Earlier this month, I posted a request in a few Facebook groups for entrepreneurs/small business owners to be featured on this blog. Denise was one of the first few people who had expressed interest on being featured in this career series. We discuss her journey into the world of virtual assistance and had many laughs along the way.
What was your A-HA moment or how did you stumble upon the world of virtual assistance? Was it through blogging?
I started blogging last September, just trying to get a feel for it. I know some bloggers can make money off of their blog, and that was my initial idea. It didn’t work out that way. Of course, I don’t think I’m putting enough attention into it, to be honest. Kind of a continuing work in progress. I was working in retail for 15 years and they cut off my hours after Christmas. They cut them for two months. I needed to find something else. I was getting tired of being there.
I was doing some research on Pinterest on how to make money at home. I kept coming across virtual assisting, so I started reading more and more about it. By mid-February (of this year) I scored a job with another virtual assistant and I loved it.
Did you encounter any setbacks when you first started out? How did you manage them?
That’s kind of still in progress (laughs). So I handed in my notice mid-May. That first (virtual assistant) job ended the end of April. I joined a bunch of Facebook groups and made connections and stuff. So I wasn’t really doing a whole lot, except working on my own stuff – watching more training videos, webinars, all that kind of stuff. I was not going to do it without my husband’s okay. He’s been really good about it.
Being with that company for 15 years, I kind of built up some benefits, some perks upon leaving. Right, now I’m dealing with my vacation pay and then I have deferred profit-sharing coming to me, probably a month or two from now. So I do have a little bit of a cushion, I’m lucky that way. Not everybody has that kind of option, but I knew I had some time to play with it. Just at the end of May, I wasn’t even finished work yet, It was the beginning of my last week, I ended up getting another job with another virtual assistant. I’m currently working with her now and we just love working together.
When you say you’re working with another virtual assistant, does that mean she’s showing you the ropes?
She has clients she’s just started jobs with and she’s pulled me into those jobs to help her with stuff. It’s been an excellent learning experience. I’ve probably learned more in the past three months than I’ve learned in the last 10 years.
What types of questions do you ask during your initial consultations?
That has yet to happen (laughs). Well basically, it’s more of how I can fit into their business. I would want to know about what they do, what their struggles are, what their successes are, what areas they’re struggling with, the jobs that they can’t stand doing. There’s a lot of people who know they have to do the admin, but they hate doing it or they just can’t be bothered or it’s always on the backburner because there’s more important stuff to do. So I would try to establish that first. if there’s anything they’re doing, but not doing very well, I could always suggest taking it on, if it’s something I specialize in or I know very well and just offering to help them wherever I can.
What do you feel are your specialties that could help people?
I’m learning about Instagram scheduling. I’ve never done that before. So social media, building up profiles, sharing posts, scheduling posts. Website design is another thing. I built my two websites, my blog and my business website I did that all myself. I actually paid for a course to help me build a WordPress site. I have a lifetime membership type of deal. I’m not a pro at it, but I can find the answer.
Since you haven’t been in business that long, do you find it hard juggling everything at the same time you’re trying to promote yourself, you’re trying to learn?
It can be tough. I’m still trying to work out a good schedule. I have a little one in school so I have to work around with him and trying to factor in a full-time job on top of all this. That’s one of the biggest reasons why I left, so I would have more time to focus on this. And this is what I want to do.
How does one go about finding the right virtual assistant for them? Are there different types of virtual assistants?
There are virtual assistants for pretty much everything. You have your website virtual assistant, social media, accounting, PR, human resources. There’s all kinds of different ones. There isn’t one that does the majority of everything. One of the Facebook groups I’m in, is based in the UK and there’s over 1000 members in it. If there’s every somebody who has come into contact with a potential client they don’t like to do that work, they will branch out and message someone and say hey, Look, I have this client he’s looking for this. Anybody interested, I’ll put him in contact with you. So it’s a good network on top of all of it.
Has there ever been any trust issues because you’re having access to their accounts?
There’s trust issues on both sides, I think. I think the best way to work around that from a client perspective is just give them a small job, see how they do with it. Kind of build a relationship, because that’s what it’s all about. You’re bringing on a virtual assistant as a team player. It’s just like hiring an associate or an employee. As far as virtual assistants are concerned, the trust is Are they going to pay me? There’s always that fear, I’ve just invested 20 hours of work, am I going to get that paycheck?
How do you deal with the idea of fluctuating income? Never knowing how much you’re going to get paid this month?
That safety net was probably the hardest thing to leave when I left my job, knowing that I had set hours every week, every month. I had a standard amount that I could count on my pay cheque. It’s definitely tough. But as long as I track my time and I’m honest. I’m lucky enough to be working with another virtual assistant who understands all of those same concerns and fears. So I know that if I ever have a problem with that, I could mention it to her.
So do you consider her your mentor?
I would definitely consider her that because she’s been doing it for a number of years. She knows the ins and outs. She knows the questions. So I’m sure that if I came across a potential client and I had questions, I would definitely go to her and ask her.
Would you have ever considered going alone, jumping into it, without a mentor?
I don’t think I would ever actually be alone, because of that Facebook group that I’m in. I think every virtual assistant should have some kind of a support system, some kind of network, to bounce ideas off of. Even though you’re working solo, you still need someone to bounce things off of.
What are the best social media platforms and how many do you think bloggers/small business owners should focus on?
As a small business owner, you definitely want to be on Linked In, it’s a professional network. Twitter just to get any events out or links out. There are some that I use more often than others. I would say I use Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn most. I wouldn’t go more than four.
What is the biggest mistake small business owners make when it comes to social media management?
Not being current is probably one of the biggest mistakes to make. It’s great if you have a Facebook or Twitter account, but if you aren’t posting updates on it on a regular basis, you’re going to lose your fan base.
Which social media schedulers would you recommend and why?
I use Hootsuite for Twitter, mostly. For Facebook pages, you can schedule posts on your page, anyways. Not your personal profile, but if your business has a page, you can schedule your posts there.
In terms of expenses, being a virtual assistant – are there a lot?
As long as you have high-speed internet, a phone and a laptop, you can pretty much do whatever you need to do.
What type of characteristics, qualities and skills do you feel are necessary in order to become a successful virtual assistant?
Borderline OCD (laughs). You have to be organized in your own life and you have to be organized enough to take on organizing someone else’s life or their business. That’s probably the top skill. You need to know the basics of sharing files, all the techy stuff. I mean, you don’t have to be a pro, but there’s Google if you don’t know how to do it (laughs). Being comfortable and finding the answers if you don’t know them.
What are some tips, tricks and/or apps you use to keep yourself organized and productive?
I use Google Drive for everything. I use DropBox to back up my website. I have a plugin that does it all automatically for me. I can just set it up and forget about it. I forget what it’s called. It’s actually on my business website: deniseriches. I’ve got a blog section in there with my top 10 plugins.
Up until a few weeks ago, I knew nothing about spreadsheets and now I just love them. I have all my links there, all my blog posts, all my bit links. Yeah, I would say Google’s just mastered everything.
What advice would you give entrepreneurs who are looking to start their own service-based business?
Research and read everything you can get your hands on. Find a network or support group, people who have been there, who can show you how to do it. I recently just read an interesting tip to Google: Things I wish I had known when I started “blank”. I haven’t tried it yet, but I’ve heard good things about it, so there’s that option.
You need to talk to people who have already done that. People who have already done it are usually more than willing to share their stories with you- the pros, the cons, things to look out for, problems they’ve encountered so that you don’t encounter the same problems. You definitely want to talk to more seasoned people than yourself.
For more info on Denise and her services, be sure to check out her website: www.deniseriches.ca