Did you know that you can make a living off your creative passions? It’s true! My longtime team member, McKella Sawyer of The Cafe Wordsmith, is proof of it.
McKella has been a virtual assistant since 2015 (I was her first client!). She has since niched down to what she really loves to do…writing! She mostly focuses on helping clients write blog posts and does other fun projects as she feels called.
I know she’s learned a lot over the years so I asked her to share her top do’s and don’ts with us. She’s got some really great tips that you’ll want to be sure to read!
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Take it away, McKella!
I’ve learned tons over the past few years of running my own business. I’ve made lots of mistakes and had a lot of successes as well!
Writing is my passion. When I started as a VA, I offered a lot of blog-related tasks like uploading blog posts, editing, proofreading, and a little writing. I took courses and added other skills to my toolbox like SEO, basic graphic design, content marketing, and copywriting. I also continued to learn more about marketing and business in general, which allowed me to start writing blog posts to help entrepreneurs sell their products and services.
Over time, I consciously stopped taking on new VA clients and decided to focus on getting just writing clients. Now, I only offer VA services to some of my writing clients, and they’re usually services that either sound fun (I manage a houseplant Facebook group, which normally isn’t my thing, but I’m doing it because it’s fun) or things that make sense with blogging, like publishing the articles I write or creating graphics for those blog posts.
I can’t wait to share what I’ve learned over the years! Here’s what I want you to know:
McKella’s Do’s and Don’ts of Running a Successful Virtual Assistant Business
Marketing Yourself and Your Value:
- Sell results and the benefits of your work, not just hours or deliverables. Don’t undercharge because you can do it quickly or because it’s really easy for you. If it’s easy, it means you’re good at it and you’re on the right track! Your client is hiring you for the results you provide, not the time you spend. They don’t care how long it takes or doesn’t take as long as you get the job done.
- Quality always trumps quantity. A few well-written pieces of content on your site are better than a bunch of crappy blog posts. You’re also better off offering a few services you’re GREAT at than a whole bunch that you’re only okay at.
- Keep learning. Take courses, study your industry, and look at great examples of whatever you’re writing/designing/creating. Make professional development a part of your routine.
- Referrals are GOLD, so don’t be afraid to ask for them. Just tell existing clients “Hey, I have an opening for a new client or two next month. Do you know of anyone who could use help with [whatever you do]?” This is how I get most of my clients!
- Niche down, because the more specialized you are, the more you can charge! It’s okay if you don’t know what niche to pick at first. Pick a broader one and plan on narrowing down as you figure out what you like, what people are looking for, what you’re good at, and what’s profitable. I’m still working on this!
- Get testimonials from happy clients. I send my clients a short Typeform survey, or if they compliment my work, I’ll hang onto that message and ask if I can use that on my sales page (they almost always say yes).
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Working with Clients:
- Trust your gut. If you aren’t clicking with a client but you’re tempted to take the project because you need the money, please please please don’t. You’ll regret it. I’ve been lucky enough that when I really didn’t enjoy a project, that client didn’t return or ghosted me (after I got paid, of course). But I really wish I would have found a client that was a better fit instead.
- Consider offering a trial package so clients can get a taste of your services before committing to a bigger package. This might be a smaller project (like one article or a couple of graphics) or a shorter amount of time. This is especially important if you work with smaller businesses with smaller budgets.
- Be open to custom packages. I have set packages, but most of my clients end up with a custom package. Every business is different and their needs might not fit perfectly into one of your packages, so be flexible here. Stay open to other ideas, because they might end up being more lucrative and more fun than set packages.
- Have the money talk first. You don’t want to go into a project without knowing when or how much you’ll get paid. I only made this mistake once and trust me, you don’t want to go there.
- Don’t train your clients to expect last-minute work or for you to drop everything to jump on a call that just got scheduled. If they keep requesting last-minute meetings or work or demanding that you work outside your set schedule, have a talk with them and be prepared to walk away.
- Stay in touch with your client throughout the project, especially if you’ve just started working together. Ask questions and don’t worry about looking stupid. Clients (at least the ones worth working with) would MUCH rather you ask questions and get it right than not ask questions and mess it up.
- Don’t wait to raise your prices. Creative introverts (myself included) will think of every excuse imaginable to avoid raising prices and avoid money conversations. Raise your prices on a schedule and find a script online for letting your client know well in advance. This doesn’t have to be complicated.
Try this script to get started:
I wanted to reach out and let you know that my prices for [services] will be increasing on [date about three months in the future]
My new prices will be as follows: [attach fee schedule or list new prices]
Please let me know if you have any questions!
- There are unlimited clients out there. Don’t accept the crappy ones, because you’ll crowd out the clients you actually want to work with.
- Don’t work with clients who don’t know what they want. Almost all of my clients have told me they’ve loved my work, and I can think of only two who didn’t like my work and didn’t want to continue after the trial period. They were both in the legacy stage of business and wanted to tell their story, but they didn’t know what that would look like. If they can’t articulate what they want, they won’t like whatever you do. It’s not your job to read a client’s mind. If you hear anything like “I don’t know what I want, but I’ll know it when I see it,” run. You’ll just be taking shots in the dark and hoping they like it, and you don’t have time for that.
- Always tell the client a project will take longer than you actually think it will. That way, you’ll have plenty of time to complete it if something goes wrong, or they’ll be excited when you finish early!
- Don’t be afraid to tell a client it’s not a good fit. Not everyone has to like you or click with you, and saying goodbye to nightmare clients opens up space for more dream clients that you love working with and who love working with you!
Staying Organized (and Sane)
- Keep track of how long it takes you to complete projects. You’ll find out really quickly if you’re undercharging.
- Regularly weed out services you no longer want to offer. Don’t be afraid to make changes as you learn, grow, and refine your skills and interests.
- Use a project management system. I love Trello to plan out my week because I’m a visual thinker and it’s easy to move things around. I also use a bullet journal to keep track of my habits and daily to-do list. I like actually writing a checkmark next to a completed task and writing things down helps me remember them. Play around with different systems until you find something that works.
- Let projects simmer for at least a few hours (ideally a day or two) before submitting to your client. You’ll catch mistakes you didn’t even see before and turn in a much more professional product.
- Develop a creative process. You probably have this already, but it’s easy to freak yourself out when you’re doing work for someone else. My writing process looks like this: gather information from the client, the client’s site, and from outside research. Do a dump draft. Edit and tweak and streamline. Do a few rounds of edits and proofreading, then take a break and do one more thorough proofread before sending the article off to a client.
- Get yourself a business buddy. It doesn’t have to be a business partner or anything like that, but make friends with someone in your industry or a similar line of work who gets it. Someone you can brainstorm with, bounce ideas off, who you can ask for opinions or vent to when things suck. Because things suck sometimes and it’s much easier to get out of a funk when you have someone to talk to.
- Routine is everything. Good habits help my brain get into work mode and keep me healthy. Healthy, easy breakfasts. Daily workouts. Active breaks. Develop a few daily habits that help you feel amazing.
- Do occasional time audits, at least once a quarter. You won’t believe how many time wasters can sneak into your schedule. I’m sure there are tools out there for this, but I keep this simple. I just keep a doc open on my computer and record when I start and stop different tasks, including breaks to play on my phone or fill up my water bottle. I do this for 2-4 days and I’m always shocked how much time I waste!
- It’s easy for work to sneak into your everyday life and for distractions to sneak into work. Try to keep things separate. If you have an office with a door you can shut when you’re not working, even better.
- Treats are good. I try to work from a coffee shop a few times a month because I love it and a change of scenery is great for my creativity. I generally don’t work from bed, but once or twice a month it feels like a fun treat to work for an hour or two in bed.
- Don’t work in clothes that make you feel lazy. I get dressed every day because it helps me feel awake. I almost never work in my jammies but a tank top and yoga pants? Heck yeah. I feel productive in athleisure, but not full-on pajamas. Do what works for you.
- Remember, self-discipline is a muscle that you can build. Keep track of your time and find some productivity tips that work for you.
- Set boundaries for yourself and clients like when you will and will not work or answer messages (evenings, early mornings, weekends, etc.). Most clients won’t care as long as you stick to deadlines. Some may still send messages but won’t expect a response until you’re back at work. If clients don’t respect your work hours or need to take time off every once in awhile, they’re not good clients.
Business is a journey, an adventure, and a learning experience. You’ll mess up sometimes. You’ll make mistakes. And you’ll definitely have a nightmare client or two who will teach you everything you need to know about boundaries and pricing! Your business will grow and change, and that’s a good thing.
It’s all part of the life of your business, and it’s all worth it. I love working for myself and doing work I enjoy and that I’m good at, and there are few things more satisfying than waking up when you want, working when you want, and choosing who you work with. You’re calling the shots :)
I hope you’ve enjoyed McKella’s tips and found something helpful no matter where you’re at on your virtual assistant journey!
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