Learning the VA field

I’m pleased to introduce you to a guest blogger to the Virtual Fast Lane! Penny Johnson is an instructor at the local technical college, and she is shadowing us here at Rescue Desk headquarters in order to learn about the virtual assistant industry. She and her colleagues are in the planning stages of developing a curriculum involving the virtual assistant field.  – Rachel Rasmussen, owner

I’m Penny Johnson, guest blogger at Rescue Desk. I am working with Rachel for the rest of May to learn the Virtual Assistant biz. On a normal day, I am a quiet college instructor at Madison Area Technical College, tucked away in my classroom teaching Business Technology. In the past few years my colleagues and I have become more and more interested in starting an academic program for people interested in becoming VAs. I asked Rachel if I could shadow her to learn more about the field, and zero in on the topics we will have to teach potential VA students.

Here are some things I have learned so far:

Social Media is critical to small businesses.
I must admit that at Madison College we have been talking about Social Media but some categorize it as the fad of the youth. I can see that is not true! Social Media is the way to connect and get your business name out there. It is also a great way to stay connected, which is so important in today’s busy world. I would love to hear your stories of successful uses of social media.

Software can be an issue.
At Madison College, we are proposing a type of degree called an “Advanced Technical Certificate” which means each student has to have a degree first, or have 2 years of work in a related field before beginning this certificate. We are targeting adult students who want a change of career, and so we assume that students will come with software skills in hand. This may be true, but we also need to make sure that our students are capable of adjusting. Software products upgrade, new versions are released constantly, new technologies are introduced. The idea is that this certificate should prepare a person to be knowledgeable enough with software that s/he is comfortable learning new techniques. Which reminds me:

Virtual Assistants have to be willing to learn new things.
It is clear that VAs are today’s Jack-Of-All-Trades. It is not enough that clients will want a whole host of tasks completed; but, the VA needs to learn all of the business skills included!

The Virtual Assistant field is growing.
We’ve been tracking the Virtual Assistant field for some time, but I was still amazed to hear how quickly VAs are adding new clients and building their businesses. As we propose this new certificate for training VAs, I would love to hear about your successes. How much has your business grown? How has your business shifted since you started?

I’d love to hear from you: What you do think we need to know as we put together a certificate program to train Virtual Assistants? In the next few days I hope to add to this blog and gather your thoughts and advice!


What can YOU do in minute?

I’m an avid reader of business books, magazines, blogs and anything else that provides insight to some corner of the entrepreneurship world that I have yet to explore. One of my favorite publications is Success magazine, but what I look forward to most isn’t the cover story or any one of the entertaining columns by some industry leader or titan of business.

I love the “In a minute…” feature.

It’s just a small little box found in the corner of one of the front sections, and it lists a half-dozen things you can literally do in a minute. It always brings me back to the basics; the simple things I do in a day that may not only benefit me, but benefit those around me – my team, my clients, my friends, my family…

So, in the spirit of “In a minute…” I thought I’d start my own running list of things that can be done in 60 seconds or less. Feel free to steal from it, share it or add to it!

  • Send a quick, “Hi! How ya doin’!” email to an old friend.
  • Send a small congratulatory gift to someone who has achieved a goal (I’m a fan of LittleThings.com).
  •  Give my assistant the afternoon off.
  •  Register for a yoga class.
  •  Zip an article of interest to a prospective client.
  •  Pick up the banana instead of the cookie at the snack counter. 
  • Give my dog a belly rub.
  •  Compliment someone.
  •  Upgrade my usual medium hazelnut latte to a large, just because.
  •  Apologize to someone. (Admit it…we all know someone who may be a little miffed with us!)
  •  Tip an extra $5 at the restaurant.
  •  Make a referral.
  •  Publically proclaim what excellent service I received from (fill in business) on my Facebook or LinkedIn profile.
  •  Say “No,” once in awhile.
  •  Invite my best friend out for dinner.
  •  Send a thank-you note. In an envelope. With a stamp.
  •  Order a new business book for my office library.
  •  Download a podcast.
  •  Close my eyes and visualize my next vacation.
  •  Add a new picture to my vision board.
  •  Get a little fresh air – and a fresh perspective – with a walk around the building.
  •  Giggle at a memory.
  •  Change the radio station to one I wouldn’t normally listen to.
  •  Take a candid photograph of someone.
  •  Ask the always-friendly guy at “my” convenience store what his name is (and remember it!)

These are just a few things that popped into my head in a matter of minutes. What can you do in a minute that might improve your day, or that of someone you know?


Shoulda, coulda, woulda

Awhile back, I was fired up to be asked to be a guest on a local business radio show. It’s hosted by two very well-respected women in the business community, and every night they feature high-level executives and other community business leaders on their show.

I was, admittedly,  nervous about going on air. I’d never done radio, so my former life in print media didn’t help. At all. Not even a little bit. But, facing daily challenges big and small is par for the course for a business owner, so I chalked it up to one more thing I’d force myself to face and, eventually, overcome.  I figured it would be kind of like facing my fear of Quickbooks.

The show itself is meant to introduce listeners to a local business, an emerging industry, or a newsworthy person. As you can imagine, it’s generally not intended to be highly charged with controversy or conversation that’s too difficult. It’s friendly banter between hosts and guests, with a little education thrown in for good measure.

Imagine my surprise when the host of the show was this close to actually grilling me.

   “Why do you think you can charge so much? I don’t think I’d pay that much for an assistant.”

   “Who would pay for such a service?”

   “I don’t think I’d entrust my creative development to someone else. Where’s the confidentiality?”

   “How do you know who’s really in business? Are you incorporated as a company?”

Don’t get me wrong. These are all good, legitimate questions. In fact,  I happily discuss this stuff with people all the time. I just don’t talk about these things in 15-second sound bites, with someone sitting across from me giving frantic “Wrap it up!” “Finish your sentence!” “Stop talking RIGHT NOW!” signals.

Turns out, my natural need to think before I speak and my tendency to speak too fast when I’m nervous  makes me a crappy candidate for radio.

After the interview, I drove back to my office with the same three words screaming at me. “You shoulda said this!” “You coulda said that!” “If you woulda said this, it would have explained that! ”

Shoulda. Coulda. Woulda.

Three words I hate. By their very nature, there’s absolutely nothing you can do about shoulda, coulda, woulda. They remind us that an opportunity just passed us by. They infuriate the perfectionist in all of us. They haunt even the most confident among us. There are entire bookstore sections dedicated to avoiding the shoulda, coulda, woulda … it’s called the self-help section.

All things being equal, the interview I did actually went fine. In fact, the perceived “grilling” was probably mostly in my head and, if you were to listen to it, you’d probably think “It’s fine.”  But, that’s just it. It’s fine. Not good. Not great. Just…fine.

That’s the problem with shoulda, coulda, woulda. It results in “It’s just fine.” Greatness is not achieved with “just fine.”

In fact, I accepted another invitation to be on another business-focused radio show a few weeks later…just to see if I could overcome the shoulda, coulda, wouldas that evidently come when I do a live interview.  When the day came, I walked into the studio with  my talking points rehearsed, determined to think fast and talk slow, say what I mean in 15 words or less, and end each sentence before the “wrap it up” signal.

Nope. Still not cut out for radio. 

I once again caught myself thinking slow and talking fast, rambling on when I didn’t need to, and making the guy in the booth give me an “Any time now…” signal every few minutes. More to the point, I again wandered away thinking about all the things I should have, could have, and would have said given a second chance.

Every so often, things arise that require you to act before you think (in both our professional AND personal lives),  and shoulda, coulda, woulda sneaks up on you, taunting and torturing you. But I also think it does have its purpose … it’s an extremely effective reminder to not be afraid to grab opportunities by the horns, if for no other reason than to spite the shoulda/coulda/woulda voice in all of us. 

Next time I’m asked to do a live interview, I plan to be more preemptive.  I should be OK with the fact that I’ll never be good at them, then I could save myself from any post-interview chastising, and I would be a lot happier.


Celebrating love … business-owner style

This month marks my second anniversary. It was just about two years ago that I closed my eyes, held my breath, and took the leap. I had no idea what I was getting myself into, except I was in love.

That’s when my business was born.

I think it’s fitting that my firm’s anniversary falls in February. As a sassy, single, 30-something, it’s not only nice to have something to celebrate on Valentine’s Day, but I get to honor a relationship that I have complete and total confidence in … the relationship between me as a person, and me as a business owner.

I’ve learned in the past few years that these are two very different people. In fact, in any other circumstance, I wonder if they’d even be friends. I’d like to think so….

One prefers to sit back and chill out, while the other is constantly chasing challenges. One needs to think before she acts, while the other doesn’t always have that luxury. One can easily live in faded jeans and hiking boots, while the other is way more comfortable in pencil skirts and high heels. One is introverted and shy, while the other can work a room at a networking event. One is happy to let someone else take the lead once in awhile, while the other wouldn’t dream of handing over the reins. To anyone. Ever.

Like any relationship, it has its ups and downs. Sometimes I want to throttle myself when I’m not giving myself enough attention or feel I’m taking myself for granted. I don’t hesitate to holler in protest when I have to concentrate on what needs to happen at the firm instead of ducking out early to get a jump on the weekend. Don’t even get me started when I have to walk away at the end of the day simply because I promised me I’d be home at a decent hour for a change.

But, when push comes to shove, amazing things happen when we work together. When we score another big client, celebrate a record-breaking revenue month, or enjoy the freedom to cut out in the middle of the day to go to a nephew’s ball game or a niece’s choir concert, I know we’re in it for the long haul. I’ll never doubt that I’ve got my back, and I know every decision is in the best interest of me, myself and I.

I know quite a few small-business owners, and I think something we all have in common is the love we have for what we do. We’re absolutely nutty over the clients we serve, we’re head-over-heels crazy about the process of growing a company, and we don’t hesitate about the sacrifices we make to feed our entrepreneurial spirit. We all work hard to balance who we are with who we want to become. We’re forever stumbling, which I’m sure has some wondering if the struggles are worth it. But, ask just about any business owner, and the answer will be a resounding “Yes!”

As we get closer to Valentine’s Day, I want to give a heart-shaped shout-out to business owners both large and small. Whether you run a one-person shop out of the corner of your basement or work out of the top floor of the high-rise building you own, I celebrate you and the love you have for your business. It’s truly a relationship worth celebrating.



From handshakes to hugs

j0406204-main_FullLast week I attended a customer-appreciation event  for one of my clients. He owns an accounting firm that has been growing by leaps and bounds the past few years, and every year on the anniversary of launching his business, he hosts a great party at one of the local restaurants for all of his clients, friends and colleagues.

My town is a pretty small town in terms of small-business owners. You don’t need to be on the networking circuit very long before you start running into the same people at local business  events. From there, it doesn’t take long for some of these folks to morph from introductions, to passing acquaintances, to referral partners, to full-blown friends. I’ve seen it happen in three events, tops.

This point was driven home at my client’s party last week, when I recognized one of the guests coming through the front door. Instead of walking up to each other with hands outstretched for the perfunctory handshake, it was a big smile, a friendly hug, and questions about her family.

What’s interesting is that I never hang out with this person outside of the professional realm. I’ve never seen her house, met her husband, or even know where she went to college. We’ve gotten to know each other strictly through networking events, shared associates, and business functions.  In fact, we’ve probably never had more than a 10-minute conversation at one time.

But the friendship stars aligned and, within a few business events and one cup of coffee, we seamlessly went from handshakes to hugs.

This particular exchange is indicative of what I see happening every day in my little corner of the world. The number of hugs I share at every event I attend is steadily growing the longer I’m in business and the more involved my firm gets in the local business community. Friendships are quickly forged over cocktails and coffee,  tales from the small-business trenches are shared, and we all seem to share a single, primary goal … to make our mark as successful businesses.

I freely admit that this has become a most unexpected perk of what I do. I mean, I fully expected to be active in the business community and work tirelessly to make the right contacts, build my professional network, and partner with like-minded folks to continue growing our respective organizations.

What I didn’t expect was to see formal handshakes turn into hugs…and how I’ve realized that we need these friendly exchanges just as much as we need the formal introductions to the decision-makers. 

These brief exchanges with newfound friends at some local event allow you a moment to catch your proverbial breath, smile at someone who is out there working as hard as you, and who isn’t expecting to hear your 30-second elevator pitch. You get five minutes of friendly banter with someone you probably never would’ve become friends with had it not be for the fact that you’re both out there fightin’ the good fight for your business.

So, think about that next time you share a friendly hug or pat on the back. They don’t want to hear your sales pitch; they want to hear about your family.


Book Tour: The Commonsense Virtual Assistance

The Commonsense Virtual Assistant

The Commonsense Virtual Assistant

Sue L Canfield recently released her book, The Commonsense Virtual Assistant – Becoming an Entrepreneur, Not an Employee. Today, she’s stopped by our blog.

We’re especially excited to see this book published because tips and quotes from Rescue Desk are featured on a few of the pages throughout the book

Why did you write this book?
My husband, Joel D Canfield, and I co-authored the book to help newer and aspiring virtual assistants understand what it takes to run a successful business. Over the last two years, I found that many newer and aspiring virtual assistants were asking for and following my advice on how to run their business. Though they had the skills to be a virtual assistant, many had no idea how to run a business, write a business or marketing plan, how to market, and other basic business skills. Since my husband had already written a book for small business owners on how to be the best foundation for their business, we decided to add to the material and focus on the virtual assistant industry in our new book.

Tell me about yourself
I’ve worked as an administrative assistant for over 25 years and began my virtual assistant business in 2005 before I even knew there was such a thing. This past year I added virtual assistant coaching to my services to help newer virtual assistants succeed in their businesses. My husband and I work together from home along with our five-year old daughter in Roseville, California.

What qualifies you to write this book?
Joel and I have more than 50 years of combined experience supporting and operating small businesses. My success as a virtual assistant is in large part due to the advice I received from Joel. Our success in our businesses provides testimony to our qualifications.

What is the book about?
The book helps virtual assistants to understand that they are now business owners, entrepreneurs, no longer employees. Successful business owners need good business sense and a good understanding of what it takes to run a successful business. The book provides basic, commonsense information every entrepreneur needs to know along with advice specific to virtual assistants.

What do you want the readers to get out of the book?
The most important concept I would like my readers to understand is that they are now business owners and what that means. After reading the book, readers will have a clear understanding of how to set rates, manage their time, and market their business.

How can the readers contact you if they want further information?
Joel and I can be reached toll-free at 877.771.7746 or by email at Contact@BizBa6.com. They can also visit our website at http://www.bizba6.com.

How much does your book cost?

Where can the readers purchase your e-book?
They can visit our website at www.bizba6.com.

Sue, thank you for stopping by!
You are very welcome. Thank you for having me.


About the Authors:

Sue Canfield, author

Sue Canfield

Joel and Sue have more than 50 years of combined experience supporting and operating small businesses. They operate BizBa6 Small Business Support Services and love not only their work but the life it allows them to live. This book (Joel’s third business book, Sue’s first) shares how they think about business–it’s a ‘why to’, not a ‘how-to’ because it focuses on how people think and what they want–not just your clients, but you, too.

 Book Summary:
So, you want to be a virtual assistant. The virtual assistant industry is growing rapidly. Just about anyone can say they are a virtual assistant. You have a computer, internet access, and the desire to work from home. Voila! You’re a virtual assistant. But is that enough to succeed as a virtual assistant? Do you have what it takes to run a business? Yes, a virtual assistant is a business owner. Successful business owners need to have good business sense. As a business owner, you, the virtual assistant, need to understand what it takes to run a business. Pick up your copy for $19.95 at http://www.bizba6.com.

When the Winds of Change Blow

Every few months I get my hair cut. Not a big deal, really. But, every 6th or 7th cut usually means it’s time.

I like to go to the salon early. I relax with a cup of tea, feel the soft beat of the new-age music piping through the speakers, and mindlessly flip through last month’s tabloids and beauty magazines. Not to mention, I shell out a healthy amount for a hair cut a few times a year — it’s about the only splurge I allow myself, so I want to get my money’s worth.1309478197_a68036ec41

Every few years, I’ll be wading through the usual stack of hair magazines on the table and I’ll unexpectedly run across a picture that will have me wondering if I could pull off a particular look. I show the picture to my trusted stylist and, next thing I know, the long, thick hair I’ve been sporting is a distant memory and I waltz out of the salon with a sassy new bob.

While I’m usually happy with the new ‘do, it’s inevitable that I’ll spend the next few years saying “Just a trim, please. I’m trying to grow it out.”

I guess my point is – you never quite know when the itch for change will strike.

I’m no stranger to change, and I am generally not thrown off by it. In fact, given my short and irritating-even-to-me attention span, I need change to keep the juices flowing. But, don’t let that fool you. With the exception of the occasional impulsive hair cut, I generally spend an inordinate amount of time planning, gauging, preparing, deliberating and thinking before making the leap. But, inevitably, I DO make the leap.

Thanks to my parents, their parents, and their parents before them, this particular corner of my personality is bit of a paradox. Not only am I a staunch creature of habit, but I’ve also inherited equal parts impatience, restlessness, curiosity, caution and a need for security. My good friend Sarah said it best. “You’re like a gypsie who craves an organized office.”

I’ve met quite a few people who are deathly afraid of change. They are afraid of the unknown, of what might happen if they stray from their norm, or what they might miss out on if they change direction and head this way or that instead.

But, what I’ve learned about change is this. If an opportunity for change presents itself, it’s for a reason. You just have to be open to seeing it. Sometimes it’s admittedly hidden behind cloaks of insecurity or the irritating little voice that says “You can’t do THAT! It’ll take way too much energy to be worth it.”

Well, believe it or not, change is happening all around us. Every second of every minute of every hour of every day something inside us and around is changing. It can be as little as an inexplicable need to switch up your morning routine to a niggling little feeling  that has you questioning if your job is truly the right one for you. For us small-business owners, it’s knowing that if you don’t take the next step forward, your competition will be a leg up.

When an opportunity for the new and different rears its head, pay attention to what you do with it. You can ignore it, go with it, fight it or embrace it. The choice is completely yours.  Just don’t be afraid to choose because, whether you like it or not, change will come.