What made you decide you wanted to become a VA and when?
In 2006 I was being made redundant, which gave me the opportunity to do something different. I wanted to utilize the skills and experience I had gained over 18 years, and enjoy a flexible work/life balance at the same time. By chance I read an article in the Executary magazine about a VA, which gave me a light bulb moment. I did a lot of research, and started the business in May 2006.
Were you concerned that there were already many VAs already out there and this would be competition?
In a word, ‘no’! When I started, the VA concept was still relatively new, however, I had (and still to this day have) the attitude that to have more VAs in the industry can only be of benefit. It is a wonderfully friendly industry, and one where we can collaborate rather than compete. Concentrate on the individual skills and experience we each have, continue to be an expert in our own field, and reach out to our fellow VAs for support with areas that are outside of our own experience/skillset. This is a win win scenario – you are able to offer your clients more skills than you personally have, which impresses a client (one stop shop) and an increased workload equals a passive income.
What gave you the confidence to give yourself that push to go ahead and do it?
- A positive mindset – others were doing it, why couldn’t I? I had the skills, and the experience – the only change was the environment from corporate office to home office
- Realism – have a go attitude, if I didn’t try, I wouldn’t know, and what was the worst that could happen. I set myself a financial target and a time plan to review the business and decide whether it was financially viable.
- A dearly supportive husband.
When you decided to get started what made you decide to go for some VA training?
I had picked up over 18 years all the skills and experience I needed to do what I was good at, but the one area I had did not have any experience in was actually running a business for myself, so it made sense to seek training in this area in order to be successful and create a solid foundation on which to build a sustainable and profitable business.
Why did you decide on The VA Coaching and Training Company and what was your experience of the training?
The VA Coaching and Training Company provided training through a variety of different mediums, from 2 day group courses to individual coaching over the phone or in person, and I was immediately drawn to that approach of adaptability. Added to which it appeared to cover every aspect of setting up a business that I thought I would need to know. I wasn’t disappointed- by doing all the homework (modules) I built up a bible of how to run a VA business, which I then just put into practice. It suddenly made everything seem accomplishable, in bite size pieces.
What have been the highlights of your business so far?
Gosh there have been lots of highlights, and probably the first one was winning the VA of the Year award in 2007. This was a massive confidence booster, and made me feel I had really found my vocation.
Looking back over 8 years I realize I have not had one day where I have never had any work to do, so that feels like a highlight in itself. I feel so lucky to have wonderful clients for whom I really feel I am providing a valuable and respected service.
Last Christmas I conducted a short survey amongst my top 8 clients with whom I have daily contact, and the positive feedback I received was the best Christmas present ever.
What have been some challenges you have experienced and if you were to do things differently next time what would you do?
At one time I took on too many clients, thinking I could absorb another 20 hours in the month easily, and realizing the reality was it meant I forfeited the work/life balance I had originally craved (and achieved). It was a hard lesson. I wanted so much to please everyone and maintain an efficient service, and in doing so, the only person suffering was me (and probably my family!). I soon realised it was time to delegate, and get myself back on track. Now I am much stricter with myself and carefully evaluate the time I physically have available.
When I started out I was fortunate enough to get a client who required my services 2 days a week, but on site in London. This was great to begin with as I was building my virtual clients, and could afford not to be in my office 100% of the time, plus the income was great, but after 2 years I realized I had to make the challenging decision – was I going to be an on-site PA or a virtual PA, because the reality was I couldn’t do both alone. I withdrew from the on-site PA role, which halved my income instantly. Big gulp! However, when one door closes, another opens, and miraculously it was as if I had cleared the space to allow more virtual clients, and within a few months I was back up to the monthly revenue I wanted, working solely as a VA in my home office. Hard decision, but my advice would be to go with your gut instinct every time.
What type of clients do you work with and do you specialise in a particular service?
I work with Non-Executive Directors and Entrepreneurs. This enables me to specialize in traditional Executive PA skills such as diary management, making travel arrangements, organizing meetings, and putting together some pretty complex itineraries. Having worked in the corporate world at Board Director level in FTSE 100 and 250 I had been very used to this type of work, and so it was a natural transition to move into this area as a niche market (with thanks to Carmen for pointing out during my training that this was the obvious way to go, and yes it completely was!).
I also support coaching and training organizations, many of whom have a number of associates each delivering executive coaching, management training programmes, and rehabilitation services to well-known companies. This role involves a huge amount of admin, record keeping, invoicing, endless checklists – and juggling!
What advice would you give to anyone just starting out especially in relation to training?
My advice would be to invest in yourself and ultimately your business by doing a training course, particularly if you have never run a business yourself. You know you have the skillsets and experience to actually do the work, but do you know, for example, how to market yourself and how to network effectively? By spending time and a little money in gaining this knowledge, you are sure to get off to a flying start.
The analogy I use (because I like cars!) is: you wouldn’t jump behind the steering wheel for the first time expecting to know how to drive without having had some driving lessons, even if you know the highway code, and the intricacies of an engine. It’s the same with running a business – you know all about being a PA or Administrator, but that doesn’t mean you know how to drive a business forward.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years from now?
I see YourVA still as a thriving business – I love what I do far too much to think of changing direction, however, possibly working less hours without sacrificing income, so maybe taking on more work, outsourcing and receiving a passive income – watch this space!
Who in business would you love to meet and why?
Tim Berners-Lee who invented the World Wide Web in 1989. In his initial proposal he specified three technologies that remain the foundation of today’s internet – wow, to have such insight! And to have come up with an idea that has changed the world’s communication so remarkably is to me so incredible.
Which book has influenced you the most in your business?
Showing Our True Colors by Mary Miscisin. This is all about discovering oneself, and how to get along with other people with a view to better communication, and understanding the way in which others behave, so that you can adapt your approach to get the best out of them. A truly enlightening, and rather comforting read – I had no idea my quirky ways, my endless lists and my need for attention to detail could actually be categorized into a ‘colour’ type!
What is your favourite quote and why?
‘Life is not about waiting for the storm to pass … it’s about learning to dance in the rain’ – Anon. I find you can apply this attitude to so much, whether it be work or home related, and it’s my censor check. It’s all about living our lives, we all have storms of some type, and we need to respond to them, adapt, and just get on and enjoy life. It’s too short not to!
What do you love to do when you’re not working.
I absolutely love entertaining friends and family, preparing meals whether it’s a simple Paella, an elaborate 4 courser, BBQ or big party. I’m in my element from start to finish, and just hearing and watching people have a good time relaxing, it’s a wonderful feeling and makes me smile inside.
And lastly – what one thing can you tell us about you that not many people know?
Many moons ago I played in a group of 20 classical guitarists at a concert at The Royal Albert Hall. Awesome experience!
You can read more about Alexia on her website: