Perhaps you dread going to the office every day because you simply aren’t inspired by what you do. Or maybe your heart isn’t in the traditional 9 to 5 anymore because of little ones at home that you are missing. Either way, today’s guest has been in your shoes, and she knows how to launch a business as a virtual assistant that will afford you the opportunity to be the parent you want to be and develop a career that you love.
Abbey Ashley was looking for work-from-home opportunities after the birth of her first child. A friend recommended that she look into becoming a VA, so she did some research and determined that it would be a good fit. She leveraged her background in marketing to help small business owners with various administrative projects, and within four months she had to bring in subcontractors to help with the overload of work!
In March 2016, Abbey founded The Virtual Savvy to help other women launch and grow their own virtual assistant businesses. She is on a mission to empower women to enjoy the freedom and flexibility afforded by a work-from-home VA career. Today she discusses the most in-demand services a virtual assistant can offer as well as proven strategies for landing clients. Turn passion into profit and launch your VA career today!
The role of a VA
- Help entrepreneurs/small business owners online
- General tasks include marketing, admin and social media
Abbey’s guidance for ‘repackaging’ traditional job skills
- Start with what you already know (list skills you might offer)
- Pick one or two things you are interested in learning as you go
The most in-demand VA services in the current market
- Social media (content creation and scheduling)
- Blog posts
- Web programs (back end)
- Landing page creation
- Email marketing
How to land your first client as a new VA
- Look to people you already know
- Accept one-off/short-term projects
Why it’s better for VAs to offer general services in the beginning
- Small wins build confidence
- Practice period helps you determine your niche, ideal client
- Opportunity to develop processes, learn contracts and invoicing
- Potential to get paid to learn new skills, do research
Abbey’s best strategies for landing new clients
- Leverage online sources (i.e.: Facebook, LinkedIn, Upwork)
- Join 20-30 entrepreneurial Facebook groups
- Use search terms such as VA, hire/help
How to make your proposal stand out
- Develop a value-first mindset
- Invest the time to customize your proposal
Abbey’s number one tip for new VAs
- Spend less time on things that aren’t going to directly land clients
- 80% of your time should be spent on marketing
Connect with Abbey Ashley
Abbey Ashley is the Founder of The Virtual Savvy. She helps savvy women launch and grow their own virtual assistant business from scratch. She’s passionate about empowering women to start their own work-from-home careers, so they can have the freedom to quit their 9-5’s, travel the world, and spend more time with their families.
Laura Pennington (Host): Hello everybody. Welcome back to the Better Biz Academy Podcast. My future virtual assistants, you are going to want to listen to this episode because you are going to learn specifically from someone who has done it and now helps other people launch their own virtual assistant businesses successful. Abbey Ashley is the founder of the Virtual Savvy. She helps savvy women launch and grow their own virtual assistant business from scratch. She is passionate about empowering women to start their own work-from-home careers, so they can have the freedom to quit their 9 to 5s, travel the world, and spend more time with their families. Welcome, Abbey.
Abbey Ashley (Guest): Hi! Thank you so much for having me.
Laura: I am excited to have you. How did you get started in this virtual assistant journey?
Abbey: Yeah, I think I am like a lot of people who literally when I started, I had never even heard of a virtual assistant. It’s crazy how – that was in 2012 – how the term VA and virtual assistants still sometimes, when I tell people what I do or what I teach people to do, they are like, what is that again? So, that was definitely like me. I hadn’t really heard of the virtual assistant world at all. I had a friend who mentioned that she knew someone who was a virtual assistant whenever I was looking for some work from opportunities; I was actually about to have my first baby and so, I kind of hated my job and so I am like, I don’t want to go back to work, a job that I hate and leave my child at home. So, a friend mentioned this to me and so I just started doing research and figuring out if it was a good fit or not.
Laura: I think a lot of people tend to come in to this idea of online work for one or both of the reasons that you mentioned. So, the first one is; you want to be with your family, if you didn’t like your job before, that gets amplified when you start having a family and you are like, is this really worth it. It seems like all of the negative aspects of your day job are much more visible to you when you have some other trigger that’s kind of pushing you to leave. But I agree with you – even today, I still have people – you have probably seen it in Facebook groups too – someone will say they are VA or they are looking for a VA and another person always come in; what is a VA? We use that language all the time, so it’s weird to think that in 2017, people still don’t know what a virtual assistant is, but may be just for the sake of argument and the fact that there are people out there who don’t know what it is; why don’t you tell me what a virtual assistant is and what kinds of tasks a VA can typically do?
Abbey: Of course, Well it’s definitely a really broad term. That’s what I have come to learn over the years and so, anything that you can do to help another entrepreneur or small business owner online, I think, kind of falls into the category of virtual assistants. Now most people start off doing a lot of kind of marketing, admin, social media type of tasks; so, I have noticed that online entrepreneurs are a lot more likely to hire other online entrepreneurs. So, a lot of times bloggers, online store owners, creators that do a lot of their business online will hire people, virtual assistants, to help them with their various tasks that they can do online. So, that can range from anything from blogging to scheduling social media, helping them write emails, schedule emails to go out, creating simple graphics and then it can expand even beyond that. One of the things that I teach in my program is how to go from a lot of general skills to eventually becoming a specialist in something. So, if you realize that you really have a knack for writing or editing and may be moving into like the copywriting or proof reading world; if you have a background in bookkeeping, then may be eventually becoming more of an online bookkeeper. If you really get into Pinterest and you are like, oh my goodness, someone will hire me to manage their Pinterest account fulltime? Then you can eventually move into that. So, I think that VA, virtual assistants, is kind of like gateway into just working for somebody, working for another entrepreneur online. Is that a good definition? What do you think?
Laura: Yeah I think so and I mean I work with a lot of people who outsourcing for the first time and kind of help them figure out, how to find a VA? What tasks they need to outsource first? How to give good instructions? And that’s kind of the same thing that I would say to them as well, is that it is such a broad term and you can have people doing 20 different things and still fit that umbrella term of virtual assistants. But I think that’s also why it appeals to so many people who are transitioning from something else because a lot of times people assume, well, I am going to have to have all these advanced skills. Like no doubt there are people out there who are infusion soft experts and convert kit experts. They know advanced software, but I have also found that a lot of the skills that you develop in administrative office situation can kind of translate over to a brand new virtual assistant. So, do you have any tips for somebody who may be is coming out of a more traditional job and doesn’t know how to repackage what they are doing into a virtual assistant offering?
Abbey: Yeah, totally. So, I completely agree with you. I think that to jump into virtual assistance because it’s so broad and to feel like you have to learn everything is completely overwhelming and that’s going to be super defeating. I have a huge list of things that you can offer as a virtual assistant – different services – and I can’t do all of them thoroughly and I have been doing this since 2012. So, I think feeling like you have to know it all is the first thing that you have to overcome – you don’t. The best thing to do is to start with what you already know. So, what have you done, like you mentioned, from a previous job or even a volunteering experience, something that you learned in school. What is something online that you do, that you could do for another business owner? What’s something that you can take off the plate easily and if you are like, I still can’t even think of something – I mean, one of the first things I did, starting out, was I made phone calls for an insurance agent. They weren’t sales calls; they were just setting appointments. And so, don’t just credit what you have done; really really take a look and make a list; what have I done in my previous jobs that maybe I could offer to somebody as a service online. I think that that’s the best place to start, is with what you already know and to even try to find a client with those services that you already know how to do. Now once you have exhausted that list you have gone through, it might be also a good idea to pick up one or two things that you think, okay I think I might be interested in this. So, I may be have an eye for design, but I am not like a full-blown designer; or maybe I could create some simple graphics using a program like Canva; maybe I could create some Facebook headers for a business page or maybe I could design an eBook for somebody. Something that I am interested in, but I am not qualified in yet. And then may be pick one or two things, may be sending out emails for somebody, learning a program like Mail Chimp or Convert Kit or Constant Contact; learning one of those programs, maybe I could slowly start to add services that I am interested in the further along that I go. Those would be my suggestions. Number one; start with what you already know and then number two; look at what you are interested in and see what programs you could pick up along the way, based off of your interests.
Laura: Yeah, I love that and I couldn’t agree with it more because I think a lot of people have this idea that, oh I am going to have to go through this really long training period and teach myself all these things. And a lot of times you are really overestimating how much the clients care about those particular things and I have examples of this in my own team. People that I hire to do other things and then as we expand, one example right now is that we are trying to really expand the YouTube channel and my business manager said, this is all pretty new to me, so I am just going to be upfront with you that I don’t know this, I am willing to take course and learn about it etc. And I said, we are going to actually – we are in this together. So, I don’t always think that you have to be an expert in every single thing, but if you deliver on the things that you were hired to do, it also opens the doors for people to want to be able to provide you with additional training opportunities and help support you. You kind of learn a lot as you go. As a VA, honestly, I remember the first job I was hired to do virtual assistant work and even project management work. I felt a little unsure what I was doing; definitely didn’t feel like I was a professional and you learn a lot in those experiences and you might also learn, hey I love this. I want to incorporate this into my overall service offering or I hate this and I never want to do this again.
Laura: That’s a valuable exercise to know. So, I am curious from your perspective. I know I have my opinions. A lot of people come to me asking for referrals on virtual assistants; what do you think are some of the most in-demand services that virtual assistants can offer right now?
Abbey: Well, I would agree with you as well, when it comes to worrying about, oh I don’t have enough skills or feeling like you aren’t ready enough. I definitely would say, I am so much more inclined to work with somebody that is honest and eager than has a whole list of skills that they can do because like you said, if you can trust that, okay you may not know how to do this, but I know if I say, “hey, can you research this for me” and “can you learn this”, that they’ll do it. I am so much more inclined to work with somebody like that. So, just a little side note there.
Laura: Oh, yes absolutely. I feel like all three of the VAs I am working with right now were pretty new to it when they got started out with me. One had a background in digital marketing from their day job, but it had not transitioned over to the digital world and that’s just an example of you don’t always need to be the person coming in and saying, “hey I have got these fifty certifications and skills”, it’s really about; do you have the basic talent, the drive to learn it? You are honest, you are responsible, you can meet deadlines because those other things can be learned along the way.
Abbey: Totally. Totally. So, if you are just starting out though and you take a look at what you already have to offer, but you are like, okay what are some common things? What should I really be looking into? I see a really high demand for a lot of social media creation and scheduling, so people wanting VAs to create content to post on their Facebook pages or their Instagram pages or simple graphics from their blogs to put on Pinterest; things like that. So, if you can jump into a free program like Canva and just learn the basics of some of those simple design, if that’s something that you have a knack for, then I would definitely try – just jump into Canva, it’s totally free, it’s canva.com and you will be surprised what you can create that you might be able to help somebody else out with as far as creating those social media graphics; the content as well is really really good. Content also in the form of blog posts, if you have knack for writing then looking up how to write effective blog posts, blog post structure and then writing blog posts for people, that’s something that I still do. I love writing content for people. So, that’s one of the only services that I still offer, is some content writing and ghost writing, but I see a really really high demand for that. I also see, not like designing websites from scratch, but being able to do simple tasks inside of a WordPress site, so knowing the back end of WordPress or Square Space, I think that that can become really useful and it’s amazing what you can learn on YouTube about programs like that. Also, if you can learn a program like Lead Pages. I think that there is a lot of people wanting to create landing pages, have some kind of opt-in to get people on their email list, and so if you can know that process a little bit and be able to help with that. Those are some of the more advanced skills; online marketing, email systems like Convert kit, Mail Chimp, Constant Contact; I think that those are some good ones that hear a lot about as well. So, like I said, I mean that is a gambit for sure. Even that is a lot and so if somebody is listening to this, I wouldn’t like, okay write all these down and I have to learn all of these now. No… go with what you already know and then maybe research all of the ones that I have listed and see, okay maybe I want to learn a little bit about this one program. And then go into that.
Laura: And one of the things that I like to tell new virtual assistants do is, learn them and use them for your business if it works for you. That’s a great way – if somebody says, hey do you have Square Space experience and you say, yeah actually my business website, my virtual assistant website is on Square Space. I did it myself. It’s a live example, you are also showing them exactly what you can do and still keeping the conversation about you. But you are absolutely right; you don’t need to learn every single thing out there. Pinpoint a couple of things; 1) you like doing, 2) there is demand for it, and 3) that you can price appropriately or that you can see yourself doing every single day and actually have clients be interested in purchasing that. And I think you have to know your market because sometimes people who are new to virtual assisting are thinking, okay I am going to be working for a small business. I am going to be working for the realtor who needs listings online or, like you said, the insurance agent that needs phone calls; and you might, but I’ve found that the most demand for virtual assistants today is from other online entrepreneurs, life coaches, course creators, book writers, whatever it is, their business is almost 100% online and like you said, they need the email newsletter, they need lead pages, they need a website, they need customer service help. You got to know who you are talking to there and a lot of times it solopreneurs who have become overwhelmed in their business and know that they need to have someone help them in certain things and you can be that person to step in. Do you think there are certain stumbling blocks that new virtual assistants often have a hard time getting over when they are brand new to this?
Abbey: I mean I think that the hardest part, no matter where you are coming in from, the hardest part is landing that very first client. I think that there is something mentally that happens after you land your first client that like, oh I am doing this. Like this is a real business and I’m getting paid. And sometimes leading up to that point can be really difficult and can be discouraging because you might have a few interviews, you might have a couple of prospects that don’t pan out and that can be discouraging, but it’s the road that we all travel, we all have to go down that road of having a client that doesn’t work out or having an interview that ends up you not getting hired for. I think getting that very first client is probably the most difficult part, which is why in my program, that’s what we focus on most. In fact, I encourage people to go out and try to get their first client before they develop a website, before they have every single service learned, every program on the planet. Just take what you know and even just reach out to the people that you already know. My biggest recommendations for finding your first client are to look to the people that you already know, maybe not even online entrepreneurs, but who is in your current sphere of influence. So, do you know one business owner? And I think most of us could say, yeah I know one business owner at least. See if they need any help with something, even if it’s just a onetime task, just that transaction of like, oh somebody has paid me to do some work for them online. There is like this big mental hurdle that I feel like we jump over. I think that that’s probably the biggest place that people get caught up on, get discouraged and sometimes end up quitting is because they just don’t know where to find that first client and they get discouraged in the process.
Laura: Right. Don’t put so much pressure on it like, I’ve got to land this retainer client that’s going to pay me a $1000 a month. Like you said, it’s about that confidence. It’s about the small wins. So, when you are first starting out, it might be a one-off project or somebody just pays you for a couple of hours’ worth of work. That’s okay. We are not looking for necessarily your dream client that you are going to work with for the next 10 years. It’s kind of like a practice period for you and you kind of want to get those kinks and obstacles out of the way before you do have the dream client, right? You want to make sure you have awesome systems for a contract for invoicing, for all these administrative things before you get into a situation where it’s kind of a dream job and it’s a bigger project. So, it’s good to learn that with these smaller projects and can help you really weed out like who you do and don’t want to work with in the future.
Abbey: Yeah, totally. People ask me a lot of times, they’ll be like, oh I am having such a hard time discovering my niche or I don’t know who my ideal client is. I am like, well have you ever worked for anybody? They are like, no. I am like, you don’t really know! Just get up and start working for people. Like you don’t know who you are going to enjoy working with the most. I think a lot of times, online entrepreneurs will say, the riches are in the niches. That kind of – you got to think small…think small…think small, which I think is very true for bloggers and coaches and course creators, but I think that that’s how you can gain the most traction quickly in that realm of online business is to choose a really really specific small niche. However, when it comes to service based entrepreneurs like virtual assistants are, it’s my personal opinion that it’s better to start broad, it’s better to just get some clients even if they are your neighbor Joe that owns a sandwich shop or if it’s this life coach that you met online or whoever it is, I think it’s just best to get some clients so you have some experience under your belt and you can start discovering who I like working with, who I don’t like working with. And then after that, you can begin to niche down a little bit more. You can say, okay maybe I only want to work with Pinterest or Facebook ads or maybe I only want to work with health coaches or whatever it maybe. I think that you don’t really know that until you have jumped in and just started working with people and so that’s my recommendation is don’t wait, just jump in. Just jump in and really focus on getting a client, so you can start gaining that experience. It’s also the best way, like you mentioned earlier to start learning new programs because once you jump in and get a client, most likely if they are liking what you are doing, they are going to say, hey do you know this, do you know this program and you can be honest and say, no I don’t, but I am willing to learn. And tons and tons of my students will have courses that their client will pay for them to go through or they’ll pay them to do research on a certain topic and you are literally getting paid to learn a new skill. So, I definitely think that it’s advantageous to just jump in and try to start working with clients as soon as possible.
Laura: Yes. Absolutely. It’s going to build up your confidence and sometimes we have this idea in our heads of who we think our ideal client will be until you have the opportunity to work for that person and then you realize it wasn’t what you were expecting. So, in some sense you need that practice to refine your process and to decide who that ideal client or ideal type of project is going to be. And talking about getting clients, this is the one thing I hear over and over again from people in my audience; how do I get clients? What are the best ways to get clients? I’m stuck, I don’t know where to start? What do you think are some of the most important strategies for a brand new virtual assistant – maybe they’ve had that first client or two, they’ve reached out to somebody in their neighborhood, or an old college roommate or something and they’ve done a couple of things, but now they’re trying to really make this into a business. What are the avenues you recommend for landing clients?
Abbey: The best place in my opinion to find online work is through online sources, so whether that be social media networks like Facebook, LinkedIn, some occasionally Instagram but more so LinkedIn and Facebook. And then there’s also sites like Upwork that jobs are posted on. Those would be my top recommendations. Let’s take Facebook specifically because that’s where I usually tell people to go first. I’ll tell people to jump in to 20 to 30 entrepreneurial Facebook groups. So, if you go and you search in groups and you type in the word ‘entrepreneur’ or ‘boss’ or ‘business’ or whatever; some of these keywords that entrepreneurs are hanging out in. So, go into those groups and there’s a search bar at the top, and you can start searching for the terms ‘virtual assistant’, VA; you can search for words like ‘hire’, ‘help’; if you do something specific like Pinterest, you could type in ‘Pinterest’ or ‘Facebook ads’ whatever it is. And what will happen is you will see people, a lot of times will first go to these groups, these online groups, and say, does anyone have recommendations for a good VA? or I’m looking to hire somebody to help me out with —. So, once you find that job, then what’s important is that you send a very very very good proposal because I guarantee if you’re in these groups especially some of these have 5,000-10,000 members in them, whoever posted that is probably getting 20 to 30, maybe 50 some responses. And so, that can be intimidating but you have to know that if you stand out and you put value first and you really really provide a ton of value upfront, you’re going to stand apart from the rest. I recently put out an ad for somebody to help manage my Pinterest account and I think I got 45 responses, and probably three people out of those 45 responses actually looked at my website, didn’t just send me a general “oh here’s my website, check me out” or “here are my prices”. So, there were three people that actually looked at my website, went through my blogs and went ahead and created some Pinterest graphics and said, “I just wanted to go ahead and create these for you for free. Here’s a little taste of what I can do”. It wasn’t even a portfolio; it was customized to me. And that blew me away because it wasn’t just seeing their talent, it was also seeing that they could take initiative, it was seeing that they cared. That value first mentality is how I really recommend getting out there and starting to get people to notice you. It takes more time but you don’t have to be the first person to send in a proposal. I guarantee you, the very first email that this entrepreneur gets probably isn’t going to be the person that they hire. You don’t have to be the first in the gate, you just have to be the best in the gate. And so, if it takes you 20 minutes, an hour, even two hours – if it’s your first job, you have the time to spare, so spend some time really really creating a customized proposal, a customized email that you can send to this entrepreneur to show off what you can do.
Laura: Yes, I could not agree with that more. I have hired a lot of virtual assistants for my business, I’ve been brought in to build other teams for other people, and even recently I screened somebody for a full time telecommute job as an executive assistant and it was amazing how many people just did the quick message like, “hey I can help” or “yeah, I know that”. And it’s like, okay that’s great but I’ve got 50 people who sent me that message and you know who ended up getting the job? It was the one person who wrote out a thought-out proposal, looked up my website, sent an actual email to me. Like I want to see who’s going to go one step beyond and that’s the same reason that I hired the business manager I have now is because in her proposal, in a sea of proposals that were three sentences long, she had looked at all of my websites and had specific feedback and comments before she even had the job. And it probably took her maybe 20 minutes to do that but it’s that extra little step that shows you’re not just trying to land the job the fastest, you’re actually showing interest in the person’s business. Because think about where the client is at. Hiring a stranger online is scary, right? Even if you have a website with testimonials, I’m still going to want to know a little bit about you before we work together and so you going that extra step and saying, “hey, I’m going to create graphics for you just so I can kind of show you what I can do and what I was thinking” or “I’m going to do just a little bit of extra work to show that I actually care about this job” – it really stands out because those generic proposals, I ignore them every time because if you can’t be bothered to spend 5-10 minutes to ask necessary questions or do some follow up work, you’re not the right fit for the job. So, I just really could not agree with you more about that.
Abbey: Totally, totally. It’s like the golden nugget that everybody ignores because they’re just too lazy.
Abbey: It’s really true.
Laura: And I’m on all for landing jobs quickly, right? Like I’m all for this dream world where we send in a three-sentence proposal and your pitch but I don’t think that that’s how people do business online. Like we’re bombarded with information every single day, we’re bombarded with offers to buy things and to pay other people to do things and you have to stand out from the crowd in order to pique somebody’s interest. So, you can still land that client relatively quickly because you’re going to stand out so much from everybody else’s who submitted a response that the client is probably going to want to get on the phone with you right away, have a Skype call, talk about kicking things off. The way people are when they outsource, it takes them forever to come to the decision to outsource, but once they’re ready they’re so ready and they’re just looking for the right person. They’re like, take this off my plate now. But they want the right person so you can’t be that person who responds and is like “yes I can help you with your email newsletter” like great, I know nothing about you, which provider are you going to help with my email newsletter You’re not giving me any more information. So, you have to really go into detail with that. So, I’d love to wrap up by what is your number one tip for brand new virtual assistants. If you had to give one piece of advice you wish more people listen to, what would it be?
Abbey: I would say spend less time on the things that aren’t going to directly get you clients. It’s okay to spend time on the things that aren’t going to directly get you clients but the majority of your time needs to be spent on marketing, especially in the very beginning.
Laura: Yes, I like to tell new freelancers that in the beginning at least 80% of your time is spent on marketing because you don’t have any clients yet, so it’s normal to be doing very little client work and a whole lot of marketing. And even when you are an established business owner, you still have to be marketing because what happens if that retainer client cancels or this site you’ve been using for leads shuts down? You’ve got to always something in the pipeline so that’s great advice. So, where can people go to learn more about you?
Abbey: My website is The Virtual Savvy, so thevirtualsavvy.com and if you go to thevirtualsavvy.com/checklist, you can find a step-by-step checklist for launching your own virtual assistant business.
Laura: Awesome. I love it. Thank you for being my guest today. It was so great to talk to you.
Abbey: Thank you so much for having me.
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