After seeing friends go through some serious life changing events, Sarah Liddle started to question what life was all about and where her own life was heading. Sarah also wanted to spend more time outside on her smallholding and with her family so she decided it was time to set up her own Virtual Assistant business.
Hi there, my name is Sarah Liddle and my new business is called The Lady in the Shed. I’m 48 years old and live in the Staffordshire countryside between Uttoxeter and Burton-on-Trent with my husband, a flock of sheep and a terrier!
Why did you decide to buy Jo’s DIY VA course?
Having had no children, I have worked continuously since graduating from university when I was 21 and I had a list of things I wanted to do when I retired. I live on a smallholding and have run a small farming business in partnership with my husband for many years, with both of us also having full time jobs as well.
However, my turning point came when a number of friends and acquaintances had life-changing accidents or illnesses or died within a short period of time.
It made me question what life was all about and what I would have achieved if I never got to retirement age and didn’t get to do the things I’d like to do.
I was also finding that my employer was increasingly reluctant to let me have time off work, and with my family living on the England/Scotland border, I also wanted to be able to spend some time with them.
I started to look at options for self employment during 2014 including increasing the scale of our farming activities. However, land prices and tenancy opportunities were prohibitive.
I stumbled across the virtual assistant industry and, while I initially felt it was a bit of an American idea, I took part in as many webinars as I could to learn as much as I could.
I have worked in a diverse range of industries and have a wide range of skills. I’ve never been a PA, but I quickly started to see being a VA as being a remote business associate offering services to small businesses that they wouldn’t otherwise have easy access to.
With my skills, I could see the potential for working remotely as a business opportunity.
With a science background, I like to research – and I did so much research! I subscribed to the VA Handbook, and when Jo mentioned in an email that she was creating a DIY course based on her one-to-one training, I badgered her for a release date and signed up on the launch day.
Did you feel confident the course would make you a VA?
I have never been a particularly confident person, but I felt that if I put the work in there was no reason that I wouldn’t make it as a VA.
Everything I needed was included in the course. I completed each section twice – leaving the section for a short while and then coming back to it with fresh eyes. After all, this was a big step and I needed to get it right.
I spent a couple of months on the course, with the longest period of time being spent identifying my skills and niche. I was working full time while I worked through it, and it was winter when the sheep are even harder work. I found the course interesting so I didn’t have a problem finding the time to do the work.
Each session was pretty short and I found that my thinking and planning time was often when I was out walking my dog, so I’d do a bit and then work on that area in my head while I was outside.
Winter is my favourite time of the year when I love being outside the most, so I spent a lot of time in the beautiful countryside around my home planning my business and my life.
What is the course like and how did you find it?
Due to where I was in my life when I took the course, it was a bit like a journey. I knew that when I’d completed it my life could be very different if I made the big jump at the end.
The course is easy to follow and very logical. It asks some probing questions, especially at the beginning, which is why I found it useful to complete a section, leave it for a short while and then come back and complete the same section again.
I didn’t have any problems with motivation. The sections are well set out and easy to read, so even when I was tired it wasn’t a problem to read through a topic, have a think about it and then come back to it the next day.
The resources are good and I have come back to some of them several times since starting my business and adapted others for my own use
I feel that the course was excellent value. It brought everything into focus and the fact that Jo was a successful VA before becoming a VA trainer meant that I felt that I could trust her advice. She knew what she was talking about.
The best thing about the course though is the focus it gave me.
How are you getting on after finishing it?
I started my business on 6 April 2016 and I’d say I’m doing great. I had no clients when I started and May has been my only quiet month – and I still made enough money to pay the bills.
To be honest, I’ve been really surprised.
I have four regular clients and a number of ad hoc clients too. However, being busy from the start has meant that I haven’t kept on top of my own marketing, although marketing is one of the services I offer my clients. It’s always the mechanic’s car that breaks down so it’s on my to-do list to rectify!
I expected to be asked to do admin-type work, however, most of my work has been far more challenging than that. I’ve been managing projects and liaising with different people to make things happen. I’ve done quite a lot of work with WordPress and I’ve set up the systems for a new start-up.
I’ve also been involved with trademarking, writing, editing, proofreading and have prepared a marketing plan for a client’s business. I’ve worked with designers and developers on behalf of clients and I’ve been the point of contact for my clients’ clients when they are unavailable.
I’ve also found that my opinion and ideas are valued, which is very satisfying.
One area I’m particularly working on is being institutionalised. I went to boarding school before university, so from quite an early age everything has had a time attached to it. As strange as it seems, I have found it difficult to, say, book a hair or dental appointment during the day, rather than at 6pm!
One thing that has amazed me is the amount of help and advice that is available for new businesses, mostly for free. I’ve done more training since April that I did in many years as an employee. And one thing I’ve found very useful is having a business coach. She has helped me to rationalise the irrational.
Is your life very different now to how it was before?
I feel very content. I’m not quite earning what I was as an employee yet, but I’ve found that I don’t necessarily need that much as long as I can pay the bills. I have joined in with more events in my village and gone to the pub with friends more often, rather than being too tired.
It’s been great to be able to go the local sheep sales myself to buy and sell sheep, rather than my husband going on his own. And I’ll be ticking the first thing off my bucket list within the next couple of weeks by taking part in the local ploughing match!
My life is outside and I’ve been able to be outside much more. Big skies, beautiful trees, sheep and a terrier called Henry, what more could I ask for?
If you’re looking for a get rich quick scheme or an easy life, don’t consider taking this course, but if you want a better work-life balance and are willing to work hard, this course is just the ticket.