon, so don’t worry about starting gradually and refining your approach as time goes by.

As Kali Hawlk says in her article,

“Remember that there is always a person — and probably a busy, stressed-out person desperately trying to clear the clutter out of their inbox — on the other end of your email messages. Keep that in mind and always ask how you can add value to that person.

“Use that philosophy for your email list, and you’ll not only build it from scratch, but you’ll turn it into a highly valuable database of happy, engaged, and loyal consumers who actually enjoy seeing your messages pop up in their inboxes.”

That’s a great goal to have when developing an email marketing strategy for our virtual businesses. Generosity and authenticity apply to the way we interact with our email list, as it does in any of our interactions online.

If you’ve been a freelancer or virtual assistant for a while, how did you start building your email list from scratch? And if you’re just starting out, what strategies do you think might work for you?

Please share your thoughts in the comments below.