Showing Some Respect for Virtual Assistants

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Absence {distance} makes the heart grow fonder— except apparently in the case of Virtual Assistants from what I read in one social media group’s postings recently. Out of sight and out of mind. Check this out for yourself and tell me if Virtual Assistants in this thread are being treated less like fellow entrepreneurs and more like commodities (I deleted pictures and names of the commenters because I did not secure permission to quote them).

Doctor’s note? Time-waster? Corpo-rats? Common excuse? Needing to go to the hospital is cause for being fired? I found that very harsh. Especially considering some people who leave the corporate world to start their own biz do so because of unsympathetic, unfeeling treatment from that corporate world when they had a personal situation interfere with work.

The question then is: Social Media Managers, when you get busy, where do you turn for help? Virtual Assistants! But, do you hire the services of a Virtual Assistant as an employee, or as a contractor? Consider this additional question, are you an employee of your small business client, or are you contractor?

For answers, I sought out the comments of Social Media Managers within Liz Benny’s “Social Media Monkey” closed page group. Their responses:

“Corpo-rats LOL love it ha-ha. Yes, def too harsh, she is not an employee, but a VA. So yeah, would not get rid of her, I would wish her a good recovery and then make contact again to move on together. You’ve got to be there for your team if you want them to be there for you!” — Federica Marchesini of MJ Social Party Ltd., based in Perth, and serving all of Australia.

Interesting approach. The SMM/VA relationship being less owner/employee and more of a team effort.

“That is tough. Sometimes life happens. Business owners forget that a VA is a contracted business owner – they are not an employee. Many VA’s can do lots of different tasks but they aren’t mind readers – two-way communication is the key.” — Sharon Baillie, speaking from first-hand knowledge as she operates both a social media agency Basically Social in New South Wales, Australia and a VA business Baillie Admin Services.

A virtual assistant (VA) handles daily clerical, scheduling, and technical portions of a business that need to be kept operating smoothly. Virtual assistants work remotely from locations of their own choosing, anywhere in the world.

“I agree with the third commenter in the initial post. I would make note and maybe consider this a potential warning sign, but also just proceed with caution going forward. I agree that these people are being overly harsh. If not three strikes before they’re out, I would hope for two! Things happen!” — Jacquelyn Gutc, of Magpie Media, serving the Detroit area and beyond.

Things happen. You have hired a human VA over a bot VA because you desire the human interaction, you want to set personal parameters based on how you operate your business and the services you offer, not factory default programming.

“I think they are being too hard on them. They are VA’s, they are not employees. My process when I hire a VA is this: I am very specific in the title of what the position is for and how much per hour. That helps eliminate people that are too expensive for my position. I hire one VA for each duty, so I don’t expect a VA to do everything. I am very specific with the description of background/experience I’m looking for and very detailed about the work and number of hours. I ask them to type a word, any word, like “apple” in the subject line to make sure they are reading everything. This eliminates 30-40% of people that respond.

I will usually look at 2-3 people I would hire and give them a short test to do something in the job description and then I judge how well they followed instructions, the quality of the work etc. When hired, I create a SOP or Standard Operating Procedure of the step by step job process. I also establish number of hours and when they will work those hours. If you do all of this, it helps you get a good fit. Things happen, so I would reach out and ask if everything is okay. I wouldn’t be harsh, and I would never ask for a doctor’s note. Just the way I work with VA’s.” Diane Leone of Leone Social, serving St. Augustine Beach, FL and beyond

And for a final word, an actual VA…….

“As a VA myself – I’m a business owner NOT an employee; if I was asked for a doctor’s note, that would be MY red flag to cut ties with that client. Having said that, I would let the client know if I wasn’t able to get their work done on schedule, I would reach out to another VA to help in the meantime until I was back on my feet. I have found that VA’s are a supportive group of people. You NEED to have emergency plans in place when you’re a business owner – not just a VA but for any business.

The only thing this person should be asking is if they are ok, and how long do they think they might be off for. If it’s an extended period then fine, look for another VA so you can meet your deadlines, but this illness may just be a one-off occurrence that just happens. Thank God, this guy is not a client of mine. His attitude is, quite frankly, appalling. Would he ask his accountant or lawyer for a doctor’s note? I’m betting he wouldn’t have the nerve. Pleased to see Anthony that you think these guys were being ‘unjustly’ harsh.”  Carolyn White, of Office Advantage, also serving Australia from New South Wales.

To be, or not to be a Virtual Assistant–that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune (harsh clients) … or…

What do you think?

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Pet Project by Small Businesses Fosters Community Engagement

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Nearly a dozen, local, pet-related small businesses and organizations answered the call to mount an interactive customer engagement promotion recently in Salem Ma. Rather than be blindly competitive to serve their own needs, they joined together to support a community event to entertain customers.

“Howl-o-ween” was a pet parade and pet costume contest that drew 100 contestants (dogs & cats mostly) and an estimated crowd of several hundred on-lookers.

Customers and non customers (and especially their pets) either took part in the parade, costume contest or applauded in support to make this a really interesting community event that fits in nicely with Salem’s month-long Haunted Happenings celebration of all things Halloween.

Salem Main Streets, which creates and supports numerous community events and initiatives throughout the year to promote the downtown district, thought up & produced this event. It did so with the support of Creative Salem, Salem Pet Photo, the New England Dog Biscuit Company, Artists’ Row, PALS, Black Cat Tours, It’s Reigning Cats and Dogs, Healthy Hounds Doggie Daycare, Penelope’s Pet Boutique, and a number of other community partners.

Yes, there really are that many pet-themed stores in one city.

What could other similar-themed businesses & organizations in your city or town do to engage their community of customers?

Email vs Face-to-Face. And the Winner Is…

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Community involvement by small business merchants is a service I feel very strongly can be used to attract customers and then convert them into being brand ambassadors. Fund-raisers are a prime example. Your store helps promote the bowl-a-thon for the local kids’ club. Parents then support you back with their patronage and positive word of mouth.

But how do you best reach those people?

In today’s 2.0 world, email is the accepted method of contact. Faster, less expensive than letters, flyers and brochures. But, a recent study, published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, indicates that the 1.0 world of face-to-face gets better results.

What?

Forty-five participants were each required to ask 10 strangers (total sample 450 people) to complete a brief survey. The constant was that each made the same request sticking to the same script; the variable was that half of the participants made requests by email, while the other half went direct with the face-to-face approach.

Survey Results

According to Vanessa K. Bohns, who conducted the survey with Mahdi Roghanizad of Western University, “face-to-face requests were 34 times more effective than emailed ones.”

She explained “In our studies, participants were highly attuned to their own trustworthiness and the legitimacy of the action they were asking others to take when they sent their emails. Anchored on this information, they failed to anticipate what the recipients of their emails were likely to see: an untrustworthy email asking them to click on a suspicious link.”

The convenience and cost saving on your end does not balance against the comfort zone encroachment of the community member being solicited for funding.

Want your community project to be a success?

As techie as we may want to be, in this case old-fashioned face-to-face would be the best way to successfully mobilize people to contribute and support.

Mother’s Day, What’s an Entrepreneur to Do?

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Americans will be spending more than $23 billion on Mother’s Day! That’s 10% more than was reportedly spent in 2016! This data is from MoneyTips.com. Speaking to the Social Media Manager entrepreneurs in my target market, that dollar figure lends itself to a significant number of options for your clients to market services and products to customers with a vested interest in spending.

By no means am I trying to put a dollar figure on mom’s value.

From her kids she will take an “I love you,” a weird looking birdhouse made in school shop class, a brightly colored blouse with parakeets that you wouldn’t wear to bed, a car, and anything between. But for most people, the spirit of the day is expressed with a gift. Why shouldn’t your clients not only participate, but also excel in these business transactions?

Check out this infographic for ideas and data to convince your small business client to run a few more directed Facebook ads or Instagram pictures. There is ROI. For example, $2.1 billion dollars is expected to be spent on clothing alone. And $1.6 billion will be spent on spa days and other services (sunless spray tans, nails, etc).

Does your client want to miss out for lack of trying?

Mother

(Infographic courtesy of MoneyTips.com)

17 Visions of Tomorrow’s Social Media Landscape

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How can we possibly predict what the future will look like, so we can better prepare today for the realities of tomorrow? That is the question asked by Peter Kozodoy in a recent piece for Inc. Magazine. But it is an every day question posed by Social Media Managers, what with regular Facebook adjustments being constantly added or the constant one-upsmanship battle escalating between Instagram & Snapchat.

Kozodoy asked 17 of the world’s most prolific super-influencers for sage advice and prognostications; though varied there was one recurring theme. Catering to the consumer’s needs in the places that he or she expresses them will be the key to your client’s success in converting them into customers.

When I started this blog my message was that small businesses had to be on social media, because if they weren’t they could not hear the comments & complaints being transmitted by customers. Now just being “on” is not enough. You need to actively find where your customers are and engage them there on Facebook, Tumbler, Twitter, Snapchat, etc. Don’t expect them to come to your website or store on their own.

Point in fact:

Mobile phones, search, and social media have changed shopper paradigms forever. Today, shopper’s have unique paths to purchase tailored to their lifestyle. This has had a profound impact on how, when and where consumers engage with brands.” — Ted Rubin, Social Marketing Strategist, Acting CMO of Brand Innovators, and Co-Founder of Prevailing Path

Location, location, location:

Brands that will thrive in the future are those that are able to hyper-target their messaging based on identifiable social and geo-locational triggers using immersive marketing campaigns and augmented reality scenarios to engage and influence buying decisions.” — Douglas Idugboe, Co-Founder, Smedemy

Very interesting to see what “big names” like Mari Smith, Jeff Bullas and Jay Baer had to say. Their comments and Peter Kozodoy’s wrap-up conclusions are a good read for all Social Media Managers that want to put their clients ahead of the competition by already being today where the customers will be tomorrow.

Beyond the Front Door, Working with Competitors to Benefit Community

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Dynamic partnerships await small business merchants (and their Social Media Managers) who venture beyond their front door and reach out to fellow merchants, be they competitors or not. Usually the driving force is not profit but to do something beneficial for the community. For in displaying a genuine give a damn attitude about their customers, so do these businesses develop a loyalty from those shoppers.

Take Salem, Ma for example. During October, everybody is knee deep in Halloween-based customers; but come January, they live or die on local patronage.

So, it comes as no surprise that when the call was issued for participants in the upcoming annual Salem Arts Festival Fashion Show, which in itself is a fundraiser for our Salem Arts Festival, the response from local biz was not “I can’t afford the time, or the money, or the merchandise.” It was more so “What do you need?”

I am lifting a paragraph from the Salem Main Streets blog (which I write, so I won’t have to worry about plagiarism…)

The Fashion Show annually highlights a growing number of local boutiques – including Avalanche, Beach Bride Baubles, The Boutique, Curtsy, Emporium 32, J. Mode, Lifebridge’s Second Chance Thrift Shop, Modern Millie Vintage & Consignments, Ocean Chic Boutique & Waterbar, the Peabody Essex Museum Shop, re-find and re-find men’s, and RJ Coins & Jewelry, with professional stylist Lisa Ann Schraffa Santin on hand. Make up will be provided by the fabulous artists from Laura Lanes Skin Care, Rouge Cosmetics, Radiance Aveda, Arbonne by Roz, and Victoria Crisp, with hair styling by Bella Hair Studios and My Barber Shop.”

Those are a lot of stores, giving a lot of time, products, services, and employee hours for a fashion show where they aren’t making a dime. That day.

Take a look at the posted picture again. Where do you think those audience members will go when they need an outfit or accessories, a hair-do or makeup? The mall in another town? I think not.

Modern consumers are no longer blind sheep to be swayed by a clever TV ad. Savvy shoppers are adept at surfing the internet to look at small business Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts to see what’s hot and what’s not— and where they want to spend their loyalty to buy it.

By developing partnerships with “competitors” and other local biz, merchants can do more for the community— and themselves — than they could do alone.

I challenge your business, or clients (if you are a social media manager) to seek out or even initiate opportunities with fellow merchants to invest in your community’s social environment. The rewards are sufficient to be shared among many partners.

(Photo credit to Creative Salem)

Social Media By the Numbers at Enterprise Center

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One of the major problems that Social Media Managers have when dealing with their clients is the distorted levels of expectations about ROI (return on investment… of time and money) by the clients. Social Media is not an over night wonder pill. If only the merchants of Main Street USA could understand the statistics, or as we call them the analytics, by which SMM gauge progress, engagement, results, and forecast “their next move.”

We on the North Shore are fortunate to have an organization such as the Enterprise Center at Salem State University which plays a pivotal role in helping foster the growth of small business by offering an interactive speaker series, not by teachers but by individuals who are in the trenches living the subject matter everyday. Case in point, this Tuesday I attended a session driven by Justin Miller on Understanding Social Media Analytics.

Miller, the guiding force behind the dynamic InnoNorth community start up, brought his expertise to a packed room of the curious and functioning business owners who want to understand social media from the numbers angle.

Miller was ready from the start to give everyone pause:

“Understanding your social media analytics is essential for businesses today, but it isn’t easy when no two platforms are measured in the same way.

There’s a difference between knowing what metrics mean and knowing which metrics are meaningful.”

I won’t go into the class particulars; Miller did it a lot better than I could explaining where to find data and how to understand it before applying it. Another class will be given in the fall. You can sign up for it then.

My point is whether you handle the social media campaign for your small biz or you hand it over to a “big” firm or local boutique social media manager (those are the ones I write blogs, posts and tweets for), it’s in your best interests to understand that the numbers by themselves don’t represent the picture of your business.

You may not have the time or skill to do A/B testing, or know the difference between impressions and likes, but taking a class or two at an educational presence such as the Enterprise Center which brings in top notch lecturers like Justin Miller is a way to understand and be able to work with the SMM to help your small business better engage with your target market community.

(And a personal P.S.to Abby Grant at the Enterprise Center, thanks for the excellent customer service in squeezing me into the class at the last minute!)