This article is one in a series called Start up Stories. These stories are about women who are successful in the Virtual Assistant industry. My hope is that they serve as inspiration for you, proving that, regardless of your current situation or obstacles, it is truly possible for you to live the lifestyle you want.
Michelle is the single mom with a teenager, understands the challenges of running a home-based business and being the sole source of income. She launched her VA business, Your Virtual Assistant, in 2008 following a career in property management and construction. Michelle works primarily with solopreneurs in a wide range of industries who need bookkeeping support and general administrative help. Here’s her story:
What inspired you to become a Virtual Assistant?
The nutshell version – in 2006 I went to London to visit a friend. While there I read a romance novel and the main character in the book was a Virtual Assistant. At the time I had no idea if it was really an industry or something made up for the purposes of the story. I went to Google and discovered….yes, it was indeed an industry.
Fast forward to the winter of 2007. At the time I was living in Wisconsin and was driving 99 miles (one-way) to work. That particular winter was brutal, with approximately 100 inches of snowfall. Needless to say my drive time was horrendous and scary. By the end of the winter I knew I just couldn’t do it anymore. I went into my boss’ office in March 2008 and told him that before December of 2008 they had to replace me.
It wasn’t until July 2008 that I gave serious thought to starting my own business. I did a lot of research and knew I had the skill set and ambition to launch and manage my own Virtual Assistant business. I launched December 1, 2008.
How did you go about getting started?
All the wrong ways probably! I knew so little about the internet then – I was regularly on the internet but always for a very specific purpose. I found a website I liked (for a therapist, not even a Virtual Assistant) and hired the guy who designed her site. Over the course of Sept-Nov 2008 we talked on the phone and he gave me some coaching/consulting and built out my website. I hired a copywriter to do my writing as I hate writing, especially when it comes to talking about myself.
Did you have any savings or financial support in order to start your business?
I did not have any savings or financial support when starting my business. I financed most of my business startup costs on credit cards. Luckily my employer had waited until the 11th hour to replace me so I had about 20 hours of work per month from them at a much higher rate than I was going to charge new, incoming clients.
Was there ever a point when you thought it wouldn’t work out?
Getting clients at the beginning was hard. I soon learned that just having a website was not nearly enough. For the first year I cried myself to sleep more times than I wish to count. I have a son (and get no child support) so it was crucial that I managed to feed him. I was making a substantial salary in my job and in my first year of business I earned about $22,000 (gross). I began paying for necessities on credit cards. Before starting my own business I had no credit card debt so it was incredibly mentally difficult for me to go so far into debt in order to make my dream a reality. By year two I earned over $60,000 and years three and four have both been six-figure years.
Did you have the support you needed to start your business in terms such as a family member/significant other/coach/group/mentor?
I was discouraged with finding clients when I first started so I signed up for a Michael Port coaching program (paid for it on a credit card). It was worth every penny. While it didn’t necessarily bring me more clients I did implement a lot of changes to things I already had in place.
If you could go back and change one thing that you did when starting out, what would that be?
The cliché “Hindsight is 20/20” certainly applies to me. I would do a lot of things differently if I were to “do it all over again”. Here are the most important ones.
- I would take some type of virtual assistant course from others who have been there, done that.
- I would have gotten my blog started much sooner.
- While having a website is necessary in our business SEO is an important aspect that shouldn’t be overlooked.
What is your best advice for someone considering becoming a Virtual Assistant?
The best advice I can give to someone who is just starting out (or considering becoming a VA) is to start building relationships now. Join groups, networks and forums (such as Virtual Assistant Forums). The relationships you nurture will become a key part of getting more clients and a network in place. Don’t exclude anyone (well, except spammers!) as you never know who knows someone who needs what you offer.
In closing, I’ve learned so much over the past four years and putting it into one post would take forever. I truly believe with the proper mindset, systems and relationships things will work out. Be open and willing to learn new things. Invest in yourself and your business. Yes, I still have a bunch of credit card debt but I don’t pay for anything on them anymore.
Join Michelle and Tess, founder of Virtual Assistant Forums on Thursday, February 7th, 2013 at 6:00 PM ET for a free call and Q&A session. The topic will be “Things I Wish I Knew Before I Got Started”. You can sign up here to get a reminder and call-in details.
You are also invited to register for Michelle’s six-week online “Becoming a Virtual Assistant” Course which will be starting on Tuesday, Feb. 12th.