Dawn At Your Service’s Blog

Subcontracting for Other VAs – Pros and Cons

One of the things I love best about sub-contracting for other Virtual Assistants is they GET IT!!! They know the business. They know the pet peeves. “Client training” is unnecessary. Virtual assistants know there is generally a 24-48 hour turn around (based on the type of assignment). They do not expect e-mail replies immediately. They are usually not demanding and totally respect your working hours. They know in life crap happens and don’t expect you to be at their beck and call. They understand what it’s like to run a business from home with kids, Dr’s appointments, cheer leading practice, parent teacher conferences and all of the other regular demands of parenting.

The learning curve as far as getting to know their business (which of course is a requirement in this line of work) basically only consists of knowing their personal policies. There may be a little learning involved as far as getting to know their clients’ businesses or project management software they use. But working WITH another VA is way easier than jumping on board with a client whose type of business you’re not familiar with. (An example for me would be an insurance agent.)

Notice how I stressed the word with above. A big pet peeve amongst the VA industry is being treating like an employee. We are not employees, we are partners. We own our own businesses and pay taxes too. Virtual Assistants are not employees, we are independent contractors working together with other independent contractors/small business owners to collaboratively increase success. Virtual Assistants get that and it’s motivating to work with people in the appropriate mindset.

Virtual Assistant’s are usually amazing planners and organizers, therefore there is rarely a need for rush projects. And again, I understand that life happens so when another VA is in a jam, I’m more than happy to help them out with a rush project to meet a deadline if my schedule allows. But overall, when subbing for another VA, things usually run pretty smoothly. Assignments are given with ample amount of time to complete. We share the same goals and lifestyles so we often develop strong and close relationships. At the end of the day it’s almost like having a co-worker only they’re usually on the other end of the country.🙂

There are a couple of cons though. Naturally you’re working for a lower rate, therefore you’re making less money than you would be doing the same thing for a regular client. The way I look at it is, I didn’t do any of the marketing to get the work, I don’t have to deal with the contract or billing and invoicing which are all non-billable hours. So in my mind, it evens out.

One thing I have noticed is when Virtual Assistant’s are looking for a subcontractor (unless you personally know them), although they KNOW subs are not employees, I have found it common for them to have a hiring process when it comes to beginning a new working relationship. Sometimes their RFPs look like job postings requiring a lot of questions to be answered (i.e. job interview type questions) and wanting references. I know myself like many, many others wouldn’t bother responding to an RFP that looks like a job posting even if we are qualified. It’s insulting. I can totally understand that you want to be sure that the person you bring on board is qualified, reliable and efficient. But post what skills you need and save the rest for a casual phone consultation.

I’d like to close by saying I have truly been blessed with my clients. Overall almost all of my ongoing clients are very respectful of my time, hours and family. They are more than understanding!! Whether regular clients or other Virtual Assistants I work with, I’ve enjoyed having them as a part of my life. I work with some absolutely wonderful people and I thank God for it everyday!

October 21, 2010 Posted by | Business Management, Work From Home | , , , , , | 4 Comments

Is it so wrong?

There is no doubt I have been slacking on my marketing efforts. 3 months ago I was revved up to expand my business and bring on an assistant. Then along came Spring…

I have a 3 and 13 years old daughter. They are the air I breathe and it is no secret I worship the ground they walk on. Having my children so far apart has instilled something in me with my second child where I want to hold on so tight to every moment because I don’t plan on having any more children. My 3 years old will be going to preschool and my 13 years old going into her last year of junior high. I have this fear that I am going to wake up one day and it’s all going to be gone….and what will be left? My business!

So when I wake up and the sun is shining, I do the work that needs to be completed and then it’s off to the park, water park, pool, museum, beach, camper and so forth. I am making memories with my girls that I would never get the opportunity to make if I sat at this desk and worked bootie off day in and day out. I am giving my girls the gift of experiences, smiles and fun that will last their lifetime. When I make money, I spend it faster than I make it with only materials as the end result. What’s more important…to me? Materials or precious memories with my kids? The answer is obvious.🙂

So when you see the gap in my blog or social media, know….if today was my last day on earth, I spent it exactly the way I wished it would be! Off to the pool! 100 degrees today!


July 14, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | 2 Comments

How Social Media has Helped my Business

A friend of mine asked if Facebook has helped my business. I get this question a lot and being a fan of “re-purposing” for blog entries, I thought I’d share my response.

Facebook has absolutely helped my VA business! Actually, the way I have it set up is my Twitter account feeds to Facebook (both are publicly indexed by the search engines if privacy settings are adjusted accordingly) and I spend most of my time on Twitter.  At the end of the day, social media is social media so I guess it doesn’t really matter where you spend your time as long as you’re participating. What I like about Twitter is it’s easier to follow a specific target audience and since I’m a chatterbox, I like the ability to chat back and forth with people.

A few ways social media helps my business:

  • Increased traffic to my website & blog – I always see a downward spiral when I’m not active.
  • Higher search engine results that are keyword specific – so when someone is searching for a VA that does say WordPress web design, by constantly posting working on a #wordpress web design, I’m more likely to return in search results.  And now that real-time search has come along, it provides an even greater advantage. (That number sign is a hashtag which is similar to a tag you would use in a blog when used in conjunction with a word to allow people to find specific keywords by search.) For more information on boosting search engine rankings by using Twitter, check out this article by Search Engine Land.
  • Turning business acquaintances into friends-I have SO many friends all over the world that I correspond with on Twitter. I love making new friends and growing relationships. I am a total people person. Eventually they are likely to be awesome referral sources (or turn into clients) and often valuable resources for things I need in MY business.
  • Credibility-Many leads gone clients tell me that they checked out my Facebook & Twitter account and were inpressed with my authenticity. It allows people to know me before they consider my services. If they don’t like what they see, I’m sure they move on which is my goal. Love me for who I am or leave. This has allowed me to attract like minded people so my clients & I get along great! Plus since I offer social media management as a service, if they like what they see, they’re more likely to contract me for social media management services.
  • Gained exposure-I am always profile building. Anytime I stumble across a quality social networking site, I build a profile. Nowadays, most social networks have an application for a twitter or facebook feed. So although I may not be able to participate on every social network, my profile is constantly updated and shown in a time-line allowing me gained visibility.
  • Lastly, All of your big names are on Twitter & Facebook. You can find industry related news & info, but what I love best is that if I’m ever stumped on something, I can throw a tweet out there and most of the times I get the answer to my twitter replies in minutes! It’s like a direct connection to a customer service agent. I love it!

March 25, 2010 Posted by | Business Development, How To, Marketing, Search Engine Optimization (SEO) | , , , , | Leave a comment

On a Personal Note…

It has been 2 weeks since the horrific catastrophic tragedy occurred in Haiti. Those of you who are close to me know I can be a bit sensitive at times🙂, therefore my emotions don’t come as a surprise.

I have experienced a complete shift in mindset since the eartquake. (Hopefully time will not cause it to dissipate.) Every morning when I brush my teeth, I feel this overwhelming gratitude for running water. When I shower, not only am I thankful for running water, but HOT running water. All day long as I go on with my day, I have sudden glimpses of how lucky I am. When I reach for a second helping at dinner, I feel rich. When my daughter spills her milk and it splatters on the floor and walls, I am thankful to have her healthy and here with me. On my only day off this past weekend, I spent it painting despite my extreme exhaustion. But how fortunate am I to have standing walls to paint? Working two jobs really beats me up sometimes, but thank God I have two jobs to work! And the list goes on and on multiple times throughout the day as I experience living and being. I have had the opportunity to reflect on all of the things I DO have instead of yearning for the things I wish I had. I cannot put into words how blessed I am.

This past summer I took my oldest daughter tent camping. We had Dad’s work van cleaned out in the back in case of rain and set it up like a mini camper. We had a mini fridge, radio, portable DVD Player and smart phones. The victims of this hurricane have tents and I believe blankets. I can’t even imagine!

Another realization I have come to is that I really need to get my ducks back in a row with the Red Cross. Monetary donations just don’t do it for me. I need to physically be there, hands on and help. Local shelters are preparing for the arrival of many planeloads of Haitian refugees over the next few weeks. I’ve been inactive with the Red Cross since the birth of my youngest daughter almost 3 years ago. I am pretty sure in order to participate in the relief operations I need to have completed my feeding and sheltering courses. (Looking into this.) I’m not sure how I am going to swing it working two jobs, being a traveling cheer mom and raising a toddler, but it is imperative I make time for me and fulfill MY passions. Disaster relief is something I plan to be very active in when my children are grown. Life is short. Why should I wait?

January 26, 2010 Posted by | Personal Life | , , , | Leave a comment

Generating Blog Traffic

I often hear the questions, how do I get traffic to my blog and why would anyone care about what I have to say in a blog? I will get to the traffic portion in a moment. I don’t care who you are or what you write about, someone WILL read your blog. Obviously the more informative and valuable information you provide, the more readers you will gain. But there are WAY too many people around the world surfing the net with infinite interests to assume that no one will read your blog. In my opinion, it’s impossible.

As far as building traffic to your blog, I don’t have super high numbers, but I get traffic. The unique visitors to my blog range from 100-300 per month. Ultimately, that is my own fault for not posting more frequently. There is always a spike in traffic when a new post is generated. The truth is I dislike content writing greatly. I’m more of a talker.🙂 But I continue to maintain a blog because it helps my potential clients get a feel for who I am and what my skill levels are. I have had excellent feedback from leads gone clients because they were able to feel my personality bleed through my words. To me, that’s invaluable! I’m attracting like minded people and probably deterring the others, which is exactly my goal.

I’m going to share the methods I use to build my blog traffic (outside of the large amount of traffic I get from the link to my blog from my About Me page on my business website). I find building blog traffic to be very similar to building traffic to a general website.

Signature-In my e-mail signature line there is a click-able link (with the http:// included) to my blog with a compelling tag line. For example, “Find free resources and valuable marketing tips”. I also include this same signature in any forum, group or social networking site that allows it in their terms of service.

Link Exchanges- As a result of online networking, I have met many wonderful people. I have been approached a few times from people who have found my blog insightful and were interested in link exchanges (putting each others’ links on each others’ blogs). If I like their blog then I accept. I frequently see traffic coming into my blog from their blogs. Perhaps I could be more proactive and seek out link exchanges more often, but I just don’t have the ask for something mentality.

Blog Directories- Just like website directories, there are a ton of blog directories. If you google “blog directory” you will get endless results. Submitting your blog to blog directories increases your backlinks and should bring in traffic. I get quite a bit of traffic from one specific directory, Blog Surfer. Blog Catalog & Technorati are pretty good too. Here is a link to a good post on the, “20 Essential Blog Directories to Submit Your Blog To” written by Loren Baker. Additionally, not that it is necessary because the search engines will index your blog anyway, but you can add your blog to Google’s Blog Directory. Bing and other search engines probably have the same thing.

Feeds-Many major networking sites have applications to feed your blog to your profile. My blog feeds through Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and every other social networking site I have a profile at that allows it. I find this helpful because although I don’t participate in every networking site I belong to, my profiles are still updated with fresh blog posts/news. (Note: the hyperlinks above are to instructions on how to link your blog to those social networking sites.)

Pings-For networking sites that don’t have feed applications, you can set up a ping. A ping is like a messenger that lets sites you subscribe to know new content has been added. You can set up pings at Ping-o-matic or Ping.fm.

Search Engines-I get a fair amount of search engine traffic. My posts are all related to my industry, therefore my content is relevant and keyword rich for the audience I am trying to target. (Something the search engines love!)

Comment on other Blogs-I have found that when I surf through other WordPress blogs and comment, the blog authors usually visit my blog in return.

Good Content- I am going to touch on content once more before I close. Good content is key. Yes, I believe all blogs will get traffic. But if you want reader loyalty, provide informative information with a personal touch. Give freebies…trade secrets, reference guides and give viewers a reason to bookmark your blog. Be honest, sincere and true. Let people know the “who” behind the screen. It’s not all about the product or the service. It’s the “who” behind the product and/or service that sets us apart from our competitors. I really believe all and all, this is what blogging is all about!

For ideas on what to blog about, visit 10 Simple Ideas for Writing Blog Posts

December 16, 2009 Posted by | How To, Marketing | , , , , | 4 Comments

How-to Install a Joomla Update from cPanel

  1. Go to Joomla.org and click on DOWNLOAD JOOMLA GET THE LATEST VERSION (in the right column) to view the latest release.
  2. From the Administrator panel of your Joomla Website (top right hand corner) check which version your website is running on.
  3. Go back to Joomla’s latest version and click on, Download other Joomla x.x.x packages ».
  4. Find the version your website is currently running on and download the package.
  5. Sign into cPanel.
  6. From Backups, create a back-up of your home directory and MySQL database (Recommended, not required).
  7. Go back Home and go to File Manager.
  8. Create a folder  by clicking on New Folder in the public-html webspace (Verify by confirming “/public_html” is next to the home icon) and call it “upgrade” (or whatever you like).
  9. Upload the new file package into that folder from cpanel by clicking Upload>Browse and then locate the file.
  10. Upon completion extract the files by clicking “Extract”.
  11. Select all of the files. Click the “Move File” button.
  12. Make the file path at the bottom of the dialog box to: public_html (no folder, no “/” after the name), and initiate the move.
  13. Go back to your Administrator panel and refresh the page to confirm the newest version is now running.
  14. Create another back-up of only the home directory. (Recommended, not required.)

November 20, 2009 Posted by | How To | , , , | Leave a comment

Illinois Virtual Assistants Connection

A few months ago I went to a meetup for Virtual Assistants in Illinois that was organized by Cindy Bruce of Essential Office Solutions through Virtual Assistant Forums. We had a fantastic time talking about how our businesses evolved, successes, failures, resources, client relations, challenges of working from home and how we could gain from our meetups.

Cindy Bruce, Kathleen Vargas of The Office Virtuoso, Kathy Watkins of Turnkey Virtual Assistance, Doreen Patrick of Virtual Business Partners and I decided to formally develop a professional networking Virtual Assistant Group named Illinois Virtual Assistants Connection (ILVAC for short). Our intent is to share knowledge and experiences at all levels of self-employment, educate each other of new resources, technology and best VA practices, build solid business relationships, as well as join together in collaborative efforts for referrals and project outsourcing. Of course we also want to have fun, fun, fun!

We’ve all put a lot of time and effort into building our group and are proud to say it’s steadily growing and we are getting great feedback. Members are enjoying our group, expanding their knowledge about the rapidly growing Virtual Assistant Industry and personally, I’ve learned something new at every meetup so far.

Illinois Virtual Assistants Connection has a lot of exciting things coming for the group. We are planning  a holiday party, Lunch-and-Learns, and our biggest baby of all…an ILVAC Conference for Spring! I have never planned a full fledged conference before. It is so exciting!

There are no profits involved for the ILVAC Core members other than the rewards we gain from building relationships and helping others.

If you’re a Virtual Assistant or aspiring VA residing in Illinois, please join us at Illinois Virtual Assistants Connection and become a part of our future success!

October 27, 2009 Posted by | Business Development, Business Management, Business Operations, How To, Marketing, Work From Home | , , , , | Leave a comment

When Depression Strikes the Self-Employed

Depression can strike at any time.

Unfortunately, it is a natural part of life to experience hard times. Loss of a loved one, an ill relative, health problems, marital problems, divorce, children acting out and financial troubles are some of the difficult roads on our journey we may endure. Even working from home can cause depression due to lack of socialization and loneliness.

Depression can be crippling.

It can cause loss of concentration, memory and effective decision making. Racing thoughts can consume your mind. Ambition and motivation might fade. Loss of energy and extreme fatigue may be experienced. There may be times when getting out of bed or off the couch feels impossible. Throbbing headaches and muscle pain are also often symptomatic with depression.

Our work environment influences our response to depression.

As an employee of a brick and mortar business, most of the time sick time and personal leaves are optional during extremely difficult times. Or the fact that not going to work could case termination, forces us to get out of bed and go. The distraction of other people and physically working can stray our minds away from our troubles. We can usually get by  as long as we show up and accomplish a minimal amount of work. If we have a co-worker we are close with, we can share our troubles and receive support. Often work is helpful during bouts of depression.

On the other hand, working from home  and managing a business makes battling depression EXTREMELY challenging. There isn’t anyone to force us to get out of bed or off the couch to work but ourselves. Being self-employed means no one can terminate us other than our clients. Doing minimal amounts of work is unacceptable if it is continued for a long period of time. Suffering decision making skills and feelings of hopelessness may inflict poor choices. Extensive poor choices can result in the collapse of a business .

Taking control over depression while working from home is difficult, yet not impossible.

Since we are our own boss, we ARE entitled to occasional sick time as long as it is not abused and open lines of communication with clients are kept (keeping boundaries of course). Take some time to cry it out, lay still in bed, sleep or whatever it is you do to grieve (in a non destructive or non violent way of course).

After we have given ourselves some grieving time, it is time to get back on track. We still may feel immobile, but we can trick our minds with force. By going into our office and turning on the computer we are forcing our brain to function, and distraction will come naturally. Different parts of our brain control different functions such as movement, vision, hearing, reading, logic, problem solving and emotion. We can zap some of that emotional and problem solving energy by forcing the other parts of the brain to work. Understanding this concept helps us get started, get distracted and get something done! If we  can just accomplish the hump of starting to work on something, before we know it our mind will naturally become involved with the task as hand.

As I’ve mentioned before, good nutrition with vitamins and supplements are important. Stress effects the body and mind in tremendous ways! When fighting depression, take vitamins religiously. A boost in Vitamin B 6 & 12, Omega 3, Vitamin C and a Zinc/Magnesium combo really help get the motivation functioning somewhat again.

Then there are the givens, exercise, talk to close friends and family, seek professional assistance or group therapy if needed. With the amazing blessing of the internet, there are MANY online groups you can anonymously join for support .

These suggestions come straight from experience. As you can see, there has been a large gap since the last time I’ve posted. I’ve experienced some major life changes and want to share how I am getting through it. Forcing myself to do client work has been a savior! Yes, I’ve slacked on my blog and haven’t been Miss Social Butterfly on the social networks like my usual self, but client work and my kids have forced me out of bed and reminded me that no matter how dark and gloomy it feels, life goes on and people need me. And now I am slowly but surely getting back on track!🙂

October 22, 2009 Posted by | Business Management, How To, Work From Home | , , , , | 1 Comment

10 Simple Ideas for Writing Blog Posts

One of the things I struggled with most when beginning to blog was coming up with ideas for content. The pressure for an award winning and valuable post caused writers block and resistance. Then I began to tell myself, it’s just like writing an e-mail. I’m not getting graded and the value of each post is simply based on opinion.

The next issue  was to write about. Well, this turned out to be a lot easier than I had made it out to be. The options for blog content are limitless. Here are some simple ideas on writing tips for creating blog entry content:

Google top news-What’s going on in the world today? Find the latest news related to your industry or business in general and create a post with your 2 cents.
Search forums for frequently asked questions-If you know the answer to a frequently asked question, write a post about it and every time you see someone ask again in the future, direct them to your blog post. It can be something as simple as what’s your favorite e-mail host.
Write How Tos-This one is super easy! Not everyone is computer savvy. As a matter of fact, I have friends that don’t even know how to add an attachment to an e-mail! You can write about how to do ANYTHING from creating an excel spreadsheet, how to use sorting and formulas, how to scale images in photo manipulation software, how to use WordPress🙂 etc… How Tos are probably the easiest solution when you’re not feeling very creative.
Story telling-Share experiences. We all have them daily, both good and bad. This is another endless opportunity for ideas. Discuss challenges, accomplishments and just plain old situations. Although your life may not seem interesting to you, it’s comforting for others to know they’re not alone despite the circumstances.
Ask Questions, Seek answers-We all run into uncertainties. We may not be sure what’s the best option for our clients, products or services. We may have conflicting ideas on policies, operational management or marketing. Write about it. Ask for insight. Try to engage your audience. You may not get any answers, but at least you tried. PLUS…you can get two blog posts out of it because later you can go back and discuss the solution you came up with.😉
Summarize/Recap an Event-If you participate in a webinar, teleseminar, e-course, speaking or social networking event, take notes. Even if it’s information you already know, take notes anyway. Someone had that event for a reason. It was obviously worthy of your interest or you likely wouldn’t have attended. Then when it’s time to blog, you can use those notes as a guideline for your post.
Surveys-Surveys are interesting and can be used for just about any topic. If you’re like me and belong to WAY TOO MANY groups (LOL), take a poll. Post 5-10 questions to one (or more) of the groups you belong to about something you’re interested in (i.e. How do WAHMs schedule their days? How do you avoid distractions? Do you like working from home? Do you feel working outside the home would be easier?) Then create a blog post with the questions and percentage of answer results.
Resource Lists-Share your resources. We all have them in the web geek world. Posting valuable resources is an excellent way to gain blog traffic. If you provide good stuff, it’s very likely that post will be bookmarked and visited often. If you don’t think any of your resources stored in “favorites” are of value, think again. You can also search delicious bookmarks or if your a Twitter geek like me, there are valuable resources being posted all day long!
Reviews-Another endless source of ideas. Love it or hate it? Outlook, Yahoo Sitebuilder, WordPress, Blogger, Google Calendar, Coke or Pepsi? I think you get the jist.
Tips-Perfect example…this blog post. Share tips and ideas on how you’ve dealt with challenges or what helps you get through something a little easier.

August 4, 2009 Posted by | Marketing | , , , , , | Leave a comment

WYSIWYG Editors and Basic HTML

I’m creating this post to help my clients, both current and future, who are interested in managing their own websites after I design them. Of course if this information is helpful to anyone else, that’s fantastic.

The applications I use to build websites are content management systems. I use CMS Made Simple, Joomla or WordPress. I haven’t decided yet which one I like best. Most people find WordPress to be the easiest to manage by themselves, but rumor has it that Joomla has the most sustainability and functionality.

All three systems that I use have WYSIWYG editors. According to Wikipedia, WYSIWYG (pronounced /ˈwɪziwɪɡ/[1]), is an acronym for What You See Is What You Get, used in computing to describe a system in which content displayed during editing appears very similar to the final output,[2] which might be a printed document, web page, slide presentation or even the lighting for a theatrical event.”

In English, it’s an editor that translates text and images into code so it can be displayed in a browser, and apparently other things. WYSIWYG editors have been a huge development for designers because it reduces almost all hard coding. Notice the word “almost”. Just like the definition above states, “appears very similar”. WYSIWYG editors are NOT error proof and things don’t always display the way they do in your editing screen. Hopefully these basic codes and tips can help editing a website and/or blog pages a little less painful.

Some Basic codes:

Most codes have a beginning and an end. The bolded print is the code. The italic text displayed between is used as an example and would be replaced with your own text.

Paragraph-

<p>Place the text for your paragraph between these codes. Start a new segment for each paragraph.</p>

Bold-

<b>Place bold text here</b>
or, and I don’t know why
<strong>Place bold text here</strong>

I use trial and error here. If one doesn’t work, try the other.

Italic-

<em>Place italic text here.</em>

Insert an image-

<img src=”full path to the file you want to insert“>
*generally if you click on the image where it is uploaded such as file manager or media gallery, it will display in another browser window. You can copy and paste the entire file name in between the parathesis and it SHOULD work.

Insert a hyperlink/url-

<a href=”url to the page you want to link“>what you actually want displayed</a>

Spacing-

Spacing can be a very tricky thing with WYSIWYG editors. Sometimes there’s too much space and sometimes there’s not enough.

To add a space, try <br> which is called a break tag and does not need an end tag. If that doesn’t work, try adding a paragraph with non-breaking space <p>&nbsp;</p> Hopefully one of those will do the trick.

Removing space is often necessary when you use the enter button. The WYSIWYG editor adds in a blank paragraph that looks like this: <p></p> with no text in it other than maybe some formatting. Or there will just be a blank space. Either way, you have to delete it.

VERY IMPORTANT-All editing using HTML codes must be done from the HTML editor. They won’t work using the WYSIWYG. It will display exactly like it does here in this post. If you have trouble locating your HTML editor in any of the programs I mentioned above, just ask and I’ll direct you towards them.

The bolded coding is just to help you identify what is the actual code. When using code, it is not bolded.

Never copy and paste a Word document into a WYSIWYG editor. Microsoft automatically places hideen code in their text and it will show through or the text will not display properly unless you stick it into a Word clipboard (which most WYSIWYG editors have), or copy and paste it into notepad and THEN into your WYSIWYG editor.

Lastly, I highly recommend ALWAYS copying and pasting the original HTML code (what you see when you switch from the WYSIWYG to the HTML editor into notepad before you do any tampering in unfamiliar territory. Trust me on this…I’ve made that mistake! You don’t want to take the chance of losing all of your original, already formatted content!

July 6, 2009 Posted by | Business Operations, How To | 1 Comment