HOME AND AWAY
A Virtual Assistant Article by Irene Boston
Local Clients - Are They a Different Breed?
Beginning her career in advertising and then managing a business management college in London, Irene escaped the rat race in the early 90s and now lives in Norfolk. As well as her VA business, Irene wears other hats as a writer and as an established landscape photographer.
Irene debates the differences between local and distant clients. Most of us get started by a referral or contact who offers us work, but local clients are well worth cultivating, not just for the jobs but for the free advertising they can give our businesses.
It's a safe bet that the majority of Virtual Assistants started their business by concentrating on local clients, before expanding the virtual side of their business. I know I did and although the virtual side of my business has expanded to encompass 75% of my clients, that still leaves around 25% who are local. It is important to develop a healthy local client base, they are after all literally under your nose. Depending upon where you live, that can mean dozens if not hundreds of potential customers.
Over the years I've found that the way I deal with these local clients differs from my virtual clients and this extends to the way I market, deliver and price my services. One of the major differences is their perception of what a Virtual Assistant is. Most local clients don't even know what the term means, particularly in the UK where the whole concept of virtual working has yet to gain recognition, never mind acceptance. To them I am a typist, secretary or a personal assistant - a "rose by any other name" in fact. I don't mind what name they use, as long as they use my services and pay for them!
The majority of my local clients tend to be private individuals, or small business proprietors and the type of service they require is usually just word processing. Perhaps someone wants a letter typed or a CV updated but doesn't own a computer - there are still some households out there which don't! A student needs a dissertation typed, proofread or edited and doesn't have time. Small businesses need occasional assistance, but can't afford an employee. Or companies need holiday or sick leave cover, often at short notice. Sophisticated administration support, travel arrangements or a full blown office support service isn't usually required. So you have to tailor your services and your approach accordingly.
Advertising methods for local clients can be very different. I am listed in all the local business directories, such as Yellow Pages and Thomson Local, under their secretarial or word processing headings. They haven't got around to offering a "Virtual Assistant" category and I think it will be a long time before they do. Similarly, my adverts placed in local newspapers don't mention the word virtual.
You may even find that the type of services you offer locally differ from the ones you may offer online. For example, if you live in a rural area and have experience of farm accounts, offering this type of specialisation is a good way of building up a healthy local client base. I once lived in a town full of hotels which ran conferences but hotel staff can't always provide secretarial back up for delegates, whereas I could. However, my most popular virtual services tend to be editing or transcription - neither of which is likely to be a money spinner locally. So analyse your local market thoroughly - does your area specialise in something you know an awful lot about?