The world of work is changing. How businesses run, where they operate from and how individuals work is shifting as technology creates more options and flexibility. Emma Gannon, author of The Multi-Hyphen Method explains that the notion of nine-to-five working was established back in the Victorian era “so it’s no surprise that it bewilders the modern generation” and doesn’t seem to quite fit how we live anymore. This is where Virtual Assistants come in.
A Virtual Assistant is still a relatively new concept to most people but something that is becoming more popular for modern-running businesses. Simply put, a virtual assistant does work that a traditional personal assistant would do but works remotely and doesn’t do full-time hours for their clients. Usually, they will have more than one client and more than likely work with them ongoing rather than just for a specific project.
Virtual Assistant Hannah Walker says that the main benefit of hiring a virtual assistant is time. “If you hire someone full or part-time they most likely will have downtime at some point during a working day or week but you are still paying them. A VA bills you for the time worked only. Hours can be flexible and a VA has extra time in a day when he/she is not travelling to the office.”
I get asked a lot about what I do. Firstly, this is tough to answer because I am (and have pretty much always been) a multi-hyphenate doing at least two different jobs or side hustles.
The problem in explaining what I do comes when people ask and expect me to say that I do ‘usual PA stuff’. Things like diary management, travel booking, expenses and basic book-keeping, email management and booking meetings and yes, a lot of VA work is along these lines as many VAs work with corporate companies.
I don’t work with corporate companies. I specifically state that I don’t. Over the past 4.5 years, I’ve created a little niche of working with creatives, event suppliers, and kids’ sports companies handling bookings, enquiries, day to day processes and operations.
So, how do you become a Virtual Assistant? Often VAs may come from a high-level corporate background, having worked as executive assistants for large companies for many years, but don’t worry, you don’t need this level of experience to get started.
My background is design and technical theatre, theatre production and events, all of which is centred around organising and coordinating which are the transferrable skills I took with me when I started working as a VA.
I also believe in being very integral to what I do as I work with very small companies (often with people whose business really is their baby and handing over responsibility can be hard and take a bit of time!). I feel that it’s inefficient to work with people you aren’t really helping – you will know it and so will they! If I’m not the right fit for a client, I will let them know and offer to pass them on to someone who I think they will work with better.
TOP TIPS TO GET STARTED
If you’re thinking about working as a VA it might be good to start working with a couple of clients who need a few hours a week alongside some other work as it can take time to build up your clients. I’m 4.5 years in and now have around 6 clients who all need a different amount of time and level of support.
I’ve found most of my clients through networking and word of mouth. Over the years my client list has slowly grown as people become aware of what I do and recommend me on. When you work so closely with the day to day running of someone’s business, the potential client trusting in who you are and what you do is very important. Let people know you’re available for work and ask people to put you in touch with others who may have a small business that they need some help with. Hannah Walker’s top tip is to understand your strengths and develop your new business around those strengths. There are also VA agencies that you can apply to join – based on your strengths you can look at what kind of agency aligns with you to help you get work with the right kind of clients that you want to work with.
HOW DO YOU MANAGE YOUR TIME?
It’s important to be clear with your clients about what hours you can do and are available for. I always work on the basis that if a client needs me to work whenever they need something and need you to be available all the time, they essentially need to pay for a full-time assistant! The next thing to remember is that multi-tasking is not your friend! Trying to work across clients all at once will lead to mistakes and is also confusing when you track the time you’ve worked for each client!
I work concisely through each client each morning and then later in the day I will do short bursts of work for each of them. The other way would be to create a schedule each day for yourself with hours logged in for each client and stick to it! Often it can feel a bit like your splitting your brain into several pieces to cope with clients’ needs all at once but remember to take a bit of time between each to re-set your brain and stay focused.
WHAT’S THE BEST AND WORST ABOUT BEING A VA?
For me the worst parts of being a VA is the brain splitting feeling – it can be quite mentally draining especially on a busy day. I also feel pressure to be checking emails all the time and to be available a lot during the day when I could probably spend quieter hours doing something else.
And the good stuff? It can be really satisfying having a real impact on someone’s business that they’ve worked so hard to build up. Working with people and seeing them able to grow their business or being able to concentrate on other parts of their lives by having you onboard is exciting! Being a VA means I get to help people every day, it allows me the flexibility to do other work, work on other projects and it means I can also work abroad. I’ve spent many hours working from cafes, hotel rooms and sometimes rooftops in other cities around the world – sometimes, all you need is Wifi!