So, you have decided to launch (or are considering starting) your own outsourcing or virtual assistant business. Maybe you aren’t sure if you are “on track” or you don’t quite know what to expect. The following list of “common phases” of creating a successful independent, entrepreneurial business may help. After working with many virtual assistants and service providers as they have set up their businesses over the past several years, I’ve determined that few (if any) of these “steps” are usually skipped.
If you are preparing to open a business, if you are in the middle of the process — or even if you feel you have “hit a brick wall” — the following phase “timeline” may help you to determine where you are and what you need to do (or to endure) next.
PS: Don’t forget to take the time to actually enjoy the journey!
Typical Phases of an Outsourcing Services or Virtual Assistant Practice:
The First Phase:
- Introduction to the concept of outsourcing or virtual assistance.
- Hours of research and growing excitement.
- Realization that providing specific skilled services is something you could do/have done/am doing!
- More excitement and search for a “how to” outline for becoming a virtual assistant, offsite provider or outsourcer.
- Getting a clearer concept of what is involved in running an outsourcing business, so you can effectively explain it to others.
- Discussion with family, friends and respected peers.
The Second Phase:
- You talk about little else and those close to you mention that fact.
- Decision to launch a practice.
- Announcement to family and friends of intentions to open your business.
- Overwhelming, immobilizing FEAR!
The Third Phase:
- Discovery that even with all the things you know, there are so many more you don’t know that you NEED to know to excel as an outsourcing services provider and small business owner.
- Doubts that you can learn everything you need to know.
- Realization that you have painted yourself into this corner by announcing and you either have to move forward or quit now (and pray no one remembers your grand announcement.)
- Your nose meets the grindstone and they become quick friends.
The Fourth Phase:
- More determination and a business plan is fleshed out. (This should have come earlier in the process, but seldom does.) Following the business plan your website is built, equipment is purchased or updated, decisions are made on Internet connectivity, fax access (freestanding, computer based/virtual, or combination with printer and phone — an all in one), determination on need for separate phone line, determination on hosting options, and an enormous number of other decisions (both tiny and huge) on how to run your business and what you need in terms of software and hardware and any classes you need for specific skills you don’t currently have to run a business, aside from the skill you have for the services you plan to offer for hire.
- Website launches, announcements are sent out, and your excitement peaks.
The Fifth Phase:
- You wait… and wait… and wait… and the customers seem to be a myth.
- And you doubt your decisions, your abilities, even yourself.
- Then… you get a client or two and nearly fall all over them trying to be the best possible independent contractor they have EVER met. You don’t bill for all your time, you lose your shirt financially — all in an attempt to impress them, make yourself invaluable to them, and get their signature on the “all important” contract. Simultaneously, you seriously frighten the customers with your exuberance.
- You survive but you don’t prosper.
The Sixth Phase:
- You are disenchanted. You have gained 20 pounds from sitting in front of the computer day in and day out. Your family asks you to introduce yourself at the dinner table because they remember the face, but can’t recall the name — or they offer you a plate “to go” so you can eat at your desk, as has become your habit. Your wrists ache, your mouse finger actually clicks through your REM cycles each night, you have dark circles under your eyes and you are pretty sure that you need glasses from the eye strain of non-stop monitor viewing.
- Suddenly you realize you aren’t having any fun.
The Seventh Phase:
- It’s been months. You are running a business, but it’s not what you had dreamed it would be. Your projects aren’t exciting, your clients aren’t what you imagined and your income just plain sucks.
- You decide something has got to give. (THIS is the turning point for most service providers that make it this far and leap the hurdles to arrive in this uncertain position).
The Eighth Phase:
- At this point, most individuals either decide to niche their services or they give up their practice in disgust, convinced that working from home, a real outsourcing career and actually “making it” in this industry is some cruel hoax or joke.
The Ninth Phase:
- You niche your services and get picky about your clients.
Why niching matters:
- You don’t buy as much unnecessary software if you know your target clients, and with a little research you can get copies of the most common software and hardware needed in that particular industry.
- You can “drill down” and develop and hone skills that are valuable to your specific market, rather than trying to be all things to all people.
- You find your own direction as a business owner, as a service provider and as an entrepreneurial individual.
The Tenth Phase:
- You begin to taste real success and you realize… “So THIS is why I stuck it out!”
- You work with people you truly enjoy and only accept the most appealing projects
- You do only what you do best and you hire out what you need that you don’t enjoy and do well for your own business
- You seek a professional network that supports you and you learn to refer business to others and keep only the best fits for yourself
- You learn to take time for you — away from work and “the business” — and start to explore the concept of balance in your business and in your life.