Clare Farthing, of Your Virtual Assistant, has 29 years’ experience in admin, having gone straight out to work as an office junior in a solicitors when she left School. She studied Teeline shorthand and elementary typing at college via day release and quickly gained promotion to a senior secretary role early on in her career before going on to PA and office manager roles within small businesses and in the corporate world. She dabbled in PR in the early 90’s but came back to a PA role after 2 years as she missed organising people and being the supportive team player.

Then, in January 2015, Clare was made redundant – and then again in June 2015… It made her stop and reflect on what she wanted out of life and look at her skills and experience, taking it as a sign to finally set up her own VA business. She had considered it back in the Spring of 2014 when a friend had said she should set up her own business, but a permanent role and job security had seemed like the easier option – but not this time – Clare was ready and wanted choices!

Financially, the sensible option seemed to be to take on a part-time admin role whilst she built her VA business. Clare quickly secured 2 days a week at a local mortgage brokers, which became 3 days within two weeks. In her new business she was totally out of her comfort zone and used all her spare time to complete modules of the VA Mastery Course as quickly as she could, whilst writing copy for her website. She then started to get a couple of calls from other VAs who had heard Clare was quite good at sales calls; something a lot of VAs are not very comfortable with (her networking marketing background came into its own) and she was fortunate enough to gain a few associate roles. Six weeks in, she was turning down associate work as they always seemed to fall on the days she was working, so Clare decided to take a leap of faith, resign, go full-time with her VA business and aim to launch a month later, which she did – Your Virtual Assistant went live on the 1st October 2015 and Clare has not looked back!

We caught up with Clare and asked her more about what she does:

Did you do any specific training before you opened for business and was it useful?

I started studying the VA Mastery Course, run by VACT, in August 2015. A friend had mentioned the course when I was made redundant but at the time I still felt a permanent job was the sensible option. The course gave me brilliant grounding and guidance on not only setting up a business from scratch but also tips and advice on what equipment I would need, registering a business name, Tax and Insurance, writing copy, marketing/PR, social media, networking, having a niche, client contracts and using associates. I also liked the fact that it gave me CPD Accreditation that would add more value to my skill set as it’s cross-industry recognised and would help me stand out from my competition!

How did you find your first client and what was the first job?

To be honest, he found me! I got a phone call from Poland, in September 2015, from a guy I worked with at Cigna Healthcare who had also been made redundant and had set up his own IT Consultancy Business and needed help with his monthly expense claims and consultancy invoices. At a similar time, I had also started up my business Facebook page and was ‘hanging out’ where I thought my ideal clients may be and gained 2 new clients from a professional Facebook group that had been talking about outsourcing. I produced a letterhead and sales letter for one lady as a one-off task and for another lady I still produce a quarterly newsletter via MailChimp.

Have you developed a niche area and what is it?

7 months in and no, not yet! I’m not worried, it will come when it’s ready. In the meantime, I am having a fabulous time learning new software and gaining new skills and experience – all beneficial to my future clients and me & my business.

How many clients do you work with now?

I have 4 ad-hoc clients and 9 monthly retained clients (1 is a retained associate role for another VA).

Do you work alone or with other VAs/employ someone?

I currently work alone, although I am at the stage in my business where the next client is likely to be supported by an associate. I have built relationships with VAs who have different skillsets that I can look to for support.

What strategies have you used to grow your business and what has and hasn’t worked?

Listening to and putting into action the good advice that is readily out there; mainly what I learnt on the VA Mastery Course and from my coach and mentor, Amanda Johnson, whose support and encouragement is fabulous. I am a firm believer in the know, like and trust way to run your business. I look to build relationships whether it is with a prospective client or other VAs, as it’s all about adding value, being supportive and ultimately becoming the ‘go to’ VA. I make sure I am adding value in the off and online networking groups I am part of. This takes time and I feel is key to the growth of my business.

What has been most difficult thing about growing your business?

Getting to grips with Twitter! It’s truly been my nemesis – but the beauty of this business is that there is always support, help and advice. I went for some 1:1 social media training and read a recommended book – the result; I’m seeing myself go up in the weekly Eventopedia  and Your Executive Secretary rankings, so it must mean I’m doing something right, at last!

Tell us something about a typical day and what kind of work you do?

My day always starts with a glass of water, then out the door with my dog, Zak, for at least a brisk 30 minute walk – it’s a great way to start the day with some positive affirmations running through my head and reflecting on what’s been achieved so far that week. Over breakfast, I check social media; offer support/advice in some of the VA groups, post something on my own business page and a tweet, along with a couple of retweets, then it’s upstairs to my Office to check my emails before I start some client work. This might involve logging into FreeAgent and GoCardless and marking off payments for a monthly membership group I look after. I inevitably stop around midday to walk my dog and grab a bite to eat, check social media and my emails. Then I could be updating an excel spreadsheet or updating some minutes, then perhaps a Skype chat or call with another VA or my Success Buddy. By 4pm I am logging off for the end of the day, then dog walk, cooking dinner and in the evening, either reading my book of the month, or perhaps may be out socially or even doing some more client work and catching up on social media – it’s addictive.

What’s one thing you’ve done that’s made a client absolutely delighted?

Gosh that’s tricky, as all my clients are lovely and always very appreciative of my support. Most have been bumbling along by themselves for so long that I’ve been referred to as a breath of fresh air and I’m like a machine – you can just give Clare the work with very little instruction and she just does it and super quick too; particularly by the client who had no idea who had paid what and who was still a member, or not!

Do you have any funny stories/anecdotes about jobs you’ve done?

One client runs a network marketing business and thought it would be a good idea to add me to her Facebook group so I could appreciate where time was being spent. I had to unfollow the page within 24 hours – as seeing my client in their underwear was not something I wished to have imprinted on my brain! (they sell dietary supplements and had decided to do a before & after shot in their bra & knickers!). We had a right giggle about it when I explained that no offence but I had unfollowed their page! What is so wonderful about running my own VA business is that the same client now calls me for advice in other areas of her business and life – I feel very humbled.

What are your favourite applications/gadgets that you couldn’t live without?

MinuteDock for recording time spent carrying out client tasks and invoicing. DropBox and Google Drive for sharing client folders. MailChimp for my client newsletters and Hootsuite for Twitter scheduling. I am yet to decide on my favourite CRM/project management tool.

What do you enjoy most about being a Virtual Assistant?

Apart from the lovely Clients I work with, the fabulous VAs that I have met and the ones I trained/studied with who are now dear friends, it’s the flexibility it gives me to work the hours I choose. If the sun is shining and I want to log off and go walk my dog along the sea wall – I can. I sometimes work weekends but I don’t tell my clients, it’s my choice, as likely I’ve met my Mum for coffee and cake so taken a few hours off which I make up when suits me – you don’t get that in the J O B world! I also have a couple of clients that I take minutes for during evening meetings, so it’s great to then take the following afternoon off, once the minutes are typed up, of course.

What do you enjoy least about being a Virtual Assistant?

Sometimes, it can feel slightly daunting when you start supporting a new client but that’s because I’m still learning, 7 months in and I’m a perfectionist.

What’s the best advice you’ve been given / or you would give to others about growing your business?

Advice given; build your business on know, like and trust. I love this, which I learnt in my network marketing business; “Be interested NOT interesting!”

My top tips are colour code your diary; I have ‘green’ for client work, ‘orange’ for my business and ‘pink’ for social/self-care time and I make sure my diary has the variety of colour each day, as much as possible.

Read a book a month – it’s an investment in yourself; my favourites are ‘Pilot to Profit’ by Lisa Larter and the ‘Go Giver’ by Bob Burg.

Set yourself goals and have yourself a “Success Buddy”; they are invaluable to kick butt, a shoulder to cry on, share ideas and to celebrate with; we recently had a glass or two of Tattinger, via Skype, as a goal reward!

What do you think are the most important qualities a VA should have?

A professional, discreet, calm manner, excellent communication skills, ability to share and support other VAs in the industry, keep learning new skills and have the vision and drive to stay current and grow yourself. You’ll then have a fabulous business you can be proud of.