A Guest Post from Christine Southam, Virtual Personal Assistant and owner of CS Virtual Assistant.
I had spent a number of years in Higher Education in Estates & Facilities Management; Local Government as PA to two Managers in Islington. I then worked in Berlin at an Architects’ firm and then in Business Development for Market Research before returning to London for my dream job as PA to the Executive Director of a European environmental organisation. I was disappointed when My ED announced he would be stepping down as we had a great relationship and I knew that it would move to our Brussels based office. So, I decided to follow my long-term dream of opening my own business and becoming a Virtual Assistant.
It made sense to carry on utilising all the experience I had gained over a decade of working just transferring it to a home office. I decided that becoming a Virtual Assistant ticked all the boxes!
Here Are My Top Tips For Becoming A Virtual Assistant
I believe having your own desk and work space is important and preferably with a lovely view and natural light as you may end up spending a significant amount of time there. Then cover your back by investing in insurances and registrations. These are just some of the costs to consider before you begin:
- data protection and GDPR registration with the ICO
- professional indemnity insurance, public liability insurance and employers’ liability insurance
- cloud-based storage
- Utilising business software rather than home and student for example Microsoft Office 365 and Windows 10
- Setting up a business bank account (some come with a free accountancy/bookkeeping package like FreeAgent)
These will be your outgoings and it’s important to know how much you will need to earn per week or month to afford these costs.
The VA is not a regulated industry so hourly rates, quality of work and how securely personal data is handled varies greatly.
I set about getting myself visible with a website and a Facebook page (Twitter, Instagram, Facebook groups and LinkedIn). Without the traffic to your sites you won’t be getting noticed.
- Communicate your expertise. If people believe you are an expert when it comes to looking for solutions or choosing someone, they are going to pick the expert.
- Know your moral and your ethical values. For example: the way you respond to a customer complaint.
- It’s a referral-based market. Everyone will look at your reviews of what other people think of you not what you think of yourself.
Putting aside time for personal development is really important and the skills you learn on the job should not be under estimated.
Consider investing in some professional development such as website building or social media training so it can become a service that you offer yourself.
You will also be learning on the job about self-assessment tax returns, credit control such as chasing late payers and Human Resources related matters such as contracts, on-boarding Clients and Associates.
Since running my own business, I have developed business set up and operating skills which empower me to assist other business owners more effectively.
I gained my first client within 3 months of opening, it’s a different experience for everyone. It could take you longer or you could arrive on the scene already with a few clients.
Word of mouth, recommendations and contacting your existing network of business contacts could be a very strong way of getting started.
Through a local community-based website, I contacted a start-up business. The gentleman was seeking office tidying, bookkeeping, self-assessment tax return preparation and the occasional PowerPoint. I travelled to his office at first to build up the trust and the relationship. It was a costly and time-consuming task as he didn’t leave close by. Over time he posted or scanned and emailed receipts to me and the physical meetings became less frequent. He was a client for one and half years until his disorganisation and lack of consideration for my small business took its toll on my finances and I eventually called it a day.
The beauty of hindsight is that I wish I had utilised the Virtual PA Facebook groups more readily. I wish I had been more open to seek my networks’ advice and support. I could have possibly kept the client and resolved the issues. Having a support group of VAs or even a local group of business owners who meet virtually or in person can be a life line and very important.
My Current Working Practice
I started off dedicating 20 hours to my business each week. Now, I’ve reduced that to 15 hours per week because I want to manage better my work life balance.
I’ve started to utilise Associate Virtual Assistants to help me manage my workload.
To run my business, I use as much of the available and intuitive online software as possible. The best ones I can access from my phone. This means that I can make use of dead time; checking and replying to emails and checking and replying to social media posts.
Some of the programmes that I could not work without:
- Freeagent for invoicing and self-assessment tax returns which came free with my NatWest business account.
- Canva for creating infographic and images for my social media sites.
- Lastpass for all my password storage and safe sharing with Associates.
- Toggl for time keeping and tracking the time keeping of my Associate team.
- Dropbox or Google Drive for sharing documents online.
- Mailchimp for creating newsletters, landing pages and emails.
- Asana for planning projects, meals, reminders and tasks.
- Hootsuite for scheduling social media when I go on holiday – but usually I like to post directly onto the social media site.
- Pocket as a great source of industry relevant articles.
- Microsoft Suite in its entirety for Word, Excel, PowerPoint Outlook for calendar and emails.
Being Your Own Boss
It’s almost essential to think of your own business as a client of yours so that you give it as much respect and value as you would your Client’s work. It also helps you to have an objective view overseeing what you do for it.
It’s fair to say that being self-employed is a financial and emotional rollercoaster.
Social networks of support are ever evolving and who knows you might be the instigator of a great new initiative that will revolutionise the industry.
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