Recap: #28 - Susan Mershon: The Techie Mentor & VA Training
#28 - Susan Mershon: The Techie Mentor & VA Training

VA is not an easy occupation, yet it is something most people can learn how to do

As a former IT Consultant and Project Manager Susan started to consider a career change once her second child was born and she understood the company to somehow have pushed her aside.

She started to consider what kind of occupation she could perform from home becoming her own boss, and although Project Management was a possibility, she ended up undergoing the path of Virtual Assistant for the following 4 years.

Having been a Consultant and Project Manager for an extensive period of time constituted a precious backlog towards becoming a VA, since both are “task related” occupations (where one key factor pertains the ability to properly allocate available time to each task), and both require a proactive attitude where the professional needs to anticipate events while providing the proper response in support of the client.

Then another side of Susan’s career path became a key factor in her flowing entrepreneurial decision; Susan started her professional life in Software Training.

At the beginning, as a VA, Susan started also to train her client in the use of some software tools.

The trigger towards Business

Susan spent around one year overlapping her former job with the VA freelancing and recent motherhood obligations while growing hungry at the former corporation for having set her aside until she decided to fully go solo and leave the company.

At a given point in time the “market dynamics” started pushing Susan more towards a market need regarding training VAs and allowing them to gather a skillset that will foster their professional progress.

The initial barriers

Susan points out that one initial barrier that anyone who wishes to start his/ her own freelancer or entrepreneurship career needs to overcome is to stop thinking as an employee.

Another barrier consists of the personal conviction that anyone can learn anything no matter at what age or background.

Now there are some indispensable basic trades when considering becoming a VA:

  • Detail Organised – as the job grows successfully, more clients with parallel running task will become the daily diet, so one needs to be good at managing tasks and priorities.
  • Communicative – the ability to timely communicate with one’s clients in an assertive way, while providing them with some steering or coaching is mandatory to become successful and an added value for the client, hence creating long term partnerships.

Consultants get better pay than assistants not necessarily because they know more, but because they proactively search for ways to support the client

Promoting proactiveness

(Employee) assistants tend to wait for the boss’ instructions while entrepreneurial VAs need to realize that their success strongly depends on adding value to their clients. Most clients resort to a VA because their schedule or work day is a mess and they need help removing a significant portion of the workload off their shoulders. A VA can be a precious asset in supporting that goal while becoming independent in getting things done and proposing ways to better do it.

Going from an assistant employee to a successful freelancer VA, means moving from an office clerk to a consultant’s attitude.

On thing that is pointed out is that being proactive requires a context where people are comfortable to speak up, nevertheless and despite such context driven constraint a VA who was a former assistant needs to realize that it's now a new game. Meaning, although, in the past, the boss could have an attitude like “you are here to act, not think”, becoming a VA (as a consultant) primarily means one is there to think of ways to make client’s processes better and more efficient.

Be aware of the pitfalls

Becoming a VA bears some potential pitfalls, namely for those who do not even master the inherent concepts:

  • ”Done deal” – facing the challenge of becoming a freelancer VA as a “done deal”, a simple activity is maybe what conduces to the most drop offs. A VA needs to effectively manage what someone who owns a given business is not capable of successfully accomplish while adding value by proposing improvements.
  • The “Price Tag” – if someone is about to start a new professional activity, it needs to do so in a manner that represents a profit. No one should work while not making enough money to sustain itself, so competing for lower rates if that means at the end of the month there is not enough money is a no go.
  • “Billable hours” the concept – while an employee to be, a person looks at a salary proposal and mirrors it against the life standard it shall enable once deciding on accepting a job. An entrepreneur or freelancer needs to realize that a VA gets paid by the hour and therefore an entirely new “mechanics” needs to be set in motion while balancing the workload versus the hour rates against the required number of additional clients at the same hourly rate that would allow an acceptable living standard while requiring how many work hours a day.
  • “Earlier departure” – since it is “so easy”, many jumps off their current jobs to embrace this brand new promising venture without any hands-on experience. No one should exchange what is known for the unknown.
  • “Bragging” – getting the 1st client can be tricky, for people tend to be so happy about it that they sometimes undergo a frantic race of online publishing their success story. Now, who is on the other side looking at the screen? Secrecy is a corner stone of Business ventures.
  • “I am ready” – a VA must learn new trend technologies and concepts (SEO, WordPress, Cloud, other). In the present era, most clients when looking for a VA are not merely looking for someone who can do what they have no time to do but someone who can do what they do not know nor have the time to learn how to do. Just as an example, some activities require WordPress knowledge to assure proper publishing while conveying a Marketing Message in the appropriate manner and the client doesn’t want to spend time learning that, but the VA must know it.

It’s ok to say no and not accept a client that you are not comfortable with

The learning curve

Susan points out that although there are some things that one learns on the go, by experience, having a solid background foundation prior to selling the image that “I know and I can, I do” it is a matter of being honest and straight forward. So, people must understand that they need to get knowledge and awareness over any given subject before they can say being able to deliver on it.

Outsourcing platforms

From Susan’s perspective Zirtual being a company that has directly hired employees is more structured than Upwork or Fiverr. It is a good choice if the need is to have a well-structured service with a certain set of tools.

Upwork and Fiverr are more of marketplaces, and that also brings the negative side of a pricing dispute, hence not knowing who is trustworthy and who is not, leading to trial and error.

LinkedIn, however, is a more assertive place where to look for since it is a professional network.

Mindset is key for success

I'm an Outsourcerer. I'm a DNN Geek. I help people with their sites @ DeskPal. I'm a #Pomodoro practitioner. I'm a husband and a father of 2 beautiful girls.

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Aderson Oliveira
Aderson Oliveira