Expanding Your Network 15 Minutes at a Time

This year Sue has been using an old-fashioned method to expand her social network. Because she's doing it right, it has not only delivered results but it's been fun.

Any time she comes across the social media profile of someone interesting (from a professional perspective) she spends a little time learning more about them, then invites them to have a 15-minute phone call to get to know each other. She calls them "Getting to Know Each Other" calls. (I'm the writer in the family but since she pays my bills I'll stay out of her business.)

Yes, that's right, it's the old "Can I buy you a cup of coffee?" ploy, ruined by professional networkers a decade ago.

Here's how Sue does it right:

  1. She spent the time to develop a reputation for sincerity and generosity.
  2. She takes the time to get to know something about the other person, even interacting at their blog or other social media accounts, before she raises the idea of chatting on the phone.
  3. When she approaches them, she expresses a specific interest in something they do or offer.
  4. Wait, before that, she actually feels a genuine interest in something they do or offer. That's the whole point: they're professionally interesting.
  5. She uses a simple free tool called Calendly to allow them to schedule their call anytime she's free and which is convenient for them. No phone tag or endless scheduling emails.
  6. During the conversation, she actually listens to them, treats them with dignity and respect, and only shares what Ausoma does as something that might support their business. No sales pitch. Ever. (Did we get that part? That's what killed the "cup of coffee" gag, remember?)
  7. She keeps in touch, and when she finds something of value to them she shares it.

The theme there is generosity. People can tell when you're "having a chat" but it's all about you.

They can also tell, from a mile away, when you're a sincere and generous person who believes that the more you help others, the better your own business and life are.

4 Steps You Can Take to Increase Your Business

4 steps you can take to increase your businessAs we approach a new year it's time to think about how you can increase your business and increase our clientele. In order to choose the best strategies for you and your business, you first need to define your specific goals. It's not enough to say "I want more clients" or "I want my business go bring in more money this year." How many new clients do you want to add to your business this year - 1, 6, 12? How much more income do you want this year - $1,000 more per month, $10,000 more this year? Write your specific goals down. Now you need to decide on the strategies to meet those goals. I've used many strategies but t there are four specific strategies I've found most successful.

1. Network in person.
Networking in person has always been a very successful way to grow my virtual business - particularly when I was new to the business. Many times virtual workers find this strategy challenging. They chose to work from home because they didn't want to go out to an office or wanted to stay home with their children. So going out to networking events and having to find someone to watch the children when you do so may not be something you really want to do. However, until you establish your business, and if you want to continue to grow your business, meeting people in person will be immensely valuable.

People want to work with others that they know, like, and trust. Or at least others that have been referred to them by someone they know, like, and trust. The best way for someone to get to know, like, and trust you is to meet you i person. We can tell a lot about a person when we can see them face-to-face and watch their facial expressions, eyes, and mannerisms.

Even if the people we meet in person don't need our services, they may know someone else that does. When I first started actively networking in person I only had a couple of clients. In less than six months I added another six client and within a year over a dozen. Those were all people I'd either met in person at networking events or people who had been referred to me by those I met at networking events. One of those people I've been working with for over six years now. I've also had four generation referrals (the initial person referred me to someone, who then referred me to someone, and that person then referred me to someone, and so on).

To find networking events, check with your local Chamber of Commerce for networking mixers. Online you can check meetup.com for local groups that meet regularly. If you can't find anything, you can start your own group.

2. Network online.
Online networking can also be very successful. I've had some great clients I met online and never have met in person. It's important to do this right if you want the best results. When you set up your online profiles, be sure to be as detailed as possible in your bio, description, education, and work. LinkedIn is a very good place to create a detailed online presence. There are groups you can join related to your specific skills. When you join these groups, share in the discussions and add value to the group. Don't just promote your services. That's going to turn people off if they don't yet know you well.

When you do reach out to connect with other people in the groups to add them to your network, make the invitation personal. Don't just use LinkedIn's automated invitation. In the message let the other person know why you want to connect. You may say something like, "Hi Donna. We both belong to the Social Media Networks group here on LinkedIn. I saw in your profile that you specialize in Twitter management. I'd like to learn more about that. Let's connect. Sue". This message lets them know how you know them and that you're interested in them - it's not just all about you!

Other online networking can be done by joining appropriate Facebook groups and Google+ communities. Always reach out by sharing something of value - a tip, a short report, your current blog post, etc.

3. Ask for referrals.
Most of my clients are word-of-mouth referrals. Don't underestimate the value of referrals. You may be hesitant to ask for referrals. But if you've done a great job for your clients, you'll find they want to refer you. Let your clients know that your business is based on referrals and ask if they would mind referring you to someone they know. I don't pay for referrals but I have offered a discount on a client's fee for a referral. Plan to ask your clients every six months if they know of anyone they can refer.

4. Work ON Your Business
This may be the most important strategy you can implement to increase your business. Too often we get so wrapped up in doing client work that we forget to work ON our business. This is essential for business growth. I take time at the end of every year to work on my own business. Clients are informed that I'll be taking time off and I put into place a backup plan if they need something urgently. During this time I review what worked best the previous year and what didn't work well. Then I create a plan for the new year. Write a one to two-page business plan with your specific goals and the strategies you are going to use to reach those goals in the new year. Now is the time to find those in-person networking events and scheduling to attend one or more monthly. Update all of your online profiles. Reach out to new connections. Ask for those referrals.

These are just four strategies that have worked for me and that you can use to increase your business. There are many more. Take some time now before the new year begins to decide what your successful strategies will be and then put a plan in place to succeed!

3 Tips to Fun & Easy Networking

let's meet for coffee"Let's meet for coffee." Have you heard those words when you've met someone new at a networking event or business mixer? Is your first thought, "Oh no, they want to pitch me about their business!" If so, you may be reluctant to accept their offer. Perhaps this is one reason you don't find networking fun and easy. Because you're afraid that other people are thinking the same thing when you hand them your business card and offer to "meet for coffee."

Networking should be fun and easy! Here are three tips to help you make your next networking experience fun and easy.

  1. Ask a fun question! People want to talk about themselves and asking questions gets the ball rolling. Their answers will also tell you a lot about them and their interests. That's very important so you know how you might be able to help them in their business. Try one of these: "What's your favorite way to use Facebook?" or "Do you use Pinterest to find new recipes or fun activities to do?"
  2. Wear an interesting scarf, tie, or piece of jewelry. Wear something that will catch people's eyes. It might even be a name badge you've had made up that's unique. This is a way to get people to notice you and ask you about your scarf, tie, jewelry, or name badge. Once a conversation is started, networking is easy and fun. Sometimes the hard part is getting a conversation started. Look around and see if anyone else is wearing something interesting and comment on it. It may lead to a great conversation. So give it a try!
  3. Be the first to ask for their business card. Everyone wants to hand out and collect as many business cards as possible. Though I don't think this should be your number one goal (ask me about that), you'll have more fun and networking will be easier if you don't try to hand out the most business cards you can. You'll end up collecting a bunch anyhow if you ask first for their card. They will be delighted to give you their card and in return will ask for yours. When you ask first, you show that you are interested in them and what they do. It's not all about you!

Those are just three tips for fun and easy networking. There are tons more!

Please share your tips in the comments for fun and easy networking.

Q&A: What kind of investment should I expect to make to be a successful Virtual Assistant in 6 months?

What kind of investment should I expect to make to be a successful Virtual Assistant in 6 months?Question:

What kind of investment should I expect to make to be a successful VA in 6 months? I know it is important to get business cards, get a domain, create a website, join online industry organizations and memberships. But what are the other considerable costs one should make?

Answer:
I think the answer to this question is a bit subjective. First you need to define what success means to you. Some only want to work part-time while others hope to make it a full-time business and earn six figures.

More important than a monetary investment is the investment in your time and energy. Before we get into that though I will cover some basics you need.

In my book, The Commonsense Virtual Assistant - Becoming an Entrepreneur, Not an Employee , the introduction lists some skills and tools you'll need such as:

  • Business Plan
  • License
  • Contract
  • Reliable computer
  • Internet access
  • Phone service
  • Time tracking tool
  • Project management tool

There are other investments you can make to get training and certification. These are not necessary. If you do choose some training or classes to get certified, make sure to check them out thoroughly so you are getting the value you need for the investment you make.

Now to the important investments: your time and energy. Your success will depend largely on the time and energy you are willing to spend to build your business. The number one investment in your time and energy should be to attend in-person networking events. I've written numerous times  about how important it is to do this if you intend to build trusting relationships with prospects and clients and gain referrals. The Commonsense Virtual Assistant book has an entire chapter dedicated to marketing and specifically covers networking.

So the real question you need to ask yourself is, "Am I willing to attend four networking events every month for the next six months and build relationships?" When I was growing my business I attended a different networking event every week of the month and did that consistently for six months. By the end of that time I had built trusting relationships with people who I was able to refer work to. That in turn led to my gaining new clients and referrals.

Let's ask other successful virtual assistants: what did you do to succeed?

 

Connecting on LinkedIn Can Lead to a Paying Client

Nearly four years ago I worked for a client in the real estate industry managing much of their financial needs with QuickBooks online. At times I would need tocrossing the bridgecollaborate with their accountant. Eventually they hired an in-house assistant and no longer needed my services. A few months later their accountant moved to another state.

Now neither I nor the accountant worked for this client any longer. However, the accountant connected with me on LinkedIn. I accepted the invitation to connect. We both thought, "you never know when we'll need the other's services". It's been nearly four years and I was just contacted by this accountant. She needs some work done and thought a virtual assistant could do this work. Who did she think of first? Someone she already had a relationship and connection with - me.

This reiterates the fact that building trusting relationships takes time. Don't be in a hurry to sell your services to total strangers. Take time to get to know people, Connect on LinkedIn, ask some questions, comment on their blog. Once they get to know you, like you and trust you, you'll have something to build a working relationship on.