Creative Series: Tips to Tackle the HUGE Learning Curve when Starting your Biz!
Starting out is never easy and it doesn’t get any easier as we get older. I’m a creative at heart, a writer and designer. The things that make me good at those don’t always fit with running a business. Launching a business of my own has been a huge learning curve and the further I get into it, the more there is to learn.
Here're a couple of scenarios you may be familiar with...
At home all day, it’s easy to get distracted by everyday things, I’d start out with good intentions then find myself doing anything except what I should be concentrating on and creating. Cleaning, tidying, cooking, shopping, gardening, animals, family are all calling on our time all day.
There would be days when things went the other way and lose myself for hours making one section of a web page look a certain way. Then look up from the computer to find the breakfast dishes still in the sink, the sun setting outside and no dinner prepared.
Then there are people think all you do is sit around writing on the computer so you must be free to do such and such for them. I’ve lost count of the amount of times people have loudly asked what I do with all my time now I’m not teaching.
... and then there're the tips!
There are many different electronic ways to plan time. For me, my creative side works better with pen and paper. To make that more effective, I turned've to the Bullet Journal method of organisation. I’ve become more productive in my work and have a much better-organised home.
I now have set times in the week, month and season for different tasks, a time when I work on promoting the business and time when I work with clients. A time when I declutter the house and when I declutter the desktop folders.
Get serious about the space!
It’s not a like having a job where you shut the door on those things and walk into a different space. Instead, you have to create that space in your home or go out and find space.
The option to use co-working space isn’t available for me as we live on a small Greek island. So space had to be created in our very small home. At first, all of my work was done either on the dining table or garden table.
Pieces of paper, notes and laptop would all be shoved out of the way at dinner time or when someone popped round for coffee.
That was ok at first but I felt that to get serious about the business I needed to get serious about the space that I worked in. I needed a dedicated place with a desk and filing space.
As with most homes we had a junk room, things were stored in there and often not seen again for years. So starting the business also included cleaning out that room and creating office space. Now I could make sure the Mac and laptop have somewhere to be and the printer and scanner could also be set up.
With that would come proper working hours too, rather than writing away into the night. I open the door in the morning to start work. Take proper breaks and close the door at the end of the working day. It’s important to have set hours for clients too. As a virtual assistant, it’s easy to forget and take calls on weekends or during holidays.
Hey! How about a plan?
Many people today set up a website and think that’s all there is to starting a new business. It takes a lot more planning and organisation. A virtual assistant needs a proper business plan as much as any other business. It’s relatively cheap to set up initially, many start with just a facebook page and free website, but without a plan, success will be limited.
One thing I constantly see asked in forums is how do you get clients. The answer is the same with all businesses - it’s about having a business plan, one that includes marketing, you’ve got to network, advertise, and promote your business. Build up an email list and send out those emails. You’ve got to hustle and sell yourself and your services.
You also need more than just a website, you’ll need Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and Linkedin. If you don’t plan properly from the start you may find that the business name you’ve chosen and got the URL for isn’t available in the social media accounts you need. Planning is key to everything we do and something I learnt when I first went to work in the armed forces.
Another type of planning as a virtual assistant is how I track and plan client projects. As the business develops how I set up the planning process now will determine how successful it is in the future. Project planning is something I’ve done for years and planning is so much easier now using software like Trello or Asana.
... and, yes, you gotta hustle!
Being a creative isn’t really the same as being a virtual assistant. They are seen as being well-organised people who do your paperwork, organise your emails and plan for you. I can do those and have in my working life but they weren’t where my passion is. To start with I needed to decide what type of virtual assistant I was going to be. A creative virtual assistant or a virtual business creative? No, I’m still a virtual assistant, just a creative one.
I needed to decide what services I would offer, focus on a skill set and niche that appealed to me and the sort of clients I wanted to work with. I want to work with women in business, coaches, alternative therapists and other creatives. Once I’d worked that out that, the design for my branding and website were all focused on a combination of my inspiration and the people I wanted to attractThen it came time to work out what I would charge. I had to make decisions on hourly rates or packages, how much time did I realistically have and how many clients would I actually be able to take on. As things progressed, with each answer came more questions.
All of those questions can build up and when you're setting up a new business alone it can all seem very daunting. That’s when I found my tribe… a group of like-minded people working in the same field, ones who are really there to help each other and give genuine advice. I found them in a group on Facebook called “Virtual Assistant Savvies”
Without them, some of the little things would have been much more difficult to work out. Many virtual assistants work on an hourly basis. For that I needed to find ways to track the time it takes to do something so that the client is billed correctly. With the forum help, I’ve found that Toggl is a great tool to use.
I had to create a client questionnaire prior to discovery calls. A contract that would cover every eventuality in the virtual assistant world, a welcome pack for new clients. A plan for keeping track of money flow, earnings and expenses and putting aside enough for taxes. Finding your tribe, those who’ve already been through it and are willing to help is essential. You can’t do everything alone.
I’m still a virtual assistant, just a creative one!
As virtual assistants, part of the job is to be on top of the tech. I’m the one a client depends on to make sure their website is kept updated and still works. At the same time being away from a physical workplace can mean you fall behind in tech advances.Part of my time each month is set aside for learning.
There is so much to learn I had to come up with a plan to prioritise the most important one. Firstly, there was the tech used to the run the business, software tools that make life as a virtual assistant much easier. Some I already knew like Skype and Zoom but others like Trello, Mail Chimp, Toggl were new to me.
Next up, there are the add-ons for chrome to make my life easier, I had no idea there were so many until I saw something in a forum and lost a whole day exploring the possibilities. That was before I started organising my time better.
Then, there are online courses that are great for expanding services as a virtual assistant. There are some good free ones out there.
Learning has always been a part of my life and will continue to be, we can never know everything and I wouldn’t trust anyone who claimed to.
Keep on Learning!
Wasn't that an awesome post? I bet we've all been there at some point, right? We get super overwhelmed trying to figure out how it all works when we start our business and tackling that HUGE learning curve can definitely have so much to do with that bottom line! See, it takes trial and error to successfully run a business 'cause no body get's it right the first time! That trial and error period can be very overwhelming and we may be even tempted to quit and think our idea would never be nothing else than that - an idea. Being able to find a way to work through that learning curve will show through on that bottom line. You could either find solutions and ways to stay productive and efficient and make it work, or you could give up and shut the doors. We're meant to conquer and overcome everything and anything that comes our way, so finding a way is exactly what we need to do.
Amanda Settle is a virtual assistant. With a degree in English Literature, she started out serving her country working in communications, organizing people and resources in the Royal Air Force then the Police. Followed by 10 years of teaching English, Media and Journalism around the world. She has spent the last 8 years writing, designing and blogging about travel and lifestyle. All her experience and creativity have now combined into her latest venture ‘Serenity Vision Solutions’ where she offers a wide variety of services from elegant web design and graphics to social media management, editing services and admin tasks.