The following is a video chat and transcript of myself and Gina Horkey discussing simple tips to become a virtual assistant. You can sign up for Gina’s free 5-day kickstart your virtual assistant business course here.
Angie: If you are new to me, my name is Angie Nelson and I own theworkathomewife.com. My site helps people find legitimate work at home jobs and home business ideas. I started my virtual assistant business way back in 2007. It is not something that I do a lot of anymore and since that is what we are talking about today, Gina is joining us from the Horkey HandBook, and she is really active in this industry right now. She is going to be helping us out.
Gina, do you want to give us a quick little introduction and tell us about your background in the VA field?
Gina: Sure. This is my first time being on the other side of the interview on Blab, so it is kind of fun. My name is Gina Horkey. My website is horkeyhandbook.com, obviously a play on my last name. I am the founder of that website as well as a couple of courses. 30 Days or Less to Virtual Assistant Success and another one for freelance writing.
I started off as a freelance writer. Before that though I was in personal finance as an advisor and a support person.
I worked as a part of a large practice that managed a lot of money and I had some of my own clients. I also helped them to keep their business running smoothly.
Anyways, I helped that practice in person and now I do that from afar. I have 2 kids, they are 2 and 4, and my husband is a stay-at-home dad. He quit his job just after our daughter was born almost 3 years ago now.
Angie: Very cool. All right. I think where we are going to start today is a lot of the questions that I was getting ahead of time were from people not sure of the experience that they need to get started as a virtual assistant or some of the things that they can offer. I think there is a big misconception. People think that they need to have some kind of special training or a special degree or something to get started in this industry.
One thing that I like about the virtual assistant industry for those people wanting to work at home is that there is so much diversity. You can start off with really entry level kind of skills and get yourself going and learn as you go.
Do you want to tell us some of the things that you are seeing in demand right now that maybe people that are joining us already have those skills that they can get started with?
Gina: Yeah. Definitely, pull from your experience. Look at your career experience. It could also be your social experience if you have headed up organizations or even just skills that you use every day as a mom.
What is in demand, we came up with a list of 125 services that you could offer as a VA and get paid for. They end up lumping into different categories. It could be everything from web and blog management to social media, email management. Most people think of a virtual assistant and they think data entry. I would say that is actually maybe 5% of what people do. It could be things like helping an entrepreneur with their expenses and bookkeeping.
Basically, anything that an entrepreneur needs help with, either that they don’t like to do or it takes too much time on their end and they are looking to do more important things, like work with clients one-on-one, you can take that off their plate and charge them for that and hopefully they will be able to scale and make more money by hiring you to help.
Angie: Great. One thing I know you are talking about pulling from your experience and things that you have already done. Do you have some places that you like to refer people to pick up new skills? I know Udemy has some things and there are a lot of the tools that you use as an online business owner, like HootSuite or Facebook even has a little university now that will teach people how to master those skills. Are there places that you see a lot of people are able to quickly pick up some of the things that they need to know? Even running a virtual assistant business, I think you have to learn some of the basic online business skills for yourself. Even if you aren’t offering them to a client, learning things like how to do social media and things like that. Where do you think is a good place right now for people to pick up some extra skills?
Gina: My best friends are Google and YouTube. I was filming some video for the version 2 of the course before this and I got a new laptop. I didn’t want to film them all on Blab and try and do that. I had to figure out how to use Movie Maker and then how to transfer a file and all of that fun stuff. Anyway, the most information you can learn for free.
The thing is all of the entrepreneurs are going to use different tools. You can’t go into a relationship knowing everything and they are going to understand that as well, especially if they are based online. I think just having that openness to learning new things is really important but then as that part of that list, that 125 services that I talked about, we are trying to build that out so that maybe there is something that interests you that you don’t know how to do and you could click a link and that would bring you to a reputable and free resource in order to learn more. I can’t teach everything in the course, for example.
Angie: Sure. I think it is important when you are getting started, I know a lot of us, when we first got started, you think you have to try to offer so many things so that maybe somebody will want something that you have to offer. What is your recommendation when somebody comes to you and wants to create a service list that they can go out and start offering? What is your best recommendation for where you need to stop that list?
Gina: Yeah. That is a great question and something a lot of people struggle with. I would write down your top 3 to 5. Peruse a list like the 125 services that I talked about. There’s lists all over too. If you don’t use mine, not a big deal. Figure out what you are interested in or what you already know how to do, what you would enjoy doing for pay. Then, instead of being the Jack-of-all-trades and trying to offer everything, limit it to that 3 or 5 things. Get really good at that and then look for clients that need that from you. You can always change what your niches are.
Then, the other part of that too is to figure out what target market you want to serve. I have learned that I kind of fell into working with male webpreneurs that have online businesses based in teaching or products, for example. Again, I kind of fell into that but now I know that if I want new clients, that is a great niche for me to pursue. Niching is not a bad thing. It is scary because then we think that we are going to be turning away business and that is not at all. It gives you a focus. It gives you something to look into, and then, again, you can always, always, always pivot if it is not working out for you.
Angie: Right. Like you said, when you know who you want to work with, it is a lot easier to go out and find your clients.
Angie: That is something also, do you want to touch base on? I know for me, when I am doing virtual assistance these days, a lot of the times it is for bloggers and it is for women entrepreneurs. For me, if I need to pick up more, the first place I am going to go is to Facebook groups because there are so many groups out there that are for bloggers and for women entrepreneurs that for me it is just a goldmine. Somebody everyday is saying, “Who is a virtual assistant or where can I find a virtual assistant?”
When you are talking to somebody new to this field, where do you recommend that they start when they are looking for potential clients?
Gina: Social media is a great one because obviously people that are hip to online marketing are going to be hip to working with people probably virtually or at least open to it anyways. That is a great example. You can also do in-person networking, which is on the exact opposite spectrum of that. Go to some local chamber of commerce events, which are usually free or there is a very low fee.
Now, I have talked about this with people before. I don’t know that you would want to join your chamber because it costs usually $300 to $500 and for you to make that back, it might not make sense. Usually, the only perk is that you get either reduced price rates for community events or you get in a listing. In my opinion, being in a listing isn’t that fruitful. You could do more by going out, connecting with people, having coffee, and that sort of thing with that $300 or $500. In person. You can do social media.
I think an untapped for a lot of people is their natural market. People that they come into contact with or that they already know. That is as easy as emailing some of the people that know, like, love you and that you feel that trust and respect with and say, “Hey, this is something new that I am trying to get into. Do you know of any small business owners, entrepreneurs, webpreneurs that are building their business but they are not ready to take on a full or a part-time employee?” As a VA, you are a contractor. Your clients doesn’t have to pay employment taxes. They don’t have to pay you for sick or vacation time and they don’t have to have a spot in their office for you, which is great. You furnish your own computer, your internet access. It is cheap on their end in that way but you end to still charge your worth, of course.
Angie: Right. I think right now is a great time to be a virtual assistant. Back when I started in 2007, literally, Facebook and Twitter were just getting online. Businesses weren’t blogging. It was something that was totally new. Trying to even tell someone what a virtual assistant was, was a little difficult. Right now, I think, is such a great time to get involved in this industry and online because so many people are open to it now.
Gina: Yeah, it is definitely.
Angie: It is something that a lot of businesses, even traditional businesses, are kind of welcoming those people in. Don’t be afraid to reach out to someone that you think, “They don’t know what I am doing. They won’t be open to a virtual assistant.” It never hurts to ask. There is always that saying “every no is one step closer to a yes” and I think that is really important to remember … Even if they don’t want you themselves, they may know somebody that does.
Gina: Great point. I think to kind of build on that is a lot of people make the mistake of going after finding work right away and getting a prospect to hire you right away because it is urgent for you to build a business, to get paid and to develop a clientele. What can be a lot smarter is taking a step back and work on relationship-building rather than just prospecting. Relationship-building is different in that you are trying to get know people. You are not necessarily just looking for work and so your agenda is much different when you are trying to find those opportunities. Does that make sense?
I want to talk about your email course. I signed up for that, the free email course that you offer, and went through that and there is a wealth of information there. It is 5 days and each day you are offering something new. I know you talked about the big list of services already
From there, let’s talk about your pitches. That is something that you offered in your email course that I was a little surprised to see but definitely something that is one of the worst things for newcomers I think – to approach someone.
Angie: What tips do you have for people that are wanting to pitch?
Gina: Yeah. Go ahead.
Angie: It is a scary thing and it is something that you really have to be careful with as well. You don’t want to get too excited when you are sending those emails but it is something you have to do at some point.
Gina: Yeah. Pitching is your job until you get clients. 90% of your time should be spent pitching, which is basically connecting with people and trying to find work. I would argue that it is not scary. It is at first but you will get over that hump. You will develop some confidence. If you rip that band-aid off and get started today, it is really not that bad.
The worst that is going to happen is somebody is going to tell you no. In reality, they are not ever going to reply to you ever because they are too busy or they are just not interested. They are not going to tell you to screw off. They are not going to blacklist you from the online internet community at large. That is what people think. That is not at all what is going to happen.
Get over that part right away. Then, just try and think about, “I want to make a connection.” Again, back to that relationship-building. You need to be of service as well as ask for help. If you can lead off by making some kind of authentic connection because you have actually done a little research on the person that you are looking to work with, which I would highly recommend because if you want to work with them, you should like them and want to work with them. Spend a few minutes on their website. Sign up for their newsletter. Get a feel for what they are all about. Then, initiate contact. In that first contact, you definitely can say, “Here is what I do and continue the conversation if you want to hire me or talk about hiring me.” You can also just start a conversation. Again, you are making a connection and you are leaving that door open for them to reply and for you guys to engage in communication.
Gina: It is a different way of looking at it then is starting a conversation versus pitching.
Angie: Right. That was something that I loved about the email that you sent and that you approached it that way. You emphasized how important it is for you to not just send out these cookie-cutter flat templates where the person knows that you never even looked at their website and you know nothing about their business. How can you help someone that you don’t know? You have to know that person’s business and feel a connection in some way if you are going to offer them some type of long-term value. Eventually, even if you are just working 10 hours a week, you are going to get involved in that person’s business to a point that they depend on you and they rely on you for something of importance, obviously.
Gina: Everybody can tell if it is something that you are just copying and pasting. There is no reason that you can’t have a template and start with that copy and paste, but then you are going to tweak it to customize it to them. I get pitched all the time from everything for website services, I’m sure you do as well, to people wanting to guest post. They don’t even know my name. My name is Gina and it is all over my website.
Angie: Right. What you are telling me has nothing to do with what I am doing, so why are you bothering me? Exactly.
Do you guys want to ask us a couple questions? I am trying to watch over here on the side but maybe I missed some. If you have some questions, go ahead and pop those over and I will keep an eye on this here.
Gina, what else do you think we need to know as far as what is going on right now? What is important that you are telling your students and your community as far as what is happening right now? This is such a fast-moving industry. Having an online business is a fast-moving industry. What do we need to keep an eye on? What is coming up? What do we need to know?
Gina: As far as the virtual assistant industry as a whole, some of the reasons that I think that it makes sense is that you can earn while you are learning. I have become a much better online business owner because of supporting some influencers that are really great at online marketing and sales funnels and all of these fun things. I have just learned how to not only use a bunch of tools but I have also learned how to apply really great strategies to my own business. I wouldn’t have had that opportunity just reading blog posts and trying to figure it out on my own. That is one thing that I think makes for a really compelling reason to start this type of work.
Another reason is that is a great way to introduce some predictability into your pay. Right now, I have 3 clients that I work for very part-time and I could support my family with that money, which is a great security to me and my online business. I am the sole-breadwinner. My husband stays at home. Our kids are toddlers. I quit my job with that leap of faith and it was because of my first VA client that I was allowed to do that then because I knew kind of how much income I could depend on.
What else do you want to know?
Angie: Someone is asking about the categories of assistants. I think that is something that you, as being someone who started as a freelance writer and moved over to this, there is a lot of cross … When we are talking about writers and VAs and social media managers, there is a lot of what do you want to call it? Blending.
Gina: Crossover I think is right. Yeah. I think that it is important to think … A lot of people think then that you have to be a fantastic writer in order to be a VA or vice versa. I don’t think that is the case. They can be complementary totally. That is where being a virtual assistant, being a VA can mean so many things. Like you said, it can mean social media. It can mean blog management. It can mean content. It can mean the inbox stuff.
They are asking where they can find that list and I think that you posted the link to the free course. Is that correct?
Angie: Yes. Is it in the first email? I can do that again.
Gina: It is in the second email. Again, the free course is five email lessons long. It kind of covers one lesson per topic. The first one is more of what would make you a good VA. The second one is around what services you can offer. Then, it gets into pitching and sourcing clients as well.
It is great. It is completely free and I hope you take it. I have gotten lots and lots of compliments. I have only had it around a couple months but people are putting it to work and finding clients, which is my favorite part.
Angie: Definitely. It was something that when I read through it, it is very actionable. It is not fluff material where it is just nothing. Every day is something that you can take that news and get started and put it to work. This is something that you can get started on so quickly. When you are considering getting started as a virtual assistant, you don’t necessarily have to think of it as, “This is going to take me 6 months to get started.” It is something that if you are ready to roll, you can be sending out emails by the end of the week once you know what your service lists are going to be and things like that. You can get started really quickly.
Gina: Right. The only equipment you need is a laptop or some kind of computer and internet access. I started with our old laptop. We did have the internet. I had a dumb phone. Then, I actually operated my business off a Chromebook for almost 2 years, which is a very basic machine. You don’t have to have anything fancy because everything is in the form of an app these days.
Angie: Very cool. Let me make sure. It is angies.tips/vafree. Sorry, I transposed that there but I will get it put in here again. That is going to go straight to Gina’s free course, which I highly recommend that you sign up for if this is something that you are wanting to do because she is going to give you a lot of actionable material that you can get going on.
Gina: Teri has a question for us. She is inquiring about needing a business license to run a virtual assistant business. I think that is state-specific. I am in Minnesota. I don’t need a business license. When I started my freelance business in general, I had nothing special, except for my own name and social security. Since then, we set up an LLC to an S-corp. I have an EIN and all of that fancy stuff. Again, you can get started without all of that to make sure it is viable for you first. You might want to check with your state though if you need some kind of business license. I don’t know enough about them because we don’t operate that way here in Minnesota.
Angie: How about apps? What kind of apps are you using … I know that we are using to run your day to day business. Are you tracking time? Do you bill by the hour or are you strictly service packages?
Gina: I started hourly. I hate time tracking. That is why I escaped that 9:00 to 5:00 type arena because I don’t want to just trade hours for money. As far as what programs I use, I am a very low-key technology kind of gal, which you probably have surmised by now. I love Trello to keep everything organized. It is free. Then, I am also in love with everything that Google provides to us. Google tool suite has everything from Gmail to Google Calendar, Google Docs, which is just like Microsoft Office, except for it is web-based and you can work from any computer by logging in. YouTube is also underneath that.
What else am I forgetting? Google Voice, which you can get your own free cover phone number. I have an area code that is very close to the metropolitan area that I live. Then, it rings to my cell phone and to my computer, so I don’t have to give out my personal cell phone number.
Google tool suite totally and Trello would be the things I would check out first.
Angie: Great. Anybody else have any questions? No.
Anything else we need to know, Gina? What else should we talk about?
Gina: We could talk all day, I’m sure. For anybody that is interested, I would say give the free email course a try and then just get started. I think the biggest thing, whether it is VA work, freelance writing, any other freelance opportunity or small business opportunity is people don’t get started. They don’t put themselves out there. They don’t take the first step and the next step and the next step. My mantra, which I have owned over the last couple of years is, “Why not me? Why not now?” You will find that all over my website because it empowers me. I am nothing special. I have a college degree. Whatever. I am not anything different than the rest of you out there and I have been able to have quite a bit of success because I keep trying. I fail too. Totally. I tell you about it on my blog.
Angie: Right. I think what you just said is so important. Regardless of what direction you want to go, what course you decide to sign up for, what person you decide to listen to, you are not going to get anywhere if you don’t put in the work. With freelancing, a lot of it is just getting started. Just getting your first couple of clients because once you do get that ball rolling, the leads start coming in by themselves. Somebody is referring you to somebody else. You are getting yourself out there and people are starting to trust what you can do and what you have to offer.
This isn’t going to be so hard all of the time. It is just getting that ball rolling and getting yourself out there. Then, the people are coming to you. You are turning people away and you are referring people to somebody else. All you have got to do is get through the beginning part.
Gina: Do a little bit of faking it until you make it. The way that I teach people to do that is always with honesty so you are not lying about your skillset or any of that good stuff. Instead of saying, “I just started a virtual assistant business. Hire me.” You could say, “Hey,” Facebook or wherever you are going to post it, “I have the capacity to take on one new client right now. Do you know an entrepreneur that is in the realtor space,” or whatever niche you decide to pursue. It gives somebody the opportunity to help you because you gave them a very specific parameter to work around. Again, you have that confidence as well versus saying, “Hey, I just started a virtual assistant business. Do you know any small business owners?” Nobody comes to mind because you don’t give them anything to go on.
Angie: Right. Okay. Anything else? I am so glad so many people joined us today.
Gina: Yeah. Thank you so much for taking the half-hour out of your day to listen to us blab. I love the name of this app.
Angie: All right. The link to Gina’s free email course is going to be angies.tips/vafree. You can catch her at horkeyhandbook.com.
Great. You guys, I am sure Gina is the same way. If you have questions afterwards, feel free to send us an email. We will go ahead and help you out in any way we can. Get in touch. Make sure you are following us and thanks everybody for joining us. I appreciate it.
Gina: You bet. Have a great day.
P.S. Gina is relauching her 30 Days or Less to Virtual Assistant Success April 18. Anyone purchasing the course prior to that date will be able to upgrade for only $1.