This is a Virtual Assistant case study on yours truly! This is the story of how and why I became a Virtual Assistant, what I did before I went freelance, how I manage clients and what I’d do differently if I had to start again. I set up Munro PA Services at the end of 2008 and I live happily by the sea in sunny Brighton.
What I did for a living before I became a VA
Most of my working life was in hospitality and events because I like every day to be different, enjoy multitasking and love solving problems. But even though I liked working in these industries, when you work for a company there are always office politics, crappy bosses who are useless at managing people, and at least one imbecile who needs to be carried and gets away with doing sod-all. Plus, the hours can be long and customers are often a nightmare.
And this is why I’ve always preferred to work alone!
When I first heard about VAs or became aware they even existed
After I decided to be one. After being offered some part-time work by a Juggler (yes, you read correctly) I think I Googled ‘ad-hoc admin support’ or something similar and discovered there was a name for what I wanted to do. I knew I wanted to be a VA as soon as I found out they sorted out stuff for people!
What the trigger was for me becoming a VA
One day a friend mentioned that her husband (a professional juggler who’d been in Harry Potter films) needed admin help four hours a week doing online market research for the circus training sessions he ran in local schools. This got me thinking… if a Juggler needed a PA, then maybe other people did too.
I decided then and there that I was going to set up my own business because I knew this was something I’d be really good at. I’m extremely organised, I love new technology, social media, solving problems, helping people and basically ‘sorting shit out’. The thought of being able to work for myself doing all the things I loved was incredibly exciting and within a week I’d set up my business.
Did I just leave my job or start VA-ing gradually?
Actually, I just jumped right in with both feet! I’m not a person to mess around when I want to do something, and I’ve always figured life is too short to not do whatever makes you happy. If you play it safe all the time, where would all the adventures be?!
But I didn’t dump my job straight away either.
I’d once done 12 days festival work with a friend who ran an event bars company so, seven months after registering my business with some business cards, a pretty rubbish but clear and functional website, a couple of clients and a whole lot of determination, I took my friend up on his offer to help at five festivals over the Summer and left my events job.
I knew the festival work would pay the rent for a while and I would use my spare time to find more clients.
(This blog post addresses when you should leave your job to become a full-time VA)
Where I found the help or advice I needed when I set up
I found quite a few new VA advice websites online but the information they provided didn’t reflect the way I saw myself. I felt they used quite old-fashioned business models and language and I wanted to go with my own style and follow more of a modern approach.
I focused on reading advice on Freelancer websites and used Twitter to see which marketing, blogging, tech, social media and business experts I should follow. I was definitely more excited by their way of looking at work, and I spent every waking moment reading and learning and applying and trying out what I’d read. I still do.
What my niche is
I faffed around with my niche for a while but now I focus on social media, research, newsletters and autoresponders, squeeze pages and Gmail wizardry for a range of people but mainly social media consultants and digital marketers. I also still help coordinate a couple of events each year.
(You should have a niche and this post tells you how to decide what it should be and how I ended up settling on mine)
How I would you say I’m different from other VAs
I’m really into new technology and I absolutely LOVE social media and learning new things. I have a personal interest in social media so I spend a lot of time reading about it – which means that I now know a lot about it. I’m completely self-taught but one of my marketer clients once said I know a lot more than people claiming to be “experts” in the subject – which made me happy and proud.
I’m also very particular about what clients I take on and I only work with organised, techie professionals and not flaky ‘creative’ types who want me to run their lives for them.
I don’t follow the herd and I set my business to run the way I want it to.
What the best thing is about being a VA
Easy – freedom. I always wanted to be completely virtual so I could set my own hours and create a lifestyle that suited me and not my clients. I didn’t go into business for myself to have the same kind of restrictions I had as an employee, so I make sure I assess and adjust my business model as I go along so I don’t wander off track.
I really like that some days I can take myself to the cinema then work late or at the weekend, and I also like that the possibilities are endless. As a VA you can literally do anything you want to – you just learn about something then offer it as a service once you’re confident you can do it.
What the hardest thing is about being a VA
Ha, the trouble with having a completely virtual lifestyle is that you do actually have to do the work at some point! The internet can be such a time suck and, because my niche is social media, keeping up to date with changes can be time-consuming.
Taking holidays can also be tricky and I think feeling that you’re ‘allowed’ to take time to switch off can be difficult for freelancers in general. I also didn’t realise when I started freelancing that you fall in and out of love with it. It comes in cycles and waves but I found out it’s completely normal and that you actually just need a holiday!
How virtual I am
I am 100% virtual. Although I usually work from Brighton, I can and have worked from hotels, airport lounges, holiday apartments and poolsides across the world. A completely virtual way of life is very important to me and I’ve taken many steps to ensure that everything I do is task-based and not work that needs to be completed at specific times of the day and thus tying me to my desk.
Although I’m fascinated with Digital Nomads and the idea of working remotely from anywhere in the world, I’m not quite ready to pack up and travel continuously yet but, because I want to have that option, I make sure everything I say yes to allows that freedom.
How I find my clients
I used to go networking and I sometimes get enquiries through referrals, organic web traffic and social media but, because I’m very specific about what type of clients and tasks I want, I go out and find my own clients. I have a method that works for me every time I use it but I’m not giving away my secrets here so you can buy my download and find out!
How I manage my work/life balance
I don’t really! Although I always wanted a work life with blurred edges (retiring for me implies that working is awful and retirement is a reward for enduring years of misery), and event work means I have to remain flexible, I do need to make sure I don’t work 24/7 as I love working and can sometimes burn out.
I don’t have any children so although I don’t need to do things at set times, I write better in the morning, I only reply to emails twice a day, I try to finish around 2pm every day and I also take Fridays off to work on my business whenever I can.
I don’t really have distinct work and personal lives – I just have one life with everything in it.
How I manage my clients and their expectations
I make sure I set out how I work right from the initial consultation. We discuss the task, the deadline, the budget, how we’re going to communicate, when and about what.
I cannot stress enough how important clear and frequent communication is. And it’s YOU who needs to take the lead, not the client. They’ve probably never hired a VA before so they are looking for you to lead.
What I’d do differently if I had to start again
Not much. There’s no way I could’ve just set up and become the same VA I am now – I needed to go on the journey to learn the things I did and develop my method, style and skills. It’s a process and you build up your knowledge and confidence over time. You can only gain experience through trial, error and time.
Saying that, I wouldn’t have wasted time networking to generic business people who weren’t my target client but should have reviewed which marketing method secured the best clients and stuck with it sooner.
Continuously reviewing your marketing methods, processes and clients is important.
What advice I give to anyone considering becoming a VA
Read the rest of this site and stick with me because the fantastic advice is just gonna keep on comin’! Seriously though, I’d be lying if I said that running your business wasn’t a helluva lot of hard work; but it is also 100% totally and utterly worth it.
You feel like you’re really living and not sleepwalking through your one wild and precious life.
Wanna set up your own VA business?
If you found my story inspiring then enrol in my flagship DIY VA course and take the first step of your own journey today.
With lifetime access and an incredible trainee-only support group, I guide you through the entire process and am always on hand to support you.
I find your story inspiring. Many have think that being a VA is the least you can do if you can’t find an office job but for me I think being a VA is like having an office job, there is no much more different its just you work on your home.
This post is really helpful – thank you! I’m gradually working my way through the information on your website and think it’s a fantastic resource.
I like the idea of doing project-based work rather than regular tasks, as I want the flexibility to take holiday when I want. I also tend to prefer projects. I’m glad to see that the project work approach has worked for you.
I like the fact that you did some work for a juggler! It goes to show that there’s interesting work out there if you go looking for it.
Thanks for sharing your expertise through this site.
Hi Jo, thanks for all the info here. I’ll be reading each article and following religiously. I was in Brighton a couple of months ago but couldn’t find your contact details as wanted to meet you. Oh well, I have all the info I need here so will make do with that. I must admit I’m a bit petrified and anxious but determined to excel at it as I do not have a plan B. Will keep you posted. Thanks for taking out time to write all these. God bless.
I have just read your case study above – it’s written very honestly and is refreshingly down to earth, so thank you. I’m thinking about making the scary leap from office based PA to home based VA myself and wondered how you switch off when you go on holiday. In your case study, you said you have worked from hotel rooms and pool sides and I wondered if it’s possible to ever truly switch off when you’re a busy VA looking after several clients. Given that one of the reasons I want to become a VA is for a better work/life balance so that I can focus more on family life, any further insights you can give me would be greatly appreciated. (By the way, I ordered your download on how to get clients yesterday – it was incredibly useful and provided a clear, cohesive plan of action so thank you very much!) Lorraine
Hi Lorraine, thank you for your comment. I particularly wanted a career with blurred work edges but having a more defined working structure (for any freelancer really) is all about organisation and managing expectations. I’ve noticed that a lot of my trainees – because they’re all ex-PAs I guess – think they have to accommodate their clients every whim and bend to what it is the client wants rather than what works them. Becoming a freelancer is very much a mindset thing, and it does take a little while before you suddenly realise that you’re now in control of your own working day and career and don’t have to be at someone’s beck and call like you were in a full-time job.
When you go away on a ‘proper’ holiday where you’ve decided you’re not working at all, you need to give your clients plenty of notice (they will still all dump work on you before you go though!) so they know you’re not available. You then put your out of office on, record a voice message, turn your phone off and have a holiday!
If you’re planning to work whilst on holiday Digital Nomad style, then you need to set out your day in a way that suits you and fits in with your family plans. So for example, when I worked in Verona, I checked my emails and did a bit of work first thing in the morning then again either just before or after dinner. This method also worked poolside in France although I would sometimes do an hour in the middle of the afternoon. As long as the work gets done (this works better if you’re a task-based VA rather than one who does daily ongoing tasks) then it doesn’t matter where you are or what time it is. I sometimes don’t even tell my clients I’m away if it’s not going to effect their work in any way.
Remember that you’re not here to please people all the time and that your clients are people just like you and understand you need a holiday now and then. You might also want to establish set hours and not answer emails before or after those times. You do this by outlining your hours to clients when you take them on and even put your working hours in your email signature. In my experience, it’s the VA who puts the pressure on themselves to do everything now and to respond immediately, not the client.
I hope that helped. Thank you for buying my download by the way, I’m really chuffed your found it useful. x
Hi Joanne, it’s been such a joy getting to know you and receiving your email updates. From my own VA story on your website, I mentioned how I invested in support from VA coaches and they were great. But I sure wish your site was around or if it was, I wish I knew about it when I first started out. Either way, I’m so glad we connected!!
I like what you have to share on your blog and throughout your websites because it’s practical and that’s what new VA’s need to see. Practical + Uniqueness. Your site is now one that I visit often.
What a lovely thing to say. I’m absolutely honoured that you would think that of my site and I just hope I can continue to provide information that people find valuable. I wrote it because I thought a lot of the info out there was crap, so I’m really happy that I’ve achieved my goal of providing a better source of information. x
Thanks for sharing your story and your knowledge. After reading your story, I discovered just how alike we are. You are my VA idol, for sure. I will definitely be downloading your fool-proof method for getting clients.
Don’t call me a VA idol or I’ll never get my head out the door!! Thank you for your kind words though and I’m really pleased you’ve found my story and the site helpful. The guide is the only method I use to get clients – in fact the last time I used it, I got a client that gives me so much work that I don’t actually need any more clients!
I’ve just done it! Still on contract to my company for another week but have ventured into social media – something I don’t yet fully understand – and already I have interest. I understand these queries are yet to generate actual work but it is an encouraging start to the world of the VA.
I really do appreciate your information, I find it fires me up and is so encouraging. As you say, there is such a vast array of work for VA’s depending on skills and work preferences, the possibilities are endless, (despite so many who give that blank stare when you tell them what you do!). I love it already.
G&T time, cheers!
I cannot tell you how happy your comment has made me! I am thrilled that you’re starting your journey into becoming a full-time VA and, as I said, it’s hard but it’s 100% worth it. Keep us up to date with your progress and good luck! x