Okay, so you’ve started up your business on your own (or with colleagues) , working your fingers to the bone. It has gradually got to the point where the mandatory administrational bits and bobs have become an uphill task, almost taking on a life of their own.
You accept that you may need some outside help if you want to fit eating, sleeping and maybe even a bit of family time into your life.
However, you are not yet at that stage where you are ready to employ an additional someone… So you have conducted a comprehensive SWOT analysis and a trusty Virtual Assistant (that you can call upon as and when suits) seems to be the solution to all of your problems.
But where do you start? There are hundreds upon squillions of budding VA’s out there , advertising a myriad of different skills and offerings , it’s easy to feel slightly overwhelmed. Furthermore, it’s so important to you that you have got to get this right as it’s your business, it's your pride and joy, it's your livelihood. In truth , there is no identikit 'sheep dip' formula for VA’s. Just like in real life , or in Cabbage Patch Kid World (showing my age), every VA is different.
Logic would dictate you to spend several days compiling a checklist of skills and experience that this special someone needs to possess (just like in the Weird Science film - showing my age - again) e.g. a) Must be able to arrange Zoom meetings, b) Expertise in X and Y packages are essential , z) Vast widget industry knowledge is a pre-requisite etc etc... However, caution should be taken when matching up your specific requirements to said potential VA, to calculate a total score out of 258…
It’s important to remember that you don’t hire a checklist or a computer program , you hire a person. To a large extent I would apply the same rule whenever you employ someone. I can think of countless times in my own career where a candidate has got the job because of their apparent varied technical skillset and experience fitting the precise criteria for the position like a Bradley Walsh on a gameshow. It has subsequently been backed up with a mind-blowing and inspirational interview. Sadly, it has (on occasions) only resulted in abject failure, simply because in the real world they weren’t the right kind of person for the job in hand, within that particular organisation.
I have 3 important factors to consider when delving into the VA transfer market :-
1. Does the VA have the aptitude and the attitude (the two ‘A’s)? They may not have 10 years experience in your industry processes, but do they relate to what you are trying to achieve, thus they can be up to speed very quickly, without much fuss on what’s required? Gut instinct is undervalued, but is an essential tool when choosing somebody who will represent your business.
2. Beware of any potential selection promising Harry Potter magic and fireworks for a tenner a day. As a (general) rule of thumb, you pay for what you get (Salt Bae may be an exception). Straightforwardness, honesty and integrity are king. If someone offers you the world and it’s lobster combined with, say, a doctorate in astrophysics (“I was the only person who could beat Brian Cox in my Astronomy classes end of week quantum mechanics quiz etc”) thrown in, alarm bells should surely ring. This may force you to conclude ‘this is probably and therefore is too good to be true.’
3. Finally, the most important point to consider. Above everything a VA should be trusted. They will exhibit the care (and the passion) about any task or project that they are performing for your beloved business, as much (or almost as much) as you do, so it’s carried out how it should be. It’s like any relationship – if there is no trust and care, it doesn’t matter how many thousands of software packages that they’ve had first hand experience of. You need to entrust this person to get on with matters which directly effect your business under minimum supervision and not lose sleep worrying about it.
I guarantee that the right person is out there for you, so you can 'get back' that precious time. It’s just a case of knowing which stone to turn.
Recently I made the rather bold decision to quit my job and venture out into the unknown territory of running my own business as a Virtual Assistant. You probably are well aware of this given you are a) reading my Blog, and also b) the Blog is on my VA website - another rather revealing clue.
You may or may not know that I live on my own (I do have my daughter with me every other weekend) and additionally that I’ve always liked my own company (although sometimes I disagree with myself, no I don’t), so going solo and working ‘virtual’ probably wouldn’t affect me as much as many others – I suppose I’m lucky in that sense.
Obviously, while the lockdown period certainly acclimatised me to not being in the physical presence of others, I was grateful enough in my previous office role to (mostly) work with nice people and we generally had a good camaraderie. This subsequently continued as we crossed over (during the pandemic) to collaborating virtually.
Working in a largely solitary environment brings a different challenge, as the daily banter with my team mates is no more (although , admittedly I was always the funniest anyway) , as there are no longer team mates to have any banter with. You can’t adequately compensate for the non-presence of humans. This becomes more pertinent given the fact that over a decade ago I went through some turmoil in my life, as I somehow (as if by magic) developed an anxiety disorder.
It’s an unwanted beast in your head , (in my mind it manifested itself as a mini James Corden, who had squatted in my brain to conduct a talk show, but the show consisted of him on his sofa, watching me from the inside and shouting at me in a high pitched, screaming voice. Making it hard to think about anything else) bringing you down at every opportunity. It exists seemingly independently of your own consciousness, which is probably a difficult thing to get your head around (literally)… It is you but it’s not you…, it’s a different you and living with it makes you feel exhausted, even if you haven’t done anything physically.
It wasn’t pre-empted and I didn’t invite it. I initially scratched my head and thought ‘what is this and where did you find it?’ Strangely, almost from nowhere and very quickly it just crept up on me from out of the shadows. Granted, it was during a period where I was in a long distance relationship and I changed jobs and also location - all very much at the same time. It was this triple whammy that finally caught up with the generally carefree me. ‘It’s your mind’s way of telling you that it’s had enough’ , I recall one of my friends (who had had first hand experience of depression) explaining to me at the time, I think he was right.
It became such a problem , that at its worst I was filled with so much dread that I was terrified at the prospect of leaving the house and suddenly trips to Tesco became an ordeal on par with an Indiana Jones mission (other supermarkets and swashbuckling action heroes are available). This fear has a snowball effect, because you don’t want people seeing your fear - so you try to mask it - which then makes you even more self-aware and induces yet more fear and enhances the prospect of a panic attack. Before you know it, this ‘thing’ has taken pole position in your life, effects every decision you make and it is truly difficult to contemplate how on earth you are going to carry on.
My logical mind looked for a path out of the complex maze that had been created and went through many different permutations to find a solution - but there weren’t any and each attempt ended up as a brick wall dead end. You think you are a bit screwed for life really. I certainly didn’t see much future other than the grim reality that everything (within days) had catastrophically changed forever.
Before this hit me I was a typical ‘pull yourself together’ kind of person , so it vastly changed me and my attitude towards others. I would take this up a notch to state that you can’t truly comprehend what someone is going through unless you have gone through it yourself.
So what did I do about it? It took me a fair while to do anything to be honest, but ultimately the answer is what a Brexiteer would deem as ‘taking back control’ of this unwanted invader that’s camped out inside your brain. To the age old fight or flight question I eventually chose to fight back with a two-pronged attack. I consulted my GP and then I forced myself to join a gym.
Everyone is different and patience/perseverance is required, but (for me) eventually the winning formula was a combination of CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) which assisted me greatly with the thought process itself and exercise which helped me to gradually fight the battle and come out on top. Although even today it’s not completely eradicated (and I’m sure it never will be) I have coping mechanisms when I know that it’s on it’s way, so it doesn’t take over my life like it used to do and I’ve restricted James to the odd small squeal now and then.
That being said, I’m very well aware that my new chosen career path does increase the risk of this occurring once more and consequently I will be extra vigilant to ensure that it doesn’t and be quick in recognising any signs to the contrary.
My experience has made me infinitely more empathetic to people who are experiencing mental struggles, there are solutions and mark my words, there is most definitely more than one way out of the maze.