This is a Virtual Assistant case study and interview with Nikki Ince. Nikki is the owner of Willow Admin, a Virtual Assistant company based in North Stifford in Essex. She initially only provided onsite admin support to local businesses but went fully virtual in 2013 and now provides admin and social media support to small businesses and entrepreneurs. This is her VA story.
What did you do for a living before you became a VA?
I was an office manager. I have had a variety of office admin roles in the financial services sector, starting as an Office Junior before progressing up the PA ranks and becoming an office manager.
When did you first hear about VAs or became aware they even existed?
I was providing onsite admin support to local businesses for my first year and I really did not know that much about Virtual Assistants and how they worked.
I discovered the Virtual Assistant world while doing some online research and thought it was an interesting concept. I joined some Virtual Assistant groups on Facebook which really opened my eyes as to how skilled Virtual Assistants can be.
What was the trigger for you becoming a VA?
After 20 years of commuting to London, I felt that it was time for a change and do something that I wanted to do. My sister runs her own graphic design business as well as a local networking group and I went along to a meeting and many of the small businesses said they sometimes needed admin support but not all the time.
I felt this was something that I could do as I love admin, helping people and getting things done!
Did you just leave your job or start VA-ing gradually?
I took some time out before setting up and then started straight away working onsite with a business helping with their social media and another business with their admin.
Where did you find the help or advice you needed when setting up?
My local council provided free training courses and guidance for small businesses which I found very helpful.
I also spent time researching online and found the Techie Mentor website which provided a lot of technical guidance and support aimed specifically for Virtual Assistants.
Who was your first client?
My first client was a local business and I was tasked with helping with their social media.
Do you have a niche?
For a long time I felt that I didn’t have a niche as the majority of my clients have been in different industries and I was completing a variety of admin tasks for them. I did feel the pressure of trying to sort out my niche and it was hard especially as I was enjoying the variety of tasks and learning new skills.
Having said that, after conducting a business review, it became clear that a common area of tasks that I complete for clients has been creating Word documents, templates and forms and this is now an area that I am now looking at developing and focusing on.
How would you say you were different from other VAs?
Rather than work from home, I work in an office with a Graphic Designer and Web Designer who are also running their own businesses. It’s interesting to see how different businesses operate and it’s been nice to collaborate on projects where Word documents have been required.
What’s the best thing about being a VA?
It’s great to have the flexibility and, although I do try to keep to set hours, if I want to finish early or go shopping, I can.
I also think being a VA has given me the opportunity to learn new skills such as creating my own website which is something I never dreamed I would ever do.
What’s the hardest thing about being a VA?
There are times when you can suffer from self-doubt and have a lack of confidence. It can also be difficult finding new clients which can have an impact on managing cash flow.
How virtual are you?
I am fully virtual although I have worked onsite with clients in the past if it was required. I work in a local office rather than working from home.
How do you find your clients?
I have found my clients through networking, social media and my website.
How do you manage your personal/work life balance?
Pretty well. I did like the structure of 9-5 and having a routine as an employee and I have tried to stick with that. I try not to do anything at weekends or Bank Holidays and if I do, it will be working on my own admin.
How do you manage your clients and their expectations?
I think communication and honesty are key. It is important that you know and understand what is required to complete the task or project and also for the client to know what you expect from them.
In one of my previous roles, the managers always told us we should under promise and over deliver when dealing with our clients and this is something I haven’t forgotten and try to do.
What technology, websites, or apps are invaluable to your working life?
Technology – my laptop, Office 365, Hootsuite, Dropbox, Asana, Toggl, MailChimp, Google Apps for Business, WordPress, Picmonkey, Adobe EchoSign, social media.
Websites – The VA Handbook, VA Pro Mag, Society of Virtual Assistants, HMRC.
I love checking out and trying new websites, tools and apps that VAs and business colleagues recommend.
Would you do anything differently if you had to start again?
I don’t think I would do anything differently as it’s all been part of the learning curve.
I have enjoyed learning new skills and while it can and has been frustrating at times, it’s a great feeling to have accomplished something that I would never have had the chance to do as an employee.
What advice would you give to anyone considering becoming a VA?
Do your research and be prepared to put in the work as it will take time to develop and build your business. It can be hard adjusting from being employed to self-employed as you are responsible for everything in your business – however, there are websites that can help guide you.
Check out the training available for becoming a Virtual Assistant as well as for specific technical skills. There are a lot of courses available and it can be easy to get inundated with lots of promotional emails so I would recommend that you do your research. You can also find out what training courses are offered by your local council or business groups.
Join some VA groups/forums; they are a great place to ask questions and are also full of useful information covering a wide range of topics. I have found that Virtual Assistants are very friendly, supportive and give great advice.
Have basic systems and paperwork in place such as terms and conditions, contract and an invoice so when you start receiving enquiries and clients you are prepared and ready to start completing tasks.
Try not to compare your VA business to anyone else’s. It is very easy to look at VA websites and their social media accounts and feel overwhelmed and doubt yourself. When you feel like that, it is important to remember why you decided to become a VA and have confidence in your ability and skills.