This article is one in a series called Start up Stories. These stories are about women I’ve come to know and admire 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.
Mom, affiliate marketer, cross stitcher, writer, blogger, wife, finder of lost shoes…Loretta Oliver, married to the comic book geek of her dreams and mother of four boys ages 10 to 14, has been working from home full time since 2001, starting out working for others and gradually moving into working for herself. Now she has a busy transcription service business, two profitable blogs, and a host of other internet marketing projects on her virtual resume. She recently started up the VA Helper Blog and Podcast in order to connect with other VAs where she offers help and support along with her co-authors, myself included.
Here’s her story:
What inspired you to become a Virtual Assistant?
I sort of fell into being a virtual assistant by accident. I’ve been working from home since 2001, but not always as a virtual assistant or as a transcriptionist. It took me awhile to get to that point.
2001 was a bit of a rough year for me. I had my youngest son in February of 2001 and I went back to work less than 2 weeks after he was born. February of 2001 was just plain crazy – Ethan was born, but then right after that Noah was very sick and was in the hospital for several days and I had to stay at the hospital with him during that time. And as soon as all that was over I was back to work full time 40 to 60 hours a week as the evening manager in a telemarketing office where we not only did the selling, we did our own collections in-house as well.
By September 11 2001, I realized that I was really not happy with this job anymore, I didn’t like some of the business practices that were going on behind the scenes, and I started looking for something that I could do part time from home. I wanted to spend more time with the kids and less time in the office, so that was my initial goal. I’m sure that’s a realization that a lot of people in the United States had at that time, I think we all ran on pure emotion for weeks afterward.
The first thing I found was WAHM.com, which back in 2001 was a great resource for someone that wanted to work from home. These days in 2010, not so much, but that’s a totally different topic.
I knew from being there that it was possible and there were people making money working from home, so in December of 2001 I walked into the office on my birthday and said, “I quit.” Handed in my keys, cleaned out my desk, and I have worked at home ever since. Anyway, I’m rambling a bit there…
How did you go about getting started as a virtual assistant?
Totally by accident. I was working online jobs doing document coding and proofreading work while learning how to put together a website, learning some HTML on the side when I had time. I started doing virtual assistant work without even realizing that’s what I was doing. Someone would ask how to do something in a chat room or on a message board and I would tell them how I did that task, then sometimes they would say, “Can you do it for me? I’ll pay you $XX.” And it just sort of happened.
So I started offering general virtual assistant services for $10 per hour to see what would happen. When I first started I was doing pretty much whatever came in; someone would fill out my contact form and tell me what they wanted done and if it was something I knew how to do I would take the project, I didn’t really have any structure back then. Over the past eight or nine years I’ve really narrowed things down and now I’m at the point where I’m focused on the transcription work and not offering all those generalized things. Focusing in like that really helped me to be able to take more projects and manage my time better.
Did you have any savings or financial support in order to start your business?
“Financial support” and “savings” were not in my vocabulary when I got started, but I was very familiar with “debt” and “small budget.”
Was there ever a point when you thought it wouldn’t work out?
There were MANY points when I thought it wouldn’t work out. I can’t even begin to go over them all. Sometimes there would be a slow week, or a slow month, and I’d wonder if I was doing things all wrong or if I needed to change it up and do something else. My husband teases me that I need to learn to be as patient with myself as I am with our kids.
Did you have the support you needed to start your business such as a family member/significant other/mentor/coach?
I’m very lucky in the fact that my husband has always been supportive of my decisions. I think there were a few moments there in the beginning stages where he was probably worried about if it would be enough money to replace my previous income, but he never said so out loud. He would ask if I needed anything, he would take the kids to the park or a movie for awhile if I needed time to finish a client project, just little things like that made life easier. Even now he’s extremely supportive and we make our schedules work. He heads off to work pretty early so I get everyone ready for school and pack lunches, Brian works full time at his day job and then comes home to cook dinner and run the kids to baseball, basketball, and golf practices in the evenings. He even puts up with me staying up until 2:00 am working on side projects and client files.
If you could go back and change one thing you did when starting out, what would that be?
Well, I took a really round-about way to get to where I am and it took me a few years of working at home to realize what I wanted to actually DO, but knowing me I probably would take the same winding crazy messy path to get here.
What is your best advice for someone considering becoming a Virtual Assistant?
Don’t get caught up in overanalyzing and torture yourself by thinking about doing it for two years, just jump in there and give it a shot. If it doesn’t work out at first, that’s absolutely okay, failure happens and we learn from it. You can try something else… That’s the nice thing about the internet, it’s flexible and you can try new things until you find the best fit for you.
You can connect with Loretta on Twitter: @retta719. She’s always up for a chat! And don’t forget, she’s the host of the VA Helper Podcast at www.vahelper.com, which also includes free reports and tips for service based virtual assistant businesses of all types.