Guest Post Series

Today is the first of a series of blog posts, by VAs for VAs. I thought it would be a great idea to have a series of posts highlighting the work of a VA and getting top recommendations from VAs themselves. There will be posts from different VAs talking about what they do, and what is of benefit to them and other VAs. Guest blogger today is Christine Southon of CS Virtual Assistant. Christine talks about setting up and some of the things you need to take into account. In her next post for us, Christine will talk about her Top 5 Tools as a VA – so be on the lookout for that one. You can find Christine here:

Becoming a VA – Christine Southon

I was working in London in my dream job as PA to the Director of a European environmental organisation when my boss announced he would be stepping Becoming a VAdown from his role I new that there was a chance that the new Director would be based in Brussels, in our other office and he/she and I might not be compatible. So, I followed my long-time dream of opening my own business but at first, I didn’t know what it would be. It made sense to carry on utilising all the experience I had gained over a decade of working in Higher Education, Local Authority and environmental charities but just transferring it to a home office. Its important to have your own desk and space set up as your work station, preferably with a lovely view and natural light as you may end up spending a significant amount of time. Its important to get some of the insurances and registrations in place for example just some of the costs to consider:

These will be your outgoings and its important to know how much you will need to earn per week or month to afford these costs. It is not a regulated industry so hourly rates vary including the quality of work and the standards with personal data is handled and how securely it is stored. Some VAs are campaigning tireless to create an industry standard and in the meantime they encourage and educate all about what is expected. I set about getting myself visible with a website and a Facebook page (Twitter, Instagram, Facebook groups and LinkedIn) but it’s obvious that without the traffic to these places you won’t be getting noticed.

Tips and Advice

Seeking out tips and advice on how to get started on social media is important but, also it is a time-consuming job. You could invest in some training to start doing it yourself, you could then add that to your website as a service that you offer.

  1. 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.
  2. Know your moral and your ethical values. For example: the way you respond to a customer complaint.
  3. 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 as well as time to complete your own business administration such as recording receipts for your self-assessment tax returns, time for your social media, time for your own file tiding.

Gaining Clients

I gained my first client within 3 months of opening, it’s a differing 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 as well as researching local businesses, that are close-by. 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 and to physically hand over the receipts. 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 it 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 and 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 essential and very important for some business owners. As I mentioned above, I have my own dedicated office space set up with printer, shredder, lockable filing cabinet / safe, desk and office chair. I didn’t have these items from the outset it has been a gradual building of an environment works for me. I started off dedicating roughly 20 hours to my business each week and now I’ve reduced that to roughly 15 hours per week because I want to work flexibly – managing my work and family life work balance and I’ve started to utilise Associate Virtual Assistants to help me manage the client workload. In terms of productivity mornings seem to best of all for me; I write a to-do-list with only two large jobs to complete each time I work; I schedule social media every day between 08:30-09:00 am

Software I use

To run my business I use as much of the available and intuitive online software as possible which I an access from my phone as I can be travelling from my client’s site to my home twice a day so I make full use of the dead time for 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 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 – I like to do it myself directly into the 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 means that you must think of your own business as a client of yours so that you can have that objective view overseeing what you do for it. Being self-employed is a financial and emotional roller coaster as you can easily fall foul of the quiet periods and being unprepared for the busy periods as well as the dreaded impostor syndrome. But, luckily the social networks of support are evolving to meet all of our needs and who knows you might be the instigator of a great new initiative that will revolutionise the industry. Follow Christine on twitter @virtual_cs Find her FB page HERE  Look out for the next episode in the VA Blog Post Series

Fantastic and informative training and great to see all of the exciting functions with Microsoft Teams.
Laura Rigby – The Apprenticeship College
Shelley was really clear in her teaching and went at a pace that was helpful to us. We covered all we needed to know to get us started, as a small team, using MS Teams. She was also very helpful in the run up to the session, with check in calls and ensuring our platform was set up correctly. I would highly recommend Shelley to anyone wanting to learn to navigate their way around MS Teams.
Leigh Dowling – Innuous

Microsoft Teams One to One Training Session

Shelley was approachable, easy to work with, and agile with answering questions to apply the session to my specific needs

Melissa Marshall – Present Your Science

A course on Outlook had been on the top of my list when Shelley asked VA’s what they wanted to learn.

It was a real case of ‘so that’s how you do it’ or ‘I never knew that’. I have to say that I learnt so many great tips it has definitely improved the way I work in Outlook and my inbox is looking colourful and organised and I can’t wait to share this knowledge with my clients.

Jacqueline Leake – JLeake VA Services – Outlook

A great course with lots of examples and step by step instructions. I can now confidently create infographics and as a bonus, I learnt a lot of new PowerPoint functionality that will enhance all my PowerPoint work and save me so much time.

Jessica Bailey – Integral Resource

I really like Shelley’s courses. She has a clear and easy to follow teaching style. In ‘How to Create Fillable Forms’ I’ve learned about the functions of the Developer ribbon which will mean I’ll be able to create a bespoke Returns Form for a client who has an online shop

Freya Henderson – Virtual Office Orkney

Shelley was really clear in her teaching and went at a pace that was helpful to us. We covered all we needed to know to get us started, as a small team, using MS Teams. She was also very helpful in the run up to the session, with check in calls and ensuring our platform was set up correctly. I would highly recommend Shelley to anyone wanting to learn to navigate their way around MS Teams.

Sarah Clements – Inuous

Absolutely superb course, easy to follow and to refer back whilst putting it all into practice! I was unaware of the extent you can customise a presentation and it’s just made me want to know more – what’s next Shelley?

Denise Williams

I thought I had a pretty good grasp of Outlook until I did this course! In her videos, Shelley is clear and concise, and the language she uses is straightforward and jargon-free. Each module is broken down into manageable chunks, which helps keep your attention and means the course is easy to fit in around other commitments. I’ve created email templates and implemented rules that are already saving me time, and as all the other things I’ve learnt start to become second nature, the positive impact on my efficiency is fast becoming clear. This course has been incredibly beneficial and I would highly recommend it to anyone looking to strengthen their skills and boost productivity.

Pip Doleman VA

I thought I knew Powerpoint really well, but I wanted to specifically learn how to use Powerpoint to create better infographics, easily and quickly. Shelley explains everything in a very logical and clear way, so I understood everything the first time I heard it. The most useful thing I learnt was that Powerpoint can do so much more than I thought it could. By also using the short cuts that Shelley showed me I am much quicker than I have ever been and I thought I was already quick!

Susan Marot

Shelley Fishel of Tomorrow’s VA has a wealth of experience in Microsoft Office. I met her in person 2 years ago at the PA Show in London. I also saw her in action in a fab workshop and knew she was the whizz that everyone had told me she was. I have since bought a lifetime access to her HUB and all the courses in there are a MUST if you are a VA on a mission. The courses will give you confidence in all the Office 365 components and will catapult you to dizzy heights

Alex Hughes