A few years ago, I made a major life change. After 40 years (yes 4-0!) in the work force, I decided to quit my job to become a successful virtual assistant. I was actually quite early for retirement, at just 58, and I pretty much surprised the heck out of everyone who knew me. But it was the best thing I ever did. That doesn’t mean it was easy. Starting a home business in your late 50’s while working a full-time job is definitely a big challenge. And then I had a few other challenges that came up, but I’ll talk about those in a minute.
Why a Virtual Assistant Business?
When I started, frankly, I had no idea that it was going to turn into a business. I loved my job as a Financial Analyst at Wells Fargo and had every intention of sticking with it pretty much forever. But I’d been a blogger for years and years, and I’d started expanding my services into the realm of being a VA. I’ve always been a huge fan of the tech stuff and I wanted to find opportunities to earn extra money outside of my Corporate salary.
That’s really what got me started. I always hated that whole cycle of skimping and scrounging on the days before payday would come around. Trying to stretch a tank of gas, or skimp on groceries until we could afford a trip to the grocery store. I thought that SUCKED, so I decided to leverage some of the skills I’d picked up as a blogger to help other bloggers and business owners with their social media, particularly Pinterest because I really liked Pinterest.
I started on Fiverr doing short-term gigs and it eventually expanded into running Pinterest accounts for my own list of clients. At that point, I was making hundreds of extra dollars every month over and above my Corporate paycheck and I realized the unlimited opportunities I would have as a successful virtual assistant. I was so tired of having a cap on my salary that was set by someone else and was mostly out of my control. I LOVE that my income now matches my level of effort and my skill set.
How to Run a Successful Virtual Assistant Business While Working a 9-5 Job
I get asked this question I lot. I ran my VA business for another 6 years while working a pretty demanding 9-5 job, running two blogs, being an active Boy Scout volunteer, keeping up with my family, and a BUNCH of other things. There’s a reason my other blog is called Adrian’s Crazy Life. I’ll be honest that I had a pretty unhealthy level of workaholism. But really, it isn’t that difficult to run a side business like this if you’re willing to be disciplined with managing your time.
By the time I retired, I had 9 Pinterest clients and was doing a few side jobs building simple websites, and doing a few other things. I would catch a few Emails and do some of my social media posts during my lunch time and during slow moments during my work day. Then after dinner, I’d do client work on my laptop from 7:00 until about I went to bed. It’s stuff I could do while I was relaxing and watching TV. It was a lot harder when my kids were little, but they were pre-teens and teens by now, so they were mostly doing their own thing anyway.
Each client usually takes me from 1-2 hours per week, so that was a pretty manageable schedule because I could squeeze in one or two clients per day and a bit more on the weekend. But I won’t lie – 12 to 15 hour days were common for me and being a workaholic, I was fine with that. That’s one thing every entrepreneur has in common – hard work is just the price you have to pay to get what you want.
I’m kind of strange that way – WORK makes me happy. But also MONEY makes me happy too, and I’m not the least bit ashamed to say that. Women are funny about that. We feel like wanting to earn more money is sort of shameful or something and I see a lot of people who try to work for FREE or offer ridiculously low rates. Why do we do that? Men don’t work for free and men have no problem in expecting top dollar for their efforts. So I’ve made a conscious choice to embrace being paid well for my skills. I do NOT work for free – EVER.
When I started to earn some serious money as a VA, it created some huge changes for me and my family. I didn’t have to scrimp on gas or groceries any more because I didn’t have to wait for “payday” ever again. I had money coming in all month long – sometimes it was a little, but sometimes it was a LOT. I was able to make some solid progress on paying off credit cards, I beefed up my savings account. I was even able to take my family on some nice vacations – a cruise or a trip to Universal Studios for my whole crew. That was NICE.
Sure, I had to go legit. Get a business license, start paying taxes, and I had expenses for my website, and services like Canva, and Tailwind, and all the other tools I needed for my business. But that was OK. I was learning a bit about how to run a business and I was even able to hire an assistant to help me with my clients. Everyone freaks out about taxes and stuff, but it’s not hard and I have a great accountant who helps me figure out what I can write off, and what I can’t. Those vacations – because I’m a travel writer on my other site, I was able to deduct some of my travel expenses – sweet!
How to Quit Your Job and Earn Money from Home (but also what to do when the sh*t hits the fan)
2019 was a pretty strange year for me – filled with some really GOOD stuff, and some really BAD stuff. After 18 years of having a completely wonderful boss and co-workers that I really enjoyed working with, the wonderful boss got transferred to another division. Instead, we got the awful boss I had always dreaded. The co-workers quit, transferred, or retired to get away from the bad boss. Work life became a misery and my workload climbed. And climbed. And the money – stayed exactly the same.
Even a workaholic has a point when they have to cry uncle! At one point, I had been given more work than anyone in the history of that department. Literally. When I left, they had to hire TWO new people and farm a third of my work out to my supervisor because no one else could handle it. It was beyond unfair. And in the meantime, I had this successful virtual assistant business going on that no one really knew about. I didn’t talk about it a lot at work, but at this point, I was making almost as much as my full-time salary in my business. So I kept asking myself, why am I staying here?
So, in June of 2019, I took my retirement and started working my VA business full-time. At that point, I had 9 clients (I was charging way too low!). I did great for the first 3 months. I was happier, my business was growing, I had terrific clients, and I was REALLY enjoying the freedom to go out to lunch, or take an afternoon off, or sleep as late as I wanted in the morning. That’s my FAVORITE part of running my own business – I get to sleep in EVERY SINGLE DAY!
But then in October of 2019, actually the day after my 59th birthday, I was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer. Yep, that was definitely the sh*t hitting the fan.
All of a sudden, I was talking to doctors and they were talking about chemo, radiation, surgery, the whole enchilada. I was not only terrified for my life, I was also terrified for my business. This was now half my family’s day-to-day income. Then, half way through my chemo treatments, we lost our insurance. My husband’s small employer (who knew I had cancer and apparently didn’t care) jacked our rates up by $800 a month!
I was about out of my mind from worry, but fortunately, we managed to find a completely free insurance plan under the Affordable Care Act – whew! I still had enormous co-pays and deductibles to pay, but we were able to manage. And I was able to keep up on my client work in between chemo appointments and other medical stuff.
My assistant was a big help and fortunately, my side effects were surprisingly minimal through the whole year of treatments. That was unexpected and enabled me to keep working when some people would have had to quit. I even got a few new clients, and gradually started to replace most of my Corporate paycheck.
Then, along came 2020…. I’d just barely finished chemo when the Pandemic hit. At that point, sitting in lockdown, bald as an egg with a jacked-up immune system in the middle of a worldwide pandemic I felt like the sh*t storm was never going to end.
I was terrified that all my clients were going to quit. Especially when I told them I would need time off for surgery and recovery, but they were troopers. One of my clients even sent me a box of fancy cookies to cheer me up. Another one sent me homemade masks for my family since I don’t sew. Everyone was super awesome and supportive and no one actually quit. In fact, I was able to partner with someone who was an SEO expert, to help her clients with their Pinterest needs. That was the real lifesaver and I will always be grateful to her.
So, in the middle of cancer treatments, in the middle of a pandemic, with everything else going on – I was able to DOUBLE MY BUSINESS. You really have to hear that because it was something of a true miracle. I DOUBLED MY BUSINESS – during cancer AND a pandemic! Go figure!
Goes to show you that you never can predict what is going to happen in your life. What if I’d stayed in that awful corporate job? I’d have had to figure out medical leave, or work around my appointments, and drag myself into the office. I wouldn’t have had the extra income to cover my ridiculous medical bills. It would’ve been AWFUL.
I always think that my retirement at that specific point in time was just God’s perfect timing, sending me a little trap door out of an impossible work situation, and then sending me another blessing to be able to still grow my business and support my family under the most stressful and awful scenario imaginable!
I really think that everyone should have some kind of a side hustle, even if it’s just a small little thing, to give them an option in a time of crisis like this. It just gives you the opportunity to think outside the box and opens up some extra possibilities. And in my case, it was literally a life-saver. I finished up my treatments more than a year ago and have been given a clean bill of health by my doctors. And I’m still running my successful virtual assistant business and am able to support my family quite nicely while working a lot fewer hours than I did previously. That’s a WIN.
How to Become a Successful Virtual Assistant or How to Quit your Job and Earn Money from Home
So, what about you? If you’re reading this, you probably want to become a successful virtual assistant. Great. There are so many opportunities for virtual assistants, it would make your head spin! There are so many potential clients, and an absolute MOUNTAIN of work available – it’s like grains of sand on the beach. And people will pay really good rates for your skills.
An experienced VA can earn anywhere from $25-$50 an hour or even more depending on your skills and your marketing efforts. And there are a ton of different services you can offer depending on your experience and preferences:
- Social media management (very popular)
- Graphic designer
- Website designer or website tech person (HUGE demand for WordPress fix-it people!)
- Writing content or doing SEO optimization
- Podcast management
- Video editing
- Marketing services
- Services to professionals in particular niches – like Real Estate VA’s, or VA’s for coaches or fitness trainers
- Bookkeepers or help with finances
- Email management or scheduling clients
- And soooooo much more
Here’s a friend of mine who has set up a successful VA business doing Proofreading. There’s actually quite a demand for this service and it’s pretty minimal in terms of training and equipment needed.
So, basically you just pick your niche, then you figure out how to learn those particular skills. You could take a course, spend a LOT of time learning it on your own, or you could offer to apprentice with an existing VA or agency in that niche.
The important thing is that you do NOT skip this step! I can’t tell you how many posts I’ve seen from someone who just “decided” to become a VA in a particular field, but has absolutely ZERO experience in that area. Please DON’T DO THIS! It is basically cheating your client and gives all of us a bad name. You shouldn’t be doing your training on someone else’s dime. That’s highly unethical and I’ve had to “clean up” after several of these newbie VA’s. Not fun.
Once I Have the VA Skills, Then What? How do I get Clients?
Then, once you have the skills, you can go out and start marketing your services to potential clients. That’s where I can help. I do coaching for newbie VA’s. You see, learning the skills is just the first step. Then you need to build a whole business model around the skills. I’ve been doing this for a long time now and I can help you get set up with ALL_THE_THINGS. You’re going to need the following:
- A website – I can help with this or just help you tidy up your existing website for potential clients
- Social media – Again, I can help you get set up from scratch or revamp your existing accounts to look professional
- Setting up your packages and pricing to appeal to potential clients
- Contracts and billing systems
- Client retention strategies – providing impeccable service to your clients, so they will want to refer you to their friends
- Workload management – how to juggle multiple clients effectively
- How to deal with Diva’s, late payers, and other problem clients
- How to leverage Facebook groups to connect with new clients
- What to say on Discovery Calls to land high-quality clients
- And I have unique Trello boards and templates that I use for EVERYTHING
Check out my VA Coaching page to learn more about this unique service or feel free to leave me a comment if you have any questions.
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