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So far, in this series of virtual assistant interviews, we have talked to Janet Barclay, who specializes in blog support, and Angel Lebak, who focuses on social media marketing. My guest is Ruth Martin. Let’s find out how Ruth helps other small business owners.

GT: Ruth, how long have you been a virtual assistant?

RM: I’ve been working virtually since 2000. At the time, I didn’t realize that others served their customers in this way – virtually, never setting foot in their office. I’d been working as an independent contractor under my personal name for several local businesses. I was working from my home-based office and using email for project pick-up and delivery.

One day, while browsing through the course registry for our local community college, I saw a course entitled, Becoming a Virtual Assistant. I’d realized that this is what I’d been doing all along. I was eager to meet others who were doing the same thing, so I signed up for the online course. That course opened my eyes to what a large industry this is – spanning every corner of the world. It wasn’t long after that I jumped on board. I developed a full online presence, expanded my marketing, and joined industry associations. My 20+ years of marketing and project management skills were being pulled together for maximum impact to work for me in ways I’d not imagined before reading that registry. It was full steam ahead.

GT: What types of day-to-day tasks do small businesses most often decide to delegate or outsource?

RM: Typically, the kinds of tasks that aren’t direct, first-line revenue generators. I manage supportive administrative duties to keep everything in check and running smoothly. This frees upper management to focus on more important tasks. I often work with creative types who have an idea. But they need assistance in coming up with exact steps to bring this from idea to developed project. On any given day, you may find me working on e-filing, scheduling, or handling correspondence. Sometimes I am working on the bones (or implementation) of a marketing campaign or internet research.

GT: At what point does it make sense for someone to hire a VA?

RM: I believe there are three pivotal deciding factors:

  1. at the bursting point
  2. when a specific skill is lacking
  3. when you want fast business growth.

First, the bursting point comes when keeping track of the backend details prevents you from bringing in new customers or working on product development. This keeps business owners stagnant in their business. If you work hard daily but don’t see yourself moving forward because you’re trying to do it all. It’s time to bring on support.

Secondly, it’s typically more cost-effective to hire for skills you don’t have rather than learn something that you won’t be doing daily. These tasks are managed more efficiently by using an expert. Hiring the skill set you’re seeking rather than learn, practice, and make time-consuming mistakes.

And lastly, virtual assistants can keep their clients on track, focused, and driven towards reaching their goals. Suddenly you’re working with a VA – a like-minded business owner who understands what it takes to operate a business. You have some accountability for keeping projects in the pipeline and taking planned steps towards your goals. Several of my clients have expressed how hiring my business to support them in their efforts has moved them to the next level. They attained higher income earnings and are no longer shouldering things alone. Now they have an expert level of support in place and can focus their energies and interests on other areas of the business.

GT: A lot of small business owners have trouble delegating tasks they’re used to doing themselves. How do you help them to let go?

RM: It can be hard to let go when you’ve been the one-person-show since the beginning. It helps when this person comes to you as a referral from a friend. They can see how their colleague has benefitted from your services and will find comfort knowing you’ll be treating them with the same quality and attention.

Sometimes we find beginning with a small project to test the waters and build trust is a good approach. As the client experiences reliable, consistent work, they will open up more and rely on more and more support services to streamline their business practices.

GT: How many clients do you currently have?

RM: Geralin, that’s a hard question to answer. The number varies based on the client’s needs during a specific month. I work with monthly retainer clients (keeping this group to just a handful since we work very closely during any given month), project clients that drop by for a solo task that has definitive start/finish dates, and on occasion as a subcontractor to other virtual colleagues who may need a helping hand for a time-sensitive project.

Glancing at the map I keep on my office wall to pinpoint client locations across the U.S. and Canada; I would guess I’ve connected with fifty clients since developing my online presence in 2007. Many of my clients have been with me long-term, between four and six years. I’m happy to say that the majority are repeat users of these services.

GT: How do you stay in touch with your clients?

RM: Email is my number one way of communicating. I enjoy having a document of our conversation and task list, which helps in clarifying the various aspects of a project. We may have a Skype text chat/live call or an actual phone call from time to time.

You may be surprised to learn that I have clients I’ve worked with that I’ve never had a conversation outside of email. One of my longest ongoing clients has been with me for six years, and we’ve only spoken on the phone twice, but we burn up the email lines nearly daily.

GT: What do you like best about being a virtual assistant?

RM: It’s immensely satisfying to be a small part of helping others achieve their business goals and be an essential part of their support system. I enjoy knowing I’ve made a difference in their day and how they can run their business. That’s not to say the other perks such as flexibility in planning my schedule, controlling my earning’s ceiling, and having no barriers to limit my creativity in my own business aren’t amazing.

GT: What is one tech tool you can’t live without?

RM: Great question, Geralin. Because my business relies so much on email, I must have Microsoft Outlook. This houses not only my Maple email address but the POP3 accounts of my clients’ email addresses. I use this for RSS feeds, contact lists, task reminders, calendar management, and I love the form templates for frequently used email messages. For the way I like to work, Outlook has it all.

My favorite online resource is Hootsuite. Working from this dashboard keeps me in touch with my social media sites, allows for easy automation of posts, and keeps the stat analytics at my fingertips.

About today’s guest:

Learn more about Ruth Martin here.

Read the other posts in this series on virtual assistants: Part 1, Part 2, Part 4, Questions to Ask When Hiring a VA.

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