How to Get Low-Cost and Free Advertising for Your Small Business 

How to Get Low-Cost and Free Advertising for Your Small Business 

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If you want your business to make you money or even just get off the ground, you’re probably going to have to advertise.  For many companies, advertising becomes a huge chunk of the overall budget, but it doesn’t have to be.  There are plenty of free or inexpensive ways to let people know about your business and get them coming back.

Email

Email is a great, cost-effective way for get your name out there, contact potential customers, and keep existing customers up to date and coming back.  And while developing an email list may take some time and effort, sending out an email once you have a list takes very little time.  

You can get email addresses by simply asking for them on your webpage about a related topic to your products, asking for them from your customers when you take an order, or offering a free product or service in exchange for an email address.

Many people get emails by offering people products in exchange for the email addresses of their friends, but these are often far less useful than when people give you their email addresses themselves.  Ninety-nine percent of the time, the friends really aren’t going to be interesting in what you have to offer.

Word of Mouth

Word of mouth is also a great way to get word about your business out there, and it generally costs you nothing.    

The key to starting word of mouth business is not only to tell people to pass the word on to their friends, but more importantly, to treat the customer right so they want to spread the word.

Social networking sites are a great way to start a word of mouth campaign about your business.  These are sites like MySpace, Facebook, and other sites where people can ad their friends, bands they like, and businesses or products they might be a fan of.  

Then, if someone is a friend, the site will often automatically suggest they become a friend with or a fan of the same things.  Soon, you’ll have a bunch of people who are all fans of your business - then you can use the page to send updates to all of them about new products, services, and promotions.  It’s all free and pretty simple to get started.

Blogs

Blogs are another way to get people interested in your products and keep current customers up to date.  Starting a blog is simple, there are tons of blog sites that will pretty much set the whole thing up for you.  The trick is actually getting people to read it.  

You can use different SEO techniques including microblogs like Twitter, but you also need to provide quality content that people actually want to read.  Start your blog by not only talking about your business and ideas, but also those of other people.  If you refer someone to a good article or great deal, they’re much more likely to keep reading.

While you may decide to spend some money on your advertising, you can still supplement with these methods to boost your exposure even more.

How to Find Legitimate VA Opportunities

So you’ve just started a VA business and you need clients. Not to worry. You’re in a high demand business. The clients are there. You just have to know where to look. True, there are some scams out there. However, the legitimate opportunities far outweigh the scams. Here are three great ways to find legitimate VA opportunities.

Ask

In the beginning, there are a few key places to find legitimate VA opportunities. The first and often best resource is your connections. Ask your friends. Ask your family. And ask your business associates for referrals. Often, the best clients come from known sources.

Consider creating an email and sending it to the connections in your rolodex. Introduce your services. Stress the benefits you offer. And ask for referrals. You might even offer a referral bonus. For example, for each new client you receive the person earns a credit toward your services. You could really motivate people by offering cash. Just make sure that you can afford it!

Network

Another way to build your business and find legitimate VA opportunities is through networking. If you have a social networking profile, consider connecting with a few people you’d like to work with. Send them an email or a message introducing yourself. The worst thing that can happen is nothing. The best…you get a new client.

Don’t forget to promote yourself on social networking sites too. Offer promotions. Link to your blog and online content. Become a valuable contributor and help others as well. They’ll remember you and turn to you for assistance in the future.
Networking offline is great too. Join your local business organizations. Attend networking events. Bring a business card, confidence and a smile. You’re sure to meet a few new clients.

Job Sites

Finally, there are the freelance job sites and the job boards. These are full of legitimate opportunities. They’re also full of scams. Use them wisely. Make sure you research each potential opportunity thoroughly. Speak to a live person if you can.

And sites like Elance that control the payment, communication and delivery process are good. They can help you if there’s ever a dispute. And they require providers and employers to leave feedback. If the employer doesn’t have good feedback, don’t work with them.

There are legitimate VA opportunities everywhere. Market your services. Get out and meet people. And don’t be afraid to use the job boards. They do provide excellent experience, connections and profit potential. To your success!

Why Every VA Needs an Online Presence

Building a VA business? Great! Congratulations! Being self-employed is a fulfilling and rewarding lifestyle. Before you get too far into that business plan, are you planning on having a website? If you’re going to be a virtual assistant, you need one. Here’s why:

Your Clients are Online

You’re a virtual assistant. Emphasis on virtual. That means your business operates online. Via the internet, email and perhaps instant messaging and conferencing. If you’re without an online presence, you’re missing out on clients. The majority of your clients will be online business owners. That means they’re very Internet focused. They’ll turn to the internet first to search for a provider.

Now that’s not to say that you won’t have local clients. You might. However, they’ll still likely search for you online. It’s how our society buys products and services.

Your Website Establishes Your Credibility

Many VA tasks are focused on the Internet. You might be managing a blog or forum. You might be proofreading and uploading articles into article directories. You might be managing affiliates for a business. All of those tasks require a good degree of comfort using online technology. Your website helps demonstrate your ability to use the internet. It demonstrates that you’re comfortable online and skilled with using technology.

If you don’t have a website, many of your clients may wonder why not. They may simply disregard you because you’re not online.

Your Website Markets Your Services

Your website accomplishes a number of marketing tactics. It communicates your services and fees. It answers any questions a prospect might have about your services, practices and policies. It also showcases your personality. You’ll likely have an “About Me” page. This is useful for telling your story. However, the word choice, design and feel of your site also helps communicate your personality and brand your business.

Your website can also broadcast your successes. You can list your testimonials. You can cite awards you’ve earned. You can communicate organizations you’re a part of. You can also list the companies you’ve worked with. All of this helps establish you as a credible service provider. Your website can be used to build trust with your prospects.

Finally, you can use your website to facilitate many of your business functions. Communications, payments and even inquiries can be managed through your website. You can also use your website to generate more income by affiliating with products or services and by selling advertisement space.

In short, if you’re going to be a Virtual Assistant, do it the right way. Create a website that helps you build and grow your dream business.

How to Choose a Specialty/Focus/Niche and Why It Matters

Are you going to specialize? As a virtual assistant, will you offer specialty services? Or will you offer anything and everything? Experts strongly recommend specializing. Here’s why:

Specializing makes you competitive.

When you specialize in a service or an industry it helps set you apart from your competition. When a potential customer is looking for a virtual administrator chances are they have a very specific task in mind. If you provide that service or specialize in their industry then you’re going to make it to the top of their list.

Not specializing can make you crazy.

Choosing a specialty means you don’t have to juggle too many tasks and responsibilities. It’s challenging enough to own and grow your own business. The last thing you want to do is add more challenges to your day. If you specialize in a task or an industry then you can focus on being the best provider possible.
Specializing helps you raise your rates.

The truth is, specialists make more money. It’s not limited to the VA industry either. It’s everywhere. If you specialize, there’s a presumption that you have specialized knowledge and skills too. People pay more for that knowledge.

Specializing helps you market.

It’s tough to market your business to a target audience if you offer everything. However, if you offer forum moderation and blog management for the parenting and child care industry then it’s much easier to market your services. You know exactly who you’re marketing to and the benefit you can provide them.

So How Do You Choose a Specialty?

There are a few considerations when choosing a specialty. First, it should be noted that you can specialize in:

An industry. For example, parenting and childcare.

A task. For example, blog management and creation.

An industry and a task. For example, blog management for the parenting and child care industry.

You might think that this degree of specialization limits you. However, consider this. If there are 500 blogs on parenting and child care and you gain five of them as clients. You probably have a full schedule. There’s plenty of work to go around. Specialization simply makes your business easier to manage and grow.

Back to choosing your specialty…

Specialize in what you know. If you are skilled at transcription then specialize in transcription. If you’re an expert blogger or bookkeeper then specialize in those tasks. If you know the ins and outs of coaching then specialize in virtual administration for coaches.

Specialize in what you like and enjoy. If you love social networking then specialize in managing and creating social networking profiles. You’ll be much happier and productive if you’re doing something you enjoy.
Specialize in something that’s in demand. Take a look at the job boards. What jobs are commonly posted for virtual assistants? Chances are, that’s an in demand niche. If it’s also something you enjoy and are skilled in then you have a winner.

Remember, you can grow and change.

You might be worried about limiting yourself if you specialize. However, you can always add more services to your portfolio. Your needs, tastes, and business will grow and change. It’s perfectly acceptable to change your services as you grow. Specializing simply helps you attain the success you desire.

How to Get That First Client

Congratulations! You’ve set up your VA business and are ready for your first client. It’s a big step and one that deserves celebrating. So now that you’re ready to work, how do you get that first client? Consider these options:

Job Board

Job boards are a wonderful tool. They can help you launch your business. They can provide a consistent income while you’re building your business. And when you have the eventual dips in your schedule or slow season you can use them to provide additional income.

As a virtual assistant, you may want to focus your attention solely on job boards for virtual assistants. There are all encompassing freelance job boards. These generally require a membership. The freelance job board can serve its purpose. However, you may find better clients via a VA job board. Check out both options and choose the opportunities that are right for you.

Always research your potential client. Make sure they’re legitimate and that they follow through on their commitments. Some job boards simply work like classified ads. You apply for the position and communicate directly with the client. Others work as a go-between. All agreements, payments and work are managed through the job site. Both situations have their pros and cons. Again, make sure you’re working with a legitimate company and job site. Check references. Read reviews. Most opportunities are legitimate. However, it always pays to be safe.

Use Your Resources

When you’re ready for that first client, tell your friends and family. Send an email to your associates. Let everyone know what you’re able to provide. Your Rolodex of contacts is a great place to get started. With a few simple email messages and phone calls you’ll likely land a few great clients. There’s no shame in using your resources. And there really are no better clients than those who are referred to you from friends, family and associates.

Network

If you’re not already active on a social networking site, get a profile and start connecting. Networking online is a wonderful way to market your services. It’s also a great way to meet new people.

Network offline too. Join your local SBA. Become a member of your Chamber of Commerce. Participate in local meet-ups and networking events. Make sure you have a business card and a positive attitude when you’re networking. (A website is a must too.)

Also consider:

  • Making sure your business is listed on your local online business directory
  • Advertising
  • Article marketing
  • Blogging/guest blogging
  • Posting flyers around town

There are many ways to market your VA business. Knock on doors. Connect with people online and in your community. Use your resources and explore your opportunities. You’ll have a full schedule in no time.

Boost Your Business With A Press Release

Press ReleaseA press release is an excellent way to gain publicity and exposure for your business. A press release is a document containing information that you would like a media organization to feature, such as general information about your business, a special event that you are holding, or a special incentive you are offering.

By having a story featured in a newspaper, magazine, or other form of media, your business will receive publicity and credibility. You can also use the clippings of paper stories and links to stories featured through electronic media as part of your press kit.

You can submit a press release at any time, however you may find that the media features stories about businesses when something special is happening, such as a grand opening, special event, or special offer.

There is a simple format to use when writing a press release. If your story can be published at any time, the words “For Immediate Release” should appear at the top left hand corner. However, if the information should only be released after a certain date, use the phrase “For Release After [insert date]. Under that, include your contact information.

The next area of the press release is the “body”. This is the part of the press release where you include the information you want to publicize. Try to keep your press release under two pages. If it is more than one page include the word “more” at the end of the first page. At the end of your press release insert three number symbols (###).

As you write the body of your press release, keep it focused, clear, and concise. Try to answer the five basic questions – who, what, why, where, and when. Who are you, and what, exactly, are you promoting? Why is your target market interested in this? When and where is this taking place?

Once you are finished with your press release, you will want to submit it to the media. This can be to your local media outlets, such as newspapers, regional magazines, radio and television stations, or media outlets in geographic areas that you want publicity in. If you are promoting a event that will happen on a specific day, submit your press release early enough so that it has time to be received and facts can be checked, etc.

You can also submit your press release to electronic media, such as newswire services, Internet Talk Radio programs, and more.

If your story does not get picked up, don’t give up on press releases. Try a different media source, or rewrite your press release and submit it when you have something to promote. The media receives many, many press releases and cannot publish a story on every one of them. If you keep trying, you will find publicity.

Creating an Editorial Calendar for Your Content Marketing

calendarBeing successful doesn't just happen. Success requires an enormous amount of planning, strategy, and action. To be successful with content marketing you have to know in advance what you're going to do, why you're doing it, how you're going to do it, where you're going to do it, and when you're going to do it. This is where an editorial calendar comes in. An editorial calendar will revolutionize your content marketing, positioning you for success.

To create an editorial calendar you need to look ahead to the products and services you wish to support, as well as your list of keywords that should already be developed. Around the products and services that you'll be marketing you also want to include standard keyword-rich content focused on the topics related to your niche such as guest posts, roundups of interesting blog posts and news in your industry, and infographics.

Your editorial calendar will also help you set realistic goals about how often you will publish content as well as determine deadlines for the content. Providing fresh content on a regular basis is imperative to your overall marketing success, but it's also important to be realistic about your resources in terms of both time and money. It is recommended that you post a blog post at least two to three times a week to keep your website and / or blog at the top of the search engine results.

Social media should be something that happens every single day from three to 12 times per day depending on the type of social media. For instance, you will post less on LinkedIn.com, and more on Twitter.com. These interactions will include not only posting your own content but your interaction with others on the social media. All of this needs to be planned out so that you ensure that you block out the time to do it, and all should be included in your content calendar.

Include all the types of content you plan to distribute into your calendar such as:

  • Blog Posts
  • Infographics
  • Guest Posts
  • Round Ups
  • Social Media Content
  • Article Marketing
  • Social Interaction

You can create a content calendar inside Google Docs by creating it in an excel spreadsheet or a Word Document then uploading it to Google Drive to share with others on your team. Alternatively, if you use a project management system like Basecamp you can share it there.

Everyone on your team should have easy access to the content calendar which should be kept accurate and updated at all times. Remember, just because a calendar is created doesn't mean it can't be tweaked and corrected as necessary. The deadlines on the calendar should be sacrosanct and whomever is in charge of the publishing calendar should also be in charge of ensuring everyone sticks to their deadlines.

By creating and maintaining an editorial calendar for your content marketing you will ensure that you have regular content to be published across all your blogs, social media and more. Creating a content calendar will also help you develop a strategy and establish goals while developing a way to make those goals become reality.

How to Create a Marketing Strategy that Builds Authority

AuthorityThere are many different triggers that convince prospects to become customers. One of the most significant buying triggers is authority. We buy from people and companies that we consider to be experts. Your marketing strategy can and should ideally include building a reputation as an industry expert. Here are a few tips, ideas, and tactics to create a marketing strategy that positions you as an authority.

Make a Difference in People’s Lives

There are actually three steps to the authority process. The first step is to make a difference in people’s lives. From the perspective of building a marketing strategy around this step you can turn to both content and to your products or services.

-Make sure your products or services are valuable and that your customers receive the intended benefit

-Provide consistent value in the form of content. We’re talking about providing valuable tips on Twitter, sharing information, news, and ideas on Facebook and your blog. Write articles for notable publications and strive to use your content to provide consistent value. Whether you’re emailing prospects, connecting with them on social media, or reaching out on your blog, make sure that the information you’re providing has the power to change lives for the better. Provide value, build authority.

-Connect on a personal level with your clients and learn how you can help, provide value, and make a difference. Leverage that information into better business systems, products, and information.

-Respond to blog comments in a manner that helps not only the commenter but also any people reading the comments to further their understanding. And leave insightful and useful comments on industry blogs where your audience is present. Make a good impression.

Demonstrate That You Can Make a Difference

While the first step is to make a difference, the second step in becoming an authority is to demonstrate to your prospects that you can make a difference. It’s the proof step so to speak. In terms of your marketing strategy this could take many forms.

For example, you might use case studies to demonstrate your capacity to make a difference. Testimonials, reviews, and a strong word of mouth or referral marketing campaign can also help spread the word about your expertise and authority.

Connect with industry leaders. Follow them on social media, comment on their blogs, and invite leaders to be interviewed or to partner with you on projects. For example, you might invite an industry leader to contribute a chapter for your next book or to host an online fundraiser with you. Partnering with industry leaders demonstrates to your audience that you are respected in your community and considered someone to turn to for assistance and guidance.

Communicate With Integrity and Authenticity

Finally, in all communications whether you’re establishing authority or sharing that authority with your prospects, make sure to communicate with integrity and authenticity. Consumers are savvy and they can smell a fraud from a mile away. Be genuine both in your efforts to make a difference and the way you share that information. Building authority can take time but when it’s done from a place of integrity you’re on the right path.

How to Find Your Ideal Client

Ideal ClientBeing a virtual assistant has definite perks. You have the freedom to choose your hours. You can call in sick without feeling guilty. And of course you’re in control of who you work with and the projects you work on. However, in the beginning and certainly throughout your virtual assistance career, you’ll likely take on projects that are with clients you’d rather pass on. Many VAs struggle to find their ideal clients.

What Is Your Ideal Client?

Before you can go on a scavenger hunt for your ideal client, you want to identify what makes them ideal. Is it a topic, project type or subject matter that you find ideal? Do you prefer certain communication styles? Are you looking for someone who is detail oriented or someone who lets you manage the details? Do you want to work together as a team or would you rather work alone?

Many people view their ideal client as someone who provides them with a constant stream of well-paying work. That’s certainly a bonus. However, if you don’t enjoy working with that client or on their projects, the money isn’t going to be as fun to earn. They won’t be an ideal client.

Take some notes or jot down an idea of who your ideal client is. Daydream for a minute and imagine who they are. This is your ideal client profile. Keep this information where you can review it often.

Finding Your Ideal Client

The next step is to explore where your ideal client may hang out. Do they participate on industry forums? Are they in your local networking group? Find out where they hang out and make yourself a part of their world.

For example, if your ideal client is a small business blogger interested in parenting and child-related topics, then you may network on small business blogging sites or parenting sites. Check out the people who are hanging out there too. Connect with them.

Introduce yourself. Perhaps you already know who your ideal client is. Maybe you love the products a company offers, you like their personality and would love to work with them. Then by all means hold out your virtual hand and introduce yourself. Let them know you admire their work. Tell them what you do and offer your services. Consider offering a project on spec. That way they get to know you and the amazing freelance work you do, and there’s no risk to them.

Ask for an introduction. If you know people who know people, tell them who your ideal client is and ask for referrals and introductions. If there’s one thing everyone should have been taught in school, it is that hard work is only part of the success equation. Who you know is also important, and it makes the trip to success street much faster and easier.

Finding your ideal client isn’t difficult. Describe them in a paragraph or two; create an ideal client profile. Then seek them out online and off. Ask for introductions and referrals. Connect with them and don’t be shy. Your ideal client may be looking for an ideal virtual assistant – you!

Canada’s New Anti-Spam Laws

Are You Prepared?

Have you ever found yourself working during a busy day thinking,  “Gee, I really wish the government was more involved in the everyday operations of my business”?

Well, if that was you, today is your lucky day!

As of July 1st 2014, a new law from the Government of Canada will come in to affect as a way to prevent spam emails from being sent.  The Canadian Anti-Spam Law (CASL) will require consent (implied or expressed) from all recipients before a commercial email can be sent to them.  Mass emails, bulk emails, broadcast emails (whatever you want to cal them) to a mailing list will require a mechanism for unsubscribing, as well as the sender’s contact information.

Pre-existing business relationships will not be affected but contacting new potential customers may be made more difficult.  Unless an email is publically listed on their website or a customer has contacted you directly first, consent must be acquired via email before any commercial messages can be sent.  In terms of a contact list you may already have, you can continue to send promotional messages to them for the next 3 years while the law is phased in.  After this point however, you will be required to get consent from each individual before any further promotional messages can be sent.

The easiest way to stay out of trouble going forward is to ask for consent whenever possible and establish a mindset that is anti-spam.  Individual violators can be fined up to $1 million and corporations up to $10 million.

Connect with your employees on the provisions of this law and make sure the consequences for violations are understood.

You may need to reconsider some of your company’s marketing practices but in the long run it is always better to be safe, and certainly better than paying millions of dollars in fines.
More information can be found at the website for Government of Canada: http://fightspam.gc.ca/eic/site/030.nsf/eng/home.