Up until last year, I owned my own wedding photography business for nearly seven years. I spent day after day marketing, following up, emailing, doing bookkeeping, and of course meeting with clients and photographing weddings. I did this while going to school full time and holding down a full time job.
My relationship with my husband suffered. I didn’t have any time to spend with our awesome dogs, take care of the house, or cook dinner. I thought I had to be super woman and take care of everything, but that only left me completely burnt out and with a messy house.
The Art of Delegation
I’ve since discovered that the secret to being able to handle a busy life is delegation. Messy house? Hire a housekeeper. Complicated accounting? Get a great bookkeeper. However, I’ve noticed that creative professionals hate to ask for help or delegate anything to do with their business.
I was there myself-I had spent so many days and months and years building up my brand and my business that the very idea of handing off any part of it to someone else absolutely appalled me. In the end though, I think it could have saved my sanity if someone had just told me that I didn’t have to do everything, and it was okay to ask for help.
The Pros of a Virtual Assistant
Concentrate on Creating
Have you ever sat down to design an album, or plan a styled shoot, or been on your way to a session with a client and not been able to concentrate because you are thinking about your to-do list? One of the things I remember as a photographer is my mind being bogged down with all of the administrative tasks I had to take care of when I was done with the fun stuff. There were emails to answer, tweets to schedule, blog posts to research and schedule. I was never really free to just create without a constant tumult in my head of the things I really needed to get done to grow my business.
By having a virtual assistant on your team, you will begin to break free of the constant check list in your head. Your VA will allow you to spend time really focusing on your craft and honing your skills.
Be More Timely
Almost every photographer I know is in a constant battle to get to the fabled “inbox zero.” This is a great thing in terms of current business, but it can be harmful to business growth. The longer it takes to respond to an initial contact email from a potential client, the less likely you will be to book them. In fact, if it takes longer than just 5 minutes to return their email, the likelihood of booking them goes down 10x.
Managing email is a major way a VA can help. Instead of being tied to your smart phone waiting for emails to come in, or being unable to respond to new inquiries right away, give your VA their own email such as “firstname.lastname@example.org” where new client inquiries and information requests are directed. Your VA can then take care of all of these emails, and only forward on to you the ones that are interested in pursuing you or setting up a consultation.
Increase Business Growth by Increasing Productivity
Imagine a week where you didn’t have to search the internet for relevant content to tweet, blogs to write a guest post for, or businesses to network with. Your VA can do all of these business-building activities, and more.
Your virtual assistant will free up hours each week for you to be more productive in your business. You will be able to devote more of your time and focus to doing those tasks which only you can do, and getting them done more quickly.
What Should You Delegate?
Let’s take a look at some of the big, time consuming tasks a virtual assistant could take over for you:
We’ve already discussed this major element, but it bears repeating: the faster potential clients are responded to, the more likely you are to book them. You can work with your VA to establish guidelines for which emails you want forwarded to you and which are fine for them to follow up on.
Even if you are not quite ready to let the actual blog post writing go, think of how much time is spent preparing the post, researching, styling, and promoting it. These are all tasks your VA can easily take over for you, saving 30 minutes to an hour or more per blog post.
If you’re looking into a new training or workshop, considering an equipment upgrade, or looking for some background information about a potential client, your virtual assistant can help save you hours of time by completing your online research for you, and forwarding you the results.
Social Media Management
Don’t let this one scare you! Your virtual assistant can learn your social media “voice” and by taking over your social media marketing, will help your brand become more consistent and meaningful with the content provided.
Virtual assistants can be a great resource for writing and mailing holiday cards to clients, sending thank you notes or booking gifts and information packets, or keeping in touch with booked wedding clients monthly to help build a relationship.
Even the most organized photographer can miss a deadline or let an appointment slip his or her mind. Let your VA help keep you on task, and remind you of important anniversaries or events as well.
This could be a 20-30 minute a week timesaver, and is a fairly automated task your VA can take on for you. If you are not using email marketing, your VA can help you set up a campaign.
I remember many of my very successful photographer friends would have so little free time, that they couldn’t even keep their website and portfolio up-to-date with their latest and best work. This might not be a timesaver, so much as a task you don’t even have the time to do, that your VA can take on for you.
What Else Can a VA Do in an Hour or Less?
The true value of working with a virtual assistant is in their productivity. What may take a VA an hour to complete may take you 2 or 3 because of all of the distractions and other necessary tasks that need to be taken care of.
In an hour or less, a virtual assistant can:
- Edit and post multiple blog entries
- Schedule a week’s worth of Twitter or Facebook posts
- Update website content and WordPress plugins
- Delete spam accumulated in your email overnight, and sort, answer, or redirect remaining messages
- Curate and submit a wedding to a blog
- Research other vendors and businesses in your surrounding area to connect and network with
- Moderate blog comments as needed and engage with readers
- Recruit guest bloggers and reach out to other blogs for guest posting opportunities
- Set up an email marketing campaign
- Create your blog and/or social media calendar for the month
- Generate an online client information form
- Prepare and send wedding images to other vendors involved in a wedding
Cost Benefits of Working with a VA
Now that you’ve seen what a virtual assistant can accomplish in an hour or less, the next questions are what is the cost, and is it worth it?
Many virtual assistants charge between $25 and $50 per hour, depending on their experience and services. Some others charge more. While this seems at first to be a pricey service, keep in mind the following:
- VA’s only charge, to the minute, for the time they are working on your business. You are not charged for restroom visits, coffee breaks, or personal phone calls
- Virtual assistants are often more productive, so an hour of their time might be the same as 3 or more hours of yours
- There is no equipment or office space you need to provide for a virtual assistant
- Because VA’s work from their own home, they are not late to work, and they can work even when the weather is bad
- Virtual assistants are often independent business owners themselves, and have the ability to see the bigger picture because they understand the ins and outs of running their own business
- There is no need to provide benefits or insurance for a virtual assistant, and there are no labor laws or employment taxes to look out for since a VA is an independent contractor
- A big benefit to photographers is that virtual assistants are more likely to work outside of normal business hours, because they are able to set their own schedule
Where to Find a VA
Now that you know all of the amazing ways a virtual assistant can help you save time and money in your business, where can you find one?
- Social Media
– Putting a tweet out that you are looking for a virtual assistant is a great way to receive replies from qualified VA’s who can help. Many virtual assistants keep an eye on Twitter, specifically looking for folks who need help.
- Putting in a RFP
– sites such as VAnetworking.com and Virtual Assistant Forums post Requests for Proposals to their large internal network of experienced virtual assistants
- Ask for a referral
– If you know that a colleague is using a virtual assistant and is happy with the service they are receiving, ask for a referral!
How do you send passwords and other sensitive data to your VAs?
While every virtual assistant has different processes, a common way to store passwords and other sensitive data is in a password protected Excel or Word Document, or Google Drive. This information can also be given over the phone to your VA for an added layer of security.
Instead of handing over your own passwords, you can also set your virtual assistant up with access via their own account. For instance, if you use Gmail to manage your email, you can grant another person access. Or, you could create a separate email for your virtual assistant as discussed earlier. If your VA will be working on your WordPress-based website, you can create a separate admin account for them.
A third option is to use a site such as LastPass to keep all of your passwords secure, while still giving your VA access to the accounts they need.
What’s the best way to train a VA?
The best way to train your virtual assistant is by Skype or some other video conferencing method, or by phone. You will need to educate your VA on your individual business policies and methods. The key is to outline and manage your expectations. Go over things such as response times, how to handle inquiries, and things they should ask you about first before doing. If you have pre-written documentation for your business processes or style manuals, those are helpful too. (And if not, this is another great task for your virtual assistant!)
Set up weekly or bi-weekly check-in calls or chats with your virtual assistant. This will not only help keep you informed, but will help your assistant stay updated on your needs as well.
Patience is key during the beginning stages of working with your virtual assistant. Like any new employee, your VA will need time to get acclimated to your business and your style of communication.
One person cannot realistically do everything that is necessary for a business to survive and thrive, nor should they try. The quality of your work, and more importantly, your life, will suffer when you try to accomplish the work of 3 or 4 people. Bringing in outside help in the form of a virtual assistant can not only increase your productivity and leave you time to concentrate on creating, but also give you hours of your life back each month.
What is your biggest objection to bringing someone on? What would you do with the extra time you would gain each month? Let us know in the comments your thoughts about hiring a virtual assistant!