The Wikipedia definition of a Virtual Assistant is: A Virtual Assistant is generally self-employed and provides professional administrative, technical, or creative (social) assistance to clients remotely from a home office.
So far so good – we work virtually. But how do Virtual Assistants go about finding clients? Many aspiring, new and even existing VAs think that because they are “virtual” they must also restrict themselves to finding their clients “virtually”.
Now I’m not saying by any means that online marketing is to be discouraged. Most of us know the benefits of having a website, using social media and email marketing when it comes to finding clients.
However I meet a surprising number of VAs and aspiring VAs who haven’t even considered face to face networking for their marketing. For me, it has been crucial to the development of my business: around 75% of my clients have come to me through this route.
Benefits of Face to Face Networking:
What are the benefits? Firstly, I find that as a VA one issue for potential clients can be trust and confidentiality. With a face to face networking group because you get to build close personal relationships, the clients you find tend to be personally recommended. In my experience it’s been easier to find better clients through face to face networking – and by better clients, I mean clients that you want to work with and who are willing to pay top rates.
Another benefit of face to face networking that is not to be dismissed lightly is that it gets you out of the house. One problem that can affect VAs is isolation. Working from home alone is quite different from working in an office and you have to ensure that you get out regularly for exercise and to meet people. Belonging to a networking group – especially a weekly one – could be just what you need! You’ll make a whole bunch of new friends, and it’s great to have people to talk about your business with and bounce ideas off.
Finding a Networking Group That’s Right For You
There are many different kinds of networking groups. I was in BNI (Business Networking International) for two years, which is full-on networking and not for the faint-hearted - but it works! Generally the meetings start early morning although it’s worth noting that there are some lunch-time groups around. For those who want a less extreme networking experience try 4N or one of the women’s groups such as WIBN.
Visit as many different local groups as possible before deciding which one you want to join. You do have to pay a membership fee for most networking groups - the reason for this is to “lock out” your competitors to ensure that only you receive referrals for your category. If you can’t afford to invest yet because you’re just starting out, consider joining a group as soon as you can afford it – or research to find out if there are any free networking options in your area.
What To Expect
Usually networking meetings follow a similar format. There’ll be open networking to start with followed by a more formal, sit-down session. Make sure you arrive early so that you can make some personal connections, and bring plenty of business cards. During the meeting you’ll almost certainly be asked to stand up and tell the others about what you do and the kind of clients you are looking for. Typically you’ll be allowed 60 seconds to do this and some groups are very strict on timing so make sure you plan and practice beforehand!
Now for some of you I know that the thought of going into a room full of people you don’t know is scary, and even scarier is the thought of having to stand up and speak in front of them. But just remember, every single person in the room has been through the same thing as a newbie networker, and they’re rooting for you.
From making new friends, business development and of course finding clients, the benefits of face to face networking are huge. So if you haven’t been to any networking meetings yet, come out of your comfort zone and take the plunge – you will be pleasantly surprised!
What are some of your best networking tips? Share them in the comments below!
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