So far in this series of virtual assistant interviews, we have talked to Janet Barclay, who specializes in blog support, Angel Lebak, who focuses on social media marketing, and Ruth Martin of Maplewood Virtual Assistance. Today we’re talking with Tess Strand.
Tess, how long have you been involved with the virtual assistant industry?
Like many VAs, I was already working with clients for some time in an administrative business support capacity, from a distance, before I knew there even was a virtual assistant industry. I contracted with my first client, an independent consultant to the publishing industry in New York, in mid-2005 so it’s been about six years.
What made you decide to start Virtual Assistant Forums?
After I’d been in business for about a year I started to experience the inevitable issues and growing pains that come along with operating a service business. I started looking online for a place to ask questions – about client relations in particular. Through the course of my research I discovered that there was this emerging industry around virtual service providers.
After joining a few other sites for VAs that did not offer the collaboration and sense of community I had hoped to find I saw it as an opportunity to start an online network where I could create and curate the atmosphere and experience based on my vision of what would be an ideal community website. I also found it a neat platform for exploring and sharing my own business philosophies, even as those philosophies were themselves emerging.
How many VAs belong to your Forums? Are they all based in North America?
The Virtual Assistant Forums community has about 6,500 active memberships at this time with members from literally all over the world. The majority of our members are in the United States, Canada, the UK, and Australia but we also have virtual assistant members hailing from France, Spain, Greece, Egypt, Israel, Scotland, Ireland, even Kenya and the Caribbean Islands, just to name a few.
When should a business owner choose an offshore virtual assistant over a local one?
The truth is that any business owner going offshore for virtual support is doing so because of cost alone.
With that said, if a business owner finds an offshore virtual assistant with an excellent command of the English language who delivers not only tasks as requested but can strategize business growth with them and offer expertise in social media or web design, or real estate – whatever the VA’s specialty is – if you find a VA who can offer all of that, consistently, at ‘offshore’ prices then of course it’s a good business decision.
But any business owner basing this investment in their business on price alone is going to get what they pay for. That applies to VAs in North America or Europe too, by the way. Location isn’t really the issue – it’s work quality. Ultimately, I’d advise a business owner to get the best help they can afford but to first look carefully at what they’re hoping to achieve by working with a virtual assistant and make their decision accordingly. If the goal is to outsource automated tasks with little room for error, that’s very different from outsourcing something like marketing collateral or customer service and communications, for example, where a less than ideal result could at best be an expensive mistake; at worst, disastrous or damaging to the company image
My favorite quote to share with business owners considering investing in a virtual assistant comes from a perhaps unlikely source: an American oil well firefighter named Red Adair who said, “If you think it’s expensive to hire a professional to do the job, wait until you hire an amateur.” I think that pretty much sums it up.
Is Virtual Assistant Forums strictly a resource for VAs, or can other business owners use it too?
Although membership at Virtual Assistant Forums is intended for virtual service providers and the information is curated to support people in that particular business sector, VAs do face the same business challenges as any other entrepreneur. Discussion on the forums touches on every aspect of business development from startup to marketing to website coding to client relations, etc. and 99% of the information on the site is freely available to anyone who lands there.
My Google Analytics account tells me people find the site useful for locating VA-specific resources as well as general business guidance.
The community itself is also a great resource for business owners who are interested in working with a virtual assistant in two ways:
First, a client can fill out our Request for Proposal form with their project or business needs and upon approval the information is posted to a members-only area of the forums. This provides a casual conduit to help businesses find professional virtual assistants. We also host a directory of virtual assistant businesses where clients can contact specific service providers directly.
Second, the forums themselves offer a truly unique opportunity for clients to vet prospective virtual assistants by locating their posts. You can tell a lot about a service provider by the way they interact with their peers and the truly service-oriented and professional VAs do tend to stand out in an online community setting.
Where else can business owners find information about virtual assistants?
My initial interest in the virtual assistant industry came about because I was a service provider experiencing that side of the business, but as the forums grew and my experience as a business owner changed to include outsourcing from time to time I began to see things from the client’s perspective as well. I’ve contracted a number of virtual assistants myself, especially in the last few years, and I take that experience with me to the Virtual Assistant Information blog where I evangelize the VA industry and teach clients how to find, hire, and work with VAs.
I’ve also put out a short eBook through the blog: The Smart Business Owner’s Guide to Virtual Assistance – How to Find, Hire, and Work with a Professional Virtual Assistant. The 48-page guide to successful outsourcing teaches those new to the idea of using virtual assistance: Why a VA is not an employee (and how this benefits a business owner); The best places to find a virtual assistant online; How to maximize a RFP (Request for Proposal) to get the best responses from the best VAs; The ten most important questions to ask when first speaking with a prospective VA; Tips on the fine art of delegating; The vast differences between a professional virtual assistant and an offshore VA call center; and a list of 50+ tools to help make outsourcing and working virtually a snap. As a special gift to readers of Geralin’s blog, I’m pleased to offer a FREE download of the Smart Guide PDF eBook.
The best information about working with virtual assistants is usually written by the virtual assistants themselves. Who better to teach you how to make the most of the investment? That’s why the Virtual Assistant Information blog regularly features guest articles – all authored by professional virtual assistants. Most of the writers we publish also write at their own business blogs about how clients can best make use of virtual assistance.
What’s your favorite business-related website?
I’m probably not supposed to say ‘Virtual Assistant Forums’ but honestly, I love seeing and having a part in directing the growth and energy there. The community there is simply awesome – these business owners collaborate, which should come as no surprise since that’s what good virtual assistants do. And with so many dedicated virtual service providers stretching and growing their businesses together it is simply a great environment to be a part of.
I also get a lot of business information and inspiration from my Google News subscriptions; Twitter and Facebook are also excellent leads to bleeding-edge business leaders and ideas.