No matter how comfy we may feel in our current role, when the entrepreneurial itch strikes, it needs to be scratched. For Debbie Roche, this meant leaving a comfortable life as an executive assistant to roll the dice and become her own boss. Eighteen months later, she’s the owner of Roche Online Business Services, and at the coalface of one of the fastest growing industries in Canada; Virtual Assistance.
What is a Virtual Assistant?
Debbie, and many others like her, work on a freelance or independent contractor basis performing administrative tasks for busy small business owners. They are skilled in many areas of modern work, ranging from data entry, to calendar management, copywriting, design and social media. They usually operate from home, and perform a valuable service for business owners who aren’t ready to hire an administrative assistant full-time.
“I help other small business owners with the day-to-day running of their business,” Debbie explained.
“These people set out to own their own business not realizing there are all these daily tasks that need to be attended to. Maybe they don’t have a head for admin, or maybe they just don’t have the time. Coming from an administrative background, I’m incredibly organized, and I love doing those tasks. Basically, I take those things, such as email management, database entry, creating newsletters, updating their website and even doing social media, taking it off their hands so they can focus on running their business.”
Becoming an Entrepreneur
Like many business owners before her, Debbie started her company as a side job while continuing to work full-time. The number of Canadians working multiple jobs continues to grow, and Debbie had worn multiple hats before settling on her business. She graduated university in her native Scotland with a fashion degree, before moving to Vancouver and trying her hand at yoga teaching, nutritional courses, and an administrative role in local government. It was during this time her thoughts turned to starting her own business.
“About 18 months ago, I was sitting in my government job and suddenly had this strong feeling there was something else I needed to do, but I just didn’t know what it was,” said Debbie.
“I was browsing Facebook and saw an article about becoming a virtual assistant. It immediately struck a chord with me. I knew I could do it, and it would give me breathing room to figure out my next step. A friend connected me with my first client, and soon it began to snowball. Within five months I had to leave my government job because I had so much freelance work to do as a Virtual Assistant. Once I threw myself into the work, I knew this was the job for me.”
A Great Place to do Business
British Columbia is often cited as one of the best places in the world to live, work and play. For entrepreneurs like Debbie, it also provides a supportive community of entrepreneurs, mentors, and resources to help ensure smooth sailing during the transition.
“Growing my business here in BC feels like it’s a lot easier than it would be in the United Kingdom,” Debbie revealed.
“On the West Coast we’re very open minded and there are a lot of entrepreneurs – there’s a strong community. I’ve benefitted from living in a country that’s very welcoming to entrepreneurs and there’s a lot of support available.
“When I was getting set up with my business I leaned on the services at Small Business BC. I registered my business and attended some seminars. Even if the seminars aren’t directly relating to my business, they touch on areas some of my clients work in, so it’s important information for me to know. To give an example of this, I attended a seminar on trademarking, because a lot of clients were enquiring if I knew how to trademark a product.
“I also worked with Futurpreneur and went through their “Rock your Business Plan” program, and applied for their business loan and mentorship program. I go to so many networking events. I tend to focus on the female networking events because I find that’s who a lot of my clients are.”
Old Fashioned Approach
The importance of social media to small business owners can’t be overstated. It’s a vital way to publicize your product, connect with your target audience, and even find out what your competitors are up to. However, it’s not suitable for every type of business. Debbie has taken a more old-fashioned approach to getting the word out, and it’s one that’s proved incredibly successful.
“What I’ve come to realize with the type of work that I do is that it’s much more beneficial for me to go to networking events, and meet people face to face who eventually become clients,” she explained.
“All my business has come from client referrals, referrals from friends, or networking events. They’ve never come from social media. I keep it relatively up to date but it’s more because I want to grow my business offline, and use online to just keep clients updated with my news. In terms of getting business, it’s not where my clients come from. I don’t spend any money on social media.
“People are putting their business in my hands, and that’s a huge responsibility. They want to know me, and to have met me. There’s a connection you get when meeting a person face-to-face that you simply can’t replicate online. For clients who are based further afield, we connect via Skype calls. I always make sure we talk and not just exchange emails. Face-to-face consultations are vital so prospective clients can get to know me.”
The popularity of virtual assistance as a career path continues to grow. Debbie has now reached a point where she’s looking at expanding her operation, and she thinks there’s plenty of work to go around for others considering making the move.
“I find myself telling others now ‘you should do this!’ It’s a really popular line of work and there’s lots of it out there.
“Personally, I’m growing really fast and I’ve reached a point where I’m trying to find my first hire to help me with the workload.”