Read as Kathy Layne gets JobShadowed about her career as a VA.  You can find her and her practice at www.kathylayne.com.  You can also find her on her Twitter feed in the sidebar.  

What do you do for a living?

I work as a Virtual Executive Assistant.

How would you describe what you do?

I am a professional services provider who works remotely to provide administrative or project support on an as-needed basis to a variety of clients.

What does your work entail?

I help people with projects using Microsoft PowerPoint, Excel, Word, and Publisher, as well as general executive assistant or concierge services such as appointment setting, travel planning, and internet research.

What’s a typical work week like?

I try to keep the same hours as my clients, and generally have a “normal” work week of hours between 9-6. However, since I work for myself, I definitely have some flexibility there, and my working hours can fluctuate greatly depending on my current workload.

How did you get started?

About four and a half years ago I was looking for a new challenge. I’ve always enjoyed working in Microsoft Excel, creating PowerPoint presentations and designing marketing collateral, and I have a lot of experience in customer service and account management. I also love the freedom and flexibility of working for myself. Working virtually as an Executive Assistant seemed like the perfect marriage of the two.

What do you like about what you do?

I love the fact that every single day is different. I work with a wide variety of clients in different industries… I truly never know what my next task will be or what type of project might be sent my way. I also love knowing that, as long as I have my laptop and internet connection, I can work anywhere in the world at a moment’s notice. Not that I am zipping off to Paris and working in a café anytime soon – it’s just nice to know that I can if I want to!

What do you dislike?

Even though I love working for myself… there are most definitely challenges! Just like any small business owner who freelances, I am solely responsible for all of my sales and deliverables. And if my printer breaks down during a mail merge – I’m the one who has to fix it. There is no in-house tech support to call!

How do you make money/or how are you compensated?

All of my services are pay-as-you-go, billed in six minute increments. There is no minimum, retainers, or contracts, my clients simply pay for the time spent on task.

How much money do virtual executive assistants make?

This can vary for everyone based on their experience and skill set, although most US-based Virtual Assistants make between $15-$60/hour.

How much money do/did you make starting out as a virtual executive assistant?

When I first started out I was certainly on the lower end of the spectrum, but as I gained more experience and became better and better at what I do, I’ve been able to adjust my rates to reflect that. I do try my best to be realistic and practical about my rates, however. I never want to undersell myself, but at the same time, especially in this economy, I have to be wary of overselling myself as well. I am comfortable where I’m at right now. I believe I provide fair rates for my experience and skill set.

What education, schooling, or skills are needed to become a VA?

That depends on what kind of services you’d like to provide to clients… some Virtual Assistants provide a wide range of services such social media support and web design, in addition to general administrative support. Others, like me, prefer to specialize and focus on certain areas. I would certainly take some basic Microsoft Excel, Word and PowerPoint classes if you are at all rusty in these programs. Additionally, you have to be extremely detailed and deadline oriented, and be able to manage multiple projects and personalities at the same time. If you are not organized and you get flustered easily, this may not the job for you!

What is most challenging about what you do?

There is a lot of self-discipline involved! I’m not required to “clock-in” at a certain time, and there is no one looking over my shoulder to make sure I am doing my work. It is solely up to me to make my deadlines and take care of my clients.

What is most rewarding?

I love making a client happy… going above and beyond their expectations and delivering exceptional service. Many of my clients tell me that I make them feel like they are my only client. I love that! It is also deeply gratifying to see the results of hard work – I have found that generally, your “paycheck” is in direct correlation to the amount of effort that you put into your business.

What advice would you offer someone considering this career?

Make sure that you are aware of the challenges and risks of working for yourself. You certainly will not have direct deposit every two weeks! Sometimes it’s difficult to get paid, and it’s not always easy selling yourself. Make sure you have some savings starting out, figure out what you’re good at and build on that, and always keep learning! Also, there are two distinct aspects to this business – selling and executing. Be aware that you will have to do both (well) to succeed.

How much time off do you get/take?

I have to admit that it is very difficult for me to take time off! Since I work for myself, I rarely, if ever, completely “disconnect” for an extended period of time. If I do take time off, I still have to check my email and take care of my clients if something arises.

What is a common misconception people have about what you do?

That I have it “easy” since I work for myself! Believe me, there are certainly benefits… but it is not all sleeping late and eating bonbons. As I mentioned, it can be difficult for me to take a “real” vacation, and it can also be difficult selling myself and my services.

What are your goals/dreams for the future?

To be honest I am incredibly happy to be where I am right now. I would love to keep working with my core group of clients, (several of which I’ve worked with since I opened my business over four years ago), and keep growing and learning new skills every single day.

What else would you like people to know about your job/career?

Most people don’t realize that what Virtual Assistants do is even possible. Even though I work remotely, I can typically provide any administrative service a client would need, except perhaps filing and making coffee! I wish more people would take the chance on working with someone virtually. There is definitely a certain level of trust involved, but if you find the right person, you’d be amazed at what can be accomplished by working with someone remotely.