Virtual Assisting Benefits Small Businesses: Why Outsourcing Makes Sense

Hiring a virtual assistant seems like an extravagance to many small business owners, yet outsourcing promotes small business growth. Here’s why hiring a virtual assistant makes sense.

Virtual Assistants Help a Small Business During Peak Periods

Many small businesses have seasonal or cyclical upticks in volume. The small business owner who tries to manage the increased demand during these times without outsourcing any work can be overwhelmed and unable to keep up. Client orders could be missed, the business owner may become ill due to stress, and important shipment details might get overlooked. An assistant can be hired to help handle customer orders or assist with the small business accounting during peak periods, allowing the small business owner to focus on the increased demand for products and services.

Outsourcing Allows the Small Business Owner to Focus on Bringing in Revenue

Tasks like managing the small business payroll or installing small business software must get done for a business to operate, but these types of activities can eat up a large percentage of a business owner’s time. If these duties are outsourced to a virtual assistant, the small business owner is free to devote attention to things like product development and creation, which can have a direct impact on the growth and profitability of a small business.

Virtual Assistants Help Small Businesses with Special Projects

Whether it’s a global launch for a how-to-make-money-online membership site or a social media promotion for a new blog, virtual assistants keep things running smoothly during special events. The assistant may be hired to manage behind-the-scenes tasks related to the special event or might handle duties normally performed by the owner, such as keeping the small business accounting system up to date. Either way, outsourcing work allows the business owner to realize the greatest growth potential from a special event or project.

Small Business Owners Control the Virtual Assistant Service

There are virtual assistants specializing in most anything a small business owner could ask for. Many assistants bill by the hour and some will bill by the minute, so the small business owner can contract for the specific needs of the business. John Bourscheid, owner of Iceland travel blog Iceland in 8 Days, has a small army of assistants helping with routine tasks and odd jobs with the travel site and more, allowing him to focus on creating content and site development.

Hiring a virtual assistant allows the small business owner to focus on activities that will grow the business. Whether helping out during peak periods or performing tasks such as small business payroll, virtual assistants provide exactly the type of help that is needed for the exact period of time they are needed.

Finding Small Business Clients for Very Targeted Marketing

Creating a strong marketing plan is just Step One of many for small business owners in finding prospective clients. Some trying to build their businesses from the ground, up build very targeted marketing plans, but then are not sure where to find those that will be most in need of the services or products they provide; so they either misdirect their hard work by networking with the wrong prospects, or get frustrated and stop focusing on marketing altogether.

Any small business owner that knows the benefits of the products or services he/she is offering inside and out and has been able to construct marketing materials and a message that reflect this unique offering has already completed one of the hardest parts of filling up the sales funnel with new prospects. The next step in finding prospective clients is locating the places where targeted marketing efforts will be most effective.

The following are some ways for small business owners to find potential clients that will be most likely to want, need and be able to afford services or products being offered.

Advertising lists provide easy access to future customers:

Advertising lists are good, inexpensive ways to find concentrated groups of possible customers. Compiler companies like Zap Data (http://www.zapdata.com/) and InfoUSA provide lists to small business owners of clients to help streamline the process of customer acquisition. Other similar services can usually be found through local business groups as well as in newspapers or journals. These types of list services have search features that can help narrow down the field of small business clients to only those that would fit a very specific profile, eliminating the need to question, “Does this person care what I have to offer?”

Finding out where great clients hang out and being there is a great networking opportunity:

Creating a profile of the “ideal” client and doing a little research can produce important information about where ideal clients regularly go. It is in these places that targeted marketing efforts will be most successful. For example, a small business owner selling a product or service that a lot of attorneys use can look around the community for business groups to which attorneys belong and get involved. They should go to meetings and conferences when appropriate and sign up for trade shows, volunteer to be panelists at events or write articles for industry publications. This type of networking can provide a slew of appropriate, highly-relevant places for small business owners to get to know potential clients personally, showcase their products and expertise and be part of a well-rounded marketing plan.

Less is always more:

Once a small business owner unlocks the many doors that lead to where clients are, they need to be gentle and smart about finding prospective clients. No one should join more than a few networking organizations or spam mailing lists with e-mails or direct mail, even if they represent very targeted efforts. Marketing is easy to overdo. Above all, it is an evolutionary process that takes time to develop and get right, so patience is necessary. Small business owners should build efforts slowly over a few months and continue to save time for actually focusing on providing the services and products that will best fulfill the needs of their clients.

Finding prospective clients is obviously critical to building a solid business foundation. Getting active and out there in the appropriate marketplace, networking in diverse environments that will be receptive to the specific company’s mission is a huge part of targeted marketing that can produce great referrals and build a company’s roster exponentially.

Small Business Business Plan: Business Planning Software Simplifies Start-up for Small Businesses

Any business operation operates more smoothly with a plan. Many small business owners are unaware that crafting a comprehensive business plan can improve their operation, or are intimidated by the process. Business planning software works to streamline the process of creating a business plan for inexperienced business owners, helping them to create marketing plans, and improve financial planning.

Planning For Small Business

Small businesses are particularly vulnerable to changes in the economy. When times are good, business owners are too busy to make plans. When times are slow, owners seldom think to work on business plans. Many aspects of business are forgotten, due to the lack of administrative experience. Less obvious expenses, such as equipment depreciation, are seldom added to financial calculations, and marketing strategies aren’t fully thought out. Business planning software can simplify the process for small business owners.

Business Planning Software Helps Small Business Owners Get Organized

Business planning software, such as Business Plan Pro, offers a small business owner the chance to create a business plan in a step-by-step format. Sample plans are available for virtually every industry, which simplifies the process even further. The business planning software walks business owners through the process of creating a business plan, including sections on marketing and financial planning.

A Small Business Marketing Plan is Necessary For Success

A marketing plan for small businesses is not just about advertising. Appropriate pricing of products and services is a critical part of creating a small business marketing plan. Conducting research about the industry, including competition and the positioning of the business, is also necessary to the success of a marketing plan. Due to the proliferation of information on the Internet, much of the necessary information can be gathered from online research.

Financial Planning Improves Income For Small Businesses

Most consumers know that a budget is the way to ensure financial health. Budgeting is also an important part of financial planning for small businesses. Profit and loss projections, as well as a break-even analysis are all necessary in the creation of a small business business plan. While these calculations are complex, business planning software automates the process.

Creating a business plan is a key to long-term success for small businesses. Many small business owners are unaware of the need for a business plan. Others are inexperienced, without the necessary knowledge to create such a complex document. Business planning software gives small business owners the opportunity to benefit from compiled knowledge and experience.

Business Incubators Impart Success Potential to New Businesses

Business incubators help such entrepreneurs with inputs that see them through various stages to a successful business enterprise. Built-up space, expensive equipment, funding facilitation and marketing contacts are examples of inputs typically provided by business incubators. They might also relieve entrepreneurs of routine tasks such as accounting and secretarial work.

Significance of Business Incubation

Business incubation is a more efficient alternative to the earlier scenario of entrepreneurs starting their ventures in a basement or garage, and struggling through a learning process to finally establish a successful business. Incubators set up by experienced and successful businesspersons speed up the learning process of novice entrepreneurs, and might also actively help the ventures with the critical funding and marketing activities. This modern alternative could have helped many of the entrepreneurs who failed under the earlier scenario.

Whereas small business support agencies such as SBA of the U.S. are obliged to help all proposals that come to them, business incubators are more selective. They select only startup proposals that have a good chance of succeeding, and then extend much more support to develop these into a successful enterprise than SBA could. In addition to active funding and marketing help, the incubators also mentor the businesspersons through the business operations.

 The businesses that graduate through the incubation process will typically be able to stand on their own once they leave the incubator. They would have a business that is operating successfully, and the mentoring and business development processes would have imparted essential business skills to the businesspersons. Studies have found that nearly 90 percent of such businesses survive for the long term, as compared to less than 10% of all small business startups.

Business incubation can help with economic development of specific regions, creating jobs, developing an entrepreneurial climate, empowerment of women and minorities, and even energizing local communities.

Support Provided by Business Incubators

The list below will give an idea of the wide range of services that business incubators provide. Not all incubators provide all these services, and some of them might restrict their support to businesses in specific areas.

Help is typically provided in the following areas:

  • Physical facilities such as office space, equipment and connectivity
  • Venture funding for innovative and promising businesses
  • Commercialization of new technology
  • Loans from banks and guarantees for such loans
  • Organizing an advisory team
  • Assembling a management team with required skills
  • Contacts and networking for marketing and other purposes
  • Developing skills in gap areas e.g. marketing, financial management
  • Business services such as accounting and secretarial
  • Help with regulatory compliance, intellectual property protection

Microsoft Innovation Centers, for example, provide access to business and technology training, free development software, computer labs and investor networking. These centers operate in many countries across the world.

The key point to notice is that the typical businessperson starting a new business is not likely to be well-versed in many of these areas. Business incubation thus helps speed up their learning process.

Many incubators provide support for businesses operating from homes or in remote areas. For example, businesses in remote areas are helped through counseling and other help delivered over the Internet and phone. Incubators might also focus on specific sectors, such as computer hardware, life sciences, nanotechnology and software development.

The incubation period typically differs from industry to industry. Industries that need long research-to-market times might remain under incubation for much longer that those who can provide a product or service almost immediately.

How Incubators Make their Money

Governments might extend funding assistance in the form of grants to business incubator companies. The companies will also typically charge for business services such as accounting. Additionally, many might also take a stake in the mentored business, and benefit when the business prospers.

In fact, private entrepreneurs have found that business incubation is good business, and some of them even derive great satisfaction in helping new entrepreneurs grow their business.

Business incubators have changed the scenario facing new entrepreneurs by providing them just the type of support in an organized manner that each startup business needs. The support can range from business space and expensive equipment through funding assistance and networking to business mentoring. Business incubation has proven itself as highly effective in fostering entrepreneurship and economic development.

Starting A New Business

The best business ideas often come out of that moment of rebellion when the budding entrepreneur comes to the conclusion that “I could do that better myself”. All those ideas presented to the boss that were never acted upon; colleagues seen to be not pulling their weight but earning the same; watching the profits that are being made from ones efforts heading off in another direction. All these very common scenarios often act as the catalyst to starting a new business.

The great danger is to fall in love with the idea and rush in without thinking it through. This doesn’t mean writing a business plan immediately; important though it is that comes later. The first step is checking on prospective customers, are there enough buyers out there who want the product or service, enough times and at a high enough price to make the idea viable when the bills have been paid.

Five Forces

In short the business idea needs to be seriously challenged. How easy would it be for others to follow and become serious competition? How much competition is there now and how good are they? Is the world changing and the product may no longer be required? Who will be in charge the buyer or the seller? Too much dependence on a small number of big buyers can be very dangerous. Will the business be under the thumb of its suppliers who may be able to impose too many conditions?

 Market Research

If the first hurdle is cleared without mishap it’s time for the research to begin. To look at customers and their needs – who are they, how many are there, where are they?

  • Customer behavior – how much they buy, how often and for how much?
  • Competitors – who are they, where are they, what are their strengths and weaknesses?
  • Costs – what are the direct costs that will occur if a sale takes place and the indirect costs that will be there whether a sales takes place or not?

Armed with this information it’s time to come up with some sales assumptions taking into account businesses tend to start off slowly and build up momentum with increasing sales but often experience peaks and troughs in demand that need to be built into the sales assumptions on a month by month basis.

The Business Plan

The business plan comes next, the narrative that explains the who, where, why, what, when and how of the first year in business. This is accompanied by the financial forecasts in the form of cash flow and projected profit and loss statements.

There are many styles that can be found on the internet but it is important to choose something fit for purpose. The 100 page plan is well over the top for simple one man or woman business but may be absolutely right for the new manufacturing business with plans to create 30 new jobs. There are three good reasons for preparing a detailed business plan: