Sierra College in Rocklin now has a Virtual Office Professional class. Students were asked to find and interview virtual assistants. One of the students contacted me for an interview. Here are her questions and my responses.
1. How long have you been a virtual assistant and how long did it take to receive your first client?
My services as a virtual assistant began in 2005 when my first client came to me and asked me to do some work for her. She had just lost her assistant and learned of my skills. I had been working for her virtually for over a year before I even heard of the term virtual assistant or starting billing my services as such. The year 2008 saw my client list grow to nearly a dozen regular clients and another dozen clients that use my services as needed.
2. Do you have any small children in your home? If you do, how do you manage to keep your office environment a “work only area” and keep interruptions to a minimum?
Yes, there is a four-year old little girl in our home. Both my husband and I have run three businesses from home since she was a baby. So she's been taught since a very young age that there are times we need her to be quiet. She runs her own 'virtual office' with her 'puter (computer). When it's absolutely necessary for quiet, my husband and I arrange to trade off times we are working. We are fortunate to have two grown children in the home that can help out at times. Other work at home moms and I have traded days with the children also when needed.
3. What would you say is the most expensive piece of equipment you use to service and keep up? For this particular piece of equipment what is it that you spend so much on to keep it in good working condition?
The most expensive piece of equipment we use is our own web server in the home office. However, we have not had to spend much money on it for maintenance. It's helpful that my husband worked in IT for years knows a lot about computers.
4. What would you say is a barrier or roadblock when working with your clients? For example, clients not giving you the information you request or returning calls.
One obstacle to be overcome is communication. Some clients may be slower in communication than others, thereby holding up the process. Sometimes a client has different expectations. So it's very important to clearly communicate with clients and make sure they understand exactly what you will be doing for them.
5. Do you manage your own website? If so do you use a program/software? If not did you hire someone to create and or manage it?
Since my husband and I have run our own web design company since 1996, yes, I manage my own site. We hand code everything and use ftp to upload our files to the server. One of the services I offer is website updates.
6. How do you charge or bill your clients? What are your reasons for billing this method?
Most of my clients prepay for a specific blocks of time. This allows them to get a discount and know they have a certain amount of my time. I know I'm getting paid and how much time I need to work. The client prepays this amount before work begins. Retainer clients prepay for a certain amount of time each month. They are billed on the first of each month; these amounts are non-refundable and don't roll over. Once in a while a client needs a one-time project done. I usually require a minimum deposit for two hours. I do have a couple of clients that get billed on the 1st and 16th of each month. I try to work within each client's budget and needs.
7. Have you ever had to let go of a client for a reason other than nonpayment? If not have you ever let go of a client for nonpayment?
Since the majority of my clients prepay, nonpayment has never been an issue. I did let one client go after fulfilling her prepaid contract because she needed services that I did not provide. I offered to help her find another virtual assistant that could provide those services.
8. What is your back up plan if you have a family emergency or wish to go on vacation? Do you utilize the service of another Virtual assistant?
When I plan to take some time off for vacation I let my clients know in advance. We arrange to get any work done necessary before I leave. All of my clients understand that there will be times I take off and as long as they know ahead of time, there's never been any problems. They are very understanding if some sort of emergency comes up. It's very helpful to have good communication with your client about this matter. I also have an assistant I can call on if necessary.
9. What type of client do you provide services to the most? For example owners of construction type businesses, owners of retail marketing businesses?
My clients are busy solo professionals and small business owners, usually service providers, who want to grow their business. They include authors, life coaches, business consultants, therapists, professional organizers, and real estate agents.
10. As a student seeking and desiring my own Virtual office business what is a recommendation or piece of advice you would offer to me?
Learn all you can by becoming an active member on sites such as FindVirtual.com and VirtualAssistantForums.com. Go out and network in person at events and start building your network of prospects and people who can help you build your business.