It’s now 13 years since my Virtual Assistance business opened its doors. I’m often asked what I’d do differently if I could start again, or what I wish I’d known when I started. So, I’ve been trying to think of the best advice I could give to someone just launching. Here are a few things I wish I’d got to grips with, or trusted my instincts about, sooner.

You don’t have to have the lowest prices to attract the best clients.

If we all bought things based on the lowest price then we’d all live in a tent or drive around in an old banger. Your ideal clients aren’t buying based on price, they should be buying based on the value you bring to their life and business.

When you have a conversation where the topic is lowering your prices, be strong and walk away from that prospect. These clients will bring you nothing but grumbles over every invoice and you can guarantee that they will be the biggest time suck in every day.

Higher prices can help drive the right clients in to your business, not frighten them away.

Also, remember that you can’t earn a proper living only charging per hour what you’d get if you were employed by someone. You’ll need to have enough to pay for your own holidays, time off sick, and you’ll be paying for your own equipment. You might want to have a re-read of this article if you want to know how much more you need to charge than your employed equivalents, just to make a living.

You need to know your numbers

How much do you want to earn? How many hours in a week do you want to work? Divide one by the other and you have the absolute minimum you need to charge to have the life you want. You’ll also know how many clients you need to attract and of what calibre.

If this number comes out at £300 an hour for data entry work then obviously you may need to re-evaluate. That’s a lot of value you need to bring!

Having said that if you can’t earn what you need to, doing what you want to, for the time you want to do it – then you need to change what you’re doing.

As time goes by, you’ll start to get a handle on the “lifetime value” of a client i.e. how long they stay with you for and how much money they will bring to your business. You can use this information to know how much you can afford to spend to attract a new one.

Even if you’re not a book-keeper or accountant, get to know your way around your business reports. What’s your Gross Profit, Net Profit. What’s your cashflow like? Don’t be in ignorance about how well, or poorly, you are doing.

You don’t have to work with anyone and everyone

When you’re starting your business you just can’t wait for that first phone call, or the first email, asking you to do some work. What if that first enquiry is something you could do, but you really hate that kind of stuff. Don’t you just have to do anything to get going?

No!

If you take on work you don’t really want to do then you’ll soon start to feel despondent. The happiness and excitement you felt at starting your own business will disappear and it will start to feel like it’s in control of you and not the other way around.

You need to be doing something you love and that excites you. I can promise you that your business will become all consuming. You’ll be working on it all day and thinking about it all night. It’s too much to take on work that makes you feel down.

And the client you thought sounded a good fit at first, but then you find out they’re rude and agressive – or place huge demands on your time. There’s only one answer to this one.

Get rid of them.

Don’t stay with a heart-sink client just for the regular income. When they’re gone you will have made space for a new, better client. Trust me, it took me a few years to learn this lesson.

Whilst most of your business decisions should be based on hard facts, I’ve learned never to take on anyone I have a bad feeling about. This reaction has invariably turned out to be correct.

Check out everyone you consider doing business with

If there’s one thing you should use Google every day for, it’s to check out the legitimacy of that new enquiry.

Most reputable businesses have some kind of footprint online. They usually have a website and the owner is probably on LinkedIn. Searching for the owner’s name has brought up court cases and newspaper articles about GBH for me in the past!

Credit checking services may be out of your budget when you start up, but if alarm bells ring even a little bit and the only contact number you have for your prospective client is a mobile telephone number then have a strategy for this. Either say you’re at capacity and can’t do it, or at the very least get some payment for hours or deposit up front.

I’ve been stung by this once, when I started working with someone who was going bust in one business and setting up another. I wasn’t paid by either. This was very early on in my VA career.

Check them out as much as you can.

It’s your job to remind your clients to do business with you

You need to get good at marketing yourself. Your clients are busy, If they don’t hear from you then you fall further and further down their list of priorities and it’s harder to get things going again.

Some clients don’t really know how to get started working remotely. It can be quite a new experience if they’re used to having someone in their office. Keep in touch with them and show them it can be really easy and that you don’t need your hand holding all the time.

Look after your loveliest and best clients. Remind them you’re there and how much you can help them. Don’t just wait for the phone to ring.

Most other people in your industry are wrong, about everything

I learned this phrase from my own business mentor, and I think of it every day when I look at what other VAs are doing and wonder if I should be doing the same thing.

Only 1% of business owners are really successful and wealthy, 4% are rich and doing very well, 15% are getting there and making good money, 60% are getting by and 20% are struggling.

This means that 80% of other businesses are wrong, about everything.

So don’t copy them and don’t do the same things they are, because you’ll get the same results they do.

You’ll see this when you look at the majority of the VA websites. How many of them stand out to you and really get across the personality and differences of the owner. More likely you’ll see a list of “services we can provide”. Nothing about how the client’s life will be changed.

Taking advice from friends and family also falls in to this category. Most won’t be taking the leap to owning their own business and they are not best placed to be giving you advice. Think carefully about how qualified they are to comment on what you’re doing.

Just be you

Take action on all those goals that are in your head.

Be successful.

3 COMMENTS

  1. Great article Jo. Couldn’t agree more with all your points. In particular, you last point – it really resonates with me … comparison.

    Stop comparing your business to anyone else’s.

    Stop copying anyone else’s methods.

    What works for that person, may not work for you. Or vice versa.

    This is very often what new VA’s do. Please don’t! Work on what you offer. What clients you want to attract. And figure out strategies that fit.

    Know your worth.

    And as you said Jo, just be you.

    Thanks for sharing Jo – it’s good to know (in a nice way!) that you also struggled with these things:)

  2. A great post thanks Jo, which I would recommend to all aspiring VAs (and also a few of us who are older hands too). I agree with you on all your points, and may I also add that VAing can be a very lonely business particularly when you have recently worked in an office environment. Networking with your peers will keep you sane!
    In particular I found:
    Never work with anyone who makes you feel anxious or even physically sick when you get an email/call from them, even though you don’t want to lose the money/status.
    Never work with anyone who disrespects you (bad payment record, micro-managing, ill-temper).
    Always look after your health, don’t sit in front of the computer for hours without a break and join a community of VAs on Skype and/or LinkedIn for support and simple human contact.

    • Thanks Debby. I agree that it’s really important to build up a network of support and we’re lucky in the VA industry that collaboration is accepted and encouraged as we know we can work well together. If we’re unlucky enough to work with someone that makes us feel anxious and unhappy, then when we work by ourselves it’s easy to think that it’s somehow our own fault, or that it’s something we’ve done. When we talk to one another we can realise we’re not at all alone in this and that there are ways to deal with it.

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