This is a VA case study and interview with Becky Considine. After years of high level admin experience and work as a PA and EA within the NHS, Becky decided to re-evaluate her career after having her second daughter. She runs her business from Oxford, England and launched OXVAS (Oxford Virtual Assistant Service) at the end of 2013.
What did you do for a living before you became a VA?
My career started in the travel industry, taking me on to further customer service, office manager and project manager roles and finally to the NHS. I worked my way up from an administrator to EA to the Director of Nursing.
When did you first hear about the existence of VAs?
I first became aware of VAs around 2006 when a colleague of mine was leaving her current post to become a VA. I remember thinking at the time “what a fantastic idea, but how would it work and how would you get clients on board?”
It wasn’t until I had my first daughter in 2010 that the thought of becoming a VA sprung to mind again. I spoke with a friend who owns a recruitment agency about the possibilities and whether she knew any VAs.
She told me that in theory the idea was great and she’d known people who had tried, but in reality it didn’t work. I thanked her for her honest opinion and parked the idea and those words of advice.
What was the trigger for you setting up your VA business?
After having my second daughter, I really had to think about my career. The NHS was changing and there seemed to be restructure after restructure and band reviews with no pay increases. I knew that if I went back after maternity leave I wouldn’t be entirely happy and financially I wasn’t sure if it was worth my while with the increasing cost of child care and living in general.
Whilst on maternity leave the VA idea snuck back in to my mind, but then so did my friends opinion. But this time it was different, I couldn’t get the thought of being a VA out of my head. I wanted to work from home and be around for my girls, so I started doing some research on if there were other local VAs, what they charged, testimonials from clients etc.
I was really surprised with my findings and the fact some VAs had been established for a long time, were successful, had wonderful client testimonials and a range of skills.
I had whet my appetite and I now knew I wanted to become a Virtual Assistant. I had done my research and now just needed to convince my husband, which as it turned out wasn’t such a hard job. He also thought it was a great idea and solution to our circumstances, in fact he had every faith that I would succeed.
Did you just leave your job or start VA-ing gradually?
I resigned from my job whilst on maternity leave. I’d completed my research, been in touch with a developer to build my website, was starting to write the content for the site and was looking into marketing my new business venture.
Although my maternity didn’t end until December 2013 and I was aware that I had to return to my post for three months post maternity. Fortunately, my maternity cover, although she didn’t want a permanent position, was willing to stay on for three months which allowed me to go on ‘gardening leave’.
I was free to become a VA !
Where did you find the help or advice you needed to set up?
I basically went online and conducted my own research. I looked at other VA websites and looked at marketing opportunities and decided there was a market out there for VAs.
Who was your first client?
Lydiah Igweh of BWGC (Business Womens Growth Club) as Events and Membership Coordinator.
Do you have a niche?
I cover all aspects of administration that support businesses including event management, data entry, email management, WordPress updates… the list goes on.
How would you say you were different from other VAs?
I have over 20 years admin experience, many of them working at as a high level EA. I offer a flexible, reliable and professional service. A lot of VAs specialise in a certain area such as social media, web development, transcription etc but I offer an all-round service for those needing administrative help and assistance.
What’s the best thing about being a VA?
Having the freedom to choose when I work and being able to work around my young family. Through networking, I’ve met many interesting people and being a VA has definitely opened up my mind to new ways of thinking, working and opportunities and to a whole new world of business.
I received an email from a woman following a recent interview I did with my local newspaper on whether mothers should go out to work, saying how she felt I’d inspired her and could she meet me to talk about how I became a VA. So working with other mothers who don’t want to return to being a paid employee is also something I’m keen to do and promote.
A few months ago the friend who was slightly sceptical of my becoming a VA has now applauded and congratulated my efforts, determination and success, and even nominated me for the Venus Business Women’s Awards. It was just announced on 2nd September 2014 that I’m a semifinalist for the Home Based Business category!
What’s the hardest thing about being a VA?
The hardest thing and the biggest learning curve for me has been working with that one client who refuses to pay you for your time – I’m on a big credit control learning curve at the moment. This experience has been frustrating, but at the same time I’m still learning how to deal with a situation unknown to me, so whatever the outcome, there will still be a positive in it for me.
How virtual are you?
I’ve travelled to clients’ premises in the past, however they were extremely local to me. Since having an office built in my garden (clever husband), I now work 100% virtually. I don’t mind going to scheduled meetings but I only work from my office now.
How do you find your clients?
Most clients have found me though Google searching for Virtual Assistant in Oxford. Through clever marketing, I am listed number two and I do a lot of advertising on free sites.
In Oxford we have a local site where people can advertise their jobs and you can advertise your services and I’ve also obtained work through this avenue. Last week, even my local library recommended me to someone!
How do you manage your work/life balance?
I have a young family, so I work around them and have two child-free days to work and network. I work most afternoons and will work in the evenings and weekends if I’m available. One of the appealing things about becoming a VA was that I could plan my work around my family.
How do you manage your clients and their expectations?
It’s essential you understand the work you’re being contracted to carry out and always ensure deadlines are met. Before submitting any work, read and re-read. There would be nothing worse than sending something back with half the document missing or full of typos. I’ve always maintained a good working relationship with my clients offering mutual respect, consultant to client, business to business.
What technology, websites or apps are invaluable to your working life?
Microsoft office, WordPress, Firefox, PDFlite, Adobe, MailChimp, Google, Evernote, Camcard and Yast are the software programmes I use. For social media I use Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. I also work from a laptop and use my phone or tablet when out and about.
Would you do anything differently if you had to start again?
Probably not, I have no regrets to date.
What advice would you give to someone considering becoming a VA?
Firstly decided what type of service you want to offer and do your homework. Look into networking and decide how you’re going to market your business. It will take a little while to get established – nothing is going to happen overnight. Make sure your website is accurate, current, easy to read and informative and always carry business cards with you as you never know who you’ll meet in your daily routine.
Have belief in yourself, If you’re good at what you do then shout about it! Make sure you have dedicated working space, and dedicated working time. Before offering your services, make sure your own administration is in order with things like logos, invoice templates, contract agreements and confidentiality agreements etc.
Once you’re up and running, make sure you have your Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn business pages up and actively use them. Finally, join a couple of networking groups and get talking to people – there’s a really interesting world out there with people who need people like you to help their business grow.
Connect with Becky Considine on Facebook.