I started a career by opening a business as a professional organizer (2004). My husband’s career involved frequent moves and a few deployments, so it took quite a bit of time to network and gain new clients.
Because I didn’t have much start-up capital, I spent hours of time building my own website and creating my own marketing material (brochures, business cards, etc.). I was able to do this because of how long it took to find clients at our new location. I also volunteered for the association to network within my profession. During my volunteer work, I learned how to do a number of things including writing basic HTML code, branding and marketing, newsletter publishing, etc.
During the first nine years of my professional organizing business, we moved four times across provincial boundaries. That meant being in “start-up mode” four times in nine years. When we were destined to be OUTCAN from 2013 to 2017, I closed my professional organizing business. I was tired of re-starting. And being in a new country meant it would take even longer to get going again just to close down and move somewhere else.
I told a few colleagues that I was closing up shop and why. Word got around and I was contacted on social media by the professional organizer at Unclutterer.com asking if I would write a weekly column (a paid gig!) about organizing and productivity. I took that job. After a couple of years, I became the Editor, managing a team of writers.
During the time I was writing for Unclutterer.com, a few friends approached me and asked if I would do some favours. These favours ranged from proof-reading/editing reports and PowerPoint presentations to creating (complicated) spreadsheets, to helping format blog posts.
I don’t mind doing favours for friends from time to time but when they tell their friends, who tell their friends about my skills… well, it’s time to start charging money. When Unclutterer.com closed in 2018, I officially launched my virtual assistant business.
I built my own website, created my own marketing materials (again) and started telling everyone I knew.
In the beginning, I charged an hourly rate because it was just one piece at a time from friends and friends of friends. Then, word got around and clients were hiring me to do consistent work on a monthly basis. I also had a few clients ask me to do specific, repetitive tasks.
By this time, I realized how much time each task was taking so I moved my services to packages of time (e.g. 20 hours/month) or packages of tasks (e.g. Monthly Newsletter Package, PowerPoint Presentation Package).
The big test came when we moved to a new province. I was able to keep working with the same clientele before, during, and after moving. Finally! A transportable career!
Benefits of Being a VA
There are many benefits to being a VA. I work when I want to. Sometimes I’m writing a blog post after dinner. Sometimes I’m editing a website before 06:00. I can set my own schedule working as much or as little as I want – depending on our family’s needs. As long as the job is done to the client’s satisfaction by the due date, it doesn’t matter really when or where I work. (However, I only connect with my clients during regular business hours. I don’t want to set a precedent that they can contact me any time of the day or night.)
When I opened my business, I joined the Canadian Association of Virtual Assistants (CAVA). The resources are amazing. There are business templates and contracts, a learning library and other resources, discounts on business insurance (Yes! You need insurance!), business building articles, online networking groups to provide advice and support, etc. You also have exclusive access to requests for proposals received by potential clients and VA team leads – a list of jobs to apply for! It’s almost like instant clients!
Defining Yourself as a VA
Each person has a different skill set. Some people write well. Some are a whiz at social media. Others have a knack for designing websites. Be clear on your skillset and what you can bring to the table. Know your limitations too. Not just skill limits but time limits. Don’t assume you can work 30 hours per week at home while you’ve got pre-schoolers underfoot all day, every day.
What industries do you already know about? Maybe you grew up with parents who were dentists or in the construction business. Start by picking a target market where you already know a bit about how the business operates.
It is also important to decide – before you get clients – what type of management style you prefer. Do you like to work with people who are more hands-on or hands-off? Do you expect quick, concise communication via email only or do you prefer to talk to people via phone/video conference to iron out all the details? Whatever you prefer, there are clients out there for you!
Basic Start-up Advice
Many military spouses are worried about opening their own business and don’t feel like they want that responsibility. It isn’t as hard as people think.
Make an appointment with a small business tax accountant. This person should be able to provide information on how to set up your business, so you adhere to Canada Revenue Agency rules. Each person’s situation will be different, and requirements in each province are different (especially Québec) so this is an important appointment! Your accountant will be able to advise if you should register for GST/HST/PST. (Probably you won’t unless you plan on earning over $30,000 in the first 12 months.)
Also, considering military families move so often, ask for specific moving advice if you’re due for a posting in the year you open your business. There are lots of things (internet, phone, etc.) you can claim against your VA business but if you live in military housing you cannot claim rent or utility services that are paid directly to the Crown.
Most businesses need to register with the provinces and territories where they plan to do business. In some cases, sole proprietorships operating under the name of the business owner do not need to register.
Join CAVA. I mentioned some of the benefits above. There are more – like a free online profile. Just join and you’ll find out!
Get liability insurance. You will need General Liability insurance and Professional Liability Insurance (E&O). General Liability Insurance can help small businesses pay for unexpected lawsuits (including copyright protection, and property damage), sign deals with new clients, and avoid bankruptcy. Professional Liability Insurance can cover your legal expenses if a client claims that you made a mistake (errors and omissions), were negligent in the services you provided or completed a project late.
Consider Business Owners’ Insurance. Most homeowners/tenant insurance policies will not cover any business equipment that you own even if they were originally purchased for personal use.
Make an appointment with a bookkeeper to set you up with basic income/expense tracking. You may choose to use a pen and paper, a spreadsheet, or financial accounting software. It doesn’t matter as long as you are comfortable with the system and understand how to use it.
Create or update your LinkedIn profile. Eventually, you will need a website but wait until you start earning some income. Highlight your professionalism and skills using your LinkedIn profile. It is free and it ranks high in search engines. You can post articles to establish yourself as a subject matter expert. Remember though, it is not Facebook. Post cat memes, cartoons, and emojis and your level of professionalism will quickly deteriorate.
What I Do as a VA
I usually have somewhere between four and eight clients at any one time. I do a variety of things such as:
- research, write, and edit blog posts, presentations, articles, etc.
- publish blog posts, newsletters
- create templates (documents, spreadsheets, presentations, etc.) that adhere to clients’ brand standards
- basic website maintenance
- organize files and folders on cloud drives
- research and source suppliers and vendors
- basic graphic design for blog post and social media images
Not everyone does what I do, and I don’t do some of the tasks other VAs do. There is a lot of room in the industry for everyone.