Q&A With a VA

On her website you can see how my friend Suzie has set up her online Virtual Assistant business, and the way she articulates her service benefits and value proposition for customers. Here is an interview that I conducted with Suzie to share with the Talent Hub class:

1. How did you become a virtual assistant? Was this a natural progression from an earlier career?

I originally began my business offering personal concierge and errand services and I found that many of the executives I partnered with usually had requests that were more virtual in nature.  The main catalyst was the discovery of social media and Twitter which furthered my move to predominantly virtual at that time and it continued to expand to 100% virtual.

1a. How long have you been a “V.A.”?

I started my company in 2002, rebranded in 2006 and transitioned into the virtual world.

2. Could you describe a typical day in the life for you, in terms of work hours, types of projects, and your work setting?

Being a virtual solo-preneur, I am fortunate to be able to choose my hours; however, everyone’s dedication and commitment will vary. I rise around 6 AM and my day begins there. I may be responding to emails via my Smartphone or booting up the laptop, green tea or coffee by my side. I post my hours as 8-5, Mon-Fri, but I do choose to work outside of these hours, sometimes late into the night and weekends, which also enables me time off during the day.  My hours will depend on my client’s needs and projects.  While some are time sensitive, others may be project based with a week or two deadline.

I utilize Outlook tasks/calendar, HourGuard Time Sheet, Teambox and a few other tools to efficiently manage my projects as well as my time.  Many of the projects I handle revolve around social media, blogs, Internet research, editing/proofing and calendaring.  There are some tasks that will require more immediate action steps at the beginning of the day like Facebook posts or comments, while others are ongoing in nature; calendar management/scheduling via shared client calendars.

When I am not involved on completing my client’s work, I try to squeeze in a bit of my own: e-newsletter, social media posts, reading blogs and pertinent industry materials, searching for value added content and tips for my site, responding to emails, phone calls, requests for consults, SKYPE calls. There is always something to do. As a VA, I  impress upon our clients that it is important to work IN your business rather than ON it yet we end up doing both. It is a necessity. I also do outsource to a team as well –delegation is a key component for growth and expansion. We also cannot wear ALL of the hats in our business. It is impossible to successfully stretch ourselves too thin, while expecting to contribute 100% to everything we do.

My work environment? A desk, a couch, a deck chair or sometimes the beach: all thanks to my Blackberry and keen time management.

3. Can you earn a decent living as a “V.A.”?

Most definitely. I truly love the business and am very passionate about giving back to my clients. It isn’t what I do for them; it is what they stand to gain by delegating.  It does take time to become established, create a name for yourself, build your brand and relationships, but with a lot of hard work, long hours and a dedicated focus, anything is possible.

4. What is one thing you wish someone had told you when you first started your small business?

Honestly, I love every part about the business, from start up through today and after thinking about it and the depth of my passion, I can’t really say there is anything that I wished someone had told me. I research the industry for months and gradually transitioned into the virtual end and am very satisfied with the business. You have to be devoted 150% to every aspect of starting and growing a small business. I did not find any “eye openers” in the process. It is an extensive amount of hard work, energy and time, but I knew that going in. My goal was to give back to clients, ease their stress, help with time management, productivity, work life balance and efficiency. I had a solution to their problems and I was committed to succeeding in achieving these goals. Doing the research and becoming educated left me with no questions of what would be required to run my small business.

5. How many projects do you typically handle at a time?

Every day is as diverse as my client base. Some client requests are larger long term projects, while some are short term quickies and others require daily management. This being said, it could be 7-15 tasks/projects. Keep in mind, some tasks could be 15 minutes, while others could spread out over several days or weeks.

6. Can you describe one of the more unique or interesting projects you’ve worked on?

Yes, I had a client that I discovered was not on the “up and up.” He had a few requests that I knew were not something that resonated with my values and personal morals. I did fire him saying we weren’t a good match. He asked me to fill out a license to carry permit in the state of NY. Upon reviewing the application, it asked for more of a crime related and legal personal history. He told me to: “make shit up.” Needless to say, I refused to complete the task.  Another one involved his personal life and a mistress who lived out of the country. He wanted me to call immigration and ask if his intended fiancé would still receive her green card if he had suddenly died just before their wedding but of course he also still had to relocate his wife to finalize the divorce but he claimed not to know where she was.

7. What are some of the “tools of the trade” that you use to keep track of everything? Any special project tools? Organizational tools?

Some of my favorites: Teambox, HourGuard, Outlook, ReminderFox, Tweetdeck, Hootsuite, Timely, feedly.com

Remember, we are only as good as the tools we use. It is important to take the time to learn and test out which ones work best for you, your business and clients. I love organizations, being streamlined and on task. When choosing a collaborative tool, I try to keep my clients in mind, considering ease of use, learning curves, functionality and accessibility.

8. How do you get the majority of your business? Do you do traditional marketing? Networking? Social media? Referrals? All of the above?

All of my business is via referrals and social media. When I was living in NH before my move NC, I did a lot of work on the back end with my original concierge website, making sure I was registered on every local directory and business site I could find. My virtual site is linked to the personal concierge page which also helps people discover the virtual services. I haven’t paid for advertising ever since I rebranded in 2006 and became involved in social media.

9. What is a unique way of getting a new customer that you would be willing to share?

Since I am virtual, I do rely on developing trusting and genuine relationships via social networking. Our online presentation, presence and reputation is what builds credibility and confidence in the eyes of the prospective customer.

10. If you could offer one piece of advice to someone just starting as a freelancer, what would it be?

To make sure you are following your passion which equates to your pleasure. Know that you will live and breathe your company, morning, noon and night. You will wear every hat most times.

  • BUT when you get your first client you will gleam.
  • When a client tells you that you did the most terrific job, they know they can depend on you and you gave them back the time they needed, YOU will know YOU chose the right profession.
  • When I client calls just to share a success or brainstorm with you because they trust and value you, YOU unequivocally know you made the right decision.

The satisfaction you feel from growing your own business, knowing it was just you, is priceless.

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