Lois King launched Lois King Limited in June 2012 after making the decision to change her work life to no more commuting and the chance of being her own boss. She had always wanted to start up her own business and after working in the City for a long period of time decided that the time was right.
She had read about Virtual Assistants a few years earlier and with the skills she’d acquired over the years she wanted to provide her expertise to SMEs and/or sole traders who needed ad-hoc support, but could not afford to hire a permanent member of staff or executive assistance.
Lois brings to her business over fifteen years worth of experience as a PA and PRINCE2 Project Coordinator. She has worked at an executive level with Vice Presidents, Chief Financial Officers and General Managers in a variety of industries such as; Service Transition Lead for an international IT company, Change Control Coordinator for a multi-million pound insurance IT change project, Regional Assistant and Project Coordinator for an international hotel chain, PA to General Manager and Commercial Manager to a worldwide construction company, Assistant Underwriter within a Lloyd’s insurance broker, PA to CPD Director of a well-known law school and Insurance Technician for a Lloyd’s insurance broker.
Read on to find out more about Lois and her already successful VA business.
Did you do any specific training before you opened for business and was it useful?
A short course – Start Up in Business, at City University.
After leaving school, I went to college to study Business Administration plus I have RSA qualifications in Word Processing, Audio Transcription and Shorthand. Although, my training has predominantly come from work experience. During which, I have gained qualifications in PRINCE2 project management and ITIL v3. Plus, I attended many courses on MS Office to include Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook and Projects.
How did you find your first client and what was the first job?
I found my first client via a local, business networking group. My first job was to organise their annual planner. They had key dates when they had to deliver certain tasks or projects and she wanted me to work back from those dates to schedule when she should prepare and complete each task or project for the whole year. She also wanted me to design work processes for some of repetitive tasks so she could work from them and keep her on track. This type of work is right up my street as I love organising people!
Have you developed a niche area and what is it?
Generally, independent consultants who are out of the office in meetings or travelling i.e Insurance or HR consultants, Business or Financial Advisors. Although, I have worked with lots of other types of industries, such as, a photographer and a promotional products company.
How many clients do you work with now?
I have 18 clients on my books. Some use me frequently i.e monthly whilst others use me on an ad-hoc basis as and when they need the extra support or a specific project they are unable to do themselves.
Do you work alone or with other VAs/employ someone?
I work alone from my home office.
What strategies have you used to grow your business and what has and hasn’t worked?
I use networking, following up with existing clients by phone to see if they need any further assistance, e-marketing, blogging and social media. I find networking is the best strategy as people like to put a face to the name and they get to know your personality and build trust over time.
When I first started my business, I distributed leaflets to local businesses about my services but I received no response. I think this is based on my previous comment that people want to get to know you first before delegating tasks and trusting you with their business.
What has been most difficult thing about growing your business?
Getting across exactly what I can do for potential clients. Some people think that a Virtual Assistant is someone who just types but they can offer so much more – from marketing to project management to event planning. A good Virtual Assistant can be your go to person for all aspects of your business.
Tell us something about a typical day and what kind of work you do?
A typical day would start with me working through my emails and voicemails and replying or returning calls, arranging 1 to 1 meetings. I would then work on a task such as updating contact databases or audio transcribing. Around lunchtime, I generally update my social media. In the afternoon I will work on other tasks such as follow up calls, email and diary management. At the end of the day I will prepare terms and invoices and send out to clients.
What’s one thing you’ve done that’s made a client absolutely delighted?
Other than my very first client already mentioned, I was asked to promote a local auction on behalf of another client. He didn’t have the time as it was in addition to his usual day to day job. I used all the contacts that I had made via networking and other routes to promote the auction; managing to get him an interview on local radio and free advertisements in many publications across the country. He was delighted with the outcome!
Do you have any funny stories/anecdotes about jobs you’ve done?
I was making a call on behalf of a client and when they answered they thought it was their daughter phoning. I explained that I was not her daughter but she wouldn’t believe me and even said “stop putting on your telephone voice and being silly”. After a few minutes of my trying to explain she was terribly embarrassed and apologized profusely but we both laughed and saw the funny side.
What are your favourite applications/gadgets that you couldn’t live without?
Hourguard – a time management tool for timing all my work to provide a task activity report together with the invoice to send directly to my clients. It provides transparency so they know exactly how long I have spent on each task.
My Blackberry so I can respond promptly to emails, texts and calls when out of the office. I’d be lost without it!
A good old fashioned note pad for all my meeting notes, contacts and to do list so I don’t forget a thing!!!!
What do you enjoy most about being a Virtual Assistant?
Working with so many varied clients, meeting new people, being my own boss and having no two days the same with clients asking me to provide lots of different services.
What do you enjoy least about being a Virtual Assistant?
I sometimes get “cabin fever” from working from my home office alone, all day. I try to get out to business networking events and have one to one meetings with clients or potential clients to mix with like-minded people.
What’s the best advice you’ve been given / or you would give to others about growing your business?
Know your worth and don’t give away free time. It is very tempting in the beginning to go beyond what you have been asked to do or offer free assistance. However, I have learned that those who truly value your ability and charges will not question it, especially when the task is done correctly and on time, and will return to you time and time again.
What do you think are the most important qualities a VA should have?
Flexibility, can-do attitude, strong communication skills, the ability to juggle deadlines and use initiative and of course, be personable.