This is a Virtual Assistant case study and interview with Tom Lingard. Based in Birmingham, Tom set up his VA business, The Remote Assistant in August 2020 and specialises in creative projects. Outside of the office Tom enjoys exploring the wonderful sights and scenes of the UK and also loves travelling the world as a digital nomad.
What did you do for a living before you became a VA?
Prior to becoming a VA, I worked for a university as PA to the Director and later as a programme coordinator. I worked with staff at various levels and was involved in a variety of interesting projects with several different teams.
When did you first hear about VAs or became aware they even existed?
In 2018, I worked as a live chat operator from home, where I had to work most evenings, which wasn’t the routine I wanted at all.
I was good with computers and admin in general (having helped my supervisor at the time with reporting and organising the team) and started searching online for keywords such as “work from home”, “remote administrator/PA and other various positions, which brought me to several of Jo’s blogs.
So, as you can see, I had no idea that being a Virtual Assistant was even a thing!
Ninety nine percent of my research on the world of Virtual Assistants actually led me to The VA Handbook website.
What was the trigger for you becoming a VA?
Although I loved my last job and got on really well with the employer (I still do some client work for them now) I’ve always looked five years ahead – what can I do next?, what other challenges can I take on, how can I earn more doing what I love?
Did you just leave your job or start VA-ing gradually?
I spent quite some time researching before I put my findings into action alongside my full-time job in November 2020, I then handed in my notice in December 2021 and became full-time self-employed in January 2022.
I started getting client work in from June 2021, and then by August the income from two days a week (and some ad-hoc work) was 50% of my full-time salary, so I then dropped down to three days at work before leaving in December 2021 as I had a few more projects in the pipeline ready for the new year.
Where did you find the help or advice you needed when setting up?
Although I was part of many freelancer groups on Facebook, a lot of them are just full of spam. I now focus on the VA Handbookers Facebook group and the Rock Stars trainee-only group
I actually spend most of my time in the Rock Stars group as you are immediately able to post questions to 800+ members and get responses in minutes, which is gold.
Who was your first client and how did you get them?
My very first client was the founder of a West Midlands-based PA network and also ran his own sales consultancy business in the events and hospitality industry.
I called him and said that I was looking to become a VA and wondered if I could join the network in a voluntary capacity so that I could start networking and take part in the events etc.
In a spontaneous turn of events, he explained that he was looking for a VA and would love to trial my support for a few months. I worked with him for a year until I moved on to other client work.
Do you have a niche?
Nine months into full-time self-employment, I still don’t think I have a niche. I enjoy working on creative and technical projects though and have found myself working for all types of consultants.
In the last few months, I have started creating WordPress websites, which is going well, however, I’m not looking to niche into this as I love my PA work too.
How would you say you were different from other VAs?
This is a hard one to answer.
Aside from being male, of course, I feel like my business is completely passion-led. As although I have experience as a PA, I have nowhere near the length of service of most people who have done it for years.
This allows me to bring a modern perspective to my angle.
I have always been passionate about the creative and technical side of things, and I think others immediately see this when we talk.
What’s the best thing about being a VA?
For me, quality of life is so important. My set goals for becoming a VA were being able to take regular holidays, working abroad, having a good income and affording my own spacious apartment in a lovely area of central Birmingham.
I’m delighted to say that I have now achieved all of these, and I’m so excited to see what the future brings!
What’s the hardest thing about being a VA?
Making sure you have regular income can be stressful, but there are ways around this, like securing so many hours each month with your client in advance or by working on a retainer agreement (where you take payment upfront).
Luckily, I have developed really good relationships with my clients and so I’ve been able to secure long-term work with most of them.
I also still doubt the quality of my work sometimes as working on your own, you don’t have a manager for appraisals or feedback.
However, it is now up to you as the VA to create regular touch points to keep your clients in the loop and make sure everything is in good stead.
It’s still very strange that nine months in, I am in charge of my own small business and that all of the decisions, big or small, are up to me!
How virtual are you?
My clientele spans from around the UK and internationally, so I’m 99% home-based but I catch up with local clients for coffee and lunch sometimes.
How do you find your clients?
I’m a member of several networking groups including the Chambers of Commerce, BusinessBuzz and CircleNetworks. The Federation of Small Businesses looks good too, but I’ve not been to any of their events yet.
How do you manage your personal/work life balance?
Until a few months ago, I had around ten clients and was working long hours and weekends.
My goal was to up my rate across the board and reduce the number of clients I worked for. I now work for two main clients and have ad-hoc project work which facilities the same income.
Although it has been busy, this hasn’t stopped me from travelling as I’ve been abroad three times this year – twice as a digital nomad.
I now work fairly normal hours and no weekends.
How do you manage your clients, their work and their expectations?
Similar to my previous role, I order my work by priorities and deadlines, managing everything through Monday.com and my written to-do list.
My clients are lovely and understanding and are happy as long as we communicate regularly.
Timewise, I like to work 25 billable hours a week minimum, and nowadays I know roughly how much time each client needs so I can plan out my diary to facilitate them.
I would, however, recommend allowing more time than anticipated when time blocking your diary, to allow for running over and any interruptions.
What technology, websites, or apps are invaluable to your working life?
I’m loving Monday.com at the moment as it’s really flexible and visual which is good for me. It allows you to split up tasks however you like by independently naming each section as well as adding due dates for each item.
It really helps me to batch work for each client as well as provide an overview of all my tasks together.
Would you do anything differently if you had to start again?
Networking is super important, get yourself out there, and tell everyone what you do!
Get over your imposter syndrome, you’re the only one worrying about it.
For me, (and naturally as a PA), I prefer to follow instructions. I spent some time reading through all of Jo’s blog posts and resources on her website but didn’t take any action.
The golden moment was when I signed up for Jo’s DIY VA course, where I was given regular homework, guidance and support from the group – the encouragement to get stuck in and crack on has been pivotal to the running of my business.
So set yourself a goal and get on with it!
What advice would you give to someone considering becoming a VA?
It’s not easy or quick, but building the foundations of anything takes time.
I enrolled in the DIY VA course on Black Friday in 2020 and then spent around eight months networking, building my website, working on my LinkedIn page and asking loads of questions in the Rock Stars group all alongside my full-time job.
I worked evenings and weekends until my hard work had paid off and my business took off. So just remember that it will take time.
Connect with Tom Lingard on LinkedIn.
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