Jo Harrison formed Writer’s Block Admin Services in 2011 after taking voluntary redundancy from a large UK University where she co-ordinated the postgraduate programmes in psychotherapy and mental health.
With over 20 years experience working for various organisations in administrative roles, Jo now has a wide ranging skill set to offer her clients which includes general support, as well as her specialist niche of ebook formatting.
However, not only did Jo decide to create Writer’s Block Admin Services, she also decided to hop across the water to live in France – nothing like a bit of a challenge!
Read on to find out more about Jo and her VA business.
Did you do any specific training before you opened for business and was it useful?
I completed various training courses while in full-time employment but I didn’t take anything specific before opening for business. I have always been very good at teaching myself new skills, so I spent a lot of time learning things from scratch such as Social Media, WordPress and eBook Formatting. I did pay for one online course at the very start, which was focussed around social media, email marketing and blogging which I feel helped me get started being able to offer certain services to clients.
How did you find your first client and what was the first job?
I found my very first client through a website called PeoplePerHour and the job was formatting CV’s for a recruitment company with offices all over the world, they dealt with people in the oil/energy industry. I would receive up to 30 CV’s per week; they needed them to be formatted according to the company template. I continued with this first client for a period of 8 months, although they only wanted me for 3 months initially.
Have you developed a niche area and what is it?
At first I spent a lot of time helping people with social media and websites/blogs, but I then moved into eBook formatting after re-publishing my late Grandfather’s book as an eBook. I now work with many authors and tend to assist them with all aspects of self-publishing. Some of these clients now use me as their virtual assistant for other tasks such as websites/blogs and marketing assistance.
How many clients do you work with now?
I work with many authors on an on-going basis if they go on to write further books. I have around 6 virtual assistance clients currently, some of these have retainer packages and others are on a pay as you go contract.
Do you work alone or with other VAs/employ someone?
I work on my own, although I do have a lot of other VA’s I can contact if I need assistance, or a client requests a service I don’t currently offer. I also work with other collaborators such as writers, book cover designers and other eBook formatters.
What strategies have you used to grow your business and what has and hasn’t worked?
I find social media is a great way of growing my business, many of my clients find me on Twitter or LinkedIn for example. I spend a lot of time interacting with people on social media and I find this usually works quite well; LinkedIn particularly is good for contacting people directly about the services you offer. I have found that email marketing hasn’t achieved the results I had hoped, and I am planning on working harder on that this year.
What has been most difficult thing about growing your business?
The hardest thing for me has been finding clients who would like to use me on a regular monthly basis. With eBook formatting and the author services I provide I get one-off jobs, some of my VA clients only use me on a PAYG basis so don’t need me regularly. I spend a lot of time looking for work, whereas with a few more regular clients I could be focussing more time on building my business and being able to offer more services.
Tell us something about a typical day and what kind of work you do?
My day usually starts by checking and responding to emails and any messages on social media. Later in the morning I will work on a specific task, either for a client or myself depending on what needs doing. In the afternoon I will work on client work, or if I don’t have anything that needs attention then I will look for leads on social media and email a few prospects. I tend to spend quite a bit of time supporting clients on email, so this is usually something I do on and off throughout the day.
In terms of the type of work I do, there’s usually some eBook formatting that needs attention, or website/blog updates.
What’s one thing you’ve done that’s made a client absolutely delighted?
I recently completed a WordPress website redesign for an author client, she was extremely happy with the result and dedicated a whole blog post to thanking me.
What are your favourite applications/gadgets that you couldn’t live without?
I have too many applications/gadgets I couldn’t live without. The main one would be my iPhone, it means I can sit in front of the TV and continue working if necessary. The one application I tend to use in the evenings is Flipboard, it is a news aggregator and I use it to find much of the content I share on social media. Other applications I couldn’t live without are my social media scheduling tools, things like Buffer and SocialOomph, they save me an enormous amount of time.
What do you enjoy most about being a Virtual Assistant?
I enjoy the flexibility of being a virtual assistant, being able to organise my own day according to what work needs completing for my clients. It means I can take the dog out for walks during the day, and not have to leave him at home while I’m out at work. I can work from anywhere, as long as I have my iPhone/laptop with me. It’s good to work with people from all over the world, and be able to assist them with things that they may not be confident with.
What do you enjoy least about being a Virtual Assistant?
I don’t think there is anything I don’t like about being a VA specifically, more about being self-employed and the need to be looking for more clients/work. It’s difficult being your own boss, working from home and taking care of everything yourself rather than an employer doing all that for you.
What’s the best advice you’ve been given / or you would give to others about growing your business?
I read a lot of articles, and one of the pieces of advice that stood out for me was to make time to work on your business, be it an hour each day, or one day per week. If you don’t make time for the things you need to do for yourself then your business won’t grow. I now make sure I spend at least a few hours each Friday working on my business, whether it’s updating my websites, invoicing clients, or just brainstorming new products/services. It really makes a difference when you make the time.
What do you think are the most important qualities a VA should have?
To be a VA you need to be super organised, if you’re working with many different clients you need to be able to prioritise and work to deadlines. You also need to be focused and be able to use your own initiative, and be quick to pick up new procedures.