Dawn At Your Service’s Blog

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

Seeking Local Website Promotion Ideas

Different types of marketing work for different businesses. The table below lists the different types of tactics that I have, or currently practice in my virtual assistance business website and specialty directory of niche directories. My expertise is in increasing traffic and page rank. I also utilize these strategies for clients. This works well for an online business, but how effective is it for conversion when your target audience is local? What types of Internet Marketing or Website Promotion are effective strategies for something like a heating and air conditioning business or a painting company? Is it worth their time and effort or money to utilize these approaches? If not, where do you think they would see more bang for their buck?

Type: Purpose:
Article Marketing To build credibility, visibility & website traffic (people are naturally curious about the author), and increased back links.  A valuable article in a valuable directory is highly recognized by search engines.
Back linking (An external website that links to your website.) Search engines determine a website’s importance by the amount of “good” sites that link back to them. Posting comments on other blogs relevant to your website using a signature is a good way to increase back links.
Blogging To increase credibility, inform the readers about the person behind the business and their expertise. Fresh content is highly recognized by search engines. Informative and/or entertaining compositions attract people and increase traffic.
Directory Submissions-Major Directories To increases visibility, search engine recognition and website traffic.
Quality Directory Submissions-general & specialty directories To increase back links (Watch out for “spammy” directories.)
Forum Participation To build credibility, business relationships and back links (using a signature).
Micro-Blogging To gain exposure, announcement portal, build relationships and gain credibility as an expert in your field.
Search Engine Optimization Add title tag, meta tags and modify content arrangement and keywords.
Social Bookmarking To gain quality back link(s), niche specific increased visibility (based on relevancy) and increase traffic. Works well for valuable blogs.
Social Networking Sites To gain exposure, announcement portal, build relationships and gain credibility as an expert in your field. Increases back links.
Press Releases To builds visibility and exposure. Generally feeds through news which is good for an SEO boost and temporarily increase web traffic. Increases back links.

June 12, 2009 Posted by | Business Development, Business Management, Marketing, Time Management | , , , , , | Leave a comment

My Marketing Pie

I am a big fan of Fabienne Fredirickson and The Client Attraction System. She was my marketing inspiration at the birth of my business. Her model teaches to choose eight marketing strategies, start with a few and slowly integrate the additional strategies. Assess through trial and error what works best for your business. Ultimately this is a great plan. Unfortunately, I am one person running a micro-business with next to nothing for a marketing budget, let alone outsourcing. I am the business operations manager, bookkeeper, marketing director, web designer, client relations manager, janitor, supplies delivery person and being a service based business, I have services to deliver.

Being the rookie that I was, I followed Fabienne’s recommendation and chose eight pieces with the intent of starting off with a few. I started with forum participation, direct mail and website directory submissions. Before I knew it I was posting classifieds, article marketing, social networking and blogging.  I still have newsletters untouched. My eagerness led me to just about devour that pie in a year! I don’t think that is quite what she meant by starting with a few, assess the return and add more in. Perhaps I should have spent the money on the full program!

Needless to say, I have learned a very big lesson about marketing! Time is money! I need to focus on what I am best at that I can accomplish in the least amount of time, that will give me the most in return.

I am not a good writer. (SURPRISE!!!) It takes me a really long time to write. I struggle with translating my feelings into words. I always read, edit, reread, edit again and continue until I’m satisfied. This is the reason I don’t offer content writing as a service. (I offer a ton of services, buy copy is not one of them!) I don’t mind blogging because I feel it builds credibility and is worth my time for several reasons. I can be who I am and if I misspell a word, oops, I’m human and I make mistakes. I don’t feel pressured. I am honestly not trying to impress anyone here. I think it is very important for any potential clients to know who I truly am, what I believe in and what I’m knowledgeable about. I feel that being just who I am is valuable to other small business owners. I would hope that someone considering my services would be able to determine if we would be the right fit for each other by reading through my posts. It will save us both a lot of grief! With that being said, yes it is worth the 1-2 hours it takes me per post, per week. LOL

I am a total social butterfly. I make friends everywhere I go. My family finds it annoying  that I’ve befriended the Dunkin Doughnuts worker, the gas station clerk, lifeguards, etc. It’s who I am and who I’ve always been. I really believe that somewhere across my head it says, “tell me your life story” because sometimes strangers will just walk up to me and start telling me their life stories. I am a people magnet. Maybe because I listen, I respond and I care. This is the gift I’ve been blessed with.

After evaluating what I am good at and not so good at, I have discovered which marketing methods are most beneficial for me. Anything “social” is worth my time and I love it! I enjoy talking to other people, learning about them and their lives. I love learning about other cultures and ways of life in distant places. I find great reward in sharing knowledge and experiences. None of it feels like work and I am good at it. So I’m on a marketing pie diet (cheesy joke-sorry. lol). Until I can afford to outsource, I am cutting out the marketing strategies that deeply involve writing (excluding blogging) and focusing on anything that starts with “social”.

MARKETING TIP: If you’re a micro-business owner without a marketing budget, practice marketing tactics that are right for you. Don’t scatter yourself all over the board. Choose marketing stratagies that compliment your talents.

May 1, 2009 Posted by | Business Development, Marketing | , , , | Leave a comment

Networking Turn Offs

Aggressively advertising on social networking sites, Twitter or at networking events is a total turn off to me. It doesn’t matter how much material is composed on this topic, many people simply don’t seem to care.

Social Networking Sites

I find great value in forums that have a zero tolerance policy for this type of behavior. Some forums allow specific days to post announcements which I find to be a happy medium. We all like to share our current news and specials. But I have found too often people abuse direct messaging, especially on Facebook and ning sites.

As you can tell, I am pretty involved in social media networking. I’m a junkie; I’m not ashamed. 🙂  I utilize these portals as a way to establish business relationships, gain exposure and make new friends. If someone can use my services, that’s great. If not, a few good laughs is worth the time I put into it. I belong to numerous social networking sites. Seldom do I send friend requests unless the person intrigues me or is a fellow Virtual Assistant. I am pretty open to accepting new friends and connections unless their business is a Get Rich Quick Scheme. I always screen their profiles and try to determine if they are apparent spammers. If nothing stands out, I accept. But the moment I start getting hit with comments and/or direct messages of blatant advertising, that person is off my list. If I find forums where these activities are acceptable in posts, I rarely go back.

Twitter

Twitter is another example. It can be a good way to gain exposure, post announcements and have a little fun. But I really don’t have any interest in following people that ONLY post ads. If they don’t contribute knowledge, insight or engage in conversation I have no desire to follow their activity. I always prescreen Twitter profiles and their related websites before following. I also do a quick scan of their updates to make sure they are not all ads.

Nowadays, a lot of Virtual Assistants and marketing firms provide Social Media Management as a service (including myself). I totally get that it is very time consuming and see the benefits of outsourcing this aspect of business. But it’s important to make sure that whomever is handling this for you does more than just post ads if you want to reap the benefits. It has to come with a personalized touch. Why would someone want to follow you when it’s obvious your ad company is just posting ads, unless you are Adam Sandler? (I heart Adam Sandler :)) I received a notification today that Many Moore of Gossip Girls is now following me on Twitter. Yeah….OK….delete.

Social Networking Events

Most of us, with the exception of newbies know the etiquette of social networking events. We introduce ourselves, listen, chat, pass everyone a business card and sometimes eat and drink. During conversation we answer questions and offer knowledge on topics we are familiar with. I find networking events very enjoyable and a great excuse to sneak out of the house. What I don’t think is cool is coming across people who are like aggressive car salesmen. They make me feel like I’m on trial bombarding me with questions in their tactics of trying to sell me their product or service. It reminds me of being in my 20s and trying to escape a guy hitting on me at a bar. I look for any excuse to get away. Don’t people realize I have their card and all of their contact information. I heard their elevator pitch. If I need something they offer, I know where to find them. But if they are annoyingly pushy, I will toss their card right in the trash can.

As I mentioned, business cards are distributed to all event attendees. I know that this opens me up to being on marketing lists. It’s part of the deal and there is no way around it if I want to pass my cards out. Everyone has their own marketing methods and I can respect that. I don’t cold call or list build. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t work for other people. But it is not very nice or legal to spam me with ads without giving me the option to opt out. Nor is it nice to cold call me at 8pm. These type of tactics will ensure no business or referrals will ever come from me.

April 22, 2009 Posted by | Business Development, Marketing | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Free Resources for Virtual Assistants and More

Some people are anal about sharing trade secrets. I’m all about sharing knowledge and helping others succeed.

There are so many free alternative resources out here in cyberspace that it blows me away! Thank goodness for Delicious bookmarks! I will continue to edit and update this post as I continue to learn more about what is available, my experiences with the resources and/or any changes in availability. There is an extensive thread on VA resources on Virtual Assistant Forums and more here (not sure if you have to be a member to view).

Accounting
Quick Books Simple Start

Administrative Resources
Google Docs-A convenient way to share documents and calendars (I wish Google had more color coding options with the calendar)
Dictionary.com-Have to throw this one in….don’t know where I’d be without my thesaurus!
OpenOffice.org-Free open source alternative to Microsoft Office
Microsoft Office Online-Free templates of pretty much anything you can think of, along with free website hosting and sitebuilder

Billing
CurdBee-Online billing for small business owners and freelancers.

Blog Resources
blogger.com-Free Blog Site
BTemplate-Free Blogger Templates
WordPress.com-Free Blog site
WP Generator Blog-Word Press Theme Generator
WP Classic-Free WordPress Themes
Artisteer-Free platform to build custom WordPress (Joomla & Drupal) Themes (Free Trial Only)
Twitter Image.com-Free Twitter Backgrounds
freeCSS Templates.org-Free CSS templates that require a link back (I think you can use these CSS templates for most web design programs.)
13 Premium-Like WordPress Themes That are Free and Stunning
Free Themes Directory– WordPress themes. At the time of this post, Free themes Directory states they have 791 themes!

Fax
Fax Zero-Free Internet faxing in the U.S. and Canada-Fax 1 document (max 3 pages), 2 free faxes per day

File Storage, Management & Transfer
Mozy.com-Back up space free for 2 GB
4Shared.com-Back up and shared space free for 5 GB
YouSendit.com-Large file transfers-send only Free version maximum 100 MB
Zamar-Free file conversion
Firezilla-Free FTP Solution-Transfer >4GB
Altools.com-They have a few great PC utilities but I use alzip to unpack zip files

Miscellanoeus
Filehippo-Yeah….I don’t know where to stick this one. It’s a site loaded with free software. Basically a very extended version of this post.
VirtualAssistantsGuide-Looks like I stumbled upon someone else with the same idea 🙂
Tiny URL-I use this URL shorten tool all of the time.
Smashingapps.com– Awesome array of free resources and online tools dedicated to web designers and developers, but useful for all!
Shoestring Small Business-Business resource guide. This site has a products and services directory of free and low cost business tools. One thing I like about it most is it’s also a free business-to-business directory. Good quality directories are great for search engine juice and exposure!

Photo Editing Software
10 Excellent Open Source and Free Alternatives to Photoshop-Thank you Daniel Shain for this resource. I love Gimp! It rocks!
Photoshop Alternatives: Another 14 Free Image Manipulation Tools-Thank you hongkiat.com

PDF Creators-Converters
PDF 995
Primo PDF
NitroPDF
PDF Converter-PDF to Word/Excel (Only allowed one every 30 mins so make sure to get it right the first time!)

Project Management
Ace Project-BaseCamp alternative. Up to 5 users, 5 projects and 50 tasks
1st Manager.com
DotProject-Open source project management software
Client Spot– Up to 5 users and 2 projects

Publications
OpenZine-Create a free online magazine

Remote Access
Logmein
Real VNC

Screen Shots
Gadwin PrintScreen 4.3 freeware-Make sure to download the correct (free) version
FireShot-Firefox print screen extension for Mozilla users

Stock Images
100 (Legal) Sources for Free Stock Images-Thank you Laura Milligan for putting the time into this!

Time Tracking
myhours-Time tracking system that I use daily. It allows me to run reports and export time sheets to Excel.
Cashboard-Financial time tracking software that allows unlimited invoices, estimates, payments and one employee log-in.
ManicTime-Time tracking system that logs computer and application usage.

Twitter
Twitter Buttons -A variety of Follow me coded images.
TweetDeck– Organization interface for twitter users-Makes it a whole lot easier, but can be distracting.
Twellow– The Yellow oages for Twitter users-Great way to follow interesting people and target audience by category. Just Don’t spam….we don’t like that.

Video & Conference Calling
Skype-a head-set is recommended to improve sound quality
ooVoo – video chat & conferencing up to 6 people (make sure to review system requirements)

Web Design & Development (Some template/CSS sites are listed under Blogs Category)
Open Source Flash Projectsa lot of great resources, especially for the more advanced web developer.
CMS Made Simple-Open Source Content Management System
FreePHPLD Templates
Joomla-Content Management System that is a bit more advanced than CMS Made Simple.
NVU-HTML/WYSIWYG Editor
Max’s HTML Beauty-Free wysiwyg editor that color codes HTML/PHP Code
FavIcon From Pics-Display your picture or logo in browser tabs or address bar.

March 27, 2009 Posted by | Business Development, Business Management, Free Resources, Work From Home | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Article Marketing

Recently, I have come across several inquiries regarding article marketing. Here is what I know.

Article marketing is used for building trust, credibility and recognition. Writing valuable and intriguing content will have your readers perceiving you as an expert in your field. Most people prefer to do business with knowledgeable and experienced professionals. Article marketing is a way to expose your brilliance.

At the end of your articles, it is important to always include an author resource box containing a link back to your website. An author resource box is a short 2-3 sentence description about you and/or your business. It should be sharp, professional and powerful.

High quality articles may be read and referenced on several other websites or blogs without you even knowing it. Article marketing generally has a viral effect. Think of it like a virus (but a good one :)) that spreads. Most article submission websites offer a reprint option. If someone reads your article and finds the content valuable, they may use it in their newsletter, e-zine, blog, website, or tweet about it. If they reprint it in a publication or on a website, they are required to include your author resource box, resulting in more back links and more traffic to your website. Quality back links are good for search engine juice.

There is some controversy over Google’s Duplicate Content rules. My theory is don’t spam one article to 20 websites. Submit one article to about no more then 4-5 QUALITY sites. I also suggest article directories with higher rankings such as http://ezinearticles.com/. They have a PageRank of 6, get tons of traffic and only accept quality articles. I think it’s one of the largest reprint article directories out there. http://biznik.com/articles is another good one. Although it is more of a social networking site, there are great articles on there and a lot of professional people. I guess you would have to consider your target market and weigh out where submitting your articles would be the most beneficial.

The bottom line is, you’re wasting your time submitting to disreputable websites that no one visits. If you see an article directory that accepts poorly written content or “adult” articles, chances are business professionals are not going to be looking there for content for their newsletters, blogs or websites.

One last thing before I pass on the Article Directory info, people submit the most unbelievable crap articles so don’t put too much pressure on yourself like I did. Here is the criteria I have for my article directory and any quality directory is pretty much the same:

Articles are denied on my directory if any of the following occur:
Incorrect spelling/grammar errors
Incorrect sentence structure
Keyword stuffing
Multiple article submissions on the same topic submitted at once
Article sounds like an promotional ad
Article contains content not promoted on Nichelister such as adult, gambling, weapons, alcohol or anything at the discretion of the website’s owner
Hyperlinks in the body of the article
More than two hyperlinks in the Author Resource box
404 Page error during website review

I’m not an English major or anything so article submissions do not have to be perfect. But the sentences at least have to make sense and the content informative.

On to the good stuff….Article Directories

Here is a directory with 729 Article Directories http://www.web-directories.ws/Press/Articles/
My article directory http://www.nichelister.com
Lots of wonderful women here at this directory http://www.wahm-articles.com/
Good Quality…http://www.mygreencorner.com/

More:
http://www.articlecity.com
http://www.articledirectory.com
http://www.articlegold.com
http://www.articlepros.com
http://www.articlesfactory.com

UPDATE: February 23rd, 2010

This update is being added as a result of a recent misunderstanding I witnessed (indirectly).
Please understand that when you submit articles to directories, you are generally giving consent for OTHER PEOPLE to publish your article on their blog, website, newsletter, etc… This is pretty much the purpose of these directories. This is a GOOD thing, not a bad thing. You are gaining more and more exposure and backlinks every time someone publishes your article. This is the point. It’s free marketing, kind of like a referral. Someone found your information worthy enough to share it with others.

Your content and author resource box is required to remain fully intact without ANY modifications. It is only a violation if these rules are not followed. PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE people, read your terms of service when submitting your articles. If you do not wish to grant others permission to use your article, your best bet is not to submit it!

March 9, 2009 Posted by | Business Development, Marketing | , | 2 Comments

Business Goals and Objectives for 2009

I’m guilty. I’ve been slacking on my blog posts while the holidays got the best of my attention and focus. I’m sure that happened to many of us. I’m back in the groove and have decided to start my first post of 2009 with my business goals and objectives for 2009. I was fortunate enough to receive a consultation from Jason Rosado, Business Coach and founder of AchieveYourIdealBusiness.com. He really helped me identify my goals, develop a strategical plan and build my confidence in achieving my goals.

happy-new-year

2009 Business Development Plan

  • Define your success goals for the coming year

1.     Put Microsoft Business Contact Manager & Accounting Database into place

2.     Build confidence in Graphics & Web Design Services

3.     Obtain 60 billable hours per month

4.      Blog consistently on a weekly basis

  • Uncover some of the challenges and blind spots that might be interfering with you getting there

1.     Bugs in MS system

2.     Lack of experience

3.     Financial constraints for marketing

4.     Writers Block

  • Create a customized motivating and energizing plan for you to move forward

1.     Research and seek help in debugging Microsoft Program

2.     Utilize as much free marketing as possible

3.     Participate in more networking events

4.     Take Photoshop classes

5.     Continue expanding knowledge and education

6.     Build a few more websites

7.     Gain experience and confidence

8.     Set specific time aside for blogging

9.     Don’t put so much emphasis on creativity and freshness for blog ideas. (No two people share the same exact views.)

WISH ME LUCK!

January 9, 2009 Posted by | Business Development | 1 Comment

Gaining Exposure

I had a very productive week last week! I participated in a phone interview via teleconference with Jennifer Edwards from the Blog Train and talked about my virtual assistance business. Jennifer is wonderful and the conversation was a lot fun! She flattered me with all of the nice tsuccessinbloom125hings she said about me and my business.

I also wrote an article that was featured on Success in Bloom, Celebrating Successful Women Owned Business Owners . I could have wrote on and on but didn’t  want to bore the poor readers to death.

On Thursday I had a meeting with my local SBA counselor (DCEO in Illinois, Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity). He was very nice and reassured me that I am heading down the right track. I am following an appropriate marketing plan. I’m not putting my eggs all in one basket. I’m utilizing several different marketing strategies, monitoring them and have slowly saw the return that generally occurs. The SBA counselor said that just because I haven’t seen a return on marketing tactics I have tried in the past does not mean I won’t in the future. Often people need to see an advertisement a few times before they will remember my existence. He suggested follow up phone calls after a direct mailing goes out and more than one mailing to the same list is OK as long as they have not expressed disinterest.

Although the counselor did not appear to be very familiar with internet marketing, I still feel confident about my visit with him. He has a lifetime of experience helping thousands of people create and manage small businesses. His assistance can’t hurt. And how awesome is it that my local SBA/DCEO adviser works directly with thousands of people that are my target audience? Being familiar with my type of services is another resource he can provide to his clients.

Friday I had a business lunch with a woman I met at a networking event last month. She called me out of the blue and asked if we could meet so she could gain a better perspective on the scope of my business. I agreed even though I knew she would not likely be a potential lead, nor me for her. (And it was not so I could sneak away for a delicious lunch-I swear 🙂 ) I am totally up for networking with other people who attend leads groups and networking events! She attends social networking groups several times a week. I work with other small business owners that could possibly utilize her printing and fax/copy equipment. Having a relationship with someone who is somewhat focused in the same direction is mutually beneficial.

We ended up having a delicious lunch, a lot of laughs and great conversation. I felt we clicked right away. She is a very sweet woman and I look forward to establishing a friendship with her.

By increasing exposure, educating people about who I am, what a virtual assistant does and what At Your Service can offer other small business owners, gives me the feeling that my business is growing. It makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside to know that the word is spreading and my business is continuing to blossom.

December 9, 2008 Posted by | Business Development, Marketing | , , , , , , | Leave a comment