When I first started working from home, I did a variety of odd jobs. No one used the term “virtual assistant” at the time, but looking back that's pretty much what I was — a new virtual assistant. And while I tried to stick with web development and website-related tasks, I did a little bit of everything. Including making mistakes. Mistakes that, after looking back, weren't all that hard to avoid.
In all honesty, they were small mistakes. Kind of. The kind of mistakes that are easy to miss, but could be costly. And to this day, I will never know exactly how much revenue I might have lost because of them.
So, if you're a new virtual assistant looking to start your career off on the right foot, here are the mistakes I made and hope you will avoid.
1. Stop Thinking Like an Employee, and Start Thinking Like a Boss
Business owner, more like it.
This had to be the hardest mindset shift for me. Prior to working from home, I had already been working for other people for years. Restaurants, banks, radio stations, administrative work. Even when I was the boss, I still had another boss over me.
I was used to it.
And when I first started working from home, I treated my clients as though they were the boss.
But let me tell you something, your client is not your boss.
You started your company. You are in control.
You control your hours, your availability, and your workload. You control your income and your to-do list.
See, the danger with thinking of your client as the boss is that it's much harder to tell them “no.” No, I won't respond to your email at two in the morning. No, I can't rearrange my entire day to cater to your lack of planning.
No is a very powerful word, and it's yours.
In fact, I was so scared of losing a client, I took on extra work — and did it for next to nothing. Many of the tasks I was doing I easily could have, and should have been charging double — even triple — for. But I didn't. I was worried they would “fire” me.
And that's when I got paid at all!! I can't even count how many hours I worked that went unpaid because I heard an email notification come in during the night and I had to check it because my client needed me.
Who needs their virtual assistant at one in the morning? Answer: nobody.
And why was I so worried about them firing me? They weren't paying me anyway!!
But this was the mindset still embedded from years of having a boss. And it's a mindset trap I see a lot of new virtual assistants make. Jumping from having a boss to being the boss is a very hard jump to make, especially if no one gives you any warning.
So, consider this your warning.
- You are not being hired as an employee — you are starting a business as a virtual assistant. It is up to you (not your client) to keep that business running.
- You set your own hours, and tell your client when you are available.
- You set your own fees, and tell your client what to pay you.
2. Accepting a New Client without an Interview
Well, technically, when I first started, I forgot to interview my clients at all. I was so excited about the prospect of working for them, I didn't bother asking them any questions. I just gave them all the answers they needed to hear and then let them know I could start when they needed me to.
When you are running your own business as a virtual assistant, you need to remember that the interview process is a two way street. They are trying to determine whether or not you have the skills required to do the job, you are trying to figure out if you even want the job.
Here are a few key things to listen for during the interview:
- Are they clear about the job description and what they need you to do? In my experience, clients who are not clear up front have a tendency to toss in a lot of extra tasks that weren't necessarily in my wheelhouse. Additionally, if they don't know what they want you to do, there is a chance they don't know what they need at all.
- Do they understand and accept your hours and terms of your pay? Or are they trying to establish control over that by telling you what they're expecting and willing to pay? Remember, they are not your boss, they are your client — which is basically like a customer. They are paying you to provide a service. You wouldn't walk into a cell phone carrier and tell them what you're willing to pay, right? Don't let your clients do that to you.
- Do they understand and accept the services you provide, and your terms for expanding those services should they require something new in the future? It's unrealistic to assume that the duties they ask you to perform on day one will be the same after two years — as their needs change your duties will change. But don't get sucked into working for free. Make sure you have a policy in place that allows for a renegotiation of your contract as needed.
3. Allowing my Business and Personal Tools to Mix
I don't think anyone really ever looks forward to tax time. Except maybe good accountants (I guess for them, it must be like a whole new holiday — here comes everyone to pay you to tell them how much to pay the government!!). But making the switch from working for someone else to working from home?
Tax time. Nightmare.
I had no idea what I was doing.
I couldn't put together a profit-loss statement to save my life. I had no idea how much money I had spent on my business, what to claim, what not to claim. Could I count my phone as a business phone? Or Internet?
What I did know what I had filled out countless tax forms for clients using my personal tax ID (my social security number) instead of applying for an employer identification number (EIN). So my taxes and my business's taxes were all intermingled.
As were my finances, since I used the same bank account for both. Even my emails were a nightmare to go through because they were all mixed up.
Not only that, but it also meant that trying to check on something personal would suck me into the business. It got to the point where I would just stop checking my email to avoid getting sucked in.
And the process of trying to go back and separate everything after the fact was just as much of a nightmare.
Now, it's not a requirement to go out and get an EIN, or set up a separate bank account, or even set up a separate email account. But if you're a new virtual assistant and you're hoping to grow your business, take on new clients, and build a career, the earlier you get these things set up for yourself the better.
Not bad, right?
Like I said, none of these mistakes were huge. They were all costly, but only after the fact. And they were all small enough that they were easily missed. But, once I could see them, I definitely wished I had learned my lesson earlier or avoided them all together.
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