The surest sign of a Twitter newbie is a default background, empty website and bio fields and little content. And the surest sign of someone who doesn’t know how to use Twitter for business is a vague or inappropriate bio field. That said there are specific things you need to do on your Twitter profile before you hit the road with it.

1. First and foremost, choose your Twitter username wisely.

Like your domain name, it should be easy to spell and remember. After all, you want people to find your business using the search feature, or even Google. The username should reflect positively on your business as well.

While it might seem like fun to make your username “ilovechocolate,” if you’re a virtual assistant whose work has nothing to do with chocolate, this is probably not a good idea.

For branding purposes, it’s best to choose either your business name or your name (depending on what you’re trying to brand), or a variation of it, as your username.

2. Write a good bio.

The bio doesn’t have to be a literary masterpiece, but it does need to succinctly describe who you are or what you offer. And the bio should contain your keywords.

Keep in mind when you’re writing your bio that people will be finding you using the information you put there. So if someone is looking for a virtual assistant, but your profile bio says “chocolate-eating work at home mom,” chances are no one is going to find you. Well, not anyone you’ll do business with.

3. Choose your profile picture wisely.

The best option for your profile picture is a photograph of you. That said, it should be a professional shot – you really do want to present a positive image for your business. Make sure the shot is clear, well lit and that you’ve put your best face forward.

You can be quirky or funny, but make sure it’s appropriate. So if you’re tweeting as the CEO of a major corporation, you don’t want your profile photo of you in a Hawaiian shirt sitting on a bar stool. However, if you’re a quirky, creative photographer, you might be able to get away with pink hair and a tongue piercing. The bottom line is to be YOU and let others see who you are, without damaging your own reputation in the process.

4. Use a custom background.

You can have a designer create a background for you or use a free background generator online. The background will not only show Twitter users that you mean business, it will also enable you to display more information about your business and additional means of making contact.

You can also place your logo on the background to further brand your Twitter profile. And if you’re branding yourself as a business – say if you’re a life coach, for example – you can even put a full body picture of yourself, perhaps holding your logo in your hands, or something memorable like that.

Remember, whatever you do, you want to set yourself apart from the others with your profile. Make it professional, but memorable. Include information so that people can contact you on other sites, by email and by phone. Make a statement about the value your business can provide to those who land on your profile.

In the next post we will be discussion all about the content.

When you go on vacation, you’ll often set overall goals like: Fly to Orlando, go to Disney World, and meet Mickey Mouse. While those are wonderful goals, they don’t contain the plan for how you’re going to achieve them. You need to know what airline you’ll buy tickets through, where you’re going to rent a car, what hotel you’ll be staying in and how much it all is going to cost.

Using Twitter to grow your business is like preparing for a trip in that you need to plan out all those small details as well. While you’ll have your own goals and will need to create your own plan to meet them, here are some basic stops that you’ll definitely need to include:

1. Follow the right people.

Following your uncle’s daughter’s third cousin is not going to help you get to know people needing a virtual assistant…unless the cousin needs a VA… Instead, you should use the search function in Twitter to find potential customers and find colleagues that you can interact with.

2. Plan one month ahead.

You’ll need to fit what you’ll tweet about into your overall marketing plan. Now, that’s not to say you can’t have an impromptu conversation or help a customer with a question. But you should have an overall roadmap for where you’re going and have some tweets planned out that will advance your marketing and networking goals.

3. Automate what you can.

OK, there are some people who say you should never automate and others tell you to automate everything. As a business though, you should take a middle road. Automating DMs or sending out thousands of irrelevant tweets a day are never a good idea. But sending 1 or 2 blog updates per day and perhaps automating a couple of inspirational or helpful comments is not a bad thing. You just need to make sure you balance that with real conversations and connections.

4. Use tools to maximize your effectiveness.

Twitter tools such as Seesmic and TweetDeck can be downloaded to your computer and used to help you manage your Twitter profile – or profiles if you have more than one. Hootsuite is an online tool that does the same thing. Or you can download the Tweetie app to your iPhone and keep in touch while you’re on the road… preferably not while you’re driving.

5. Track your results.

You can pour all kinds of time and effort into Twitter – and trust me, it’s easy to do – but if you don’t know how effective those efforts are, you’re wasting your time. You’ll need to keep track of how many people are following or unfollowing you. And you’ll need to track how many people do end up at your site. Tools like Google Analytics can help you track the traffic on your site. And you can keep track of your conversations and connections in Twitter using the search functions and hashtags.

In short, just knowing where you want to go with Twitter is not enough. You need to have a detailed plan of how you’re going to achieve your goals. Once you have the plan, the only thing left to do is implement it!

In the next post we will talk about how to set up your Twitter profile properly.

Now, let’s take a look at these goals more in depth:

1. Connecting with Customers

Before you started your business, you should have done a ton of market research. At this point, you should know who your target market is, what their needs are related to what you offer and how you can meet those needs.

For example, if you are a baby sling seller, your research may indicate that really short, petite women need a sling that will fit them without hurting their backs. So your business has created a solution to this problem.

When you’re on Twitter, you want to find those women who are having issues with slings that don’t fit right because of their size. Once you find them, you’ll want to offer advice that might help with their existing slings, or suggest tips for making sure they buy the right size in the future. Notice, I didn’t say “send them a link to your website.”

Twitter is not the place for a hard sell. Once your potential customer sees that you care about her problem, she’s going to want to know who you are and what you can do for her.

2. Networking with Industry Leaders

Twitter is a unique place where you can follow, and be followed by, people who are leaders in your industry around the globe. You can keep up with what they’re tweeting about and interact with them. For example, if you’re a virtual assistant, and you see a colleague has won an award, you can publicly congratulate her by using @herTwitterName in your tweet. She’ll see this – and you.

You can also offer advice to your colleagues, share information and discuss issues in your industry. By doing so, you will be seen as someone who is an expert in your field. In some cases, this has lead potential clients to hire you over others without the social proof, or may lead to your colleagues outsourcing work to you. In some situations, this could lead to you getting hired as a subcontractor for a project, because of your Twitter connection.

3. Driving Traffic to Your Website

Now, as I mentioned before, this should never be your primary goal on Twitter. Tweeting nothing but links to your website, or simply way too many tweets will make you look like a spammer.

So, put this goal in the backseat and focus your efforts on your first two goals, as we discussed above. Once you’ve taken care of those two goals and are consistently providing value to your customers and colleagues, the traffic will take care of itself.

Once you have a plan and you know where you’re going, getting there will be much easier, cost effective and measurable.

In the next post we will be talking about how to plan your Twitter journey.

Achieving success with Twitter is like getting ready to take a trip. You have to decide where you’re going to go and how you’re going to get there, before you leave. Likewise, with Twitter, you need to sit down and decide what you’re goals and how you’re going to achieve them before you start the journey.

Some goals that you may want to achieve include:

  • Connecting with your customers
  • Networking with people in your industry
  • Driving traffic to your website

Before we go further, let’s take a minute to look at that last goal: Driving traffic to your website.

This goal should never be your primary goal on Twitter. It’s great for SEO, but not for a social networking site. On Twitter, you’re primary goals should be networking and connecting. The traffic will follow if you’re successful with the first two goals.

We will take a look at these three goals more in depth in my next post!

Before you jump on the bandwagon and setup your business’ Twitter account, or write off that whole social media thing as a waste of time, take a few minutes to learn why you need a Twitter account.

Find More Customers
Twitter can help you find more customers. Not only can you search Twitter for people who are interested in what your company has to offer, potential customers can find you. For instance, if you are a life coach who works with people struggling with shyness, you can find people online who are talking about their struggle. Likewise, people who are shy can search twitter and find your services.

Enlarge Your Network
Twitter works much the same way when it comes to networking within your industry. Not only does this help you keep an eyeball on the competition, but also allows you to get to know, like and trust others in the same on complementary fields. For example, if you’re a web designer, you can follow other designers and keep up with what is new in your industry.

Build Your Community Status
Getting known as an expert in your industry is a fast way to get people knocking on your door to hire your company. Social proof exists to confirm that you know what you’re talking about and it can be clearly seen in all the brilliant and insightful things you say in your feed.

If you've been tweeting useful information, providing links to tutorials and answering questions, you’ll have built up a very responsive following.

For example, a jewelry and bead store owner that gets a new shipment of beads in can tweet this update to their followers and have a flood of traffic to check out the new merchandise. If she has an online store, this is even better because people can get to her virtual shop instantly.

When used effectively, Twitter can be an excellent tool for building customer relationships, getting to know your colleagues and promoting your business.

Over the next series of 9 posts I will be offering some tips and advice on how to use Twitter effectively so stay tuned!!

Every virtual assistant will need to assemble a team at some time in their career. A team increases your business possibilities and opportunities. But, handling all those people will take more than your stellar brain.

Putting the Pieces Together
Make a list. Whose skills will you use for what jobs? There are several ways you can do this. Let’s say that you want to hire someone to do article writing. You can use that same person for all your article needs across all projects, if they have the right qualifications. Or, you can use a different VA for each specialty that you handle, i.e. someone who is experienced with financial matters works with those clients and someone else who is experienced with website development can work with online businesses.

What you want to do is spread out the work so that deadlines are getting met. Even with one other person, burnout can come quick. Take inventory of how many people you will likely need to cover your overflow.

Getting your Mind Right
What’s this all about? Well, it involves how you will manage your team. Micromanaging is not what you want or need. That is just a fancy and roundabout way of doing all the work yourself. It is exhausting and not cost effective. You’ll have to let your team of professionals operate on their own with minimal guidance ONCE you are comfortable with their skills.

You already know that each person will have a different way of working. The important thing is that they can deliver for you. You can give each person a probationary period to evaluate their work. That’s another reason to implement your team approach while the overflow is light. You don’t want to test them under fire.

Tracking Projects
A project management system lets you keep track of not only the projects but the subcontractors as well. You can have them upload their work at various stages so you can see how they are doing and report to your client. Any documents that are needed by you and them can be uploaded to the project.

This system works well for asking questions, posting new information and hosting discussions with your team. There are options for you. Basecamp is a system that allows you to create client lists, post projects and add users. Each contractor can have their own username and password for the system and limited access to only their projects.

A similar system is SharePoint. This system was created by Microsoft and functions in much the same way. Here, each client can have access to a sub-site within the main site. They can view their work in progress and communicate questions or concerns right to you and the subcontractors.

Tracking your team is a matter of project management. To ease your mind, know who is doing what, when and how.