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When you first set up your Virtual Assistant business it can feel like you have a million decisions to make – and one of these will be where to set up and build your shiny new website so you can get found online. Because there are so many options to choose from, I’ve outlined the pros and cons of each one to prevent your brain from exploding.

Although I’ve made it sound like you have loads of choices, you actually start with just two: whether to build your website on one of the many ‘all-in-one’ hosted publishing platforms or whether to ‘self-host’ it.

Let me explain the difference.

Hosted platforms

Hosted platforms are where you get everything all in one place. Wix, Weebly, Squarespace and WordPress.com are the main players but there are others in the marketplace including companies that sell domain names and hosting such as GoDaddy and 123-reg.

(WordPress.org is a self-hosted platform which I discuss later in the post).

Pros of using a hosted platform

They’re relatively easy to set up and maintain

Because hosted platforms generally have a drag and drop interface, you can just add and move elements around to create a design that suits you. The platform will also take care of any software updates.

You get a free domain name and can connect a custom domain

Every hosted platform will give you a website URL but in the free versions, it will be something like www.nameofyourbusiness.wixsite.com. These types of URLs look really unprofessional so you definitely need to upgrade to get a custom one. This just means that your site URL will be www.nameofyourbusiness.com (or co.uk, org, net etc) instead.

The reason it’s important to have a custom URL is that clients will be reluctant to invest in anyone who hasn’t even invested in themselves. People are less likely to hand over money to someone who doesn’t have a professional website as they might not be a ‘proper’ business.

With hosted platforms, you also have the ability to connect a custom domain name that you may have already bought from another site such as GoDaddy or 123-reg etc.

They come with lots of extra add-ons

Depending on the platform, these extras can include SEO, analytics, favicon, video backgrounds, stock images, newsletters and the ability to customise fonts.

Everything is in one place

The selling point of these done-for-you platforms is that they’re a one-stop shop. You only have one platform to learn, one place to log into and one company to pay.

Cons of using a hosted platform

Hidden costs

Because of everything I’ve just mentioned above, you will pay over the odds for the “ease” of having everything done for you in one place.

Most of the extra built-in features such as SEO, hosting, domain names, analytics, stock images and newsletter options are actually totally free (or at least much cheaper) if you get them separately from somewhere else.

Also, often the site will say you get a free domain name (for example), but it’s actually just a voucher for one year and then you have to pay for it annually. This means they can charge you whatever they like because they know you’re unlikely to move your website once you’ve set it up on their platform.

Adverts on basic plans

For the same reasons you need a professional URL, you simply cannot have “powered by platformname” or any adverts on your professional business website which means you’ll have to upgrade to a paid plan in order to remove the platform’s branding.

This is your online shop and if a potential client suspects your business is a “side hustle” (a term I absolutely detest) and that you don’t take it seriously, they’ll assume you won’t take their business seriously either.

You can’t always change the template

You can switch templates with Weebly and Squarespace but once you’ve chosen a template on Wix, you can’t change it. You can edit and customize it but you can’t choose a completely new design. So you’re basically stuck with a design that you can’t change if you later decide to rebrand or one that could look horribly dated within a few years.

They don’t always look good on a mobile

I’ve read a few complaints from users who say they can’t get their site to look good with the Weebly mobile-responsive templates. Although Wix and Squarespace don’t seem to have this issue, with so many people using their phone to browse the web, it’s essential to check that your site is actually mobile-friendly.

Limited storage

Although you do get some storage, it’s not that much. This means that if your needs change and you want to later upgrade aspects of your site then you will have to pay more.

Making you upgrade for various reasons is how hosted sites make their money.

Poor support

You need to have reliable support which is why I always recommend paying for premium subscriptions for tools that are essential to your business. If something happens to your website and you can’t quickly hop on an online chat with customer service then you could end up tearing your hair out for two days while you wait for someone to reply to your support ticket.

Everything is in one place

These platforms make it difficult for you to move your domain name and hosting away from them. So if you have your domain name with one company and your hosting with another then you’ll run less risk of damaging your business should something happen to either one.

You don’t own your website

Because hosted platforms own all of your content (including newsletter signup email addresses) as well as your domain name and hosting, they can shut down your website at any time. This one is the deal-breaker for me. I hate the idea that a company could go bankrupt or have technical issues and my entire business could disappear in an instant.

Self-hosted platforms

A self-hosted site is where you build a website using the software of your own choosing and then pay a separate hosting company to store it. This means you have access to all of your site files as well as the servers where they are kept.

The best-known self-hosting platform is WordPress.org.

Pros of using a WordPress website

Flexibility

You get to choose everything from the theme and layout to the font and colours. There literally isn’t a single thing you can’t customise or choose yourself.

Virtual Assistants are usually total control freaks so this may be important to you!

It also uses drag and drop

To reflect the drag and drop functionality of all in one hosted platforms, WordPress rolled out their drag and drop “Gutenberg” editor in 2019.

You own it

If you become unhappy with your hosting company because their prices keep going up or their service keeps going down, you can simply move your hosting elsewhere.

Greater functionality and choice

You have access to a huge number of themes and plugins so you can have all the features that a hosted platform offers. Although you can often pay to upgrade to premium versions, the free plugins are fine and will have been tested for their compatibility with the current version of WordPress.

There is also a wide range of plugins that do similar things so you can select the best one for your individual needs.

Mobile-friendly themes

When you pick your WordPress theme you can clearly see if it’s responsive (mobile-friendly) and you can also search through literally hundreds of mobile themes to pick the one you like best.

You can change your theme at the click of a mouse and you can even see a preview of what your site will look like with the new theme before you commit to it.

You can hand-code them

You need to know how to code to do this obviously, but there are loads of free online courses if this is something that appeals to you. I actually know many VAs who learned some basic coding and ended up enjoying it so much that they took advanced courses and now offer web development as a service.

It doesn’t really matter whether you can code or not, the point is that someone who knows how to code can tailor every aspect of your site!

They’re cheaper

To set up a WordPress website you just need to buy a domain name and sort out hosting. You pay for both of these things annually and unless you pay for any premium plugins, these costs will roughly remain the same year on year. You’re also not going to be held hostage because you could move both of these things to other companies if you want to.

Cons of using a WordPress website

Perceived steeper learning curve

I think because WordPress has a reputation for being the most professional website building platform, people think it must be harder to learn. I’m not sure that it is though.

You’re going to have to learn how to use one of these platforms so I personally think it makes more sense to learn the one that will deliver the most flexibility and choice for the lifespan of your website.

It’s all down to you

It will be your responsibility to update and fix the site which you may not be comfortable doing. Some VAs love the challenge but others don’t want to do this at all. You will also need to ensure your site is updated, secure, backed up regularly, GDPR-compliant and that all the plugins are up to date.

I pay a freelance web developer to help me with my own sites. I know quite a bit about WordPress but if I have any problems, I’m busy or there’s something that I don’t know how to do, then I get my developer to sort it for me. My VA also knows a lot about WordPress so she helps me as well.

Should you get someone else to build your website?

You may decide that you can’t be bothered with any of this and get a website developer to create your site for you. Although a developer can advise you on self-hosted vs hosted, you now have some facts at your disposal so you aren’t relying on their personal opinion or requesting a site without knowing what you’re asking for.

There is absolutely no shame in getting a developer or a website-savvy VA to build your site for you. It’s a very common practice; you have enough on your plate as it as it is and if you’re not interested in websites and have the money, then just outsource the job instead.

Conclusion

Because you control every aspect, own the content and aren’t reliant on some else’s business model, I personally think that self-hosted websites are the way to go. All of my websites have been built on WordPress.org and I like the flexibility, being in control of every decision and knowing what my costs are.

But the decision of where to build your site really is down to you and there is no right or wrong choice. My job is to give you all the facts so you can make an informed decision based on your own individual needs and budget.

So whether you pick WordPress, go for an all-in-one hosted option or decide to get someone else to sort it all out for you, my advice is to do your research so you know what you are (and aren’t) getting and then make a decision based on your long-term aims rather than what’s easiest to do right now.

Resources
  • If you want to build your own website then I have a beginners WordPress course that shows you how – the first section is even free.
  • If you want to go with an all-in-one hosted site then head to the most popular platform which is Wix, sign up for a Premium Plan, pick a theme and start building. They have lots of tutorials here on their YouTube channel.
  • You’ll need to provide your own website policies on a self-hosted platform. I have a 3-doc legal bundle containing cookie, terms of use, and privacy policies if you need them. Should the laws around any of these policies change, then you will be emailed updated versions free of charge.
  • Make sure you tell Google you have a website by adding it to Google Webmasters and install Google Analytics so you know how people are finding and using your site.
  • Register your website with Uptime Robot. It’s free and they send you an email if your site goes down.
  • If you’re struggling with any aspects of your current website such as hosting, structure, what to write and whether you should display your prices, here’s everything I’ve ever written on websites to date.

* I am an affiliate for Wix which means I get a small commission if you decide to sign up for a pro plan.

The post Which platform should you build your website on? appeared first on The VA Handbook.

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Because the VA industry is unregulated, people often try to take advantage of the situation for their own personal or financial gain. From amateur “experts”, dodgy clients and outright scammers, unethical practices appear to be on the rise. But if you know what to look out for, you’re far less likely to be taken for a ride.

Although there are people who think it’s morally acceptable to take advantage of others, this is true for all sectors and not just ours (although not much of a consolation). However, because the VA industry has noticed a sharp rise in unethical practices, I wanted to bring your attention to a few of the more common scams so you can take measures to avoid them.

Common VA industry scams to watch out for:

Virtual Assistant training courses

In the past two years, the Society of Virtual Assistants (the SVA) have received more complaints about VA trainers than in the preceding ten years put together.

Low-quality training courses are becoming more and more common and, because The SVA is working hard to tackle the situation, they recently asked me and other “industry leaders” to contribute our thoughts and suggestions to a guide on the types of questions you should ask when choosing a Virtual Assistant trainer.

Although it’s partly a case of “buyer beware”, there are many ways you can find out whether someone is legit and actually knows what they’re doing.

Training courses are not cheap. I know for a fact that you worked damned hard to earn that money and therefore it’s vital you know what you’re getting before you hand any of it over to someone you don’t know.

Download the SVA’s Guide here

And it’s not just the SVA who are concerned about amateurs passing themselves off as experts:

“How can someone who’s been a VA for only one or two years provide a course teaching you what is needed to grow a successful VA business? It would be wise to check that they have put in the hours to gain the relevant experience to teach you what you need to know to successfully build a VA business. It will be interesting to see if these courses and their owners are still in the industry in another 4-5 years’ time. Some may be, others won’t.” Kathie Thomas: owner of VA Directory and former President of the Australian VA Association.

Luckily I can answer all of the questions in the guide (phew!), but whichever VA training course you’re considering, it’s important to check out the trainer, make sure all of your questions are answered and even speak to them on the phone if you need to.

(If you’re considering my DIY VA course then click here if you would like to see my own answers to the questions outlined in the SVA guide.)

Franchises

I don’t have any first-hand experience of franchises myself but I was talking to Caroline Wylie from the SVA who told me she’d spoken to VAs who had paid between £9000 and £15,000 for what turned out to be a scam franchise but they couldn’t publicly complain because they’d signed a non-disclosure agreement.

Which is why they hadn’t found any negative reviews when doing their research.

Although the VAs had been savvy enough to ask if they could speak to other franchisees, it turned out the people they spoke to were actually former employees and not franchisees at all. So they’d still been caught out even after they’d done their due diligence.

Here is a link to the SVA article.

Not every franchise is a scam however so if you are considering buying a franchise, you’ll find their ‘Buying a VA Business’ guide (the link is within their article) invaluable.

VA directories

John Palmer is the founder of the BeMyVA online VA directory, the CEO of PA Assist and organiser of the VA Conference and he is also concerned about the drop in standards in the VA industry:

“We set up and officially launched BeMyVA.com during 2011 in response to the poor practices of many of the existing ‘VA Directories’ of that time, and we are once again seeing some of the unethical practices returning in 2019, especially with the lesser experienced, new market entrants.”

John has an article that outlines the essential checks and tests you should make before you decide to list your business on a VA Directory.

Client scams

Incredibly, you also need to watch out for people posing as potential clients. This story on the SVA website tells the shocking story of a VA who was nearly the target of a client scam.

Fortunately, the VA in question had worked in the fraud and credit industry for many years and recognised what was happening, but other less experienced VAs could have been caught out.

I recently received this email from one of my readers: 

“Hi Jo, how do I find out if someone is a legitimate client? I have been contacted by someone and I am not sure she is who she says she is (gut feeling).”

I told them to do their due diligence by looking the business up on the Companies House website and to find out how long their website had been up and running. I also advised the VA to Google the company (and to search under the images section too) and to look at their social media profiles.

The VA came back to me half an hour later with this:

“So after doing some digging, it was a very new IP address (10 days old when they contacted me) and was flagged as spam. I am so glad I asked and I did some digging! Thank you heaps for your assistance, I think you just saved me from a major scam! Totally indebted to you for this – thank you so much!”

Whilst it was good to know that I’d helped to prevent this particular VA from being taken advantage of, it enraged me to think about all the other VAs who may have been taken in.

None of this is new

It’s the sad truth that the VA industry is rife with impostors, people providing poor information, inexperienced VAs marketing themselves as experts, people passing content off as their own, people building their business off the back of someone else’s hard work as well as out-and-out scammers.

But as long as you keep your wits about you, do your due diligence checks, ask as many questions as you can and take your time to do your research you should be okay.

And definitely listen to your instincts. If something doesn’t feel right then it probably isn’t.

Resources
  • Check how long a website has been running. This is a great resource if you want to check whether an “expert” is, in fact, new to the industry or a potential client is who they say they are.
  • Check Companies House for info on Limited Companies. You can see who the Director is along with other financial information such as whether they’re still filing their annual returns or are insolvent.
  • Check a website’s domain authority. This is useful if a directory claims you’ll get lots of business if you register with them. Anyone charging you money to register should have a score of at least 30.
  • If you want to find out how much the hourly rate average actually is and how much VAs are actually making, the SVA compile an annual statistics survey so VAs can spot outlandish promises online. (The SVA are still in collection mode but anyone who buys the survey whilst they are still collecting data and analysing the results will get an updated copy when they publish the updated version.)
  • If you’re thinking of taking my DIY VA training course, you can check out some FAQs about the course and see my own answers to the list of questions you should ask when choosing a VA trainer as outlined in the SVA’s guide.

The post Common VA scams and how to avoid them appeared first on The VA Handbook.

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I’m attending the second day of the annual PA Show at London Olympia on 28th February and I’d love to meet you if you’re also going to be there. I’ve been asked to take part in two panel talks but I’m also staying nearby overnight if you’d like a coffee and a chat either at the event or in the pub. Here’s some more info about the show:  

What’s the event about?

The UK VA Conference 2019 is the second day of the annual PA Show (which used to be called ‘The Office Show’). The PA Show takes place on Tuesday 26th February and the VA Conference is the next day on Wednesday 27th.

This is the one I’ll be at.

Agenda

The entire two-day show is a really popular event in the admin/VA calendar and covers things such as career and skills development, management and leadership and a host of other things.

Day one (PA Day) Tues 26th Feb

There will be sessions covering a multitude of subjects including speedreading, how to mange your manager, the role of the PA in the digital age, mastering Microsoft and Outlook, minute taking, how to get recognition, raising your profile, learning to lead, and adapting to economic changes. There are also quite a few sessions on event management this year.

Day two (VA Day) Wed 27th Feb

There are loads of learning and development sessions aimed at helping you become a better VA. These include info on transferable skills, keeping your VA business on track, communication, Office 365, LinkedIn, OneNote, improving your performance, confidence, and shaping your strategy.

The day begins with award-winning VAs sharing their personal insights on why they set up their own business, and then later there are announcements and an award ceremony.

I’m actually on the panel of judges of the UK VA Awards 

This is pretty exciting and it’s definitely an honour to be asked to be on the panel, but rest assured there is never any favouritism. There are many judges and we’re not allowed to assess any VA with whom we have a close connection. So I don’t vote if any of the nominees are trainees for example.

See all sessions here.

My two panel talks

#MyVAFuture: What should my VA business model be? 10.15am

Discussing the different business models available (sole trader, limited company, freelance, associates, employees, and franchises), myself and the other two panel members will share our experiences via short presentations and then there will be a Q&A session.

#MyVAVision: Shaping your strategy for your VA business. 3.30pm

This is a chaired panel discussion and Q&A session on the types of things VAs should consider in order to thrive and survive in the future. From hashtags and social media services to artificial intelligence and digital nomads, we’re going to debate what we think the future role and services of a Virtual Assistant might be.

Where I’ll be and when:

As mentioned, I’m going to be taking part in the above panel discussions at those times but in between I’ll be wandering around the show and drinking coffee in the Networking Area.

I’ll update the Facebook event so you know what I’m wearing so you can find me if you’re not sure what I look like!

I’ve attended the event for the last few years (mainly just so I can get to meet some of you!), and I really enjoy it. It’s wonderful to put real faces to tiny profile pictures and I really like hearing your stories and how you’re finding freelance life.

After the event

This year I’ve decided to stay near the venue so I can hang out with some of you in a less formal environment as well as meet anyone who isn’t attending the show.

There’s a really nice pub near my accommodation called The Crown and Sceptre (34 Holland Road W14 8BA). I’m not sure exactly what time I’ll be there yet but it will probably around 5pm .

I’ll comment on the event in the Facebook group when I’ve arrived.

Whether you’re attending the show or not, please feel free to swing by the pub and have a chat because it will be absolutely wonderful to meet you.

The post Want to meet me at the PA Show? appeared first on The VA Handbook.

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This is a Virtual Assistant case study and interview with Victoria Tretis from My VA Rocks. Victoria lives in Nottingham in the UK, specialises in offering executive-level assistance, and set up her own business in the summer of 2016 after realising that life was far too short to be unhappy. 

What did you do for a living before you became a VA?

Funnily enough, I worked as an employed VA for nearly three years prior to launching my own business. And yet I had no idea that being a VA was an actual thing – I simply thought I worked from home as an executive assistant.

And before I became a VA of any description, I had been in kick-ass executive assistant roles for 15+ years. I worked in the Midlands, UK, for a while, then headed over to Australia and supported the CEO of an amazing insurance company for six months, before moving to London where I became an office manager and then global project coordinator in the finance world.

When did you first hear about VAs or became aware they even existed?

Back in 2009, while I was still working in London, a friend and I had dreams of ‘working from home as an EA’. Both of our personal lives were far away from London (my other half was up in Nottingham – about three hours door to door by tube, train and tram!) and I was sick of the distance. That friend and I dreamed of doing the same executive assistant roles that we truly loved, all from the comfort of our own homes.

But it wasn’t until I became a home-working executive assistant that I discovered there was such a thing as a VA.

What was the trigger for you becoming a VA?

I found out I was pregnant with our second child in early 2016. When we went for an early scan due to an abnormal bleed, the sonographer advised that there appeared to be a heterotopic pregnancy: twins – one was in the right place but without a heartbeat, the other was ectopic (in totally the wrong place).

We were back and forth to the hospital over the coming weeks because the pregnancy in the right place wasn’t growing and still didn’t have a heartbeat, and the one in the wrong place was thought to be a cluster of fast-growing cells. In fact, they didn’t know what it was exactly.

There was talk of keyhole surgery, full-blown surgery, a hysterectomy, and even chemo. In the end, I had a medical miscarriage and the second “mass” slowly decreased in size and life was supposed to go back to normal.

Except it wasn’t for me. Life was suddenly really freakin’ short.

I remember reading, “If you don’t build your own dream, someone will hire you to help build theirs” and it was shortly after that that I decided to resign from my stable day job and start my own business.

Did you just leave your job or start VA-ing gradually?

Because I was already employed via a VA agency of sorts, I couldn’t set up a business alongside my full-time job. Therefore, I did as much research as I could in my spare time, built a website with a “coming soon” holding page and officially went live on the day I was officially “unemployed”.

That leap of faith was REALLY scary and it’s not an approach I would EVER advise to others  – do set up a new business alongside a regular income wherever possible.

Where did you find the help or advice you needed when setting up?

Now that I’ve been supporting Jo behind the scenes at The VA Handbook for quite a while, it sounds a little serendipitous to say that I wouldn’t be where I am today if I hadn’t stumbled upon her content, but it’s entirely true!

I joined the free Facebook group after coming out of hospital in 2016 and I immediately felt inspired and empowered to start my own business. There were thousands of new and established VAs already in the Facebook group, and people were willingly offering little old me advice and guidance, and I really did believe that if they could do it, then I could too. So I reasoned that I owed it to myself to give this VA malarkey a bloomin’ good shot.

Who was your first client and how did you get them?

My first client was a friend (read: very old boyfriend) and he needed help with a data mining project. He’d seen me mention the launch of my VA business on Facebook and was keen to outsource the project to free him up to do the stuff he did best. It was a one-off job of about 10 hours and I spent all darn weekend doing it because of a super short deadline. BUT sending out that invoice gave me a little confidence boost at the realisation that I was adulting to the max and actually running a business.

Do you have a niche?

The Virtual Assistant job title is so broad that it doesn’t necessarily cover the wide range of skills and experiences we each offer. I specialise in being far more than helping hands for hire – I provide wing-woman support to clients who have an ongoing need for support, ideas, and advice, as well as being a confidant and an ambassador of their brand.

I gain far more satisfaction and fulfilment from working with clients on a regular basis – it allows me to build rapport and gain a greater understanding of their business and the associated needs. Because of this, I can be far more proactive and add masses of value (read: indispensable. Cue evil laugh: muah-ha-ha-ha-ha.)

As a result, I’ve recently pulled the plug on hourly pay-as-you-go clients – it’s just not where I gain satisifaction.

How would you say you were different from other VAs?

In addition to the above, I have a little team of associate VAs so I’m never in a position where I feel like I’m overstretching myself – there’s always a buffer thanks to the support network I have built around me.

From a client perspective, it means they can refer me with confidence knowing that I’m never personally going to be too busy to take on their work. It also means we have more flexibility to cater to the (sometimes) unpredictable peaks and troughs of client productivity.

It’s also really important to mention that we’re ALL very different to one another. We all bring different values, experience, skills and personalities to the business table – and that makes us each entirely unique.

What’s the best thing about being a VA?

The fact that I’ve set my working hours of 9am until 3pm means I can do the school run every single day without having to beg for time off or compromise my career ambitions. I also love the fact that there’s always something new to learn.

It’s usually around the two-year mark that I start to get bored in a job, but running my own business means that every day’s a school day because the learning potential is never-ending.

What’s the hardest thing about being a VA?

When I first started I was worried about feeling isolated. I was completely comfortable working on my own at home, doing the billable work and motivating myself to do so. However, I didn’t have a clue about running a business or negotiating with clients, and I was concerned that I wouldn’t have anyone to turn to when I needed advice or support.

That’s when the VA Handbookers Facebook group came in hugely useful. The amount of questions I would post there?! Oh boy! Yet I was made to feel welcome and everyone was eternally patient with me, offering sound advice or pointing me in the direction of resources that could help me.

Now my issue is that I crave personal development to such an extent that I’ve had to enforce a training course embargo to keep me on track! I would spend all day working on my business if I could!

How virtual are you?

Several of my clients are in Nottinghamshire so I do pop by to see them if I’m in the area, and I’m hoping my US-based client will insist on face-to-face meeting one day!

From working as an employed VA for three years, I know it’s entirely possible to support clients remotely and never see or meet them, but I have to admit that meeting people face-to-face, or at least having a video call every now and then, definitely fast-tracks the success of the business relationship.

How do you find your clients?

Most of my clients have been recommendations – either through existing clients or by connections tagging me in social media posts. OR they have found me thanks to my cyber-stalking via LinkedIn (and Jo’s guide on how to get new clients).

How do you manage your personal/work life balance?

I set up this business because I wanted to see my family more and therefore didn’t want to be forced to fork out a small fortune on childcare every month. It’s important that I stick to my core hours of 9am until 3pm so that I can do the school run in the mornings and afternoons.

Evenings are also precious because I want to spend quality time with my other half. In my previous role, I would have clients calling me out of hours – one time the phone rang at around 8:30pm while I was mid yoga class and the client needed to find a reprographics company to complete an urgent (as in that night) print job.

I’m more of a morning person than a night owl, so if I do need to fit in self-development (working through training courses, watching webinars etc), it’s not unusual for me to be at the desk at 4am to make some extra time without impacting on my working day or family commitments.

How do you manage your clients, their work and their expectations?

When I go through an initial client consultation, I make sure that the client’s needs are aligned with my own. If the client needs someone available to them 24/7 or on a very reactive basis, then I’m not the right fit for them and I’m not afraid to say this. I turned down a prospective client who referred to their previous assistant as a “slave” and who openly admitted they’d expect me to answer the phone at 10pm.

I’ve also declined someone who told me, several times over, that they were surprised I was running any kind of business as a “working mum”. Funnily enough, there wasn’t any comment about how my other half holds down a teaching role as a “working dad”!

So when I have found a good match with a client, I’m very clear on my core working hours and make a concerted effort to only respond to emails during those office hours.

If I do work early or late one day, I’ll use the time delay function to ensure that the email doesn’t actually go out until my core working hours. Also, if a task comes in, clients won’t hear me say that I’m focussing on another client’s work. I have masses of respect for every single one of my clients and I want them to feel like they’re my number one focus.

The way to do this is by understanding what causes them the anxieties in their business and then to mitigate that risk by being empathetic and gently suggesting alternative ways of working to streamline communication.

What technology, websites, or apps are invaluable to your working life?

The VA Handbook website and the VA Handbookers Facebook groups are both lifelines. Obvs.

I’m a slave to Todoist and regularly download my entire brain straight into that – business, personal, client… ALL the stuff goes in there and I’d be lost without it. I tried project management systems such as Trello and Asana but I just couldn’t get on with them.

Some of my clients use Trello, so I’ve hooked up Zapier to automatically update Trello whenever I add a task – that way I’m not duplicating effort, and the client is kept up to date with what’s on my pending list.

Because I support multiple clients, I also have a handful of inboxes to manage. To help with this, the time delay feature in Outlook and Boomerang for Gmail are invaluable! This means I can prep emails if I’m ever awake at silly o’clock, but the client doesn’t receive them until my normal working hours.

Also, the Outlook app on my iPhone has a snooze function which means that an email can come in out of hours and I can ‘snooze’ it until the next day, meaning that it disappears as an unread item in my inbox and reappears at the time I’ve set it for. Genius! The app works with any kind of Exchange and IMAP accounts – not just Gmail.

Would you do anything differently if you had to start again?

I wish I had invested in training sooner. I spent those first few months just bumbling along, second-guessing myself and not really knowing what I was doing. At the time, money was so tight and I was using a credit card to stay afloat so I didn’t see the extra expense as an investment.

However, if I had invested in training sooner I would have saved myself so much time and effort.

What advice would you give to someone considering becoming a VA?

For aspiring VAs I’d like to stress that there’s NEVER going to be a good time to launch a business, so just take a leap of faith. Do research in your spare time, invest in Jo’s DIY VA course to fast track your way to success, and then take logical action to move forward.

For new and established VAs I’d like to emphasise that other VAs are not the competition. We all bring very different values, skills and personalities to the table and there’s more than enough business to go around.

I’d also encourage VAs to actively seek out others in their area so that they can create alliances and a support network. The skills could well turn out to be complementary and it may be possible to create referrals between one another, creating a win-win scenario.

Say hi to Victoria on Twitter.

You can find more info on my DIY VA course here on this page and you can see loads more testimonials from happy trainees by clicking here or watching these VA video testimonials.

The post Interview with executive-level VA Victoria Tretis appeared first on The VA Handbook.

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If you’re still in the setting up phase your Virtual Assistant business wouldn’t it be great to receive some personal advice from established VAs who have walked the path before you? I mean, imagine how helpful it would be to hear some words of wisdom, get some pointers and find out what the best course of action would be? Oh wait… what? There is?!

Advice from experienced Virtual Assistants

“I would say start networking as soon as you can. It helps with confidence, focusing on what support you’re offering, and can get you work and referrals. It can be a slow burner so the sooner you get out there the better.

I have got 90% of my work through networking.”

“Take any courses you can even if it’s to refresh your skills. Network, network, network. Be organised and be patient… they will come.”

Start networking. A lot of my business comes that way. Don’t say you can do something if you can’t at the hope of getting business. Be patient and use time when you don’t have any work to work on you – look at all the online platforms and play around with them so you are confident if someone asks you to work on say, Mailchimp. Read. Do courses.”

“Make sure you have the money to buy a proper contract to use with clients, make sure you have insurance in place if needed, make sure you are registered with the ICO (if in UK) and make sure you register with HMRC if in UK too. Get some method of tracking your business expenses and keep all your receipts.

Oh, and get an invoice template ready for that first client! I found it just easier to buy the brill stuff I needed from your website, Joanne. What I’m saying I guess, is get your own business admin and record keeping in place right from the start because it makes your self assessment easier if you don’t have an Accountant.”

“Just get your ducks in something resembling a row and start doing client work! And my other piece of advice would be to nail a 30 second elevator pitch and use it to tell everyone that you already know, what you are doing.

Word of mouth referrals are like gold.”

“As a newbie who has just signed my first client, I found making connections with and meeting up with other local VAs really useful as you can ask questions you may not wish to ask online for fear of feeling stupid!

Spend time getting your head around GDPR regulations. Get your business cards and a networking sheet ready to take to events, and tell everyone you know what you’re doing.

“Don’t do any work for anyone until you’ve got a signed contract!”

“I set up a website first so I could direct potential new clients and ex-colleagues to it. I worked on updating my LinkedIn profile with Luan Wise and in-between messaged everyone I could possibly think of to tell them my plans on email and social media.

To help me gain experience I signed up with an agency part time so I’d have a small amount of initial income. I still do some work with them now even tho I now have six clients of my own.”

“Be patient.”

“Believe in yourself! Be confident! Everyone is scared, you just need to turn the fear into excitement and go for it.”

“Be patient it does take time and hard work. When you feel a bit despondent, don’t give up it really is worth it.”

“Like many others here, I advise you not to give up. If you give up, you will never get to appreciate the end result, which is you working for yourself. If things aren’t working, tweak what you’re doing or form/join an accountability group. Two heads are better than one and someone else might be able to help you see where you may be going wrong.”

“It takes time and perseverance. Going to just one networking event will not bring in the hoards, you have to work at it. NETWORK, but be choosy about which ones you go to – try a few out and remember that you don’t have to go to everything!

Don’t work for free because you are “new”. You have the skills so charge for it. Ask questions and finally… buy those big girl/boy pants in a multi-pack because you will need them!”

“Use as many free systems as possible; you don’t have to spend a fortune on software to do a good job!”

“Stay calm, stop procrastinating and don’t wait for “perfect”.  Do Jo’s DIY VA course and network (for this you have to take the bull by the horns and just do it because it works!)”

“Just provide top-class service and you will always be busy! Follow-up and never take no for an answer. Ask for help and advice from fellow VAs.”

“Agree with all these great comments! This Facebook group and Jo’s website is invaluable for learning (and free if you can’t afford the courses!) so make the most of it like I did! And most of all, have confidence in yourself that you CAN do it, because if you do, everyone else will!”

“You can read and read and read and spend lots of time preparing, but at some point you just have to take that leap. Yep it’s scary as hell but you have to bite the bullet because you cannot cover every possible scenario.”

“Buy Jo’s initial client consultation document. I used this a lot at the start and I still do. And if you don’t know how to handle something a client is asking, you don’t have to give an answer straight away. Say “yes that’s great I’ll take that away and get back to you on that one”. Don’t feel like you have to answer on the spot.”

“I would have charged more and been a bit more ruthless with my initial clients as I gave them more of a service than they were actually paying for. It took me about two years to really focus on my business rather than building up other people’s.”

“If I knew then what I know now I’d have been more selective with the type of work I offered and would have narrowed my niche in order to target those I really want to work with a lot sooner.”

“I would have had more confidence in general – I’ve learned that it’s ok to turn down work you don’t want or say no to potential clients who you think would be a nightmare. And that I do know my stuff, I just have to believe I myself!”

“I think I would start my business years earlier and go back and make my first website way better.”

“Get into the mindset of talking to yourself as you would a best friend. Be supportive, give yourself compassion even make yourself laugh if you have to! Mental resilience will be your strongest weapon because it’s not an easy road but the rewards are priceless!

If you want to be the best at what you do then you absolutely have to invest in yourself.

I’m by no means the most successful freelancer I know but I wouldn’t be even close to where I am now if I didn’t invest in books, courses, training and time to commit to learning and growth.”

“My best piece of advice looking back is not to try and do everything at once when setting up. Take one thing at a time and do it well. For months I jumped around from one task to the next and not really getting anything done as I had so many ideas and questions in my head. As soon as I focused and had a plan (thanks to Jo’s DIY VA Course) I was set up and at capacity in weeks! Basically, have a plan, stick to it and don’t overthink it.”

“Don’t let the fear of the unknown stop you. Always think “what’s the worse that can happen?”

“Never quit, keep going and it will all come together! Oh and network like mad the first year!”

“Discipline yourself – that applies to keeping focused on tasks, setting goals each day/week, setting boundaries and sticking to them, keeping true to yourself and your skills.”

“Be STRONG Even when the going gets TOUGH!!”

“Don’t stop believing! (Now there’s a song!!) Sometimes you feel like you’re getting nowhere or going round in circles but actually, when you take time to look back, it’s amazing how far you’ll have come and lessons learned along the way.”

“Discipline and the ability to work in isolation. I am more than happy in my own company but some have said to me they would miss the colleague banter and office environment.”

Set boundaries and manage expectations in terms of availability and turnaround right from the beginning and don’t be tempted to break those rules as your clients will soon expect you to flex to their every need/whim/demand.”

“I was terrified to take the leap. I had been contemplating it for months and didn’t think my husband would support my decision, but he knew how miserable I was at my job, and he told me to go for it. Actually, terrifying doesn’t even begin to describe it. I was losing hair and sleep over this decision, and for a couple months afterwards! I was always thinking about it, and even though I was thrilled to not have to go to “work” anymore, it was just such a huge adjustment.

I still have days where I doubt myself (don’t we all?), but things have improved, and here we are, almost a year later, sans “job” and we haven’t gone bankrupt. I’m not quite where I want to be yet, but it’s starting to happen – my latest client is trying to hook me up with other clients, without my even asking! I’m getting there though and I couldn’t be happier.

The best piece of advice I got was from Jo, “put your big girl pants on and get on with it.” No one can do it for you, and yes it’s scary as hell, but it’s so worth it.

One of my favourite quotes is, “If it was meant to be easy, everyone would be doing it.” Scary or not, it’s extremely rewarding to be your own boss.”

“Theoretically, being a VA should be perfect! Work from wherever you want, with the people you want, when you want, doing what you want. Awesome! And it really IS great a lot of the days. But there are days when you are stumped with a request, need more money, don’t have enough time, internet is wonky, have grumpy clients who want the moon and are irritated when you don’t deliver.

Those days suck but at VERY least, you can take five minutes to pet your cat, take a walk, or take two hours to see a movie, get some perspective and dig in.

Remember that everything is a balance. I have about a hundred more tips but here’s one that always bears repeating – keep growing and refining your skills, don’t assume that 2 or 10 or 20 years in an office will give you all you need to be a VA. Tech is never ending so stay on top of it.

And don’t undercharge. Really. Don’t.”

“Don’t offer every skill under the sun (this is something Jo mentions in her articles) because people get confused. Cut it down to a few services, try your hand at a few things, you may be surprised at what you actually can do and take joy in doing too.

Try to go into a shared office hub once a week, and ideally one with a lot of female entrepreneurs (lucky here in Melbourne I go to one which is solely for female entrepreneurs). It is great to get you out of isolation and more than likely you will pick up a few clients as we all love to support one another.

Don’t get hung up on having the latest equipment. I still work on my laptop which is now five years old. It is on its last legs, but it’s gotten me this far and I am so grateful I didn’t have to fork anything out equipment-wise when I started. Whatever you have to start with, will do just fine.

I won’t lie, it gets extremely tough sometimes, mentally and financially but don’t give up, reach out to people, and be honest about it. I received so much support from people I never expected because they loved what I was doing and wanted to help me on my way.

It’s the best thing I ever did. EVER.

I wouldn’t change it for the world. Even though I work more 24/7 than 9 to 5, I love it. To hear my clients say I have made their lives run so much smoother, how I bring joy to their days and they couldn’t have grown their businesses without me is the biggest satisfaction!”

Takeaways

As you can see there are a few clear themes in their advice. Themes which I very much agree with.

  • Build relationships (it’s called networking and marketing!)
  • Keep learning and investing in your professional development
  • Don’t try to offer everything to everyone
  • Be disciplined – both with yourself and clients
  • Stay true to your business model. You call the shots so don’t compromise
  • Charge what you’re worth. Don’t undervalue or undersell your skills
  • Don’t wait for ‘perfect’ and don’t jump around all over the place. just focus on one thing at a time and take it step by step – but START!
  • Don’t give up. It’s hard but it’s worth it

The post Advice for newbies from experienced VAs appeared first on The VA Handbook.

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This is a Virtual Assistant case study and interview with Charlotte Souber – known to her friends as Soubs! She lives in New Haw in Surrey with her young son and partner and set up her Virtual Assistant business Hour 25 in September 2016. Charlotte has recently taken on an employee and gone from a solo operation to a VA agency.

What did you do for a living before you became a VA?

I’ve been an Executive PA almost all of my working life and I’ve been working since I was 16. Before being a VA I worked in the media, from advertising and PR, to TV and Film. I even did a stint working as a runner on for SMTV and CD:UK (if you grew up in the UK in the 90s you will know)!

When did you first hear about VAs or became aware they even existed?

I wanted to be a Virtual Assistant before I even knew there was a term for it. Whilst working in the PR world as an executive PA to the CEO there were lots of changes happening within the company and it got me thinking about my future.

I’ve always absolutely loved being a PA (and I knew I was bloody good at it), but I was fed up of corporate life, company politics and the London commute that I’d been doing for 12 years.

I knew I wanted to work for myself and decided there must be a massive need from small-business owners or busy execs for freelance PA support. There and then I came up with my company name and bought the domain – five years before doing anything about it.

What was the trigger for you becoming a VA?

It was only when I became pregnant with my son in 2012, which happened to coincide with my boss retiring, that I got the opportunity to take voluntary redundancy. I knew for sure that I didn’t want to continue commuting into London once I’d had my baby, so I grabbed the opportunity.

Things didn’t quite go to plan and I suffered with post-natal depression and my VA plans were put on hold as I just didn’t have the head space to start a business, look after my new baby and get myself better. But the dream of starting the business was never far from my mind.

I took a local job in HR which allowed me to use my skills and be close to home for my son, but I just longed to give this VA thing a shot.

Then I discovered the VA Handbook and that sealed the deal – I needed to bite the bullet.

I absorbed everything on this website and asked my family for birthday money to buy the DIY course, which I did the day after my birthday in June 2016. That September, I noticed on Facebook that an old friend and Managing Director at the PR firm I worked at in London was setting up her own business, so I contacted her and asked if she needed any help – she did!

Did you just leave your job or start VA-ing gradually?

It felt like fate because the friend I mentioned was setting up her business during the evenings and weekends around her full-time corporate job and needed as much help as she could get. So I did the same.

It was exhausting; I was working full-time, doing my VA work evenings and weekends and was being a Mum. But I knew I needed to do this to make it happen.

Within a month, I got my second client through a referral and so I needed to make a decision. I handed in my notice (with no idea how I would pay the bills, the extortionate nursery fees and it was right on top of Christmas), but I knew it was time!

Where did you find the help or advice you needed when setting up?

I wouldn’t have had the confidence to make that jump without the VA Handbook website, the DIY VA course and the VA Handbookers Facebook community. In fact, I’ve never looked anywhere else for help because these things provide me with everything I need and more.

I became a member of the Facebook group on the day it started, then I became a VA Rock Star (the group for the DIY course trainees) and now I’m an All Star (Jo’s fabulous membership for established VAs).

So, it’s safe to say I am a bit of a raving fan!

Do you have a niche? 

When I started out I didn’t have a niche, or hadn’t quite worked out what it was yet, but quite soon my niche (which came about quite by accident) became working with online entrepreneurs.

I work with marketers, speakers, coaches and experts, and I love it! I’ve learnt so much and have had to upskill quite quickly to help clients with things I knew nothing about prior to being a VA, such as lead magnets, sales funnels, membership sites and email automation.

My big love is organising events and I get to do this almost every day now, which rocks my world.

How would you say you were different from other VAs 

Hour 25 has never been an admin service, it’s always been about giving business owners time back to enable them to grow their business and gain a better work-life balance.

I never imagined I would be saying this 18 months ago when I started out, but Hour 25 is no longer just me. I’ve been working with associate VAs for a while, but I now have a full-time employee (the incredible Shannon), our own office, a call answering team, a network of experts (including a graphic designer, copywriter, HR consultant and web developer) and plans to add another couple of VAs to the team this year.

Everything we do at Hour 25 has the sole purpose of giving the thing that all business owners crave – more time!

What’s the best thing about being a VA?

I can’t name just one. I love being around for my son, being able to still do the school run and being able to go to school plays without asking permission.

I love the sense of achievement that I get from supporting our clients and seeing their successes, and I love how becoming a VA has opened my mind to so many other opportunities and ambitions that I never knew I had. Not to mention the incredible people I have met along the way.

What’s the hardest thing about being a VA?

It’s HARD work and I never stop worrying about where the next client will come from and I never really switch off. I’ve always been a great PA, but being a business owner is a whole different ballgame. I’m learning every day and I don’t think I’ll ever stop learning. But I wouldn’t change it for the world.

The thought of going back to being employed now does not bear thinking about.

How virtual are you?

Day to day I’m pretty virtual. Until recently I worked from home most days, but now we have our own office – which feels super grown up and professional. Some clients I meet with face to face on a monthly basis but mostly we meet on Zoom. As I organise events I do work on-site at those events which I love.

How do you find your clients?

Almost all of my clients have come from word of mouth from existing clients or contacts but I am quite active in a few big entrepreneurial Facebook groups, and have also found a few clients that way.

I tell everyone I meet about what I do because if they don’t need my service, they usually know someone who does!

How do you manage your personal/work life balance?

It’s not always easy especially as I’m scaling the business and growing a team right now. But I make sure that when I pick up my son from school, those few hours are our time and if I have more work to do I will do it once he goes to bed.

The great thing about being a VA is you can set your hours and work on your terms, so if you only want to work school hours you can. As my team grows I know I will get more of a balance back, but right now I have big ambitions for my business and I know that takes hard work!

How do you manage your clients, their work and their expectations?

I now only work with retainer clients as I find it much easier to manage capacity that way. I have weekly Zoom calls with most of my clients to plan out work for the week ahead and I block out time for each client in my diary. I also use a project management tool to keep track of tasks and deadlines.

What technology, websites, or apps are invaluable to your working life?

Where to start? I couldn’t do my job without Toggl (time tracking), Taskworld (project management), and Buffer (social media scheduling).

I think my favourite tool is Canva though. It rocks my world and allows me to create really professional-looking graphics for my business and clients. I also couldn’t work without my iPhone – in fact it’s safe to say that I’m a bit of an addict!

Would you do anything differently if you had to start again?

The only thing I would change would be to not overthink everything when starting out. Most of the things I worried about and that delayed me getting started have never even materialised or been important.

The best way to start is just get started. You can learn as you go, it doesn’t all need to be perfect before you begin!

What advice would you give to someone considering becoming a VA?

The best advice I would give would be to listen to Joanne Munro, read her blog posts on this site, do her DIY course and immerse yourself in the VA Handbookers Facebook group.

Also it’s important to ask lots of questions so you can work out if being a freelancer or business owner is right for you – and if it is, just give it a go.

It’s not for everyone and it’s certainly not an ‘easy side hustle’, but it’s the most rewarding thing I have ever done… I just wish I’d done it sooner!

Say hi to Charlotte on her Facebook page.

You can find more info on my DIY VA course here on this page and you can see loads more testimonials from happy trainees by clicking here or watching these VA video testimonials.

The post Interview with VA agency owner, Charlotte Souber appeared first on The VA Handbook.

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In my blog post on how to choose a laptop for your Virtual Assistant business, I mentioned that I use a Chromebook in addition to my main laptop. This interested quite a few of my readers and, because they wanted to know if a Chromebook was a viable alternative to a Windows laptop, I thought I’d tell you more about Chromebooks and how they work.

Below is a screenshot of the desktop of my Asus Aspire laptop.

Notice anything unusual about it apart from the awesome pic of the USS Shenzhou from Star Trek Discovery?

Like the fact there are only TWO icons?!

My desktop is beautifully minimalist because I now work solely in the cloud and these are the only icons I need. In fact, my Chromebook’s desktop doesn’t have any icons.

Previously, my Toshiba 2 Chromebook was just my backup and travel device in case anything happened to my Asus, but after a recent conversation with another business owner on disaster recovery and contingency and some further research into Chromebook advancements, I made the decision to start working 100% in the cloud.

Even though I was already half doing this, moving over to permanent cloud-based working had been on my mind for some time and for many different reasons.

I think I hadn’t done it before because I was a little apprehensive about committing fully to the process. I was worried it would be a complete faff and concerned that I might lose all my data. But now I have made the switch, I’m really happy with my decision.

And although I still use my Asus laptop (I’m not going to throw it away!), I could use my Chromebook for everything if I wanted to.

So let me tell you how I work so you can see if it might suit your business as well.

What’s a Chromebook?

A Chromebook is a laptop that runs on Chrome OS instead of Windows or Mac OS. It’s just an operating system which means you can only use online applications and storage. Which is fine because when you think about it, pretty much everything a VA uses to run their business is online anyway.

From email, storage (Dropbox and Google Drive) and documents and spreadsheets (Google Docs and MS Office); to social media, accounting software, video recording (Loom), image editing (Pixlr, Canva and PicMonkey) and project management (Asana and Trello), most of the tools a VA might use are accessed via the Internet.

And the things listed above are only a few examples of the many online sites, apps and extensions that you might use for work; you’ll see loads more if you take look at your bookmarks bar.

The pros of using a Chromebook:

There are many reasons why a Chromebook is equal to (and sometimes better than) a regular laptop. Here are just a few of them.

Continuity

I love that if anything happens to my Chromebook, I can just log into my Google account on any laptop anywhere and continue working. I don’t have to worry about my data being lost and all I need to do is buy another Chromebook.

If your laptop broke right this minute, do you have a contingency plan? 

They’re really cheap

I bought my Toshiba 2 Chromebook in 2016 from Amazon for £250. They can get quite expensive (over £1000 for a Google Pixelbook) but most of them are under £300 and you can buy a basic one for £120.

The low price, security, and simplicity are reasons many people buy them for their children and older relatives, but this means they’re also affordable as a main or backup business laptop.

They’re secure

These bad boys are completely secure because they automatically encrypt your files. You only need to make sure your Google account is secure – which is easy because Google has multi-layered login security options which you can find in your account settings.

In fact, Chromebooks are so secure, Google will give $100,000 to anyone who can remotely hack one.

They don’t get viruses

Because a Chromebook is just an operating system, you don’t need antivirus software. They come with built-in malware and virus protection as standard and they have multiple layers of security.

The virus protection automatically updates so you’ll always be using the latest and most secure version, and because Chrome runs all of their updates silently in the background, you’ll never sit twiddling your thumbs while your laptop goes through rounds of updates.

The battery life is good

The average battery life of a Chromebook is just over 9 hours with continuous web surfing and some of them have a battery life of up to 17 hours. Although this does depend on the individual model, that’s pretty good going.

They run Microsoft Office

The most important thing for a VA is being able to use Microsoft Office and you can now access this via an app in the Play Store. It isn’t available on all Chromebooks yet but it’s only a matter of time before it is.

So you’ll need to buy a Chromebook that does have access to the Android apps, or you can check to see if your Chromebook already has access.

But even if your machine doesn’t support the Android app yet, you can still use Microsoft Office Online which is the free cloud version. You can save documents in the various different Microsoft formats in Google Drive anyway, so you can still share your files with non-Chromebook users.

They work offline

Tons of business apps also work offline. In addition, you can download Kindle books and PDFs, use Google Keep to write notes, manage your to-do list with Wunderlist and use Gmail, Google Docs, and MS Office offline too.

You can print from them

Admittedly, this can be a bit of a ball-ache because you need to use a wireless printer and run the initial setup from a Windows laptop, but once you’ve done that you can print via Google Cloud from anywhere.

They start up really quickly

Although I’ve removed bloatware and turned off all the apps that launch on startup, my Asus definitely takes much longer to get going. But because a Chromebook is just an operating system, you simply open the lid and away you go.

They have internal storage

Even though they’re mainly used to browse the web, Chromebooks also have internal disk space where you can store downloads. I usually save documents to Google Drive instead of internally, but you can always free up a bit more space if you need to.

You should use Google Drive for your file storage. You usually get 100 GB of free storage when you buy a Chromebook, but because this offer is only for a limited time, I pay £15.99 a year for 100 GB. I don’t even use half of that and I store everything there including all my personal photos.

You could use another online storage provider such as Dropbox, but you get much more free space with Drive (15 GB compared with 2 GB) and it’s also massively cheaper to upgrade and get more storage with Drive too. I personally keep all my own business files in Drive but I use both Drive and Dropbox to share client files depending on the client’s preference.

They’re light

My Chromebook weighs 2.95 lbs which is only a teeny bit heavier than my Asus. They feel the same weight when I pick them up but apparently there’s a 0.30g difference!

So they’re not heavy machines to lug around.

They’re perfect for travelling

I first tried using just my Chromebook when I went to Oman for two weeks and it was absolutely fine. The portability, cost and functionality of Chromebooks means they’re a great option for Digital Nomads or any VA who travels a lot.

They’re simple to use

Again, because they’re just an operating system and there isn’t much else going on, Chromebooks are extremely easy to use.

The downsides to using a Chromebook: Printing is different

Because you need a cloud printer, the set up is a bit of a hassle – but then it’s done.

You can’t save things to your desktop

It takes a bit of brain reprogramming to get out of the habit of wanting to save everything to your desktop. But you adapt to saving everything in Google Drive very quickly, plus they do have a small amount of internal storage where you can keep files if you want to.

Lack of USB ports

Some Chromebooks only have a couple of USB2 or USB3 ports but you can easily get around that. Because I frequently use a wireless mouse and keyboard when using my monitor and I sometimes use a headset and external camera, I bought a cheap 4-port data hub so I could plug in more things if I need to.

Small text

Text can be quite small because Chromebooks are usually small laptops, but I simply changed the default font size in the settings. I can also hook it up to my monitor with a cable like I do with my Asus.

They’re not great for gaming

Because they have limited graphics processing power, Chromebooks aren’t as good as Windows laptops for playing the more graphically advanced computer games.

They don’t work with every single thing you might need

A Chromebook isn’t compatible with every piece of software out there. So certain types of audio transcription software (such as one of the big players and most popular with VAs – Express Scribe) are only available via a Windows/Mac OS download.

The same goes for diary management of certain Outlook Exchange accounts – some are not compatible so you will need to use the app.

And if you’re a very creative VA who needs to use 3D editing tools such as Photoshop or professional video editing software, then you’re best off sticking with a Windows laptop.

There are free photo editors available for Chrome OS, including Pixlr, which looks a lot like Photoshop, but those with existing files are out of luck because there isn’t currently an app that can edit Adobe’s .PSD files.

How to find out if you could just use a Chromebook

A good way to decide if there’s anything you need to use that you can’t do with a Chromebook is to go to your laptop’s Downloads folder and take a look at what applications are in there.

If you’ve downloaded an application, you really need it, and there isn’t an online version, then you should stick with your Windows laptop.

But if there is an online version, you could use a Chromebook for the same job.

But depending on what type of VA you are, most things can be accessed online and therefore a Chromebook would probably happily suffice.

The only thing in my own Downloads folder that doesn’t have an online version is VideomakerFX which I used to make the animated video on my DIY VA course sales page. But I haven’t used it for years so it’s no big loss. Plus I still have my Asus laptop in addition to the Chromebook so I could access it if I needed to.

In fact, I’m currently using both machines simultaneously.

I keep the Chromebook in the living room and my Asus hooked up to my monitor in the office. Because I work in the cloud and they’re both synced, I just open either of them and continue what I was working on.

How it works

You buy a Chromebook, open the lid, log into your Google account and start working.

If you’re moving over from a Windows laptop or using a Chromebook in conjunction with your Windows laptop then you’ll need to save all your files in Google Drive first. You then decide which folders you want to continuously sync from your laptop to the cloud.

Because you need a Google account to use a Chromebook, if you have no experience with Google products then you should probably stick to a Windows laptop.

Conclusion

It used to be that Chromebooks didn’t work with that many Android applications, so they had limited functionality, and because these apps included MS Office, Photoshop and Skype, they weren’t really a viable option for a Virtual Assistant.

But now that they do run these applications (and more apps are being added all the time) there isn’t much you can’t do with a Chromebook anymore.

You just need to remember that a Chromebook is a Google laptop and not a Microsoft laptop so it doesn’t run Windows.

So whilst I’m not saying you should immediately ditch your Windows laptop and move over to using a Chromebook, I do think it’s a good idea to do your research, know what you can and can’t do with them, look at your options, and then make an educated decision.

But I think at the very least you should have some kind of back up for your main computer, so even if you don’t plan on using a Chromebook as your go-to machine, you should consider getting one in order to seamlessly continue your work if something happened to your main machine.

The post Can a Virtual Assistant just work on a Chromebook? appeared first on The VA Handbook.

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One of the most popular questions asked by members of my VA Handbookers Facebook group is what laptop they should buy. Because I thought it would be easier to have a source to point people to when they asked this question, below is a comprehensive list of all the things you should consider when choosing a laptop for your VA business.

Laptop, desktop or tablet?

It’s entirely up to you whether you decide to have a portable laptop or a static desktop computer, but you can’t run your VA business from just a tablet or a phone.

Well, I guess you could if you really, really had to, but it would be incredibly fiddly, annoyingly inefficient, spectacularly unprofessional and you’d definitely need a separate monitor and keyboard so you could see what you were doing!

If you don’t intend to work whilst travelling, go to a client’s office/home, or work from a coffee shop, then go with a static desktop – but if you became a VA for the flexible working life then you’ll need something portable.

Personally, because of the word ‘virtual’ in your job title, I’d go with a laptop!

Mac or PC?

It doesn’t matter.

You’ll need Microsoft Office for much of your work but you can get MS Office 365 for Mac. Macs are more expensive and are probably the better option if you’re already familiar with them or you do a lot of design work, but if you’re a ‘regular VA’ and you’ve never used one before then just stick with what you know.

It’s just down to preference really.

Things to consider when buying a laptop

Now, people will say to you “oh I bought this one and I love it”, or “I wouldn’t use anything else but my insertbrandnamehere, but you should always choose a laptop based on the things that YOU need because what may be the perfect laptop for someone else may not suit you at all.

I’m sure you wouldn’t buy the same car as a friend just because they said they liked it, and it’s the same with your laptop. So decide what you need it to do and then only consult other people once you’ve narrowed down the ones you are interested in.

These are the things you should look at when choosing your laptop:

Size and weight 

If you’re taking your laptop out of the house then you’ll want something light. Obviously a smaller laptop is going to be lighter than one with a larger screen, but you also need to be able to see what you’re typing without squinting!

I started having all sorts of back problems when I moved to a 13.3″ screen so I enlarged the font in the settings and I usually connect it to a large monitor. Back and shoulder pain from bad posture is rampant in freelancers and the cost of physio and the long-term damage to your body and career just isn’t worth it.

So make sure you’re not putting your back and neck out of alignment by jutting your head forward to peer at a small screen like I was!

Battery life

Again, if you’re taking the laptop out of the house then you’ll want a good battery life. For me, anything over 8 hours is good and, although I can take my charger with me, it’s often a bit of a hassle to carry it around and to find a good spot to plug it in.

Cost

Cost is going to be a huge factor when it comes to choosing your laptop, especially if you’re just setting up. Well, I’m pleased to tell you that as long as your laptop is fast and has good storage, a cheap one will do the job.

My Asus Aspire UX305F ZenBook was just over £500 (three years ago) but is considered one of the best budget Ultrabooks around and Chromebooks are even cheaper.

(Look out for my upcoming post on whether you can run a VA business from a Chromebook)

Storage space

Get as much space as you can afford but don’t buy a laptop with less than 4GB. My Asus has 8GB and it’s enough to happily run my business from – I recommend you go for 8GB or above if possible.

SSD or HDD?

Hard disk drives (HDDs) store information on a spinning disc whereas Solid State Drives (SSDs) store information on microchips. Older laptops usually came with HDDs so were bulkier and heavier, but SSDs are more the norm nowadays especially with thinner laptops.

SSDs are a bit more expensive but the laptop boots up more quickly, runs faster, is more reliable and they use less power. So I would opt for SSD if you can.

Touch screen

Do you want a touch screen or not? I personally don’t care about this feature so I know I can eliminate these from my search, but you might particularly want this feature.

Screen glare

If you plan to use your laptop outside a lot then you might want to get an anti-glare screen. It may seem like a small thing, but it will bother you when you’re using it and you can’t see anything. My Chromebook wasn’t advertised as having an anti-glare screen but it’s actually great outdoors whereas my Asus isn’t so good.

Backlit keyboard

Again, a small thing but do you care if the keyboard is backlit or not? Most people won’t but you might want one if you work a lot in the evenings for example.

Detachable screen

Some laptops come with screens that you can either remove or bend over so you can use it as both a laptop and a tablet. You don’t need one of these, but if you want one then that’s another consideration.

Don’t listen to other VAs

When I’m looking to buy something, my first port of call is always Google. There are tons of tech websites out there and I recommend you refer to these first rather than asking another VA in the Facebook group (or your Mum) what they suggest.

These guys are experts in technology whereas most VAs are not!

Decide what features you need, narrow down your choices and then read as many user reviews and comparison articles as you can. You could then ask the VA Handbookers Facebook group if they have any experience of these laptops, but you’ll get better information from people whose job it is to review tech!

Once you’ve narrowed down your choices, go to Google and type in something like: “name of laptop you’re considering versus name of the other laptop you’re considering” to get comparison reviews. A VA will have firsthand experience and tell you if they like using a particular laptop but, as with most things, it’s all down to opinion.

A VA once wrote she would never buy an Asus and yet I have one and I’m delighted with it. I bought it after doing extensive research and (see link above), the model is considered to be a good choice.

Laptop models vary so sweeping generalisations aren’t going to help you. Also, the VA may have had a glitchy one, simply not liked the features, or are basing their opinion on out of date information or products.

So get your technical advice from someone who knows what they’re talking about.

Read as many reviews as you can

Ideally you want to go to the store and see the laptop you’re considering because you can feel how heavy it is and see whether the keys are too close together etc. However, that isn’t always possible so the next best thing is to read all the online reviews and comments you can.

Check out the laptop on Amazon and see what people are saying about it. It may be that buyers have given fewer stars because the delivery was late or for something personal to them that doesn’t matter to you. But these reviews may also highlight something that the online tech reviews aren’t aware of – such as the hinges getting looser over time for example.

You can always upgrade later

I started with a Dell Inspiron because it was cheap and I just wanted to get started. It was heavy, noisy and the battery life was only around three hours, but it was affordable and it was an absolute workhorse.

More importantly, it meant that I could just get on and do some work.

That laptop served me well for many years until I decided to upgrade to a smaller, lighter laptop with the longest battery life I could find. I moved on to an Acer Aspire and I now have a 13.3″ Asus Zenbook.

I also have a Chromebook which I used to take on holiday, kept as an emergency backup, and sometimes lent to friends when their laptop gave up the ghost suddenly. But because I now work solely in the cloud, I use it alongside the Aspire as one of my two main machines.

So although I’ve had large, cheap laptops in the past, I’ve learned that I personally need something light with a good battery life that doesn’t cost the earth.

A word on Chromebooks

As you’ve just read, I now work solely in the cloud and a lot of my work is done on a Chromebook. It used to be that Chromebooks weren’t suitable for all the work that a VA needed to do, but they’ve progressed a lot in a very short space of time and I can’t actually think of any tasks that a VA can’t do on one now.

They do have some quirks however and so I’m in the process of writing a separate blog post on whether a VA can use a Chromebook as their main computer.

Tips
  • Back up your data to the cloud. An external hard drive is great but they will fail at some point. I use Mozy (£5 a month) to back up my entire laptop and I store my files and pics in Google Drive as well.
  • Remember to put the cost of your laptop and any cables, monitor, mouse and keyboard on your business expenses.
  • If you have a separate laptop for work, you can claim all of it on your expenses but if it’s for personal use as well, you can only claim half. Read more about how much you can claim on laptop purchases here.
  • I use the same laptop for work and business. Some people like to keep them separate but I don’t really see the point myself.
  • Definitely buy a spare charger though because if yours broke tomorrow, you’d be stuffed.
  • Watch your back. I have a YoYo Mini adjustable desk (it sits on a table top) and a separate monitor, mouse and keyboard. I have these because I completely messed my back up and ended up paying a load of money for physio. So preempt the cost by investing in your health now!
Summary

As you can see, aside from the storage space and price, most of the choices you need to make are based on personal preference. In my opinion, the most important thing is to just decide on something, don’t overthink it too much and never use it as an excuse to not get going with your business.

The post How to choose a laptop for your VA business appeared first on The VA Handbook.

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You know when you can’t make a decision and you really wish there was a way to quickly come up with an answer so you can just move on with your life and do something else? Well I’m delighted to tell you that there is. In fact I’m the smug custodian of a spectacularly fail-proof method which I will happily share with you today… are you ready?

Ok, so when I’m not 100% sure about something, I ask myself this one question:

Is it a ‘HELL YEAH’?

Because if it’s not, then it’s a no.

Asking myself this one simple question has made such a huge difference to the way I run my life, that it would be absolutely criminal to keep it to myself.

In fact, I’m so committed to making decisions this way that my (now ex) boyfriend had a necklace made for me for Valentine’s Day – although in the spirit of complete transparency, I need to tell you that I actually ask whether it’s a F**K YEAH not a HELL YEAH because I’m quite sweary.

The rule of HELL YEAH has been knocking around for a while now and I first read about it a couple of years back. But although it’s not my own creation, I immediately fell in love with the ethos and have been applying it to my life ever since.

It is definitely the quickest, simplest way to know whether you want to do something.

The rule of HELL YEAH in action:

  • Do I definitely want to buy these jeans?
  • Would it be fun to go on a second date with this guy?
  • Do I really want to go to that party?
  • Am I 100% certain I want that third piece of cake?
  • Am I happy to struggle through the rest of this film/book?
  • Do I want to spend the evening on the sofa drinking prosecco in my pajamas watching Netflix?

Of course, as card-holding adults we’re not always going to be able to apply this method to everything we do (“do I want to spend Christmas with my in-laws or watch Frozen for the 300th time?” for example), but as a general rule of thumb, this question will serve you very well and save you loads of time.

So the next time you need to make a call on something, ask yourself:

“Is this a HELL YEAH!?

Because if it’s a ‘not sure’ or a ‘meh’, then it’s a no.

If the answer to “do I want to set up my own Virtual Assistant business?” is 100% HELL YEAH! then check out my DIY VA course and then just go and do it!

The post This decision hack will change your life appeared first on The VA Handbook.

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This is a Virtual Assistant case study and interview with Jane Oriel. As well as being a VA, Jane wanted to freelance as a writer, copywriter and editor so kept her brand identity options open by using her name as her business name. Jane is originally from Kent but now resides in Caerphilly, South Wales with her husband and son. 

What did you do for a living before you became a VA?

Since submitting my first CD review to a Cardiff listings magazine in 1998, I have remained involved in the music scene as a music journalist, before incrementally expanding into other organising and support roles within the wider arts and media in the UK and West Indies. I remain a juror for the Welsh Music Prize and a judge for the Dance category of the Welsh Theatre Awards.

When did you first hear about VAs or became aware they even existed?

In about 2013, I caught an article on Radio 4 about retired people still working. There was a retired PA who said that she worked three days a week from home as a VA because of the internet. Light bulbs went on because at this point, I had developed a wide skillset functioning as a casual, almost volunteer PA for a media chap based in Amsterdam, and another in London.

By now, a health issue within my family demanded I focus on my role as a carer, and the need to work from home became an imperative. I needed to find a way to provide better for my family, and these were some pretty tricky years.

What was the trigger for you becoming a VA?

After drifting for a couple of years and having decided I couldn’t possibly rise up and start my own business, I started listening to a serialised novel on the radio in March 2015. “Ladder of Years” by American author, Anne Tyler (1995), where in short, the middle-aged protagonist changes her comfortable but mundane life instantly, on impulse, walking away from her old life without looking back – and only then deciding what she wanted to do.

She stepped into the void. I felt so exhilarated by her autonomy, her self-directed freedom that I had to feel it too.

By the end of the week, I had come clean to my bestie and then my family, and hit the internet like a complete maniac trying to learn everything, instantly.

Did you just leave your job or start VA-ing gradually?

I wasn’t in a full-time job per se at that point because of my carer responsibilities, so my big challenge was how to get myself from one side of the tracks to the other with no-one starving on the way.

Where did you find the help you needed?

I soon found that there were a number of VA advice and training portals on the net (including the VA Handbook) so I joined the mailing list of a few and read all the materials on their websites. Bit by bit, I found myself unsubscribing from most as I got the feeling that a) the advice on offer wasn’t as grounded in real life as I would have wanted, or b) there were too many allusions to the kind of cliched persona that I could never identify with.

I saw too many pictures of slender, pencil-skirt suited women perched on the corners of desks. That’s never going to be me, and I don’t want it to be either. Sooner or later, I had binned the lot with only one remaining.

In complete contrast to the idealised representation of the VA that I kept being exposed to, stood the refreshingly down to earth VA Handbook, which by default, had become my main VA training resource.

Once Jo Munro had called out her readers on the lure of watching cat videos while sat in your jim-jams all day, I knew I’d met someone who knew about real life and would not only prepare me for my new role as a VA, but also help me to kick self-doubts and procrastination into the long grass.

Who was your first client and how did you get them?

My first client was a (now award-winning) graphic design company in the same co-working space as myself. We both started there at about the same time and one them had kindly designed my business card. The project was to research target prospects in the brewing industry.

Do you have a niche?

For a long time, I worked on trying to find a niche but I love variety so felt reluctant to pin myself down. It did occur to me recently though, that my niche is only to work with people who make me feel great every day, and I’m thrilled to say that all my clients do that in bucketloads.

Having the final word on who I work with is a massive bonus to being a VA, I must say. Those who work for an organisation rarely have that luxury.

Returning to the idea of not having a niche, a client in publishing recently recommended me to one of her associates because, as she put it, “it’s really hard to find VAs who ‘get’ the copywriting game. So it’s a bonus that you do!”

How would you say you were different from other VAs?

I think it’s having a hugely diverse field of experience to draw on. Possessing key knowledge of a range of industries (museum/art gallery, TV production, youth music provision, journalism, TalkSport/World Cup, international fine arts, TEDx, and more) has made it possible for me to identify more quickly with the varied business cultures that I support.

To start work already having an understanding of the aims and aspirations of my various clients has been a great benefit to both sides. This also fits with the way I like to work as a VA, because I am not at my most content if only vaguely engaged as a resource.

I come into my own once I’m immersed in the client company as a sort of Lieutenant, and invited to have input into best process as part of a more executive assistant role.

What’s the best thing about being a VA?

Self-determination. I run this show. And when I don’t (see next answer), I still run this show.

What’s the hardest thing about being a VA?

Ooh, all’s gravy until a retainer client gives notice, as happened to me recently. It’s not that I wasn’t confident in attracting new clients (I brought three new ones on board within a month), but not knowing for certain if enough money will come in during a month, is pretty scary.

Basically, it’s just fear of the unknown and the only way to conquer that – is to know!

How virtual are you?

I’m happy to perhaps do an afternoon or full day at a client’s place of business but have never been asked. So yes, I am completely virtual.

How do you find your clients?

Most have come about through networking. But by networking, I mean just having conversations and knowing people and what’s going on with them. I have also been blessed by a number of referrals too.

How do you manage your personal/work life balance?

With quite a bit of difficulty actually. With caring for a family member still a part of my life, yes I have the flexibility to work my own hours spread through the day and sometimes evening, but I am pretty rubbish at removing myself from work related activities.

Part of it is because I enjoy my work so much but I know that I must do more to designate “tools down” days more often. And of course it’s not just client work that keeps me busy, but a whole host of other activities that a business owner needs to juggle too.

How do you manage your clients, their work and their expectations?

I always keep clients updated with how their workflow is going. Although this doesn’t mean checking in each time an email is sent on their behalf, it’s incredibly important to keep everyone in the loop so they can plan for their next move, once I have delivered a portion of work.

This can range from a written or edited post being ready for them to pass to their designer, the final version of a Schedule of Works that they can now send to the architect, or informing them that all travel and meeting details are in the diary.

Because a strong deadline can be set by one of them (or their own clients), I check in with everyone to make sure I won’t be delaying any of their usually, less urgent deadlines. Our mutually courteous relationships have even seen an occasion where it’s been granted that retainer hours for one month can spill over to the next, as a way of helping me to balance my work life.

As to setting personal boundaries as a way of managing client expectations, I have not yet had the need to set out “office hours” because of the great relationships I have with my regular clients. If I need to go the extra mile, I will do so, but am rarely asked.

What technology, websites, or apps are invaluable to your working life?

I suppose Trello and Todoist are my faves. And of course the VA Handbook, which goes without saying.

Would you do anything differently if you had to start again?

For far too long, I was emotionally crippled by the belief that no-one would actually pay me properly for my services.

Since launching, time and evidence to the contrary has continually proved me wrong, but to think that my insecurity had me actually feeling a hand-wringing gratitude for early contracts at the start of my business, is a bit bizarre to say the least (as well as being a pretty sad state of affairs).

So, if my basic confidence had been stronger at the start, I feel I would have begun my VA life a lot sooner than I did.

Looking back, if Jo Munro had not taken me to one side for some stark truths one afternoon, after month upon month of procrastination, my lovely life might not ever had been started.

Looking back to the person I was in 2013 compared to who I have become now (still with plenty of room for growth and development) the change is profound. I feel I am continually growing into myself and I feel so happy.

What advice would you give to someone considering becoming a VA?

It is never too late to become a VA. In fact, the worldwide demand for highly skilled, independently thinking administrators is set to increase as the work world continues to change. Also, the freedom and flexibility that comes from running a business that’s not dependent on creating, making or distributing a product means demand for your services won’t fall with any change in the markets.

If you want to work around your kids? Do it. If you need to be available for perhaps, elderly relatives? Do it! If, for the first time, you want to be the one running your own shizz? Then just do it!

All the resources and advice you need are here, just one click away. So, what exactly are you waiting for?

Say hi to Jane Oriel on Twitter.

You can find more info on my DIY VA course here on this page and you can see loads more testimonials from happy trainees by clicking here or watching these VA video testimonials.

The post Interview with Wales-based VA Jane Oriel appeared first on The VA Handbook.

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