Thursday, July 16, 2009

Facebook 101

This week, I attended Facebook 101 for Entrepreneurs and Small Business Owners, facilitated by Terri Holley of Creative Blog Solutions. The class was extremely informative. Although I am a Facebook user for both business and personal purposed, the workshop gave me excellent "nuggets" of information that will enable me to enhance my experience.

For example, did you know that you can customize a page on your Facebook site so that its more brand focused? The benefit of this would be so that people who are not your friends will land on it and get an idea of you and your brand.

We also learned about ways to make all of our social media avenues come together. As always Terri laid things out in an easy to understand manner. It was alot of information, but I did not feel overwhelmed by it. I would highly suggest it to anyone looking to learn the world of or enhance your current experience with FACEBOOK.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

'Virtual Assistants' in Higher Demand

Down Economy and Need to Cut Costs Have Employers Turning to Telecommuters
By Emma L. Carew
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Michael Hanik used to have 12 employees, a warehouse and trucks to run his medical devices catalogue company. But four years ago, he turned to the Internet to look for ways to reduce overhead costs for his Rockville-based Total Medical Systems. He now has just three employees on the company payroll but as many as 50 contractors working for him, some of them known as "virtual assistants."

The term, around since the Internet became widely available, encompasses anyone who telecommutes and does administrative tasks for other businesses, usually on a contractual basis. Most do tasks such as document preparation, paperwork and accounting. Some have niche areas, such as bilingual translation or creative services.

In the current economy, Jane Weizmann, a senior consultant at Arlington-based human resources consultant Watson Wyatt, said she's seeing more businesses with a "part-time cadre or network of people" who telecommute and bring different skill sets to projects as needed. "It's a lot less expensive than having resources on staff, sitting on the bench and waiting," she said.

Virtual assistants allow companies to save on real estate and equipment, as well as on benefits, which can add 35 percent to a base salary, Weizmann said. She cautioned, however, against businesses relying entirely on outsourced work and contractors. The high levels of turnover can create an unstable workforce. "You can supplement your core capability, but you can't replace it completely with 100 percent outsourced work," she said.

The numbers are difficult to track, because there is no formal certification and not all people doing similar work call themselves virtual assistants, but one small trade group, the International Virtual Assistants Association, said its number of new members doubled from 2007 to 2008. To date this year, IVAA has added 160 new members, bringing membership to about 900. With no warehouse space to rent, no salaries or health benefits to pay, and no supply cabinets to keep stocked, Hanik estimates he's decreased his business costs by 65 percent through outsourcing and using virtual assistants. "It's a tremendous revolution," he said.

IVAA officials say the number of virtual assistants is increasing as companies lay off their administrative and executive assistants. Plus, the barrier to entry is low, because most people already own the equipment they need, such as computers, printers, fax machines and Internet access. "You meet people at the conferences who say, 'Oh, after I was laid off four times, I decided to become a virtual assistant,' " said Lauren Hidden, marketing director for IVAA. "They get tired of the insecurity of being an employee." Even though the real estate agency that Pharice Brown used to work for laid her off, it still needed someone to complete her old tasks. That started her career as a virtual assistant and president of Bladensburg-based Pharice Brown and Associates. "Even though the Realtor wasn't able to pay me the salary, he actually helped me get my start," she said. She said many of their customers are small, independently owned businesses that found her online or through recommendations. Brown now makes less than half her former $50,000-per-year salary and has cut back on spending so she can afford paper, printer ink and software. She has been without health insurance for nearly a year. "I carried my own insurance until I just couldn't afford it anymore," she said. Brown said she loves the flexibility of the work and being her own boss, but money is tight, and when there are bills to be paid, she'll occasionally work below her normal fees just to get paid.

Rosa Pichardo, who runs a virtual assistant business in Silver Spring, said part of her success through the recession has been her niche: working with Spanish-speaking business owners, largely translating documents. Pichardo, who was a travel agent in her native Dominican Republic, said that when she started up Rossie's Enterprises in 2004, it was hard to find customers. But now the business has grown to include Pichardo, her son and another employee.

Starting your own business can be difficult, IVAA officials caution. "Some people join and never really get off the ground," Hidden said. Salaries can vary based on qualifications, what people charge and how frequently they work. Hourly wages may range from $20 to $75. Brown said she has coped by starting other businesses. Right now, demand for her interior design firm is low because people are not redecorating their homes, but the demand for the résumé-writing services of her virtual assistant business has increased. Catalogue-company owner Hanik found Kim Lazernik, a former computer software tester, on Craigslist. When Lazernik was laid off in 2007, she formed Silver Spring-based Virtual Computer Services and put her skills to work on projects for small businesses, such as photo scanning and data entry. Lazernik has definitely taken a pay cut since starting her own firm. (Her old job paid more than $100,000 a year.) She now works about 20 hours per week, charging $35 to $40 per hour. But, she says her expenses for the business balance out with the money she saves on commuting and career clothing. Like Brown, she currently does not make enough to be saving for retirement. "I love what I do. I wake up happy every morning," she said, but added, "I'm thankful for the years I had a 401(k)." At 49 years old, Lazernik said the career change is permanent. "There's no reason for me to stop doing this."

Tuesday, July 7, 2009


Tamika Johnson, MBA, of administrative partners, llc has been invited to join the faculty of the Art Institute of Washington as a part-time Professor. She will be teaching a required course entitled "The Business of Graphic Design".

The course will teach students how to present themselves in a professional manner when seeking job opportunities. It will also cover responding to requests for proposals and writing a business plan among other things.

Tamika is very excited to return to her alma mater to participate in the learning and development of new graphic designers.

Monday, July 6, 2009

No Interst Loan for Business Owners

SBA ARC Recovery Loan...

About the SBA Arc Loan

  • The loans are specifically set aside for business debt consolidation (up to $35,000). Pay off existing business debt and have no payments for 12 months!
  • No FICO score requirement.
  • Lenders are motivated to approve the loans because of the 100% government guarantee (American Recovery and Reinvestment Act).
  • Eliminate high interest credit card payments.
Click here for more information and to apply.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

2009 Women Entrepreneurs' Expo, "Ride On, Ride On!

A wonderful conference to attend if you are in the MD/DC/VA area is the 2009 Women Entrepreneurs' Expo in Springfield, VA.

See the details below - and note the early bird specials.

Early Bird Registration for the fabulous 2009 Women Entrepreneurs' Expo "Ride On, Ride On!" is now open! This incredible event, in its ninth year, will be held Friday, October 23, 2009 at the Waterford in Springfield. Act before August 7, and the entire day packed with events and opportunities for you to grow your business is just $75, a savings of $20 over the regular price. Limited $20 scholarships are also available, and exhibitor spaces have early bird pricing as well!

This year, we have made room for 75 vendor tables, and a powerful agenda with eleven workshops and networking sessions, including a facilitated speed networking event so you can meet many of the powerful women (and a bunch of good men) who will be in attendance! This is an event that must not be missed. Many have described it as "THE BEST event for entrepreneurs" in the Washington area!

We are thrilled that Kristina Bouweiri, President and CEO of Reston Limousine will be our keynote luncheon speaker, to share the story of how she turned a one limo company into a 130 fleet miracle which annually makes over $100,000 in donations to local charities and non-profits. Visit our website for more details or if you're ready to take advantage of the early bird rates, click here to register online!

See you at the Expo!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Identifying Your Target Market

Identifying your target market is the most important thing you can do for your business. You have to understand who your customers are and where to find them in order to be successful.

The first step in identifying your target market is to understand what your products/services have to offer to a group of people or businesses. To do this, identify your product or service's features and benefits. A feature is a characteristic of a product/service that automatically comes with it.

Here’s an example, if toothpaste has a stain-removing formula - that's a feature. The benefit to the customer, however, is whiter teeth.

While features are valuable and can certainly enhance your product, benefits motivate people to buy.

An example is anti-lock brakes; they are features on a car, but the benefit to the consumer is safety.

By knowing what your product/service has to offer and what will make customers buy, you can begin to identify common characteristics of your potential market.

For example, there are many different consumers who desire safety as a benefit when purchasing a car. Rather than targeting everyone in their promotional strategy, a car manufacturer may opt to target a specific group of consumers with similar characteristics, such as families with young children.

Now is the time to renew your customer database and determine who your target audience is. The next step is segmentation or breaking down that market so that you can very specific as to whom the solution is provided.

Parts taken from an article by the Edward Lowe Foundation.