Life Lessons from a VA: How to Achieve the “Harvest”

Life Lessons from a VA: How to Achieve the “Harvest”

Two years ago I leapt into small business ownership. It was an idea I’d been considering for seven years, but it was only after the birth of my daughter three years ago that I seriously contemplated going for it.

I clicked “publish” on a crude web page, created Facebook and Instagram accounts, and updated my LinkedIn profile to reflect my new small business offering. As they say, the rest is history.

While my business has evolved into a fully-fledged personal assistant role, where I look after everything from operations management, to business development, executive assistant duties and administrative work for the businesses I work with, it started off as something quite different.

I initially focused on short-term project work, before realising clients wanted ongoing support which guaranteed me month-to-month work at a more operational level. Taking on retainer clients was a massive pivot for my business, but one that has certainly paid off.

My clients are from a range of industries; food, engineering, law, finance and technology start-ups, marketing, architects, content and communication and design with tasks ranging from research and development to marketing plan execution, business development, managerial and basic EA duties, such as transcription.

I love that no two days are the same and that I never really know where the day will lead. All of my balls are in the air; it’s a little like having a number of part-time jobs on the go and really becoming engrained and invested in those businesses.

I’m in touch with so many different people across multiple platforms and levels of business, and the tasks and communications are equally varied.

Relationship management and nurturing my relationships with my clients is a huge part of what I do. Trust is essential, since the businesses I work with are effectively allowing me an inside view and role in their business.  This is particularly the case when it comes to some of the start-ups I work with, since I may be the only other person in their business, making me privy to a range of confidential information. Building this trust takes time, integrity and open communication.

I definitely feel that I’m servicing the niche that I’m most interested in, but finding my groove and building the clientele I have today has been a huge effort. There’s been no luck or overnight success involved; it’s been a hard slog and consistently working at it has been key.

I love quotes like ‘It takes years to become an overnight success’ and ‘If you’re too lazy to plow, don’t expect a harvest’, because they’re so true!  When I first started the business, I’d work during the day while my daughter napped and once I’d put her down at night, I’d sometimes work until 1:00am in order to complete my work and keep building my clientele and my business’ momentum.

I often get asked how I got to be so busy, but from my perspective there’s no secret formula to success.

 So things have certainly progressed from those early days at home.  Once my workload increased to the point where my daughter needed to go to childcare, it was time to find an office space.

I chose Sass Place - a co-working space for female entrepreneurs - at Parkside in Adelaide, South Australia. It’s fantastic because they have an on-site creche, so I could have my daughter close by while I was at work and still separate my home and professional life.  Sass Place has also been a brilliant way to connect with other women in business.  While for some, small business ownership can at times be quite lonely, being part of the Sass Place community has been great.  I’ve met so many inspiring female entrepreneurs, including many who juggle family life and running their own business.

To an extent I also credit technology for the success of a business model and career that didn’t exist 15 years ago.  Everything I do is cloud-based and instant, which allows me to work virtually and instantly upload documents for my clients, wherever they live.

My experience in a vast range of industries at a business level allowed me to develop quite a unique skill-set that I’ve been able to fully utilise because of the scope of my business offering.

The top two pieces of advice I can offer to others seeking to forge a career as a personal assistant – and that also apply to small business more generally - are: 1) be prepared to pivot and 2) know your worth. On the first point, I’ve had to adjust my focus many times. While a lot of people with similar businesses offer packages, I instead meet and tailor quotes to my individual clients, taking into account budget constraints, time-frames and levels of priority.  Adjusting your focus to meet people’s changing needs is absolutely critical to maintaining currency in this competitive market.

And, on knowing your worth, I used to think that if I discounted my price I’d get more clients on board, but I quickly learnt that discounting prices is never the answer. Set your price, value your work and time, and back yourself!

If you’re diligent, hardworking and consistently deliver, the right clients – and that seemingly elusive harvest - will follow.

You can learn more about Vashti Starling on her Website and follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

Vashti Starling
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