Michelle Dale is one of the leading Virtual Assistant mentors around. She is the woman behind Virtual Miss Friday. I can say that as a mentor, she encompasses all the aspects of a Virtual Assistant’s life from your starting out stage to transitioning to a bigger business to managing work-life balance. She’s got everything organized into awesome programs that you can study at your own pace.
I had the privilege of chatting with Michelle and I sensed her willingness to give as much information as she can. She is genuine and easy to talk to. I feel like I would want to hang out with her for some girl talk over coffee. Yup! She’s that nice and accommodating!
I’d like to share with you what I learned from her during the interview:
- Top 3 things that most Virtual Assistants struggle with and what advice she gave them
- How Filipino VAs can work on their employee mindset
- How solo VAs can transition to building a team or an agency
- How to manage work-life balance as a Virtual Assistant
How did you get started as a Virtual Assistant?
I started as a Virtual Assistant in 2005. When I discovered Virtual Assistance, I knew absolutely nothing about it. It was completely new to me. I didn’t really understand the internet very well at that time either. I do use it but I didn’t realize that people could turn the internet into a business venture. I decided I want to go travelling. I left U.K. before I became a Virtual Assistant and once I started travelling, I realize I never wanted to go back to the U.K. to live. I was really enjoying myself. The weather was much better from where I was. I felt very relaxed going from a very high-stress job with a long commute, from being sort of dragged down by bills and things like that. I loved travelling.
I discovered Virtual Assistance as a way to earn money on the internet and I decided to proceed in that direction.
…and the rest was history?
Yes. Absolutely. Fortunately it came at just the right time. Virtual Assistance was really not very well known back then. As I was starting out, there were a few handful in terms to the way things are now. There were Virtual Assistants out there doing it and I kind of jumped on the wagon. It has just really been fantastic because its something that I’ve grown with and it has grown with me. So, it’s been awesome!
How would you define the term “Virtual Assistant” to those who are interested in being a V.A.?
There are so many descriptions out there about what a Virtual Assistant is. But for me, it’s very very simple. A Virtual Assistant is somebody who can assist another person online with something and that could be anything whether it’s an administrative service, a creative service, a marketing service, and people even have concierge service online now.
But, if you have something you can give to other people that has value, that will assist them in some area of their life, you can be a Virtual Assistant.
Don’t get too bogged down about what could that possible be. Just think about what you love to do to help people and grow your Virtual Assistant business from there.
As a mentor to VAs, can you tell me the top 3 things that your students usually struggle with? What advice did you give them?
The first one is confidence.
A lot of VAs struggle with their confidence, particularly when they are new in the market. Don’t be so concerned much about that you have never been a Virtual Assistant before or you don’t know much about Virtual Assistance. We all have to start from somewhere.
I started from nothing and I learned and I improved. The best thing to do is to just start and choose things that you do feel confident in. If you have a skill and passion for providing a certain service – if you love doing design work, or if you love managing people’s emails or doing customer support. Start with something that will help you to feel confident.
There’s too many VAs going into Virtual Assistance business thinking to themselves, they have to cover a whole spectrum of services and some of those services, they are not very confident in. Then, that will have a sort of negative impact on their business.
If you start to seek things that you are confident in to start with, even if it’s just 1 or 2 things.
Second, finding clients.
Everyone is like “I don’t know how to have clients.”, “Where do I go?”, “What do I do?”
The best advice I can give you is to not think about the fact that you have to obtain a client and that they are going to pay you money and you have to sell, sell, sell.
The best thing you can do, like I said before, is think about how you can help people. Approach those people, those potential clients, those people you can potentially work with just as a colleague or as an associate or somebody who has come and said “Do you know how I do this or is it possible if you can help me with this?”
Give them the best advice as you possibly can, based on your own knowledge and your own experience. Don’t think too much about that there are clients or potential clients that you need to somehow make a sale. Be honest. Be forthcoming in your advice. Give as much value as you can and they will be very receptive to you.
That’s the best advice I can give to you in terms of searching for clients and getting on the ladder. People are everywhere. Go on social media, go on networking sites, go on Linkedin. Connect with people. Look at the people around you. Who have you worked with in the past, who are your friends and family working with? You can get access to a whole host of people if you really sit down and brainstorm about where are people/my potential clients.
When you finally get that audience, just be friendly, be open, be yourself and you will obtain clients that way.
Finally, solid direction.
Not enough Virtual Assistants have a really solid direction in terms of where they would want to take their VA business.
They think that Virtual Assistance is just one thing – becoming a Virtual Assistant. There are many different kind of strings to Virtual Assistance in terms of consulting, administrative assistance, social media, marketing assistance. Think about what you really want to offer.
- Do you want to do business on your own?
- Are you interested in hiring a team?
- Is there a certain direction that you want to take your business in?
Have a plan and a profile of your business at the start. Instead of going from one thing to the next, having a profile for your business where you say this is what I want for my business, this is how my business needs to run in order for it to work for me. Really stick to that as you move forward and grow.
One of the major things Filipino VAs struggle with, is the lack of self-confidence to present themselves as a VA business owner. Most VAs act like employees to clients even if they can bring in more value or can offer advice to a Consultant degree. What can you say about this?
Yes, that’s a cultural thing. I think that happens not just in the Philippines but also places like India where businesses and companies go out there because they can hire in the masses. When you get that it makes you feel, culturally, like you are part of the masses.
But when you are developing a business, it’s down to the individual to be able to grow it and to make it thrive. So, don’t think of yourselves as part of the masses. Think of yourself as one individual developing a business who is separate from all the others. Make it your own and own that.
Who is your role model and why?
My role model is my grandmother. A lot of people I know have celebrities and business entrepreneurs as their role models. But for me, I grew up all my life admiring my grandmother. I would like to replicate a lot of her characteristics in the way she approach life and I’ve done that. I don’t think I’ll be where I am today have I not done that.
She was very tenacious. She worked very hard to try to be the best mother she could be but she also had a job as a seamstress and she also strived to be the very best at her work. She approached life never complaining. She felt everything was a blessing.
I try to approach life in a similar way. That everything is a blessing. I’m very, very thankful. Finding that balance between work and home life – I try not to overwhelm me too much. I just try to approach life like there is plenty of time to get things done and that I can be a successful entrepreneur. I can be successful mom and wife.
I took a lot away from her. Unfortunately, she died in November last year. But she is always in the forefront of my mind. I always think to myself, how would have my grandmother done this or what would she say to this. Definitely, she is my role model.
What’s your best advice to solo VAs who would like to transition to building a team or an agency?
The best thing you can do is start documenting your business. Everything that you do in your business, start writing down instructions for it. Next time you try to go do something for a client, or something for your own business (whether it be marketing or process in handling customer support for clients) – document it step by step. Start now. You don’t even have to have a team in place to do that.
You can start getting into the rhythm of creating instructions because in order to develop into a team, you have to have a real ability to convey information and instructions with clarity and simplicity. This isn’t always easy so start practicing as much as you can. Document your instructions, your procedures, everything.
From there, you can move on and start hiring your first VA. Your first VA can get her doing those process and procedures you’ve documented but do them for your own business. Don’t sort of let them loose on clients. Start VAs in on your own business. See how they work, see how they process your tasks. See if you’re happy with them because it’s not just about your clients. Approach your VAs as if it’s a client relationship and you’re the client. Get your VAs do those processes for you and if you feel that they have reached a certain level then you can get them to expand and go into working with clients and things like that.
If you are going to have any of your VAs customer-facing, I would suggest that you really invest in those team members. The ones that are directly dealing with your clients, pay them more in an hourly rate in comparison to the ones who are just behind the scenes. Invest in a training with them because, obviously, the clients are the bread and butter of your business. So, you really want to make sure that there is equal quality in terms of the people you are hiring, dealing with those people the same way you would do it yourself.
How do you maintain work-life balance?
This has been really a big part of my life recently. I’ve never been really skinny or particularly health conscious or anything like that. When I became a VA, I would spend most of my time sitting down in front of a desk/computer and not eating proper meals. I work so many hours in a day building my business and market it so I would just sit there and grab whatever food I could find. Then I met my husband, I became pregnant so from there, my health took a steady decline.
It also impacted a lot of many other things like my relationships with my family. I wasn’t able to run around with my kids as much as I wanted to. I was already 20 lbs overweight.
So when I had my last child, I said enough is enough. I really decided to really invest in myself personally because I know it will have a positive impact on my business. I’d be less tired , I’d be sharp, I’d have more clarity. So, that’s what I did.
I started this product called Project Me. It’s basically a journey to losing weight but not through diet or through any kind of fad or anything like that. It’s real education on nutrition, health and exercise.
I started to document my journey. I’ve lost all my baby weight now – about 50 lbs. I still have around 14 lbs to go. I really wanted to do it in a way that was easy.
A lot of people think about “health” as difficult and that there’s no time to do it. I was one of those people. “I don’t have time to exercise.”, “I don’t have time to cook healthy meals.” Then, one day I just decided that all I’m doing was just completely using excuses.
So I went out and made it my mission to find really healthy meals I could cook quickly, exercises that didn’t take up a lot of time that were effective. I looked at maximizing health in as much of a short space of time as possible. That’s what Project Me is all about.
Project Me is for people who primarily have desk jobs who want to concentrate on health, feeding their family healthily, losing weight without dieting and without the struggle.
Everything starts with your mindset. Admit to yourself that you are making excuses and decide to do something about it. Invest half an hour a day in yourself. Whether it be meditating, learning a new recipe for a healthy meal, taking 10 minutes out to bounce on a mini trampoline or just go for a quick walk with you kids. Whatever it is, get everybody in your family involved. It’s how you balance your work with your life because you are incorporating everything in as part of your family.
As much as we want to sit our asses out for as long we possibly can to get as much as we possible can done, we have to understand that that is not good for our business. Although we think it is because we are getting more done, it’s not. Believe me, once you start taking care of yourself, what took you 4 hours before, will probably take you 2. That’s the difference you get with such mental clarity from taking care of your body and looking after yourself.
Take care of your business by taking care of its source – you. Now is the time to take care of yourself – while you’re busy. Learn to incorporate taking care of yourself while you have a deadline and you will commit to it for life.
Learn more about Project Me here:
What’s your biggest takeaway from this interview? I’d love to know. Add them as a comment below and feel free to share this to anyone who you think will benefit from it. 🙂
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