IS THE VIRTUAL ASSISTANT TITLE REALLY THAT IMPORTANT ANYWAYS?

In a “reflective moment”, I was recently processing much of the dialogue spurred on by Erin Blaske s thought provoking post last week:

The Future of the Virtual Assistance Industry - An Open Conversation

I think these kind of discussions are great for helping you to further evaluate how you want to be known in your business. Here are a few final thoughts for what it is worth .

I know there is much discussion pertaining to the “true” definition of a Virtual Assistant. But, is the Virtual Assistant title or ANY title for that matter really important to the overall success of your business - I would say NO!

I remember attending my Grad Reunion a number of years ago and fielding the common question, “What do you do?” The natural inclination for most of us might be to give your title: “I am the CEO of VAClassroom.com (Well my wife is actually:)) or I am an Internet Marketing Specialist. I think as humans, we feel the need to label ourselves as if it gives us a higher level of recognition or something. What I have come to realize on a personal level is that is does not matter what title I have in my career, but MORE importantly, what I accomplish, the integrity by which I run my business and ultimately how I positively impact others!

So, if you were to ask me what I do right now, I would not say I am the CEO of VAClassroom . I would say that I help Virtual Assistants develop new skills to grow successful VA businesses. You see, I would rather not be known for the title or position I have held but rather for what I have done or accomplished that has helped or impacted others!

So my point here is that you may want to be known by your clients from http://www.jasminlive.mobi, not as a “Virtual Assistant”, but rather as:

“That person that helped them skillfully set-up and manage all their webinar and teleclasses”

“That person that coordinated all their business travel plans”

“That person that effectively managed all their outsourced projects.”

“That Person that helped them expand their business presence in the Social Networks”

The list goes on .

It is the skills that you bring to the table that will be mentioned and referred on by your clients to others. “Hey, I know a great person that can set-up and manage all your email auto-responder campaigns”. The important thing here is the excellence you bring to the services you provide and the integrity by which you do it! That is the hallmark of a successful “Virtual Assistant” or whatever you want to call yourself - it really doesn t matter!

I also really like this “Personal Branding” expert`s commentary on the topic of a job title here:

Your Personal Brand Statement is NOT a Job Title.

Just a few random thoughts percolating in my brain today:)

BANANAS AND BRANDING IN A SOCIAL MEDIA WORLD

“I m Chiquita Banana and I ve come to say, Bananas have to ripen in a certain way ”

(lyrics from the original Chiquita Banana theme song)

Does your food talk to you?

Probably not.

Does it ask you to talk to it?

Maybe.

In this new social media driven world, even food has become interactive online, as you may have seen last week in a recent post on our VAClassroom Facebook Page. When Craig grabbed a banana as a quick snack, little did he know it would have a sticker on it that read “Chiquita – find us on Facebook to vote!” As he said, “This is a web 2.0 banana I am eating – banana branding at its best!”

So we checked out the Chiquita Banana Facebook Page, and this is what we found:

• Facebook Page summary - “This is a page for all things banana. Pay a visit to our site and see just how bananas our bananas can get. Eatachiquita.com. Or follow us on Twitter @ChiquitaChatter.” (Chiquita Bananas are also on Twitter!)Company Overview and a list of Live Jasmin Products.

• “Organics” tab - promoting organic bananas and inviting people to vote. Chiquit

• Info tab - containing a link to the Chiquita Banana website, as well as a a will donate 10% of organic banana sales sold in September to the environmental non-profit organization with the most votes.

• Photos tab - with photos from Chiquita as well as from fans. (Wow, a lot of people really like Chiquita Bananas!)

• Page Terms tab - explaining the Chiquita Banana Community Guidelines. (This is a great idea!)

• Several other tabs and an active Wall - with posts from both fans and Chiquita Banana itself.

Chiquita adds posts regularly to the wall and is great about interacting with fans by replying to any questions or comments.

Here are some examples of Chiquita s wall posts:

• Contests – e.g. “Chiquita Banana Sticker Design Contest” and “Chiquita Champion” (nominating an athlete or an athletic team who has accomplished something amazing)

• Product Advertisements – e.g. "Exotic" varieties like red bananas and Manzano bananas

• Fun Facts – e.g. September 21 is National Banana Day.

And if the response is any indication, people are “eating up” this Facebook Page! At this time, Chiquita Banana is “liked” by more than 20,000 people!

Moreover, the contests attract people to the Chiquita websites themselves as they are mostly held off of the Facebook Page. For example, in honor of National Organics Month, Chiquita is hosting an organic smoothie recipe contest on their blog. This is a great way of directing people to read the Livesexchat blog posts!

So what do you think of this banana branding and use of Social Media? Many of us had parents who told us, “Don t play with your food,” and now here we are, entering Chiquita Banana contests and “talking to our food” on Facebook.

The great thing about this Web 2.0 world is that it can foster a sense of collaboration and trust between businesses and consumers. As companies use Social Media as a way of branding their products, consumers can interact, voicing their opinions and concerns.

A quote from the blog post “Social Media Case Study: Cindy Cieluch, Photographer Building a Brand” sums it up perfectly:

Whether you re a small, medium, or large business there are small and simple things you can be doing with social media that will help with your brand building efforts while at the same time building those relationships and getting people what they truly want which is a relationship with the company before they make business and do business with them.

So, as a Virtual Assistant or Online Business Owner, how would you use a Facebook Page or other Social Networks to build your brand in this New Media World? The possibilities are endless, so we d love to hear your ideas!

SIX SIMPLE TIPS FOR CREATING YOUR OWN ONLINE VIDEO STUDIO.

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Places everybody. Ten Seconds Until We Go Live..... 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1.... Lights, Camera, Action!!

This is a funny routine that I sometimes go through to amuse myself as "director" of my own private video studio at home! Yes, this is a far cry from 20th Century Fox, but for myself and our team at VAClassroom, Online Video is one of the most important components to our web marketing strategy!

For us and many other businesses, Online Video has quickly become one of the most portable, practical, profitable and not to mention personable avenues for building your business brand and visibility here in 2010. Why?

Businesses recognize that waves of people online are regularly watching videos as their preferred medium of choice and see huge potential in connecting with the right audience using compelling and interesting videos. Check out these stats:

The Pew Research Center reports that “69% of adult internet users, or roughly half of all U.S. adults (52%), have used the internet to watch or download video”. That is a staggering number, and it is growing exponentially every day.

So, I can t emphasize the importance of creating your own promotional marketing videos to build brand visibility with your prospective client audience.

But where do you start?

We all have heard the expression "A Picture Speaks a Thousand Words". Well, this also really applies to video! If you put together a fuzzy, low-quality video right from your home office as a promotional tool for your business, it could reflect poorly on you and your brand! So, if you are interested in using video for your business marketing efforts, it is important to do it the right way.

Here are a few simple steps to get started:

. Purchase a Digital Mini Camcorder and Tripod (if you don t have one already) - Average price $150

My recommendations are the Kodak Zi8 or the Flip Mino. Both offer the option to produce high-quality high-definition videos. Here is an example of an HD video we produced for our recent VAClassroom Summer Skill Camp.

Also, if you are going to purchase the Kodak Zi8, then I would recommend spending an extra 10 bucks and picking up the Kodak Zi8 Remote Control so you can manage the record and stop features independently.

2. Purchase a Lapel Microphone or standing microphone. (Average Price - $30)

While the Kodak Zi8 does have an external microphone, I would recommend picking up a lapel mic or a stationary mic that you can place close to where you are sitting or standing as it will significantly improve the audio quality and make your video that much more professional.

There are many options to choose from so I would suggest going to eBay, Best Buy or Amazon and picking up a quality mic for less than $30.

3. Purchase a Professional "Soft Box" Camera Lighting Kit (Average price - $199 on eBay)

Lighting is EVERYTHING to producing a high-quality video, so it is important to spend a few bucks to get the professional lighting that will display you in a positive light:-) I would recommend searching on eBay for a 2000 watt Soft Box lighting kit. You will be amazed at the difference between videos that have professional lighting and the ones that don t - miles apart!

4. Purchase a Green Screen and Stand. (Average Price - $149)

A Green Screen is an essential component of your video studio as you will want be able to do Chroma key and mix up your backgrounds. With the green screen and the right software or outsourced professional (i.e. Elance), you can put yourself in literally any background, from a cafe in Paris to a U2 concert - cool stuff! I would recommend checking out eBay or TubeTape.

5. Pick up some cool props.

Now, each video studio will vary in look and feel, but some general props will typically apply. I would look at picking up a couple bar tools and a circular bar table. If you are NOT using a Green Screen, then you might choose a nice plant, pictures and a light colored wall for your studio.

6. Purchase a teleprompter software. (Average Price - $59)

If you are not interested in memorizing your script, you might place a laptop strategically below your camcorder and use a teleprompter tool like PromptDog.com. This will help you stay on track with your script!

So, for approximately $600, you could fully outfit your own at-home video studio and be ready to start producing some top-notch video content for your business.

But, the next question you may have is.... How do I create some quality videos? What do they look like? Well, we are actually running a Live Online Video Skills Clinic that will provide a simple system for creating, editing, producing and distributing online videos for you and your clients.

I hope this has been helpful in giving you a starting point for creating your own online video studio. As they say in the movie biz....

That s a Wrap!

SEVEN WAYS TO HAVE AN ULTRA PRODUCTIVE SUMMER FOR YOUR VIRTUAL BUSINESS

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Before we begin, we just want to apologize to our readers “down under” for yet another reference to summer when you are experiencing the cold of winter right now. In many parts of Canada, summer is so short, we just love to talk about it while we can!

One of the things we re talking about right now is how to stay productive in our online businesses during the summer months. When the weather turns warm and the kids are out of school, it s tempting to want to sit back, relax and put work on hold for awhile. That s definitely a healthy thing to do in order to be refreshed and rejuvenated; however, as Virtual Assistants, often we are unable to take a lot of time off from our work and need a way to stay motivated and productive even when the sun is shining and the neighbors are outside barbecuing.

Here are a few simple tips to help you have a productive summer:

1. Try to establish office hours for yourself that will still allow you to participate in fun activities with your friends and family. (Often the anticipation of an event will make you use your time effectively.)

2. Don t burn the candle at both ends. (While making time for friends and family, do remember to leave yourself enough time to finish your work and get a good night s sleep – one of the biggest thieves of productivity is lack of sleep.)

3. Get some fresh air. (Take advantage of warm summer weather and go for a walk or take your kids to the playground – refreshing for both the mind and body.)

4. Give your office a makeover. (Clear any clutter that could be distracting you and create a pleasant space to work in – maybe even treat yourself to a vase of fresh flowers.)

5. When you re feeling distracted or unmotivated, use that time to try out some new reading materials pertaining to your industry (i.e. blogs, eBooks, ezines, or a new book from Amazon.com).

6. Connect with colleagues and fellow Virtual Assistants. (Keep each other inspired by talking via Skype, telephone, Social Networking or even Meetup groups.)

7. Enrol in a training program like the VAClassroom Summer Skill Camp and set a goal to learn some great business-building skills by the end of the summer!

We re keeping ourselves productive here at VAClassroom by continuing to develop top-notch training opportunities for you during the summer months, and we re excited that our very first Summer Skill Camp for Virtual Assistants and Online Professionals will be starting in just one week!

How do you keep yourself productive during the summer? We d love to hear any tips or advice you have!

YOUTUBE, FACEBOOK AND GOOGLE – THE GOLDEN MARKETING TRIANGLE FOR ANY TYPE OF BUSINESS

Remember the Yellow Pages you know, those thick yellow books with phone numbers and ads in them? In your virtual business activities, have you used one lately to actually find a phone number, or are they more likely to be used as a coaster for your cup of coffee or a paperweight for your desk?

These days, more and more people are moving online, a trend that could soon make the Yellow Pages obsolete. A December 2010 report from the Pew Research Center titled “Generations Online in 2010” lists certain key Internet activities that are becoming more uniformly popular across all age groups:

- Email

- Search Engine use

- Seeking health information

- Getting news

- Buying products

- Making travel reservations or purchases

- Doing online banking

- Looking for religious information

- Rating products, services, or people

- Making online charitable donations

- Downloading podcasts

And what does this recent trend mean? Well, with Internet activities increasing among both younger and older adults, a lot of the people who would traditionally thumb through the Yellow Pages to find information about businesses could now be searching for this info online through sites like YouTube, Facebook and Google.

This creates an exciting opportunity for businesses to capitalize on. Check out the below video, where we talk about these three sites, the Golden Marketing Triangle for any type of business:

So, times are changing, and both online and local businesses could surely benefit by changing their marketing strategies from the yellow phone book to the golden triangle.

And as final food for thought, consider the increasing power of a local marketing strategy. A blog post by Econsultancy.com, titled “Why You should have a hyperlocal Facebook Strategy,” discusses their research on Starbucks Facebook pages and their engagement rate (ER) – how much fans engage, and response rate (RR) – how much the pages responds, in three months from November 2010 – January 2011. Here, measurements show that Facebook users are engaging on average three to four times more with local than global Facebook pages, with the local pages typically growing on average twice as fast as global communities.

Over the past year, there has also been a huge increase in the use of popular local social networking tools such as Twitter, Foursquare, Groupon and Yelp as local businesses are realizing the potential of leveraging this social medium to bridge the gap between the online world and offline customers.

Amazingly, for only a fraction of the cost of a Yellow Pages listing, these tools can quickly and easily boost a business s brand recognition, stimulate meaningful connections with a target audience, build a loyal following and ultimately ignite a business s customer base and revenue.

What are your thoughts on this? As a Virtual Assistant or online professional, do you see ways you could integrate this golden marketing triangle into the services you currently offer local or online business clients? Do you see an increase in the number of local businesses marketing online in your community? Please share your thoughts in the comment box below.

25 TOP MARKETING STRATEGIES FOR REACHING NEW CLIENTS (PART 2: ONLINE ACTIVITIES)

As promised (close on the heels of our last post about offline marketing strategies), we will now share some great tips for online activities Virtual Assistants and online professionals can use to reach more clients. Did we say these are our favorite kinds of activities? Well, without further ado, here they are, with a couple extra tips thrown in for good measure.

Online Activities:

1. Create a high quality, fully search engine optimized website or blog site – We can t emphasize enough how important this strategy is. Through new blog posts and pages, it s crucial to expand visibility by producing regular content that is optimized with the keywords you want to build your business around.

2. Build a strong, targeted presence in social networks – Many people are now using social networks to secure joint venture partnerships and post projects in status updates.

3. Build a targeted Twitter following and actively participate in the community – Virtual assistants can land clients through Twitter by responding to requests that have been posted by business owners looking for help.

4. Create a branded Facebook Page and offer valuable and relevant content to your audience – Given the huge growth of Facebook, this is a very important strategy to help build up visibility for your business and create SEO value as well. If you already have a Facebook Page, see where it can be improved and be sure to regularly add new content to it.

5. Create a LinkedIn Profile – By adding recommendations, joining and contributing in targeted groups, and answering relevant questions one-on-one, you can use LinkedIn to specifically connect with business owners (60 or 70 million professionals are on LinkedIn) who could become the ideal clients for you.

6. Join niche social networks – If you re targeting specific groups like writers groups or small business groups, etc., look for networks like Ning that are supporting those groups.

7. Set up locally optimized business profiles in Google Places, Bing and Yahoo local directories – Because these profiles also have good SEO value, be sure to optimize your profile, add videos and create branding value for your business in the local community.

8. Contact Google Internet Marketing Firms / Multi-VA Firms, PR Agencies and present your portfolio – Connect with the key decision makers in these firms and agencies to present your portfolio and offer your services.

9. Create a free information product and offer in order to build a targeted e-mail list – A golden way of building up your credibility is to offer some kind of ongoing publication that is targeted to people with your skill sets. It should be valuable content (a video series, monthly newsletter, e-book, white paper, report) that will segue to the services you offer.

10. Blog, but only if you have some relevant content to share – Corporate blogs that merely present product and service updates are becoming redundant. However, blogs that share meaningful content that s valuable to your audience can build your credibility if that content is targeted, specialized and reaching the right people.

11. Create a YouTube Channel and regularly distribute keyword-targeted videos – Video is quickly becoming the most popular medium and can t be ignored by marketers. A great way to build your brand is by sharing tips videos (talking head or demos) and integrating these videos into your website to add a personal connection with your audience.

12. Start a BlogTalk Radio Show, regular podcast or AudioBoos where you share your expertise – This type of audio content is easily transmitted and shared on networks like Facebook, so it s very effective for building your brand and targeting your audience.

13. Distribute keyword targeted articles and press releases through EzineArticles.com and PRWeb.com – Keywords will help you get listed in the top 10, but be sure to focus on the quality of the content before the keywords and write to benefit the lives and businesses of your target audience.

14. Create Presentations and PDFs through Slideshare.net and Scribd.com – With the rise of Slideshare.net, this strategy is gaining popularity as it can feed PowerPoint presentations directly into your LinkedIn profile. With these tools, you can also send new clients a link to your portfolio.

15. Put on webinars for online groups and associations – With tools like GoToWebinar or Free Conference Calling, you can focus on a particular industry (e.g. “Using Social Media for Interior Design Businesses”) and put on an informative webinar or tele-event.

16. Test out some low-cost Facebook Social Ads or Pay Per Click ads for targeted keywords – Another great way of targeting new clients is to test out these ads on your “Like” base from your Facebook Page. It is possible to get a lot of interest, visitors and sales through these ads.

Miscellaneous Strategies:

17. Referral Marketing – This is also called “Duct Tape Marketing” and involves being proactive with your existing clients and asking them for referrals to other colleagues. It relies on the “Know, like, trust factor” and can lead to many new client leads.

18. Set up Joint Ventures – Finally, a great way to build your business is to partner up with colleagues either inside or outside your industry who offer complementary services. For example, a person who writes articles might partner with someone in the social media space, and they could cross-refer each other.

We hope you find these tips helpful. If you are interested in reaching new clients, we recommend going through the lists in Parts 1 and 2 of this blog post series and ticking off the strategies you are currently using, evaluating which activities have been successful for you, and considering which strategies you might want to add to your overall marketing strategy.

As a community of Virtual Assistants and online professionals, we here at VAClassroom are committed to helping equip you with the skills that will help you reach your ideal client base. If you have any questions or comments, please leave a note for us in the comment box below. Also, let us know of any additional strategies or ideas that have worked for you.