Michael Russer, a.k.a. Mr. Internet®, is CEO of Russer Communications. He is a leading speaker and author in the real estate industry and has been writing about Internet marketing and virtual outsourcing since the dawn of the commercial Internet.
Virtual Assistants: Business Support a Click Away
Physical proximity is no longer a factor in hiring the support staff you need to keep your business thriving.
December 1, 1999
Dear Mr. Internet,
As my business grows I have less time to devote to developing and implementing new marketing strategies. Is there some way the Internet can help me?—Rick Miner, Coldwell Banker Bain Associates, Seattle, Wash.
You betcha! Help is just a few milliseconds away. Thanks to the Internet, there's a whole new category of talent available to you: virtual assistants or consultants.
Let's say you need someone to help you with a new E-mail marketing campaign--targeting the recipients, creating the content, building the list, executing the ongoing mailing, and measuring results. Now imagine you could hire the former marketing director of a Fortune 1,000 company who has retired to start raising her family. She has the time, talent, and willingness to take on challenging projects from the comfort of her home via the Net, and at a price far below her previous salary.
So where do you find these virtual godsends?
Have modem, will telecommute
If you limit your search to just your community, you'll probably be disappointed or pay too much because tend to price their services according to what's locally accepted rather than on what their skills or experience might bring them in another, more metropolitan part of the country. Also people working part time will often take less pay if the work is convenient and enjoyable. If the project you have in mind doesn't require physical proximity, then you have the whole world open to you.
But before you start hiring these digital gunslingers, be clear about the
Job Description: Perhaps it goes without saying, but when working with someone long distance, don't be vague or generic about the project. You're much better off explicitly writing out what the person must accomplish.
Position vs. Project: Some virtual consultants don't want a regular gig--they're only interested in one-time projects. Make sure you match the project with the person.
Proximity: Will face-to-face meetings occasionally be needed? If so, is it important that your virtual assistant be located in a particular region? This requirement will limit your search.
Autonomy: Most virtual assistants are used to working autonomously. Are you ready to let someone take a project and run with it, without being able to hover over them?
Benchmarks: With a virtual assistant you won't have arbitrary access to work in progress, so lay out specific, expected timelines and benchmarks for any work that needs to be completed. Remember, it can be difficult to work through misunderstandings with someone who is 2,000 miles away.
Fees: Know what you're willing to pay.
This is a good start, but there's more to consider, such as what kind of computer and software does the consultant use? Does the person have Internet and E-mail access? Fortunately, most of the online resources below allow you to screen for these kinds of requirements.
Your virtual assistant marketplace
A number of online resources cater to matching up virtual assistants with prospective employers:
StaffCentrix has a listing of virtual assistants in 56 categories of experience, including providing support to real estate professionals. The company offers a free matching service that allows you to specify your needs. This site also offers a wealth of information about the how, what, and whys of using virtual assistants.
AssistU.com isn't as well laid out as StaffCentrix, but provides a comprehensive matching service (once you find it!) that also screens for people who specialize in helping real estate professionals.
FreeAgent.com's site looks like a real "dot com" company. It's a good place to find assistants for project-oriented jobs, rather those requiring an ongoing commitment.
International Virtual Assistance Association has established their own standards for telecommuters who want to become certified assistants. The certification isn't terribly comprehensive, but it's a start. Consider it a work in progress.
Remember, also, that you may find an assistant--with plenty of skill sets that will be useful to you--who isn't listed as real estate specialist.
Your virtual organization
Virtual assistants, along with the rich online means to connect and communicate with them (see " Virtual Meetings Know No Physical Boundaries," Ask Mr. Internet, Oct. 1999), form the foundation of your burgeoning online virtual organization.
Imagine running your business through the Internet using high-powered talent from all over the world. You save time (it's all done in Net speed and you eliminate many needless meetings), money (virtual assistants are independent contractors), and effort (virtual assistants don't require high-level management). This is exactly how I run my company, working effectively with people I've never met.
Virtual assistants broaden the possibilities for your business in ways that are just not possible in traditional modes of doing business--a warm thought, indeed, when you think about your competitors who haven't quite figured it out yet.
Mr. Internet's Tip of the Month
Online newsletters, often called e-zines, are one of the most incredible information resources on the Internet. Most are free, and the best part is that you don't have to go looking for information. It comes to you regularly via E-mail.
To sort through the thousands of e-zines being published you can use indexes, typically categorized by topic, to find the ones that you're most interested in.
If you decide to publish your own e-zine, both of these sites offer advice on to how to get started and build a credible readership--one way to building an important marketing tool.
I'm often asked how I can stay on top of the Internet so well given my booked speaking schedule, writing deadlines, and other major projects, such as being a dad who faithfully reads "Harry Potter" to his kids every night he's home. E-zines play a critical part in keeping me informed with minimal effort. They can do the same for you.
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