The Truth About “Low-Cost” Outsourcing

Champion Assistants Virtual Assistant TeamYou’ve probably seen the ads yourself, “Quality Virtual Assistants, $3 per Hour.” Wouldn’t it be great if those ads were true? The truth, however, is that in outsourcing as in most other things, you get what you pay for.

Let’s look at the kinds of tasks being outsourced by small business owners and Internet entrepreneurs. They’re finding new freedom to build their businesses by using Virtual Assistants for a variety of needs. They’re trusting “VAs” to do things like responding to client email, keeping their schedules straight, making appointments and travel arrangements, and updating their websites.

A well-trained Virtual Assistant is someone who’s committed to helping a client grow a business by minimizing the owner’s involvement in day-to-day tasks. Not only do these virtual wonders handle tasks with little supervision, they’re also motivated to suggest improvements that save you time and money. They can help you find additional markets for your products, ways to streamline product delivery and better solutions for business automation.

Is it reasonable to expect the same from someone making less than minimum wage? Here’s the reality, based on feedback from frustrated business owners who tried “cheap” first: the time they spent redoing poorly done work and constantly supervising virtual support outweighed their original savings.

Great VAs will look for ways to increase your business while saving you money. But they don’t work for three dollars per hour! They’re highly-trained professionals running their own businesses, and they charge rates appropriate to their expertise.

As you’re looking for someone to help run your business, consider the benefits of outsourcing to a well-trained Virtual Assistant. Why waste valuable time wondering if the work’s being done correctly? Make the investment in a quality VA and spend your time growing your business, instead.

You can learn more about using a VA by listening to a teleseminar Heather Nelson did about outsourcing: Champion Assistants Virtual Assistants teleseminar

Seattle Businesses – Don’t miss this brand and marketing workshop!

Maria Ross - Marketing and Brand Expert

Maria Ross - Marketing and Brand Expert

Defining a brand strategy is essential for all businesses and a task that many small business owners find daunting.  To be successful in any economy or market, businesses need to have a defined niche and a sound strategy for how they are going to position themselves in the market place.  Regardless of how good a product or service may be, positioning and perception make all the difference.

Taking the time to define a marketing and brand strategy are a wise time and money investment that will pay off quickly.  Two of Seattle’s big brand and marketing dynamos, Maria Ross, Marketing Director for Red-Slice and Whitney Keyes of Whitney Keyes Productions, are holding a workshop to guide you through the marketing maze and help you find practical and creative ways to attract new customers  – and keep the ones you have loyal to you.  The workshop is being held February 11th, 2009, and is an excellent opportunity to get practical strategies from Seattle marketing dynamos.  For more information about the workshop, just visit: Branding Workshop.

Best,

Heather

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Microsoft cuts jobs – time for entrepreneurs to flourish!

lightbulbsglobeThe news that Microsoft is making its first mass layoffs in its 34-year history (according to the The Associated Press) is big news here in the Seattle-area as all of us are directly or indirectly impacted by the job cuts.  Microsoft is one of the Northwest’s largest employers and everyone in Seattle either works for Microsoft or has a family member, friend or neighbor working at Microsoft.  Whether or not someone we know loses their job, we know how difficult it can be working for a company undergoing an unprecedented internal transition. Champion Assistants is headquarted in Kirkland, just a 15-minute drive from Microsoft’s Redmond campus and we greatly value the impact the company has had in our region – providing jobs to so many and boosting the level of technological-savvy and development in the region.  Champion Assistants is a registered partner with Microsoft and we’re always keeping an eye out for what Microsoft is innovating.

In addition to Microsoft, the Puget Sound region is also known as being a region where entrepreneurs flourish – especially for minority-owned businesses according to Prosperity Partnership.org.  According to Washington State, women are considered minorities in business and therefore 51% majority women-owned businesses qualify for special loan rates as well as business counseling services from organizations such as the Community Capital Development Washington Business Center.  There are a number of free resources available to small business owners and entrepreneurs both nationally through the SBA and in Washington State.  I always recommend starting with free resources and exhausting them before paying for advice.

With layoffs being announced across various industries and company sizes, I think this economy will present innovators with an excellent opportunity to develop their ideas and go into business for themselves.  Being layed off can be discouraging, but realizing creative talent and ambition while working from home is tremendously rewarding.  I strongly believe that home offices will become micro-power centers of innovation over the next couple years.  Good talent rarely sits idle.

With the convenience of the home office and low barrier to entry for online sales, there is tremendous opportunity for small business to capture niche market share and sell online with extremely low overhead costs.  It isn’t all doom and gloom with layoffs.  Now is the time to fulfill dreams and stay productive at what we all do best and are passionate about.  Carpe diem!  If you are one of the many being affected by restructuring and layoffs, now is the time to develop your ideas and sell online.

Best,

Heather

5 Basic Elements of Targeted Marketing

tragetThere are many styles of marketing, but only one that truly works in all applications. That one style is known as Targeted Marketing. Targeted Marketing uses information and planning to reach the right people at the right time. Below are the five basic elements to effectively and efficiently utilize this style of marketing.

1. Know Your Audience: Just like you know your products or services, you likely know who will benefit from them the most and why. What problem does your particular product solve? Are there any other problems that that same product solves? Who has these problems? Bingo, you have found your target. Now you must learn about your target market. What are there habits? Where do they shop? What media sources do they use frequently? Why do they hang out? What do they like and dislike? Knowing your audience in this way will help you to focus your marketing efforts toward them in an efficient manner. If you were trying to reach an 80 year old man you wouldn’t post an ad in Vogue would you?

2. Optimize Your Efforts: For every company this element will vary slightly, but the general emphasis here is to make sure the tools and information you have available to your clients are working for you. If you have a website, make sure the content is updated on a regular basis, the metadata is accurate and accessible including keywords and a site map. The same goes for brochures and other informational leaflets. The information needs to be accurate and honest and the appearance needs to be clean. No one likes looking at something that hurts the eyes. If there are too many bells and whistles or too many vibrant colors you are going to lose your audience. Simple is usually best!

3. Be The expert: Develop the ‘Know, Like, Trust’ effect by becoming an expert in your market. Write articles, have free information available, be honest and upfront. If you have the opportunity to share something that you know and enrich someone else’s business/life they will become a source of referrals down the road.

4. Plan Your Attack Strategy: Whit the information you now have you should be able to formulate your marketing plans. Know what you are willing to spend and where you want to spend that money. Figure out if your going to use mail marketing vs. email marketing and know where you are going to get your mailing lists from. (It is always best to use a source you can trust) Know what keywords are best for finding your information online. Figure out where you need to be so that your customers will find you instead of you having to hunt for them.

5. Befriend the media: The media is a huge source of referrals and are more than happy to learn about new inventions, new techniques, new anything. Use the media to your advantage by sharing information. Think of this as an extension of both elements 3 and 4. You are more of an expert in the public mind if the media mentions you or your business. Press releases, on air spots, and other media events should be a part of your attack strategy.

These five elements take planning and effort to be successful. Just as you wouldn’t leave the house without your keys, you don’t want to start your marketing with only one element in place. Figuring out who your marketing needs to reach, where to find them and how best to reach them makes a huge difference in any marketing plan.

InfusionSoft – Think twice before sinking your money in this CRM tool

Champion Assistants Technology TeamI’ve seen a number of clients invest in CRM tools that are far more powerful than their businesses require – and more expensive than they can currently afford – because their business advisers have told them that they should invest in technologies now that will support their future business plans.  These business advisers instill the fear  in their clients that their company won’t be prepared in the future when their prospects and clients outweigh the capability for the company to manage them.  I have never witnessed a case where this was the reality.  In reality, the sudden onslaught of clients never comes, and even if it were to, most CRM systems are built so that all current data can be easily migrated with a learning curve for using the technology.

The biggest example I have seen in unfortunate CRM purchases is InfusionSoft.  I have seen InfusionSoft touted by so-called industry experts and gurus (think Dan Kennedy, Bill Glazer, Ali Brown) who advise info-marketers to invest in this CRM solution now in preparation for future business.  InfusionSoft has a number of drawbacks like not being able to paste text in various modules and difficulties pasting links to name a couple quick irritants.  The biggest thing about InfusionSoft is that it is NOT for info-marketers.  InfusionSoft is for businesses with actual sales teams.  To use InfusionSoft effectively the business needs to be sales-oriented, equipped with a multi-person sales force, have a database with hundreds of thousands of contacts AND have the budget to effectively implement this technology.  The time to migrate data, implement the tool and train a salesforce how to use it – and continue to update it – is extremely time intensive.  This is not the responsibility of a business owner either.  This is the responsiblity of an IT Leader.  While Champion Assistants provides the service of IT Team Lead, we are very careful to only work with clients who have a business that is both financially and mentally prepared for a company-wide CRM rollout.

Sadly, I have seen a number of solo-preneurs buy InfusionSoft on the recommendation of their marketing or sales advisor and start implementing the software only to find that it’s extremely cumbersome to use and their business only requires a fraction of the power of the tool.  InfusionSoft is not for contact management.  It is in fact a full-scale CRM tool.  Also, I have seen that the people referring this software get a handsome referral bonus, and I know there are ulterior motives at play as well.  For instance the Dan Kennedy – Bill Glazer Inner Circle has made huge amounts of money through their referrals to InfusionSoft.  They make so much money they actually hold presentations on buying InfusionSoft at their SuperConference and InfoSummit conferences!  It’s great business for them, but not necessarily the right decision for all of those people trying to follow the Dan Kennedy – Bill Glazer methods.

I advise against purchasing any technologies that require your business to grow into.  It’s difficult to predict if the tool will be outdated by the time you need it or if there would have been a better solution based on what your business actually needs at the time. Save yourself time and aggravation and focus on strategic growth instead.

Best,

Heather

Improving Sales Through Social Interaction

Sales isn’t just about making money, it’s about building relationships. Business slows when companies forget the human factor. Businesses that maintain a connection with their customers thrive. Why is this? One of the basic fundamentals of human nature is a need for connections. When a connection is broken we feel it both physically and mentally.

The number one thing professionals forget is the importance of the human connection. Some of the best ways to maintain this connects are with: newsletters, promotions, and thank you notes. These things may seem simple, but they have a large impact on the way your customers perceive you.

Thank you notes are a simple way to make a customer feel special and know you appreciate their business. When someone feels special and appreciated, they tell others. A Thank you can be as simple as an email or a hand written thank you card. However you choose to do this, keep the customer in mind.

Promotions are a great way to drum up business. By sending an exclusive promotion to past customer you again make them feel special. Remember to always have a reason behind the promotion. The reason could be as simple as “we’ve run out of room” or more personal such as ‘My wife’s tired of my piles, please help clear out my closets’.  Putting a reason behind a sale or promotion can drive up business as much as 20%.

Newsletters are a good way to keep your clients interacting and up to date with your business. Giving out information on new products is only a small piece of this puzzle. The main draw and what will keep your customers reading your newsletter over time is to have articles that interest your customers. This can be a time consuming process because you have to stay current on market trends, new and existing ideas and anything and everything else relating to your market and products. Your readers are going to be relying on you to keep them informed, so in turn keep yourself informed.

There are many other ways to maintain a connection with your clients. Do what feels right to you and your business. Never forget that your customers are working for you only when they feel a connection. If you want the word of mouth advantage, work for it.

What are the results you’ve had with these methods?  What other methods have you tried that are effective?  We can all benefit from each other’s suggestions!

Best,

Kristi

Viral Marketing in Any Market

The term ‘Viral Marketing’ is fairly new however the concepts and practices behind it are not. All Viral Marketing is, is a message that is simple and catchy that gets forwarded on through a social network. Think of it as a chain letter. The original letter was sent to perhaps a list of 40 people. Those forty people sent the letter on to ten more, who sent it to ten more, and so on down the line.  By the time this one letter has been sent on 5 times it has reached 64 individuals. With every successive step, the letter goes to exponentially more people.

The Internet has made Viral Marketing faster and more effective by making it simpler and easier to do. Though mail or email is still the easiest format to have forwarded, website pages and social networking group sites are getting a taste of this trend as well. In an age of instant everything, viral marketing is an instant path to millions of people worldwide.

There are several ways to incorporate Viral Marketing techniques into your business.

First: you must come up with a short catchy tag line for your business. This tag line will be incorporated into every step of your business, so be choosy when making that decision.

Second, incorporate that tag line into all of your materials. This includes your email signature, your letterhead, business cards. Anything that is sent to anyone should carry your tag line.

Lastly: Integrate your tag line into your marketing plans. Your tag line becomes like a virus. It is remembered and referenced by anyone and everyone who comes into contact with anything from your business. This includes a newsletter that a customer forwards to a colleague, a business card that was handed from friend to friend.

Viral marketing is here to stay. The use of it will not only draw customers during a marketing campaign, but on an on-going basis.

Best,

Kristi