Several virtual assistants have said that they just couldn't get their businesses off the ground. Some even decided to quit and go back to work outside the home. I asked some of these VAs to share what their challenges were so I could address these when coaching new and aspiring virtual assistants. It's very helpful to know what obstacles are faced that discourage us from pursuing a certain course.
Challenges faced by some virtual assistants and Sue's thoughts on them:
1. Feeling unappreciated by family and friends who were also clients.
Sue's thoughts: Often virtual assistants do get started working for family and friends. This can be a trap since family and friends sometimes think we will work for them for free or for a very low rate. Also, if there are any challenges, feelings can more easily be hurt.
Sue's suggestions: If you do choose to start working with friends and family, it is still very important to set clear expectations. I suggest you have even friends and family sign a contract clearly stating what tasks you will do, rate of pay and payment arrangements. You can simply let them know that this helps you both to understand exactly what is expected and helps prevent misunderstandings. If you set the right expectations clearly upfront, the situation will be much easier to handle. If your friends and family do not want to follow your business procedures and policy, perhaps they aren't the right client for you. Isn't better to have happy family members who aren't clients than clients who are unhappy family members?
2. Working outside the home and not having time to market effectively.
Sue's suggestions: It can be very challenging trying to start a business while working full time. There are those that have successfully done it. I suggest before starting your virtual assistant business that you find some of these people and talk with them about how they succeeded. You need to know before starting down this path that it really is the one for you. Some have chosen to cut back to part time work while pursuing their virtual assistant career.
To find time to effectively market, I strongly suggest putting together a marketing plan and calendar. It doesn't need to take as much time as many think. Even spending 15 minutes each day to do some sort of marketing can be very effective. Networking groups found at Meetup.com can be a great way to market yourself and many are held one evening a month. It's well worth spending one evening a month at a networking function to get to know people that could be potential clients.
3. Not believing they could succeed.
Sue's thoughts: This is a trap many entrepreneurs face. Can I really succeed? If our business doesn't reach a certain goal by a certain date, sometimes all our beliefs in success fly out the window.
Sue's suggestions: Find a mentor or business coach who can help you realistically assess your business and marketing plans and who wants to see you succeed. Surround yourself with people who cheer you on, whether it be at communities like FindVirtual.com or a local Meetup.com group. I highly recommend reading Seth Godin's book The Dip. As Seth himself says, "this fun little book will help you figure out if you're in a Dip that's worthy of your time, effort, and talents. If you are, The Dip will inspire you to hang tough. If not, it will help you find the courage to quit-so you can be number one at something else."
4. Lack of marketing skills.
Sue's thoughts: Two things can be done. Hire someone to market for you. Or learn the basic skills before you start your business. Online marketing and social networking are both tools we now have available that we didn't have a few years ago. Used correctly they can be so effective. Unfortunately, too many people use them incorrectly and just make it harder for those trying to do it right.
Sue's suggestions: Take some time to do some research. Read blogs about marketing. Again, being a huge fan of Seth Godin, I encourage you to read one of his books, Permission Marketing.
It's important to have a marketing plan and calendar in place before you begin your business if you want to succeed at marketing. You don't have to know everything or do everything. But do have some specific actions you take each and every day to market your business. A business coach can help you in this area as well.
5. Feelings of loneliness.
Sue's thoughts: One of the cons of working as a virtual assistant is that you are working alone much of the time. You may miss the camaraderie of working with others. This is a factor to consider before launching a virtual business - can you work successfully alone or not?
Sue's suggestions: Joining online communities such as FindVirtual.com can help combat the feelings of loneliness. Here in Northern California there's also a local VA meetup and that's helped me tremendously. I also helped co-found the Northern California Association of Entrepreneurs to help alleviate the loneliness. We meet monthly and brainstorm business ideas.
These are just some of the common obstacles virtual assistants face. Meeting these head on and taking action to overcome them, virtual assistants around the world have succeeded in business.
I'd love to hear about other challenges you face. Please share also how you have overcome any challenges in your business.