Jeannine Clontz, founder of Clontz Business Services started her virtual assistant practice in August of 1998. As her business evolved, she specialized in marketing and social media support to small businesses, entrepreneurs and solo preneurs nationwide. By 2001, Jeannine realized she was at capacity¸ and in order to grow beyond her individual capabilities, she would need to put a team of subcontractors in place to expand her business. Clontz is an author, international speaker and virtual assistant coach giving her a unique perspective on the needs of her clientele in the areas of marketing and social media. Her certifications include but are not limited to IVAA CVA, ethics checked and the CRESS designation.
Electra: Thank you Jeannine for your time. Let’s get right into the questions. Since certification is not required to open a virtual assistant practice, what encouraged or inspired you to become certified.
Jeannine: I was really starting out as was the VA industry in 1998. Sohaving certifications reallyallowed me to differentiatemyself from my competitors. It was also kind of a big leap of faith back then to have someone miles away from me to feel comfortable delegating projects to someone they could not see face to face. So it gave prospects some level of comfort that they were dealing with someone that took their business seriously and went the extra mile to show it.
Electra: I understand that because it also helps today for VAs to stand out of the crowd.
Jeannine: Yes and there are more competitors now than there were in 1998 so I think it is even more important.
Electra: Exactly, especially now with technology’s growth and the different ways virtual assistants are able to support different industries. How does being certified help you work with clients?
Jeannine: It helps me have a better understanding of their industry and their needs as it relates to certification such as the IVAA CVA and the CRESS certifications. So with my CVA, I can communicate to prospects my proficiency with specific software and technology. With the CRESS designation, I show that I understand the real-estate industry with what an un-licensed assistant can and cannot do. For the ethics checked exam that really is something that a lot of industries do not participate in or feel is important. So I was thrilled that IVAA was really a pioneer in the industry in realizing that the ethics checked is one that really helps people to feel comfortable with me as a business owner. They will look at me and think this person takes her business seriously. They know that I have taken the steps necessary to protect their confidentiality, work with them to have a good business acumen. So I do believe that the ethics checked certification is a big help. In an industry where general standards are not really set up for the industry, I think the ethics checked is something that can help clients take us seriously as an industry.
Electra: Exactly, our businesses as virtual assistants a lot of times we don’t get a chance to meet our prospects and clients face to face. I’ve heard you say time and time again, that people do business with who they feel they can know like and trust.
Jeannine: Exactly and it’shardbeing a newer industry, it’s hard to make people take us seriously. But I do feel in favor of IVAA, I think it is veryimportant that we understand that they’re [IVAA] really a leader in the industry. Membersobtainingthesedesignationsreallyhelpbuild our industryandmakeitmorepositivefor everyone.
Electra: How did you prepare for the exams?
Jeannine: At that time there were no study guides like we have now. But I did do some online research before taking the exams and that really helped me immensely. The ethics checked is a very hard exam as it should be so I did go to the library and do some research. I picked up some books at the library and that really helped me understand ethics a little better. I think we all look at it as “oh yeah, I’m ethical.” But when you start reading about some different things and how you should make decisions then you realized “well maybe I wasn’t as ethical as I could have been in this particular situation. I think we tend to look at things only from our aspect rather than looking at it from being in the other’s person’s shoes. So for this exam, I did do a little bit of research and study.
Electra: That’s great information to help aspiring VAs or existing VAs considering getting the designation that there are study guides available on IVAA.org. What was the biggest impact do you believe being certified has had on your business?
Jeannine: Initially, it gave me that a competitive edge to differentiate myself from other VAs that was just starting their businesses. From a client or prospect standpoint it allowed me to present myself more professionally. It communicated my business acumen and ethics; it also gave them a level of comfort in giving me their confidential information and resources to perform their projects. Let’s be honest, we ask people for their logins, passwords and credit card numbers. This is hard for people to give up. It’s hard for me to give up so I can certainly understand their aspect of this situation. So it, [these certifications] lets everyone know that I am serious about my business and the industry because I took the steps necessary to portray myself in the best light possible. This is what I believe the certifications do.
Electra: Yes. When you mentioned credit card information; most of the time we don’t see these people face to face and they have given us an opportunity to proof ourselves by giving us their personal information. Has a prospect ever contacted you after seeing your credentials?
Jeannine: Oh yes, in the past I was contacted based on a certification. Whether it was one from IVAA or a technology based certification that really resonated with the prospect. This helped me get my foot in the door and that made the hard work to achieve these certifications so worthwhile to me. Now 15 years later most of my business comes by referral but I still get some responses from prospects that choose to speak to me because of my credentials. So I think that is reallyimportant for us ongoing.
Electra: It also helps the marketing side of your business so that is an added benefit to having these certifications. In addition to owning a multi-VA firm, have your certifications helped you expand to other business ventures?
Jeannine: Yes, but it has been more software based certifications. For example, having a virtual author’s assistant certification and a team member who also has that designation has really allowed me to tip the scales in my favor on many new tasks and projects that I may not have offered in the past. Adding new technologies and offerings in my business does help me to expand and grow my business with clients I already support. It is a great way to grow your business and it is much easier to grow with the clients you already support who enjoy working with you rather than developing a new client. It [these certifications] has also opened these doors for me to help me expand and grow my business.
Electra: What are your top three reasons you give to be certified?
Jeannine: The most important ones are differentiating yourself from your competitors, to increase your level of expertise, which allows you to charge higher prices and to give that prospect a level of trust. They know that you are serious about your business and that you will be there for them for years to come. It shows that you are not just doing this on the side or doing it until you get a better job or something like that. They understand that you are in your business for the long haul.
Electra: Excellent. People are always looking for ways to differentiate and have that unique selling proposition and you have just stated this is the main reason to become certified. Also, the expertise; being on the Internet with millions of other people becoming an expert is one of the goals in your industry. Many solo preneurs work toward this status. This is great to demonstrate to VAs here is one of the ways to attain an expert ranking. Higher prices are another hot topic for VAs. How do I command a higher rate and just gave us the steps to reach this goal so thank you.
Jeannine: Not only that but also as you charge higher rates you connect with a higher caliber of clients. Lower rate clients are more price conscious rather than acknowledging the quality of your work. They are not going to be loyal to you as your prices increase. When you are able to charge a higher rate you will get higher caliber client that will stay with you and that can refer you to other high caliber clients, as well. So it really does help you in the long run.
Electra: Yes. The ethics checked exam assesses four areas, billing, conflicts of interests, privacy and confidentiality and the ability to perform the work. Do you feel becoming ethics check certified has help you make better business decisions in these areas? For example, did it influence your daily operations and procedures?
Jeannine: Absolutely. We’ve discussed this a little in that this is a very different and difficult exam. Many people I know in IVAA and outside of IVAA because you do not have to be a member to take this exam didn’t pass it on their first try. What has really struck with me about this exam is how many options there can be to solve business ethics challenges that we face all the time as business owners. So figuring out the best option to solve an ethical dilemma can be a make or break it move for our businesses. I now know not only how to look at these situations from all angles not just my own or to seek out the supporter input from a trusted colleague or peer so that I am sure to make a decision that is in the best interest of my business and the client. So it also a huge advantage not only over my competitors having this designation but knowing the importance of having it. It [ethics checked] really is my most valued accomplishment as a business owner.
Electra: That is a perfect way to conclude this interview. To me that sums up everything that we have been talking about in this conversation. Thank you so much Jeannine taking the time to talk with me today.
Jeannine: Thank you.
Electra: You’ve given so much information and insight are there any other gems you want to share?
Jeannine: Just that I consider myself a lifetime learner. I am always looking to learn new things and we kind of live in that world as a virtual assistant. We are so involved and so entrenched in technology that it is veryimportant for us. I think one of the main things that we can offer to our clients to be a partner with them is to understand and stay abreast of new technologies. I think that is one of the most important things we bring to the table is the ability to share that technology with our clients and help them grow their business and be more successful because as they are more successful so are we.