How I Became a Virtual Assistant
with Rebecca Flansburg
To continue on with our What It Takes To Be A Virtual Assistant series found on Franticmommy and Something2Offer, I asked Rebecca a ton of questions about what VA is and how to become one. Hold on to your seats as we set out on an income adventure of a lifetime! How I Became A Virtual Assistant will help see if being a VA is right for you!
How did you become a VA?
I worked in the office products industry for 30 years (started when I was 16) and I was BURNT OUT. I loved social media and had already been blogging for 5 years, but I couldn’t figure out how to make money at it. I lamented that to a friend one day and she said “oh! You want to be a VA!” Once I had that title “virtual assistant” I knew where to go look for support, I could research how to bill, I found places to look for clients etc. It all just fell into place
How did you transition from a traditional job to being a WAHM: VA?
My leap from full-time paying job with bennies was a carefully calculated and well-thought out one. Not to go deep into details, but my full-time had become a not-so-nice place to be and I just couldn’t do it anymore. That was compounded by the fact our kids (5 and 8 at the time) were in school and I felt I was missing out on so much of their life. I worked my VA business for about 7 months alongside my full-time job. It got to the point I just couldn’t do them both any more and chose business ownership and being available to my kids. I left my job November 30th of 2011 and never looked back.
Where did you first go to find out about options and pricing?
There are some great places to network and learn from other VA’s Angel Lebak was a great source of info for me as was VBSS. Here’s the links:
VBSS: VBSS (really good info here) http://ow.ly/gfGTB
What was your first VA job?
My first job was doing social media for Storkbrokers.com which is an on-line marketplace for moms to sell their gently used kids clothes and gear. Sterling and Bridget Hawkins were amazing bosses and we are still good friends to this day.
How did you build your portfolio/resume?
I built it little by little. Because I was so passionate about social media, I’d already been living, eating, and breathing it for years! Plus I was already freelance writing and blogging. Every time I saw a free course, I took it (Amy Porterfield, Melaine Duncan, Andrea Vahl, and Mari Smith all offer free webinars frequently).
Do you have to go find jobs or do the jobs find you?
I would say both. IN the beginning I found my clients on Elance and HireMyMom. I’ve also gained just as many clients via word-of-mouth and referrals. My largest and most favorite client is Audrey Press who also has Jump Into A Book. Valarie and I met at BlogHer Creative Connection event I swear it was fate that made us meet each other!
What does a typical day look like for you?
I get up at 5:00 a.m and dig in! I break around 7:00 to get the kids off to school, then it’s back to work. My goal is to always be done for the day at 3:00. Sometimes at night if everyone is bathed, fed, and happily playing I sneak upstairs and putter on more work. I work an easy 8-10 hours a day, but I can be flexible too. My work load is pretty big right now so I need to stay on top of things so I don’t get behind. I always try to give 150% to my clients.
What does one charge for VA services?
It really depends on skills and experience. VA’s just starting out might have to take some jobs that pay $10-$15, but I would shoot for the $25+ an hour range.
Have you found smaller service packages or larger service packages to be more favored?
That is a very good question. I would highly recommend packages. I didn’t do this in the beginning of my business and I can certainly see the benefits. VA Agencies have clients buy and prepay for “blocks of time” (usually 4 hour block). When those hours are used up (they have 60 days in which to use the hours), they are billed for 4 more. I really would like to switch to this billing method with any new incoming clients in 2013.
Do you work with individuals or companies?
My clients are all Internet-based business or marketers. I have a couple of local ones ( a realtor and an eye clinic) but the rest range from a New York Publicist to a gal who runs a Creative Retreat business. I like the variety. I also work for two VA agencies as well and I would recommend this too. VA Agencies are like the Pro Staff of the on-line world. The agency is owned by a single person and she employs a team of VA’s to fulfill the needs of her clients. I do like the security and consistency of working with an agency.
Have you seen any scams associated with VA?
Heck yeah! They are everywhere. Proceed with caution. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Stick with reputable sites like ODesk or HireMyMom to find clients.
Is there certifications or credentials to achieve as VA?
There are def. certifications you can get and that will also help you charge more for your services. VAClassroom is the best place I have found for these classes. They are not cheap, but if they help you charge more in the long run you will easily recoup that money. Right now I am taking my Digital Publishing Certification and hope to finish before the end of the year.
What are the bare minimum basic skills you would rec. as VA?
Honestly, this is a virtual world we live in and the majority of your clients will be on-line. Being Internet savvy is a must and having some knowledge of social media and blogging is good as well. Many companies who are looking for VA’s these days want to know if you are familiar with Google products, Hootsuite, social media, DropBox, Basecamp, and WordPress. Once you start looking for clients, you will very quickly see what they are looking for and the more you know, the better you will be.
What services should be offered at first to start out?
That totally depends on you and what your skillset is. There are VA’s for bookkeeping, help desk, social media, copywriting, sales, general admin like appointment making etc, pretty much the main functions of business. Tap into what your strengths are. What do you have a “knack” for. If you have a knack for WordPress or research, make that part of your skillset list. Many clients just need basic help so if you know your way around Hootsuite or buffer and know how to create a Tweet or Facebook post, it’s all good
Best Piece of Advice: Here’s a Few:
*Never work for a client without a signed contract
*Do tasks and projects that make your heart sing so it doesn’t feel like drudgery!
*Never stop learning and growing
*Find a mentor. Someone you can ask for advice and direction.
*Spend money to make money. I WISH I would have bought something like this VA Starter Kit in the beginning! It would have saved me a ton of time: http://ow.ly/gguVB
*Give it time. Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither will your business. Keep moving forward every day. Even if it’s millimeters.
* Google is your friend: Google Virtual Assistant and just start reading and exploring.
The Downsides: What are They?
I would say there are several. I personally don’t mind, but it seems you are never completely “away” from your work. I set boundaries with my clients that they can’t request work after hours or on weekends (unless they pay extra for it), but that doesn’t mean I don’t putter on things. When you are a VA, it’s all about the billable hour so I try to make best use of my time.
Another thing to be mindful is that fact that, as an independent contractor/business owner…you are your own boss. This means you need to have structure and guidelines to keep yourself on track.
Another would be a common problem for any business owner and that is the fact that sometimes people don’t pay. Whenever possible, get pre-payment and if a client does fall behind on payment, stop working immediately. My Minnesota–nice got the best of me once and I kept working for a client even though they kept getting further and further behind. It was an expensive mistake on my part since that is money you will likely never see. Protect yourself and stop, even if you like the client a lot.
CHECK OUT Rebecca’s article this week:
How to Know When it’s Time to Hire a VA.