According to Forbes, 90% of British start-ups fail*. An article in the Telegraph** says around half of UK start-ups fail within five years, and the chance of survival for five years is just 44%. Small Business UK*** says small business survival rates are 91% after the first year of trading, but after five years just 40% survive. Whatever the real numbers are, it's a shocking revelation.
There are a multitude of reasons for start-up failure. But there's one sure-fire thing you can do to improve your chances of survival, and that's get the help of an experienced, professional Virtual Assistant. Here's why, plus some handy advice about hiring the perfect VA.
Maintaining a sensible work-life balance
Delegating is a specific skill, and it's one that can save your business bacon. There's no way you're going to succeed when you're totally exhausted. Starting a business is usually heavy going, a time when you'll want to apply all your energy to make it work. But it's a Catch 22 – the more tired you are, the less effective you are and the less likely to make a good job of things. Learning to share the burden in the early days will not only give you the free time you need to spend with family and friends, let your hair down a little, stay sane and recharge your batteries. It'll also stand you in good stead for the future.
Handing over the research side of things
Research is a never-ending job. You need to know what the competitive landscape looks like locally, nationally, internationally or all three. You need to have a finger on your sector's pulse so you know what the next big thing, the next trending topic is likely to be. You need to find out who ranks highest in the search engine results so you can emulate them. You have to get a handle on competitors' pricing structures, customer service, products, services, you name it. There's always more to know. An experienced VA can take over all the research side of things for you, freeing you to concentrate on what falls out of that research and take positive action.
Dealing with a heavy admin burden
Everyday admin and organisational responsibilities tend to eat up more time than anything else. They're essential, but if that's all you have time to focus on there's no way you'll ever get around to actually growing your new business. Admin is something most good VAs are happy to handle, and it can save you enormous amounts of vital time to spend on making progress. Think about handing over email and diary management, filing and call answering for a start.
Managing social media for you
Marketing experts say social media marketing is an essential part of any successful business. They're right. But if you want to create a worthwhile presence on one or more social media networks, you need to put in the time and make the effort. It consumes a lot of time: researching and creating content to promote on Twitter and co, writing posts, posting them regularly through the day, following people, interacting with those who respond, the list goes on and on. It's another perfect task to hand over to a VA who knows their onions. Your VA can handle posting on social media for you, and if they're really good they'll be able to handle writing posts and responses too.
Avoiding tasks you hate or are terrible at
Just because you've started your own business, it doesn't mean you are automatically brilliant at everything that running a business involves. You know what you're good at and where you fail. You know what you enjoy – which is usually also what you're best at. It's your show, and you can delegate the stuff you dislike to someone who will do a better job and may even actually enjoy it!
Enjoying a reliable partnership
Chances are you've set up on your own without a business partner. With the best will in the world, unless you're a born hermit you'll find it a tad lonely at times. It really helps having someone to bounce ideas off, someone who – because they've been supporting you on a practical basis as we've discussed – understands what's going on, why, and how. The best VAs will get so involved they can do a lot more than simply help you with the practical side of things. They'll also dream up ideas, make sensible suggestions, and help you see the wood for the trees.
7 steps to hiring and managing a VA
How do you find the best VA for the job, and handle them once you've taken them on? Here are our top tips.
1.Word of mouth is the best possible recommendation. Your first job is to ask around your fellow business owners, an easy enough task if you belong to a local face-to-face network with real-life events to attend and equally easy to do via your social networks online.
2.If you don't find anyone suitable that way, it's time to use Google searches to their best advantage. A website says a lot about a person, a great starting point. If their home and about page resonate with you it's likely you've found a kindred spirit, someone on the same basic wavelength with a similar way of working, outlook, values and work ethic.
3.Always ask to see samples of their work, or get a couple of references before going any further. You could always ask them to complete a test project for you to see how they get on, on a no obligation basis. If they do a great job, you're sorted
4.How do you brief your VA? First, jot down every job you tackle in an average week. Second, pick out the tasks you feel comfortable handing over. Third, send the task list to your VA and get them to either give you their feedback or agree it.
5.You could be totally casual about things and simply make an informal agreement with your VA. But it's probably best to at least set in place an NDA – a Non Disclosure Agreement - which legally binds them to keep your business and everything to do with it under their hat. You might or might not want to sign a formal contract. Some VAs will ask you to, others won't.
6.You might or might not feel the need to check their work. Most professional VAs are perfectly capable of just getting on with the job. If you want to use time tracking and screen sharing there are plenty of tools, many of which are free, to help you do exactly that. It may take you some time at first but once you know for sure you've made the right VA choice, you can drop the monitoring and trust them to work unsupervised.
7.Ongoing training and development is the best way to grow a positive ongoing relationship with your VA. It'll help you hone what you want them to do, and help them do things the way you prefer.
Find a good VA and they can support you all the way from the early days to the first seeds of success and way beyond into real growth. If you'd like to explore the potential, we'd love to discuss things with you.
See our Virtual Assistant Services page, for details on what we can offer.
[email protected] 01273 447111