I was recently contacted by another Sierra College student taking Cyndi Dunn's Virtual Office Professional course. I've enjoyed doing these interviews over the years. Crystal gave me permission to reprint our interview here.
For the Final Project my task was to interview a Virtual Office / Virtual Assistant Professional. First, I wrote out ten questions that I found to be most interesting. I wanted to get an overview of how the interviewee got their virtual business started, information on business operations, popular services, work-life balance, and other advice.
I interviewed Sue Lynn Canfield. Sue and her husband, Joel, own and operate “Chief Virtual Officer” – a Virtual Assistant Business. “Chief Virtual Officer” has been in business since 2005. Sue connected with me via Skype, and we set a time for the interview.
What inspired you to start your Virtual Office Business?
“In 2004, when I had my youngest, I had decided I no longer wanted to work full time in the corporate world and I wanted to work from home. I started part time, doing a little bit here and there from home. Then a couple of years later, I ended up seriously ill in the hospital for several months, and I almost didn’t make it. Then my husband and I were forced, in a way, to work for ourselves because it took me a year to recover, and he needed to help me. So we worked together to build a business from home, that I could do, still be with my little girl, and not extend myself physically because I was unable to do what I once could. I love working virtually and being able to help people all over the world, wherever I’m at.”
Did you have any significant start up costs?
“No, actually we didn’t because my husband already had a web design company he’d had on the side for years. A normal start up cost for this type of business is minimal anyhow – if you have a computer and Internet access, you’re set to go. So, if you don’t have that, those are the only initial set up costs I really see in a business like this. Just be sure to get a good computer, and make sure you have good Internet access.”
How long did it take you to acquire your first client?
“My first client came to me before I knew that I wanted to start a business. So that was a plus. It was someone my husband knew that needed an assistant. So, she and I started working together, before I had even heard what a virtual assistant was. That being said though, when I did start thinking this was going to be a business and I actually started looking for clients – I started attending some networking events and I would say, within the first 45 days I had an additional two clients. From the time I decided this was going to be a business, it took me about 45 days.”
How do you balance work, life, and fun?
“We’ve written a lot on work-life balance because we don’t necessarily think they are mutually exclusive. Since we’ve worked from home together with a little one, since she was born, our life is very much family oriented, and that comes first. We’ve built our business so that people we work with know that. If that means that we have to spend all day taking care of a child for whatever reason, then we do. And if we have to work at night or on a weekend, then we will; though we don’t normally do that. I think the same way that any successful person can have work-life balance is to have your priorities straight. I believe that family should always come first, but your business and your family can be integrated together. And you can make that work for your particular situation.”
How many hours do work in a typical week?
“Anywhere from 10 – 20, depending. Right now I am working closer to 20. Even when I have 3-dozen clients, I never work more than more than 20 – 25 hours per week because I never wanted to work more than that. That has always been enough for me.”
How many hours are focused on clients? And how many hours are focused on business maintenance (accounting, marketing, etc.)?
“I would say 75% of my work is client work and 25% of my work is client billing and marketing. I think that a newer person, just starting out, wants to spend about 50-50 because you need to spend some time marketing to get your business going.”
What do you like best about your job?
“That I get to work with my husband; that I get to have my young daughter around me at all times; I work with people that I choose to work with and love to work with; that about does it.”
What do you like least about your job?
“I’m not sure I have anything, I love what I do. I created a business that does what I want, when I want, that makes me what I want. I’ve got everything in place, I really can’t think of anything!”
What are the most popular services you offer?
“Social media management, absolutely.”
Are you able to take vacations throughout the year?
“Absolutely! We take all the usual holidays off that anyone else would. My husband and I also take off the last two weeks of the year. For example this year, December 23rd – January 3rd our offices are closed. We don’t do any client work at all, our clients know this because we’ve done it for years. December 26th is our wedding anniversary, so we always take a week and go and do something. Then we spend the following week doing things to work on our business for the New Year. In addition to taking those two weeks off, we take time off basically whenever we feel like it. Right now, I take every other Friday off and my husband takes the other Friday off. We often just take a week or a few days, and always giving our clients plenty of notice. I do have a team member on standby, who can check emails to see if there are any issues that somebody really needs addressing.”
If you could write a letter to yourself, before you started your business – what advice would you give?
“I would suggest that you have a well-written business plan. It does not need to be a 30 or 40 page document; in fact it can be a 1-page document. But it is something that clearly defines what you want your business to accomplish in the first month or the first year. It should be revisited at least once a year and edited with your new goals and specific strategic marketing tactics that you are going to employ on a monthly, weekly, and daily basis.”
In conclusion, I felt I gained a lot from this interview and from this class. In the interview, I spoke with a very successful Virtual Office Professional who has created the lifestyle and career she has always wanted. Some of the important tips I learned was regarding the specifics of a business plan, where to find clients, and how much time to spend doing client work and business maintenance work. I was able to feel Sue’s genuine love and enthusiasm for her career, just from speaking to her for a few minutes.
Learn more about the Sierra College Virtual Office Professional course at their website.