Anyone who has ever Googled ‘how to become a Virtual Assistant’ will have been faced with a plethora of blogs, articles and even whole websites selling the ‘freelance lifestyle’ – being your own boss is en vogue in 2016 and it can be tempting to think that compared to working 9-5 a la Dolly Parton, being a freelance VA is as easy as laying on a beach tapping away on your iPad whilst sipping a cold drink.
And whilst being a freelancer is completely fabulous (2pm finish anyone? Don’t mind if I do!), it can also be a daunting experience for those of us who have spent years in the corporate bubble or who are new to the world of self-employment.
So with that in mind, here’s my warts-and-all guide to the things I wish I’d known when I stepped out of my suit and into my home office all those months ago:
1. It’s a steep learning curve – I have over ten years’ experience as an Executive Assistant and thought I knew the job inside and out. Which I do, working for one person in one organisation. However, working with five different companies and for five different clients, all of whom want different things using different technologies, systems and ways of working, means you will more than likely often be faced with the unfamiliar.
2. Linked to point 1, you need to be happy outside your comfort zone – I am often asked to undertake tasks in areas I’m unfamiliar with, but I learn something new Every. Single. Day. You can’t buy personal development like that!
3. Sending your first invoices is both thrilling and terrifying. Maybe it’s something to do with realising your own value, or maybe it’s just because it makes us think ‘holy moly, I’m actually self-employed’, but invoicing real people for actual money can be daunting and amazing at the same time. One of my clients has her first bill framed on her living room wall, so take her lead – send out your invoices with a smile and your head held up, and be proud of what you have achieved!
4. On a practical note, freelancing can be COLD. If you work from home, you’re going to need warm clothes, blankets and all the tea you can drink (or a rich benefactor to pay the gas bill 😉 ) just to make it through the winter. However, the cold is a brilliant motivator – going to the gym and getting all sweaty suddenly seems super appealing before sitting down to a day at work! My fellow VA Jo Munro also has some great tips here for keeping the icicles from the end of your nose 🙂
5. People are flaky. ‘Oh, I need to get organised – I could use someone like you!’ will become a familiar cry, and you’ll leave every networking event feeling like the VA equivalent of Beyoncé – handing out business cards by the dozen and chatting to half of the room (especially if you live in an area where VAs seem to be a relatively unknown phenomenon until you tell people about it!). But without following up with people after they event, they WILL disappear into the ether never to be heard of again. A fellow VA once told me ‘People don’t care about you, they care about how you can help them’ – so to generate business, make sure you contact the people who fit your niche after the event – a simple LinkedIn request can do wonders to prick people’s memories into checking out your website and ultimately hiring you.
6. You will feel like a used-car salesman at first. Hawking your wares around networking events and perfecting your 60 second ‘elevator’ pitch can feel uncomfortable at best, and cringe worthy at worst. But practice makes perfect, and after a few weeks or months of being your own marketing manager it usually becomes second-nature to talk with confidence about how fabulous you are and how you can help others. Sir Alan eat your heart out!
7. Your income will go up and down – I don’t think anyone goes into being a VA expecting a steady monthly income at first, but some days I could cheerfully paper the walls with tenners, whilst other days I’m down to my last 20p for tea bags. The trick is managing your money carefully in the busy times to cover yourself through the lean times (and not spending the money for your tax bill on shoes…. ahem).
8. You will feel guilty for having free time during the day. My only advice here is DON’T. Revel in the lifestyle you have created, enjoy the quiet moments when they arise and remember them in the busy periods, which will come!
9. Other VAs will become your support network. It can be easy to feel isolated without colleagues sitting across the office to bounce ideas off or just to ask how to work the photocopier, but in this modern digital world, online communities of VAs and administrators are a brilliant way to stay connected to your industry and to actual human beings whilst working by yourself.
10. Being a VA is totally worth all of the uncertainty, trepidation and ever fear you can feel during those first weeks and months as you get established. Once you get that first client recommendation or receive your first big cheque, you’ll start feeling like the brilliant administrator you truly are.
So for anyone considering becoming a VA, or for anyone just starting out, do be aware of the pitfalls, trials and tribulations, but don’t let them hold you back. Every step means you are building your empire, growing as a professional and as a person, and that you are about to rock as an all-star VA!