Louise is one of those people you’d want to plan your wedding…she’s just on it. As a Virtual Assistant, she’s helped busy business owners grow their successful businesses while doing more of what they love, and less of what they don’t. It’s easy to fall head over heels for her productivity, her helpfulness, the copy that’s pinned to the top of her Facebook page (“Are you easily distra…SQUIRREL?”) and her all-round ability to get stuff done. Louise chatted to Desk Life about what it’s like to be a Virtual Assistant, how to get into the biz if you have your eye on that title, and how her Getting Stuff Done Challenge is helping people to do just that.
Hi Louise! Tell us about Bettylou, how is it all going?
Bettylou actually started life around five years ago as a craft business that I was running in my spare time (although calling it a business is a bit of a stretch…I didn’t make much money, but it was good fun!). When I became self-employed, I decided to keep the name but shift the focus to what I do now. That decision was purely pragmatic – I already had branding that I loved, and I wanted a name that would allow me to try new things. Bettylou has existed in its current form since the summer of 2016 and things are going really, really well!
How long have you been a Virtual Assistant?
I started out offering VA support whilst working my three month notice period in my last ‘proper’ job, but went full-time in October 2016.
What is your background? How did you end up in this career?
I’ve never known what I wanted to do when I grow up, and after uni I fell into a series of admin jobs. I’ve been an Admin Assistant, PA, Office Manager and Admin Team Leader, and have worked in financial services, the charitable sector and higher education. As with a lot of careers, the natural progression is to move into line management, and in my last job I was managing a team of five.
After a few years though, I realised that I’m not cut out for management. Whilst I wasn’t terrible at it, the stress was slowly making me ill. I decided that I wanted out, but I didn’t want to dive straight into another job as I knew that the pattern would end up repeating itself. I looked at what else I could do and realised that the skills I’d developed over the last fifteen years would be a great fit for a Virtual Assistant career, so I decided to give that a go!
How did you find the process of starting your own business?
I found it really exciting! I loved thinking about my ideal client, getting into their head and then putting together my website. Thankfully I had a brilliant community of like-minded people around me, cheering me on whenever the nerves hit. I honestly don’t think I could have done it without them!
The bit that terrified me was the need to ‘sell’ myself to potential clients. I’m an introvert and have never enjoyed talking about myself, so the thought of trying to convince people to work with me was horrifying. But, I was absolutely determined to make my business work, so I invested in a course that would get me more comfortable having those conversations. That was the best decision I could have made, as it gave me the confidence that I was lacking.
Did you have any doubts in the beginning? How did you overcome those negative thoughts?
I think we all have doubts when we’re building something new. What if I can’t get any clients? What if I mess things up? I was surrounded by brilliant people giving me loads of positive encouragement, but there were still moments when the negativity crept in. I received a couple of knocks early on which were tough to bounce back from. Many of us are wired to hold onto criticism but disregard praise, so I gathered together the positive feedback I’d received and popped it in a notebook. It’s been really helpful to have that handy whenever I can feel those doubts creeping in!
You seem to have done so much! How do you stay so productive?
The reason I’ve done so much is because I have a low boredom threshold! I’m always looking for something new to try and want my working life to be as varied as possible. I adore supporting my clients, but I also love writing and helping people to get stuff done. For me, the key to my productivity has been understanding my priorities and being clear on my direction.
My number one priority is my VA clients, so my days are structured around them. I use my calendar to block out the time I need to spend on each client so I can be certain I have the time and space to meet my commitment to each of them. Developing my Getting Stuff Done presence fits in around that. Rather than trying to implement all my ideas in one go, I pick one and run with it. If it works, great. If not, I’ll move on to the next idea. I have one notebook in which I scribble down all my ideas, so I know they’ll be there waiting for me when I’m ready for them!
What is your proudest achievement so far?
I am extremely proud of how quickly my business grew into something sustainable. I never imagined that I’d be turning clients away so soon! When I launched my Getting Stuff Done Challenge I wasn’t sure how it would be received. It was amazing to see that people were being more productive and feeling less overwhelmed as a result of what I’d taught them, so that was another proud moment for me!
What advice would you give to someone who wanted to start their own business?
Be brave and trust your instinct. Surround yourself with other people who believe that it’s possible, and share your journey with them; struggling quietly will keep you stuck for longer so don’t be afraid to ask for help. Don’t do things purely because that’s what everyone else is doing. Instead, take the time to think deeply about what makes you tick and what feels like fun for you and make sure there’s enough of that built into your day!
In practical terms, make sure you back everything up regularly (my whole business is saved to the cloud, and I was so glad of that when my laptop decided to break), and have a contingency plan at the ready for when your internet goes down (as mine is right now)!
What is the day-to-day life of a VA like? What kind of tasks do you tackle for your clients?
The work of a VA varies depending on the sector. For instance, there are VAs who specialise in legal, medical, financial services etc. I knew right away that I wasn’t interested in working in a corporate setting though, so my clients are solopreneurs with heart-centred businesses. They’re in business to help people, not to find fame and fortune!
I publish blog posts on their websites, set-up emails to go out to their subscribers, and write and schedule social media posts. I help them create online courses, set up systems so that things run smoothly for their customers and do bits and pieces of research from time to time. A client recently told me that having me involved feels like having a partner in their business, which I think comes as a relief to people who are used to going it alone. I work best with clients who have amazing ideas and are highly skilled in what they do, but who hate the detail and struggle to stay organised. We complement each other perfectly!
What tools would you recommend for someone who wants to start a VA business of their own?
If you’re billing clients by the hour (and even if you’re not), it’s important to keep track of your time. I’d recommend using something like Toggl to record how long you’re spending with each client. I send all my clients a log at the end of every week so there are no nasty surprises at the end of the month! A good invoicing system such as Invoicely is also a great time saver, and makes it easy to see when payments are due. I use Asana and Trello with clients as a way to keep track of tasks. Personally, I prefer Asana, but some clients would rather use Trello and I’m always guided by them.
What top 3 pieces of advice would you give to an aspiring Virtual Assistant?
1) Think carefully about the types of people you want to work with. Trust your instinct on that, and just notice how it feels working with different personality types. One of the perks of self-employment is that you can choose who you surround yourself with, so don’t be afraid to part ways with people if the fit just doesn’t feel right.
2) Always be honest. When I started out I quickly realised that there was a lot I didn’t know. I always ‘fessed up if a client asked me to use a system I wasn’t familiar with, telling them that whilst I didn’t know my way around it, I’m quick to learn and would be happy to spend some of my own time figuring it out. I’ve had a 100% success rate with that approach, and whilst it may not be for everybody I feel much more comfortable taking my time to work things out than I would charging the client for my own learning and development.
3) Be reliable. I’ve heard some horror stories about VAs who just disappear without doing the work, or who leave everything to the last minute. Clients want to know that when they ask you to help with something they don’t need to worry about it anymore. They don’t want to be chasing you up. So, don’t over-stretch yourself, and get organised so that you can deliver on time.