Here’s a sneak peek at my interview with Danielle!
I’ve had my virtual assistant company for almost 13 years now. I’ve seen lots of changes in this industry, I’ve seen it grow and I’ve seen how the pandemic has made it a little more prevalent as well. I’m a solo entrepreneur but I do have a pretty large team. I have a few managers on my team now that have helped me. We serve businesses all over the country, folks that just need a little bit of help but don’t need someone full-time — whether it’s with marketing, admin, social media, or web support — we come in as an on-demand service and help them out.
Prior to starting my own business, I worked in IT consulting. For those that will remember, 2008 was the start of the recession. The economy wasn’t doing well and my company had laid off my whole department. For the first few days, I was devastated and I didn’t know what to do or where I was going to go. It was a really difficult time to be job searching, just given the uncertainties that were in the economy at the time.
Around that time, my aunt had a coaching business and she had a virtual assistant. She was telling me casually about her VA, and I thought it sounded like a really neat concept. There were a few things that I thought could be a little bit better, a few ways I could make this more all-inclusive, maybe a little more budget-friendly; there were some tweaks I thought I could make, and so I started. I thought I would give it six months or so, but here we are almost 13 years later.
Did you start as a virtual assistant yourself? Or did you start the business with the model of connecting virtual assistants with businesses?
I started with the model of connecting virtual assistants with businesses because part of the goal and the intent with this model was to have really experienced assistants be able to use their skillset and help clients, and I hadn’t served in that capacity. So what I did was try to hire people that were a lot smarter than I was, and a lot more skilled in those specific areas, like marketing and admin, for example.
When you got started, how did you get the word out about your business? How did you grow and what did you learn along the way?
My marketing efforts are a lot different now than they were then because back then I didn’t have a lot of money to spend on marketing. But I did have a lot of time because my team wasn’t as large and I didn’t have as many clients, so I just threw myself into networking with many business owners from all over.
I would go to in-person networking meetings and conferences, but now it would certainly be possible to do this on LinkedIn or through Zoom chats just to have coffee meetings. Even if the people I met didn’t become clients, they were often really happy to just help me out. They knew that I was a young new business owner, that I was in a growth stage. People would be really surprised just to see how many people are willing just to talk to their networks about you and share what you do
I always say the best way to get clients is just by talking about what you’re doing more.
How is that changed? How are you growing and getting the word out about your business now?
I still network when I can, but I have to be a little more strategic about that now, and where I spend my time in terms of conferences that I might go to, networking meetings, I might attend, things like that, but I definitely still have that as a part of it.
A lot of our incoming clients still do come from referrals, but we have an online referral program that helps with that. I spend a lot of time doing content marketing: pushing out content on social media and our blog that’s helpful about the industry or what businesses might be going through at the time.
How has your business really evolved and what have you learned over the last 13 years?
We’ve continued to grow year over year, even with this past year of 2020, we were able to grow, which I consider to be a really good thing, just given the state of affairs and things that are going on right now. One of the things that I learned the most is to ask for help.
I never thought that I had all the answers, and I would look at my team for how we can best serve our clients, and also for coaching. So getting the support of a coach or mentor was really important to me, and just being able to sort of see things outside of what I doing and not getting stuck in trying to do everything myself.
When I started I tried to do my own website, because again, I didn’t have a lot of money. I thought I could play around with it, but it was terrible.
That would have been a good lesson to have, just spend the money and hired someone that could do it, right? When I did get the money several months later, I just had to spend the money cleaning up the mess I had made, so that’s one thing that I would do differently.
What does your team look like now?
We currently have 64 virtual assistants. We have lots of different skill sets because we offer an all-inclusive service to our clients so they can come to us and get everything done. We have team members in every time zone so that we can support our clients in all time zones, but we’re still a really close-knit team. We still do our weekly zoom meetings, we do a lot of different things for team morale, and that way we can really connect with each other and collaborate on different client projects.
How does someone even begin to know if a VA is right for them?
Everybody wants to hire a VA. It sounds like a really great idea, but you do have to be ready to hire one. I always tell people to really look for three things:
First, you need to make sure that your company is generating revenue. You don’t have to have a six or seven-figure business to hire a VA, but you also don’t want to be struggling to pay the bills every month. You want to have that comfort level.
Additionally, you have to be ready to let go a little bit. As entrepreneurs, there’s a tendency to want to do everything yourself and have that control over things. When you hire a VA, you don’t have to give up control over everything, but I think it’s really important to be able to trust that someone can do something better, faster, or cheaper than you can.
The third thing that’s particularly important in a virtual environment, is that you can give feedback. A VA is someone who wants to hear feedback; that’s what makes them better at their jobs. It doesn’t have to have a negative connotation. You have to be willing to have those conversations and be able to share that openly with the VA just to make sure that you have a successful relationship.
Why might someone come to you instead of another agency or look to hire a VA directly?
There are a few things we do differently. We have been around the longest, which has been very helpful to establish our position in the industry, but we also hire our VA s as employees. So what’s different about that is they’re not contractors, they’re my full-time employees. They receive benefits, they have full-time hours, and we take care of all that for them. That helps us attract better talent because we can offer someone a full-time job with benefits, and we can retain them.
The retention is really important for clients because they get really attached to their VAs, especially when they work with them on a day-to-day basis. That retention and reducing that turnover is super important.
Lastly, that has helped us to have better reliability and response times because we have full-time days operating during business hours. It’s not a side hustle for our team.
What types of businesses do your VA is work with? What types of services are your most popular?
There is no industry that we don’t work with, and that keeps it really interesting for our VAs. We do get some clients that will be in a particular industry, like maybe real estate or finance, and then they’ll want a VA that has experience in that particular industry, so we match them up.
As far as common services, by far the most common is admin. Creeping up to a close second has been social media, which has increased a lot over the past three years. It’s something that is easy to outsource, so they want to get that off their plate.
What advice would you give to someone who is thinking about hiring a VA?
There’s a big difference between being ready to hire a VA and wanting to hire a VA. We talked about some of the most important things to know earlier, so reviewing that information would be really helpful.
I would also say that the personality fit is really important. Some clients will want a VA with specific industry experience, certain platforms that they know, or skill sets, but it’s really important to have that connection with the VA. They are going to become an integral part of your business, so it’s really critical to know that you have that personality fit and that you work well together.
How would you explain the difference between a virtual assistant and an online business manager?
It’s interesting because what we do for our clients is become online business managers. However, when clients are looking for help, they’re typically seeking out a virtual assistant. They might need an online business manager, but the keywords that they’re typing into Google, or the question that they’re asking their referral partners and network, is I need to hire a virtual assistant. So while we use that in name, I find that the work we do really relates more to an OBM that has an operational and integral role in your business.
That’s certainly been something that I’ve struggled with because we do call ourselves virtual assistants. From a marketing perspective, that’s what brands are looking for, but it’s a lot more than that.
Connect with Danielle and Virtual Assist
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