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One of several articles originally published during 2000
in Virtually Speaking, the AVS newsletter
Please see the Article Index to read the other articles.
Copyright reserved - Irene Boston



To business that we love we rise betime
And go to’t with delight 
– Antony & Cleopatra, W. Shakespeare

Making the transition from employee to running a self employed business is a difficult one.  As well as learning a host of new skills, you have to change the whole approach to the way you work.  Among a myriad of other tasks, there is the considerable expense of equipping a home office with all the paraphernalia necessary to function efficiently.

However, it’s the mental and physical transition to working alone at home, possibly for the first time without the safety net of a corporate environment, which is often the hardest adaptation of all.

Some VAs tackle the logistics of this transition in completely different ways, all dictated by their personal circumstances.  If yours is the only salary in the household, it’s unlikely you will be able to quit your full time job completely and launch yourself as a fully fledged VA immediately.  As we’ve all discovered, clients don’t materialise out of thin air.  It takes sheer persistence, hard slog and a fair slice of luck to even land your first client.

My own experience was governed by the need to contribute to our household budget and by the necessity of earning a living.  So I continued in full time employment, working at my VA practice in the evenings and at weekends.  Once I began to win clients, I was able to reduce the number of days I worked at my “normal” job and I was very lucky to have a cooperative employer.  Not everyone is so fortunate. 

I was also lucky in that I had another string to my bow, as a writer and photographer - but that’s another story!  However, it obviously helps enormously if you have multiple sources of income, not least in proving to the Inland Revenue that you are self employed. 

Colleagues in the UK have branched out into the VA world from other related businesses, such as training and design.  Or by running their husband’s small business.  They have an advantage in that they are used to the perils and plus points of self employment. 

Other VAs here managed by working for temp agencies, where the freedom from a long term contract and the ability to choose the amount of hours worked is ideal.  This flexibility helps you build towards your real goal – that of a self sufficient, thriving business. 

Others are already at home, perhaps as mums whose children are at school or about to leave school.  Some are able to resurrect skills they once used in a previous career.  They may still be coping with a family but perhaps have more flexible hours to offer from the beginning than someone who’s trying to juggle a job and a business.  Mind you, the latter has the advantage of already being in the working world, knows how businesses operate and is au fait with all the latest technology.

Handling the isolation can be tricky at first, especially if you’re used to working in a large office.  Sitting at home in a spare bedroom can seem the loneliest place in the world and not everyone’s temperament is suited to this modus operandi.  That is when the value of support organisations becomes apparent. 

Such groups prove, especially to beginners, that there are an awful lot of people in exactly the same boat.  This kind of support is incredibly useful and helps to convince newcomers that you can make a living as a Virtual Assistant.  Learning from others who are successful can be a tremendous inspiration.  Even if you are fairly experienced – no one knows it all.  It’s a comforting feeling that if you have a query or just need a virtual shoulder to cry on, or a sounding board, there are like-minded colleagues who can help.  You’ll come across people who’ve not only been there, done that, and bought the T-shirt, they’ve probably washed and ironed the T-shirt as well! 

Unless you’re lucky and business takes off very quickly, it can seem as if you’ll never make any money.  It took me some time before I was able to break even and almost a year passed before I made any profit.  For a long time I felt that I was just struggling to pay the bills from the business.  We stayed afloat thanks to my husband’s income.  There are no shortcuts and you will have to work hard for every single client. 

It’s unlikely you’ll ever lose the worry of whether you’ll make enough money each month but such is the precarious nature of self employment.  No one else will look after you.  Suddenly you have all the responsibility of taxes, insurance, health and pensions to consider. 

But persevere.  For those determined to succeed, with the right professional attitude, there is a very satisfying living to made.  There really is no substitute for being completely in charge of your own life.  From the hours you work, to the clients you accept, to the place where you work.  You decide everything.

Each week I choose what hours I will work – as long as my deadlines are met.  I have the final say on whether I work mornings, afternoons or evenings.  Some days I work all three, plus weekends as well!  By contrast, if I have devoted long days to finish a project, I will often take a day off – even in the middle of the week!  A decision completely of my choosing and I wouldn’t change it for anything!  The feeling of being in total control of what you do and when you do it cannot be beaten.  Once you’ve experienced that, I guarantee you’ll never want to go back to being employed.

Once you’ve made that transition, the hard part is not only retaining your existing clients and winning new ones.  It’s developing still further your own mind set to remember that you’re no longer an employee.

Tel/Fax: +44 (0)1485 543746  Boston@ibss.fsnet.co.uk
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This page was last updated 19th January 2003