Does it matter whether your virtual assistant is certified?

You may have wondered about the value of certification if you’re seeking to find a virtual assistant. Does it really make any difference to you, the business owner, whether you choose a certified virtual assistant (VA) or one who lacks certification? Why or why not?

The truth about certified Virtual Assistants

To answer that question, you first need to know that there is no central, industry-wide entity that defines standards for virtual assistance. Basically, that means that literally anyone can hang a shingle, as it were, and call herself a VA.

As you’d imagine, a virtual assistant has the potential to cause a lot of good or a lot of harm to your business. You may be entrusting her (or him) with sensitive personal information or intellectual property. She may be handling website or blog content updates, making purchases on your behalf, or managing your ezine distribution, social media activities, affiliate programs, or any number of other things.

So you certainly need someone who’s worthy of your trust. Is your business, not to mention your peace of mind, worth less than that?

What role does certification play?

Partly, it depends on who issued the certification and what requirements had to be met to earn it. Not all certifications are created equal. A certification that’s bought, rather than earned, is worthless.

Partly, it depends on what it is, exactly, that you’re looking for your virtual assistant to do. It pays to do some research to make sure that the two complement each other.

…a certification that’s bought, rather than earned, is worthless.

Certification may be skills-based or general

If you’re looking for help in one particular skill area, then perhaps you’ll want a certification geared directly to that. Plus, you’ll want to make sure that the certification is issued from a source that’s built up a good reputation in this field.

For instance, if you’re looking for help managing and optimizing your social media activities, you might seek a certified virtual assistant who has earned the “Social Marketing Specialist” designation from VA Classroom.

If you’re looking for a VA with a more general certification, you could look at an organization such as AssistU, which prides itself on its high standards for entry.

To earn AssistU’s CPVA (Certified Professional Virtual Assistant) designation, for example, a VA must first have successfully graduated from the AssistU Virtual Training Program. Then, he or she will have spent eight weeks in a closely-supervised client simulation. The simulation is designed to test what the virtual assistant can actually do, not just what s/he can answer on a written exam.

Knowing whether a certified virtual assistant is right for you

There are no guarantees in life, and certification or lack thereof is no exception.

However, if the certification held wasn’t easy to get and was issued by a well-respected organization, certification does tell you a few things about a prospective virtual assistant.

  • It’s a testament to proven skills
  • It’s an indication that someone is willing to invest in her business and its success and longevity

So, does it really matter to your business whether you work with a certified virtual assistant or a non-certified one? Not necessarily. Either one can do a good job.

But if an endorsement from a high-quality source builds your sense of confidence and comfort in a prospective support professional, it may be well worth it to seek a certified virtual assistant.

About the author: Nicole Paull is an AssistU-trained Certified Professional Virtual Assistant who provides a range of administrative services, including support with Internet Marketing and product launch management.

Internet Marketing Management – Three Secrets to Maximizing Your SEO Results

At its simplest, a good Internet Marketing management strategy is going to make it easy for the people who want what you have to find you.

No doubt you already recognize the value of search engine optimization. After all, who’d turn down organic, highly-targeted web traffic?

So you know where you want to end up on the SEO front. But where does one start?

Three secrets to effective Internet Marketing management

Secret #1: Keyword Research

Once you’ve nailed down your basic strategy, Internet Marketing management begins with keyword research.

You want to uncover keyword phrases which:

  • are relevant to your product or service
  • generate sufficient traffic to make optimizing for them worthwhile, and
  • have relatively light competition

To generate a list of potential keywords, start by putting yourself in the shoes of your target audience. What words would you use if you were the one searching?

Play around with these phrases a bit. If you add a geographic reference (e.g., ballet classes in Baltimore), how does that affect the level of search engine traffic and competition? What about if you add a gender reference (e.g., ballet classes for girls) or skill level (ballet for beginners, or beginner ballet classes)?

Narrow your choices down to four or five keyword phrases to start.

Secret #2 – On-Page SEO

It will come as no surprise that once you’ve selected your keyword phrases, you need to make sure that you’re including these phrases in your website content.

Remember to write for people first, and search engines second. In other words, when you weave your keyword phrases into your content, you need to do this in such a way that your writing makes sense to the people reading it.

You may find it easiest to limit yourself to one keyword phrase per page when you’re starting out.

Be sure to include your keyword phrase in your first paragraph; your last paragraph; and one to four times in the middle, depending on the length of your page.

But don’t stop there! There are several other places you can incorporate your keywords, such as:

  • Page title
  • Meta description
  • H1 headline (but remember, it must make sense to the reader!)
  • alt-image tag, if you have an image on the page
  • Page URL
  • and more…

Secret #3 – Link Building

Google loves to see relevant, one-way links going back to your website. You can do much to generate these links, so don’t leave this Internet Marketing management traffic-builder on the table!

For instance, taking the earlier example of dance, let’s say a studio owner wants to create a series of videos with ballet tips. She could start by optimizing her videos with keywords.

To show you how this might look, see below:

Fictional Case Example: Madame Fifi’s School of Ballet
Keyword Phrase: Ballet for Beginners

Video Title: Ballet for Beginners – How To Develop Gorgeous Ballerina Posture

Video Description: www. madamefifisballet. com Discover how easily you can start to develop the beautiful posture of a prima ballerina with this fun, ballet for beginners warm-up routine. Check out other great tips at

Perhaps Madame Fifi will choose to embed this video in a blog post (remember that blog categories and tags can use keywords, too!). She then publicizes the blog post to her social media followers and friends and submits it to three or four major social bookmarking sites. Just by doing this, Madame Fifi has created multiple relevant, one-way links back to her web presence!

So there you have three secrets to igniting your Internet Marketing management return on investment. In review, the place to start is with keyword research. Once you’ve found those “sweet spot” phrases, use them to optimize your website or blog for the search engines. Finally, implement link-building strategies to increase search engine listings and ranking and to create pathways for targeted traffic.

About the author: Nicole Paull is an AssistU-trained Certified Professional Virtual Assistant who provides a range of administrative services, including support with Internet Marketing and product launch management.

Certified Virtual Assistants – The Foundational Secret to Finding Your Perfect Match

Once you’ve determined that partnering with a certified virtual assistant is a smart business decision, you may be itching to have that support in place.

Before you start looking, though, take some time to strategize. Just as a marketing plan is better for the time you spend crafting its strategy, you’ll reap better results for the foundational time you put in before you commence your active search.

Paint a Picture for Prospective Certified Virtual Assistants

The easiest part may be knowing what tasks you’d like to delegate. (If you’re unsure, though, write down everything you do for two weeks or so, then look at the list and ask yourself whether each item truly needed your attention or whether it could have been handled by someone else.)

But be sure not to stop there. Why?

Well, some people might view a certified virtual assistant (VA) as a commodity. And if all a VA is doing is trading completed tasks for money, those people have a point. The real power comes in the relationship between VA and client. The VA’s service will encompass the entire breadth of her professional experience, work style, values, connections, and critical thinking ability.

In my opinion, core fit (values, culture, work style) may even trump hard skills. Skills can be learned. Core essence is what it is. So spend some time painting a picture of who you are, not just what you want done (although you certainly want to share that, too!). Doing this will help prospective VAs to assess fit – and that will save you time in the end.

Remember, skills can be learned. Core essence is what it is.

Here are some things you may want to outline:

  • Who do you help and how do you help them?
  • Why are you in this particular type of business and not another? What drew you to it?
  • What are the values you’ve built your business on? What values do you want your VA to share?
  • Are you a big-picture thinker? Very detail-oriented? Or somewhere in between?
  • What are your pet peeves in a working relationship?
  • How would you define success in a VA/client relationship?
  • What strengths do you need a certified virtual assistant to bring to the table to balance corresponding weaknesses in you? (For instance, someone who struggles to keep track of everything may need someone who shines in organizational ability.)

By sharing this much information about yourself and your business, you’re likely to receive fewer responses from prospective certified virtual assistants. However, the responses you get will be far more likely to match what you’re looking for.

Three Essentials To Craft A Winning Internet Marketing Management Strategy

You know that one of the hallmarks of a successful Internet Marketing management initiative is whether targeted website traffic and increased leads or sales are being created.

For the beginner, though, the nuts and bolts of actually promoting yourself on the web can be overwhelming. It’s tempting to just jump in with whatever looks interesting or seems popular at the time and hope for the best.


Good strategy is the key to effectiveness

Chances are, though, what you really want is to know that you’re not wasting effort. You want to be effective. You want to be efficient. And that starts with strategy.

To develop your Internet Marketing management strategy, you basically need to do or have three things:

  1. Know where you are now
  2. Know where you want to go
  3. Periodically measure your progress

Know where you are now

Here are a few questions you can explore in fleshing out this piece of the puzzle.

  • What is your primary mission? Why are you running this business?
  • Who is your target audience?
  • Where does your target audience “hang out” online?
  • What is your Unique Selling Proposition? What need or pain is your product or service solving for your target audience – and how is it distinct from the competition?

Know where you want to go

An effective goal is going to be specific, measurable and realistic. For example, let’s say you currently rank #67 on Google for a keyword phrase you’ve determined is strategic for one of your products. You’d like to rank in the top ten.

Your goal might be to rank in the top ten in Google within three months, through a targeted campaign of website optimization, pay per click advertising, link building, and social media optimization.

A corresponding goal that lacks specificity would be, “I want to improve my company’s search engine rankings.” See the difference?

Periodically measure your progress

You want to choose an interval that’s long enough to show some results, yet short enough that you have early notice of any adjustments that may be needed.

Furthering the example given above, you might use a tool such as Market Samurai to check on your search engine ranking and prime competitors every two weeks or once a month.

Is your website rising closer to the top? Excellent! Continue on as planned.

If you’re not seeing any improvement, though, don’t abandon ship. Think of it this way: it simply means that you have the information early on, so you can analyze what you’re doing and look for places to tweak your efforts before a lot of time and effort is wasted.

By spending time thoughtfully assessing where your business currently stands in the marketplace, developing smart goals that lend themselves to measurement, and committing to progress checks at planned intervals, you can craft an Internet Marketing management strategy that really works.

Internet Marketing Management – Why Keyword Research Needs To Precede Writing

A good Internet Marketing management strategy will always include steps to make it easy for the people who need or want what you have to find you.

That said, most people include some keywords they consider pertinent in their website’s headings, content, metadata, and so on. That’s great as far as it goes. Brainstorming a list of potential keywords is important. But for your efforts to be effective, choosing keywords that are pertinent is only the beginning. Why?

In a word, competition.

As a foundation, it helps to know the percentage of click-throughs that the top ten results of search engine listings can expect to receive. Not surprisingly, the very first listing gets the lion’s share of click-throughs at 42.4 percent. The second listing can expect 11.8 percent. This drops sharply until the tenth listing gets only 2.9 percent of click-throughs.

So what you have is a crowd of websites competing for a limited pool of traffic and obviously, it pays to rank high. That’s where keyword research comes into play, because it gives you the data you need to pick your battles wisely, choosing keyword phrases that a large number of people are searching for but that a relatively small number of other businesses are optimizing for.

To illustrate, let’s say you’ve written an absolutely fabulous e-book with blueprints and instructions for building a backyard chicken coop that even a construction novice can follow with ease. You want to reach out to new backyard poultry enthusiasts who want to build their own coop. Keyword research will reveal the following:

  • Backyard chicken coop generates 6,600 global monthly searches. There is high competition for this phrase within Google AdWords. 90,900 webpages globally include this exact keyword phrase and the top ten results are fairly well-optimized for it from an SEO standpoint.
  • Backyard chicken coops (plural) has only 2,400 global monthly searches and there is very high competition for it in Google AdWords. 49,700 webpages include this phrase, globally, and the top ten results in Google are fairly well-optimized.
  • Chicken coop plans boasts 49,500 global monthly searches, but there is only medium competition for this keyword phrase in Google AdWords. Numbered at 258,000, there are a lot of webpages globally that include the phrase. However, if you do some research on the competition, you’ll find that none of the top ten results are strongly optimized for it, so if you put into play a smart and comprehensive SEO strategy, there’s good reason to believe that you’ll be able to rank very high. And the potential rewards are impressive. The number-one-rated website could expect to receive close to 700 click-throughs daily!

Let keyword research be your Internet Marketing management friend. It will give you the data you need to make the best decision on which keywords to optimize for before you go to the time, trouble, and possibly expense of creating content.

What does the natural world have in common with strong businesses?

Last month, on my way to the 2010 AssistU Homecoming event (an annual gathering of AssistU alumni), I visited the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Among other places, I spent time at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum in St. Michaels, MD. (Both the town and the museum are well worth visiting!)

That’s where I learned about ‘living shorelines’.

Living Shoreline

Living Shoreline seen at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum

You see, years ago, people used to create stone or concrete walls in an effort to protect the shoreline. In the years since, however, there’s been a move toward ‘living’ shorelines, which as the name implies, include vegetation.

The advantages? The topgrowth and roots of the living shoreline conserve soil, filter polluted runoff, and provide habitat and visual beauty in a way that hardscape simply can’t duplicate.

Interestingly, living shorelines are simply man-made imitations of what Nature did first. I think there’s a lot to learn there.

If you peel back the layers, you’ll see that certain underlying principles show up over and over again in nature. Three things I see are:

  • In the natural world, everything is interconnected; everything small is a thread in the fabric of something larger
  • Form is consistently married to function
  • Very little, if anything, in nature is confined to a sole function

What does this have to do with business?

A lot, I think.

Let’s take just one of those observations, that very little in Nature lacks multi-functionality in the larger system within which it exists.

a statement of such singular intent meant to guide an entire organization left me with an uneasy feeling in the pit of my stomach

Not too long ago I read a blog post, which while I understood it, still felt disquieting. Basically, the author was talking about the need to have a very clear and simple business mission statement.

He praised a particular mission statement he’d come across in his path as a consultant: Our mission is to generate excess cash.


Now, don’t get me wrong. That statement is strong in its way (and that’s what the author was praising). It’s short, simple, pithy, and completely unambiguous. No meaningless fluff there!

And I can see the power of it.

Nevertheless, a statement of such singular intent meant to guide an entire organization left me with an uneasy feeling in the pit of my stomach. Obviously, no entrepreneur (including myself) starts a business without wanting to make money, so I have no quibble with that.

But if generating excess cash is the sole purpose of an organization, what might a person or organization do to achieve it? What moral or ethical boundaries might they choose to ignore?

Just as that living shoreline is doing a whole bunch of good things simultaneously, can a mission statement not embrace complementary values without losing its strength? What about a business standard or policy? I think they not only can but that they are stronger in the end for it when they do.

That’s just one example of how the natural world can serve as inspiration in business. What other ways can you think of?

Four Secrets To Keep Long-Term Projects Progressing

by Nicole Paull

Have you ever noticed that there’s something about September being on the horizon that invites making space for new things?

In my case, a catalyst was a blog post written by a good friend of mine about becoming the person you would be if you had the work and life you want. Reading it, really reading it, and thinking about it, made me realize that I’d been coasting for awhile…and that it was time to stop.

And the next realization was that organized structure was going to be a key area for me to implement.

You see, there are some areas in my life where I’m extremely organized. (Just ask the foolhardy person who puts one of my cooking utensils away in the wrong place, so that it’s not where my hand expects to find it next time around!)

But in some others – like actually making a plan for how to work systematically towards a goal – I’ve always been somewhat lacking. Once the goal was made, sometimes written down, often just residing in my head, it usually fizzled out shortly thereafter. Some genuinely important things never seemed to get beyond good intentions.

My guess is, I’m not alone in that.

organized structure was going to be a key area for me to implement

Anyway, the first thing I did was to write down a list of a whole bunch of things I’d like to accomplish.

Some important ones centered around:

  • Caring for my spiritual self
  • Parenting in a more deliberate and meaningful way
  • Mulling over what’s next for my business

Along the way, a couple of terrific resources I found (which helped me crystallize these four ‘secrets’ in my own mind) are:

Do It Tomorrow, by Mark Forster

The Organizing Sourcebook, by Kathy Waddill

So, here goes!

Sharpen Focus

Here are the questions I came up with as the first stage in goal-setting:

  • Why do I want to commit to this?
  • What will committing to this mean, in terms of resource allocation? Do I have or can I realistically access those resources? Is it important enough to justify that? Why or why not?
  • What is my vision for this? How will I know when I am successful?
  • What are smaller goals I can set that will act as stepping stones on my way to ultimate success?
  • What are my plans for maintaining the required level of effort?

Monitor Progress

Having decided that a goal is worthy of committing to, I set appointments in my calendar for things like:

  • Think about…
  • Make decision about…
  • Plan…
  • Review…

Part of the appointment includes setting up tasks to accomplish on the way to the next thinking/deciding/reviewing milestone. And since I learned about will-do (as opposed to to-do) lists from the eminent Mr. Forster, these tasks do actually get done. (Publishing this blog post today was one of them!)

support enough to make the outward behaviors I’m seeking  happen as a natural consequence

Pay attention to one’s own mind and emotions

It’s easy to get tired and discouraged along the way and this can break you if you don’t address it. For me, this means more questions, like:

  • Since success begets success, have I set my goals too high to enjoy consistent success along the way? Do I need more ‘stepping stone’ goals?
  • Is my original ‘why’ for committing to this goal still compelling? Why or why not?
  • What structure can I put in place to help support me? A coach? Working on bite-size pieces at the same time every day so that it ‘just’ becomes part of my life?

Develop a plan, before it’s ever needed, for when you get derailed

I had this happen recently when we went on vacation and the exercise program I’d been following faithfully went out the window for a week. I can’t tell you how many times in the past a missed week would have stretched into weeks and months, with every passing day making me feel worse about the issue and simultaneously making it harder to get restarted.

This time, when I started my program, I decided to get smart. I know myself – and I know my little, internal danger signs: denial and sluggishness. So as planned, as soon as I got home, I got out my book, The Flat Belly Diet, which includes twenty-eight short but contemplative writing assignments. And I committed to doing one each day.

So much of success in things like this is a mental game and I knew that this would be support enough to make the outward behaviors I’m seeking  happen as a natural consequence.

So there they are, my four secrets (really, all structural) for keeping projects moving forward to shining success!

How To Invite New Clients Into Your Practice So That They’ll Want To Come

by Nicole Paull

I’m on vacation this week, but I was reminded of a business truth in the midst of it.

After seeing a movie together, my family and I decided to go out to dinner. We settled on Chili’s, a family-friendly chain restaurant. It was a tasty meal.

But what really stood out in my mind was the quality of the service. It was good. Really good.

Our waiter, Josh, was friendly and attentive without being overbearing. He took the time to talk with the kids about their meal selections (tacos), explaining the options, sharing what his favorite combination was and why. When I said I’d prefer my fajitas without any sour cream on the side, he took the initiative to ask if I’d like extra of any of the other toppings, rather than waiting for me to ask. We mainly ordered finger food, and he thought to provide individually wrapped hand wipes, in addition to napkins. Smiling and relaxed, his entire demeanor made me feel that he was genuinely interested that we had an enjoyable time.

Just little things. But all together, they made me feel like someone was looking out for us. And that was a wonderful feeling to relax into. Moreover, I gladly left a particularly generous tip. AND complimented Josh’s service to the manager.

The experience made me think about business in general. How empathetic is our approach to marketing? How “seen” do our customers feel when we serve them?

Seem needy, seem desperate for work, and you invoke only nervousness – as surely as the stance and gaze of a hungry wolf makes a prey animal run.

Of course, among other reasons, we’re all in business to make a living. (At least that’s true of all the business owners I know.) No money = no business.

And to make money, you have to have clients who pay you. That’s an immutable truth.

Still, there’s a paradox at work.

Seem needy, seem desperate for work, and you invoke only nervousness – as surely as the stance and gaze of a hungry wolf makes a prey animal run.

So even if you do desperately need work, shift the focus. Really listen to your clients and prospective clients. Pay attention to what they say and what they don’t say. Not because you’re trying to “catch” them. But rather, so that they know they’re in a safe harbor – with someone who understands them, cares, and can actually help with whatever problem needs solving.

Reach out in that generous way and the day will come when you won’t feel that you have to chase work. Because work will come to you.

Respect your limits to avoid mistakes

by Nicole Paull

You know how when someone’s counting on you to do something by a certain time – and they’re paying you for it, no less – you really, really want to get it accomplished for them?

Well, that’s what I was feeling with a client’s ezine. She’d given me the material, I did the layout, and she asked for some major changes to the layout.

That’s where things got hairy.

See, I only had forty-five minutes left in my workday. My client has no idea what’s involved in shuffling the layout around to the extent she’d requested. But I do. I knew forty-five minutes to get that done and still check emails and do all the little things that close out my day was pushing it.

Feeling an internal tidal wave of urgency to get it out on deadline, I forged ahead.

And I ignored the overwhelm I was feeling.

And I made a mistake.

Not a huge one and not one that would cost her any money. In the hurry, a sentence in her original copy never made it into the final version of the ezine that went out. Knowing the background, it never changed the meaning of the material for me.

However, it would have added some additional context for the recipients. And that embarrassed her, because after all, the ezine went out under her name.

And it embarrassed me, because I missed it in the first place.

So what can you take away from all this?

You need to respect your limitations

I knew my symptoms of overwhelm and I ignored them. I didn’t want to let my client down. But in the end, even if it was in a small way, that’s exactly what I did by trying to push through what I was feeling.

I knew my symptoms of overwhelm and I ignored them. I didn’t want to let my client down. But in the end, even if it was in a small way, that’s exactly what I did by trying to push through what I was feeling.

So, how do you respect your limitations and still not let anybody down, including yourself?

Be honest

I could have been honest and communicated with my client that I was afraid a mistake would be made if I pushed ahead with all the layout changes and tried to get it out that same day and asked her if it would be okay to get it out the following day. That would have given me a chance to do a proofing against her original material under more relaxed circumstances.

Since I only work with people who are happy to work with the boundaries I put around my business (working part-time hours), it’s likely she would have been fine with this. After all, our once-monthly ezine deadline is a self-imposed one; it’s not likely any of the recipients would have noticed or worried about it if it went out a day late.

Take a break

Or, if it really had been a non-negotiable deadline, I could at least have taken a time out and gone back to it after I’d given my body a chance to calm down. With that chance to relax, it’s possible I still would have caught the omission.

What about you?