Let’s say you’re a new or relatively new virtual assistant. Working from home has it’s perks, but there are a few drawbacks as well. One big one is the feeling of being alone. Not just in the obvious ‘I work from my home office’ physically alone feeling, but the “am I the only small business owner dealing with this” alone feeling.
Sure, there are online forums and communities where one can go to, but have you noticed something about forums? It’s great for getting questions answered and learning new things, but the information you get isn’t the same type you might reap over say, a cup of coffee and croissant now is it?
I can’t speak for all virtual assistants, but I know I’m pretty reluctant to talk about personal stuff too much on the forums. But when I think about it, sitting with someone over a cup of coffee or glass of sweet tea somehow makes it easy to share my story with someone else. Or for them to share their story with you. And let’s face it, sometimes just exchanging business horror stories can reassure you that someone else understands what you’re going through.
But unfortunately, I haven’t yet found any other virtual assistants here in the Hickory, NC area to meet up with for coffee. And I bet there are other VA’s out there who are in the same boat.
So in an attempt to help us all feel like we’re not alone, I decided to do a few interviews with established virtual assistants, asking them questions regarding their businesses, such as how long it took them to sign their first client and what they found to be their biggest business challenge.
The first intereview is with a relatively new virtual assistant, Elizabeth Oldham of Ressor Virtual Solutions.
HOW: How long have you been a virtual assistant?
Elizabeth: I have “officially” been a virtual assistant since May 2009. Before than I dabbled in freelance and helped friends and family out with virtual and non virtual administrative problems they might have come across.
HOW: What first drew you to become a VA?
Elizabeth: I have always been an “outside of the box” kind of thinker. I knew I had the education (BS in Economics/Minor in Business Management) and the experience to be able to offer this kind of service. I also saw the HUGE problem that so many small business owners and entrepreneurs are faced with, which is the extra expense of hiring an employee. I knew that I could offer a solution by offering the services with no overhead cost to the client. So, when I was faced with the decision of starting my own business or going to work as an administrative assistant… I took the plunge, signed the papers and Ressor Virtual Solutions was born!
HOW: What did you find to be the biggest challenge when starting your virtual assistant business?
Elizabeth: I have always been a good salesperson, but I have never had to “virtually” sell anything before. The hardest hump to get over for me was the online marketing. Although I have worked directly with public relations and marketing individuals in previous positions, I have never been solely in charge of getting a business clients or revenue. Even with the previous experience I have working with those individuals, the projects have never gone from thought to launch 100% from me. I have really worked hard to get up to speed with marketing strategies that work. I have researched what has worked for other successful entrepreneurs and tried to implement that into my business plan.
HOW: How long did it take you to sign your first client?
Elizabeth: Ressor Virtual Solutions opened in May of 2009 and I signed my first client on June 30th 2009. How exciting it was to hold the signed contract in my hand!
HOW: What did you find was the most effective way to market your virtual assistant business?
Elizabeth: By far the most effective way that I have marketed Ressor Virtual Solutions has been social networking sites. I have been introduced to so many like minded individuals. The key to these sites is to target the people that you want to work with. In my case I have searched, requested, followed and engaged in conversations with entrepreneurs or small business owners. I have also gotten back in touch with many high school and college acquaintances that are farming Ressor Virtual Solutions out to individuals that could use my assistance! If used correctly these sites can push clients to your business. I would suggest Twitter and Linkedin to start off with. Twitter gets your name out there and Linkedin is like a virtual resume that everyone can see.
HOW: What do you feel is your biggest challenge in marketing your business?
Elizabeth: I ran into roadblocks in the very beginning with scams. I posted advertisements on a few sites and was very excited to see so much interest, only to open the hundreds (I am not exaggerating) of e-mails that offered me a position transferring money from one account to the other and such! It was frustrating and discouraging to spend so much time weeding through those e-mails thinking that there would be a diamond in the rough! I eventually deleted those advertisements and began searching on those sites. I contact everyone that is seeking an assistant and let them know the benefits of hiring a virtual assistant. If they are local I throw in the fact that I do free on site consultations.
HOW: What do you find to be your biggest client related challenge?
Elizabeth: Well, I really haven’t had any challenges yet with my clients. I do however anticipate that there will be some difficulty in the future with the confusion between employee (which I am not) and contractor (which I am). I think that this can be handled with a level of diplomacy and a little reminder that I am also an entrepreneur and a small business owner… we are equals and on the same page!
HOW: What type of changes, if any, have you made to your business since start-up?
Elizabeth: I have made a couple changes and I am sure there will be many more in the future. The first and most effective, I touched on above with the switch in marketing. The second would be the change in my idea of “set” hours. When I first began I wanted to have certain hours that I worked. I soon found that the best way to run Ressor Virtual Solutions was to have many different “set” hours. I work when I am needed and am normally available even when I am not officially working. I think one of the most inviting things about being a virtual assistant is that I can get a call at 9:00 PM that goes to my voice mail. By 9:02 PM I have listened to it and am starting to devise a plan. By the AM I am hitting the floor running with ideas!
HOW:What is the one thing you wish you knew before you started your business?
Elizabeth: That it is discouraging at times! There are many days in the beginning when I questioned my decision to venture out and start this business. I felt like I was getting nowhere. I am so happy that I stuck with it and was able to experience the feeling of securing my first client on retainer! I also wish someone had told me that it is difficult starting your own business if you have never done so. The amount of information I had to dig to find was astonishing! I was lucky enough to run across many different forums for entrepreneurs and also for virtual assistants that have helped me gain loads of knowledge.
HOW:What do you envision your business being like in 5 years?
Elizabeth: In five years I would like for my business to be an accomplishment for myself and a positive experience for prior clients. I would love to one day maintain a referral only basis for new clients. I want to keep our client base manageable so that each client feels like they are our only. My husband is a co-owner of Ressor Virtual Solutions and helps me on occasion, mostly with marketing and our business finances. I would like to see our business grow to the point to where he could be the primary contact for a future client. His knowledge base is very different than mine so we would need to target a different niche, which would mean growth for Ressor Virtual Solutions!
HOW:Elizabeth, thank you so much for agreeing to be a part of our interview series here at Home Office Warrior. I believe that your willingness to share your experience will be a big help to other virtual assistants, especially those that are new to the industry. It sounds like you have Ressor Virtual Solutions on the track to success!
Next week I’ll share another virtual assistant interview, this time a ‘veteran’ VA with 11 years of experience as a virtual assistant. At the end of the series, I’ll also share my own answers to the interview questions. And it’s not too late to be included in the series, if you are or know a virtual assistant who would be interested simply send me an e-mail, thilton at clericaladvantage.com.