Combining passion and work

Those who have known me for awhile know that I have a passion for nature and photography, and over recent years, have been building up a photography website and tons of photos during my free time.  Applying the skills I’ve learnt in my VA business, I’ve been able to do a number of things such as setting up a website and blog, Facebook page, and spending time networking with other photographers as I work on improving my skills and abilities in that arena.

Two years ago I attended a 2 day photography workshop with three presenters, one a well-known nature photographer, another who runs a world photography tour company and the third, a lecturer at RMIT, who teaches PhotoShop, Lightroom and other tools for photography.  We were encouraged to keep in touch, if we wish, and of course I did!

I’d sent a number of emails to one of the presenters, in particular, seeking advice on different things relating to my photography and sale of photos. Usually I would email care of my ‘photographer’s email’ address but one time I forgot to change addresses and sent from my default VA address. A short time later I got a phone call from him, saying he’d been looking for a VA and he knows that I’m keen on photography and would I be interested?  I didn’t even need to hesitate. This was a natural for me. Providing VA support to someone who I admire and would love to emulate in the field of nature photography.  It’s been a delight providing services for him ever since.

Sherbrooke Forest, Kallista by Kathie M. Thomas

Sherbrooke Forest, Kallista – Kathie Thomas

I’d often thought I’d like to be a photographer’s VA and had joined various photography forums, not just to learn how to be a better photographer, but also in the hope that one or two, or more, may need a VA to support them.  You just never know where that opportunity might arise!

So, if you have a hobby, a passion, something else you’re pursuing on the side, then I encourage you to make sure you network and connect with people in that field, because, like me, you may find that one, or more, have the need for VA services and you’ll be well-placed to assist because you not only have the VA skills they need, you also have the passion for what it is they’re doing.

If you are also keen on nature photography, and are in Victoria, or can get here, I am hosting a Nature Photography Workshop in September with Steve Parish. If you would like to spend two whole days, getting both practical experience and head knowledge from one of the best in our country, I encourage you to check out the link and get your booking in.  Numbers are limited!

Who should you be asking?

questionmarkSometimes on the VA forums I see people asking questions that really should be directed to others more equipped and qualified to answer those questions. For example, should I have a business license? Or, if in Australia, should I be registered for an ABN or GST?

While people on forums can answer these questions, if the forums are global, rather than national, then the new VAs run the risk of receiving advice that really isn’t relevant to them in their location. Who should they be asking? They should be checking with local business websites run by local government offices, or better still, their accountant. No-one in business should be without an accountant. I know there may be a thought that asking an accountant for information could be expensive, but the reality is you can’t do without an accountant. Better to be armed with the facts and set up correctly when you’re first starting out, rather than having to fix problems or correct things many months or a year down the track, once you have to do a tax return.

Likewise, if you’re asking for information on what rates you should be setting for your services, or what contract you should be using, it is very important that the information you get and choose to act upon, is appropriate for your situation and location. No use deciding to charge the same rate as someone else if they’re located in a different country and with a different currency and cost of living, let alone different skills and experiences to you. And if the contract they use works for them, doesn’t mean that legally it’s the right one for you.

It is important for anyone new in business, not just VAs, do the research and their homework. By that I mean, research what is relevant for you in your country and/or state, on a local level. Locate the government business sites and also tax sites where you can get relevant information. Find a local contract and work on it to rebuild it as your own. There are often draft contracts available online. Or find a solicitor who works with small businesses. But again, make sure you source the information from your own country first.  Building from scratch and creating your own content is most important when developing a business. If you use someone else’s rates and then another person’s contract, there is no ownership in that and you wouldn’t be able to answer why you set that rate, or used ‘that clause’ when speaking with your accountant or a solicitor.

Very important that you build your foundations right, in the way that is just for you, not someone else. It’s these important things that help you develop ownership for your business and helps keep you on track as things grow.


Should I be receiving mail on behalf of a client?

Periodically requests might come through from a prospective client to receive mail on their behalf, and forward it on, as instructed, because they’re out of the country.

I believe this request could be fraught with problems, and possibly danger, and is one that should be handled with the utmost care and a lot of thought. Irrespective of your need, as a VA, to grow your client base, there are some client requests that should be handled with caution or declined.

A recent request came from a client I’d never heard of or met before, was from another state, but currently overseas, and wanted me (or one of my team) to receive packages for him, and forward them on to addresses he would email to me, around 2-5 times a week. They had to be posted on the same day received. He said they were marketing materials in boxes but had also mentioned mobile phones in an earlier part of his email. He also wanted mail to be scanned and emailed to him as his post office box was due for renewal very soon and he wanted to let it expire. Plus take phone messages for him.

While this request may seem very innocent to him, there have been many cases in the past of VAs (not necessarily here in Australia but in the US and elsewhere) who have gotten caught in the middle of something illegal and because they had been passing on such items they became an accessory to the crime. This is not a position I want to put myself or any of my team into. So I declined the client request and suggested he use a mailing centre such as who is set up to handle mail on behalf of their clients. They provide other services too which I’m sure would suit this client, providing his request was genuine and innocent.

I explained to him that I’d made it a rule never to receive mail on behalf of someone I didn’t know personally and I hope he understood.  But that we could provide many other services as VAs which usually means providing computer based support services (word-processing, data entry, phone answering, telemarketing, website maintenance, newsletters, database management, etc) but generally we don’t act as a mail collection point for clients, especially if there is no prior working relationship.

When is it ok to receive mail on behalf of a client? When you already have a working relationship with that person or prior knowledge of that person.  I do receive mail for a couple of clients. One is a not-for-profit organisation and I run their secretariat. The other is a long-term client who is in Singapore and I receive magazines on his behalf, scanning the advertising pages and emailing them to him, as his field is in advertising and that is part of his business.

I did have to think about this request before responding to the client. And I did this overnight. I knew I didn’t feel quite right about the request but couldn’t put my finger on it till this morning when I remembered some stories about VAs in the past who had gotten into trouble, through innocently helping clients, by passing on packages.  Sometimes it’s better to be careful, even if missing the opportunity to service a genuine client.

Speed track your VA business!

Are you thinking about setting up a Virtual Assistant business and don’t know where to start? So much to look at, learn, read and do.  I know the feeling of being overwhelmed at the beginning, not sure what to do first or who to ask, or where to find clients. It seems almost endless but you know that lots of others are doing it, you have the skills to be a Virtual Assistant and you want to make it work… the first time!

Well, I’m here to help you and the way I plan to do it is this:

For the first dozen who choose to take up this offer, during this month of April 2014, you can do the VA Trainer Course, and become a member of my Virtual Assistant network, which will provide you with introductions to clients and also a large VA community online. Many VAs outsource to other VAs and you can get involved in this.

What do you need to do?

  • You need to have minimum 5 years’ working experience in an office or office-based type support, including good keyboard skills. This is so I can be sure you have the experience to work with your own clients – clients I introduce you to.
  • You need a reliable computer and printer set up at home, as well as a reliable internet connection.
  • Time to do the VA Trainer course. Written to be done over a 10 week period, I will provide all 10 weeks’ worth of lessons in one hit to those who request it. Otherwise you can do it over the 10 weeks. It will require approximately 1-2 hours of your time on a weekly basis, but could be less if doing it all in one hit.
  • Full payment of the course, and I’ll include 1 year’s membership to my VA network. Regularly $850 I’m offering this at $550 for a limited time only.

You can view the course program here.  And details of the VA Network membership here.

Pay for this special offer at your choice below. Please make sure you include your name and email address so I can contact you.

(Please quote reference number 100154978)

or by Paypal

If you wish to pay by EFT, please email me for details.

And get started today!

Who am I to make this offer? My name is Kathie Thomas. I’ve been in the VA industry since it was created and celebrated 20 years’ in business in March 2014. I do have the experience and knowledge to help you get started and am still a practicing VA with my own clients today. Who better qualified to help you get started?

Becoming a VA

I recently received an email from a young lady looking to start her own VA business but concerned that there might be too many out there for her to make a living as a VA. She wanted to know my thoughts. This is my response to her:

I can appreciate the concern or fear that might be the case, but it’s not.  Getting clients works a number of different ways:

  1. Register with VA networks so you can respond to client requests, but also, so clients can find you online.
  2. Make sure you have a presence online so clients can learn and read about you:  Your LinkedIn profile should be up-to-date, a Facebook page if you wish, definitely a web presence of some sort.
  3. Design a signature block and make sure you use that in all your emails so people have your contact details and information about your business.
  4. Find local business networks – this is very important. Local business people need to know you exist. You’ll learn from them and they will learn from you. Over time you’ll gain a number of clients through direct contact or through word-of-mouth referrals.
  5. Join business networks online via Facebook groups, LinkedIn discussion forums, Yahoo-groups, etc.  You will gain clients online but probably not as quickly as through face-to-face networking.

We all have different sphere of influences, so unless all the friends, family and personal contacts you make, already have a saturation of VAs, it’s highly unlikely there are ‘too many’.  We all have different skills, experiences, abilities, time availability and locations. There are enough clients around for all of us. But it does take time to build up your confidence in promoting your business and securing the clients. This can be learned through reading about the industry, participating in VA forums and perhaps even taking a VA course. You’ll find a couple through the VA networks listed at the AVAA website.

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