One of the most important things you can do as a new virtual assistant is research, research, research. Oh, and then some more research. Part of your business plan should be a marketing projection including a competitive analysis. So how do you actually get information about what other people are doing? And more importantly, how can you do it better than them?
Number 1 Rule:
Do not pretend to be a client in order to get information from another virtual assistant.
The reasons for this are threefold.
1. It’s stealing. VAs sell their time as a commodity and you signing up to their newsletter or calling up asking for prices is using up their time and resources. It does cost them for you to be on that mailing list. And it does take time to weed you out or call you up and check who you are. Not only does it steal the VAs time, but it raises questions about whether you were planning on plagiarising their materials or how you came up with similar content to them in your own newsletter at a later stage. Don’t sign up to their marketing materials and don’t pretend to be a client.
2. It’s pointless. Their marketing strategies will not work for your business, because you are not them. You will have different skills, a different business model or certainly a different personality to them. What works for them may not work for you. Plus, and this is unique to the virtual assistant industry, most VAs will happily tell you what their rates are and what marketing strategies work for them. Just ask nicely, not dishonestly.
3. It’s unnecessary. There are many different surveys and reports now available for both the worldwide and UK virtual assistant industries and you can easily buy one. Not only do these give accurate results, they also show you a number of different trends including how much you will realistically earn. If you aren’t able to spend £25 investing in your business, you really should not be starting at all! Just click here to purchase
So what do you need for your market analysis?
Competitors hourly rates: Don’t be tempted to be “the cheapest”. Someone will always be able to go lower than you. Instead aim to be “the best” and create a niche market for yourself. Some good examples I heard recently were “the social networking queen” and “the horsey VA”.
A realistic amount of billable hours: I recently spoke to a new VA who fondly imagined she’d be billing 40 hours per week at £25 an hour from the very first week her business opened! She forgot to include her own time for marketing, getting new clients, admin, billing etc. And she forgot that every business will go through busy and quiet periods. Last week I billed 20 hours work in one day, but not all of that went into my pocket because it would be physically impossible to actually produce that amount of work. If you have other commitments which take you away from the business, you need to build these into the amount of hours that are available for billable work. Any figures you put in here will be speculative, but what your advisor is looking for is research to back up any assumptions that you have made.
A plan for getting new clients: Be specific here. Saying “I will network” is rather wishy washy. “I will network twice per month at Chamber of Commerce events and Women Into Business and follow those leads up with phonecalls and emails” is slightly more specific. Put in place a marketing budget and stick to it because marketing should be an investment not an expense – for every £1 you spend there should be more coming back in! Measure your results carefully and don’t flog a dead horse, if you aren’t getting results, try something else, there are lots of ideas out there… in fact SVA has 101 Marketing ideas here.
SWOT: Stands for “Strengths, Opportunities, Weaknesses, Threats” this is where you get to say why you’re better than everyone else! Don’t be shy about blowing your own trumpet, and don’t be blasé about real threats. Any bank manager reviewing your business plan is going to ask you about offshore VAs, call centres and temps – show him you mean business by addressing that threat here.
That done, you should sail through the business plan. Good luck!