So far I’ve been the one asking all the questions. We’ve had some great interviews in the series haven’t we? I want to take the opportunity to thank everyone that participated in the interviews again.
This week, it’s the last post in the interview series and I’ve turned the tables on myself. I decided I’d share my answers to the interview questions with all of you. And not to stop there, I want you to use the comments section to ask me more. If there are things that you’d like to know about being a virtual assistant, starting a VA business, working with a virtual assistant or anything else related to virtual assistance, go ahead and ask me now! Who knows, there are probably other people out there that want to know the same thing. And I’ve found that lots of times comments tend to be some of the best starting points for great blog posts.
Now, here are my answers to those interview questions:
HOW: How long have you been a virtual assistant?
Tina: Two years, in fact Clerical Advantage just celebrated it’s 2nd anniversary on Sept. 1st. I’m even running an anniversary special through the end of the month in celebration. (Sorry, shameless plug)
HOW: What first drew you to become a VA?
Tina: Desperation. The title company I was title processor for closed it’s doors due to the real estate ‘crash’. And they weren’t the only ones. Southern Maine, where I was living at the time, was suddenly full of out of work escrow/title processors and real estate paralegals and no openings to be found. In fact, jobs in general were few and far between and there was certainly nothing that was going to pay what my former salary had been and cover my housing costs and bills. I allowed myself to panic and wallow in self pity for about a week and then decided I needed to figure out how to make money with the things I did best.
I did a search on the internet for those skills and amazingly, somewhere deep in the search results the term virtual assistant came up. As I researched it, I realized that my experience, education, skills and abilities were a perfect match for becoming a virtual assistant.
HOW: What did you find to be the biggest challenge when starting your virtual assistant business?
Tina: I think it was figuring out how to find that first client without spending any money on marketing. I was surviving on unemployment checks during the first few months that my business was open, thanks to a special program the state of Maine offered. The checks paid the rent and bills, but left nothing for my new business.
HOW: How long did it take you to sign your first client?
Tina: I had signed my first client, a retainer client, within 3 months. Looking back on it, it was pretty amazing to not only sign a client that quickly, but a client that required a large amount of hours.
HOW: What did you find was the most effective way to market your virtual assistant business?
Tina: As I said before, I had no marketing budget whatsoever, so I turned to the Internet. I’d been blogging for years on a personal level, so I decided to start a business blog. I also started visiting blogs of people whom I thought might benefit from using a virtual assistant and I also started visiting a variety of sites that talked about the ‘business of blogging’. It’s still the foundation of my marketing, although now I’ve added other social media and in person networking to the mix.
HOW: What do you feel is your biggest challenge in marketing your business?
Tina: Knowing who I was marketing to. Finding your target market is hard. And as a new business owner, you’re so afraid that if you only market to a small segment that you’ll never get a client. After all, usually you’ve marketed to pretty much everyone and didn’t get one right? It sounds cliche, and I know it’s hard to believe, but finding a smaller group of people that you can market directly to actually works much better. In one of my blog posts at Home Office Warrior I likened it to fishing in a smaller pond and it’s true.
HOW: What do you find to be your biggest client related challenge?
Tina: I think it would have to be getting over those ‘new client’ rough spots. Lots of times working with a virtual assistant is new territory for them. They’ve come to me because they’ve heard of all the benefits of working with a VA. So when the first project or two is a little bumpy or takes longer than they anticipated they sometimes get discouraged. I try to remind them it’s like any new working relationship in that you have to get used to how the other person works, learn how to communicate with one another and generally get your working rhythm going. Communication is another new client ‘issue’ that I see from time to time. E-mail is a crucial communication tool for a VA and some clients just aren’t as e-mail ‘centric’ as we tend to be. Learning to communicate instructions for projects via e-mail can be daunting.
HOW: What type of changes, if any, have you made to your business since start-up?
Tina: Even though it’s only two years old, I’ve made lots of changes. And I believe that a key to growing your business is to welcome change. I started out offering an unending list of administration services which I’ve whittled down over time. I no longer offer some services, like title processing services and phone services but now I offer new ones like blog consulting, assistance and maintenance. In fact, I kind of feel like I’m the “Blogging VA”. I’ve also narrowed whom I provide services to. In the early days I was directing my marketing pitch to just about anyone who would listen. Now I’ve narrowed it down to legal professionals and business creatives (coaches, writers, teachers, etc.).
HOW: What is the one thing you wish you knew before you started your business?
Tina: Honestly, nothing. It’s been the learning experiences that have made me better at what I do and made my services better for my clients. If I say I wish I’d found my ‘niche’ earlier than I wouldn’t have learned important lessons or realized why it’s so important. It’s like anything, if it’s handed to you on a silver platter you don’t tend to appreciate it quite as much.
HOW: What do you envision your business being like in 5 years?
Tina: I see Clerical Advantage being a multi-VA & VA referral business and THE company that legal professionals and business creatives think of first when they need a virtual assistant. I know my daughter is just waiting for the day when I’m ready to bring on another VA. I see myself being more of a teacher and speaker and a strong, highly visible advocate for virtual assistants, virtual paralegals and virtual legal assistants. I picture myself teaching classes of people who not only want to learn how to work with a virtual assistant, but people who want to know how to become a VA and grow a strong business. And maybe, just maybe, I’ll realize my dream of becoming a published author?
So there it is. Don’t forget to add your questions or comments to the comments section and take advantage of an opportunity to find out more about virtual assistants and the business of providing virtual assistance.
Next week it’s back to normal. I’ll be talking about the possibility of trading your services to get more exposure.