What is a Virtual Assistant? What does a Virtual Assistant do? How on earth did you think of this? I get these questions quite regularly. Although the term Virtual Assistant, or VA, is getting more and more established, there are still many people who don’t know what a VA is or does. And when they ask me how I I came to my decision, I normally give them the short version reply. However as I would like to get to know you all better, and I want to you to get to know me better, I will share my full story on how and why I became a VA right here and now.
How it all started
Surprise surprise: I was stuck working in a job in which I was not motivated anymore. I have been doing that job for many years, and it did not appeal to me anymore. As a person who is always on the fast track, things were going too slow and something needed to change. Ask anybody who knows me reasonably well and they will agree: I speak fast, think fast, act fast; and I need a lot of challenges to keep me enthusiastic. And I was not finding them there anymore. I had the feeling I was not making any contribution, that I could not apply myself, that I was stuck in Groundhog day. In short: I was bored.
So I spent a lot of time online to search for a new job. But that was not enough to fill all my days, I needed more distractions. So I spent my time reading and learning online. When I googled for ‘best blogs’ to find interested reading; I landed on the Times website for best blogs of 2012. And there it was: not only the recommendation for, among others, the funny Awkard Family Photos and the beautiful Bookshelf Porn (all decent!) but most of all Wandering Earl by Derek Baron. And that blog, his story, made quite the impression! This guy was travelling everywhere, he was travelling all the time, and he was writing about it. He was making his money on the road, either digitally or by organizing tours or working locally. I was immediately inspired and I became a fan.
I spent my time reading this blog, picturing myself working on the other side of the world, living the good life. At the same time I realized as well, that there are a lot of practical things standing in the way of living like this. And when I am honest, constant travel would probably wear me out. However constant travel was not thé attraction of this blog, but the idea behind it. Especially the independence appealed to me; not being in an office all week long, being able to make my own decisions. I would no longer only be a small radar in a big company, but making all sales, marketing, accounting, and other decisions about my very own business myself. And it would give me the great opportunity to interact on a whole different level with clients, much more direct and valuable.
Fortunately for me I found a new job in the beginning of 2013. No Virtual Assistant yet, still in an office for an employer. It was for a completely different company compared to where I was before. Much bigger, differently organised, new people, new tasks. I liked that it was again very international, dealing with distributors first all over Europe, later in Asia as well. However, very soon we noticed that hiring two persons for one vacancy, which they did, was too enthusiastic. And pretty soon, the same story. Workload came in ups and downs, so all in all ‘quite ok’, but still I was not using my full potential. And one of the downsides of not being challenged: you become lazy. Really. It’s terrible but if I am honest I have to tell you this. I was going about my day on half capacity, and then when I had to do something more complicated, my first reaction was to get cranky and be upset why I was interrupted in my half-sleep! This was really frustrating and needed to end.
I was reading a lot on a different topic with a similar goal as well: how to manage your personal finances. I spoke about it with my colleague who is also very interested in this. He introduced me to Robert Kiyosaki’s ‘Rich Dad Poor Dad’, I introduced him to the Dutch Gerhard Hormann’s books.
Their message was similar (although their methods could not be much more different) and is getting more popular. The summary of what I got out of these books: don’t overspend on owning goods with no value, pay off your mortgage as soon as you can, and acquire assets instead of liabilities, to decrease your dependence on a job as employee for a boss. The less stuff you have or want, the less money you need. The lower your mortgage, the lower the interest you have to pay. If you can take care of yourself financially, you don’t need an employer to do so. Easy. Right?
House for sale
Both my boyfriend and me quite liked the idea of decreasing our dependability on income. And as the house we were living in was too big for us anyway, interest rates were going down, we decided to sell the place in September 2015. Exciting times up ahead! It was well located, a beautiful wide view in the middle of the suburbs, but the interior could use some redecorating. And we asked for quite a steep price, we bought it when the housing market was on a high, right before the crisis in 2008 and we still had a huge mortgage as well. But we were not in a hurry, so we would just wait and see what happens.
Well, plenty of people visited the house, that is what happened, but that was about it. No biddings, only a few appointments for a second visit by the same couple. This is quite the attack on your stress level. Cleaning all the time, hoping for any progress. And at the same time looking at potential new houses ourselves without being able to act on that. Because we first wanted to sell our own house before buying a new one. We for sure did not want to own two houses at the same time! Renting instead of buying also crossed our minds, to be more flexible and to try and find out if we would like to live in a big city for a change, that also seemed quite luring. However, with the high prices of rentals and the low interest rates on mortgages, this would not be the best option.
All these choices kept me busy almost the entire day for weeks and for months. Not even mentioning my addiction to Funda.nl where I was browsing for new interesting properties. All. The. Time. Being a Virtual Assistant and have my own business was still only a tiny thought in the very back of my mind. And then…
…my boyfriend got the opportunity to go to Singapore for six weeks for work. How cool was that! I already envisioned us from that moment on travelling the world, him working on various projects for his current employer and me doing…that was a good question. Doing what? My first idea was to ask my employer if they could allow me to work remotely. Alas, no go. I cannot say that I was surprised, I can say I was disappointed. This was another reason not to want to depend on an employer! And so I promised myself to find a solution for this. I vouched to spend a great deal of my time on my upcoming short holiday to Singapore while my boyfriend would be working.
Singapore is a lovely city. Plenty to see, not too big, very neat. We had a good hotel with good internet so I divided my daytime between being a tourist, working for my employer (helping my colleague who had to take over my work but was still quite new) and searching the internet for inspiration on what I could do independent of location.
Of course I have been thinking about this for a very long time, but I always thought it was going to be impossible. I felt I had no skills to market, I ‘just support’. As simple as that. I never imagined this could be something that I could do for a living.
And then I found it. The perfect fit for me! I do not remember how, but it was exactly what I needed. I found the VA handbook!
This was the first time I realised that properly supporting somebody is a skill as well, and very much needed and very much appreciated! And even better: it could also be marketed, and that meant I could have my own business based on what I am already pretty great in! What a wonderful thing to realize!
So really all praise to Joanne Munro for creating The VA Handbook ! This wonderful lady made a brilliant website full of information on how to be the best Virtual Assistant. You can buy her great DIY course and at the same time she already gives so much valuable information away for free to everybody visiting her website. I loved it, I read the website from beginning to end and slowly I was seeing a new future ahead of me…
An offer you cannot refuse…
Our stay in Singapore is now already a little over one year ago, and in hindsight I have no idea why it still took me so long to go forward with my plan after getting back end of March. I was probably still very comfortable in my information-analysis-paralysis-mode. Oh and yes, of course, there was still this little thing called housing which was keeping me busy! We realised we were not making any progress on that topic, so we decided to lower the asking price in May 2016 and tada: after two weeks it was sold! And after another few weeks, we finalised buying our super cute two-level apartment. So happy about that! Oh and did I mention only appr two- thirds of the price of our previous house? We made the first big step towards more financial freedom!
Somewhere during this time, Joanne sent me an offer I really could not refuse: she offered a considerable discount on the price of her DIY VA course, together with the announcement of a price increase after the offer expired. Access to the course is for life, you can take all the time you need to finish it; and when you buy the course, you become an exclusive and lifelong member of her VA handbook Facebook group. Obviously now was the time to step up and make it happen. So I bought it! I haven’t regretted that for a minute. It is a well of knowledge, support, and the others in the group already feel like my new colleagues even though I never met any one of them in real life.
I took things slow, read through the course, follow the conversations in the Facebook group, but did not really jumped into action. However as time went by, I talked about my idea to have my own Virtual Assistance business more and more. I got used to the idea of someday soon having that! People supported me and advised me to pursue my dream, speaking from their own experience as happy business owners. So this made me gradually just take the next steps that were needed for me to get ahead:
- After declining some half-silly-funny-names-referring to characters from cartoons and literature, I decided on Sapphire Virtual PA as my business name. Sapphire is my birthstone, and I wanted something that universally represents strength and quality. And I loved the idea (small reference back to the cartoon again) of subtly slicing the letter S of Superwoman in my logo!
- I started visiting GouweStart Café, a great networking opportunity for really practical tips and meeting other business owners (many thanks is due here to Dorotheé, Oscar, Jostal and Loes for their inspiring sessions)!
- I went to the Chamber of Commerce in Rotterdam to get my company officially registered! This part may seem exciting, but it is actually quite easy to do, similar to getting new passport or driver’s license. Pay 50 euros, then you are registered and good to go!
- I hired Niels Verwaal of Fris en Nieuw to do my website. We made it clean, straightforward, modern, mobile friendly. I love it, and I hope you do, too.
And now here I am, behind my laptop, writing this story, thinking back on all this time passing by, the steps I have taken and the steps I still plan to make. Working with a few clients and searching for more. Preferably I work with customers who are operating internationally, supporting them with their databases, creating spreadsheets; writing and/or translating of documents, etc., etc.
And I am absolutely so happy about the entire journey and proud of what I have achieved! At the moment I am in a good place, building my network, meeting new people, working with my first clients and expanding my business. I really hope to add a lot of chapters to my great journey as the independent business owner of Sapphire Virtual PA!
I want to thank you for reading my story. If you have questions for me or if you would like more information on working with me, please browse through the rest of this website, send me an e-mail or call me on +31 625395053. I look forward to hearing from you!