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!

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

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

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

Better Days

Originally Written: September 25, 2008

All changes in life are challenging. I always feel a sense of detachment when closing one door and opening another. These feelings result in my inability to see the bright side in newer situations. For some reason, if it isn’t some drastic accomplishment, I tend to notice the losses first rather than the gains.

While I worked my previous full time job, I worked third shift. Perhaps it would have been tolerable if my significant other didn’t work a job with crazy erratic hours as well. Often the kids were bounced from sitter to sitter. Several nights a week they had to sleep over at one of their grandmothers’ homes. It really hurt to put my kids through that, especially my oldest who had to go to school all day.

I took the negative and turned it into something positive by working hard towards building a VA (Virtual Assistant) business so I could put an end to the insanity once and for all. The adjustment has been very emotional and I’ve experienced disappointment. But I focused on the the things I lost rather than the things I accomplished.

I have finally begun to see the light. Yes, Barney may “babysit” a few hours each day, but my kids are at home every night sleeping in their own beds. They are getting adequate sleep and not being bounced around all over the place. My oldest daughter now has the ability to participate in the extracurricular activities she’s been wanting to do because I’m here to provide the transportation. I get to enjoy three meals a day with my little one. I give her all of her baths and change all of her diapers. I’m finally a full time mom. There is no better job in the world. There is no price tag on happiness and being here with them brings me all of the joy in the world. I wish I could freeze these moments.

Perhaps it’s human nature to initially focus on the negative during major life transitions, or maybe it’s just me. But I’m happy to have finally seen the light and feel the gratitude for the changes I have created for MY life! 🙂

November 7, 2008 Posted by | Work From Home | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The WAH Transition Disappointment

Originally Written: September 18, 2008

I’ve been waiting so long for the day to come where I could finally run my Virtual Assistance business full time from home. It’s been approximately one week and I’ve encountered so many disappointments. The laundry never got done. The floors never got washed. And worst of all, rather than my wonderful (ex)babysitter playing patty cake and blowing bubbles with my 18 month old all day, Barney and Elmo have taken her spot while mommy is glued to the computer screen.

I know it’s only the first week and getting a routine going takes awhile. It’s wonderful not to have to wake my kids up from a cozy sleep to bring them to sitters through rain, snow and sleet. Only I question how to be the best mom I can be and run a successful business full time. MUIB Founder Jenn Rogers wrote a great article, “The Grass Sometimes Seems Greener on the Other Side” that really touches on the pros and cons of working from home.

It was wonderful to have breakfast, lunch and dinner with the girls. It was heartwarming to be there when they awoke, and went to bed. I took breaks often to cuddle on the floor, color or go for a walk. But I find a majority of the day I am working and the baby is watching t.v. I feel very guilty. We just can’t win as moms, can we?

November 7, 2008 Posted by | Work From Home | , , , , , , | 1 Comment