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 could 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 several 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 restarting. 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.
While writing for Unclutterer.com, a few friends approached me and asked if I would do some favours. These favours ranged from proofreading/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. The big test came when we moved to a new province. I could 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 write a blog post after dinner. Sometimes I edit 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.)
I joined the Canadian Association of Virtual Assistants (CAVA) when I opened my business. The resources are excellent. There are templates and contracts, a learning library, business-building articles, online networking groups for advice and support, etc. You also have exclusive access to requests for proposals from potential clients – 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 know a bit about the business’s operations.
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 clarify all the details? Whatever you prefer, there are clients out there for you!
Basic Start-up Advice
Many military spouses worry about opening their own businesses and don’t feel they want that responsibility. It isn’t as complicated 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 a necessary appointment!
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. You can claim many things (internet, phone, etc.) 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 must register with the provinces and territories where they plan to do business.
Get business 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 you own, even if they were initially purchased for personal use.
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 posts 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.
Finally, but most importantly, join CAVA.