This is a Virtual Assistant case study and interview with Jama St. John from Strategic Virtual Solutions. Jama manages a team of VAs from her farm in Franklin, Georgia, has clients all over America, Canada and Australia, and has been a Virtual Assistant since 1996.
What did you do for a living before you became a VA?
Before becoming a VA, I worked as a legal secretary for two of the biggest law firms in the US. After this, I went on to work as an administrative assistant for a local bank.
When did you first hear about the existence of VAs?
I became a VA before the term VA existed. I first heard of the concept when a friend told me about the option of working from home doing business support.
What was the trigger for you setting up your VA business?
My son had an illness called Cyclic Vomiting Syndrome, which he developed when he was 18 months old. The illness caused him to get violently ill for around five days every couple of months and I would miss work as a result. When I interviewed for my last job, I told them about this and they were okay with it and they would work with me on the missed days.
But after a couple of years, they became intolerant, so I decided it was time to stay at home with my son, who was eight, and my daughter, who was three. Now I can’t imagine going back to the workforce.
Did you just leave your job or start VA-ing gradually?
I just jumped right in. When I had had enough at my job, I left and immediately started my business.
Where did you find the help or advice you needed to set up?
I did it all on my own. At that time, the Internet didn’t have all the information available that it has now. I joined the Association of Business Support Services International, which no longer exists, and when the International Virtual Assistants Association formed, I joined it as well.
As other organizations and information have become available, I’ve continued to read and educate myself. In 2012 I hired a business coach and that was a real turning point in my business.
Who was your first client?
It’s been way too long, and I don’t even remember!! I do still have clients that have been around since close to the beginning of the business, but none of them was the first.
Do you have a niche?
We work with business coaches, speakers, and authors and we offer a wide range of technical services and online marketing strategies. We’re a multi-VA team, so every team member has their own area that they’re an expert in. I am an Infusionsoft Certified Partner, therefore our speciality is selling, training, and implementing Infusionsoft.
* Since this interview, Strategic Virtual Solutions has now become Your Online Marketing Team.
How would you say you were different from other VAs?
We’re different because our team members have highly technical training and skills, and because our focus and expertise are in Infusionsoft. We’re also unique in that we provide our clients with online marketing strategy and are proactive with their businesses.
Clients see us as truly partnering with them as we work together to see their businesses reach full potential. Our clients also benefit from the fact that I have personally created products and written books, and I coach other Virtual Assistants in their businesses.
My experience in doing these things for myself naturally carries over into the expertise and insight that I bring to my clients’ businesses.
What’s the best thing about being a VA?
The best thing about being a VA is enjoying all the different clients I get to work with, as well as the variety of tasks that we’re involved in. There’s never a dull moment!
What’s the hardest thing about being a VA?
The hardest thing is always wanting to serve and doing “favours” for clients, which always seems to come back to haunt me!
How virtual are you?
Our team only works from home, and members are located across the US and Canada.
How do you find your clients?
I attend networking events on a regular basis and meet many clients at these events. I also receive referrals from other clients.
How do you manage your work/life balance?
I try really hard to respect my own personal boundaries around stopping work at a certain time and not working on the weekends. As any VA knows, this can be difficult to do and I really have to be disciplined about recognizing my need for personal time.
How do you manage your clients and their expectations?
During our initial conversation, I make sure the client is very clear on the working hours, our project management system, and the fact that the team is in different time zones.
We do try to make sure every client feels like they’re the only client, but we also have to put boundaries in place so they understand that frequent, last minute tasks can’t always get done last minute.
What technology, websites or apps are invaluable to your working life?
With a team of 20+ team members, we couldn’t work without Teamwork as our project management system. I also use QuickBooks for my bookkeeping. In addition, I use Infusionsoft for my email marketing, CRM and shopping cart. And lastly, Evernote is on every computer and my phone. It’s so easy to put a thought in Evernote!
Would you do anything differently if you had to start again?
If I had to start again, I’d educate myself better upfront, and I would create Standard Operating Procedures earlier in my business. I’d also probably not wait so long to start my multi-VA team.
I started my business in ’96 as a solo VA and it wasn’t until 2011 that I started the team. Before then, I tried to do it all myself. Now it’s nice to have a team that knows their own stuff!
What advice would you give to someone considering becoming a VA?
You can do it! Educate yourself and create a plan. But the plan isn’t enough: you have to act on that plan. You’re creating a business and you are the CEO and President of that business, so make sure to treat your business and yourself with the respect and professionalism needed to see you through to success.
Connect with Jama St John on Facebook.