You can learn a lot from people who are doing what you want to do. That’s why I created the Behind the Scenes of a Virtual Assistant Business series. I hope these interviews inspire you to create your own successful VA business!
Today I’m interviewing Annie Dash from Dash Virtual Solutions. I first met Annie when she purchased my VA Contract Templates and filled out my feedback form. I knew I needed to interview her when I saw her beautiful website and heard that she recently started her VA biz and is already booked out till the end of the year!
A lot of aspiring VAs worry they can’t make money or wonder if they’ll snag any clients. I was booked out within 3 months, McKella (my awesome VA) was booked out in 5 months, and Annie was booked out in a couple of weeks! It’s totally doable!
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MY INTERVIEW WITH ANNIE DASH OF DASH VIRTUAL SOLUTIONS:
Q: How did you get started as a VA?
Quite honestly, it fell in my lap!
My husband and I were expecting my fourth baby, and I had made the decision to leave my full-time job as a librarian due to the difficult schedule and high cost of childcare.
I am also a photographer and had planned to work on that business full-time.
However, not long after I left my librarian job, one of my friends, who was in need of help with her work and having trouble finding an assistant, called and asked me if I would be her VA.
I said yes and am so glad that I did! I found that I LOVED the variety of work, flexible part-time schedule, and the enormous difference I have made in helping her business.
I decided to expand my VA business this past summer and have been blown away by the response — I’m booked up until the end of the year!
Q: What were you doing prior to becoming a VA?
My Master’s degree is in Library Science, and I spent 10 years as a librarian.
I worked supporting NASA for nearly eight years — for two of those years, I telecommuted full-time, which was a very handy experience as I transitioned into VA work. My bachelor’s degree is in Visual Arts and I also have had a photography business for almost 6 years, which I continue to pursue on the side.
I am passionate about business and I love being able to combine my creative, analytical, research, technical, and organizational skills to help business owners have more efficient businesses and better lives.
Q: We’d love to hear more about your niche. What do you specialize in?
Right now, I am supporting a healthcare consultant and a photographer, so that’s a bit of a variety!
I find that we rarely know exactly who our skills may best serve when we start — so as the advice goes, it’s best to start before we’re ready.
I’ve found that while I enjoy many aspects of both types of businesses, I flourish helping creative businesses — and in the future, I would like to further niche down to offer VA services specifically for photographers.
I found that it’s such an easy fit because I have so much knowledge and experience in that field with the photography work itself, the technologies and software involved, workflow, and business challenges involved with running a photography business.
I love the camaraderie I have with photographers and appreciate the impact I can make on their businesses and lives.
Q: How did you prepare to become a VA? Did you take any courses, read any books, use skills from another job, etc?
I love that ALL my skills are used in this work!
I have a very wide range of interests — in some ways, I get a little embarrassed to talk about it because they seem so scattered. I’ve learned that I’m a polymath, also called a multipotentialite, a Scanner, or a Renaissance Soul — I love learning and developing a wide range of different skills, and I’ve found that they’ve all been useful in my VA work.
From my formal education in photography, graphic design, and library science, to informal study with online business classes and my work experience — it’s all helped me.
Specifically, as I was forming my VA business, I checked out virtual assistant business books, such as The Bootstrap VA: The Go-Getter’s Guide to Becoming a Virtual Assistant, Getting and Keeping Clients, and More! And resources like the ones on this site, which offers easy-to-customize contracts with helpful policy guidelines on topics I hadn’t even thought of when I was drafting my business policies.
This site also provides useful blog posts to educate new VAs on issues that may arise — I highly recommend checking it out!
I found that the virtual assistant community is extremely friendly and welcoming and they are natural helpers — if you have questions, there are lots of VA Facebook groups out there — please don’t hesitate to get involved. (There’s also a very supportive group of introverted virtual assistants in the Introvert VA Club.)
Q: In your experience, what’s the best way to find clients? Where did you find yours?
I find that using your personal network is a GREAT place to start!
You can start by emailing your friends, family, and business colleagues, sharing on social media, and then expanding your network. As I mentioned, my first client was a friend of mine who knew all about my skills and work history. My second client was an acquaintance in a private photography group that I had gotten to know over several months.
I think getting great clients is really about forming personal connections with people.
You’ll want to be helpful — share what you know! This helps to establish trust and communicate the value you provide. And then let them know how you can help them and send an invitation to connect.
I think it’s best not to get too bogged down in finding your ideal client until you’ve had some experience to see what works best for you — then you can develop your brand, niche down, and connect with the people who can benefit the most from your skills.
Go where those people are most likely to be (maybe Facebook groups, local business association networking events, etc.), introduce yourself and show your value — you’ll be glad you did!
Q: How long did it take you to be fully booked out with clients?
It’s kind of a fluid timeframe because I was freelancing for almost a year before I decided to open my VA business. Once I officially established my business and started sharing that I was doing this work, it was only a short time before I was fully booked — maybe a couple of weeks.
Q: What’s your favorite thing about being a VA?
I shared a bit about this earlier, but I love being able to use so many of my skills to help people!
I truly enjoy the work I do, the flexible schedule, being able to be at home with my children, and being able to be present with my family when my workday is over.
I also appreciate that I can work from home and that I was able to start making money with it right away, with little overhead.
Q: What do you struggle with as a VA?
I can be a bit of a workaholic and perfectionist, honestly, so it takes some effort for me to end my workday and switch gears to family time.
Working from home can be a challenge in that way. I also have significantly less time for my own photography business, so I had to really analyze what I wanted from that work — in the end, I decided to scale back on my photography work and I’ve found that it’s been a good balance.
Q: What do you wish you knew or did when starting your VA business?
I truly wish I’d started this sooner!
Once I started to do this work last year, I got into analysis paralysis mode about whether or not to formally start a VA business and whether to grow my photography business or scale it back, so it took more time than it should have to make the decision to grow my VA business.
But, I found flexible, fulfilling work that allows me to be who I am and do work that I love, contribute to our family finances, AND gives me the opportunity to have time with my family and do my photography and hobbies as well.
I’m so grateful to have this work — it’s a dream come true!
Q: What’s your advice for someone who wants to be a VA?
Go for it! It’s a fantastic career path; you have absolutely nothing to lose.
Don’t worry about being perfect and waiting until you have this skill or that one — start where you are, right now! As your business grows, you can invest in continuing education to learn new skills
I recommend that you do some self-reflecting to see what you can offer other businesses — everyone has unique talents and skills, take a look and uncover yours. Then, offer that wholeheartedly and don’t be afraid to charge appropriately for it.
Remember, you bring so much value to this world and you can radically change your clients’ lives for the better doing this work!
It’s also really important to embrace open communication, strive for excellence, and show your value in your work every day. You will gain a reputation for outstanding work and your business will grow!
I do think that it’s important to eventually invest in high-quality photography, web design, and professional branding as your business grows — it adds a lot of polish and conveys a high level of professionalism, which are essential if you want to charge more.
Q: What tools or programs could you not live without?
I use G-Suite literally every single day — Gmail, Google Drive, Google Chat, and Google Hangouts for video calls. I also use Adobe Creative Cloud — especially Lightroom, Photoshop, InDesign, and sometimes Illustrator. I often use MS Excel as well.
Those interested in supporting photography and creative clients will want to look into Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software, such as 17Hats, Honeybook, Dubsado, and others.
Q: What’s your favorite trick for staying healthy as a VA?
I spent a lot of time studying self-care earlier this year and have come to believe that we must always have a full cup before we can give of ourselves to others.
I believe that having boundaries and creating a balanced life is super important, whenever possible. I love cooking (I have food allergies so cook from scratch most of the time), and believe that nutrition is one of the most important keys to well being.
I also find it’s important to seek meaningful relationships, embrace my spiritual life — for me that’s prayer, being actively part of my church parish, and seeking the beauty of art and nature, and incorporating physical activity into my life.
My husband and I have four little boys so we take inspiring nature walks as often as we can. I think having a grateful heart and appreciating the little joys in life is so important as well.
Q: What’s your favorite way to unwind?
I love spending time with my husband and our boys! I also really enjoy photography, drawing, and painting — especially colored pencils and watercolor!
Cooking, singing, reading, and spending time in nature are all favorite pastimes, too. My favorite TV shows are “The Golden Girls”, “The Great British Baking Show”, and the new show “Making It.” I have a lot of fun studying Myers-Briggs personality preferences as well.
Q: Where can we find you?
Thanks, Annie There’s so much great advice here for those wanting to get started as a virtual assistant!
For more information on how to start your own VA business, check out the Introvert VA Club for tutorials, templates, support, and more!