The idea of starting a business to do what you love all day long is romantic and appealing. The trouble with it is that it's not realistic, especially in today's world where everyone has a business and the Internet is filled with people who are trying to get your customers' attention. When you start your handmade business, it's true that you have to do pretty much everything yourself. But as you grow, there will come a time when your energy will be needed for so many things that you will not be able to attend to them all.
That time does not hit you in the head like a brick you don't see coming. There are warning signs. You're not getting enough sleep. Your spouse starts threatening to leave you. (Kidding, sort of …) Your household descends into chaos. You cannot get to important customer service issues because you have to make more products. You cannot fix the broken website links on your own because your fans and friends need your attention at the farmer's market. You cannot keep up with new technologies and social media.
You're still getting it all done, but things are starting to slip ever so slightly. No one else may see it, but you know it's there. If you are paying attention, you know.
So what do you do? You get some help. Help can come in many forms, but one of the most useful is in the form of a virtual assistant.
I hired my first virtual assistant, Ginger Derrickson, in 2005, and then hired her again in 2008 after we parted ways for a while.
While I no longer work with Ginger, I consider her a lifelong friend because she helped me move my business from one level to the next. It was a slow and painful process.
And by the way, it never ends. Each step forward in your business will require you to do things differently. Hiring an assistant to manage things that need attention, but not *your* attention, is a great way to teach yourself how to delegate and enjoy your life and your business more as you go.
A virtual assistant can do anything in your business that does not require his or her physical presence. Obviously, that's not making products. Generally (though not always), you need to be there for that, either as the Maker or as the person closely supervising the making. But other than that, a virtual assistant can make your life a whole lot easier.
Here are some of the things my virtual assistants do for me.
1. They Answer Email That Comes Through Our Site
The online forms people use to contact us are screened by Megan, one of my VAs. We created templates for her to use to answer the most frequently asked questions as promptly as possible. If she does not know the answer to a question, she sends it to me and I send her a new template to use. The templates are saved in labeled folders that she uses to select the correct template.
2. They Help Me Manage Social Media
I do a lot of my social media outreach myself because I think it's important for some Tweets and status updates to be done personally by me. But there are many times when that's not the case. I have trained Megan, whom I also call our “Indie Coordinator,” to help me with specific tasks that are systematized. This includes some posts to our Secret Facebook Group, which we maintain for our members. Megan is smart and she picks up on things quickly. It takes a huge load off of me so I can tend to other things that she cannot attend to.
3. They Create and Edit Graphics
With graphics becoming more and more important to the success of any business, Megan, Jennifer and Darryl (you can meet the whole team here) make graphics for us to use in our social media outreach. Some graphics are simple and some are more intricate. I can even do it myself, but I do such a poor job of it that I'd rather have others do it and save me the heartache. We use PicMonkey, Canva and Adobe Photoshop (depending on what is needed). We download stock photos from a variety of sites, but my favorites (at the moment) are Fotolia and Big Stock Photo.
4. They Cue Up Blog Posts
I blog a lot. While the content of each blog post is different, the layout of many of them is the same. For example, each blog post releasing a new episode of Indie Business Podcast has a specific format that is easy to duplicate. Megan cues up the draft and I do the rest. I still do most of the work, but I don't have to be bothered with a lot of cutting and pasting which saps my creative energy. When I sit down to create a podcast post, I can focus on the content and not have to worry much about the format because it's been created for me.
5. They Perform Tasks as They Come Up
One thing all entrepreneurs must get used to is the fact that, while each business includes a certain amount of predictability, there are a lot of things that happen that you cannot prepare for. For example, yesterday, I discovered that the link to the IBN member Twitter list is broken. I don't control Twitter so I have no idea why that happened, but it's important to our business that the list be working. Instead of spending a few hours figuring out how to contact Twitter and figure it out, Megan is doing it for me. I only have to get involved if Twitter has questions she cannot answer. Of course, Twitter could turn out to be a black hole on this issue. In that case, we may have to re-create the Twitter list.
Stuff happens. A virtual assistant can make it a lot easier to deal with the unplanned circumstances we all face as entrepreneurs.
6. They Manage Databases and Websites
Between Darryl and Sharon, our databases are maintained with some pretty fancy technological doohickies that allow people to do things like create their own username and password combinations when they join IBN, change and reset their passwords, and access member only areas of our website. I rely on Jennifer to keep our WordPress site humming, which is no easy process. Honestly, it all makes my eyes glaze over but I have forced myself to learn as much as I can because I am the one who needs to make sure everything works together.
Everyone on my team sees bits and pieces of the process. No one person sees the whole thing in context because each person has a specific area of expertise. There are times when I wish one person could do everything, but I know that will probably never happen, so I look for efficiencies when I can.
There's More …
The only person I have not mentioned is Jan, and she is not virtual. She lives nearby and does a lot of the work associated with My Maker Box, our new subscription box which just launched in August. We're still in the process of getting that off the ground, and having Jan here in person is a huge help.
Of course, Darryl is my husband, so he is here as well. He does the video and audio editing here, but he could do that from anywhere. So he is actually physically here, but a lot of the work he does is virtual. I never need to see him to send him an MP3 file or give him instructions for a new graphic. We use Dropbox for both, so most of it can be done from anywhere.
Imagine How Much More You'll Enjoy Making Things …
Imagine how much more you'll enjoy making things when your creative energy is not sapped by things you'd rather not be doing. You may not be able to delegate everything, but you can delegate some things.
Start by making a list of the things you do that you'd rather not be doing. Narrow that list down to things that have to be done, but do not have to be done by you. Choose the easiest ones to delegate first and then train your VA on how to do them. Then, let her do them.
Where To Find A Virtual Assistant
If you need help finding a VA, you can always ask business colleagues for recommendations. You can also check out AssistU, which is where I got my first VAs from. I have also successfully hired VA's using Craig's List and Facebok. Those options have not panned out long term, but they are worth a try.
There are other options too, so be sure to use your favorite search engine to see what other options you might have.
Best and Success!