Helen Brown started her Virtual Assistant business – Paramount PA Services – very recently. In fact just a few months ago, back in November 2013. Whilst the business is in its infancy, her experience is not – she has worked in administrative roles within accountancy and law firms for the last 15 years.

Helen’s reason for going it alone is similar to what many VA’s have experienced over the last few years. Unfortunately whilst on maternity leave, the company she was working for at the time went through a restructuring, taking her role with it. Rather than be beaten, Helen realised this was her opportunity to start her own business, bringing her expertise to business owners and individuals without the associated costs and overheads of an employee.

We asked Helen a number of questions to find out more about her VA business, read on to hear what she had to say.

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

I did lots of research on the internet and read up as much as I could on starting a new business. Learning on the job has always suited me and I can pick things up quickly. I have trained myself by taking part in webinars and watching videos on YouTube if I needed to learn something specific quickly. As my business is still in its early days this is an ongoing process and in the next couple of weeks I am booked on to a Google+ workshop.

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

I found my first client by sitting down and making a list of people/companies I felt could use my services. A new business opened in my local area. I drove past it most days and was convinced they could use my help. I had a gut feeling about it, it was intuition really! I sent them an email and I managed to get an appointment to meet the Director the following week. It turned out we lived within a minutes’ walk from each other, very handy for dropping off work!

I started work for them the next week and my first job for them was creating templates, formatting documents and converting documents. They said if I hadn’t put “New Local Business in Allesley” in my email subject they would have just deleted the email.

Have you developed a niche area and what is it?

I haven’t intentionally developed this niche but so far it has just happened! All but one of my clients are women who own and run their own businesses. I really enjoy working with them and can relate to them and hopefully they can to me. That’s not to say I won’t work with men! It’s just the way it has evolved so far.

How many clients do you work with now?

I have six regular clients and also a couple that I get work from on an adhoc basis.

What has been most difficult thing about growing your business?

Working in industry for so long and then coming out to run my own business has made me realise just how much new technology there is out there and how it’s easy to let it pass you by.

Things are always developing and there are lots to learn. So there have been things I have really had to focus on and get up to speed with to help me grow my business, for example LinkedIn. I had only skimmed the surface of it before setting up my business. There were times when my confidence took a dip when I realised just how much I needed to grasp so I can move my business forward. Thankfully I feel over that now.

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

Typically my day starts by checking my emails. I go through and reply or file my emails where necessary. Then I will usually have a look at local business news and schedule some posts for Facebook and Twitter. I manage a Facebook account for another client so I’ll post for them too.

If I have a particular job to do I try and get that done first thing. It’s usually something like copy typing, formatting a document or raising some invoices. As I type this I’ve just finished transcribing a 3 hour audio file. I try to get most of my work done in bulk so I’ll block out a morning or an afternoon. That way I can try and get out of the house for a couple of hours too!

I also go and work on site at clients’ premises or homes and I usually schedule this for the last week of the month to tie in with their end of month admin and bookkeeping.

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

I have had two lovely emails from two of my clients. One of them said they were really pleased they found me and the other said they were thrilled with my work and were looking for more work for me. I was over the moon with both emails!

I think saving time is the best thing I have done for a client and helping them realise they can “let go” of their workload when they have someone to trust. I try and give the best service I can and if I am unsure about anything will ask questions. I want everyone to be happy with the end result and it helps manage expectations on both sides.

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

Like lots of us, I could not live without my iPad and iPhone. I love Tweetdeck for scheduling posts and Evernote for clipping web pages and making notes. Paymo is great for keeping track of the time I spend on client work. I also love A Beautiful Mess which is an app for the iPhone which lets you create jpeg images. I have also been using Pic Monkey a lot lately, its brilliant!

What do you enjoy most about being a Virtual Assistant?

I enjoy the variety of work. One day I can be making calls, booking meetings and invoicing, the next I can be designing a leaflet or a Facebook cover. I also love that I can say yes or no. If I don’t like the sound of the work or don’t feel comfortable about something I can say politely decline. That is a great feeling.

I also love the flexibility of it; I can work to suit me and my family which is a huge bonus with two young children. I feel very lucky I can do that, especially after running around dropping off at the child-minder’s and wrap around clubs for the first few years of my eldest son’s life.

What do you enjoy least about being a Virtual Assistant?

  • I think a hurdle for all VA’s is that some people don’t understand what a Virtual Assistant is and what we do!
  • I work more hours now for a lot less pay so that’s a downside! But its early days for me and my business.
  • Working for yourself in any role it can be hard to switch off, I often find myself answering emails and doing research at 10pm at night.

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

My advice would be to register and accept as much free advice as you can. There are lots of great websites offering free webinars and information. Take advantage of all of those.

Join networking groups with like-minded people, for instance there are lots of groups for VA’s on LinkedIn and Facebook. Some people may view this as “the competition” but although we are in the same field and possibly offering the same services there is more than enough work out there for everyone. I have made some great connections and both offered and received advice in those groups.

Join in on Twitter with your local networking hour; I’m based in Coventry so I take part in #covhour most weeks.

I’m also very lucky that one of my clients offers coaching and they have given me lots of advice on websites to look at, people to connect with and the direction to take my business. That advice has been invaluable.

Finally, look out for opportunities to promote yourself and your business. I am a guest blogger for Avery UK and I write a blog for them each month which features on their website. They have a large following on Twitter and again I have made some great connections through this. I have also been fortunate enough to have received some great freebies from doing this – so far I have had some office stationery and equipment and even Afternoon Tea at the Sanderson Hotel!

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

  1. Belief in yourself and the expertise and knowledge you can bring others.
  2. Great organisation skills and attention to detail.
  3. A ‘Can Do’ attitude and determination.