I regularly get people contacting me through LinkedIn to ask how I started being a virtual assistant (VA). In fact, the frequency and number of enquiries prompted me to write this blog post – after all, I’m all about boosting productivity and efficiency, which is why it made sense to write an informative post and direct wannabe VAs towards it.
First and foremost, before I started my VA business, I did huge amounts of research. I spent a lot of time online digesting as many free resources as I could and absorbing all the advice and tips I was finding – there was a lot!
Google is your friend
A quick Google search for ‘how to become a virtual assistant’ yields a whopping 8.4 million results (at time of writing). Even if you just take the time to go through the first page of results alone, you’ll glean a huge amount of relevant info (as I did more than six years ago).
Next, I looked to satisfy the avid reader in me and checked what books relating to becoming a virtual assistant were available on Amazon. There wasn’t actually that many (at the time), but one did stick out, so I placed an order. It was “The Virtual Assistant Handbook: Insider Secrets for Starting and Running Your Own Profitable VA Business” by Nadine Hill. It’s a great resource because it’s so easy to read. I couldn’t put it down once I’d started and read it from cover to cover in no time. It was definitely worth the cost as it contained information about things I hadn’t thought about.
With my interest seriously piqued and my passion to learn more in overdrive, I joined the Virtual Assistant Forums. Like most Internet-based forums, this one allows you to post questions and discuss topics with people who are virtual assistants already or working towards becoming one.
A great way to gain some exposure in such forums is by linking your blog and Twitter accounts, then adding real value to the conversations that are going on. People will naturally look at your profile if they see you as someone who knows what they’re talking about and may click through to your website/social media accounts as a result.
I then joined the International Virtual Assistants Association (IVAA). It’s a non-profit organisation dedicated to VA development, education and raising public awareness of what VAs do. There are several different membership categories, all of which boast a number of benefits. Check out the IVAA website for more information.
There are two VA directory sites that I’d recommend to anyone looking to start out in this industry: Virtual Assistantville and BeMyVA. They are great places to advertise your services and potentially secure your first clients. Be sure to check out the membership benefits of BeMyVA, as there’s a chance you could feature on their social media accounts and have your articles featured in their newsletter.
Twitter lists featuring virtual assistants are great; all you’ve got to do is find some. The easiest way to do this is by using the Twitter search feature to find out profiles relating to virtual assistance, VAs, etc. One you’ve started following some of the profiles you’ve found, go through their accounts and look at any lists they’ve created and been added to. Chances are there will be some relating solely to virtual assistance, which can join or retrieve more useful contacts from.
Hashtags like #VA and #virtualassistant are also a great way to find tweets and profiles relating to the industry.
Last, but certainly not least, are all the virtual assistant Facebook groups out there. There are so many, each with their own benefits, that I would never be able to review each one separately. However, I have compiled this list of groups to get you started:
Those of you who are friends with me on Facebook and/or follow my Facebook business page will know that I’ve been suffering with pain in my neck and back for the past few months.
While I’ve had neck and back pain before on and off, it got to the point this time where I couldn’t even sleep, so I had to go see a doctor. The doctor said it was my thoracic spine that was the root of all my pain and discomfort, most likely caused by me being sat at my desk working too much.
Now it has been a busy few months and I’ve been spending a lot of time working. However, I thought that walking the dogs twice a day would be enough activity to keep me from killing myself.
The doctor referred me to a physio and I managed to get a cancellation appointment. I also made an appointment with an osteopath recommended by my mother.
After about 2/3 appointments with the physio and 1 with the osteopath, I was able to function without the strong painkillers the doctor gave me. It’s now only at night that I am in some pain and find it difficult to get comfortable.
Then, by a massive coincidence, a friend of mine who runs a gym/personal training business called Limelight Fitness advertised on Facebook about a new 6-week mobility course she was running. It focussed on helping people with, well, mobility problems, so issues with pain in their knees, hips, back, etc. I booked in with her straightaway and started 3 half-hour sessions a week, last week.
Despite the fact it’s pretty hard going, I can already feel as though my general mobility is getting better.
Unfortunately, it’s been a pretty stressful couple of months, what with physio and osteopath appointments 30 minutes away from my house (office). Trying to juggle my work and focus on getting myself better has been difficult – especially as I’m a routine freak!
Getting used to being out of the house at random times during the week – especially now I have started the mobility course – has been a challenge.
To try and arrange my days better, I have put a schedule together and blocked out times in my calendar by client/task.
This has worked really well keeping me on task rather than jumping around multi-tasking and not really getting anything done. As well as turning off notifications during the times I’m working on a task, this has made a massive difference in my productivity.
Now that I’m on the mend, I thought it would be useful to share with you some of the tips given to me by the physio and the osteopath that have helped improve my condition.
1. Set a work timer
My osteopath suggested that I set a timer to go off every 30 minutes and have a 5-minute break every time I hear it. Admittedly, I have mine set for 45 minutes, but this has still worked well.
I’m using an app called Awareness that gongs every 45 minutes and records when you stop using your computer. Five minutes is actually a long time when you’re waiting to get back to your desk, so make a list of things you can do in those 5 minutes e.g. make a cup of tea, tidy your desk/office, pre-prepare your dinner, wash-up, whatever you like really.
2. Invest in some ergonomic kit
Repetitive strain injury is really common in the wrist/arm you use your mouse with. My osteopath suggested I get a vertical, ergonomic mouse. I did and while it took some getting used to, I must say I’ve noticed my wrist/arm pain is a lot better.
3. Exercise your upper body
I had always thought walking for about an hour a day was enough, and for activity purposes it is, but the upper part of my body was not getting any exercise. I now have a set of exercises from the physio that I do each day and with the mobility sessions, my upper body is moving as it should be. These exercises should also sort out my posture – after working at a desk for around 24 years, no wonder my body is finally telling me to stand up!
4. Standing desks
Have you seen them? They are a great idea, but only in small doses. My osteopath says that standing all day working is going to put pressure on your legs, so alternate between sitting and standing. I now have my laptop on my kitchen counter which I use a couple of times each day for around 15-20 minutes at a time.
Do you have any daily routines or top tips that help to prevent aches and pains while you’re sat at your desk working? I’d love to hear them!
Being my own boss is great. It allows me to manage my time however I want, and that enables me to do a lot more of the things I enjoy in life. In fact, since I moved to France back in 2011, my work/life balance has been better than at any other point in my life.
However, being a professional virtual assistant isn’t without its challenges, and one area that I have had to give special consideration to is the need for client contracts.
Many freelancers – especially those just starting out – often overlook the importance of having some kind of contract with their clients. I know I did! Luckily, several of the virtual assistant training courses I completed highlighted that client contracts were nothing short of a necessity, and I’ve used them ever since.
It can be very tempting to overlook the paperwork when you’re in talks with a potential new client. Both of you are inevitably excited and singing from the same hymn sheet in terms of what you want to achieve, and there is a massive urge to want to jump in and get to work. This kind of enthusiasm is natural and definitely isn’t a bad thing, but you must make sure you get a few small formalities out of the way first.
Everyone I’ve had the pleasure of working with so far as a virtual assistant has been honest. Let’s face it, in an ideal world we’d never need contracts for anything. The reality, though, is that we don’t live in an ideal world, which is why contracts are used throughout our daily lives.
Here are a few reasons why contracts are so important for freelancers today:
Contracts protect you
As I mentioned earlier, I’ve been extremely lucky with all my clients, but not everyone is. Non-payment is the biggest issue faced by many freelancers and without a watertight contract there’s little recourse for them.
Late payments are also a problem, especially when you are living on a carefully-calculated budget and have bills to pay on specific dates. Your service providers expect you to pay them as per your contract and that’s why you should expect the same from your clients.
Some freelancers also find that when they eventually do get paid the amount isn’t what they were expecting. Their clients have seemingly made adjustments, and the lack of a binding contract has enabled them to do so.
Contracts protect your clients
It would be wrong to think that contracts should only be put in place to protect the freelancer. All of our business relationships are two-way affairs, and that’s exactly how contracts work.
I’ve heard many stories where a client hired the services of a freelancer and ended up high and dry because the project was left unfinished, or the end result was completely different from what they expected and ultimately served no purpose for them.
The whole situation is made even worse if the client also loses money in the process. It could mean they are unable to hire someone else to complete the project and it leaves a bad taste in their mouths about working with freelancers.
Contracts boost your credibility
We all like to think of ourselves as consummate professionals. So why would you even consider entering into a new client relationship without a contract?
By starting every new project off on the right foot with a contract in place, you are automatically showing your client that you take your responsibilities seriously and that you mean business. It affords a sense of reassurance and sets a professional tone for your relationship going forward.
While a contract might not be able to prevent bad things from happening or relationships going sour, it will stand you in a stronger position should the worst happen.
As a final point, it’s always best practise to get any contracts that you are considering using checked over by a legal professional to ensure they cover every aspect you need them to. As contracts get edited to suit different purposes, they sometimes lose their enforceability, which is something that can’t be fixed after the event.
Have you ever had any problems with clients, which may have been okay if you’d have had a contract in place? I’d love to hear about your experiences…
When new business owners are first starting out, there’s a massive tendency for them to try and do everything themselves. After all, their fledgling companies haven’t yet found their feet and any tasks they can do personally ultimately helps them keep costs down.
But it’s usually not long before these solopreneurs, or small business owners, realise that they need to let go; outsource the day-to-day tasks that are consuming their time; and focus on what they do best: driving their business forward.
So when a new client approaches me, I know it’s because they’ve reached the point where they know they need some help with their workload. Accepting the fact that they need to outsource some work is actually a crucial stage to reach.
However, while they know they need to take advantage of a virtual assistant’s services, they often find themselves in a catch-22 situation. That’s because they’re often too busy to take the time to explain exactly what they want their new VA to do. This is especially true if they’re new to outsourcing.
The bottom line is they’re busy and that’s exactly why they’re looking to hire a VA.
Obviously, there are certain tasks which are pretty standard across the board and don’t require much explaining. The majority of clients, though, have particular ways that they like things done; certain systems and methods which have become engrained in their routines.
Just because they’re going to outsource some of their tasks doesn’t mean they want them completed any differently. This is why it’s so crucial that they spend some time handing the tasks over properly.
If they don’t take the time to explain things properly, they often end up completing the tasks themselves (as they’ve always done). This defeats the object of having a VA in the first place and this is the outsourcing vicious circle I was referring to in the title of this post.
By taking some time to fully handover tasks, clients can break the outsourcing vicious circle and really make the most of their new VA.
It’s so satisfying for me to be able to help a client alleviate their workload and concentrate on their core business activities.
Even though I’m Jo Harrison, Virtual Assistant, I want all my clients to think of me in the same way they would a conventional assistant sat in the same office as them. My virtual desk is always ready for them to drop things on and having explained something once, they can turn their attention elsewhere safe in the knowledge that their tasks are being done just how they want them to be.
My decision to move to rural France back in 2011 was not one that I took lightly. It involved a huge amount of courage, but was made infinitely easier by the support I received from friends and family. I’m now enjoying a much better work/life balance than I ever have before and a lot of stress has been removed from my life.
But (there’s always a “but”, right?), while working remotely from home obviously has many advantages and perks, there’s also a side to it that many people don’t see or perhaps don’t consider. And that’s that it can sometimes get rather lonely. Couple this with the uncertainty that often comes with running your own micro-business and you can find yourself in desperate need of someone to talk to/vent at/bounce ideas off of.
The bottom line is that it’s bloody hard work to cope with all the pressures of being self-employed. I’ve got to manage my time effectively; handle peaks and troughs in work (and, therefore, cashflow); and deal witha degree of isolation. This is in addition to knowing that I have foregone the basic employment rights that regular employees enjoy, such as sick pay, holiday pay and access to a workplace pension scheme.
So, with all this in mind, here are my top three tips for overcoming the loneliness and uncertainty that working remotely can bring:
Make the most of video calls
Don’t just hide behind your inbox and fire off emails all day long. Skype, Facebook’s own built-in chat and Blab all offer a way for you to see your colleagues and clients, as well as talking to them.
It might not seem that big a deal, but it makes such a difference when you can see the facial expressions of the person you’re talking with. It’s often the closest you’ll get to experiencing that being in an office feeling.
Take regular breaks
Regular breaks are needed throughout the working day to give your mind and body a rest. In modern office environments, conscientious employers insist their employees take regular breaks, but when you work from home there is tendency to neglect them.
Even if you just get away from your computer for a cup of tea or coffee in the mornings and afternoons, and treat yourself to a proper lunch break, it will make you feel a lot more relaxed.
Customise your environment
The beauty of working remotely/from home is that you have total control over your working environment. If you’ve got photos of things that make you smile, make sure they are nearby while you’re working. The same goes for other creature comforts that make you feel contented.
My two dogs never fail to put a smile on my face throughout the day. Although we don’t all always agree when I’m bouncing ideas off them. Funny that…
So here I am, it’s 2016 and already February and I feel that I should write a blog post. I am a little out of practice but I do have so much to tell you that I really need to get this written before something else stops me from doing so.
Top on my list is, I have a new website, and new branding… My old company name has disappeared along with 2015, and I can’t say I’m missing it. I wanted something simple which I can use for years to come, my name isn’t going to change anytime soon, well no plans for it to anyway. What do you think?
The lovely Gaynor at The Smart Station did my new logo and banners, and I’m really pleased with how they’ve turned out. I met Gaynor at #MicroBizMattersDay in January, which is the next piece of news I want to share…
My very first non-virtual event as a virtual assistant was #MicroBizMattersDay on Friday 8th January. I left for London the day before, and had a really great couple of days in London. It was certainly not what I was used to, I was in the thick of people, traffic, noise and general UK chaos, nothing like my rural life here in France, but I enjoyed it.
The day was a massive success and I feel privileged to have been part of the whole thing, even if I did try and hide in the corner of The Green Room. This year I didn’t take part in the live streaming (which suited me fine), but I did get nabbed by Ed Goodman of The Cambridge Business Lounge while he was whizzing around the place on Periscope. Tina Fotherby of Famous Publicity also caught me on camera a couple of times too. I also did a quick interview with Nick Peters of Share Radio, certainly not used to all the attention!
You may have heard of some of these business celebs, I didn’t really get a chance to speak to many of them as they were busy doing interviews… Tim Campbell MBE (winner of The Apprentice), Emma Jones MBE (Enterprise Nation), Charlie Mullins OBE, Chris Percival, Penny Power OBE and the rapper Sway.
I did meet some great people on the day, difficult to name them all… Tina and Tony did a fabulous job of organising the day, and I am really made up that they have invited me back next year when the day will be held on Friday 13 January 2017. You can watch all of the live streaming from the day, behind the scenes footage and some radio interviews on the #MicroBizMattersDay website.
It’s been a really busy time for me, in December I was asked to format two books, Shadow Tag and The End Game for New York Times Bestselling Authors, Raymond Khoury and Steve Berry. I was really pleased they came to me, and hope to work with them more in the future.
One of my favourite client’s *they’re all my favourites* Positive Sparks are now doing a weekly podcast, and after the event in London I took part in one with Phil talking about #MicroBizMattersDay and also my favourite apps of 2015. This will be a monthly thing for me, so do subscribe if you’d like keep up to date!
As well as taking on a number of new clients in January, and being snowed under with work… I did have a little time to do some dating (I know, not work related, but some of you like to keep up with me on a more personal level), and pleased to say I am now officially in a couple. So you can see, not a lot of time for blogging! 🙂
So it’s February, my new website is live, a few tweaks here and there, but pretty much finished. I have a few big website projects coming up this month, and lots of exciting things to look forward to in the months to come.
If you are in contact with me by email, then please do update your records with my new email address which you can see at the very top of this page.
…And do check out #MicroBizMattersDay if you’re a small business owner, next year we have so many exciting things happening, with live streaming from around the world… I can’t wait!
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