Bernadette Jones formed First4admin in 2008 after working as a PA / Secretary up to Chairman’s level for over 30 years as well as having a long held desire to work for herself one day.

The idea which has since grown into a successful Virtual Assistance business was to specialise in providing admin support, on-site, to companies in the West Midlands area, as well as providing virtual assistance nationwide.

Over the years Bernadette has completed numerous assignments for Government Bodies, Blue Chip Companies, the Medical Profession and the Private Sector. She also has particular knowledge of working with Chartered Surveyors, Loss Adjusters and Company Directors, as well as ongoing work for Universities and Medical Consultants.

In Bernadette’s words I had always wanted to work for myself, rather than be employed, and when my son reached 17 in 2008, I decided to take the plunge as I didn’t want to go through life thinking “What if?”

Read on to find out more about Bernadette’s successful VA business.

Did you do any specific training before you opened for business and was it useful?

I gained the usual secretarial qualifications some thirty years ago, but I studied web design with the Open University and attended various workshops on being self employed with Business Link.

How did you find your first client and what was the first job?

My first client was my partner, Mark, chasing his company’s outstanding debts.

Have you developed a niche area and what is it?

On the virtual side: digital transcription. On-site: devising filing systems for clients and keeping these systems in place on an ongoing basis.

How many clients do you work with now?

I have 7 regular clients, with a further 14 clients when they need support.

Do you work alone or with other VAs/employ someone?

I mainly work alone, but I do call on other VA’s when need arises and as I have become busier over the years.

What strategies have you used to grow your business and what has and hasn’t worked?

Attending more networking events which certainly helps, but word of mouth work seems to have become busier of late, which I am putting down to the networking and events that I attend on a regular basis, along with referrals from past clients.

What has been most difficult thing about growing your business?

Getting the message across that Virtual Assistants are an invaluable tool in helping businesses to grow their wealth, although I am finding that this is now becoming easier as more and more people know what a Virtual Assistant is!

Tell us something about a typical day and what kind of work you do?

Some days start at 6.00am if I am attending a networking breakfast event. If not, I get up at 7.30am and at around 8.00am I check my emails and phone messages, prioritise my work and then get started. Whether it be transcribing interviews, compiling databases, carrying out admin duties for my clients, or making Skype calls to colleagues and potential new clients. On the non-virtual side if I am on-site for a client, then my day starts at 9.00am and finishes any time from 5.00 pm to maybe 7.00pm.

What’s one thing you’ve done that’s made a client absolutely delighted?

I totally transformed one whole room of filing into a neat filing system in a day! The smile on my client’s face was priceless!

Do you have any funny stories/anecdotes about jobs you’ve done?

I can’t think of any in particular, although making sure that a spreadsheet went off to a client within a deadline whilst travelling down a canal on our narrowboat comes to mind! Thank goodness for BT Hotspots and my Orange Dongle!

What are your favourite applications/gadgets that you couldn’t live without?

Some of the apps on my Samsung Galaxy – they are absolutely brilliant.  Aweber and Constant Contact are applications I couldn’t live without and my Orange Dongle has come in handy on more than one occasion!

What do you enjoy most about being a Virtual Assistant?

The flexibility and variety of work.

What do you enjoy least about being a Virtual Assistant?

Not having a regular income and having to chase my own clients sometimes for payment. We are all in business together, so why is it sometimes so hard to get paid?! I invariably “sack” clients who regularly do not pay – if they can’t afford me, then I can’t afford to work for them.

What’s the best advice you’ve been given / or you would give to others about growing your business?

Don’t undervalue yourself – sooner or later you will feel resentful that you didn’t charge your worth.

What do you think are the most important qualities a VA should have?

Excellent admin skills; the ability to be totally flexible; work in a completely confidential way; and a “Keep calm and carry on!” attitude.