This is a Virtual Assistant case study and interview with Charlotte Souber – known to her friends as Soubs. She lives in New Haw in Surrey with her young son and partner and set up her Virtual Assistant business Hour 25 in September 2016. Charlotte has recently taken on four employees and gone from a solo operation to a VA agency.
What did you do for a living before you became a VA?
I’ve been an Executive PA almost all of my working life and I’ve been working since I was 16. Before being a VA I worked in the media, from advertising and PR to TV and Film. I even did a stint working as a runner on for SMTV and CD: UK (if you grew up in the UK in the 90s you will know)!
When did you first hear about VAs or became aware they even existed?
I wanted to be a Virtual Assistant before I even knew there was a term for it. Whilst working in the PR world as an executive PA to the CEO there were lots of changes happening within the company and it got me thinking about my future.
I’ve always absolutely loved being a PA (and I knew I was bloody good at it), but I was fed up of corporate life, company politics and the London commute that I’d been doing for 12 years.
I knew I wanted to work for myself and decided there must be a massive need from small-business owners or busy execs for freelance PA support. There and then I came up with my company name and bought the domain – five years before doing anything about it.
What was the trigger for you becoming a VA?
It was only when I became pregnant with my son in 2012, which happened to coincide with my boss retiring, that I got the opportunity to take voluntary redundancy. I knew for sure that I didn’t want to continue commuting into London once I’d had my baby, so I grabbed the opportunity.
Things didn’t quite go to plan and I suffered from post-natal depression and my VA plans were put on hold as I just didn’t have the head space to start a business, look after my new baby and get myself better. But the dream of starting the business was never far from my mind.
I took a local job in HR which allowed me to use my skills and be close to home for my son, but I just longed to give this VA thing a shot.
Then I discovered the VA Handbook and that sealed the deal – I needed to bite the bullet.
I absorbed everything on this website and asked my family for birthday money to buy the DIY course, which I did the day after my birthday in June 2016. That September, I noticed on Facebook that an old friend and Managing Director at the PR firm I worked at in London was setting up her own business, so I contacted her and asked if she needed any help – she did!
Did you just leave your job or start VA-ing gradually?
It felt like fate because the friend I mentioned was setting up her business during the evenings and weekends around her full-time corporate job and needed as much help as she could get. So I did the same.
It was exhausting; I was working full-time, doing my VA work evenings and weekends and was being a Mum. But I knew I needed to do this to make it happen.
Within a month, I got my second client through a referral and so I needed to make a decision. I handed in my notice (with no idea how I would pay the bills, the extortionate nursery fees and it was right on top of Christmas), but I knew it was time!
Where did you find the help or advice you needed when setting up?
I wouldn’t have had the confidence to make that jump without the VA Handbook website, the DIY VA course and the VA Handbookers Facebook community. In fact, I’ve never looked anywhere else for help because these things provide me with everything I need and more.
I became a member of the Facebook group on the day it started and then I became a VA Rock Star (the group for the DIY course trainees)
So, it’s safe to say I am a bit of a raving fan!
Do you have a niche?
When I started out I didn’t have a niche or hadn’t quite worked out what it was yet, but quite soon my niche (which came about quite by accident) became working with online entrepreneurs.
I work with marketers, speakers, coaches and experts, and I love it! I’ve learnt so much and have had to upskill quite quickly to help clients with things I knew nothing about prior to being a VA, such as lead magnets, sales funnels, membership sites and email automation.
My big love is organising events and I get to do this almost every day now, which rocks my world.
How would you say you were different from other VAs
Hour 25 has never been an admin service, it’s always been about giving business owners time back to enable them to grow their business and gain a better work-life balance.
I never imagined I would be saying this when I first started out, but Hour 25 is no longer just me. I’ve been working with associate VAs for a while, but I now have four employees, our own office, a call answering team, a network of experts (including a graphic designer, copywriter, HR consultant and web developer) and plans to add even more VAs to the team this year.
Everything we do at Hour 25 has the sole purpose of giving the thing that all business owners crave – more time!
What’s the best thing about being a VA?
I can’t name just one. I love being around for my son, being able to still do the school run and being able to go to school plays without asking permission.
I love the sense of achievement that I get from supporting our clients and seeing their successes, and I love how becoming a VA has opened my mind to so many other opportunities and ambitions that I never knew I had. Not to mention the incredible people I have met along the way.
What’s the hardest thing about being a VA?
It’s HARD work and I never stop worrying about where the next client will come from and I never really switch off. I’ve always been a great PA, but being a business owner is a whole different ballgame. I’m learning every day and I don’t think I’ll ever stop learning. But I wouldn’t change it for the world.
The thought of going back to being employed now does not bear thinking about.
How virtual are you?
Day to day I’m pretty virtual. Until recently I worked from home most days, but now we have our own office – which feels super grown up and professional. Some clients I meet with face to face on a monthly basis but mostly we meet on Zoom. As I organise events I do work on-site at those events which I love.
How do you find your clients?
Almost all of my clients have come from word of mouth from existing clients or contacts but I am quite active in a few big entrepreneurial Facebook groups and have also found a few clients that way.
I tell everyone I meet about what I do because if they don’t need my service, they usually know someone who does!
How do you manage your personal/work life balance?
It’s not always easy especially as I’m scaling the business and growing a team right now. But I make sure that when I pick up my son from school, those few hours are our time and if I have more work to do I will do it once he goes to bed.
The great thing about being a VA is you can set your hours and work on your terms, so if you only want to work school hours you can. As my team grows I know I will get more of a balance back, but right now I have big ambitions for my business and I know that takes hard work!
How do you manage your clients, their work and their expectations?
I now only work with retainer clients as I find it much easier to manage capacity that way. I have weekly Zoom calls with most of my clients to plan out work for the week ahead and I block out time for each client in my diary. I also use a project management tool to keep track of tasks and deadlines.
What technology, websites, or apps are invaluable to your working life?
Where to start? I couldn’t do my job without Toggl (time tracking), Taskworld (project management), and Buffer (social media scheduling).
I think my favourite tool is Canva though. It rocks my world and allows me to create really professional-looking graphics for my business and clients. I also couldn’t work without my iPhone – in fact, it’s safe to say that I’m a bit of an addict!
Would you do anything differently if you had to start again?
The only thing I would change would be to not overthink everything when starting out. Most of the things I worried about and that delayed me getting started have never even materialised or been important.
The best way to start is to just get started. You can learn as you go, it doesn’t all need to be perfect before you begin!
What advice would you give to someone considering becoming a VA?
The best advice I would give would be to listen to Joanne Munro, read her blog posts on this site, do her DIY course and immerse yourself in the VA Handbookers Facebook group.
Also, it’s important to ask lots of questions so you can work out if being a freelancer or business owner is right for you – and if it is, just give it a go.
It’s not for everyone and it’s certainly not an ‘easy side hustle’, but it’s the most rewarding thing I have ever done… I just wish I’d done it sooner!