Amanda Walden founded ALW Virtual Assistant in October 2012, and whilst she may be relatively new to the Virtual Assistant world, she is certainly far from it when it comes to providing support to people and their businesses.
Amanda holds a 20-year career in Office Management and Executive Assistant roles at senior level, working both in the UK and the Middle East across a range of industry sectors. These include; property development & management, legal services, publishing (for the Gulf’s leading publishing company), retail, supply chain (supplying food, equipment, fuel and complex logistical solutions in remote and difficult locations around the world) and for a leading independent provider of health and social care in the UK.
After receiving redundancy in October 2012 Amanda re-evaluated her future and decided to become, in her own words, “the mistress of my own destiny”. So she launched ALW Virtual Assistant and her new career as a VA, utilising all the skills she has mastered over those 20 years.
Read more from our interview with Amanda:
Did you do any specific training before you opened for business?
Although I had been working as an Executive Assistant for 20 years I had no knowledge of how to start working as a VA. I carried out extensive research on the internet and purchased a small training pack from the VA Success Group together with financial and legal templates. I found there to be a tremendous amount of tips that you would not necessarily think of for example putting together a USP, free software that you may need, resource lists, and client consultation questions – this has been invaluable, as well as reading the 30 Day Setting up as a Virtual Assistant by Helen Stothard.
How did you find your first client and what was the first job?
My first client came from networking; the biggest mistake I have seen people make with networking is trying to sell. I have always believed in how I can help this person grow their business, not by them giving me work but by me giving referrals and recommendations. This worked for me in the long term, you get to know the people you network with and they get to know you feel comfortable and trust you.
Have you developed a niche area and what is it?
I haven’t developed a business type niche, but the size of the companies I work for at the moment are from 1-8 employees which is very different to the large corporate companies I am used to working for.
How many clients do you work with now?
Currently I am working with four clients all from different business areas, photography, publishing, printing and a solicitor. All very different which makes it really interesting.
Do you work alone or with other VAs/employ someone?
I have no family commitments so it is very easy for me to work 12 hour days, which I have no objection to doing, in fact I love it. Should the need arise I would consider working with Associate VA’s.
What strategies have you used to grow your business – what has / hasn’t worked?
When I first started I was advised to target accountants, so I decided to send all the local accountants’ letters introducing my business and providing them with an information pack. This didn’t work, although we are virtual and probably won’t ever meet many of our clients I believe we do still need to have the personal touch.
Network, network, network, word of mouth is very powerful. I can honestly say this is what’s working for me at the moment.
What has been most difficult thing about growing your business?
The most difficult for me and I’m sure a lot of other VA’s was getting that first client, nothing is going to happen if you sit in the office waiting for the phone to ring. I booked myself onto as many networking events that I could find around my area which worked out around 5 a week on some occasions I was attending a morning breakfast meeting and an evening event. I also made sure I was active on LinkedIn and Twitter, by checking my Google Analytics I found that this was working as I was getting traffic to my website from both.
Tell us something about a typical day and what kind of work you do?
No two days are the same, I am always in the office by 6.30am in the morning checking my emails, I can’t wait to see what the day brings. At the weekend I always plan the week ahead with my clients work, scheduling what hours are needed per day to complete what is required. This could include all manner of things, internet research, producing legal papers to send to court, expenses, answering emails, or booking venues. I send them a calendar print out the day before so they can see where they need to be the following day they find this really useful.
I don’t take lunch as such, but I do take 20 minutes to walk my dog Alfie. At around 5.30pm I go onto my networking forums, LinkedIn, and Twitter to see what’s happening and interact where I can.
What’s one thing you’ve done that’s made a client absolutely delighted?
A client who lived locally to me was always complaining that his office at home was a mess so I suggested he boxed it all up and bring it round for me to sort out. Boy did I get a shock. Boxes? No, he came round with 5 bin liners full! This took a few days to sort out, but it went back in box files, lever arch files, business card holders, I even set up expense and mileage sheets for him to use. What he was really delighted about was he had thrown in his external hard drive so I sorted all is documents into folders and put the most important folders into a document storage system for him on the internet. He wasn’t even aware you could do this.
Do you have any funny stories/anecdotes about jobs you’ve done?
My first client forgot to mention that he was a member of British Naturism; you can imagine my shock when he delivered his magazines for me to sort! I have not really been able to look at him in quite the same way as there was a rather large feature of him in one.
What are your favourite applications/gadgets that you couldn’t live without?
My favourite applications are Quickbooks and Paymo plus, both of these I couldn’t do without! As for gadgets it has to be my little Piccolo coffee machine, I don’t even have to leave my desk for a coffee, now that is dedication!
What do you enjoy most about being a Virtual Assistant?
Having satisfied clients after each project and going the extra mile for them, it’s as simple as that really.
What do you enjoy least about being a Virtual Assistant?
I can honestly say there is nothing that I don’t enjoy, for this reason I am absolutely sure I have made the right decision.
What’s the best advice you’ve been given / or you would give to others about growing your business?
Make sure you have a business plan, this was one of the first things I was told, and they were right. It will take time to get your first client so you need to make sure you have around 6 month’s money for the mortgage and bills. This will take the pressure off you a little bit.
My advice to others would be not to give up, most VA’s have worked in the profession for years just not in the virtual world. Have confidence in your ability, network like crazy, and have a presence in as many groups/forums on the internet as you can. There are some really useful tips and articles to be found from other VA’s in the business, don’t be afraid to ask for help no question is a silly question we all had to start somewhere.
What do you think are the most important qualities a VA should have?
Flexibility is a must, you never know who the next client will be. You have to be a good self-starter as there is no boss to push you! You won’t meet most of your clients so you need to be personable on the telephone and of course professional. The burning desire to succeed can only benefit both you and your client. I have never been so happy.
The only thing we can’t do for our clients is make their coffee!