As soon as I stumbled upon the virtual assistance industry, I could see it was something unique. While so-called gurus are chanting “you must dominate the market” and selling secrets to “beat the competition,” this is not the prevailing sentiment among virtual assistants. They all seem to have the same quiet confidence that there is more than enough work and clients to go around.
I’d like to tell you how I got started in this industry and became an entrepreneur. Whether you’re still hanging on to that day job, or you’re already at home and looking for a way to stay there, I hope you’ll use the lessons I share as you’re discovering your leader within.
I’m still not sure if I found the virtual work world or if it found me. Other virtual assistants have told me the same thing. The early pioneers, just 13 short years ago, were leading a huge new trend and they didn’t even know it. The International Virtual Assistants Association (IVAA) defines a virtual assistant as “an independent entrepreneur providing administrative, creative and/or technical services. Utilizing advanced technological modes of communication and data delivery, a professional VA assists clients in his/her area of expertise from his/her own office on a contractual basis.”
Most virtual assistant businesses are born in the home office, out of a computer, knowledge of a particular market, and a burning desire to help that market while working from home. People are sometimes surprised to hear that I really enjoyed my career as an information technology specialist, and my children were very happy going to their daycare center for stories, arts and crafts and playtime. I had no intention of leaving my job to work at home.
No, instead something happened to us that happens to most military families; we got orders to move. We were living in Southern California, where I had lived my entire life, when my husband got orders to North Carolina. My research quickly revealed that even though I had a bachelor’s degree in business and 20 years of experience, there simply were no well-paying jobs. Sadly, this is the plight of many military spouses. I checked into telecommuting, transcribing, freelance web design and other work-at-home options, but nothing seemed to fit.
That summer, the movie “Robots” came out; a cute family movie about Rodney Copperbottom, an idealistic robot inventor. To foil the plans of an evil inventor, Rodney applies the philosophy of “find a need and fill a need,” and succeeds in bringing his robot friends together to save Robot City.
More than being one of the basic principles of business, this phrase goes right to the heart of what a virtual assistant does and how I came to be one. It also goes right to the heart of how you can evolve as a person and become a great leader in your world.
Before my career as an information technology specialist, I was a secretary and a word processor. While most of my colleagues lived and breathed computers, my passion and expertise for paperwork, data entry, and report formatting brought in excellent money and rewards. Rather than doing what everyone else did, I carved out a specialty and filled that need.
I imagine that most virtual assistants start out like I did, by researching and asking lots of questions. I even sent emails to other virtual assistants asking if they had any openings, obviously not understanding that they were small business owners themselves. I finally understood that if I wanted to succeed, I needed to get out there on my own, find my own clients, get my own website, and be my own boss. I needed to take the lead to develop my own business. Now I get those same types of emails and I reply as best as I can, pointing these new entrepreneurs in the right direction.
Starting a virtual assistant business is not a get-rich-quick scheme. After my first six months of working 12-hour days and nearly every weekend, I had made exactly $200. I had no clients, no niche, and no direction. I was signing up for one business-building program after another, each promising me more clients, more money - you know the deal. I have seen many virtual assistants (and other entrepreneurs) fall into this trap.
Eventually, after another six months or so, I did get my act together. And within two years, I was completely replacing the income that I had been making at my previous job. How did I turn it around? By taking an honest look at my obstacles and moving past them. My biggest obstacles were lack of self-confidence, not having a niche, and getting mired in the day to day tasks and losing focus of my goals and objectives. Honesty with oneself in a situation is a core strength of leaders. They inherently make decisions for themselves and their decisions have a direct impact on others too.
I wish I could say that everyone who starts on the road to being a leader in their own life or even as a business owner will be successful, but unfortunately, many won’t. Why not? They lack self-confidence and they’re afraid to put themselves “out there.” Sadly, not only does this cheat them out of a fulfilling opportunity, it also cheats others in their future out of gaining from their knowledge, wisdom and unique message.
You may think, “Why would anyone want to hear what I have to say?” Frankly, there are people out there who can only hear your message from YOU. Maybe they’ve heard the same message before but it didn’t resonate until they heard it from you, in your context, or in your authentic voice.
You do not need to be a millionaire or member of MENSA to have a positive impact on someone else’s life or business - and that’s the key. My clients benefit not only from my knowledge and skills, they’re also tapping into the cumulative experiences of all of my previous clients.
You may think, “There are already so many other leaders out there. How will I stand out?” Write down all of the unique experiences that you’ve had in your personal and professional life. You might be surprised at your potential areas of expertise. Some of my coaching clients are specializing in such diverse areas as business/career, communication, ADD/ADHD, abundance, getting clients, Christian living, the law of attraction, baby boomer entrepreneurs, productivity, and becoming a fearless female.
Each had their own unique experience to share and built their business upon it, standing out from the crowd at the same time. They are becoming leaders in their own area of experience. You may have a hard time thinking of yourself as an expert, at first. I know I did. I felt like a fraud. It took a long time for me to overcome this obstacle and acknowledge my expert status, but I worked at it and I did it. Now I can say with confidence that I am an expert and that I provide expert services to my clients.
What about you? Do you have extensive knowledge about a particular subject? Well, then, you too are an expert. You have a foundation with that knowledge to lead others.
Try thinking about it this way: We are surrounded by medical experts, legal experts, and military experts and we don’t hesitate to turn to them for their knowledge and expertise. Do they always agree or know everything about everything? No. But that doesn’t mean they are not experts and they are certainly not frauds. Many are revered as leaders in their fields.
I want to make a case for choosing a specialty, or “niche,” in your area of leadership. Many of my peers defend the “generalist” strategy because:
I started out as a generalist, advertising every possible service and task that I could perform, from desktop publishing to database design, from website design to word processing. Because I had previous experience and contacts in the real estate industry, I attracted real estate professionals as clients and claimed them as my niche.
Eventually, I realized that this wasn’t the type of work I enjoyed doing. My clients called me at odd hours and work often stretched into the weekend. I didn’t complain – I didn’t have any other clients – but I wasn’t happy. Luckily, I had a business coach to talk it over with and finally decided that I was in the wrong niche. At the same time, I recognized that I felt a much stronger connection with the coaches and consultant clients that I was working with.
That weekend I changed my website, changed my newsletter, and declared my niche of coaches and consultants. Guess who I started getting inquires from? I believe this is what they refer to as the law of attraction and I saw first-hand how it worked in my business. By taking the risk of changing where I put my energies and focus I became a leader for a group of clients that I am best suited for.
I was beginning to see the signs of success but my vision wasn’t focused enough. Sure, I knew that I wanted more clients, but how many? If the law of attraction brings us exactly what we ask for, then all I could expect from that wish was one more client than I already had!
So I stopped sweating the small stuff and starting started looking at the bigger picture of my goals, objectives, and vision. For example, one of my objectives was to keep the weekends work-free and incorporate more play time. But my day-to-day actions were out of alignment with this. I was accepting clients who could only work in the evenings and weekends and wanted immediate turn-around. I had to make a conscious decision to stop this. I had to let my “big picture” philosophy drive my marketing efforts to attract the types of clients I wanted.
The best leaders are the ones who go out of their comfort zone and make a decision that not only benefits them but those around them. My choice to accept clients that fit with my vision and needs allowed me to grow and serve my clients better.
You don’t have to “beat the other guy” to be a great leader, but you do have to stop the negative self-talk, acknowledge that you’re an expert, and hone in on your niche. Then, keep your focus on the big picture of what you want out of your desire to become a leader and how it will fit into your lifestyle, your passion, your values, and your schedule.
As quoted from renoun author Zig Ziglar, “You can get everything in life you want, if you help enough other people get what they want.” So find that need and fill it!By Lisa Wells
Phone/Text: (442) 273-0073
Email: support@pro-publishing-company (dot) com
Address: Pro Publishing Company, P.O. Box 3406, Vista, CA. 92085 United States
©2010 Pro Publishing Company and Daniel D. Sweet