I have decided to write about how I have found my first month in business for this weeks post. I have been completely honest about what I was scared about, what I found didn’t work and how I have measured my success so far. I hope you find reading about my experience interesting, whether you are considering starting your own business or whether you just wanted to find out how I was doing!
After launching my website and telling the world about my leap into self-employment, the initial feeling was excitement. I had so many lovely messages from friends, family and previous colleagues. I had made a plan and my focus was on getting everything ready so that upon launch, if things kicked off immediately, I would be prepared to start working straight away. I had my agreements drafted up, my new client forms, accounts and CRM software set up, everything was ready. The downside to that, was when work didn’t immediately appear, the fear set in. The great thing about people knowing about your business from an announcement about its launch is the support, the downside is the ‘Have you got any clients yet’ question coming in thick and fast. I was lucky in that I had a positive outlook on what I could achieve and very supportive people around me, but having to answer “No, not yet” to that question on a regular basis, sets in self-doubt.
That is when I decided I needed a plan for how to get clients, they weren’t going to magically appear. I was doing some research on this when I came across this article by a Virtual Assistant website that recommended reading the book “Get Clients Now!”. It had some great tips and a 28-day plan, which I immediately prepared and followed for the next 28 days. My daily and weekly activities included increasing social media following, attending two networking events a week, posting on social media at least three times a week and various other things and they were all working toward the end goal of clients and billable hours. I really found that having these activities helped my mind to focus. Although I already had goals in mind about what I wanted the business to become and how much money I needed to make each month, focusing on the next month in detail really helped.
So, as you now know from my 28-day plan, my aim was to attend at least two networking events each week. The thought of this was incredibly daunting, I can very easily become introvert in situations that I don’t feel comfortable with and public speaking was not my forte so the idea of the 30-second intro filled me with dread. In my first two networking events (albeit one wasn’t quite networking, but networking took place nonetheless…) I met two women who inspired me immediately.
I attended the Exeter Women in Business event run by Clare Baker and Alexis Bowater, Alexis saw that I was new and welcomed me to the group and when I returned this month Alexis was kind enough to ask about me and how I was doing. I have found that Alexis introduction before the speaker to be incredibly inspiring. The group is all about women supporting other women in business and if I am honest, I wasn’t sure about women-only networking events prior to setting up my business, but having attended many events I can truly see the benefit of the support that you receive by being a part of these groups.
My second experience was meeting Julia Ward from Articulacy at an event where Julia was speaking. I found her talk on confidence when networking to be honest and helpful. I was lucky enough to meet her in person a week later at another event. Julia spent time with me finding out about my new business and also gave me tips on how to become more confident. I have found Julia to be incredibly motivating and I am excited about attending an event she is holding at the end of September- Communicate with Confidence and Practice your Perfect Pitch!.
Key things I have learnt from networking so far…
- Don’t be afraid of approaching people/groups.
- Don’t assume that people who are talking to each other know each other, quite often they don’t!
- If you see someone on their own, talk to them!
- Keep smiling 🙂
My aim for attending networking wasn’t to find my potential new clients, it was mainly to connect with local business people. I think by keeping that in my mind from the start has been helpful for me. Adapting from being in employment, managing a wonderful team of 6 and overseeing a large office of staff, to working from home on my own – it was daunting, and I did find a couple of days tough at the very start. By attending the events and being inspired by other businesses, I found that my dread of walking into a room of strangers and the occasional feeling of loneliness, was soon replaced and quite often I was actually looking forward to these events.
“It’s a very competitive market” It may be the case that the number of Virtual Assistants is increasing, but so is the awareness of how beneficial a VA can be, and so the number of potential clients is increasing. Each Virtual Assistant is great at what they do, but each has different experiences, whether that be in their previous employment or what their current offering is. Each business owner has a specific need and they are likely to find a VA that suits what their needs are, but also someone who they would like to work with. Not to mention that local VA’s use the manta “Collaboration not competition” and it isn’t just a mantra, I have met a few VA’s in the past month and I felt an overwhelming sense of support. My fellow VA’s were quickly passing me tips on various things and sharing their experiences from when they set up their business and for that, I will always be grateful, their knowledge was really helpful.
It wasn’t just fellow VA’s that were giving me tips, local business owners who I met were so keen to help, share experiences and even offer referrals. I felt lucky that there was such a vibrant local networking scene that many local businesses were actively taking part in. And it wasn’t just restricted to networking events, I met previous colleagues, contacts of colleagues, contacts of contacts – all prepared to give up their time to meet me and find out about my offering. I felt really fortunate to have all of these experienced business people around me and wanting to spend their time with me.
Did it work?
The reason I put my 28-day plan in place was to set myself goals and to keep motivated and it did that.
By measuring my success against each activity I could celebrate each little success and I think that is important for start-up businesses. I could also very quickly evaluate what wasn’t working for me. For example, I set up a Company page on LinkedIn and very quickly realised that my posts on LinkedIn were getting little engagement and I was struggling to get followers. I knew that I wanted to make the most of my time so I gave myself a week to make it work, I gained a few more followers and a few more likes, but it wasn’t significant enough. I closed the Company page and now post from my personal page only and I have seen the engagement and my connections increase.
Start-up businesses need to be reactive and change their offering to what works for them. At the start, I thought my business would all come from web leads and people finding me on Google. I soon realised that even though I wanted to be a ‘Virtual Assistant’ that many business owners want to buy into the person who is offering their business support and to do that, they want to meet their VA. By refocusing my efforts on looking at local businesses I am more likely to win clients, my trade is a service, not a product, and people like to know who they are buying the service from. Every start-up should know that changing their offering is normal and at the start, you have to evaluate what is working and adapt to it. Having said that, I did do a little celebration dance in my office this morning when I found myself on page 1 of google for a search term I have been tracking!
I am pleased to say that I successfully completed my 28-day plan and I reached my goal of charging a set amount of billable hours. I have also started to book up most of August with lots of varied work and I have many lovely contacts who I am working on proposals for. I will continue setting goals for myself as I do not want to rest on my laurels and I love making a plan!
I hope you have found this post interesting and if you have I would love for you to comment, share, like or get in contact.