What can a Virtual Assistant do for your startup?

For entrepreneurs and budding startups, a virtual assistant (VA) can fill the need for any skill set that you require. From simple tasks like encoding and research, up to technical and administrative tasks; outsourcing your workload to a VA can give you and your company more time and resources to do what’s important – grow your business.

If you haven’t outsourced to a VA before, you might not have an idea of how they can help you save time and energy. To give you an idea, here are just some things that a VA can do for your startup:

Competitive Research

Before you jump in and start your business, it’s important to know who your competitors are, what they do, how they do it, and how you stack up to their products and services. Doing research on your competitors can take a lot of time and if you want to stay ahead of the game, you should also do it regularly. With a virtual assistant, you can keep your competitive intelligence updated regularly and keep abreast of the latest developments and trends in your market. Assign your VA to create a regular report of your competitors prices, new products/services and other helpful data.

Process Documentation

Without proper documentation, work processes can become ineffective and you’ll end up having to train people personally, and repeatedly. Mistakes will happen often because there have been no guidelines and instructions set for your team to follow. But doing this by yourself is a heavy task and requires a lot of typing. Assign your VA to document work processes and guidelines and make it available to your whole team. Through this, you can see what processes work well and what doesn’t. Recruiting and training up personnel will also take less time because all your work processes have been documented.

Customer Support and FAQs

When starting out, you’ll inevitably get questions about your products, shipping, how to avail of discounts and everything in between. Handling this work can be potentially overwhelming job, especially if you receive multiple orders and customer emails a day. Why not assign a VA to handle your customers? A virtual assistant can become your interface with customers as they answer questions, concerns and document common issues in an easy-to-read FAQ.

Reporting

Having your virtual assistant create regular reports can be a huge timesaver for a business. Assign your VA to send periodic reports on site traffic, conversion rates, clicks, new subscribers, etc. and focus on improving your strategies and finding out how to better make use of this data.

Find and Contact Bloggers, News Websites

For a relatively new business, awareness is one of the hurdles on the way to being successful. One way to build awareness of your brand, product, or service online is to get blog and website coverage. Task your virtual assistant to contact bloggers and news websites in your niche and ask for guest posting or review opportunities. By having someone focused on this task, you can make huge headway into getting more people aware of your business. Set a criteria for blogs and give your VA guidelines on what to communicate to maximize your exposure.

Also, your VA can subscribe to Google Alerts to stay updated on the latest blog posts and articles related to your niche so that you can participate in the discussions and get known in the community. Your VA can filter out the list of blogs and forward the most important ones to you, saving you time and effort.

Share and Bookmark your Content

Marketing your content online is more effective than plain advertising, and a virtual assistant is a great way to spread your blog posts, articles and announcements. Have your VA share your new blog posts on Digg, StumbleUpon,Delicious and other bookmarking sites, as well as social networks related to your niche.

Update Social Networks

In today’s online environment, your business won’t get noticed unless you’re on Facebook,Twitter, or even LinkedIn. Sure, you could take care of updating all the different social networks, but you’ll end up spending more time there than making your business better. Hire a virtual assistant and outsource your social media marketing – have your VA share interesting news and articles in your industry from around the web using BufferApp.com. If your target market are technology entrepreneurs, share news on Twitter from news.ycombinator.com or techcrunch.com.

Your virtual assistant can also take care of managing your community on Facebook and increasing the number of ‘Likes’ on your company’s Facebook page. Using the RSSGraffiti app, you can automatically share posts from your blog on Facebook and get more exposure for your content. A VA can also maintain regular contests on your Facebook Page in order to drum up interest – there are a lot of possibilities.

Optimize PPC Campaigns

Pay Per Click (PPC) campaigns are good ways to advertise, but they can be a time-consuming and costly activity. Sometimes, it’s better to have a professional virtual assistant handle it in order to get the best conversion rates and cost per click (CPC). Assign your Google AdWords, Digital Point, Bing, and other PPC campaigns to a virtual assistant with previous experience and have them improve it over time. Instead of learning PPC by yourself, you can rely on your VAs expertise and get more results faster.

Hire Other Contractors For You

Why not have your virtual assistant handle general administrative tasks? Being in the know, your VA can help you recruit expert developers, writers, designers and more, expanding your reach to more talented contractors. As always, set a criteria as to what your expectations are when assigning this task to your VA – what kind of people you are looking for, what skillsets are mandatory and other requirements. Doing so, you streamline your work processes and become a more effective startup.

There are many other ways a virtual assistant can help your startup. VAs will always be available as long as there’s an entrepreneur looking for professional help.

3 Places to Look for Content Ideas

Content has become a large part of marketing, especially online. Inbound marketing tactics such as article marketing, blogging, and social media marketing have all proven to be very effective. As opposed to “interruption marketing”, inbound marketing is a technique that attracts the attention of a target audience member that is already looking for information on products or services that you provide. It’s a way to join the conversation with a prospect, which is more effective than starting it. The success of these marketing tactics largely depends on the quality of the content that is being distributed. If it’s sloppy or looks like it was thrown together in ten minutes, a prospect will notice that and won’t take you very seriously. Perhaps one of the hardest parts of content marketing is coming up with quality topics to discuss on a regular basis. Writer’s block happens frequently in the online content marketing world.

If your content marketing is ever stuck, here are 3 places to find inspiration:

The Customer Service Manager

The customer service department of any company is the one that has the most contact with the customers. They spend their days answering customer questions and listening to their comments and concerns via telephone, email, social media, and online chat. They are most in tune with the current needs and frustrations of the customers. Ask the customer service department head to provide you with the most discussed customer questions and concerns. This is clearly information that people want to receive and they make great topics for articles and blog and social media posts.

Other Department Managers

Find out what each department does on a daily basis that helps to contribute to the bottom line. If you’re in marketing, chances are pretty good that you don’t know or understand all of the nitty-gritty details of what everyone else in the company does. Some potential clients or customers may find this information interesting. Analyze every department, feature, and benefit of the product or service that your company provides.

The FAQ Page

Many companies include an FAQ page on their website to address common questions that current and potential clients and customers have. Depending on the nature of the company, the answers tend to be basic. They address the concern, but don’t go into that much depth. Take the time to provide further information that relates to each question in a blog post or an article.

While these strategies will work best for companies that actually have customer service managers and various departments, the concept is still the same for small businesses. Talk to other employees to find out what their day-to-day tasks are, what their strategy is for completing them, and discuss any customer interaction that they may have. This information will be beneficial to your target audience and you might learn something in the process as well!

Does Your Business Really Need A Blog?

If you’ve been trying to promote your business on the Internet, no doubt you’ve received the advice to start a business blog.

Internet marketing experts consider a blog to be an essential tool to succeed online. In fact, I’ve made the decision recently to give more attention to my blogs — even if it meant giving up some paid gigs writing for other people’s blogs.

But is blogging right for YOU?

Benefits of A Blog

A high-quality blog can have many benefits, such as:

Search-engine Friendly

Blogs get indexed and ranked in search engines faster than static HTML sites. One way to increase the traffic to your business website is to add a blog.

Interactivity

Because a blog has many features that allow your readers to interact with you and with each other, a blog is an effective tool for building a community of like-minded individuals who are all interested in your field. They make the ideal prospects, because they’re already tuned into you.

Share-ability

Blogs have functionalities that make it very easy for you and your readers to share links to your blog posts. For example, you could link your blog’s RSS feed to your Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook accounts. Your readers could share the link to your blog post with a click of a button.

This makes it much easier for you to reach new audiences and tap into other people’s social networks.

Easy to Use and Customize

Most blogging platforms, such as WordPress, are much easier to use than plain HTML site builders. They come in templates that look good and have plenty of features right out of the box. At the same time, some templates are fairly easy to customize, even for those of us who don’t know any coding. Blogs have made web masters obsolete.

Multimedia

It’s also easy to add multimedia elements to a blog. These may include photo galleries or slideshows, audio recordings, and video. You can display your Flickr or Facebook albums automatically on your blog. You can also easily embed YouTube videos — yours or other people’s — into your blog.

Inexpensive

You can get a blog up and running for under $10 a month, including domain name registration (one domain name is often free for with the cost of hosting). You can no longer make the excuse that you can’t afford a blog.

Available 24/7

Assuming your hosting service doesn’t go down, you can expect your blog to be available 24/7, fully searchable and able to attract an audience of prospects for you.

Authority

A good blog will help establish you as an authority in your field. What better way to demonstrate your expertise in a subject than to publish content-rich articles on your blog regularly for months or even years.

List Building

By putting an opt-in form on your blog, you can easily build and grow a list of people who are interested in learning more from you. Imagine, these are people who have given you permission to communicate with them regularly! If you take care of them, they can easily become your biggest fans and lifelong customers.

Opportunities

An established blog will attract plenty of potential partners and other opportunities for you. These may include advertisers, joint venture partners, speaking engagements and other opportunities to reach other people’s audiences, and even paid consultancies and gigs.

With all that said, a blog does have its downside.

Disadvantages of A Blog

Endless Content

The lifeblood of a blog is a continuous and consistent stream of high-quality content. You need to publish good posts frequently (at least once a week) and consistently to attract and sustain traffic, build a community, engage with your readers, and network with other bloggers.

The constant need for fresh content may be draining for a blogger. You may soon find yourself burning out and getting disillusioned with your blog.

Technical Requirements

A blog is easy to use, but it does require SOME technical knowledge nevertheless. You can’t take a completely computer-illiterate person and turn them into a superstar blogger overnight. Some basic and not-so-basic computer skills are necessary.

Maintenance

If you use WordPress, you know that it’s constantly getting upgraded. Your theme and plugins will also have to be updated as necessary. And don’t forget to back up your files and keep your blog secure while you’re at it.

If you can’t or don’t want to handle blog maintenance, then you need someone else on your team who can do it for you.

Promotion

Aside from maintaining and publishing your blog, you also have to promote it. Just because you built it, doesn’t mean the readers will come.

You can attract traffic through both paid and free methods. Either way, you’ll have to invest some time, energy and possibly money to gain readers. Paid methods may include Google Adwords as well as banner ads and text ads in bigger blogs.

“Free” traffic-generating methods include article marketing, guest blogging, and social networking. I put the word “free” in quotation marks, because even if you don’t have to pay for these methods, they do take time and effort (both of which translate to money).

To Blog or Not to Blog

That is the question!

When deciding whether or not a blog is a good fit for your business’ online marketing strategy, realize that a blog is a huge commitment.

You must be willing to allocate time, energy and money to make it succeed.

However, if you persist with blogging, you will reap the rewards. Soon, you’ll have content that can bring you prospects and clients, literally even while you take a vacation. This is also content you own completely and can reuse, recycle and repurpose to your heart’s desire.

Your Thoughts Please

What do you think – is blogging worth it? If you’ve been blogging, what pros and cons have you experienced? If you’re still deciding whether to blog, which weigh more heavily to you now, the advantages or disadvantages of blogging?

Let us know your thoughts. Share them in the comments below or let us know on Twitter or Facebook.

PS: I teach a class showing business owners how to use a blog and email marketing to attract more prospects and customers. If you want a blog that works and avoid getting overwhelmed by all the little moving parts of online marketing, then check out my Magnetic New Marketing eClass.

Payroll solutions that can make you money

There are few things than deplete an employee’s morale more than, having worked hard for a month, receiving an inaccurate wage which does not reflect their own levels of commitment. Be it late, or too little, wages not paid properly can make workers question all areas of their business, not least the competency of those who provide his checks. Similarly, an employee could wonder if perhaps he was paid incorrectly due to the fact that the company could be in financial bother or, perhaps, maybe the employee is about to receive some bad news regarding his own position within the organization.

With this in mind businesses do their utmost to maintain a high level of accuracy in respect to their payrolls. They can do this in a number of ways either in house or by outsourcing their payroll to a company who specialises in this field. Out sourcing is undertaken for a number of reasons; firstly to avoid the worker dissatisfaction described above but also to steer clear of legal ramifications for inaccurate accounting and also to clear up more time within a company’s schedule to concentrate on creativity and productive areas of the company’s business. For all these reasons and more it is highly important that a company’s infrastructure is based around an accurate and fair payroll.

The importance of compensation based pay

Whilst, as mentioned before, few things are more likely to demoralize a client than inaccurate pay the opposite is also true. After a month’s hard work if an employee is fiscally rewarded for his hard work they will, in turn, be provided with motivation and incentive to carry on their hard work. This, ultimately, can only do a company good in terms of the bottom line. Payroll management is an essential ingredient in catapulting a company’s top employees to the highest positions in the company which, further still, provides long lasting benefits for the organization.

Reducing expenditures and freeing up resources

When companies upgrade their payroll management, they immediately benefit from saving time and thus reducing expenditures and freeing up valuable resources. This can be done by outsourcing payroll or even using payroll management software; both take a huge burden off a company who had previously considered payroll a manual task. Manual processes clutter business operations and cost the business money. By making sure there is an accurate and speedy payroll procedure in hand, be it in house or outsourced, businesses are able to reduce expenditures across the board.

Ensure lower tax bills

Whereas companies may believe that they are creating more money for their business by not investing in the monthly cost out sourcing would incur or by purchasing payroll software, they may indeed end up paying a lot more in the future. This is largely due to higher tax bills which can be accumulated through a number of different ways. It is remarkable that nearly half of all companies in the USA are fined, every year, for incorrect or late tax returns. Stoic refusal to accept the payments required for out sourcing or small business software purchases are usually the cause of this. Companies who deal with payroll in house often are unaware of the complicated web of codes, laws and regulations that tax returns require; something specialist services know as matter of course as per their job. To reduce their tax expenditures it is of optimum importance to companies to invest in upgrading their payroll.

One Site Or Two: What To Do When You’re At the Crossroads

As a small business, if you have a large site, should you split it into two websites or leave it as one? This is a difficult question that really has no right or wrong answer, but we’ll give you something even better: we’ll help you examine some of the ups and downs of both options to help you decide what’s best for you.

Maintaining One Large Site

Offering everything in one place is convenient for you and your target audience. You only have one set of expenses, one set of marketing and content strategies, one set of social media profiles, and only have to go to one location to update and maintain your content. When it comes to ranking and link juice, you have more pages use can use to rank and will be able to catch with the long tail.

Unfortunately, there are some downsides to having everything on one site:

  • Too much content can be difficult for users to wade through. They’ll have to go through more content to find what they’re looking for.
  • A larger site means a larger audience. This makes it far more difficult to target specific visitors.
  • The more general your targeting, the lower your conversion rate generally is, simply because you have to get visitors past the things they’re not interested in to get them through the sales funnel.
  • The wider your audience, the wider your reach has to be and the more spread out your marketing strategies need to be.
  • Larger sites require better databases and more resources to run than smaller sites (often split onto subdomains). Sometimes, for smaller businesses, this may go beyond your current resources.

Breaking Your Site Into Two Or More Sites

Splitting your website onto two or more main domains can have a multitude of benefits. Each site can be tailored to meet the needs of a specific audience, including the design and site architecture. Each site can have its own branding and carry its own loyal customers.

Financially, running more than one site may also have some benefits. Since you have two properties, you have two separate investments that can grow. Also, if something should happen to one of the sites (say it falls in the rankings, for example), you have another site that will continue to generate revenue until the affected site recovers.

With two sites, there is often the chance to benefit from the competition as well. You have two sites to conquer more of the market and a wider range of terms, products, services, and audiences. Also, it’s possible that if customers don’t buy from one site, they’ll buy from the other, which is often the case with real world stores.

Like with one main site, there are some downsides to consider with multiple sites:

  • You have twice as many sites to upgrade, create, and maintain.Both sites need consistent content, have current social profiles, and need fresh marketing ideas.
  • Both sites require links, SEO, and attention/traffic
  • You need two distinct audiences, otherwise you’ll dilute your offering.

Questions You Need To Be Asking

Here are a few things you’ll need to ask yourself before choosing a path:

  • Do you have two distinct visitors (buyers) coming to the site for different reasons?
  • Are you able to separate the site into two ‘themes’ to create two brands that can stand on their own?
  • Do you have the resources available to market, run, and maintain two sites?
  • Will you benefit enough to warrant splitting the site or creating two separate sites (ROI)?
  • What are your plans for each website? Is there a way to grow them both together, or will your expansions take the two sites farther apart from each other?

Have you split your site onto two domains or decided to run one large site? What have your experiences been?

Budget in advance in order to make your travel stress free

Budgeting is important in regards to your finances. Even if you love to travel budgeting should be your first concern. You will have to budget your travel before actually going on a trip so that you can spend your vacation free of stress. You might not even want to deal with debts and go bankrupt after spending a gala time with your family or friends at a totally different and beautiful place. So, what you need to do is plan your vacations and then budget.

Planning and budgeting in advance

Plan where you want to travel and for how many days. Decide as to what mode of travel you want to take and what other added activities you want to indulge in. Depending on this, you will have to create a budget.

    1. Decide on the place – First, you will have to decide on the place you would like to travel. There are various places starting from the simple ones to the most exotic ones. There are so many states and so many countries that you will be spoiled for choice. You will have to do some bit of research and decide on the place where you would like to travel. Even without budgeting, you know what your limit is in regards to money. So, you will have to decide accordingly. If you want to travel at an exotic place, or travel abroad, you will need to have more money in your hands. So, it is better to plan much ahead of your vacations and start saving money.
    2. Check with the fares – Then check with the airfares, train fares and various other transportation fees to and from the place, and for traveling throughout the place where you are planning to visit. If you get air tickets or bus tickets quite a few months before you travel, you may get some discounts on the cost.
    3. Check with the hotel and the costs – You can also check online with the numerous hotels and resorts where would like to stay during your travel. It is best to choose a hotel or resort that is close to the site seeing spots so that you can easily commute to and from these places. This will save you the extra costs of communication.
    4. Determine the cost of foods and entertainment – You will also have to determine on the costs of food and other kinds of entertainment you would like to indulge in after you travel to a new place. Food costs vary from place to place and it is important for you to adapt to the food habits of the place you are going to travel (though it’s not easy always). Otherwise, if you want to get the food that you generally have at your native place can cost you more.

You can also indulge in various kinds of entertainment and fun depending on the place you are traveling like surfing, boat ride, bungee jumping, skiing, and so on. These can cost you a little more and so you will have to decide on the activities and then include the costs in your budget.

  1. Then find out your affordability – After determining on all of the above, you will have to formulate a budget based on the above. You can also use a travel budget calculator in order to simplify your task. Then start saving accordingly. Now, in order to save you obviously will need some time. Thus, it is essential for you to budget much ahead of traveling.

Another very important thing is getting travel insurance before traveling to a new place. This insures you and your family against losses, damages and accidents while traveling. This is one of the primary tasks that you should do other than budgeting before you actually start with your vacations.

4 Sources that can help you finance your small business

If you are starting off a small business or are in need of finances to boost up your small business, then you would need to take the help of small business loans. A small business is a business that is restricted to only a few individuals. It is not even listed and does not need the amount of finance that would go into running a big business. In order to fulfill the finance needs of your small business you would need to take out loans. However, it is important for you to know that most investors would not like to invest money in your business and most lenders would also not like to lend you money. This is because as per a common belief it is a greater credit risk to invest in small business.

This should not deter you from seeking to get help. You should understand that even if investors are apprehensive about investing in your small business there are many sources from where you may get finance for the improvement of your business.

If you are starting a small business and wish to take out some loan, then the sources or the places that you should consider for taking out the loan are as follows.

  1. Seeking help from investors: Some inventors are very apprehensive about investing in small businesses but they are still an important source from which you may get loans. An investor can be anyone, an individual or some other business that plans to invest in your venture. You must understand that an investor will invest or loan you money only if they think that your business is interesting enough and has the possibility of flourishing in the future. Such investors will be investing in your business and in return will be expecting a share in the business. As they will become a part of your business they may also provide you with some advice which may become very beneficial for you.
  2. Taking loans from finance companies or banks: One of the most common sources of getting loans for your small business is banks. They provide you with the loan in the form of bank overdrafts. You may also get loans for your small business from various finance companies that are willing to take the chance by investing in your small business.
  3. Opting for the help from government agencies: When you are running a small business or planning to start off one and are in need of finances, then the government agencies can help you out. It is essential to remember that the government agencies do not provide you with the loans directly. The agencies only provide guarantee to the money lenders and the banks that provide you with the loan. This implies that in the event of you defaulting on the loan that has been provided, the government will pay the lender a part of the loan. Thus, the guarantee ensures that the lender is at lower risk of losing out on the full loan amount in case your small business is not successful. So the guarantee provided by the agencies makes lending safer and also makes getting loans easier for you. Thus, although the government agencies do not provide you with the loan directly it still helps you greatly in getting the loan and is considered to be one of the most important sources from which you can get finances for your small business.
  4. Asking from family and friends: It may be difficult for a third party to completely understand your business plans. However, when it comes to your family or your friends, then the understanding is better. They may invest in your business as they believe in you and know you.
      These are a few sources that you may consider in case you need finances for your small business.

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