SVA Premium Members: June 2011 – Cash in the bank!

Whether you are an old hand or a newbie VA, there are times when you just need cash in the bank.  Especially with all these random bank holidays which we’ve been having!  But since your time is money, where do you spend it to get the most return on your investment?

If you ask this question on any business forum, you’ll invariably be told that SEO, social media and networking are a sure thing…  But are they really the quickest way to get more business?  Nope!  Here’s the thing the business forums won’t tell you:

SEO: According to the latest research, Google makes up 65% of the total number of internet searches, trailed by Yahoo (16%), and Microsoft (13%) with the remainder of web searches made up of smaller providers.  So getting listed on Google is your number 1 priority!  It takes up to three months for Google to crawl your site looking for refreshed data, so even if you make phenomenal changes to your site today, you won’t start seeing the results for another three months.

Social Media: The social media boom in recent years has sparked massive investment in Facebook/Twitter/LinkedIn etc.  One of my clients has a business based solely around completing LinkedIn profiles for his clients and connecting them with people they want to meet – his turnover is well into six figures (£UK that is!  Check out last month’s training session for why I specified that: password “ferrari”).

But in terms of social media’s effectiveness at converting to sales Marketing Sherpa research reveals that social networks like Twitter/Facebook were only registered as being “Very Effective” by 22% of respondents, whereas user reviews (47% rated very effective) and blogger relations (46% rated as very effective) as a tactic was twice as useful.

More on Social Media Effectiveness here: http://www.marketingsherpa.com/exs/SocialMM09excerpt.pdf

Networking: Most businesses claim that their work comes from “word of mouth” – but assuming you’re already doing a great job for your clients and not getting work this way, or perhaps you are just starting out and don’t have clients to spread the word, it’s not a particularly strong strategy.

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By my reckoning (and this is based solely on my own business) it takes an average of 6 months to convert a prospect from networking events, as primarily they are there to promote their business, and therefore probably aren’t in a position to hire you at that moment in time.  That’s not to say they won’t need you in the future (indeed we’ve had business from conferences as long as two years afterwards, just by keeping in touch!).  But for cash in the bank – it’s not a great ROI.

Here’s my Top 10 “cash in bank” actions:

  1. Credit control – chase up any outstanding payments, and take them to the Small Claims Court if they don’t pay.  It’s your money, and it needs to be in your bank account, not theirs.  Figure out what sort of a credit control procedure you want to implement and then stick to it religiously.  There is no point in earning the money if it doesn’t make it into your bank account.
  2. Revisit old clients – call them up, see what they are up to, remind them of your presence, even if they aren’t doing much.  Ask them if they know of anyone else who might need some help.  It’s 16 times easier and 10 times cheaper to revitalise an old client rather than getting a new one.  Places to check for contacts: your invoicing records, your Facebook account, your email address book…
  3. Run a special offer – something low cost to you, but high value for them.  So it might be designing free email templates, downloading their Twitter followers, offering a “BOGOF” (buy one get one free) deal.  Whatever you feel confident about offering which you think will entice people to try out using you.
  4. Google Adwords – Whilst your SEO catches up, you can always use Adwords to drive traffic to your site.  These are the adverts which appear in the right hand column of search results for specific terms on Google.  Go for low value search terms (e.g. instead of sponsoring “Virtual Assistant” sponsor “freelance typist Birmingham” which will get fewer results but be really targeted traffic for your services).  Look out for Google adwords voucher codes online if you haven’t used it before – they often give new account holders £75 free.
  5. Freelancer Sites – I’m not a big fan of these, but they’re great for accessing people with money ready to pay for your services.  You’ll be earning way below what you should be and competing with offshore workers but you do without the hassle of credit control or having to have a website/marketing plan in place.  Try www.peopleperhour.com, www.odesk.com, www.elance.com to name but a few.
  6. Create a campaign – Rather than doing some emails, a bit of twitter marketing and then the odd phone call, create a campaign.  On average it takes 7 communications before a customer buys from you, so make sure you hit them repeatedly.  No one wants to be an annoying spammer, but you can vary your contacts to range from postcards, emails, phone calls, events, tweets – they just get reminded of you and what it is you can do for them.  Take a list of 20 people and put them through your whole campaign – then watch the results.
  7. Twitter – One of the reasons I love Twitter is its immediacy.  Set up searchable terms like “virtual assistant” “audio typist” etc to track when people are looking for your skills.  Also worth noting is the hashtag #journorequest which is used by journalists looking for case studies etc.
  8. Schedule – Make sure you’re getting the best out of your time by pre-scheduling tweets, newsletters and even postcard campaigns in order that you don’t hit a dead period again.  The easiest way of doing this is to sit down and mark out the calendar year noting things like school holidays, tax return deadlines, Christmas, Valentines etc and write about those things.  This helps you avoid the “see saw marketing” effect of doing the work, being too busy to market yourself and then having no work and having to market desperately in order to stay above water.
  9. Have a meeting – I’m not so convinced about the merits of networking in a formal way, but I have huge belief in the power of meeting face to face with someone.  Call up your business buddy – it might be your web designer, another mumpreneur you know, the guy who does your printing – and arrange to have a coffee.  That’s it, no sales pitch.  You’ll find out how their market is doing, what the economic climate is throwing up, some interesting titbits of gossip and also perhaps learn a bit about their business too.  The very act of putting stuff in the diary generates business.  Emma always jokes that we never get any new business unless I’m on a train – it’s very true!  Whether it’s sod’s law or just the act of getting out there, I’m not sure, but good things work in a karmic circle.
  10. Give to get – On that karmic note, be generous and give of yourself.  Have a free teleseminar or design a Facebook marketing guide or run a free networking event in your area.  You’ll be surprised how quickly the results come back to you tenfold.
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Did I miss some?  Tell me below – the comments area is secured so only SVA Chat members will see them.

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2 Comments

  1. Lin MacD on 1 June, 2011 at 5:40 pm

    Its important to actually tell people what you do!
    Sounds silly but so many people actually don’t. How many times have you walked away after a conversation with someone and still been unclear about exactly what they were offering?
    A lot of people have a preconceived idea about what a VA does: take advantage of 1-2-1’s – face to face or by phone, rather than generalising about the services you offer tell them a story and talk them through a recent task or project you have worked on – its amazing how often the other person has a light bulb moment and say ‘I didn’t realise you could do that!’. It has definitely encouraged at least two of my prospects to convert to clients quicker than they might have done and I have ended doing the work they were originally looking to outsource plus the extra ‘stuff’ that they didn’t think I did.

    • Caroline on 2 June, 2011 at 9:36 am

      Good point Lin – it’s great to see those cogs turning and suddenly fall into place isn’t it?

      Do you have an “elevator pitch” or do you simply tailor it to your audience depending on what they need?

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