I first connected with Cindy through a mutual connection on LinkedIn when I was looking for an additional transcriptionist. She is now also an account manager on my social media management team. Here is my interview with Cindy.
When did you start your freelance business?
I started working as a freelancer early 2013.
Why did you choose to work from home?
I became permanently disabled around New Year’s of 2012. I knew I’d never be able to work an in-person job again and I wanted to be able to contribute to the household income. I started researching what I could do from home. I started out slow and as my health improved I was able to take on more clients and expand into different areas.
What advice would you give those who want to work from home?
I’d tell them to thoroughly do their research beforehand and make sure it is something they can really commit to because it is very hard work! It is also highly rewarding and I’d definitely encourage them to go for it. Just be aware of exactly what you’re getting yourself into.
What resources have helped you in your business?
There were a couple of forums and websites that were helpful and in the beginning I got most of my work through freelance sites such as Guru and Elance.
Share something about yourself.
My hobbies are reading, writing, watching movies, playing video games, and spending time with family and friends.
I’ve known Collette Schultz for several years and we met up in person back in 2010/2011 when we first traveled through Wisconsin before moving here. Collette is one of my social media account managers. I interviewed her and here are her responses.
1. When did you start your business?
In March of 2007 I started my service business and now to compliment that I’m adding affiliate marketing to it.
2. Why did you choose to become a Virtual Assistant?
There were a few reasons for starting as a VA. My passion to learn technology, adding supplement income to the family and a dream to become full-time doing what comes naturally to me.
3. What advice would you give new and aspiring VAs?
Watch and learn from other people in the industry. You’ll make mistakes and that’s ok; just don’t make the mistake more than once. Don’t go crazy and try to be involved with too many networks. Pick three and get involved. Ask questions and share your stories. You have to invest in your learning but don’t waste your money.
4. What resources have helped you in your business? Forums, blogs, coaching, books?
The main resources are real people and mentors that worked in the VA industry. Diane Hess, of Hess Business Professionals & Associates, was the first person that listened and took me on as a subcontractor. While working for her I went to free forums and eventually joined Solo Masterminds, NAMS and Linkedin.
5. Share a success story or something about yourself – a hobby perhaps.
It’s been twenty years that I’ve been working and educating in the accounting profession. In addition, I’ve taken the values and hard work from building our family farm and turned it into a virtual business. For the business owner, I deliver remote office support, product reviews and a directory of subcontractors to meet their needs. For the service providers that desire to subcontract I provide education, resources, inspiration and project opportunities .
6. Additional comments you’d like to share.
Operating this business has proved I’m successful. It’s a lot of hard work but it fills my passion. The best thing about being a VA is you get to choose what kind of services to offer. The smallest things can help another business.
7. Links to any online profiles you want to share.
I’ve known Leigh Anne Aston for several years and we’ve worked together on many different projects. Among other things, Leigh Anne is my primary account manager for my social media management services. I interviewed her and here are her responses.
When did you start your business?
(Unofficially 2006 – I was still working full-time in the corporate world and doing some VA items on the side.)
Why did you choose to become a Virtual Assistant?
To have more control over what I was doing. I felt this was the best next step in my career.
What advice would you give new and aspiring VAs?
First, contact Joel and Sue for a consultation. (That’s what I tell everyone who asks me.) Then, set a schedule and stick to it. You’ll want to try to be everything and do everything for everyone in the beginning. Set your goals AND limits and then go from there. Make sure you leave time for yourself.
What resources have helped you in your business? Forums, blogs, coaching, books?
First and foremost, Joel and Sue.
I do a lot of internet research when I need to try to figure something out – utilizing LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook, as well as just plain old internet searching. I also belong to the International Association of Administrative Professionals, which is a wonderful place to exchange knowledge with members from all over the world.
Share a success story or something about yourself – a hobby perhaps.
My main hobby these days is reading. (I read trashy romance novels with happy endings, in case you’re wondering.) Up until a few years ago, I absolutely hated reading. I was good at it, but it was always (and I mean from the time I learned how, always) a chore. A few years ago I was prescribed progressive bifocals. That’s when we found out I have “double vision” and things didn’t line up for my eyes the way they do for most other people. One eye is higher than the other. After having prism adjustments added to my prescription, I was looking at things completely differently. After getting the new glasses, I remember the first time I read a letter Jesse brought home from school. I was about half-way down the page when I realized I wasn’t using my finger to keep me on the right line of text. It was “eye-opening” and so exciting to know there wasn’t anything wrong with my desire to read, it actually was truly a chore all along. I read practically nonstop in my spare time now. Although, I will say, I read almost exclusively on my tablet (love those e-reader apps).
Additional comments you’d like to share.
Just to always, always be true to who you are and do the best your are capable of doing.
I met Amy online a few years ago. She was very helpful to me at one point when we were traveling and I didn’t have a printer and needed some work done, printed, and mailed to a client. Amy did it for me.
Why did you start Amy Kazor VA and when did you start it?
I opened my practice because I wanted to achieve three major goals in my work life:
I wanted more control over the type of work I was doing, with whom I worked, and have that work make a greater impact in the lives I touched.
I wanted to help more people than I was able to in my corporate job (and in my mind, any corporate job).
I wanted the freedom to work from anywhere and not be tied to a single office location and someone else’s business hours.
I started my practice part time in January 2008. I didn’t know I was doing the work of a ‘virtual assistant’. I just knew people who needed help and I started helping them on the side. In 2010, I was ready to quit my J-O-B and take what I did to full-time, and wanted to be prepared for that, so I researched programs to help me properly set things up and leverage what I was doing to more than 2-3 people. I found the Virtual Training Program (now known as the Virtual Mentoring Program (VMP)) at AssistU, applied, and was accepted. I quit my job to focus on my two clients and the training program. I graduated from the program in May 2011. Then, upon graduation, I began working on filling my practice and working full-time as a VA. I have been full-time in my practice since June 2011 and just recently rebranded from Accomplish VA to Amy Kazor VA.
What is the purpose of your business?
I work with a small, select group of clients from a variety of business types. Each of my clients focus on helping others achieve their life’s purpose. I partner alongside them in long-term, collaborative relationships. My primary objective is to help them leverage the content they work so hard to create. This might be repurposing a body of work into a new product or service, or even into other avenues for them to engage with their market. I try to tackle the things they never seem to have time to do, but ultimately need to tackle to reach their goals.
Helping others is truly at my core. As my practice has grown, I have also discovered that my love for what I do and my previous training experience translates well into mentoring and helping aspiring VAs. I do this within the AssistU community and have been blessed to be the lead/senior VA for two internships there. I was also chosen for the AssistU mentoring team, where I will be working as a mentor to new VAs while they work complete the Virtual Mentoring Program (VMP) and launch or improve their own practices. This work is more rewarding than I would have imagined and is a wonderful way to give back to the community that has really given so much to me in so many ways.
What challenges did you face starting Amy Kazor VA and how did you overcome them?
I knew how to support 2-3 executives and multiple departments, create processes and procedures and leverage work product into new materials for marketing and internal training purposes within one organization.
My challenge was to take this knowledge and leverage it myself to multiple clients and across many coinciding deadlines all while running my own business. This was where the training program at AssistU became important to me. I knew that I needed to have a well-researched, thought-out, and documented plan for how I was going to manage my own service business before I could really focus completely on helping clients within their own.
I knew it was going to be hard to talk about myself and market myself without a firm foundation. I also knew that working from home was going to be a lonely thing for me if I didn’t have a positive, up-beat, and helpful community to align with. I was able to achieve all of this through the programs and courses I chose at AssistU and then within that community.
That investment has carried me into my sixth year in business and allowed me to grow in ways I never expected when I entered the program.
Why did you choose to complete the work for the Certified Professional Virtual Assistant (CPVA) designation at AssistU?
Initially, I wrote it into my 5-7 year plan as I completed the coursework to graduate at AssistU. I am a planner at heart and in the beginning it was something I might want to do and it went into the plan as an option.
A certification is certainly not required to be a Virtual Assistant, but I have a love of learning and growing, and like challenges. I knew that completing the work for the CPVA would offer all of those experiences and make me better at what I did each day. I believe that any chance we have to learn and grow is a valuable part of becoming who we are meant to be. This was a logical step in that process.
It did not disappoint. I completed the work for the certification while managing 7 client relationships and their work. I learned a new level of organization and work/life balance. I also learned more about the types of clients I want to have and the work I love doing. While it was challenging at times, it was absolutely the best next step I could have taken for my practice, my clients, and my life.
What advice can you offer someone looking into the world of Virtual Assistance?
Honestly, my first piece of advice is to take the AssistU training. There are two options. If you are great at self-study, the Virtual Basics Program will work. If you want more one on one and interaction, a guide through the course, I recommend the AssistU Virtual Mentoring Program. You will have an established VA come along side you to mentor you through the coursework and guide you as you establish your foundation. The AssistU courses provide the framework and help you answer the tough questions so you have the best possible chance for making it past the first, the fifth, and even the tenth year in business.
While training is not required to do the work, an education on establishing and operating a virtual service business provides the solid foundation you need and helps you develop the support structure that is vital as you do work for others.
When I did the research, I found for myself that there was no other choice than AssistU to gain the footing I wanted to see this business through the long-term. In the program I was able to determine my core needs and develop a strong business plan, boundaries, and standards. Graduation allowed me to be involved in a community where I am able to glean from and provide support to others who are similarly aligned in business. For me, going it alone was not an option, and I don’t recommend any VA try to do that.
Really taking the time and effort to think through what it is you are going to do, and how you are going to do it to be profitable, is sure footing. If you aren’t profitable you will expend a lot of energy and time trying to make your business work only to end up back in a corporate job. If the corporate world isn’t the life you want, pave your way to success with more than good intentions, get the skills necessary to be a successful business owner and understand what it means to support the same.
My second piece of advice is to invest the time and money into a real business coach who works with VAs. No offence to the peer coaches and mentors out there (I am a mentor myself) but the business coaching I have received has helped shape me as a VA beyond what I would be now without it. After AssistU, it has been my most invaluable investment.
Your coaching relationship will help keep you on task with the most important decisions you will make within your business and with clients. When times are tough, a great coach will not only help keep you on target, he or she will ask the hard questions and get you to answer them. When you aren’t getting clients or when you are unhappy with a part of your business, it’s those hard questions and that feet-to-the-fire coaching that will get you through.
Advice from VAs who are not profitable or happy in their practice will not help you. My coach is part of an amazing foundational support team in my practice. That team consists of coach, accountant, attorney, IT professional, and insurance agent. I can then rely on the AssistU community for answer, suggestions, and filling service gaps as well. It makes me a much better VA.
Do yourself a favor in a world where most businesses fail. Build your foundation. Know what you are doing within your own business so that as you support others in theirs you are able to focus on them and not worry about yourself. By taking the time up front to prepare and get supported, and then work your plan and engage with your community, your business will thank you by sticking around for years to come.
Why did you start VirtualAssistants.com and when did you start it?
VirtualAssistants.com was started in February of 1999, mainly because of getting scammed a few times when I was looking for a real virtual assistant job. I thought it would be great if there was a job site with screened jobs that I would feel safe in applying to, so I created VirtualAssistants.com.
What is the purpose of VirtualAssistants.com?
What we do is to prescreen the jobs before they can be posted to our job board. We wanted a safe place where you did not have to worry about the job you were applying to. We have alot of repeat VA’s who pick up extra clients from our job board. With over 800+ job virtual job openings that are posted, there is something for everyone from admin, customer service, transcription to tech jobs.
What challenges did you face starting VirtualAssistants.com and how did you overcome them?
Well, in 1999, it was very difficult finding companies that would consider a ‘virtual assistant’. With a lot of determination and hard work, we were able to find the jobs and make companies aware of the concept of working with a virtual assistant.
How do you become a Virtual Assistant? Can anyone become a member of VirtualAssistants.com and what is the fee?
If you have job skills you can use them to work virtually. So you do not have to already be a Virtual Assistant to get a virtual job. You can join, view the job board, apply to jobs and also post a VA ad listing what services you are offering for either a small monthly rate of 9.99 or you can choose the yearly rate of just 49.99. You can view the register info at http://www.VirtualAssistants.com/virtual-assistant-jobs.html
How can a business owner post on your site that they are looking for a Virtual Assistant?
We have a great email job form they can use that is very easy, and it is free to post a job at http://www.VirtualAssistants.com/post-your-virtual-assistant-jobs.html. Once we have reviewed the job and deemed it safe, we will then post it to our private job board.