Do you need more time in your business day to get everything done? Are there jobs that you do regularly that take you away from actually working efficiently? Have you ever thought about outsourcing the administration side of your business? Then a Virtual Assistant may be what you need. What's that and how do you get one? Purencool Digital met Sam Spence from Executive Virtual Associate and asked her how she can help your business manage better digitally.
What type of business do you have?
My business, Executive Virtual Associate, is a virtual assistant business. Basically I support entrepreneurs and small businesses owners with administration needs. We take care of tasks, projects, and jobs that they can’t do, shouldn’t do or don’t do, so they do get done. This could be anything from preparing newsletters to appointment managing to email management to document design. So it’s quite varied and quite different. I do get a lot of clients that say, 'What can you do for me?' But everyone is different, I don’t think I do the same thing for any two clients, it’s all tailored to the individual clients requirements.
I have a team of local sub-contractors that I use. One helps me with a particular client, so whenever I need a break she steps in and takes care of that client. Another does a few different projects, so just depending on what I need. We're trying to work it so they will end up having their own clients, and I will be the face of the business out there, generating and talking to new clients.
How long has your business been established?
I started in 2012, so 4 years now.
How did you get started working for yourself?
I never actually wanted to run my own business. I worked for Westpac for 22 years. Quite happy being an employee, did a lot of different jobs within the bank. Everything from front line and customer service, management, project work. My last role within the Bank was an executive assistant. My boss, my regional general manager was actually not based in the same office as me, so he was in Yarrawonga and on the road all the time. I was in Bendigo so we were working as a virtual team already. Then I was the only regional assistant, or regional support left in the field. Everyone else was centralised in Melbourne. So my role eventually became redundant.
That's when I thought, 'What am I going to do next?' In the process of updating my LinkedIn profile, I stumbled across this industry of virtual assistants. Working with clients, helping them with administration needs and it was really no different to what I had been doing. So, chatting with my husband, and thinking,'Shall I do this? Should I just try applying for another job? What should I do? I decided to give this a go. So that's how I got into my own business and that’s where it all began.
So how has the industry changed since then?
It’s been around quite a while and I guess it depends on locations, a lot of people overseas have heard of VAs. Entrepreneurs in Melbourne and Sydney and bigger cities have heard of them. But when you look at regional areas, not so much. When I first started networking and telling people what I do, it would be like, Oh I haven’t heard of that! I still get people that don’t understand fully what I do.
It was eye opening I suppose locally, but the industry I think has grown even more since I started. Bendigo has 9 VA's. We all know each other and network together. As long as you are dedicated and you are committed, it is easy enough to do. But, getting new clients and keeping that side of the business ticking over is the hard part. I think a lot of people don’t realise what’s involved as far as marketing themselves.
You can’t just say 'I'm a virtual assistant, I'll set up a website and that's it.' People aren’t just going to knock on your door and say, 'Could you do this for me?' You have to get out there, be seen and talk to people and make connections.
So I think the industry has grown and there is an Australian Association for VA's that is doing good things for VA's in Australia. One of their agenda items is to lobby for greater awareness of the profession which I think will be great, because having said we have 9 VA's in Bendigo and we do all know each other, we are not competitive. We all have different niche areas where we have our strengths. We do refer to each other and use each other as back ups, bouncing ideas like, How can I do this? Do you have an idea? It is good for VA's as a whole to get that awareness, and let people know that we are here to help small business and entrepreneurs.
What do you find is your biggest challenge doing your job?
My biggest challenge probably started about this time last year, and I am still struggling with it is, taking time for me. Knowing when to stop. And I guess that’s the same for every business owner. Particularly those first few years you working 24/7. Even when you are not working and you are having a weekend where you are spending time with family and friends, you are still thinking 'I must do this,' or 'I should write a blog post on that', or 'I must remember to talk to this person.' So making sure taking that down time I think is important. I still might have clients that have deadlines that I need to get back and do. So that’s probably my biggest challenge at the moment.
What advice would you give to other businesses that are just starting out? Obviously with your Ladies Lounge connections, what kind of advice do you give to those business owners?
My biggest advice is to network. Because when you do, it’s not about selling, it’s about learning from each other. We have all gone through different experiences that you can share, and I think it’s kind of naive to think you are not going to learn something from another business owner. It could be an introduction to a new contact or meeting people that can add value to somebody else. They don’t necessarily expect anything back in return. But they usually they are the first people you think of when you do want to give back. So it does come full circle, you can learn so much from other business owners. Whether it be about accounting packages, or whether it be about, should I have this insurance or that insurance? Or, good events to go to or whatever it might be.
The other advice is never stop learning. When I go for walks I listen to podcasts and learn from them. The ‘Mama Mia, I don’t know how she does it’ is my favourite at the moment. They are mums that are business owners and they are juggling motherhood, so when I listen to them I think, 'If they can do it, I can do it.' So whether you're listening to podcasts, whether you're reading books, whether you're signing up for webinars, whether you’re going to networking events, you never stop learning. Another good one that I love is, Her business with Suzi Dafnis. Every month she has a Booked for Lunch webinar and it’s a review of a book with the author, and they are always awesome. I may have read the book, I may not have read the book, they are usually new release books. But, probably 9 times out of 10 it makes me want to go get the book. So I always book myself in for that and I actually have my lunch that day and listen to the webinar and its great. So learning can be in many different forms.
What would you like to see happen to support other enterprises and increase networking opportunities?
I think, the Bendigo council has done a lot in the last 18 months or so, with making sure that there is more awareness of different groups that are available. The booklet that they have put out has got networking events as well as co-location hubs which is great. You always need to be aware of what events are around locally because, one reason, you might learn something from it. You might make a new connection, a new introduction. But if local business owners aren’t attending local face to face events, then they are going to stop and that’s not cool. So, I think just joining in on networking events, whatever they may be business networking groups, something less formal, even like we have done today. Being in contact through social media then you organise to catch up. You get to know each other so much more in the format. So it’s really important as far as networking goes to make those dates and that you do commit to catching up.
So how important is social media to your business?
I struggle with this one all the time. I do have a social media presence on Instagram, LinkedIn, Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter. But as to how effective it is? I don’t have any clients who say they have found me because of my social media presence. Having said that, I am sure for lots of them, it’s that extra touch point they can make. I believe you need to have a presence. And I guess having an inactive social media page, whether it's Facebook, whether it's Twitter does make potential clients probably question, 'Are they still in business? Are they still active?' So, I post regularly, all the time, some channels more than others.
Do you have an online marketing plan?
I do plans for clients, but for my own business I am a little bit more reactive. Which I think is a little bit more authentic. I do have some nice quotes and definitions of a VA that I do schedule at different times. I try to come up with different terminology and content that would help people understand and dispel the rumours about a VA.
What about your website, do a lot of people come and what do they find?
In July I had a blog post that Naomi Simson shared, so I was absolutely wrapped, my traffic went through the roof. So that was awesome. The clients that I have, have either found me locally, or have been referred to me. I have had clients that have found me through Google, like my two Sydney based clients. And one of them actually told me she looked at a few different people’s websites and decided mine aligned greater with her values. So I guess my ethics and my authenticity comes through on my website which is enough for people to say 'Yes, I do want to work with her!'
I really believe in having as much transparency on the website as you can. I don’t understand why people don’t have photos of themselves on their website to show potential clients they are real people. Clients want to see who they are going to be working with, I think particularly because a lot of my clients I may not have met face to face. My two Sydney based clients, one of them I have never met and the other I met after working with her for 18 months. You really need to show your personality so that they can see who you are. It really is a trust relationship.
What is your number #1 tip for running a successful business?
Probably staying true to you, as far as the reason of being in business. Everybody is in business because they have a skill, they have a passion, they have an interest, they are driven in, whatever it is. Whether it be web design, whether it be numbers, bookkeeping or accounting. I think you need to stay true to yourself and true to that. Of course, what comes with running your own business is all the other aspects that fall into it. Your personnel management, your marketing, your bookkeeping. And you need to work out which ones are the priorities, which ones you can do, which ones you can out-source.
Being authentic in your business operations and business dealings will mean that you don’t need to pretend to be anybody. You don’t forget who you are supposed to be, and people will deal with you because they like you.
Where do you see Executive Virtual Associate in 12 months?
12 months? I’d like to be more in control of my me-time. I am working with a mentor and one of my goals for this year was to ensure I am taking regular time out every month. So I guess in 12 months I want to make sure I have been practising that. Which in turn would mean that one or two of my subcontractors would have picked up a bit more of the work load. I'd like to continue my involvement with some of the committees that I’m on, and just progressively keep Executive Virtual Associate growing.
Be sure to catch up with Sam Spence from Executive Virtual Associate
If you're wanting to get on with what you do best and you're tired of fighting with your website, or you're looking to grow your brands awareness on social media contact Purencool Digital.