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 Southam 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: www.csvirtualassistant.co.uk
Becoming a VA – Christine Southam
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 down 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.
It’s 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:
- data protection and GDPR registration with the ICO
- professional indemnity insurance, public liability insurance and employers’ liability insurance
- Setting up cloud-based storage
- Using business software rather than home and student for example Microsoft Office 365 and Windows 10
- Setting up a business bank account (can come with a free accountancy/bookkeeping package)
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 tirelessly 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) as 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.
- 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 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.
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 live 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 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 that 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 can 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.
Thank you Christine for such a great introduction to both yourself and your business and to some of things it takes to work as a VA. I for one am looking forward to the next instalment coming in a few weeks time.
Follow Christine on twitter @virtual_cs
Find Christine’s FaceBook page HERE
Look out for the next episode in the VA Blog Post Series every second Thursday of the month!