Growing with Your Business

As a solopreneur, one of the most important things that you can do in your business (and for your business!), is to grow with it. Although you might go into business for yourself with a very static view of which services you will provide, you need to be aware that the old adage ‘a change is as good as rest’ is really true. You can breathe new life into your everyday work by keeping an eye out for change and growth opportunities!

I have been a solopreneur for many years, but over the years I have grown from providing financial services to providing Internet marketing and social media services. I am certain that I could never have predicted that I would be working with shopping carts and social media when I started my business so many years ago as a food & beverage consultant, but I grew with my business when I saw change approaching, and I would never look back.

How did I grow? I learned everything I could about what I was doing at the time, and then I kept an eye up ahead in the road to see what else was coming my way.

I have said I am in perpetual learning mode, and that is true. When I worked in finance, I studied accounting and business and took workshops in Excel and databases. I needed to know that I was always using the most current methods in my daily work.

It just so happened that I needed to take over some projects from a colleague that were closely related to my financial work. They were documents and training manuals. So I grew in the direction of words, and away from numbers.

I began to focus mainly on document work, and I took writing courses and learned about back-of-the-book indexing. I refreshed my education in the principles of grammar and sentence structure. I expanded into proofreading website copy and then realized that HTML was really not as difficult as everyone said it was. So I took a course in HTML.

That has been one of the smartest moves I ever made in my career. I do not do web design, but being able to set up sales pages and do website updates is a really big business for a Virtual Assistant.  I have continued to grow with Internet marketing and now social media.

Perpetual learning is a great way to keep growing with your business. By recognizing the changing needs of your business, you can bring a fresh, new perspective to your clients. Give them what they need, maybe  even before they realize they need it!

Are you a VA in Ottawa? Check out OVA!

New OVA logoThis week I was able to attend the Ottawa Virtual Alliance (OVA) October breakfast meeting. OVA is the association for Virtual Assistants who are located in the Ottawa area. We keep in touch via email, but we get together several times a year for breakfast and a chat, and that’s what I really like about this group.

When you work on your own, it really helps to get together with people who ‘get’ what you do for a living. I am aware that there are many people who don’t understand what I do for work, and it’s always nice to get together with my colleagues to have a bit of a chat about how work is going.

I have mentioned before that I really value the face time that I can get with my colleagues, and OVA is no exception. We enjoy breakfast while using each other as sounding boards for ideas and issues, and sharing industry stories.  Barbara Best (Virtual Works)and Raymonde Lemire (Documents Etc.)are the founders of OVA and together they provide support and direction for new and aspiring VAs, as well as great advice and insight for those of us who have been in the business for a while.

We have just set up a Facebook Page for Ottawa Virtual Alliance. Check it out here, and please feel free to contact us if you are a VA in the Ottawa area. Our next breakfast meeting is December 11 and there is always space at the table!

And if you are not in the Ottawa area, seek out your Virtual Assistant association in your area – you will be able to share and network with people who truly understand our industry.

Learn to Create Facebook Fan Pages!

Fantastic Facebook Fanpages
VAClassroom is offering a new course that will teach you to create fantastic Facebook pages!

Facebook fan pages can be used as a great marketing tool for your product or service, because so many people are connected to social networking sites these days.

Fan pages integrate with your other marketing tools, such as your blog, and can help you reach a bigger audience. By getting increased exposure, you can increase traffic to your website or blog, and connect with more potential clients and generate more income opportunities.

Visit VAClassroom to learn more about the course, and to register!

Is Self-Paced Learning Right For You?

VAclassroom_banner_125x125I recently finished my Social Media Marketing Specialist certification through VAclassroom.

I love taking courses through VA classroom. The ones I take are self-paced, which means that you do them on your own schedule. This can be very helpful for people like me who have a full schedule of client work and a busy family life.

I am in perpetual learning mode. I love to learn new things, and I am constantly seeking out places to learn things about my business.

However, if there is a course, seminar or event online that doesn’t offer a self-paced element (or if a follow up mp3 or document can not be sent to me after the live event has taken place), I won’t sign up for it.   At times I have found myself logged in at 2 a.m. just because it suited my schedule, so, for me, self-paced learning really is the way to go.

Of course, self paced learning is not a new concept – the option of taking correspondence courses was available when I went to high school many years ago.

In fact, my girlfriend took a correspondence French course while we were in high school. She was not great in French, but I used to help her through her lessons, as I plugged away at a similar curriculum in our high school. She studied mainly business courses like informatics and accounting in high school, and I stayed with the mainstream academic stuff, so she took her French elective via correspondence.

Long story short, she got her French credits and it was a good thing she did, as she moved away after high school and worked for the Disney chain, and she was able to go to France to help open EuroDisney. Now she lives in Holland with her husband and two boys, and runs her own business.

So for many years self-paced learning has been beneficial for people like my friend, but now with the internet, this form of learning can really help you enhance anyone’s personal life or business.

The concept is simple: someone puts together some training materials in the form of PDFs or PowerPoint presentations along with audio files or video files with the training instructions on them, and there is the course. You sign up for them and you are able to study when it’sconvenient for you.

So whether you call them correspondence, self-paced, home study or long-distance learning courses, the concept of taking someone’s prepared materials and learning at your own pace, is a great way to continue to improve your education and tending to your busy life.

It can give you the edge over competitors online, by helping you to stay current with the changing trends of the internet. I highly recommend to find a place like VAclassroom that offers programs on subjects that interest you, and get learning!

How Do You Fit With Your Clients?


One of the things I love about being a Virtual Assistant is the chance to work with people that I want to work with.

It’s not a job, it’s a business. And I have worked very hard over the years to be able to pick and choose my clientele now. I rarely seek out new clients, though … much of my business comes through referral from my other clients or people that I know.

It can be said that networking is everything when you are running any type of business, but networking doesn’t seal the deal. It gets you to where you need to be, but YOU are the reason that potential clients will want to work with you, or they won’t.

YOU = your personality, your work ethic, your style, your communication skills.

Many of my clients have been with me for many years. I don’t very often have a client ‘quit me’, and I don’t very often quit them. If that happens, it’s usually pretty early in the game. Once we have done any type of work together, we end up growing together, because the fit was right.

Oh, that’s not to say that I haven’t parted ways with clients over the years. That has definitely happened … but I am proud to say that in the last, probably, three years, that I still work with 90% of the clients that have come on board with me. That’s 9 out of 10, which is pretty good.

Take the time when you are having your preliminary meeting with your potential client, to really see how their personality and their style and their needs fit into your ‘work box’. If they don’t fit into your ideal client type, take a pass on them. It probably won’t work out long-term.

It’s like any relationship … you have to ‘fit’ to make it work.

Professional Development at FoVA

forum on virtual assistance
I recently took some time away from my busy schedule of client work to focus on my own professional development.

From June 3 to 7, I was in Niagara Falls, Ontario with a number of other virtual assistants at the Forum on Virtual Assistance, or as we call it, FoVA.

The slogan for FoVA is ‘Meet, Learn and Grow’ and we sure did that (and more!).

It is a gathering where we meet others in same line of work (it can be isolating working from home all the time!), and where we learn (seminars and workshops) and where we grow from our experiences at the conference (whether they are work-related or personal experiences!).

Wesnesday, June 3, I made my way to Niagara Falls and got in quite late. I was lucky enough to locate a gang of VAs – some of whom I had met before, but some of whom I had not. They had finished dinner and were just hanging out relaxing after dinner, and luckily I was able to join them to unwind after a long day of driving. I also met my roommates that I would be staying with for the week (more on them in another post!). There is nothing like meeting people in person who you ‘know’ online. Great fun!

Thursday, June 4,  I had the very good fortune to be able to attend a workshop on blogging and social media by an industry great, Kathie Thomas. Kathie came all the way from Australia to speak at FoVA this year, and I was thrilled to meet her and to learn from her.

Thursday night was the official meet n greet for FoVA, and everyone else arrived for dinner and drinks. Somehow after our great dinner at the Marriott, we ended up at the Casino, where we had fun dancing to the band, and we even spotted a celebrity or two (check out Facebook photos for our much-discussed missed photo op!).

Well, it so happened that Friday, June 5 was my birthday, so when the clock struck 12 in the Casino that night, I received quite the celebration (with my friend Pat @cletch who was also born June 5). There aren’t many better places to celebrate your birthday than with a gang of crazy friends in Niagara Falls (but I digress!).

Friday brought more seminars, and I was happy to see my favourite FoVA 2008 speaker again, Mary Lou Ashton, who talked about how to set professional and personal foundations and how to eliminate tolerations. Friday lunch was a Lunch n Learn session about different personality types with Janet Barclay. Friday afternoon we learned all about Wordpress from Frances Palaschuk (one of my awesome roomies). Friday night the whole gang went for dinner with Alex and Julie from Solvate. Very full schedule, so Friday night was a welcome relaxing evening with plenty of laughs!

Saturday morning we had an amazing panel of professionals available for a panel discussion: representatives from various VA groups and associations around the world  (Yvonne Weld, Kristi Pavlik, MaryLou Ashton, Jeannine Clontz, Stacy Brice, Dawn Goldberg, Kathie Thomas, Sharon Williams, Pam Ivey .. have I missed anyone? If I got your link wrong, please let me know and I’ll edit it!).  We missed seeing Tawnya Sutherland and Elayne Whitfield on the panel, but it was amazing to have such a group of highly respected people all on the same panel!

Saturday afternoon we spent with Pam Ivey who discussed defining your niche, and creating passive streams of revenue within your niche.

In between we had loads of fun, but the sessions were extremely informative by all – (there were many more sessions available – the above list are the seminars I attended).

It’s truly professional development (amid the fun) for virtual assistants anywhere. I would highly recommend attending FoVA to any virtual assistant, whether you are starting out or have been in business for while.

There is nothing like getting together with colleagues and even mentors, to discuss the finer points of our industry. And there is definitely nothing like meeting the people that you are in contact with every day online, up close and in person!

I know for myself that I came home from this year’s conference with a renewed excitement for my business, some great networking opportunities, and some fantastic new friendships. I am looking forward to using all of my newly-acquired knowledge to forge ahead in my business for 2009.

Thanks to Barb Lang for all her hard work this year, pulling FoVA 2009 together. Thanks also to all of those who helped in any small (or large!) way, to make the conference such a memorable event for all of us.

I can’t wait for FoVA 2010 (wherever it is!) …

Social Marketing Plan – What’s Yours?

Wow is it possible that I haven’t posted since mid-May? I guess so! June kinda got away on me … attending FoVA in Niagara Falls the first week of June certainly had a lot to do with that for me. (Next post will be about my experiences at FoVA!)

I’ve never been off work for a week for a conference before. It was great, but it took planning the two weeks before and catching up the two weeks after just to be able to do it.

If you know me, you’ll know that I’m a list-maker and a details person. I always try to approach each situation (work or personal) by assessing the necessary steps and then planning the best route to the result.

Lately I have been starting to work with the social marketing needs of my clients, and we always begin with a checklist that we turn into an action plan, just to be sure we start off on the right track.

The extra attention that we put into the planning phase pays off in the end, when we know exactly what we are going to include in our strategy, and how we can best pull it all together. The setup for social marketing can be very daunting, and it is easy to get lost in the maze of it all. Good planning is essential to streamlining your strategy and saving valuable hours of setup time.

After the proper setup is done, the maintenance is much easier to manage. It’s like anything … plan it well and then execute to the best of your ability. It may not go perfectly every time, but you’ll be better prepared to handle any bumps along the road if you plan accordingly.

Take the time with your VA to figure out what you want to do with your social marketing, and then plan your implementation strategy to get there the right way. You’ll be glad you did

Follow your road!

Fork In Road

When I started my VA business, I was a hospitality industry specialist. I still offer some hospitality services on my website, and I get many questions about how I arrived at my selection of service offerings.

In my early 20s I went back to college to study catering management. I was fortunate enough to find work in a multi-unit restaurant chain, where there was plenty of opportunity for growth into management.

After opening a few restaurants with the company, I left to run my own consulting business, working with other restaurants and bars. The company became one of my biggest clients, and I continued to work with them for almost 8 years. I analyzed their controllable expenses, prepared their training materials and maintained their point of sales databases, all from the comfort of my own home office. In 2004, we parted ways and I began working with other local restaurants and bars again. 

As I was seeking work with new clients via the Internet, I came upon the VA industry. In researching the VA sites and groups, I realized that for the last eight years I had been a VA specializing in documentation and finance.

So I jumped at the chance to market myself as a VA, and I am glad I did! I expanded my target market and have been working with wonderful new clients in many industries.

I obtained my Internet Marketing VA certification through VAclassroom. Now I offer even more services, such as article marketing, email marketing, search engine marketing, affiliate marketing, blogging and social media marketing. I also continue to offer hospitality services where my clients require them (it’s in my blood after almost 20 years!). 

So there you have it!

My journey continues to present me with opportunities that I would never have dreamed of in 1993 when I went back to school at the age of 24.

So while I will always look back down the road I have travelled with a smile, I really can’t wait to see what’s up ahead!

I’m out there!

Last week I went to a Women in Business networking breakfast, hosted by our  MPP, Lisa MacLeod.

Although I network online all the time using Twitter and Facebook and LinkedIn, I have not done too much business networking in person in recent years.

Oh, I have my elevator speech, and I talk to everyone about what I do for a living, but I don’t actively seek clients in my own area. In fact, as a virtual assistant, I have purposely built a clientele that is located away from my hometown.

There are reasons that I have done that, of course. Prior to being an internet marketing virtual assistant, I was focused on the hospitality industry, working mainly with variable costs in restaurants and bars.

I worked from my own home office, and could compile, analyze and report on the data from my own office, I found that the clients I was working with preferred that I was on their site more than I thought I needed to be.

So, for many years I still travelled back and forth from my office to restaurants … and also needed to be available at some crazy times of day, being that the restaurant industry is not open ‘regular office hours’. I worked many holidays and weekends, and although I was very good at what I did, sometimes it just didn’t seem like it was worth it.

When I decided to swap my hospitality clients for online clients, I made a conscious decision to work with people whose offices or businesses I could not possibly drive to. Harsh? Probably. But it wouldn’t have worked for me otherwise.

Now I have established myself over the last three or so years, and am comfortable with setting my own work boundaries … and so I am finally getting out there in my own city!

Needless to say, the breakfast was great, and I enjoyed meeting many women who are running their own businesses like I am.

I learned from going to FoVA last year that getting together with people who understand my line of work is an invaluable source of support for me. That’s what this breakfast did as well, and I am sorry that it took me so long to realize the benefits I could gain by networking locally.

I will definitely look forward to the next networking meeting, wherever it is!

Share an Oreo with your VA!

So here I am, getting into the swing of blogging.

Hope you are continuing to tune in.

oreo cookie

One of my favourite commercials on television these days is the one in which the little boy and his Dad share an Oreo cookie ‘virtually’.

The Dad smiles and says, ‘Good night, son,’ and the son says, ‘Good MORNING, Dad’ and then we see that they are on opposite sides of the world, but they still shared a cookie … virtually!

This scenario reminds me of how I work every day as a VA. I can share so many things (including, but not limited to, cookies!) with my clients, and we don’t have to be in the same place, or even in the same time zone.

One of the tools that I use with my clients is project management collaborative software. I have used several different systems lately and I wanted to give you an idea of some of the ones that I like.

If you are a small business owner or a solopreneur, using a VA to handle your administrative tasks is just a smart business move. By using collaborative software applications, you can keep tabs on your projects up-to-the-minute and free up your time to do what you do best … which is to grow and run your business!

I won’t bore you with the bad things about these applications, because, frankly, you will probably come up with your own list of good and bad, but here is my list of favourites, in no particular order!

Google Docs

Love it. ‘Nuff said. It’s such an easy application to use and it’s always there when you need it. You can created documents, spreadsheets, presentations and more that you and your VA can share or send to each other via email. You can even save them to your computer using the export feature, but the key with them being online is that everyone is working with the same document, in the same version, when they access it. Too cool. And it’s free!


Basecamp is great for project management, allowing you to set milestones and deadlines, share files, log time, and all kinds of other good stuff. It’s easy to create projects, and task out the various steps to employees or colleagues, and keep tabs on it all in one place. The ability to reply to messages or a notification by email instead of logging in is a thumbs up feature for me. Plans start at $24/month and go up. Highrise is also a cool contact-info-keeping collaborative unit of Basecamp (no more slips of paper with login details on them, you can keep it securely in one place!)


I just recently started using this and I must say it’s a great system. Hadn’t heard of it before my client started using it. Very easy to navigate and use. Milestones, tasks, tickets and time tracking all keep things organized and easy to keep track of. One of my favourite features is the ‘pages’ tab, where collaborative writing can take place. Saves emailing docs back and forth as well.  One time purchase price starting at $199.


Wrike is really cool. My favourite feature is that I can reply to an email and it will update the project automatically. No logging in required. It automatically sends a to-do list every morning and outlines deadlines and allows you to reschedule items, all by email. It organizes the tasks and projects, so you don’t have to.  It’s as thought it collaborates with you and for you! Plans start at $4.99/user/month.

There are so many collaborative applications that you and your VA can use (go here to Wikipedia to see a huge list), but these are a few that I have some personal experience using for project management. I hope you find some of them useful in your business!

Now go and share an Oreo with your VA!