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


Aderson Oliveira: I've spoken with the passionate Susan Mershon about the fact that being a proactive professional is what makes the difference between an average virtual assistant or a superstar VA. She talked about the most common pitfalls that a professional goes through when starting a new VA business and how to overcome them. She also says that the employee mindset is one of the biggest challenges that new VAs need to overcome. Listen to her story in how she found her calling in life.

Hello, hello, Aderson Oliveira. This is another interview for the OuchSourcing Podcast where I talk to business owners, to specialists, to experts on the outsourcing space and everything that goes together around outsourcing. Today, I have the pleasure to be talking to Susan Mershon. She is the creator of The Techie Mentor, which is a company that specializes in virtual assistant training programs that teaches people how to become VAs, how to make more money out of that, how to get more clients, and Susan, welcome.

Susan Mershon: Thank you so much, Aderson. I'm so glad to be here. I'm excited.

Aderson: Very good to meet you, because I love talking to people about the VA space. I have done many interviews in the VA space, and I intend to be doing that quite a lot. Let me start by asking this, Susan. Have you been a VA before?

Susan: Yes. I actually started as a VA back in 2009. Short story for you. I am a former cube farm person. So, I was in corporate America for well over 20 years, and my husband and I were blessed with the very late in life unexpected baby. Having a child, this is my second child, unexpected, kind of changes things a little bit. So, I had a great three months off for maternity leave, not complaining. But, when I came back, I was not treated the same.

I come from the IT space, and as we know, IT is male-dominated, and when I came back, I wasn't given the same caliber of projects as a project manager, and I basically was put on the sidelines just to watch others do the projects that I used to do, and I couldn't get an answer as to why. What had changed? I had a baby. This is just my opinion. I think it was perceived that I wouldn't be available as much because I had a newborn at home, and we know they get sick and you got to call in.

To be honest, it pissed me off, and I thought, "I don't want to live like this. I don't want to have to make a choice between my family and my job," which a lot of women have to do because they have children. As we know, women are usually the primary caretaker when they're little. So, I thought, "You know what? I'm going to find something else to do," and I have no experience in being entrepreneur. I don't even have a college degree, I don't have any business training. I just had determination, and I was mad enough at the time to decide I have to do something else, and I'd really like to not have my son in daycare all the time. They actually had a nanny, but you know what I mean. He was always with somebody else.

I started to look for, "What can I do with my skill set at home?" Of course, I could have been a project management consultant for anybody, because I worked for American Express, I worked for Discover Card, but I didn't want to work for somebody else anymore. I wanted to be my own kingdom, so to speak. So, I fell upon the virtual assistant industry, and because it's task-related, guess what project managers do. We manage task and resources. So, I think, "I can do this," because this is my expertise.

I went back to work in the first part of August of 2009. By the end of August 2009, I started my VA business, so it took me a couple of weeks. That's kind of my story, and then I was a VA for four years, full-time.

Aderson: If I may ask, aside from it's task-oriented, what else did you bring from your past life to your new life that helped you out?

Susan: Well, my project management was a really big part of it because it's meeting deadlines, and it's learning how to schedule your time in your day, which for VAs, that's really what you need to do. You also need to be proactive versus reactive. You need to be able to see what's coming and anticipate that, and help your clients see that these things are going to come up versus waiting for them to give you marching orders, so to speak.

My project management gave me that, but so did my consulting. I was a consultant as a project manager for many years. I understood working one-on-one with clients because I worked as a consultant. So, to me, a VA was a combination of a business consultant or a technology consultant and somebody who does the work like -- now, a project manager doesn't normally do the work, but they manage the work, but I had done the work before. So, it was a combination of that.

Plus, my original expertise before I got into project management was software training. So, this will date me. I used to do instructor, line up, stand up in front of a room where everybody had their own PC. I teach DOS, and Lotus 1-2-3, and WordPerfect, and all the Microsoft Suites, I did Visual Basics. So, training was another thing that I kind of did. So, when I worked as a VA, I did consulting, but I also helped train my clients on, "Okay, you should know how to go into WordPress and update a plugin. I shouldn't have to do that for you. You should be self-sufficient so you're not left standing if something happens to me."

I think those different aspects really helped me step into the VA world, and I wasn't really even thinking about running a business. I was just trying to make some money and be able to leave my corporate and my cube farm behind, so to speak.

Aderson: Again, you mentioned that you didn't have any former experience with running a business, and you said you stumbled upon this, and you decided to give it a go. I know that it's a few years already, but just tell us briefly of how was that time back to you when the emotions, the excitement of going on your own, and maybe some butterflies in your stomach there running around as well. Tell a little bit about that phase.

Susan: Of course. As I mentioned, I started at the end of August 2009, and I didn't just start my business and then quit my corporate job. I had a big high-level corporate job. I don't want to say cushy, but it was pretty cushy. But, I realized that I needed to replace my income, and so for the first 14 months, I did dual. I had one foot in each camp. I was an employee, and I was also an entrepreneur. Plus, I was a mother and all those other things. It took 14 months for me to be able to get my business to a point where I could jump ship. During the time that I was doing both, it's very stressful, to be honest. I'm not one of those that's going to tell you, "Oh, it's beautiful and it's easy," because it's not. It's not easy. But, it can be done.

For me, I think the driving force for those 14 months while I was still working was I was just pissed off, and anger can be a great motivator. So, the anger was great, and then when I got to the point where I could leave and jump ship to become a full-time entrepreneur, then the butterflies kind of came to focus, because my anger was leaving, because I was like, "Woo-hoo, I'm getting out of this place."

Then, I thought to myself, "What am I doing? I don't know how to run a business. I don't have a college degree. I don't have a business degree. I've worked for somebody since I was 17. What am I doing? But, my husband, who had been an entrepreneur earlier in his life said, "Susan, you already have a business. You've been running a business. Even though you've been too pissed off to notice, you have a business that's making money and it's working. Now, you can fully focus on it. Imagine what you can do with that." He was a godsend for helping me realize what I had built, because through that lens of anger, I couldn't see it. I was just trying to escape the cube farm to be able to live a life where I wasn't relying on others for my livelihood, for what I'm worth, and what I can do, and all those things.

Aderson: You started as a VA, and you moved on. At this point, you are no longer a VA. What came to mind that said, "Hey, you know what? Maybe I can go beyond and above just providing to my clients, and I can actually provide training to other VAs." Why that leap? Because, you could say, "You know what? I'm just going to be a VA, serve my clients well, make more money, serve more clients, and maybe have some other VAs working with me." But, why the flip to training?

Susan: Great question. I actually did, at one time, have a team. So, I did get to that point. But, really, what it was was I'm a big believer in the signs from the universe, and I would have people, every day in my inbox, I would have someone saying, "Susan, can you help me? I want to leave my job. I want to be a VA like you. I have a corporate background. How do I do what you did?" and then people would say, "Well, how do you know Infusionsoft, and how do you know 1ShoppingCart, how do you know WordPress?" I'm all self-taught because I used to teach software for a living. So, technology's easy for me because I have a basic understanding.

This kept coming, and it would get more and more. I mean, I'd get more every day, I'd get people asking me things, and my true love, really, was training. Even when I was a project manager, I still ended up, somehow, in doing training. They're like, "We need some project management training." It's really my core love, and as I say, I listen to the signs from the universe, and I think it was just saying, "Okay, you now need to take that knowledge that you've gained and helped others get what you have." So, that's kind of what happened.

My original business was called Clever Collaborations. That was my VA business, and I launched The Techie Mentor in 2013 because I figured I don't want to do it as a VA. I want to do it as a different brand, and so that's where the Techie Mentor was born. Originally, my driving force was to teach technology because there was such a need for that in the space because everybody needs technology and so many people are coming out of corporate with administrative skills, which I'm not saying those aren't needed because they are. But, if you need to make a living, you're going to need to have higher skills. So, that's where the technology piece came in.

But, over time, it's kind of morphed into both the technology side because, "Great, I have these skills, but now what do I do with them? How do I get clients, and then how do I run my business?" So, that's kind of the transition, if you will. I still do consulting. I do project management consulting, but I don't work as a VA anymore, but I still understand what goes on just because of my clients because I do do some coaching with them as well. That's really where my heart lies is in the VA space, because I've lived it. I know what it's like, and there's just so many people that want to leave the corporate world behind to do something, and they have a skill set that they can use to get them started.

Aderson: What is the main barrier, Susan, or maybe it's a mindset that you need to break on those wannabe VAs so they can get things going? What is the one blockage that you have to work with them to get through that first what? What is that?

Susan: There's actually two. That's a great question. One is you have to stop thinking like an employee, and that is ingrained. Like I said, I was an employee for over 20 years, so everything I did, I did through an employee lens, but I'm not an employee anymore. I'm a business owner, and so I'm not only the doer. I'm also the boss, I'm also the manager, I'm also the CEO, and you have to think differently. You have to have a different mindset. So, working from employee to entrepreneur, that mindset shift that has to take place.

But, I think one of the bigger ones too is just the people are like, "Well, I don't know what I'm doing," but you can learn anything. You can learn absolutely anything. You just have to have the open-mindedness to do it. I think that's what scares a lot of people. Obviously, this is dating me. The younger generation has no problem moving away, but my generation are like, "I'm middle aged. What do you mean? I'm not going to leave my job." So, that's another mindset shift that they have to make.

I think it's the employee to entrepreneur, but I think it's just having the open-mindedness that they can do it and they can learn what they need to get it done.

Aderson: Let's, again, look at the wannabe VA or wannabe business owner that wants to provide VA service to their clients. What are some of the trades that you see that are required for them to have, upfront, "You know what? I will vet you right away if you don't know --" It's not about knowing it, but it's about having those traits. What are some of those traits that are required, Susan?

Susan: In my opinion, some of the traits that are required, you need to be detailed. Because, the more clients you get, the more tasks you get, which means the more deadlines you have, and you have to meet those deadlines, because that's your reputation. That's what you're doing. So, you have to be able to juggle multiple things.

The other thing that I think that you'd need to be is communicative. You have to be able to communicate whether it's verbally, whether it's written, and you have to, almost to some point, be a leader, because a lot of your clients need somebody to help them. They look at VAs, a lot of times, as the expert in their space. So, they'll hire a VA, and then they're both kind of like, "What do we do now?" So, they're looking to the VA to help them get where they need to go, because that's why they hired them. They hired them to help them implement Infusionsoft, or they hired them to help them create a sales funnel, or launch a product. Those are higher-end, but you get the idea. They're looking for the VA to kind of help them get where they need to go.

In my VA days, I wanted to work as a consultant, so I wanted partners. I didn't just want one-offs. I didn't want somebody that's just going to hire me to do one thing. So, I was blessed that my very first client was actually my very last client. She stuck with me for four years, and it was wonderful, and most of my clients were with me for the long haul, and I think it's because they looked at me as an asset to their business, not just a doer or a task worker because I brought more to the table.

Kind of a long-winded answer, but detailed, communicative, and be willing to take the reins when your client doesn't know what to do, and help them get where they want to go, because that's what they need you for, because their brilliance is coaching, or training, or whatever it might be, and whatever your brilliance is is what they need you to do for them so their business will grow. Does that make sense?

Aderson: It does, and that brings me to another point here. You mentioned before being proactive, proactive as a VA, proactive as a business owner. But, again, our focus here is proactive as a virtual assistant. Sometimes, not always, and I happened to work with many VAs in the past, actually. I'm going through my first VA experience right now. I do a lot of outsourcing, but my first VA experience has been going on right now. Maybe it's the person or maybe it's just an impression that I have, a false impression, a false belief, but I have a belief or impression that, usually, VAs, they sit and wait for you to provide them, "Okay, do this now, do this now, and here are these steps, and now you execute this, and here are these steps." How do you break the mindset of someone to become proactive instead of just sitting passively, waiting for you to give them instructions?

Susan: Great question, and that's something that I try to instill in VAs that ask for my opinions is either you think like -- and again, I don't mean any offense by what I'm going to say, but administrative assistants, executive assistants, they always wait for their boss to tell them what to do. They always wait for direction. From my experience, and I worked in corporate offices with the CEO, and I would see how things would work. They would always be given instructions on what to do. As a project manager, it's my job to be proactive, to find the holes, to find the problems. So, I was proactive just based on my job, my past years of being a project manager, but I think that it has to do with the employee to entrepreneur. If you remember, it's a big mindset shift to not be told what to do anymore.

See, I'm the type of person I don't like to be told what to do. So, I never made a good assistant. I always liked to be part of a team and say, "Here's what I think we should do." Anyway, kind of getting off-topic. I think the most important thing is to look at the mindset shift from employee to entrepreneur, and realize that maybe you come from a job that you were always told what to do, and you were instructed not to do anything until you were told what to do. So, it's a habit that's been formed in you that you feel like you have to wait for instructions.

As a VA, if you truly want to be helpful to your client, you have to think like a consultant. For me, it's the difference between an assistance versus a consultant. Assistant, you tell what to do, a consultant, they help you see what you need to do. They're more proactive. They're going to come in and look at things, and go, "Okay, based on my experience, this is what you need to do, this is where we need to go," and if they see a problem, they fix it, and they may not even tell you they fixed it. They just fixed it and then they moved on. To me, it's really a mindset difference between being an assistant versus being a consultant.

Also, if you look at the different pay rates that are paid an admin versus a consultant, they are very different. It's not so much that an assistant has a different skill set than a consultant. It's the way they approach the job. It's the way they approach the relationship. Instead of waiting to be told what to do, a consultant's going to take the reins and say, "Here's what I think we need to do." They're not just going to kind of run off and do things. They're going to consult their clients, but they're going to come to them, and say, "Hey, look, here's what I see, here's what I think we can do."

Aderson, that's what builds relationships, that's what builds trust. That's what builds longstanding relationships with clients. That's why my client, my first one was my last one, because of that relationship that I built. I wasn't just a VA. I was actually part of her team.

Aderson: Okay, so Susan, do you think that that's what makes the difference between an average, or even mediocre VA as compared to a great VA that's -- I mean, given that, let's say, they have the same skill set, is the proactive approach what differentiates one bunch to the other one?

Susan: Yes. I wholly agree, and I'm basing that on my experience as a VA. So, that's not just something I read in a book or read in a post. That's experience-based, because I actually had -- I had a team at the time, and it was frustrating for me because they were all waiting for me to tell them what to do, but I'm like, "No, no, no. I need you to help me. I am the client now, and I actually have VAs myself, and one of the things that I look for is I want someone who's not." I have a strong personality, obviously, so I need somebody that's not afraid to come in and say, "Susan, you shouldn't do that," and I go, "Okay, I want to understand why. I need somebody who is proactive."

I really think, and now I'm talking as a business owner, not a VA. I'm talking as a business owner. I appreciate the proactiveness that they give me, because as a business owner, and you know this, Aderson, you get so busy and bogged down into things that things fall through the cracks, and if you don't have somebody watching your back, then stuff happens, and my VAs will come and say, "Well, Susan, why are you doing this? I should be doing this for you, or did you think about doing this?" and they bring a different perspective to my world, if you will.

Kind of a long-winded answer, but I think you hit the nail on the head there. The difference between an average VA and an exceptional VA is one is reactive, or waiting versus the other one who's proactive and more in a collaborative relationship with their clients.

Aderson: Now, can you teach someone to be proactive, or someone is or is not. What do you say for that?

Susan: That's a great question. I think it's a gray area, let's put it that way, because in order to be proactive, you have to be comfortable enough to speak up. But, what I found in my experience is, yes, you can teach people to move from being reactive to proactive because it's based on their employee mentality. Because of years of being, "Okay, here's what you need to do, and you have to wait for me to tell you," and in my experience working with VAs is that some of them were reprimanded when they tried to be proactive, and their boss said, "Uh-uh, you're not doing that." That stuff stays with you even when you become a business owner because you were scolded and reprimanded for doing something that, maybe, you thought was helpful. So, you have to get through all those mindset shifts.

The long answer is yes, you can teach people to be proactive, but you have to look at the circumstances that's keeping them from doing that, and most of the time, it's mindset because of their past employment.

Aderson: With the VA initiatives I'm taking right now, I keep telling them, "Tell me that I'm wrong. Tell me that this does make sense. I want you to feel comfortable confronting me to say that, 'Hey Aderson, we could do it this way or that way.'" I keep telling them, "My way is not necessarily the best way or the right way. There are thousands of different ways to do the same thing. If you have a better approach, please, by all means, come forward and share that with me." I've been trying to instigate that more and more on the people that work with me. Not only VAs, but people in general, because that's a very important trait that is not very common, to be honest.

Susan: You're right, and I think a lot of it is because people have been silenced because of employment. I'm talking women, because we know women are mostly in the administrative space, and a lot of people who are coming into the VA industry are from that administrative space, and those are ones that are told what to do. Their bosses tell them what to do, and they want them to do things a specific way. So, if they try to move out of that space, they get pushed back in, and so it's just a repetition, and it's just a habit. So, now they're afraid. Even though they're not going to get fired, you could fire them, but it's not the end of the world. It's not like fired from a job. They're afraid to move from one spot to another.

One of the things that I do is I help people with their mindset because that was my biggest problem, and I had no clue that was my problem. I figured it out trial and error after I kept beating my head against the wall trying to do the same thing over and over again.

I have seen VAs that work with clients that the client's trying to say, "Come on, it's okay. You can talk to me. I'm okay. I'm not going to fire you." But, they're so up here, they're so afraid up here that the fear is paralyzing them to be able to bridge that gap. My advice to them is you've got to do some mindset work. You have to because you're never going to get past that fear, and get to where you want to be in your business or financially until you get through those fears.

It's amazing, the baggage that comes with you when you start a business, and it's such a self-development journey, too, to realize, "Wow, I really think that?" or, "Wow, I didn't realize I pulled that from all those years of being an employee." Sorry, long-winded answer.

Aderson: No worries. I love that. Again, we have a checkbox there. Proactive, it's a must. Now, let's talk a little bit, Susan, about pitfalls. I'd like to get your perspective on what are some of the common pitfalls that a new VA faces on their -- you know, start dealing with a client, or dealing with their businesses, or with their newfound calling. Talk to me about the pitfalls.

Susan: This is where I can get on my soapbox, so you'll have to pop me off if I get going too much, and this is just based on what I see. First of all, I have people in the online space come to me all the time because they know I train VAs. They always are asking me, "I need a VA. Can you recommend somebody?" My point to that was I see it from both sides. I see it from the VA side, but I see it from the client side too, because I still talk to clients who are looking for VAs.

The biggest thing is that somebody decides they want to be a VA, and for some reason, they seem to think it's a simple thing. They seem to think that they can just slap VA on their name, and then they open their business, and the clients will come flooding in. That's one.

Two is the VA industry, because it's growing by leaps and bounds, we get people in that will do anything for a dollar. So, people are like, "Well, how do I compete with somebody who's charging $2 an hour versus $50 an hour." That's the other thing. So, they price themselves too low. They make the mistake of not knowing, one, when you become the VA, you're working hourly. You're not salary. And two, you're like a consultant. You're billable hours. Most people who've worked salary have no idea what billable hours are. Again, I was a consultant. I understand what billable hours are. So, this is why the transition was easier for me because it was similar to what I'd already done.

One would be thinking it's easy and the clients just show up like that because they do. Two, the other thing is they price themselves incorrectly, so they can't really make a living. They don't know how much they need to earn, how many hours they need to bill, plus how much do they want to earn. Then, three is they jump ship before they should.

Aderson: They give up?

Susan: I'm sorry, what?

Aderson: I thought that they would be giving up. No, they quit their jobs.

Susan: Yeah, there you go. They quit their job before they really understand what they're doing. The biggest thing that I see, Aderson, that drives me crazy, crazy, crazy, is that someone will go and get a client, and then they post in a Facebook group, "What do I do now? How do I price this?" and I'm thinking to myself, "Are you kidding me?" I have clients in my Facebook group. How do you know that the client that just hired you isn't in there and sees what you just posted? That's not how you run a business. Like I said, I get real passionate about this.

They don't have the business foundation in place before they take on a client, so then they don't have a contract, so there's no protection for both parties. They don't even know what they're doing. They say they're going to be a social media person, and they have a friend who wants to hire him as a social media person, so they hire him, and now they expect us to tell him what to do. That's not how a successful business is run, and because in this industry, it's your reputation, do you really want to start that way? That's a really big one is that I think it's because people think it's easy that that's what they do. They just go, "I'm a VA," and then they get a client, and then they're like, "Oh my god, now what do I do?" Not a way to run a business.

Another thing is that we all bring skills from the workforce that people can use, but if you want to truly earn a good living as a VA, you have to learn technology, because that's what clients need help with. They don't necessarily need someone to answer their phone, they don't necessarily need somebody to do your email, but they need help with all the different technology pieces that run their businesses, and there are so many of those. This was the reason I became a techie mentor is because I saw that gap. You should know WordPress as a VA. Every VA should know WordPress because every client has a WordPress website. It's an easy skill to start with.

For me, the biggest pitfalls, as I said, is jumping ship before you're ready because you didn't price yourself right, you may not have the skills that clients are looking for, and the biggest one is not having the foundation of your business put together, like having contracts, knowing how much you need to earn, having a way to keep track of all the tasks and deadlines that your clients are going to give you. All of those things are not put into place. They go and get a client, and then they expect somebody to help them do the job that they were hired to do.

The thing that really just irks me is they want you to do it for free. They want you to give you their knowledge so they can do a job that a client is paying them for, but they're not willing to help. You know what I mean? They're not willing to invest. That is very aggravating, because as a business owner, I'm thinking, "Really?" But, even as an employee, is that how you would do a job? Then, that makes you wonder, I hate to say it, but is that just their modus operandi? Is that how they operate? Because, you don't know.

To me, those are the really big pitfalls that I see over and over again, and I think it has to do with the fact that the VA industry is like, "Oh yeah, you can be a VA; anybody can be a VA." It's not that way. There's so much more to it than meets the eye.

Aderson: Susan, let me ask you that. I'm going to put a naive perspective here, maybe a naive question, or naive point is can I really expect someone that is new to business that should know all of that before they dip their toes? Because, I compared that to the baby that needs to crawl first, and then they will be able to walk, and then they will be able to run. Sometimes, and I have that same question for other areas of professionalism, aren't we wanting them to walk before they crawl? Aren't we trying to do that? Is it really possible to burn some of those lessons learned the hard way? Tell me.

Susan: You have to realize that I'm a very detailed person, and I'm a research junkie. So, before I make a decision to do anything, I research. Just like before I became a VA, I researched. I just didn't decide I was going to find something to do. I did the research. So, you also have to realize this is through my lens and my perception. And it's not right or wrong. It's just Susan's opinion, okay?

But, I think, as a business owner, somebody who is going to be living off their reputation, I don't think it's right to hire a client when you don't know what you're doing. I don't think it's right to be hired for an expertise that you don't have. I think that's dishonest, and I think it's unethical. So, that was that point to where someone's hired and they want someone to help you. But, yes, I think there are things that you have to learn from experience in that --

Sorry, let me back up. The thing I just said, to me, I think that's unacceptable. I don't think it has anything to do with evolution. I just think it has to be like you go to get a job, and you say you have expertise, you don't, and then you get hired, what do you do? It's the same thing. That's that piece. But, for the other pieces, yeah, I think that just having the bare-bones, having a contract. I think that's important, and that's protection for both parties if something goes wrong.

I think there are simple foundational things that can happen in the business. Like, they need to know how much they need to bill, and there are simple things that they could do. If they were to research, I know there's tons of stuff on VAs out there. I know there is. But, you can do things like billable hours so they can kind of get an idea of how much they need to bill.

I like your question, I like your thought about are we trying to put the cart before the horse, so to speak. Yes, in some ways, I think that they're going to have to step out and learn, but I think there are some specifics that should be in place before they step out and learn on a client's dime. Does that make sense?

Aderson: It does, and that leads me to another point here that I would like to make. One of the ways that we learn, Susan, is by our mistakes, by somebody else's mistakes, and I would like you to share either something that you went through with a client, maybe a past client on your time that you were a VA, maybe with one of your coaching clients as a VA mentor, a situation that you came across, the lessons that you have learned from that situation, and how the situation ended up solving itself. Can you share one of those things with us?

Susan: I'll do one from my VA business. I'm not saying I'm an expert or anything. When I started, I knew nothing. I knew nothing about anything. I was just determined and pissed off enough to make it happen. So, I knew nothing about marketing. I was lucky enough to get my first client through an RFP system, which is the request for proposal system, and because her and I did so well, she referred clients to me. So, I was very blessed, and I am very grateful for that.

I really didn't understand marketing, and so my point is that, over time, I wanted to earn more money, so I wanted to take on more clients, and since I didn't understand marketing, I was willing to take anybody that had a problem and a wallet. So, anybody who had something that I could solve and they could pay me for it, and not knowing that's really not the way it works.

On the surface, if you need to keep the lights on, I understand that. But, as you're trying to build a business, you want to work with people that you enjoy working with, and I know that we could probably all stop and think about someone, maybe, we've worked with in a previous job that they're not bad people. It's just like two magnets that don't line up. They're like this. It's just not a good match.

My point is that I would interview clients, and the hair on the back of my neck would stand up. That's a sign, but I would still sign them and work with them, and then I created a monster, basically, because it wasn't a good fit, but yet we signed a contract to do something for 90 days. So, the lesson behind that is you need to realize that you don't have to take everybody that rings your doorbell. It's okay to say no, I think, is the lesson here. As an employee, you're taught to say yes to everything they throw on your desk. Otherwise, there's repercussions: you get fired, you get written up. As a business owner, you can say no, and it's so empowering when you do that.

That situation, we got through the 90 days, it was not pretty, and we got the job done, but it's like I was from Mars and he was from Venus. We just couldn't communicate. We had to have a third party, and it was awful. It's kind of like when you see an email from this person or the phone rings, you're like, "Ahh." You're just deflated. But, that's not good for them and that's not good for you. My long-winded point is say no to things that you know, in your heart, are not right for you, because there's something right behind that that's better, and you have to trust that. Because, otherwise, you're going to regret it, and hopefully, you won't do it more than once.

Aderson: Makes sense, makes a lot of sense. To be honest, as long as the contract is over, nothing wrong with firing the client. I'm a big fan of firing clients, you know. I have no problem.

Susan: Especially if they don't work, yeah. Same thing for you, Aderson, if your VA doesn't work, it's the same thing. It's relationship-based. That's what I try to tell everybody. This is not you're selling them a widget or a can of Coke. It's a relationship. You work together on either a daily or a weekly basis, and if you guys don't get along, why are you still together? And I'm not saying that either party's bad. It's just not a good mix. You guys are different, and it's just not working, so do yourself a favor and part ways professionally, and move onto something better for both of you.

Aderson: Makes sense. There will be another client, and another assistant, another VA that is right for you right around the corner. That's great. That makes a lot of sense. Let's move on from the human side to the techie side now. Let me ask you about your tool belt. What do you have in your tool belt for communication, for project management, and even going beyond your personal tool belt? But, what are some of the tools that you teach to your VA students?

Susan: For me, I use Teamwork. It is a task management system. It's actually one that I've used since I started my business, and the reason it works for me is because it's very similar to Microsoft Project, which is what I use to teach. The thing with task management systems, first of all, all VAs should have one because you're doing tasks, and you have deadlines, and Excel spreadsheets don't work well enough.

So, having a task management is key, and the best advice I can give you is find one that works for you because they're all different and they all do the same thing. Just because I say Teamwork doesn't mean you need Teamwork. You have to try it on to see if it fits. So, Teamwork is big. For me, I have the usual stuff. I have Dropbox for my sharing of files. It integrates really well with Teamwork. I also have WordPress. I have a WordPress website. I love WordPress. I've had it for years.

Some of the other tools I use, I use something that's similar to Infusionsoft, also known as "Confusionsoft". It's called Simplero, and it's an easier tool, but it has a lot of the same power that Infusionsoft. So, it does my email marketing, it does my ecommerce, which is my shopping cart piece, it does affiliates. It does all of that. And the nice thing about it, Aderson, is it also has a membership space, so it also houses my training. It houses my training, my videos, all of my courseware information, and it actually allows people to mark it complete. So, it's a really great tool for that. I'm really big on all-in-ones, because there's nothing worse than having four different tools that kind of all do the same thing, which is common. As a VA, I noticed that I'd have a client that had AWeber and Infusionsoft, and I'm like, "What?" but they didn't know that.

Those are kind of my big tools. I use GoToWebinar for live webinars, and then I use Camtasia, which records all of my videos, my training videos, and those type of things. That's my kind of day-to-day stuff. I use Skype to communicate with my team. I don't really like talking on my phone just from years of being a PM, because I was always on the phone. So, I like to do chats. That's kind of my business, and it's morphed over time into that.

As to what I teach, and I'm kind of going through a rebrand right now, so I'm kind of revamping my courses, but WordPress is a big one. I teach that just how to build it, but also how to offer it as a service because it's different. The difference with my training, Aderson than others is I come at it as a consultant, not just as a VA. So, there are different things that you need to understand, and also as a project.

It's kind of a combination of VA, trainer, project manager, consultant. In my training, I do my projects. I give them lots of forms and all those kind of things. So, WordPress, Infusionsoft, ConvertKit, MailChimp. I am going to start adding some of the bigger ones like ActiveCampaign, I'm going to look into click funnels. I'm kind of doing a shift in my business right now, because as you know, Aderson, technology changes every day, so I have to keep revamping that. But, those are the real big skills.

On the business side, I will teach the things that go with that. For instance, if somebody wants you to do their ConvertKit, and you don't understand email marketing, you've got a hole in your knowledge. It's one thing to know the tool, but you have to understand why. Why am I using the tool? Otherwise, it doesn't make sense. In other words, you can't be as helpful to your clients because they may not understand email marketing. So, kind of filling in that gap.

Aderson: Again, all links mentioned by Susan will be posted in the show notes. So, everything will be right there. Susan, I want to navigate to a question here, but I don't want to overextend on that question. I just want your succinct opinion on the different platforms out there that also offer VA type of professionals. I'm talking about platforms like, and those are different ones, but platforms like Zirtual, or like Upwork. What's your take on the different platforms? Do you have one that you like? Do you have a preferred one out there that you'd recommend? Tell me a little bit about that.

Susan: For me, Zirtual, I believe, hires employees. So, theirs are a little more structured than, let's say, an Upwork or a Fiverr, or any of those types of things. Zirtual's great if you're looking for a very solid structure. Because, as you know, if you hire an employee, you can really structure what they do, how they do it, when they do it, the tools they use, all of those things. So, if you were looking for that type of structure, that's a great one.

For me, and this is my VA hat, is when VAs come to me and say, "I'm looking for clients," but they're looking on places like Fiverr and those. Here's my analogy, and you may not like this, but here it goes, is that to me, Fiverr and those places are like eBay for people. They're a bidding site. They are looking for, a lot of times, the least expensive resource. Trust me, I get it. If you're really looking for a logo, or maybe a banner, or maybe just something, but if you're looking for collaborative partners, it's much more difficult to find them on sites like that. They're there. It just takes so much of the VA's time and energy to find them. So, I always recommend other avenues.

LinkedIn is a huge resource for both VAs and people looking for VAs. It's a professional network. It's not like Facebook, or Instagram, or Pinterest. It's basically a networking site for business professionals. When I teach, I don't push those bidding sites, only because I feel it takes so much of your time and energy to find that client. Now, you can use them, but my recommendation would be to go to LinkedIn. Create a lead magnet and then actually use that as your service. Say, "If you want to know a little bit about me, go and download this free resource on how to use Infusionsoft or whatever your expertise is," or blog, or local networks.

There's so many different ways that VAs can find clients outside of that network just because, let's be honest, it's cutthroat, it's bidding, and there are people on there that are charging $2 an hour, and if you're charging $50, and the client's only looking for a one-off, they only want a logo, what do you think they're going to do?

That's kind of my concept, if you will. Those were not ones that I used. I started my business through an RFP and LinkedIn. That's how I built my business when I first started.

Aderson: Awesome. That's a great perspective. Again, LinkedIn, we cannot deny the power of LinkedIn, and even there are so many virtual assistant related groups on LinkedIn as well, isn't it? You were part of one of those.

Susan: I actually have my own group that has, I think, 35,000 members in it.

Aderson: I would like to put the link to that as well. Susan, we are coming towards the end here. Before I let you go and before you plug your site and your services, is there anything that we haven't discussed that you find it's important for people to keep that in mind as well? Anything else that we haven't discussed that you find it's important to keep in mind?

Susan: I would say that your mindset is key in everything that you do, and you have to look at it -- because, you can learn all the techie stuff, and you can learn how to build the business. But, I think the biggest thing that I learned from my experience is how much our mind can hold you back, how much the beliefs that, maybe, you don't even know that you have can keep you from being successful.

The one other thing I'll say, Aderson, is stay in your own lane. Don't worry about what other people are doing. Worry about yourself and your journey. Don't go looking at what Sheila's doing or Sandy's doing. Worry about you and yourself, because if you start comparing yourself to others, that is so hard on yourself, and that, again, is a mindset thing, and I think that's a big thing for people is they start looking at what everybody else is doing, and they may be saying, "Oh my god, I made $1,000 in a day." You don't know their whole story, and you can't believe everything you read. So, stay in your own lane, and realize it's a journey. It doesn't happen overnight. You have to do -- my favorite phrase is "action, not perfection". Take steps every day even if they're small. And I'm a recovered perfectionist, so I know what it's like if things aren't good enough.

Aderson: Let me just dig one second more in one point that you mentioned there. You said "belief". Can you tell me a belief that you broke from one of your most recent clients, of your VAs, what was one of those beliefs?

Susan: Actually, the belief was more in my mind about my worth and, "Who am I to be wealthy? Who am I to be really successful?" So, it wasn't really around clients; it was more around who am I to say that I deserve to be wealthy? It was a really strange belief I didn't know I had that I kept smacking up against a ceiling, and I couldn't figure out why I couldn't go any further. As you grow through your business, you keep running into new things because you keep changing and you keep going.

For me, I think that was a big thing, and the other thing I'll say, if I can real quick, is that women seem to have more money issues than men, and if you have issues with money, you're going to have issues in your business because you are trying to make money through your services, and if you're uncomfortable talking about money, or looking at money, you're going to have issues, and that was one of my big problems when I started my business because my husband did it. He had all the finances. I just turned it all over to him, and then when I started my business, I didn't have a relationship with money, and that was difficult. I had to become comfortable with money, and I know a lot of women aren't, and that can really hold you back as well.

Aderson: Perfect, awesome. Love that, Susan. Again, thank you very much.

Susan: You're welcome.

Aderson: Before I let you go, I just wanted you to have the chance to plug your site, to plug your services, to plug how people can reach out to you to get more information or to ask a question that we haven't addressed here. How can people reach out to you?

Susan: I just wanted to say thank you again, Aderson. This has been great. I appreciate the opportunity, and to find out more about me, you can find me at, and it will have, on there, all of my products and services. I do mostly online teaching, online courses, and I teach both technology and the business side of things, and I teach not only newbies who are just coming out, but also experienced VAs who want to earn more money, who want to add additional revenue streams, like build a team, or do something more like project management, help people with product launches, and those types of things.

All of that is on my website at There's also a way to get in touch with me. There's a contact form. I'll be happy to talk to anybody, and just reach out to me. I'll be happy to talk.

Aderson: Perfect. Susan, again, thank you very much for your time, your willingness to share your experience, and to share the passion that I can see that you have to help people, to help new VAs to find their calling like you've found yours. So, it's very inspiring to hear your story, and I hope that you can follow up at some point in the future, and thank you very much for being here. Bye.

Susan: You're welcome, and I would love to follow up with you. Thank you again. I certainly appreciate it.

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