Sara Prince re-launched her business Vega VA in 2013 after fulfilling a promise to herself, and her family, to take a year’s sabbatical when her daughter was a little older to spend quality time with her, without any work distractions.
Prior to this however, in Sara’s early professional career (pre-VA life) she worked across a diverse range of industries including a software company, a footwear wholesaler and in exports for a Japanese trading company. From each one she gained a wealth of administrative, organisation, project management skills and so much more. But rather than continue down the path of being employed, Sara realised she wanted more responsibility, and on hearing about the rise of the Virtual Assistant she knew that with her wide ranging skillset she could do it too!
Back in 2002 Sara first registered as a sole trader, then in 2007 Vega Interim Ltd was born, but it wasn’t until last year Vega VA was added as the new star to the Virtual Assistant skyline.
Find out more about Sara and her VA business …
Did you do any specific training before you opened for business and was it useful?
I didn’t do any specific training. Coming from working as a temp, money was tight, and I felt that I had enough experience to draw on with the varied roles I had held both on a permanent and temporary basis.
How did you find your first client and what was the first job?
My first client was AXA UK which is where I was working in a temp role. I told my immediate boss that I would be leaving in order to set up my Virtual Assistant business, and luckily for me, he didn’t want to lose me, so asked me to stay on a contractual basis. My first client was therefore secretary to the Procurement, Marketing and Property Teams at AXA UK and it went very well, in addition I also secured the job of transcribing audio recordings of all the Executive Committee Meetings – the lady who gave me this job felt I was the “best informed person in the company!” I would get up early to work on my business, commute into London to do my “contract day job” whilst working on the train, then work on the train on the way home as well. A lot of hard work and long days but after approximately a year I’d built up enough of a client base to say farewell to AXA UK and work from home full-time.
Have you developed a niche area and what is it?
I’d have to say that minute taking (using shorthand) is a niche for me in that it is a rarely offered skill. It takes me out to meetings and I get the opportunity to meet clients. I have 2 clients for whom I take minutes on a regular basis, plus have also attended disciplinary meetings to transcribe verbatim on behalf of companies.
Another niche is as an expert in ACT! Contact Management Software. I have set-up databases for 5 different companies, 3 of which I then maintained on behalf of the client.
How many clients do you work with now?
I currently have 5 or 6 clients. I enjoy carrying out my “Full Office Administration Service” which gives me the opportunity to learn about my clients and understand their business and requirements so that I can run their office on a virtual basis, and it is my aim to gain more clients wanting this full service. So a few clients requiring a few hours per week is ideal for me rather than lots of clients wanting just 1 hour a month!
Do you work alone or with other VAs/employ someone?
Generally I work alone, but have connections with other VAs who have helped me out during (rare) holiday periods.
What strategies have you used to grow your business and what has and hasn’t worked?
I have gained clients mainly through networking and word-of-mouth. I haven’t done advertising or PR. Networking has worked in the past for me, and I’m using the same methods now to re-grow my business following my year off. I’m also this time using social media, which wasn’t around when I started off.
What has been most difficult thing about growing your business?
Definitely doing it all again. But it was my choice to take a year off (which I did as when my daughter was born in 2008 I only took 6 weeks off and I promised myself and her to have more time with her when she was a little older – we enjoyed our year together). Social Media has been a steep learning curve, and I’m discovering new things every day.
Tell us something about a typical day and what kind of work you do?
A typical day for me is (this is the plan, but it doesn’t always work out!):
- 5-7am marketing work for Vega VA
- 7-9am with my children before school (get them up, breakfast, off to school)
- 9am – 2pm work for clients
- 2-3pm “me” time
- 3-8pm with my children (clubs, dinner, playtime, homework)
- 8-9pm admin work for Vega VA (not every evening, definitely not Fridays!)
My largest client is a virtual college, which means that I’m maintaining their student database. This involves liaison with students, trainers and assessors and other college personnel, plus dealing with enquiries via phone and email. Arranging courses, ensuring workbooks are sent out, follow-up information sent to students and their employers. Taking course bookings and sending out invoices. Twice yearly I work on the course schedule for the forthcoming season.
For other clients I’m typing letters, creating fliers/posters, book-keeping, organising meetings and preparing meeting documentation, plus attending meetings and transcribing meeting minutes.
What’s one thing you’ve done that’s made a client absolutely delighted?
My clients are always pleased with my attention to detail, turn-around time and initiative.
I have had good feedback on databases which I’ve set-up.
Do you have any funny stories/anecdotes about jobs you’ve done?
I went to South Wales in March 2008 to take minutes at a meeting. My husband and son came with me as we were going on from Wales to my husband’s job in Poole, Dorset. It was the weekend of my son’s 2nd birthday. Only problem was we forgot to pack all the birthday presents we’d bought. I felt guilty, but he was only 2, so wouldn’t know it was his birthday, so wasn’t too concerned – we’d just “do” his birthday the following weekend when we got home to Essex. However my husband felt even guiltier so we went out and bought more presents in Poole!
What are your favourite applications/gadgets that you couldn’t live without?
Buffer app – if you haven’t come across this one, it allows me to pre-schedule Twitter, Facebook and Linked In (plus other social media, if I used any others) posts. This means that I don’t necessarily have to log-in at the right time. I keep an eye on responses to any posts via my mobile phone so that I can interact with people. But I’ve a new laptop on the way and I’m sure that will become a “cannot live without” gadget (it’s a detachable laptop that becomes a tablet – I can’t wait!).
What do you enjoy most about being a Virtual Assistant?
The ability to work the hours that suit me and working from home. I also get a huge sense of satisfaction of a job well done for a client.
What do you enjoy least about being a Virtual Assistant?
Having to sell my services.
What’s the best advice you’ve been given / or you would give to others about growing your business?
My advice to others: Be yourself! If you’re not honest (about who you are and your skills) then you may win business but you will lose it again, and lose goodwill.
What do you think are the most important qualities a VA should have?
Organisational skills, self-sufficiency, dedication.