Zeina Barker started V-Efficient Ltd in 2009 after taking a break in 2007 to start a family. Prior to that she worked in London for International companies undertaking various support roles. Through those roles she gained a wealth of experience to build a well-rounded skill set allowing her to set up her own Virtual Assistant business when she was ready to return to work.
V-Efficient Ltd has continued to thrive from those early days and has given Zeina the flexibility which was needed to meet her other commitments as a mum.
Here’s more from our interview with Zeina:
Did you do any specific training before you opened for business?
I have a bachelor degree in business administration, and have the background needed in accounting, marketing, and management. I did various webinar trainings provided by Virtual Assistant Associations based in the US and Canada, where the industry is ahead of Europe, I also invested in various training courses like WordPress websites development and did an extensive research in the market. It happened at a time when all businesses were being hit hard by the financial slump in 2008, and there was definitely a niche for cost effective support for many small businesses.
How did you find your first client and what was the first job?
My first client was through People Per Hour, where I bid on a project in research. My strong skills are research and languages, so I started selling my services with a focus on those two skills initially.
Have you developed a niche area and what is it?
My niche area today is research, e-marketing and sales support. It is important for me that my clients see tangible results and the value added to their business. In addition, I also provide general administrative support.
How many clients do you work with now?
I am proud to say all my clients since I started 4 years ago have been repeat business. Today I have 6 repeat clients; I also work on independent projects.
Do you work alone or with other VAs/employ someone?
Over the last 2 years I developed contacts with a reliable network of freelancers, where I can outsource work when needed to meet deadlines on projects. I still do all the quality checks myself (a bit of a control freak!)
What strategies have you used to grow your business and what has and hasn’t worked?
Initially I worked mainly through freelancers websites like People Per Hour and Elance. Today I have clients coming to me direct. To be honest I have not done enough to grow my business, so far the focus has been on keeping my repeat business, and providing a quality service to build my name. Today I am in a better position to move forward. I would say the main lesson I learnt, is to get away from the employee mindset. We are business partners and provide a service only when needed, so the priority is always to provide a quality service, but also keep in mind that they may not need it, so always keep an eye on your own pipeline too.
What has been most difficult thing about growing your business?
Being self employed, you end up spending a lot of time and effort on your business. I would say it is difficult to switch off, it’s always there and with iPad and laptops and smart phones – it is practically impossible! If I see an email from a client, I find it difficult not to reply straight away!
Tell us something about a typical day and what kind of work you do?
My role varies, it may start with follow up calls – always try to do those first thing in the day – then move on to any queries I get by emails. If I am working on a project, the routine changes as per priorities. That is why I always try to find out what is the urgency and the priority of each task I am given, to make sure everybody’s expectations are met on time.
What’s one thing you’ve done that’s made a client absolutely delighted?
I’d like to think I made all my clients’ lives happier:) I have been lucky to work with and learn from extremely bright and successful clients.
Do you have any funny stories/anecdotes about jobs you’ve done?
Sometimes you have to change hats during the day so many times, and that can make you think twice before saying on behalf of which company you are calling!
What are your favourite applications/gadgets that you couldn’t live without?
My iPad:) This year I moved from Microsoft into Apple, saw it at a client’s office and think it is great. I now have the Apple Macbook Air so light and easy to carry everywhere.
What do you enjoy most about being a Virtual Assistant?
The autonomy and ability to make a difference.
What do you enjoy least about being a Virtual Assistant?
You’re completely isolated which can be lonely.
What’s the best advice you’ve been given / or you would give to others about growing your business?
Avoid trying too hard and being too general – you can’t be everything to everyone.
What do you think are the most important qualities a VA should have?
Integrity and self discipline. As VAs we are self employed, and for me personally reputation matters more than the financial gain.