Studies show that half of all small businesses fail within the first year, and almost 90 percent within five years. The same statistics are true for virtual assistants. Recognizing the pitfalls that often lead to failure will increase your chances of success as a virtual assistant.
Pitfall #1: Feeling isolated
Although working from home may be your primary goal for starting a virtual assistant business, working alone can be tough for some people. Consider joining a networking group or online forum to interact with other working adults to combat feelings of isolation and encourage a sense of community.
Pitfall #2: Not completing work as contracted
The number one way to lose clients is to fail to complete a project on time or to do a poor job. Inferior work will not generate repeat business or referrals. Deliver what you promise, and don't promise what you can't deliver.
Pitfall #3: Failing to market your business
Word of mouth is great, but it should not be your sole source of business development. You may be busy this month, but without continual attention to marketing you may find yourself twiddling your thumbs next month.
Everyone you meet should know about your business. Professionally produced business cards should be handed out freely to everyone from the local librarian to your child's teacher. Distribute a quarterly flyer or newsletter to existing and potential clients. Regularly post on job boards to advertise your services.
Pitfall #4: Not asking for referrals
The best advertising comes from satisfied clients, and asking for referrals should become habit. At the conclusion of each successful project, ask if your client knows anyone else who might benefit from your services.
Pitfall #5: Working 24/7
Many VAs think that working from home will result in fewer hours. In actuality, running your own business may have the opposite result. VAs frequently become burned out from working around the clock to meet client demands.
Set business hours and stick to them. Communicate to clients when you will and will not be available. When quitting time rolls around, stop working (unless, of course, you are on a deadline, but that should be the exception not the rule).
Don't give up personal interests or hobbies. After all, isn't that why you became a virtual assistant in the first place?
Pitfall #6: Not taking breaks
Just as you would do in a typical workplace, take breaks throughout the day. Set a timer if you need to, but take time out for lunch, to use the restroom, or just to pet the dog and clear your head for a few minutes. But don't let your break turn into three hours of watching soap operas.
Pitfall #7: Frequent interruptions
Small interruptions throughout the day add up to hours of lost time. Tasks take longer, creativity is stalled, and productivity plummets. Create a distraction free workplace with an office door that can be closed (and locked, if necessary).
Schedule your day to include time for project work, marketing, breaks, returning email and phone calls, etc. Otherwise, turn off email, IM, chat, and other social media notifications that are productivity killers.
Pitfall #8: Trying to be Superwoman
Enjoying the freedom of staying home with your children is one thing; juggling childcare with running a home-based business is another. Consider hiring a sitter during business hours to increase productivity. Enlist the help of older children for household chores and errands.
Pitfall #9: Failing to communicate with your clients
The time to contact clients is not only when there is a problem. Frequent communication shows your commitment to the project and also provides an opportunity to ask for additional work.
Pitfall #10: Not asking for help
If you find yourself in the enviable position of having too much work, you may need to consider subcontracting some services to another VA. Your networking activities may lead to a relationship with another VA with whom you could provide reciprocal back-up assistance.
Keep in mind, however, that any work a subcontractor completes on your behalf reflects directly on you. They must be held to your high quality standards.
Information is power. Now that you are armed with the knowledge of the pitfalls to avoid, you are better prepared to join the ranks of successful virtual assistants.