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

How Have Business Networking and Communications Changed?

Business NetworkingOh, the good old days of doing business!  And I am not talking 20-30 years ago I am only talking 6-7 years ago.  There was always an expectation that business people would join business groups like Lions or Rotary to network with other business owners, but that necessity is changing rapidly.

In fact if you are relying on those networks for your business in 2009 you are almost considered ‘out of the loop’.  Business these days is conducted on the internet via social sites and emails.   Interesting that they call them social sites because people who join these sites for business are not  in many of cases, very social.  Often it is a matter of targeting specific clients or groups and building relationships for business purposes only.

It is a fact that even company meetings have changed.  More and more companies are changing to having meetings on the internet with attendees being anywhere from down the hallway to half way across the globe.

How is this affecting your business?  Are you losing that personal contact with staff or with your customers?  Obviously virtual business is infiltrating our systems more and more, but business owners need to be extremely careful that they do not lose touch with their clients.

One step that major companies have taken because of this factor is to improve their customer service divisions.  Even in only the last 2 years there has been a noticeable difference in customer service.

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

Are you sitting on the sidelines or are you an innovator?

Champion Assistants supports innovators

Champion Assistants supports innovators

According to Wikipedia, “An innovator or pioneer (pronounced /ˌpаɪəˈnɪər/) in a general sense is a person or an organisation who is one of the first to do something and often opens up a new area for others and achieves an innovation“.  Not sure what an innovation is?  Check out Wikipedia’s Timeline of Historic Inventions for examples from pigment to PageRank.

You don’t need to invent a wheel to be an innovator.  In fact, just creating a useful product or service makes you an innovator in my book! Innovators are those special people who are able to take an idea, test it, tweak it and put it out there for others to consume and criticize.  Being an innovator is not for the faint or heart, but it is for the determined.

Successful small business are run by innovators – people who think and act ahead of the curve and able to create and adapt.  They are people who aren’t afraid of feedback because they know they can use it to their advantage to tweak improve and leap ahead of their competition.  Most people are stagnant in their own self-doubt.  I don’t know how many times I’ve left a networking event or luncheon remembering complaints and criticisms such as “anybody could have thought of that”, “My boss keeps me so busy I don’t have any time to pursue my real dreams”, “nobody would ever buy that”, and other criticisms and self-defeating thoughts.  I usually navigate away feeling bewildered, but the truth is these people just aren’t innovators.  Innovators take action!

I know business owners who sit around for months just considering whether or not to update content on their website, and exactly what content to use, etc.  How can people get consumed by such trivial matters – after all updating website content is a couple hours with provided content! – why waste so much energy when there are much bigger issues to face?  The bottom line is these people aren’t innovators.  Innovators don’t get tripped up in the small stuff.   They see the big picture, a larger goal, and put whatever they need to in place in order to achieve it.

Innovators are exciting people to be around.  They don’t sit still, stew or cluck at how things could/would/should be – they do!  Opportunities abound even in this economic climate and innovators prove this to be the case.  Nearly all of our clients sell online whether they work from a commercial office or at home after the rest of their family is asleep.  They have products they believe strongly in.  They challenge themselves to live their business dreams, take consistent action towards their goals and seize opportunities that help them along the way.  They are exciting people to be around!

I started Holiday Assistants in October 2007 after mulling it over on the side since June.  That June I was in a group of women and one of them holiday-assistants-making-your-holidays-sparkle1complained how next thing you know the holidays will be around the corner and it’s going to get stressful all over again.  A huge holiday fan myself, at first I was shocked at how she could dread what should be a festive and joyous time 5-ish months in advance, and then the opportunity lighbulb went off.  I spent the next few months doing a little research on the side and after developing basic business plans kicked myself to launching the company in the beginning of October even though I didn’t have everything planned out to the finest details.  I reassured myself by approaching the season as 1st year research and see how it goes.  As it turned out the 1st year just turned a profit (and the 2nd year was up 600%).  Why did this happen?  Yes, sound business planning and being in tune with the local community needs, but the real answer is because I took action.  I could still be thinking of this today and not getting anything off the ground.  Instead, I have a successful second company that has even been recognized as Best of the City by Seattle Metropolitan Magazine.

Now is as good a time as any to step out self-doubt or other limiting beliefs and step into innovating.  It’s much easier to sit on the sidelines, but a whole lot more rewarding to take risk and reap the rewards of great ideas, persistence and passion!

Best,

Heather

Free Promotion: Increase sales with an online shopping cart!

Online Shopping Cart ExpertAchieve more sales in 2009 with the help of an online shopping cart! If you have a website, you need an online shopping cart!

Did you know most online shopping carts include autoresponders that you can set up in order to send “personal” messages to each new customer? Imagine easily automating your sales process and making your contacts aware of all that you can offer them!

Online shopping carts are inexpensive, a great marketing tool, and a fantastic way for businesses of any size to easily sell online. Our clients include solo-preneurs and small businesses selling all kinds of products from information materials to business seminars to gift products.

I would be happy to offer you a free 30-minute consultation about online shopping cart options, how they can be used for your business, and how to use them for optimal sales.

Best,

Heather

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