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.
Ruth Martin, aka the Details Diva, is the owner of Maplewood Virtual Assistance, (MaplewoodVA), Maplewood Virtual Assistance, an online business support services firm specializing in online business and project management, marketing and writing services, and executive level business support. Ruth Martin brings 20+ years of business management and marketing experience to each project she touches. And, if it’s nearing the Christmas season, you’ll find her taking on the role of #1 Official Santa Helper aiding Santa in writing letters to children across North America at her seasonal business, U Write Santa. U Write Santa
Here’s her story:
Who/what inspired you to become a Virtual Assistant?
I’d like to begin by first thanking you, Alicia, for the invitation to chat with you and your readers. I love what you’re doing here and reading through the inspirational stories that are being shared.
When I first began doing virtual work I had never heard of the term virtual assistant or VA. When I discovered VA industry organizations such as VAnetworking and IVAA I’d already been working virtually for around seven years serving local clientele in the non-profit sector.
After joining several virtual assistant organizations, the connections and friendships I created exploded my reach and took my business to new levels. These memberships opened so many doors that I couldn’t have imagined if I focused only on a local clientele roster.
How did you go about getting started?
Quite by accident, actually. My last employment position was in 2000 as a director of a non-profit organization that included operating a retail store, public speaking, live trade events, and overseeing a staff of 40. Following my maternity leave I took our son back to work with me daily – the board of directors were fabulous about setting up a nursery in my office. It wasn’t until our son began walking that I knew I needed to make the decision to place him in daycare or shift directions with a home-based career. “We” (my son and I) gave notice and within 60 days I had my first two virtual clients contact me about working with them.
Both of these clients knew me for years after serving together on the board of directors at the non-profit. Here’s where knowing people and networking over the years prior paid off big for me.
I made the leap to become an independent contractor, an entrepreneur, the wheel master of my destiny working with these two local businesses. It was the beginning. I’ve never looked back. Those local clients expanded to seed a client-base spanning across the US and Canada as I later established an online presence and joined the VA organizations. I was very lucky to have clients before having a formal business because many virtual assistants market for months or even as long as 1-1.5 years before landing their first client let alone building a full roster of clients.
Did you have any savings or financial support in order to start your business?
No, I did not require financial support. I was lucky that one of the areas my husband works in is IT meaning we always seem to have multiple computers and office equipment in the household. My first computer wasn’t the newest or fanciest but it got the job done and was loaded with the latest software that I needed to execute the tasks asked of me.
Was there ever a point when you thought it wouldn’t work out?
Never once, Alicia. No, I came from a background of over 20 years in marketing and business management. I was comfortable in running a business from my years of overseeing the non-profit. I understood the commitment and mindset that was needed to be an owner verses an employee. I was used to making projections and putting the pieces in place to reach and surpass those goals. I know how to produce outcomes and make the magic happen. I have pretty lofty standards. I knew I’d be working harder for myself than I had ever worked for anyone.
If you could go back and change one thing you did when starting out, what would that be?
Choose a shorter corporation name. There are a lot of characters in my formal business name to fit on a bank debit card. Thankfully, I can incorporate MaplewoodVA in many elements of my marketing which is easier when character count comes into play.
What is your best advice for someone considering becoming a Virtual Assistant?
Always remember you are in business, to be in business. It’s imperative that you fully understand what fair market pricing is for your services (yes, do the math and know the various price models within your service offerings) and know how much you must earn as base pay to cover your operational expenses, marketing expenses, FICA, taxes, IRA, continued learning expenses, business growth expenses, and then pay yourself a wage.
I’ll tell you a secret – it is okay if your base rate is higher than others as long as you can justify the value and benefits you bring to your clients. Don’t follow the herd – stand out always. Do your homework before opening your doors.
Too many VAs price based on what they saw another do and this is the first step in the pathway to shutting down their business in less than 3 years. Rarely do two businesses have identical operational expenses. 60% of VAs will close their doors in less than 3 years…80% in 5 years, many because they don’t recognize operating a business is vastly different than being an employee.
If you don’t like sales or marketing, don’t open your doors. You can’t risk being invisible and stay in business. You must believe in your skills and services and desire to market these knowing that your business is exactly the answer many are seeking. Your business fills a specific need and the sooner you pinpoint that need, the easier marketing will be, and the sooner clients will flock to you.
Is there anything else that you would like to add?
Alicia, I’d like to add in one more tidbit of advice. Before deciding to do anything in your business ask this question, “Is what I’m doing right now helping me grow my business and/or accomplish my goals?” If the answer is “No” then don’t continue. You owe it to your clients to be a successful business so you can continue to stick around for years to serve them.
Have you forgotten how to market? Or, maybe never really learned from the start? If you’re nodding your head then you must listen to Ruth’s marketing audio recording. Head over to her page and sign up for the free audio – Have You Forgotten How to Market. Remember, as Ruth always says, “Your customers will drive your marketing presence, and in turn, your marketing frequency will drive your customers (to you).”