More On Virtual Assisting as a Home Business Opportunity
A couple of weeks ago, I interviewed Stacy Brice, founder and chief visionary officer of AssistU, a company which trains and supports Virtual Assistants. Today, I’m interviewing Cindy Gaffen, a VA who owns Virtually Fantastic. If you are considering becoming a VA, Cindy is a great model for you to follow. Here is what she had to say:
1. Why did you decide to become a VA? Tell us about the process - what did you do to prepare?
For years, I thought about what I wanted to do for a living and how I could transfer my knowledge, experience and skills to a business I could call my own. I was fortunate because I loved what I did in Corporate America. However, because of this I delayed starting my own business. Then one day I realized, my level of satisfaction was decreasing. It was then I decided it was time to make my move and take a chance on myself.
In 1999, I wrote a reference for a friend who was applying to AssistU. I had never heard of a VA, but found the idea interesting. As the years passed and my satisfaction level decreased, I decided it was time. In 2004, I applied to AssistU’s Virtual Training Program (VTP), was accepted and I never looked back! The process was quick for me and it was the best decision I’ve ever made in my professional life.
2. What background did you have that prepared you to be a VA?
I was a project manager for 15 years and an account manager for two in the corporate world. I handled multiple, multi-million dollar, complex projects from conception to completion. Daily contact with customers and management of vendors helped round off my skills. My project management background honed my skills to help me manage multiple clients. Additionally, I believe it taught me how to juggle a variety of small business owners with very different requirements and seamlessly and quickly switch gears as needed.
3. How did you find clients? How do you know when you have enough clients? Do you feel you are “successful?” If not, what level of work would you like in order to feel that you are successful?
Upon graduation from AssistU’s training program, I was eligible to join The Registry, where small business owners submit extensive requirements online for a VA. People who come through the registry understand what a VA is and what a VA does. They are typically ready to work with a VA and don’t need to be educated. I was fortunate to find many clients through the registry. Referrals are another way I have built my clientele. Fellow VAs and clients are a great way to find qualified, educated new clients.
I envision my VA business as myself and a team of VAs, so my practice will most likely never be full. I subcontract work to VAs who handle things I do not. I inform all prospective clients that I work with a team of VAs and from time to time I may use them to handle something for them. This has worked nicely for all of us.
My clients make me feel successful. The level of daily satisfaction I derive from what I do shouts that I am a success and I am rewarded for it each and every day since hanging my VA shingle!
4. How do you determine what to charge? My rate is derived the same way as any successful business determines their rate! It includes indirect costs like rent, phone, office supplies, etc. and an hourly wage.
5. What is a typical week like?
I come to work each day with a list of things that need to be tackled for the day.
Fortunately, because I keep my clients on track and up to date, I have few interruptions from last minute items! On occasion, an unforeseen emergency may arise and I usually can adjust my schedule. However, for the most part I am able to plan my work week.
How much of your week do you work? I work full-time 40-50 hours per week.
Do you do other work too? No. I am a full-time VA.
6. Do you specialize in certain types of work - like bookkeeping, computer work, marketing, travel planning, etc.? I have not established a niche per se, however, I am moving towards Internet Marketing (website maintenance and shopping cart setup and maintenance). But, I will always handle a variety of things, because I thrive on variety. It keeps things new and interesting for me.
7. What is your favorite part about being a VA? Independence and working with fantastic clients and being an integral part in the success of our businesses. Also, I love having the opportunity to educate people about the profession. Because I like to continually update my skills, I’m always taking classes. I love learning. Typically, I have been able to integrate my new skills into my business quickly. My wonderful clients have been receptive to letting me handle more areas of their business as I learn new software.
8. What is your least favorite part of being a VA? I’m very gregarious, so it is difficult being alone during the day. However, it is easy enough to find networking events or personal social things to do when time allows.
9. What advice would you give to someone who wants to be a VA? I would strongly suggest taking a virtual training class offered by AssistU or one of the other training schools. Taking the course made my startup easier and gave me a foundation beyond my excellent business experience and years of knowledge.
Also, I would caution anyone who thinks it will be easy to think again. It takes a lot of perseverance, and unfaltering confidence to start a VA business, because it is not a well-known profession. I believe every VA spends a lot of time educating people what they have to offer and this can make each and every prospective client a longer than usual “sell.”
10. How long do you plan to work as a VA (how many years)? If you weren’t a VA, what would you like to be doing (other than lounging on some tropical island sipping Mai Tai’s)? It is my intention to work as a VA until I retire.
I don’t know what I would do if I weren’t a VA professionally. However, if I could I’d go to school full time and volunteer more.
Personally, I hope Cindy doesn’t retire for a long time. She is MY VA and she’s extremely capable and trustworthy. If you want to become a VA, she’s a good role model. If you’re looking for a VA, she can help.
Next, a VA who is also a mom - how she balances her work and family.