Over the next few weeks, we will be featuring unusual niches that VAs have developed to establish themselves in the market. Having a niche makes you unique. And (just like with designer clothes) being unique removes price barriers which apply to the normal market. So it’s a great way of making more money too.
This month we are profiling Sara Gill, winner of the UK Outstanding VA of the Year who kindly agreed to share her rather unusual niche with us!
Your name & age?
Sara Gill – 34
How long has business been running?
Since February 2008
Describe your unusual niche?
I do all manner of administrative work, both personal and business related for members of the Romany Gypsy and Travelling communities. This has included normal business assistance such as typing up invoices, providing a mailing address and answering calls but has also led to much more personalised tasks such as filling in passport application forms and motor traders insurance policies, listing Chalets and vehicles for sale online and even visiting sites to take photos of mobile homes for inclusion in the adverts. Officebird has become a one stop shop for the travelling community who traditionally have literacy problems and often just require someone who will read a letter out or reword things so they sound more professional. With an increasing number of companies insisting upon issuing things via email many of my customers have been left behind as they don’t have email access so I have seen a recent surge in the need for monitored email accounts.
How did you get into this niche?
I stumbled across this niche when first starting up as another company in my area had refused to accept a client and passed his details onto me. This client required call answering but as he had no email he wanted me to phone him with any messages. After running this service for a few weeks it became apparent that he could not read which is why text messages were not an option. Simply by dealing with this customer in a normal way and adding a few extra measures to ensure he could get his messages effectively meant he passed my details on to others and my customer base grew.
Is it a growth area?
I believe it is a growth area, but more so because of the growth of my customer base rather than an industrial growth as my clients work in all areas and are a very mixed group of artisans. I have strengthened my links with this community by working closely with the UK Association of Gypsy Women (UKAGW), who were kind enough to hand out 2000 of my leaflets at Appleby Horse Fair last year. With this niche word of mouth is the best form of advertising as they suffer a lot of discrimination and are therefore reluctant to trust new people. There is also growth in other areas surrounding the community as a whole and I recently successfully tendered for a Durham County Council Community Engagement Project, aimed at understanding the lack of communication between the Council and those they class as ‘hard to reach’, and coming up with ways to better foster relations. This was done as part of a consortium with the UKAGW and others. Another project which has stemmed from my niche is centred on the problems faced by the Roma community in Kosovo and although the work I do in this regard is done on a voluntary basis (having seen the conditions in Kosovo) it has helped improve my profile within my niche target market.
Where do you see the industry going in the next 5-10 years?
As mentioned above there is no one particular industry but my clients change trades depending on the season and travel around the world working. I think there will always be a need for the kind of support I offer, especially as the digital age is having an effect on those people that cannot be plugged into the net.
If a VA wants further info would you be happy for them to contact you direct and if so, what’s the best contact details?