Moving on when the dream vanishes: A personal experience

A guest post today from Lucy, on her experience of pursuing self employment as a Virtual Assistant; the challenges she faced, the lessons she learned and her advice if you want to start a business.

After I was made redundant from a job I had done for many years, I attempted to break into the Virtual Assistant (VA) world. Primarily, my niche was minute taking but I offered other services such as proofreading as well. I definitely learnt a lot!

Network, network, network. Join Linkedin. Connect with Facebook groups, embrace social media marketing. I did all of these things; I showed up, engaged, met like minded people and still that first ‘client’ remained elusive.

I did get a few crumbs of assistance though. One lady contacted me through Linkedin offering to set me up as an associate for her. That means that I have a contract with her; her clients remain her clients however, she could pass work on for me to do and she would retain a cut of the pay. This appears to be a way for new VAs to set up. I willingly took this lady up on her offer of being an associate for her. Unfortunately, I never got to do any work with her as one opportunity was snapped up by another VA and after months of getting nowhere fast, and increasingly desperate to quit my full time customer service role, I was offered my old job back. I knew then that my brief foray into the VA world was closing down.

When the associate lady then offered me another piece of work, I politely declined and explained that my situation had changed and as such I was unable to help her on this occasion. I did not receive any acknowledgement from her.

An agency I did a few pieces of freelance work for also came to an end – it was coming to an end anyway from my point of view, but after receiving emails essentially re-writing some of my work, I cut my losses, wished them the best and moved on.

Was I a failure?

That occurred to me when I received a negative response to a piece of work I had done.

No, I was not!

I had stepped out of my comfort zone, put myself out there and I did have some periodic work. What I was guilty of was spreading myself too thin, trying to fit in full time work with VA work at evenings and weekends, often dealing with clients who supplied work to me later than agreed which impacted on my delivery time, all the while managing three children and all of the domestic duties.

And, quite frankly, the dream had vanished. I had no zest for it anymore.

Let’s be clear, I have a lot of admin experience. Yes, I sometimes get things wrong, as do ALL people. But 99% of my work has only ever had positive feedback (if I was lucky to receive any at all – it seems to be that feedback is offered more regularly when it is negative). So, I was not about to allow one bad opinion strip me of my confidence.

I was a part time ‘hopeful’ VA for less than a year. It taught me a lot, good and bad. Some people are happy to help i.e. other fellow VAs, but make no mistake it is cut throat and competitive. There are clients who want ‘freebies’, who will offer you a trial or invite you to an interview if you provide examples of work tailored to them free of charge. I did two pieces of ‘free’ work i.e. I didn’t get paid and both of these took up valuable time. Neither did I get taken on by either of these prospective clients.

Am I glad I did it?

Yes. I consider it successful on the whole but there are so many factors of being a VA that didn’t suit me – the constant need for marketing, networking, the amount of competition, unreliability of workload and earnings amongst a few of the issues. Don’t get me wrong, it is nice to ‘run your own ship’ but it burnt me out.

My advice to anyone would be to do your research and go into ANY business with your eyes wide open. It is rewarding, but it’s constantly hard work combined with sometimes difficult clients, and you need a thick skin. My venture has certainly given me that.

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