Sharing my Business Journey
I started my work-at-home business journey when I was laid off from my corporate job back in 2010. I’ve been through so much since being my own boss and working online. There have been highs and lows, times where I was ready to just give up.
I’ve always been a hard worker, giving 110% at any job, but working for myself, I work twice as hard. And it’s definitely worth it!
So, I’ve been thinking about the lessons I’ve learned along the way since then. I’ve decided to share them with you so you understand my why and a little bit about my decision to start the VA to the ResQ Academy.
Maybe something I say in these lessons will resonate with you. Maybe you’ll say, “Me too”!
Maybe it will help you avoid a pitfall or see something in a different light. Maybe something in these lessons will inspire you to really go for it and make your business what you want it to be.
Whatever it sparks in you, I hope you’ll enjoy the following lessons from my business journey.
My History into the Business World
First, a little background history. Before I even started thinking about a business of my own, I had been researching on the internet about how to be a better assistant at work. There was always talk about layoffs, but I never thought it would ever hit our department.
When it did happen, I had been with this company for 10 years. I was of course devastated, I worked with my co-workers most of those years together and they were like family to me.
After trying for months to find another job with no success, I decided that I needed something to do to keep from going stir-crazy. So, after thinking long and hard with no job in sight, I made the decision to start my own business. My husband had his own business for our entire married life, so I was no stranger to what it was like to be self-employed.
When I was a stay-at-home mom with my 2 kids, I was the one to answer the phone and take messages from the many people that called to hire or discuss business with him. I was really good at it too, guess that’s where my natural customer service skills came from. It wasn’t long before I was doing his customer billing, scheduling appointments for him, doing our taxes and all the many things that business owners do.
My skills also came from what I learned in high school because I always thought I wanted to be a secretary. But, my life turned directions and that’s a whole nother story.
Now, let’s get on to the lessons:
Overnight success just doesn’t happen
When I started my online business journey, I spent three to four months researching and hoping to find a real work-at-home opportunity. I spent another few months figuring out that the virtual assistant industry was the way to go for me.
I ended up purchasing a course to teach me how to set up a successful virtual assistant business. After the course came setting up a website and getting it up and running. And of course, it was a DIY website and I had NO CLUE what I was doing.
Once I had my website “live” it took about another six months to get my first client. Even with that first client, it’s not like the flood gates opened and a never-ending stream of clients flowed in. I had to work hard to make connections and market my business.
I took a ton of “expert advice” on what to do and how to do it. I downloaded every freebie I could get my hands on. When you see other people online doing what you want to do, and you think they’re successful, know that they probably worked really hard to get there and that it didn’t happen overnight.
Stay in Your Own Lane
Speaking of other people, let me tell you something important–please don’t worry about how other people run their business. Run yours how it works for YOU!
Yes, find people that look like YOU’D like to be. But know that your circumstances aren’t identical. You are your own person with your own story, your own set of challenges, weaknesses, and strengths.
So, learn from people who are further along the path than you, but take what you learn and make it your own. That’s what will attract clients to you.
They will want to work with you for your particular skill set and the way that YOU do things.
If you’re still feeling afraid of putting yourself out there, read this article.
At some point, you have to stop learning all.the.things, researching all.the.things and buying all.the.things, and you have to start DOING something.
I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase, done is better than perfect. Get the website up. Talk to that potential client. Slap a price on your services.
You can always tweak things later. Just get yourself out there. You’re going to make mistakes–but that’s part of learning and growing. The right mindset, planning and taking action will propel you forward.
We learn A LOT in the doing of things.
Choose services and clients that you love
Otherwise, you will come to resent them and your business. This is YOUR business—so do what makes you happy! I know when you’re first starting out, the temptation is there to just get a client. Any client. Just one person who will pay you some money.
But if you put yourself out there and say you will do just about anything for anyone, you aren’t going to attract ANYONE. People need to “see” themselves in your marketing. They need to resonate with you. They need to know that YOU specifically can help them with exactly what they need.
The best way to do this is to specialize in either what you do (services) or who you do it for (target market). This will help you to make more money and be more successful.
But choose services and people that you enjoy.
And it’s perfectly okay to change your mind over time. Remember, this is YOUR business journey, and you should love what you do!
Build your business around your life–not the other way around
Being in business for yourself has so many benefits. A big one is the ability to leave time for the things that are important to you in life. Weave your business around and through what you want to do. If you’re just going to box yourself into a 9-5 schedule, work every night and all through the weekend, then why bother leaving the “regular” job that you hate, if that’s the case.
- Maybe you have a family and you want to spend more time with them.
- Maybe you have kids and you want to make it to more of their school functions.
- Maybe you enjoy volunteer work.
- Maybe you love to travel.
You can do all of that and run a successful virtual assistant business.
Remember the things that are important to you in life and build your business around those things.
Break it down
As you’re building your business, there will be times when you’re going to feel quite overwhelmed. There’s so much to do on the back-end of setting up your business. You must think about a business name, a website, taxes, client intake process, marketing.
And then when you get those clients, you must figure out how to juggle client work with continuing to build and market your business. It never ends! Make sure that you’re having the best business journey that you can possibly have.
When you feel overwhelmed, break things down.
Instead of having 50,000 thoughts swirling around in your brain, 3 lists and 25 sticky notes, simplify it all and break it down.
Here is a process that will help:
- Think about your goals and what’s most important to accomplish.
- Look at your schedule in blocks of time. Mark off blocks for personal time, business building time, marketing time, client work, etc.
- Take those bigger goals that are overwhelming and write down all the things you need to do in order to achieve them.
- Take that list and turn them into to-do items that need to be accomplished in order to achieve that thing or goal.
- Take those to-do items and schedule them into your time blocks.
Doing it this way will really decrease the overwhelm.
Whenever there are too many things, or you have a goal so big you don’t know how you’re ever going to achieve it, keep breaking it down into smaller and simpler pieces. And then schedule those things on your calendar.
It takes a little while to get used to scheduling things if it’s not something that you’ve done before. But if you’re looking at a busy life with client work, marketing, things you need to take care of on the back-end of your business, plus everything else that’s going on in your life, having some type of schedule that works for you will save your sanity.
No person is an island
Doing this whole entrepreneur business owner thing by yourself is hard. And it can get lonely. You’ll have times where you second-guess yourself. And times, where you might miss having co-workers and talking to other people, live and in person.
But just because you’re running a business by yourself doesn’t mean that you must be alone. Get out there and network with other business owners like yourself. This can be at in-person networking meetings where you live. It can be online virtually.
First, it makes you feel less lonely. But it also shows you that other people “get” it and go through the same things that you do. Sometimes you just need a sounding board. And sometimes you need advice on how to handle a particular situation. It can also help create some accountability.
Finding online or in-person networking groups of fellow VA’s and business owners is a great way to get that help. You never know what you’ll get out of it. Maybe you’ll get a new referral partner. And maybe you’ll get a new best friend. It’s the best way to have an awesome business journey.
Also, if you’re looking for guidance or a way to stay on track and really move your business forward, consider getting a mentor.
When I first started out, I didn’t know anyone online at all. And I didn’t have much money to invest in myself or my business. (But I quickly learned the importance of doing so.)
Before that, I found some online forums where I could talk to other VA’s. Then I became friendly with someone who became my mentor in a Facebook group. It made a huge difference in my business and how I went about things.
You can work with mentors one-on-one and in group settings. You can get something valuable out of each situation. Whatever way works best for you right now, connect with people who can support you, hold you accountable and guide you.
And in turn, be there for others. If you’re in a forum or a group and you can answer a question or help someone out, do it. Remember that you were just like them at one point, wishing someone would extend a hand and help you out. It feels good to pay it forward.
If you’re looking for some guidance and support, to be with a group of other people who “get it” and can help move you forward, I’d love you to consider joining my Facebook group.
Also, if you’re considering a mentor join me in one on one mentoring or my group mentoring program. (insert links)
Thank you so much for reading. I’m sure you’ll get there with your business too! Just relax and do what’s most important for you.
Happy Business Journey! And GOOD LUCK!
19 Things You Should Know Before You Start
When I started my first business, I knew I had no idea what I was doing. I didn’t even know what I didn’t know! If I could go back in time and teach myself, there’s so much I would want to say.
Here are 19 of the most important things that I would try to explain to myself as a newbie entrepreneur.
1. The more organized you are, the less you’ll have to work
When I’m disorganized, I don’t know where all my time went. I don’t know what I’m supposed to do next. I don’t know where to find the thing. I don’t know who I’m supposed to connect with. I don’t even know why I’m doing what I’m doing.
Spend more time keeping things simple, and you’ll spend less time spinning your wheels. (You’ll also enjoy your work a whole lot more.)
2. For the sake of your sanity (and perseverance), CONNECT
The #1 thing that makes the biggest difference in my happiness, optimism, and progress is connecting with peers. Find those people are who do the same sort of thing as you and have positive attitudes about the challenges along the way. Talk to them regularly. Motivate them and let them motivate you. Support them and let them support you. Community is everything.
3. Taking action solves everything!
You can have the best plan in the world, but if you don’t act on it then nothing is going to happen. Don’t wait until your plan is “perfect” (it never will be). Consider your options, do a reasonable amount of research, and then GO! You can correct your course along the way.
4. Plan, but then RELAX
As an entrepreneur, things won’t always go as you expect or hope. Embrace the flow, and learn to be flexible. Better to be relaxed and enjoy the journey than be so stressed out about not being in control of every little detail.
5. Systems save your sanity
Trying to do all the things and be all the people will make balance impossible! Focus on creating systems that enable you to delegate and get more done in less time. Give your work focused, regular attention so that when you AREN’T working you can be fully present with your family and friends.
6. There will be seasons of less sleep
When you own a business, there are busy seasons and then there are busier seasons. During the former, you might have it “all figured out” and feel very balanced. During the latter, you WILL get less sleep. You’ll stay up late working on your launch, or wake up early to write your blog post in time — or both. Embrace the season of busyness, but create plans for rest and recuperation as well.
7. The more prepared you are, the more successful you’ll be
This goes for launching products, services, giving speeches, teaching classes, going to the gym… anything really. The more time you take to be fully ready, the more you’ll get out of the experience. (That being said, don’t overthink it. Give yourself a reasonable amount of time, put in the work, then call that good and GO.)
8. “Everything is figuroutable” — Marie Forleo
She said it and it’s true. You can figure out ANYTHING that you need to figure out to make your business successful. If someone has done it before you, you can learn from them. If not, you can figure it out on your own (which might take a little more time, but it will be more worth it).
9. Focus on ONE thing at a time
The more focused your attention is, the more progress you’ll be able to make in that one area. That success can then make other things much easier! For example, social media platforms: you can try to grow a following on five different platforms at once, and gain 1000 followers on each, or you can focus your attention on just one, and gain 5000 followers there (or perhaps a lot more, since you’re more focused). Those 5000 followers can then be directed to your other platforms, and many of them will easily go.
10. Consistency is the key to gaining momentum
Want your business to GROW? Be consistent. Show up consistently as the same person and brand. Publish content consistently. Stay consistently in your niche. Preach your message consistently.
Dripping water all over the place won’t accomplish anything. Dripping water into the same bucket continuously will fill your bucket to overflowing.
11. Solve real problems
Nice things are nice, pretty things are pretty, but problems take precedence. Problems have to be solved. People pay money to have their problems solved. Focus on helping your customers and solving their problems, and they will cling to you.
12. Outsource, it’s so worth it
The other day, I was delegating my time: deciding how much time I wanted to spend on each activity of my business and how much time I really wanted to be working at all. I realized that I could spend 8 hours/month posting to social media, or 8 hours/month putting out a podcast (or both, or neither). I didn’t really want to spend the full 16 hours, so I chose to outsource the social media posting because anyone could do that for me. Only I can host my podcast show.
Spend your time doing those things that only you can do. Outsource all the things that anyone can do. You’ll get so much more done, make so much more money, and provide employment for someone else in the process!
13. Take the time to keep records
Keeping records is no fun. It’s my least favorite part of running my business. Well, almost. Really, my least favorite part is when I don’t keep records and then I need something and can’t where I put the information I need. Create systems that make keeping the essential records simple, and then make those systems into habits.
14. Take a break BEFORE you are burnt out
Don’t kill yourself working for 17 days straight and then never want to look at your website again. Take at least one day each week completely off. Take some time every single day to slow down and really separate from your work. Paint your nails, walk the dog, watch your favorite show, or make a beautiful dinner. ENJOY life while you are growing your business, or else you will come to hate your business.
15. Know your focus
What is that one thing that you specialize in? Get extremely clear on exactly what your “offer” is, who it’s for, and why people need it.
16. Practice pays off
Practice your speech a dozen times before you give it. Practice writing the copy for your website. Practice connecting with people.
If you aren’t good at something, either decide to outsource it or practice. Being bad at something sucks, but you don’t have to stay bad at it. Keep doing it (in fact, do it way more than you have to), and do it intentionally. It will get easier.
17. Appearance matters
Whether you like it or not, people DO judge books by their covers. That’s just the way the world works.
People will judge you on whatever they perceive. They will judge you on how you look and sound. They will judge you on what you create and how you create it.
Does that mean you have to be perfect? No. Does that mean you have to cater to everyone? Definitely not. But, what it does mean is that you need to show up how you WANT people to perceive you, and you need to care about the details. What you wear matters. Your grammar matters. Consistent branding matters.
Keep things simple, high quality, consistent, and focused on what your customers actually want. Then, ask some of your trusted peers how you could improve.
18. The money is in the list
To make money, you have to sell. To sell, you have to have an audience and have a way to be able to connect with them. Focus on building that audience and creating a relationship with them. Your audience must trust and appreciate you. Your audience is your most valuable asset.
19. You can be happy TODAY!
Happiness doesn’t come as a byproduct of success. Happiness is a choice you make every day. Happiness is gratitude for everything you HAVE and curiosity about what you will be able to create next. Don’t deprive yourself of the enjoyment of the journey.
Do You Have an Employee Mindset?
Do you have an Employee Mindset? Most people who run their own businesses didn’t start that way. They started as an employee working for someone else. At some point, they took the plunge and opened, bought or acquired a business of their own.
There’s a big difference between working for someone and being a business owner.
Now that YOU run the show, have you shed your employee mindset to be a successful business owner? It seems like a simple thing to do; even to recognize but an overwhelming number of business owners I’ve worked with or collaborated with take their employee mindset with them. So what happens when you don’t change the way you think and what you think about it? Here are a few of the areas that can prevent you from realizing your true potential as a successful business owner.
Employees (even good ones) tend to focus on the here and now. They complete tasks, provide service to customers, assemble and ship things that have been ordered or complete the administrative requirements of the business. All these are important to a successful business but all very limiting from a directional standpoint.
Being a successful owner means continually looking down the road to see where you are taking your business, what challenges lay ahead and what changes may be necessary for continued growth and prosperity. Employees tend to worry about the future of the business. You must be responsible for it.
Employees avoid risk. Owners must get comfortable with it. Nothing worthwhile is ever achieved without some measure of risk-taking. Learn to do the appropriate amount of research, assess your options and make a decision.
Getting comfortable with risk and being proficient at making decisions will enable you to seize opportunities and avoid mistakes due to a lack of action.
To stay ahead in your chosen field and set the direction you desire for your organization, you must be proactive, not reactive. Employees tend to react to unexpected situations or changes in their work routine. Owners must anticipate the unexpected and be the source of the change, not the result of it. Being proactive will enable you to assess outcomes and avoid the damaging effects of doing nothing because you’re not looking for the alligator in the swamp.
Activity vs. Accomplishment:
This is a big one! Employees tend to complete assignments or tasks without regard to the effects on the company at large. Some employees may do the right things to avoid problems down the road because they’re experienced at what they do and they pride themselves on bringing value to their position. Owners must evaluate certain activities to ensure that the results line up with higher goals that need to be accomplished. It’s not always a matter of getting things done. Many times, it’s a matter of doing things that are beneficial to the business’ future.
Liked vs. Respected:
Being liked may be OK for the rank and file but it can reduce an owner to figurehead status very quickly. Getting along in the workplace is important to most employees. No one likes working in a stressful environment or with people who seem to be at odds continuously. So people tend to do what makes them ‘likable’.
Owners must make hard decisions and deal with issues that may not score them points with their staff. Remember, you’re their boss first and most employees want it that way. If your employees respect you for your ability to run a successful, profitable business, they will work for you whether they like you or not.
Roles & Responsibilities:
While lots of employees want to feel valued based on their contribution to the job, most would prefer not to have to feel responsible for leading a company they don’t own. Expectations of what they do and how well they need to do it should be initiated by the owner.
It’s the owner’s job to set the pace and the employee’s job to meet it. Confusing these roles only lead to disappointing results and conflict. And when that happens, it’s the owner who is accountable for not taking the reins early.
There are probably other mindset limitations that you could add to this list but these are the real barriers to growing and running a business you can be proud of. The real secret is recognizing that you, as the business owner, are operating with mindset symptoms like these in the first place.
Overcoming these limitations don’t require a personality or style overhaul. It just requires an awareness of how you think about the role you have and the decisions you make.
You are the owner of the business. The ‘Buck’ always stops with you!
What is a Virtual Assistant?
So, what is a virtual assistant and where did the title come from? Does it mean the same thing as a secretary or personal assistant? Let’s delve into the subject of virtual assistant and see where this modern word originated.
The term originated back in the 1990s as the ability to work remotely, due to the internet and having the capability to share documents made it a reality. You can read more about the history in this article.
A virtual assistant is a person who provides various services to entrepreneurs or businesses from a remote location. There are a host of things that virtual assistants can do, including:
- Social media management
- Event management
- Managing calendars, appointments and emails
- Preparing reports
- Personal tasks like booking hotels and restaurants
- Simple digital marketing tasks
It’s a never-ending list!
Some business owners who hire a virtual assistant can be confused about what precisely a VA is. Often, VA/Client relationships turn bad because of misconceptions about what exactly a VA does for a client and how they do it.
Whether you are a VA or a client looking for a VA, this article will tell you all you need to know about the do’s & don’ts and the expectations a business owner can expect.
What a VA is…
- an independent contractor, remote worker, freelancer or business owner
- skilled at what they do, they don’t need micro-managing
- reliable and hardworking
- able to work well on their own, they don’t need constant supervision
- a home-based business owner, although some VA’s prefer to be location independent, they don’t work with clients in their offices
- a VA helps other business owners in their business with tasks they don’t have time for or with skilled services they don’t know how to do
- a business owner who is committed to helping other business owners make a success of their business
- a person who deserves respect
What a VA isn’t…
- an employee of the person who contracts them
- a miracle worker, they can’t fix a broken business
- a mind reader, they need guidance from the person who hired them
- a punching bag when things go wrong
A Virtual Assistant (VA) is a business owner and understands how important it is to protect and nurture the reputation of the business owner who hires them. VA’s help and assist business owners with their daily, weekly and monthly tasks and can be a great asset.
Although VA’s often meet with their clients on a video call or in person, they don’t physically work in the client’s office. They are not personal assistants, secretaries or assistants. Sometimes their duties might overlap with these but being a virtual assistant is a different profession entirely.
A Virtual Assistant deserves to be treated with respect. Business owners that incorporate saying “please” and “thank you” goes a long way.
Why do people decide to become VA’s?
It all starts with this question. WHY! WHY is the pivotal point of any decision. Here are some of the most common reasons people decide to become VA’s:
● They want to stay at home with their children while being able to earn a living
● They’d like to be able to work flexible hours
● They’ve always wanted a business they can call their own
● They’d like to help people and earn money
● And, because they want to make their own choices, be their own boss and have freedom in their work environment
We will be discussing Mindset Issues next on the blog, but if you want to get a head start, you can check it out now.
The History Behind The Virtual Assistance Industry
So, what is the Virtual Assistance Industry? Let me explain a bit about the history behind this term. Being a secretary was the very beginning of The Birth of Virtual Assistance. Since the 40’s the profession has evolved to include a wide variety of different services. Today it is referred to as administrative, but this is not the only category of services that belong to this new & exciting profession.
The Virtual Assistance Industry has a rich but little-known history of individuals and organizations that saw an opportunity. The opportunity in the work-at-home arena to develop and grow businesses that could support and sustain families. Many women and men walked the walk and talked the talk that propelled the industry to become the small business resource it is today.
The Birth of Virtual Assistance began its early beginnings from secretarial services during the forties. In fact, it would be safe to call secretarial services as the mother of virtual assistance. However, throughout the course of its own history, the virtual assistance industry strived to create a distinction from its “mother” making it a separate profession yet belonging to the same type of industry.
Collectively they are called administrative professionals. From their separation, virtual assistance has grown. It’s advanced until it has become the global preference of business owners. This is the birth of a profession that became a worldwide phenomenon and permanently changed the world’s view on business outsourcing.
The Early Beginnings: Secretarial Services
It all began with shorthand when Sir Isaac Pitman in the early 1800s invented the shorthand method and founded the first school for secretarial services. Only men were admitted to the school and they were the only ones who could perform the said tasks given the political climate during those days.
Well, during that time period, women were confined to only doing household chores. Not until a decade later when typewriters were invented were women finally joining the industry. And around 1930, the number of men in the secretarial services started to wind down. Can you imagine what women of the past would say about the Virtual Assistance Industry today?
The Next Steps
In 1942, the National Secretaries Association was born. It was founded in order to foster professionalism among secretaries in the US. And less than a decade later the first exam called Certified Professional Secretaries was administered. The CPS Examination was a three-part exam, covering the areas of office technology, management, office systems & administration. More than 66,000 people have achieved this rating since 1951.
It was in 1952 that a special day called “Secretaries Day” was created which later in the year 2000 changed to “Administrative Professionals Day”. The move was made in order to recognize all individuals working in the field with different title names.
Nearly three decades later, the National Secretaries Association was renamed Professional Secretaries International. Six years after, the Professional Secretaries International was then renamed as International Association of Administrative Professionals, IAAP.
The Birth of Virtual Assistance
Anastacia “Stacy” Brice began working virtual as a full-time home-based contractor with an international client providing administrative support, travel planning, and personal assistance. Back then the most prevalent medium through which people did administrative assistance from a remote location is by using the telephone and fax machines. It was only in 1994 that the internet was utilized in assisting business owners from another location.
The term “virtual assistant” was born in 1996. It commenced from a simple conversation between Anastacia Brice and life coach Thomas Leonard when the latter coined the term while having a phone conversation with the former. With the idea already in Brice’s mind, she borrowed the term to name the new emerging profession. And in the next year, she witnessed how the profession was formalized.
It was in 1998 that Anastacia Brice opened the first organization for virtual assistants called the AssistU. The years have had many more developments in this industry. In 1999, The International Virtual Assistants Association was formed in order to respond to the growing number of people involved in the business. And just like any organization it helped represent the profession to the world.
The Growth Phase of Virtual Assistance
Virtual assistance has grown and has created a unique distinction that has marked its identity to the world. From being simply a sub-category of secretarial services, it equaled the profession. Later it surpassed it in measures beyond its beginning. Today, the work of a virtual assistant is getting more in demand in the business world.
More and more business owners prefer the services of virtual assistants than hiring a personal secretary for two economic reasons. 1) Hiring a virtual assistant is cost-effective, and 2) efficiency of work is achieved by the many different types of virtual assistants on the market today.
Your Growth, Your Future
Knowing your history helps you understand your foundation, where you come from and most importantly WHY you can build a long term, sustainable business. It’s because of those that came before you, 10, 15, 20, 25 years ago – people who walked the walk talked the talk. The people that spent many hours answering questions and overcoming obstacles, that have paved the way for you to be in the Virtual Assistance Industry you’re in today.
Please don’t forget where you came from.
Your History is Your Future!