I was reading some reaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaally old posts and articles I’d written; many of them more than a decade old. I was surprised by how evergreen many of them are, and especially this one, so although it’s more than a decade old, I wanted to share it.

I’ll share it as originally written, and share new thoughts at the end.

February 9, 2010

I’m writing this because I’ve had so many people express an interest in hearing the story. Sharing it here is easy, and maybe there’s a conversation to be had around it. We’ll see.

For a very long time, I’ve had a very-special VA. Marie and I have worked together for more than a decade. She’s been my right hand, my gatekeeper, the holder of all the keys to my kingdom, and someone I’ve know that I could count on, no matter what. That I know that long-term and collaborative relationships between VAs and their clients are possible is, in great part, because of her. It’s been truly grand, and I’ve been incredibly fortunate.

But back before Marie and I started working together, I didn’t really go through an interview or consultation process with her. I’d provided her Virtual Assistant training in our 1:1 format. I knew her work history. I’d seen how she performed during the training. And I liked her. But on the day that I fired my very first VA, I didn’t call Marie and ask to go through a process with her. I think I probably just said, “Hey–would you like to work with me?”

That was stupid. We’re most fortunate that it worked at all, much less as well as it has. Don’t try that at home. Talk, then talk again. And don’t be afraid to keep talking until you’ve covered all your bases and you’re sure about what you’re doing.

Fast forward more than a decade, and Marie is making a career change and moving on. Last week, when she let me know, and the reality sank in that I was going to need to find new VA, I said to her, “Who do YOU think I should talk with?” She responded with, “You don’t know????????”

Ummmm, no. I didn’t know. I hadn’t had any reason to consider that maybe I’d need to think about it at some point. Sure, I’ve met and trained oodles of terrific VAs. Sure, some of those are very well known to me. But in the same way I look at men through the lens of my happy marriage—that is to say, not wondering who would be a good next spouse, I’ve never once wondered who might be a good next VA.

But now I know. Her name is Nicole Paull, and I’m delighted to begin this journey with her.

I could tell you why I chose her, and if you want to know what makes someone like me choose someone like her, let me know and I’ll share in another post.

But for the past week, I’ve been deep into my search for the next VA who could be ideal for me and my company. Although I’ve coached and consulted with many a client looking for a VA, and in doing so I’ve seen countless approaches from VAs who want to work with them, I’ve not had to process any of it through my own filters. Until now.

And I thought it might be useful to share some info based on what I’ve experienced from the VAs who did approach me about the possibility of working together, and what I thought of it.

Maybe my perspective will help you with your own approaches to prospective clients—especially if you see yourself here and aren’t having great luck in your direct marketing and client conversations.

Here’s a quick Top Ten list:

  1. As much as it may seem counter-intuitive, make it about me, not about you. Use lots of “you” messages so that I believe you’re focused on what matters to me.
  2. Within those “you” messages, touch me with what it is about me, specifically, that has you wanting to talk with me and possibly work with me, and why it would matter to you.
  3. My training program has a name. You should know what it is. If you call it something else, I’m immediately going to stop reading. My name is Stacy. If you put an “e” in my name, I’m immediately going to stop reading. Get the details right, or don’t bother. Really. If you can’t get them right now, whatever would make me think you’ll get them right when we work together?
  4. I’m deliciously happy to have you be the expert in working this way and tell me how we’re going to proceed in our talking with one another. So tell me—graciously, of course—what we’re going to do. Don’t ask my permission.
  5. Be you. Use your voice when you write. If I can’t hear you or your personality, why would I want to know more about you?
  6. Who you are really DOES matter to me as much, if not more than, what you can do. Be genuine in whatever you share with me, but leave the drama fo’ yo’ mama. Drama is not attractive in any way.
  7. Do not, under any circumstance, send me a standardized letter. More, don’t tell me that it’s a standardized letter you send to people you’re interested in working with. If I’m not worth crafting something for, why would I be worth your bothering with, and why would I think that you have anything special to bring to the table?
  8. I don’t want you to impress me. I want you to engage me. Until you engage me, I’m not at all interested in hearing how impressive you may be.
  9. For the love of Pete, don’t fawn all over me like I’m way better than chocolate ice cream. If this is a relationship between equals—two business owners working together—then show me that you can stand toe-to-toe with me without treating me like some sort of icon, or, possibly worse, a potential boss.
  10. And don’t tell me all about how excited you are to learn from me. We will absolutely learn from one another, and, I’m not here to be your teacher, except as it pertains to the work you’ll help me with.  If you tell me you’re excited to learn from me, what it sounds like is that you need me to take care of you. Again, I will, in appropriate ways, but I’m not working with you for that.
  11. Check in with yourself about what I’ve asked for, what parts of it you can do, what parts you can’t, and where your fee is. If your fee is $50+/hour, and you can’t do more than half of what I need, don’t bother approaching me—you’ll look like an idiot, because there’s no way you’ll be able to sell (and I use that term loosely) the idea that the value you create is worth your fee.

In reality, YMMV. There’s no perfect way to approach everyone. But if you’re finding that the approach you use isn’t getting you conversations, and ultimately, clients, I urge you to take a good look at what you’re doing, and consider changing it up. You know what the definition of insanity is, right? It’s “Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”

Be smart. Be sane. Be you. I think that’s a fine recipe. Season a bit with moxie. Perfect. Just perfect.

Ok. Thanks for reading that.

Here’s the thing… all these years later I wouldn’t change anything on that Top Ten list (well, except I’d update my first name!).  I don’t even have to update the name of my VA, because my beloved Nicole and I still work together.

If anything, I know more deeply how clients like to be approached; since writing that I’ve helped oodles of them search for, connect with, and choose VAs from AssistU. And I can tell you that people still absolutely like to be found intriguing. They still want to stand-out to you rather than being part of a bland, BCC’d pitch to many. They want a sense of YOU before they’ll ever be interested in what you do (unless, that is, they actually believe they’ll be “the boss of you,” in which case you need to walk away and let them go find someone else to be the boss of!). It’s all the same. And I think that’s because people are, after all, people. If you approach them graciously and with some thought behind what you’re doing, chances are things will go well for you. Approach them otherwise, and.. well, not so much.

Every stellar VA I know who has kept her practice full despite the occasional need to find new clients is doing some form of this. I hope you find it helpful for you in your practice.