In my last post, I talked about a scam that I came across on Elance.com. When I reported the incident to the FBI, I learned that instances of internet fraud are growing exponentially. They get thousands of complaints reported each week.

Each week! How can that be?

Just what is it that makes scam artists so successful?

Is it something that the rest of us can learn how to do?

As much as we hate scammers and fear being scammed, you have to admit that scammers are awfully good at marketing and sales.

The scam artist learns everything they can about the mark, trying to find out what that person’s deepest desire is and how they can access it. They look at what the mark does, where he goes, what he says about himself, what he says about other people. Where he spends his money and what he buys. Anything that could give the scam artist a clue about what matters to the mark and what he wants.

Leverage, a popular TV show that ran from 2008 through 2012, was about a team of bad guys turned good guys who started to help the underdog. In every episode they targeted a crooked individual and proceeded to run a scam on him – all for a good cause, of course.

What can we learn from scammers to make ourselves better sales people?

  • Scammers sing a siren song, offering people their deepest desire.
  • All too often the rest of us extoll the value and benefits of our products, hoping our customers will realize on their own that our product is their deepest desire.
  • Scammers focus on what the mark is buying.
  • All too often, the rest of us focus on what we’re selling.

The trick is to forget (for a moment) about what we’re selling and learn how to identify what our customers want. How do we do that? First, we need to identify who our one perfect customer is.

Most people, when they describe their perfect customer, they say something like:

“Somebody between the ages of 25 and 45; male; likes to drive to work every day and drinks coffee and watches football on the weekend… ”

That’s a targeted demographic. It’s too general and it’s not the same thing as your one perfect customer. Your one perfect customer is a very specific description of a person who you will be talking to in your mind when you think about what you want to say.

Here are a couple of places where you can go to see what I’m talking about:

JLD Avatar

John Dumas’ Avatar is named Jimmy. He’s 34 years old, has a wife and two kids ages 3 & 5 and drives to work by himself every single day. It takes him 27 minute commute to work and when he gets to work, he sits in a cubicle he doesn’t like for 9 hours doing work he doesn’t like. Finally he gets to break out and drive home. In traffic it takes him 32 minutes to get home. He spends a little while playing with his kids and then they have dinner. After dinner he puts the kids to bed and then he hangs out with his wife for a few minutes before she has to rush off and do something. So then he’s there by himself and he asks himself “Why do I spend 80% of my waking hours doing things I don’t feel like doing? Why do I get to do what I like to do only 20% of the time?”

Imagine in your head how different it would feel to talk to “Somebody between the ages of 25 and 45…” compared with talking to Jimmy. How would the two conversations be different?

Whatever you call it (Buyer Persona, Buyer Matrix, Avatar), it’s a tool that can help you get up close and personal with your customers. It can help you identify what they want. And it can help you collect your thoughts and decide what you want to say.

So – What can we learn from scammers to make ourselves better sales people?

We can learn how to connect with our audience’s most desperate desires – except, of course, we’ll have the intention to deliver on our promise!

Just 6 short months ago, I left the comfortable security of employment and took my first steps into the deep, dark jungle of freelancing. It didn’t take very long before I found myself teetering at the edge of a deadly pit trap.

At first, it was an enjoyable adventure. I was getting out there, meeting people, and learning new things. LinkedIn started to become my new stomping grounds as I explored different groups, met new people, got to know their needs and found ways to help them out.

I spent an entire week attending a virtual conference for Virtual Assistants! Eight 1-hour webinars for five days! Experts in their field taking time to share what they know and help other VAs to develop and grow their businesses!

I found out about Elance.com, oDesk.com, and Amazon Mechanical Turk and learned about the exciting world of job boards. Job boards, for those of you who don’t know, is where employers come and post jobs of all kinds. Freelancers can then go in and submit proposals to bid on the jobs. May the best proposal win!

It was all very exciting! I won my first job on Elance and met an amazing motivational speaker. I connected with a small business owner on LinkedIn and discovered an exciting business opportunity. I got to know another small business owner through a morning networking group and opened up more business opportunities.

The world was my oyster and there was no way to go but up!

But then, something odd happened. I bid on, and won, a job on Elance. It started out innocently enough. The employer identified himself as Christopher Carter and his company as Fidelity Recruitment (www.fidelityrecruitment.com). I performed my due diligence: I researched the email address he was using, the company name and website, his name and text number. No red flags came back. I looked at the header information on the email and nothing looked alarming. I even found a Christopher Carter employed at Fidelity on LinkedIn!

I did think it was odd when he conducted the entire interview over phone text but figured that if that’s how they communicate with their employees, it makes sense to see how well the employee candidate communicates on the chosen medium.

But then he sent me a sizeable check via Fedex. I was to deposit it into my account and use it to pay for the hardware that I would be using to perform the job. At this point, I was just some stranger on the other end of the phone to him. We had not engaged into any kind of business relationship. No contracts had been signed. No agreements made.

You can see where this is going.

I’m writing this as a warning to all you freelancers out there. If it looks too good to be true, it probably is! Let’s do the math on this one:

The check was for a little over $2,000.00. That’s not a lot in the grand scheme of things. It’s small enough that, if you got burned, you might be tempted to just shrug it off as a lesson learned.

But when I went back to Elance to report this as a fraudulent employer, I noticed that 78 people had bid for this position.

78 people!
If ‘Christopher’ was perpetrating this scan on all of them, he would walk away with $156,000.00!

So how does the scam work? I’ll tell you.

‘Christopher’ sends you a check via Fedex. He displays some urgency in the matter, needs it to be deposited immediately so that, as soon as it clears, funds can be wired to the hardware vendor to purchase the hardware.

The bank does their due diligence and waits a full business day before releasing the check into your account.

As soon as the funds are in the account, ‘Christopher’ sends the info for the wire transfer and says “Go do this right away and send me a copy of the receipt as soon as it’s finished.”

The next day, ‘Christopher’ says “OK, now we’ll use Western Union to send money. Out of what’s left of the money, send funds to this person and here’s the test question you should set up. Tomorrow, those funds will be returned to you. Go do this right away and send me a copy of the receipt when you’re done.”

Now, all this time you’re sitting secure in the knowledge that the bank has cleared the check before releasing it into your account. Right?

Wrong! Just because the bank releases the check hold, it does not guarantee the check is past the bouncing point. From what I can tell, they are giving it a day to see if the check will bounce. But what if the check bounces on the fourth day? After you’ve innocently sent money via wire transfer and Western Union?

Suddenly, the check bounces and the bank pulls the full amount of the original check back out of your account. And if you’ve already spent the money, then the bank takes the full amount of the check from what’s left in your account. And if you didn’t have that much in your account when this whole thing started, well now you’re looking at a negative balance on your account. And the bank is going to expect you to put that right. Very quickly, thank you very much!

‘Christopher,’ meanwhile, is laughing up his sleeve and counting all of the money that you gave him.

Freelancers, beware!
When I was speaking with my bank, doing research on how freelancers can protect themselves, they told me there isn’t a single kind of check that’s bounce-proof. Not a Cashier’s check, not a Certified check, not a Bank draft. All of these ‘pull’ money from the issuer’s account. And if the issuer’s account has insufficient funds, then the check will bounce.

It’s much safer to accept money from sources that ‘push’ the money to you – like Western Union or Paypal.

If you’re using job boards, take advantage of the Payment Protection feature, if the site offers one. Elance, as an example, will hold an escrow account for you. The employer funds the account and, after you perform the work, the funds are released to you.

Take the appropriate steps to protect yourself by using the tools developed for that purpose!

It’s common knowledge that different people learn better through different senses – Visual, Audio, Read/Writing, Kinesthetic. Presenters and trainers are taught to flex their presentation to touch on a little of each learning style so as to impact more of their audience.

Where the internet has historically been Read / Write intensive with a little Visual content in the form of pictures, technology is finally catching up and we’re seeing more Audio content in the form of Podcasts and richer Visual content in the form on Streaming Video.

This opens up a world of opportunity for Solopreneurs and Small Business owners. Where one presenter can travel to only one venue at a time to provide a training or presentation to the people local to that venue, now that presenter can reach a global audience in the form of an on-line webinar. Even better, a recorded webinar can reach an unlimited number of people, at unlimited times of day, regardless of the presenter’s whereabouts. And the same opportunity exists with Podcasts.

Following the thought process a step further, isn’t it true that what these technologies are really doing is allowing the Solopreneur and Small Business owner to reclaim some time in their day? When was the last time you wished you could schedule three presentations in the same hour? (On the other hand – when was the last time you overbooked yourself and accidentally scheduled three presentations in the same hour?)

Since helping people reclaim time in their day is sort of my schtick, I feel it’s important that I add webcasting and webinar management to my portfolio of service offerings. And because I just attended a whole week of super cool webinars at the VA Virtuoso Seminar conference hosted by Tawnya Southerland from www.VANetworking.com (one of which just happened to be on the topic of webcasting and webinar management), I’ll be able to do just that.

I have signed up for a Webinar Mastery class with Michelle Schoen, guru of webcasting and webinar. Michelle formed her own Virtual Assistant business in 2008 and soon after, started to specialize in video creation. You can find more information about Michelle on her website: http://vademogirl.com

And thanks to my new partner-in-crime, Nick D’Alessandro, I now have a project to work on as I go through the class. I met Nick just this morning on LinkedIn when he asked me if I had any experience with screencast style video. (True story!) How’s that for extraordinary timing!

Nick is the founder of Earnings Trilogy, a company that helps small business easily estimate the income potential of their business, enhance their earnings, and understand what it will take to reach their financial goals.

The class starts next Wednesday, December 3rd, so keep checking back here as I write about my experiences moving through the program.

Thank you so much VA Networking and Tawnya Southerland, Michelle Schoen and Nick D’Alessandro for your support and encouragement!

Yes, I live in Buffalo, NY. Worse, I live in the part of Buffalo that was buried under a pile of snow all last week. We were snowed in for five days before the plows and high lifts made it to our street and dug us out.

In the sixteen years we’ve lived in Buffalo, I can remember not even half a dozen times being snowed in this bad. Fortunately, the electricity didn’t go out this time. And, of course, I could still get on the internet.

So I spent the week enjoying myself at the VAVS conference. (Have internet, will travel!)

Tawnya Southerland of www.VANetworking.com hosts and organizes a VA Virtuoso Seminar every year with guest speakers presenting on their areas of expertise all week long.

Here is the complete list of my take aways from all of the great VA speakers I listened to this week, along with each person’s website:

Day 1

  1. Jennifer Hazlett                Work expands to fill in the time available for its completion
    1. http://www.altadmin.ca
  2. Kathy Goughenour         Listen 80% of the time and talk 20% of the time
    1. http://expertvatraining.com
  3. Kevin McCarthy                It’s important to not just know about DISC, but to put it to use.
    1. http://kevinmccarthy.com/va-networking/
  4. Amie Flowerday               Require a date and time specified for each and every task.
    1. http://windyranchadmin.com/

Day 2

  1. Sarah Santacroce           Great information about how to get the most from LinkedIn!
    1. http://simplicitysmallbiz.com
  2. Michelle Mangen             Zapier can bridge the gap between applications
    1. http://www.thevirtualasst.com/
  3. Yvonne Weld                   I learned about Job Boards and the proper way to answer RFPs
    1. https://ivaa.site-ym.com/
  4. Kaylee Spinhirn              Focus on your YES! List:
            1. Activities that grow your business;
            2. Actions that serve your client.
    1. http://spinhirnsolutions.com/

Day 3

  1. Lori Bruton                         Don’t add stress by taking on clients that are not the right fit.
    1. http://lbessentials4u.com/
  2. Sharon Williams                People buy YOU: Not your online presence, but your Brand Promise!
    1. http://shop.allianceforvirtualbiz.com/?post_type=product&p=2524
  3. Lynn Terry                         Create passive income through affiliate marketing
    1. http://www.socialmarketingresults.com/
  4. Mark Hunter                      PAUSE: an acronym for the 5 Pillars of a successful WordPress site
    1. http://markofapproval.com/

Day 4

  1. Kathy Colaiacovo                Use an editorial calendar to plan and schedule your on-line marketing
    1. http://social4business.com/
  2. Tiffany Parson                     Job Boards can help you start your career as a VA
    1. http://tiffanyparson.com
  3. Michelle Schoen                 Learn Camtasia and become a webinar specialist
    1. http://vademogirl.com/
  4. Dawn Goldberg Shuler        Write from your soul and create powerful content
    1. http://www.writingfromyoursoul.com/

Day 5

  1. Amy Hall                              How to Create a MailChimp Mobile Responsive
    1. http://amyhall.biz/
  2. Michelle Arbore                   Why your business needs to be on social media
    1. http://savvysocialmedia.net
  3. Dan Morris                          How to get a site generating $2,000/month
    1. http://www.bloggingconcentrated.com/
  4. Paula Burgess                    Starting and building a business around the needs of your children.
    1. http://beyondthemaze.com.au

It was an amazing event and an amazing week. I recommend the VA Virtuoso Symposium whole heartedly to anyone with an interest in the Virtual Assistant industry. This was the first time I had ever attended one and I’ll definitely be going to the next one!

I recently met a young woman in one of the LinkedIn groups I belong to. Her name is Julie Ann Price and she offers business coaching. She wrote an eBook which she’ll be selling on Amazon. She posted an offer to the group members – she would give a copy of the eBook to anyone who would post a review on Amazon for her.

What a brilliant strategy! Not only does she get reviews on Amazon, but people are reading her work, they are checking out her website, they are joining the Niche Building LinkedIn group she started and, if they like what they see, they are potentially calling her to hire her coaching services!

I took her up on her offer. The book is titled “Nice Power – Researching and Understanding Your Niche” and here is my review:

I have to say I’m very impressed with this book! I’ve read loads of books that purport expertise about identifying your niche, but none of them were as helpful as this book was with instructions about how to actually do the research.

The book was organized very well, with the information moving in a logical flow. There was no ambiguity about the information, and the author took great pains to be sure she was making her point. In spite of the occasional typo and formatting hiccup, the book was easy to follow, presented in language that was easy to understand and without any jargon to create confusion.

The author walks us through the research exercises, describing her thought process and explaining why she got the results she did. She even took time to counter objections her audience might have said, with logical and compelling arguments.

We are given technical data in the form of statistics, but then we are also given the real world interpretation of what that data means. The author does an excellent job of stepping back and forth between the cerebral and the emotional worlds.

The author also provided additional worksheets the reader could use. But in my opinion, they were more like customized note paper than actual worksheets. They mostly repeated the instructions that had been listed in the book. There was not additional guidance or any extra information that would have justified calling them ‘worksheets.’

All in all, however, I was very pleased with the book and am very happy to be writing this review!

I’m attending a week-long virtual conference for Virtual Assistants (http://vavirtuosos.com). Four 1 hour-long webinars each day for five days. Boy is my head full of good ideas to increase my skills and grow my business!

Tawnya Sutherland says “Do you want to know a secret about Virtual Assistants? We stick together like glue, helping one another succeed in our VA businesses!” How true! I’m finding the VA community to be very tight knit, caring and sharing.

It’s only Day 3 of the conference but here is a list of great take-aways that I’ve gotten from the speakers so far:

  • Jennifer Hazlett – Work expands to fill in the time available for its completion
  • Kathy Goughenour – Listen 80% of the time and talk 20% of the time
  • Kevin McCarthy – It’s important to not just know about DISC, but to put what you know to use.
  • Amie Flowerday – Require a date and time specified for each and every task.
  • Sarah Santacroce – Great information about how to get the most from LinkedIn!
  •  Michelle Mangen – Zapier can bridge the gap between applications.
  • Yvonne Weld – I learned about Job Boards and the proper way to answer RFPs
  • Kaylee Spinhirn – Focus on your YES! List:
    • Activities that grow your business;
    • Actions that serve your client.
  • Lori Bruton – Don’t add stress taking on clients that are not the right fit for you.

Thank you ladies for taking the time this week to come and share your expertise!

When you catch a fly ball out in left field, it’s not always the best time to do a victory dance.

I know this from experience.

Much to my own embarrassment.

I was only 10 years old or so, in elementary school, out in a field playing softball in gym class. I had no idea what I was doing, so they put me as far away from the action as possible. On this particular day, the bat cracked and the ball came streaking straight toward me. I closed my eyes and stuck my hand up in the air. (true story!) Don’t even remember feeling the ball hit my glove, but I do remember my amazement when I opened my eyes and saw it sitting there.

Well, I did watch TV (The Bad News Bears!) so I definitely knew what to do when you catch a fly ball out in  left field.  I started to do a victory dance!

Several moments later (too late!), I looked up long enough to notice the bases emptying out onto the home plate. You never know who’s going to hold the success of your team in the palms of their hands. Do you really want to take the chance they’ll know what to do with it?

I could use this little story to talk about a lot of things: team work, communication, learning and development, the evils of watching too much TV. But today, I want to talk about policies and procedures.

I’ve come up against the working end of policies and procedures plenty of times in my career. The scariest time was in my corporate days when I picked up Quantum and discovered there were no documented policies or procedures for this highly transactional vendor that had a different process for everything they sold. Overnight I took ownership of a $21 million annual revenue business and had to keep it going while, at the same time, learning how to keep it going.

The second scariest time was when I opened my own Virtual Assistant business and had to give some thought to what policies and procedures I want to write myself.

I encourage everyone to document their policies and procedures and for several good reasons:

  1. The process takes you out of the daily work for a time and allows you to think about the business.
  2. It gives you the chance to make decisions and solidify your preferences.
  3. It gives you a chance to think about why you made those decisions.
  4. It helps you and your employees know what decisions to make in specific situations.
  5. it helps new employees (or Virtual Assistants) get up to speed on the business faster.

Documented policies and procedures are living, growing organisms, in the same way that your business is living and growing. As your business evolves over time, so too will the policies and procedures that support it.

It’s OK if you don’t have a complete list of every possible thing. The most commonly used ones will be easiest to think of and will be added to the list first. More obscure things can be added later as they come up.

It doesn’t even need to be your, the business owner’s, job to document them. Your assistant, or Virtual Assistant, can help assemble the list for your review and approval.

The important thing is that you take some time once in a while to look at them and think about them and make sure they are serving your business in the best possible way.

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