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 Kim Cowan of Sunshine Executive Virtual Assistant Services.
I’m in awe of Kim’s VA journey. When the pandemic hurt her holistic health coaching biz, she dusted herself off, took the skills she learned from her admin assistant jobs and coaching biz, and started helping clients.
She’s semi-retired, living on the road in an RV with her love, and doing work she enjoys. Not many people can say that the ocean is sometimes their Zoom background!
Learn more about her story, how she found her first clients, and what she struggles with below.
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MY INTERVIEW WITH KIM COWAN OF SUNSHINE EXECUTIVE VIRTUAL ASSISTANT SERVICES
Q: Why did you decide to become a VA?
I have been an executive assistant, office manager, administrative support, project manager, department manager – you have a title, and I’ve been called it – for 30 plus years. No matter the job title, I was performing some admin assistant function all the while. My last job in a “traditional” physical office location was as an office manager for a design-build firm, and I met the love of my life.
I know that probably sounds corny, but it’s the truth. So, four years ago, my love “retired” me from my office job, and we became full-time gypsies. Seriously, we travel for my husband’s job, and we are one of those full-time RV couples.
We move primarily all over the southeastern United States and change locations approximately every 8 to 12 months. In the last four years, I went back to school and completed my certification as an Integrative Nutrition Holistic Health Coach and developed a diabetes mentor program.
Then the pandemic came along, and I could no longer speak in person at conferences or meet one-on-one with diabetic clients. Being an introvert and transitioning my business to being fully present and wide-open on social media was painful.
While I tried to pivot and build my online presence, a very dear friend of mine and prior client reached out to me and inquired if I would help her with some bookkeeping and admin needs for her new non-profit business. Of course, I said, “Sure!”
I realized quickly how natural and effortless it was for me to offer these kinds of services because I had the essential skill sets already in place. It was hard to build my health coaching business, but in the process, I gained valuable social media skills that I wouldn’t have learned if I had tried a completely different business venture.
There are always ways to make lemonade out of lemons!
Lastly, I will add that the whole “virtual” aspect of being in business for myself was always the essence of what I needed from the moment that true love told me to quit my job and hit the road with him when we married in April 2017. Working in a regular office would not work for our lifestyle.
I will also note that one of the blessings, I believe, that came from the pandemic experience has been a change in employers’ perspectives of where a job can be performed from. Where “work from home” was a thought years ago, employers are now more open to the idea of allowing employees to do just that.
Also, I worked in the staffing industry 15 years ago. Back then, we had “on-premise” staffing locations with big industry businesses that outsourced entire departments of their company to a staffing company. Post-pandemic, we see outsourced job functions like administrative assistant support handled by virtual assistants out of necessity. So I think there is ample opportunity to build a virtual assistant business to each individual’s needs and desires.
Q: What type of services do you offer clients?
Currently, I have worked myself into a non-profit niche market primarily. My non-profit clients were both initially looking for data-entry and bookkeeping help.
They have become comfortable with my services and ask for my expertise, which I love. They have requested that I help with their business communication, email management, designing and posting social media content, managing their social media sites, completing research projects, and other general administrative needs.
I also offer travel and event planning services for clients, which are things I’ve done for executives that I’ve supported for years. I am currently setting up an accounting platform for one of my non-profit clients that requires specialized software specific to their industry.
Ultimately, I’m a pretty fast learner, so I’m comfortable taking on new challenges when presented.
Q: What type of clients do you work with?
Currently, I am working with two non-profit clients, a children’s ministry, and a county services organization. I will start working with a for-profit business next month, which is a local business supply company.
I would also like to offer my services to holistic health coaching businesses since holistic health, especially diabetes-related, is a passion of mine.
Q: How did you find your first clients?
I was very fortunate in that my first client was a friend and former client of mine. She built my VA business for me before it was even a thought in my mind. During my work with her as a holistic health client, she asked me about my previous work life.
Later on, when she became the executive director for the non-profit agency she now works for, she recognized a huge need for administrative help and recalled our prior conversation. That’s when she reached out to me. And an hour later, we were like two schoolgirls giddy with excitement for my new business venture.
Sometimes it takes someone else to show you what’s right in front of your face, yet you can’t see it through all of the self-doubt, which was definitely my issue.
Recently, I have been talking up my VA business whenever opportunities present themselves.
In casual conversations with family and friends, when meeting new people and asking what I do, sometimes I will talk about my business with a complete stranger if we are having a friendly chat.
I also reached out to past business associates and let them know what I was doing and if there was any way I might be of help to them. Any time that I can talk about my business is a plus.
Even if nothing comes out of that interaction at that moment, it’s been my experience that I never know when the business will come to me later down the road, as in the example of landing my very first client.
Q: How did you prepare to become a VA? Did you take any courses, read any books, use skills from another job, etc?
One would think that landing your first two clients without even trying would say something about what you might be capable of doing. Yet, that was not my case.
Nope! I thought I needed to hone my skills even more before looking for more clients or understanding what my value really was worth. So, I did a few things to help bolster my confidence at the beginning.
- First, I Googled and found the Introvert VA Club – WOOHOO!!! My People!!
- I became a member of the Introvert VA Club and started working through the Passion To Profit Plan. I found it to be a lifesaver and full of beneficial information.
- I took several classes on Udemy to brush up on bookkeeping and payroll skills.
- I took a general transcription course because it was something I wanted to offer in my new VA business.
- I was already familiar with Mailchimp, and I found that I could become Mailchimp certified, so I began completing those online courses (FREE) through their platform.
- I found a job with a team-based VA company, supplemented my income, and gained much wisdom. This assignment also helped me to gain a better understanding of what I was able to offer to my personal clients, exposed me to new software and skills that I had to know, and also helped me to hone in the types of clients I’d like to work with as I built my business. I will also say that through this experience, which I found to be very stressful, I quickly realized that for my lifestyle, I had to have the weekends to myself and work just a few hours each weekday. I’m one of those diabetics that I mentor, and I do have some medical needs that I have to manage first and foremost. Too much stress and my blood-sugars spike, which is a BIG reason why being a virtual assistant is the right kind of work for me. Flexibility in my daily schedule is a need, not just a desire.
Q: What’s your favorite thing about being a VA?
There are a few favorite things about being a VA at this stage of my life. To sum up, in one simple thought, I will say the best part of being a VA is that I get to build my business and do business with clients that fit my needs and desires.
My husband and I have a saying that defines our life, “Living a semi-retired lifestyle on a full-time income.” Our home is a beautiful RV, and we move campground-to-campground. Just doing life in a campground and on the road means we are on permanent vacation.
I love taking Zoom meetings and showing the ocean as my background, which is my current location. Early next year, I could be up in the Smoky Mountains. Then there’s the aspect of flexibility in my schedule, so if our children or grandchildren come to visit, I can structure my workday to spend plenty of time with my loved ones.
My clients have remarked that they live vicariously through me and my adventures with my husband. Most important is that I have a career that I can keep offering services to clients, helping them to manage their business, yet I’m not tied to my desk or specific workspace.
My VA business is a HUGE blessing, and I am so grateful for every aspect.
Q: What do you struggle with as a VA?
My biggest struggle with my VA business is being courageous enough to put myself out there and offer my services. I’m an introvert, and I struggle with telling people about myself or my business when I have to talk to them in person.
One of my former bosses told me to write a review for myself and to be sure to brag about all of my good qualities. He was trying to get me to open up, and when I turned in my review to him, he started schooling me on how he saw my work from an employer’s perspective. The review he wrote for me was glowing, and I was embarrassed.
That’s when I realized just how much of an introvert I truly am. I like to tell everyone that I live to serve other people, and what I truly mean is that I want to remain behind the scenes and worry about the details.
Great for being a VA, but when I have to get up in front of people and tell them about my great qualities and what I can do for their business, it’s SUPER hard. I tend to come off to people as “salesy” and “not genuine” because I have to rehearse what I’ll say to them. Finding my words to express myself is difficult. It’s a struggle for sure.
Q: What tools or programs could you not live without?
I am still new to the social media content scene, but I’ve had so much fun designing posts and newsletters, creating blasts, and using Canva, the Canva Planner, and Mailchimp to publish my various works. When I show my clients their scheduled content on the Canva Planner, they are so impressed to visualize how the posts and newsletters have a monthly theme.
I will also say that my new favorite program is Grammarly. I am considering starting a blog and have been doing some writing. Grammarly makes me sound more intelligent and more professional than if I were left to my own words.
And, I’ll go old-school and say that I could absolutely not live without Excel spreadsheets – I come from a finance/accounting background, and Excel is like my right hand. I am a spreadsheet queen!
Q: What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
I’ve told you a little about my nomadic lifestyle, and there is another favorite hobby that my husband and I enjoy.
We also have a motorcycle, and our absolute favorite thing to do is take off on the weekends. We get up on Saturday morning and check the weather. Then we pick a new restaurant to try, which tends to be anywhere from 80-150 miles away, and off we go!
We also like to take a yearly vacation to tour on our bike. Last year we rode 983 miles up (each way) to Ohio for my nephew’s high school graduation.
Next year we are hoping to cross off a bucket list dream trip of a cross-country motorcycle tour. We call it a dream-trip-of-a-lifetime because it will be a total of 7400 miles roundtrip. We plan to take approximately 6-7 weeks to visit some significant tourist destinations like Yellowstone National Park, the Grand Canyon, Mount Rushmore, Sturgis, etc.
Hence why I’m considering starting a blog. I plan to take along my laptop, and I will continue to service my clients from the road.
Q: What’s your advice for someone who wants to be a VA?
My advice to anyone who wants to be a VA is to just do it.
I have now been a VA for nearly nine months. I think back at how much time I lost initially because I felt I had to have everything perfectly in place and know exactly what services I would offer and how much I would charge. I was also under the impression that I would work full-time with no problem.
Then, a few months later, I realized that everything I thought I knew was no longer what I needed or was even true.
The beauty of having your own business is that you can change up your services, your rates, your clientele, whatever you need to change, at any time. But you won’t know exactly what, how, when, or who until you just start working your business.
As an example, I quoted a low hourly rate to get started. I’ve now come to realize that my value is actually higher after working through the Passion To Profit Plan (inside the Introvert VA Club).
I also now have some experience behind me that has given me the confidence to increase my hourly rate and specify that I only work with clients for a set amount of hours per month, on a minimum 3-month contract. I would not have felt comfortable speaking up for myself two months ago. The wisdom I gained during my short tenure with the team-based VA company gave me the experience to make the necessary changes.
The last piece of advice that I have is that we never truly fail at anything; we just gain more wisdom.
My health coaching business did not flourish as I wished it would. I was crushed and felt like a complete failure when my clients ended their programs with me, and I had no new clients to replace them. Yet, now that I’m building my VA business, I’ve come to understand the valuable skills and lessons that my health coaching business brought me in my VA business venture.
For example, I would have never acquired any social media skills if it had not been for the marketing course I had to take for my health coaching business.
Oh, there is one more thing I have to remember: success is measured differently for everyone. I say that my business is thriving because I am making money every month. But that might not compare on a money basis to another VA.
At the end of the day, each of us VA’s gets to determine what success means to us. But you won’t know until you just get out there and do it.
Q: Where can we find you?
You can find me on Facebook @SunshineEVASvcs
Thank you, Kim, for sharing your story and words of wisdom! You are truly living the dream!
Ready to start your Virtual Assistant business? Join the Introvert VA Club to access the Passion to Profit Plan, tech trainings, templates, and support!