A Virtual Assistant Article by Irene Boston
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 Virtual Assistant business, Irene wears
other hats as a writer and as an established landscape photographer.
If you take nothing else away from this site - this article about protecting your personal security should be printed out and referred to as and when necessary. There is nothing more important than your own safety, virtual assistant or otherwise.
Call me paranoid but I often feel that Virtual Assistants can neglect certain aspects of personal security, especially those who are newly self employed and working from home for the first time. Eager, or perhaps desperate to land that first client, we can be somewhat cavalier about our own safety. After all, we insure our belongings and put locks on our doors and windows - we need to take the same care of ourselves.
Believe me, my intention is not to frighten everyone witless, just to reinforce some basic common sense principles. As a Virtual Assistant, without the back-up and security of the corporate world, we must realise it's up to us to look after ourselves.
Thrilling as it is to hear from potential clients, remember that the voice on the end of the telephone, the email or letter enquiry belong to complete strangers. Yes, they may become clients. Yes, they may lead to lots of work and loads of money. But at first you haven't a clue who they are. Large organisations may have elaborate security and safety arrangements in place to protect their staff but the news is full of instances where even that may fail. In the UK, mention the name Suzy Lamplugh, the estate agent who arranged to meet a potential buyer and was never seen again, and I guarantee most women will think "there but for the grace of God....." I'm sure we can all remember other, equally disturbing, stories.
When you receive an enquiry from potential clients, it's not a good idea to invite them into your home or for you to visit their home - alone. For that first meeting, always insist on meeting them in their office unless their office is also their home, in which case you must insist that you meet on neutral territory. All my clients have understood this precaution - anyone who baulks at this should trigger alarm bells in your mind anyway. Above all, trust your instincts. If after meeting a potential client, your gut tells you something isn't quite right, heed that warning. Or if requests from a particular client seem bizarre, be very wary.
In dealing with a potential enquiry, remember that you should also be interviewing the clients. Make sure you get their name, business name, address and telephone number before you make arrangements to meet them. Don't just accept a mobile number - insist on knowing an office or home telephone number and check this out in the local directories. Make sure you confirm they are who they say they are. I've always found that if you explain why you're asking for this information, genuine enquirers will understand these basic precautions.
I rarely allow visits to my home, particularly by first time clients, to deliver or collect work and even long term clients are discouraged from doing this. However I often find that some local clients will put work through my letter box for completion. If your address is listed in local business directories, you can't avoid letting even potential clients know your whereabouts. If you must organise a meeting with a potential client, use a neutral venue such as a hotel lobby or local café. I know that some Virtual Assistants use an office locally which they can hire by the hour or on an appointment basis. I am also cautious about the wording of any advertising in local or regional papers. I never add my address to the advert - just my telephone number and email.
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