Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Facebook Virus Threat

My virtual colleague in Australia, Kathie Thomas, posted this on her blog this morning about a serious virus threat going on at Facebook. Apparently, this has been proven to NOT be a spoof, but rather, a serious threat.

Mouse-users Be Warned: Don't click on a link - on a Website - in an e-mail - nowhere - unless you a) completely trust the person who provided the link and b) have a good firewall and anti-virus software protection just in case.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Twitter Me This and Twitter Me That

I had the pleasure of speaking with Alyssa Gregory, President of avertua, LLC, yesterday on my talk radio program. She was there to share some of the secrets from her new e-book, "VA Secrets Revealed."

Alyssa was a very "real" and informative guest, and she sparked my mind's eye when she began talking about using social media as a way to make virtual friends with like-minded people - as a woman and as a businesswoman.

People who follow Alyssa are interested in what's she Tweeting about. As they read her updates, they come to know her as a person and will grow to trust her. Her Twittering was so effective, in fact, that it helped her land a speaking gig at the 8th Annual Live Virtual Assistants Summit next year in Montreal, Canada.

I used to think that social networking like Twitter, Plaxo, Facebook and LinkedIn could be used to get my business' name out there and in the forefront. And it can. But it wasn't until I spoke with Alyssa that I realized I needed to make "friends" with my followers first.

Some of them "know" me virtually through other online outlets, but most of them don't know me on a more personal level and none of them have met me face-to-face.

But duh! Geez! How can I expect anyone to trust me and be interested in what I have to say unless they feel comfortable with me first? That's the way it works in the real world, and cyberspace is no different.

So Twitter me this and Twitter me that and oop-oopa and away! I think I'm ready to give this whole social networking phenomena a try! Wish me luck!

Monday, December 1, 2008

Responding to Requests for Proposal (RFPs) for Virtual Assistants

We all need 'em - clients, I mean. And as virtual assistants (VAs), we primarily use online resources to find 'em: online associations, freelance work sites, subcontracting opportunities with established VAs, etc.

But what if we spot a Request for Proposal that is in perfect alignment with our qualifications and business operation practices? Well, the logical thing to do would be to respond to the RFP.


So go ahead. Respond.

"How?" you ask. Ah, yes! If you've never responded to an RFP or been unable to craft a successful template for such, you may be stuck at this point. But there is hope, my friends. There is hope.

The first thing you'll want to do is read every word in the RFP; read all instructions and inferences in the text. The company or person (client) who submitted the RFP may have a specific form for you to complete or ask that all responses be structured in a particular way or sent in a certain format (e.g., PDF).

It is very, very important to read all of the instructions the client provides, and then read them again. I can't stress this enough!

When you're ready to give it a go and reply, carefully follow the instructions provided. Then, in the most appropriate manner, craft a letter or e-mail accordingly. If there are no instructions perse, then consider structuring your response to include the following:

Include the date of your response. If you are sending your reply via e-mail, this will be automatically included in the header of your e-mail.

Reiterate what is being requested. By briefly and concisely repeating back to the client what it is they are asking, you show an understanding of the client's needs and capability of fulfilling those needs.

Break down each element of the RFP based on your billing structure. So for instance, let's say you bill differently for administrative tasks than you do for Website design tasks. If the RFP is requesting both, show in your response how it will break down time-wise, etc.

Respond to every question asked in the RFP. If the client wants to know your rate(s), include that in your response. If the client wants to know what software you use or are familiar with, be sure to include that too. Not responding to all questions tells the client a) you are hiding something, or b) you're not qualified and avoiding the question. Even if that's not the case, this is how the client will most likely see it. After all, they don't know you and will probably never meet you face-to-face. New VA clients can be a skeptical bunch, and rightly so. It is the VAs responsibility to set the client's mind at ease.

Include a copy of your contract with your response. In this way, the client can quickly engage your services without spending time trying to figure out what to do next. If the client is interested in your services, make it easy for the client to work with you. Attaching a copy of your contract to your response does just that.

One caveat to the above: You may wish to exclude your Social Security Number (SSN) or Employer Identification Number (EIN) from the contract you attach. If the client does contract with you, tax information and the like can be supplied via official government forms, etc.

Include your contact information somewhere on the response. This means using letterhead, folks. Very important is the need to project your professionalism. What better way to stand out in a stack of responses than by using professional stationery. On your letterhead, include your name, company's name, address, phone number and e-mail address. If you are using e-mail to respond, be sure to include a signature block at the end of your message. This is similar to what you'd include on your letterhead. Again, make it easy for the client to contact you.

I hope this takes the frog from your throat and gives you the courage to go for it. If you find an RFP that you are qualified to fulfill, and the tasks fit within your operational structure, then respond. By all means respond. As long as you do it in a professional, thorough manner, you have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

In parting, I'd like to share a couple of encouraging analogy's.

Did you know that Michael Jordan was once cut from his high school's basketball team?

Stephen King actually wallpapered a room in his home with rejection letters before he landed his first big publishing deal.

Don't let doubt keep you from your dreams. Happy RFP Responding!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Definition Virtual Assistant - Good or Bad?

In the past and of late, I've seen some lively discussions revolving around those who believe that the Virtual Assistance Industry (as a whole) should define, in black and white, the definition of a virtual assistant.

I take issue with that outlook and would like to debate the matter here.

This kind of thinking brings many questions right off the bat:

* Who or what is going to head up this healthy venture - one organization, one person, one group?

* Who is to say which organization/person/group is the right one for the task? A Board of Directors? Where will they come from?

* Who will vote? Everyone? Or only those defined as virtual assistants?

But if there is no organization yet in place to define what a virtual assistant is, then how are we going to know who can vote, if that is even a choice?

Etcetera ...

Let's digress with a flashback.

The scene: You're on a VA message board when Jane Doe posts the following:

"I am a new virtual assistant and have just received my first client inquiry. One of the questions he asked me was, 'What exactly is a virtual assistant?' I'm not sure how to respond. Any help would be appreciated."

That's a heavy question. Think about it for a moment.

If the people who want to define a VA have already put in black and white that a VA must be a business, for instance, yet this client would like Jane to work as an independent contractor, payable to her by name using her SSN (versus an EIN), then can Jane be considered a virtual assistant?

And, if Jane decides to buck the system and call herself a virtual assistant anyway, what repercussions, if any, will befall poor Jane? Will the definers revoke her right to breathe? Will she be jailed or fined or kicked out of the tree fort forever?

Come on; let's get real. The very fact that these people are able to work as virtual assistants is because of the way our country (U.S.) is structured. It's the very notion that a person can go out a make a good, honest living doing whatever the heck he/she wants to do that makes us so great! It's freedom; it's the American dream. And slowly, it's becoming the global dream.

If you want to be the best toenail painter on the planet, have at it and good luck to ya.

If you want to be the guy who scrubs poo from the elephants' butts down at the zoo, hey, go for it if that's what makes you happy!

And if you want to be a person who provides administrative services virtually and work as a sole-proprietor and have payments made payable to the order of Your Name and deposit the money into your personal account, do it - all within the limits of the rules, regulations and laws in your area.

There may be a time when Jane Doe will decide to actually take the steps to become a business. But I, for one, don't believe that a handful of naysayers need to be the ones to tell people who can and can't be defined by a term - virtual assistant.

This is splitting hairs. I mean, if someone called a heifer a cow, I wouldn't beat them about the head for it.

This is what I say: "With definition comes regulation, and with regulation comes enforcement, and with enforcement comes great responsibility."

What say you?

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Pulling Roots: When It's Too Hard to Change

If there is one thing I've learned since starting my virtual assistance business, it's that once you get yourself planted and start to fertilize and grow your business, it can be very, very time-consuming and difficult to change your entire business structure.

For instance, I wish I had created a shorter URL when I started my business. Right now, it has a dash between each word: I submitted that URL to a gazillion places - as many places online that I could find (legit places).

I needed the search engine rankings. I needed clients. I needed to be recognized as a leader in my industry. So I plugged that URL like my life depended on it.

Finally, I woke up and realized that a shorter URL for my business' Website would have been a better move. And I also realized that any Tom, Dick or Harry could snatch up other variations of my Website, which might confuse new customers.

So I went to GoDaddy and secured as well. I made this new URL a redirect, so if people typed it in, they would be automatically re-directed to Very cool, and GoDaddy made it easy and free for me to do.

What if I had decided to drop the "and Consulting" from my business' name? After all, everyone calls it MAD Typing. Some people even call it Madison Typing. But if I had moved to a two-word name (MAD Typing), I'd have to change my bank account information, credit card information, order new business cards, update all client account information, update all the profiles in all my social networking groups, etcetera, yadda, yadda.

What a pain!

Pulling up roots can be a pain in the butt. There are no ifs, ands or buts about it.

That's why I believe it's important to have a solid business plan in place before you jump head-first into the entrepreneurial pool. You could be the most talented administrative assistant on the planet, but if you don't have someone to guide you through the start-up phase and if you've never started a successful business before - particularly one with a virtual presence, the odds of you failing will be high.

Pulling up roots does, however, have its purpose. If not, my yard and garden would be full of weeds. Like a garden, your current business needs TLC too. Don't neglect it, and don't ignore the people who say, "Virtual assistants need to develop a niche to be successful." I used to think that was hogwash. Now, I'm not so sure.

Lately, I've been contemplating a niche-down, concentrating on desktop publishing, PDF conversion, and blog copy editing services. But to do that, I would really need to change my business name. Wouldn't I?

Pulling roots. You gotta love it!

Friday, November 21, 2008

I was reminded a couple of weeks ago of the importance of checking out rumors and other spoofs I stumble upon online. Some of them are really convincing but usually turn out to be urban legends and the like.

You see, I received an e-mail from a colleague about a phone scam. Apparently, a person claiming to know something about your credit card will leave a message (or something like that) asking you to call back to a certain phone number and area code. The spoof alleged that if you did, indeed, call this number back, you'd be charged - like - thousands of dollars for the call. Again, I'm paraphrasing.

Anyway, I totally fell for it: hook, line and sinker, and promptly alerted my network to watch out for this scam. Luckily, a more "level-headed" friend reminded me to check Snopes first. Duh! Of course! Why didn't I think of that. I never fall for crap like this. But, this time, I had been duped. Turns out, this was just a rumor without much merit. ( is a great place to see if other people have reported the same incident and to see if it's legit or not. They've even categorized the spin to make it easier to find what you're looking for.

So as I wipe egg off my face (smile), I hope you decide to not believe everything you read - at least not right away. Not until you have "just the facts, ma'am" - or dude, respectively.

TGIF everyone!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

What do you do with a bad apple?

What do you do with a bad apple?

Do you toss it into the circular file? Do you salvage the good pieces and make a pie? Do you throw it in the compost bin? Or do you tuck it into the low fork of the old maple out back and watch the squirrels and birds nibble upon it?

Well, me thinks, what DO you do with a bad apple, that naughty nemesis of the upside down frown?

But before I could answer myself, I was taken aback! Low and behold, and virtually before me, was MY old nemesis, a rotten apple whose only desire was to find and destroy the magical Kingdom of Goodness.

I had to stop this person from sucking the life blood out of these good people – and me. I couldn’t let this person destroy happiness; I just couldn’t. The Kingdom of Goodness depended on me.


Wrong. After realizing the armada was on shore leave and the soldiers had marched home for the holidays, I digressed and thought better of a forward attack. The nemesis would be expecting that anyway. Rather, I became introspective and thought, “I can’t save the world, silly. Just one person at a time. So start with yourself.”

Eureka! Revelation! Hallelujah!

The only reason bad apples, like my nemesis, permeate, fester and rot the other apples, is because they are GIVEN the energy to do so. Every time someone gets under your skin, they steal your energy. They tap you dry until you’ve got nothing left to give – to anyone. The emotional wear and tear is allowed to happen. We allow it to happen. I allowed it. But no more.

Breathless, I finally realized that the key to stopping my nemesis, the energy vampire who had taken so much of my precious time over the years, was right there staring me in the face. Shoot, I had the power to be proactive all along.

Oh yes. I now had the power to say, “No!”

“No, damn it. I won’t let you crawl under my skin. I won’t let you control my thoughts, ruin my day, or make my skin brown and mushy! So you go ahead and spew your venom, naughty nemesis. Go ahead. Let everyone see you - let ‘em see. Because I see you for the person you truly are now and I’m not letting your negativity penetrate my personal space anymore!”

And voila, all your power to piss me off is gone now.

And the kingdom of Goodness is once again safe from your poisonous words.

And I can breathe a sigh of relief in knowing that, next time someone tries to steal my energy or pillage the Kingdom of Goodness, I’ll be prepared.

Goodbye, bad apple. Goodbye.