This is a Virtual Assistant case study and interview with Kathryn Hall. Kathryn runs My Virtual Sidekick, is based in Shoreham in Sussex and has been providing admin support and transcription services to creative women since 2011. This is the story of how she became a VA.
What did you do for a living before you became a VA?
I’d always worked in the field of education and my experience covered a lot of administrative, event management and advisory roles. I’d gained a lot of experience in PA type roles and also roles where high organisational skills were required.
When did you first hear about the existence of VAs?
To be honest, I can’t really remember! It’s one of those careers I was aware of long before I actually made the move to become a VA myself. In the back of my mind I always thought it would be a great idea but earlier on in my career I didn’t have any desire to be freelance and so it didn’t really register as an option for me.
What was the trigger for you setting up your VA business?
Well, the main trigger for me was that my opinions on becoming freelance began to shift. I had become increasingly restless in employment and had started reading about people creating amazing lives for themselves by starting their own thing.
I found it very inspiring but at that stage, I’d forgotten about virtual assisting and I didn’t really know what I could sell. Then one day a friend of mine who is a freelance photographer was moaning about how much he hated the admin that went with running his business.
It was one of those moments when the light bulb turned on – I had the skills and experience in an employed setting, why not move them into a self-employed setting? So that’s what I did!
Where did you find the help or advice you needed to set up?
Early on, a lot of the help I found was online. I started reading lots of business websites and educating myself on good practices, systems to use and marketing strategies. I also met up for a coffee with a few more experienced VAs in my local area (including you!) to have a chat and get some advice.
Who was your first client?
The very first bit of paid work that I did was actually for another VA (one of the VAs I’d gone for a coffee with!) She was going on holiday and needed someone to keep an eye on her client emails while she was away.
It was just for a couple of days but was a great little taster into what I could expect if I continued down this route. It’s also a great example of why it’s great to view other VAs in your area as a support network rather than competition.
Do you have a niche?
My focus has always been working with creative individuals who are running small businesses. They often don’t have the time or inclination to complete all the administrative tasks and would far rather be spending their time on the creative tasks where they really thrive.
After offering both VA and transcription services for a while, I decided to move sideways and focus solely on transcription. That is now my niche and what I pretty much do all the time now.
How would you say you were different from other VAs?
I would say that my approach to clients is very relaxed. I advertise myself on Twitter as the VA minus the grey suit and the web copy on my website is very chatty and relaxed. Some people may look at that and feel that it’s unprofessional but the type of client that I’m looking to attract love it – which is what’s most important!
What’s the best thing about being a VA?
Hands down it’s the freedom you get with being self-employed. I love working from home and I can’t imagine it any other way now.
What’s the hardest thing about being a VA?
I think one of the hardest things when you’re just getting started, is to establish exactly what you can help people with. People that class themselves as Virtual Assistants can do all manner of things and it’s very dependant on the skills you have and who you plan to work with.
A barrister needing a bit of record keeping and minute taking support needs totally different skills to a photographer who may want someone with strong creative and techie skills. It’s a bit of an experiment when you are first getting started but the quicker you can establish a niche for yourself, the easier it will be the provide tailored support to these individuals.
How virtual are you?
I’m very much a work from home only kind of VA. Very few of my clients are local to me anyway (I have clients in America and Australia!) and I actually work with a lot of online businesses, so it suits them to have someone they can simply email work to.
How do you find your clients?
Initially, I did a lot of work on social media and online communities which is how I gained my first few clients. These days I do much less of that and 90% of the enquiries I get come from recommendations. The first few clients will always be the hardest to get.
How do you manage your work/life balance?
I don’t have any children so (for the moment at least!) I have a huge amount of flexibility and freedom with my time although it can be very hard to switch off from work sometimes. I try and keep weekends completely work free and have a room in my home which is used solely as an office.
When my working day is up I close the door and that’s work done for the day. It’s not always that easy but you have to try and maintain some boundaries otherwise work is always on your mind.
How do you manage your clients and their expectations?
Before taking on any new client I make sure they are clear on how I work. I have a welcome pack that they can browse from home to learn more about me and I always get clients to sign a work agreement before any work is done (which states when I’m available etc)
Keeping open communication is the most important factor, particularly if you work completely virtually. I’m always clear on when I can get work done by and will always put this in writing even if we’ve had a phone conversation about it.
Do you work to set hours?
Not really, although I’m pretty much always at my desk by 8am and where possible only work Monday to Friday. I do think that one of the huge bonuses of being your own boss is that you have the freedom and flexibility to work when you like so I choose not to limit myself by setting strict hours.
What technology, websites or apps are invaluable to your working life?
I couldn’t live without Evernote for capturing information, Echosign for getting contracts signed, WordPress for my website and Mailchimp for my newsletters. There are tons of others that I use but these form the core of what I need.
Would you do anything differently if you had to start again?
Do you know what? I don’t think I would. I’m a big believer in taking it as it comes. I’ve certainly made lots of mistakes but those mistakes have allowed me to learn and move onwards and upwards. No regrets!
What advice would you give to someone considering becoming a VA?
Getting your head around marketing is crucial when you’re just starting and unless you already have a client base ready to sell to you’ll spend A LOT of time doing marketing activities at the beginning.
The good news is that there are tons of amazing websites and resources out there now to help you (a lot of which is free) so get ready to give yourself an education!