There were only a few Virtual Assistant agencies in the Philippines a few years back and K Squad Outsourcing Solutions was one of them. I remembered them quite well because of their branding and web design plus I actually considered applying when Kei San Pablo, K Squad Founder, posted a job opening in one of the Facebook groups I am a member of.
But, I hesitated because the position was not for a remote employee.
Fast forward 2014, Kei San Pablo has gone a long way from being K Squad’s founder. She became Canva Philippines’ Country Manager. And here’s the thing, when she moved to Canva, she brought along all her team members with her!
Do you feel my heartbreak? 😉
Read Kei’s journey to success, top Virtual Assistant tips, take on certifications and more below… I’m sure you’ll learn a lot from her story. I know I did.
How did you get started as a Virtual Assistant?
I started working online around 2008-2009 but before working on online I was actually a registered nurse. I was working at a hospital and I was going to enter med school. But when I asked my dad if he can send me to medical school, he said he can’t afford to send me to medical school. Ever since I was young, I knew I was going to become a doctor. So, it was like “Oh…This sucks!”
So, I was trying to earn some extra money. My plan then was to earn enough for just 1 semester. I was thinking if I get into med school,then I pay for the first semester, I leave my dad with no choice but to help me with my schooling because I am already there. Or I can get a scholarship or anything.
I stumbled upon Odesk (now Upwork). I just read through everything, took the tests and applied for work. Within 3 days, I’ve got my first data entry contract. It was an email mining work where I have this list of sites where I just have to copy and paste all these details into a spreadsheet.
After I ended the first contract, I got a second contract, then my first client went back with new work then it became regular. This is when I realized that my week’s worth of work was worth more than my month’s salary from the hospital.
After a month, I quit the hospital and worked full-time at home. Then, after around 2 months, previous clients were getting back to me with more work, then, I just continued applying so I have new clients, plus my old clients. That’s when I started to set-up an online agency in Odesk. I hired people, I sub-contracted work to other people.
A year after that, I started to set up my first Virtual Assistant agency. I put people in an office, then hired new people. Everyone was working from the office. It lasted around 2-3 years. But then I realized, I myself have a hard time coming to work everyday.
I enjoyed the erratic schedule because I tend to be in the zone and work 24 hours but after that I would like to sleep for like 36 hours. But since I set up an office, I have to be there everyday.
The good problem that we had then was, we were doing general virtual assistant work, and I was having a hard time scaling up the business because I would have clients who has been with us for years and I was having trouble asking them for bigger pay.
That’s when I realize I have to specialize. I kind of paused for a year and just got consultation work and solo work. I also went back to school and studied marketing. After that, I started to set up The K Squad Outsourcing Solutions wherein we specialized in Digital Marketing.
Since The K Squad focused on digital marketing, I also started speaking on events and doing workshops for businesses and for social media professionals and 1 tool that I’ve been teaching them to use was Canva.
I’m not a designer but I would have clients who would ask me for a logo, then, I would work with a designer in creating their logo. So, I felt at that time that I have a good eye for design but I don’t have the skills and resources to design. My company was using Canva so when I teach social media professionals, I always mention Canva.
One morning in July 2014, I got this message on Linkedin from Cliff Obrecht, COO of Canva and he was like “Hey Kei! How are you? Have you heard of Canva? I know you’re busy with The K Squad but we are planning on setting up an office in Manila, so do you want to interview for the position?” Good thing I was online at that time so within the next 10 minutes, we were already on a Skype call. We were already planning on how to set up an office, how big we would like the office to be like, we were already talking logistics.
Also within the call, if asked if I would be interested in bringing some if not all of my team members. I said yes even before asking everyone. After the call, I called my team for an emergency meeting.
That was the easiest decision I have made. I did not have to sell the company anymore. What I usually say about my journey from K Squad to Canva, I was talking a lot about social media before Canva and one thing I was teaching was setting up your profile, being out there and getting things about you out there. So, when I learned that Cliff found me on Twitter and and stopped me on Linkedin, I actually became my own testimony at that time.
It was really a good experience and a really good story to tell every time. We are celebrating Canva Manila’s first year this month of August and I still feel the same butterflies in my stomach as the first time I spoke to Cliff and Zach whenever I talk about my experience.
How would you define the term “Virtual Assistant” to a wannabe?
When I started out, I also had a hard time explaining what I actually do. But when asked what a virtual assistant is, I usually say, it’s a profession where I do everything except anything that involves my physical presence.
It’s really hard to define it because it’s very diverse. It depends on the company you are working with and the actual thing you are doing.
You have a few certifications under your name, do you think it played a role in your success?
With Canva specifically, it’s not until after the call that I get to submit my CV. I even offered and asked them if they want a copy of my CV.
But for me, I got confident with talking to clients because of the certifications, the online courses, the seminars and all events that I attended. So, I would say it played a huge part in me becoming what I am now.
Also, sometimes, it doesn’t matter if it’s learning something new. Sometimes, it’s a form of validation. Like for example, you are already doing social media for a client, but you did not really take up a social media course, then, you would always doubt yourself if you really know everything. But, when you take up basic social media course then you realize “Oh! I know all of that! And more!”. That gives you a sense of confidence that “Okay! I’m a Social Media Marketer.”
What’s your top 3 Virtual Assistant tips to success?
First, be patient and persistent. Through the years, 1 thing that I’ve been doing was teaching friends and family members who would come to me and ask me to teach them how to land a job in Odesk or how to start something. Then they would apply to a job and wait for a response, sometimes they would just give up right then and there. And you know these people are smarter than me and you know who would succeed if they only stayed for a little longer or if they pursued it more.
Another thing, I did not have a background on computer. I was a nurse when I started. So, it means that even if you are at any age or from a different profession or industry, you can really get a job as a Virtual Assistant. Just be patient and persistent.
Second, don’t be afraid to start small. I always say this story – when I started, the first contract I applied for was for 50 cents an hour and at that time, I was really happy because first of all, I told myself “how much was I earning from the hospital?” It was already a win-win for me at that time because I knew that I did have the experience, I had no portfolio and I thought I had nothing to offer than my willingness to learn and work hard for the job.
At that time I started at 50 cents, then when the contract ended I went to 80 cents, then $1 then $1.35. Where you are does not determine where you’ll be in the future. So, don’t be afraid to start small.
I see people who are very conscious about how much they should charge when they have not yet experienced the whole work yet. For example, for a small project, you are very conscious about not pricing right but what if you price high then, you realize it’s not the work that you want to do?
You can always start small and work your way up from there.
Last, always be learning. What I did before, was subscribe to all these newsletters, but I realized I was having a hard time reading through all of that. So, what I did was assigned a day where it’s my “learning day”. All the updates that I receive in my inbox, I just put it in a folder. I usually assign Thursday as my learning day where I o out of the house and read all the updates or go to different courses that I was interested in picking up.
For those who are not familiar yet with Canva, will you tell us what it is? How can it help Virtual Assistants?
Canva is an online graphic design tool that let’s you create designs easily with its drag and drop feature. For me, I used it before for personal projects, for my own marketing materials and even for my clients because I did a lot of social media marketing and since my clients are mostly small business owners, they don’t have that extra budget to hire a designer.
Canva helps a lot in creating beautiful social media posts for Facebook, Twitter and even for blog posts. So, it would really help Virtual Assistants in creating visual images for all of your sites.
Canva is slowly releasing new awesome features, you can check it out here: www.canva.com/work
Here’s a quick overview of how to use Canva:
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