Virtual Assistant Elayne Whitfield gets JobShadowed.  You can find her and her services at http://www.executive-assistance.ca/.  Also follow her on her Twitter feed found in the sidebar of this interview.  

What do you do for a living?

 I am a Virtual Assistant.  And I am the co-founder and director of the Canadian Virtual Assistant Connection which is an association of Canadian Virtual Assistants.

How would you describe what you do?

I work from my home office with clients from all over the world providing business support services such as administrative support, bookkeeping, email/calendar management, transcription, graphic design, website design/maintenance, social media support, desktop publishing and much, much more.

I also run the day to day operations of CVAC (The Canadian Virtual Assistant Connection)

What does your work entail as a Virtual Assistant?

My work entails providing business support services for various clients.  What the actual tasks are depends on the clients’ needs that particular day or week.   Some of the services that we provide are:

General office: Typing, dictation, preparation and distribution of general office correspondence as well as more complex documents such as spreadsheets. Faxing, mail, email and message services

Specialized: Bookkeeping, Transcription, manuscripts, resumes and presentations, PDF creation and conversion, file conversion, scanning and OCR.

Desk Top Publishing: Letterhead, Business Cards, Logos, Brochures, Flyers and Newsletters (online, fax or direct mail), menus, signs, invitations, e-zines, templates and forms

Website Design, Submission and Maintenance: Complete, full-featured websites for personal or business use including domain registration and hosting, email set-up, shopping carts, links pages. Click here for details Ongoing maintenance, web content, search engine submission, e-commerce and shopping carts, domain registration, animated banners/graphic design.

Marketing: Direct mail campaigns, bulk mailing, fax and email broadcasting, address labels, telemarketing, telesales scripts, conference/exhibit management, newsletter distribution, event/project management.

Database Management: Update and maintain database, provide reminder service for appointments, and noteworthy client events such as birthdays.

Internet Marketing: General or specific internet research including MLS searches for Realtors, Search Engine Optimization, competitive analysis, web content writing, email marketing,

Resumes: Consulting and preparation of resumes and cover letter

Accounting: Bookkeeping, payroll, invoicing and bill payment

Event Planning: Conferences, Meetings, Trade Shows, Seminars, Receptions, Dinners, Galas

Travel Planning: Individual or Group Travel including provision of detailed itineraries

Proofreading: editing, formatting, spelling and grammar checks

What’s a typical work week like?

There is no such thing as a typical work week.  Each day and week is different depending on the needs of my clients during that period.  Some days are very busy and some days are more manageable.

How did you get started?

I got started by doing hours and hours of research to find out how to start a business.  I taught myself website design so that I could have a web presence and then spend hours and hours and hours learning about Search Engine Optimization (SEO) so that people would find my website online.  I participated in every online group that I could find in order to promote my business, learn more about building a business and getting support as I started out.

I joined every local networking group that I could afford and told everyone that I knew and met about my business.  I created flyers and delivered them by hand to local businesses.  I prayed a lot for clients.

What do you like about what you do?

I love the variety of tasks and projects in any given time period and dealing with many different people.  I love being my own boss and having the ability to manage my time however it suits me.

What do you dislike?

I really don’t dislike anything about what I do.

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

I am paid by my clients an hourly rate.  I also have several subcontractors that work for me so when any subcontractor is working I earn a portion of their hourly rate in addition to my own.  I also provide webhosting services and am able to price these service at whatever price the market will bear.

CVAC is a paid membership association so we earn money from membership fees.  We act as an affiliate for many products and services that we recommend so we do earn passive affiliate income.  I am also the co-author of How to Build a Successful Virtual Assistant Business (www.va-book.com) so I earn money from book sales as well.

How much money do Virtual Assistants make?

The amount of money that a VA makes is dependent on many factors such as:

·         Hours that they work

·         Rate that they charge

·         Services that they provide

·         Number of clients that they have

·         Skills and education

·         Ability to ‘sell’ their services

How much money do Virtual Assistants make starting out?

Income is totally dependent upon the amount of energy that the individual puts into their business.  There is no answer for this question because it varies so much.  One VA starting out who doesn’t put a lot of energy into marketing herself and her business might make $0.00 in the first months.  Another VA who is actively marketing herself and her business, networking, cold calling potential new clients and participating in online groups might make several thousand dollars in the first months.

Rates also vary and are decided on an individual basis.  We cannot set a rate, as an industry, because that would be ‘price fixing’ and is unlawful in Canada.  I would estimate that rates vary between $15 – $40/hour for someone who is just staring out.  In my opinion, setting your rate at $15/hour is a very effective way to price yourself out of business.   If you are working as a subcontractor for another VA, when you’re just starting out then a typical subcontractor rate would be $18 – $25.   An experienced VA would probably charge between $25 and $50/hour.

Rates may also be affected by the services that you provide.  Website design and graphic design are typically higher priced services than word processing.  There are also different ‘hot’ skills at any given time.  As an example, Social Media is very in demand right now as is online event planning. If you are able to continue your education so that you are knowledgeable in whatever is ‘hot’ at the time, you can make more money.

Many Virtual Assistants gravitate towards a particular niche and develop expertise within that niche.  This is a good way to maximize earning potential.

It is not like working at Wal-Mart where you make an hourly wage, work for so many hours and then get paid for those hours.  When just starting out, you make work 10 hours a day just building and marketing your and not get paid for those hours.   But the more hours you put in building and getting exposure for your business, the more clients you’ll get and the faster you’ll get them.

What education, schooling, or skills are needed to do this?

There are no formal educational requirements to start your own business but proficiency on the computer in a number of areas is ideal.  The more skills that you have, the more skills you have to market to potential clients and the higher the rate you are able to charge.

As with any small business you must be personable and have adequate social skills to deal with the different personalities that clients will have.  You must have some experience with customer service so that you know how to treat clients so they’ll want to continue to be your clients.

What is most challenging about what you do?

Time management can be challenging and occasionally dealing with difficult clients can also be challenging.

Money management is also necessary because some months you might make a great deal of money and others you might make less.  You need to make sure that there is always enough to cover the bills and basic necessities of life and not over-spend during the really great months.

Sometimes friends/relatives don’t understand that even if you are at home, you are still working.  You have to be firm and set boundaries that when you are at your desk, you are working and cannot be disturbed.

What is most rewarding?

The most rewarding aspect of working as a Virtual Assistant is seeing my clients prosper as a result of the partnership with my company.  Very rewarding.  I also love that I have so much personal freedom and flexibility.

What advice would you offer someone considering this career?

Read the book, How to Build a Successful Virtual Assistant Business  www.va-book.com

Get involved in the VA industry.  Get to know people and allow people to know you.  Help others whenever you can in order to establish credibility as an ‘expert’.  Take advantage of free resources at www.cvac.ca and www.vanetworking.com

How much time off do you get/take?

I take 1 – 2 Sunny Getaways each winter.  I take an extra day with every long weekend of the year so that those 3 day weekends are 4 days weekends.  I take 3 weeks off each summer to go on our boat.  I take most Fridays off during boating season (from May – October).  I take the week between Christmas and New Year’s Eve off.  And I work limited hours during March break unless we are travelling with the kids.

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

A common misconception would be that VAs are administrative assistants.  We are entrepreneurs who provide administrative assistance, among other services, to our clients.

What are your goals/dreams for the future?

My goal is to continue to grow the business until I have subcontractors handling the day to day work and I am just overseeing the business.  Ideally my company would continue to generate revenue into my retirement.

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

Being a Virtual Assistant is a great career that offers very good compensation with superb flexibility.  You can work from anywhere including your cottage or boat. – as long as you have internet.  You don’t have to find a new job in the event that you move to a different city.  And you can set your own hours in order to be available to live your life the way you want to.  I’ve never missed one of my children’s school field trips or functions, after school activities or sporting events because I set my work schedule around my life schedule.