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in Virtually Speaking, the AVS newsletter
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Copyright reserved - Irene Boston
Ambition should be made
of sterner stuff
You’ve decided to work from home because you’ve always wanted to or your job or personal circumstances have changed. Or perhaps for health reasons you find yourself re-evaluating your career. You’ve worked in an office for many years and your computer skills are first rate. Success should automatically follow, shouldn’t it? Wrong! The initial decision to be a homeworker is merely the first, small step on a long and difficult road to becoming a successful business owner. Just because you’ve made that decision doesn’t mean success is yours by right.
Throughout our industry, a great many people are starting their VA careers. As we all know, it can be a daunting task and it’s not always obvious where to begin. Many newcomers seem to have the right attitude and realise developing a business is not going to be easy.
However, I’ve noticed an increasing number of people on some US lists who seem to think there’s some magic formula they can use and voilà, they’ll have a successful business instantly. They seek a simple ABC guide which will reveal step by step instructions on how to miraculously become a VA. But there is no quick route to success. If there were, we’d all be rich by now!
That’s not to say there isn’t plenty of help available. There are various support organisations and various publications covering all aspects of the VA world, both for the newcomer and the experienced VA. Think of a subject, whether it’s how to start your business, marketing, public relations or financial planning and you can guarantee you’ll be able to find a book or article full of useful advice. (See Become a VA page elsewhere on my website).
What disturbs me greatly about the attitude of some VAs is that they seem to think they can be successful with hardly any effort on their part. They’re looking for guidance. They’re looking for easy answers and advice. They study articles, books and website resources but they refuse to acknowledge that half the battle must be waged by them. Once they’ve heard all the advice, it’s almost as if they expect another step in the process. They want to be led by the hand down the path to success.
They don’t appear to want to do very much for themselves. I’m not sure whether they expect clients to fall into their laps. Having bought their PC, printed headed paper and business cards, posted flyers, placed adverts, many of them think the money is going to start rolling in. When it doesn’t, their attitude seems almost petulant. The reaction is, “Well I’ve done my bit, why is nothing happening? Surely I’ve expended enough effort and money now on marketing, so where are my clients?” Or, “Yes, I’ve listened to your advice, but it’s not working and I want more!” Well, I’m afraid it doesn’t work that way.
Along with colleagues, I receive many emails and phone calls asking for free advice. Usually I send a standard, informative reply, or I refer them to a page on my website which recommends various organisations and publications. Most enquirers are very polite and seem genuinely keen. However, what astounds me is the attitude of a minority and thankfully it is still a minority. They’re extremely demanding and almost downright rude. It’s almost as if they believe they have a right to free advice and whatever time of the day (or night) they call, I should be willing to reveal all. It also begs the question - if this is their attitude to colleagues, how do they behave towards clients?
Just think about their attitude for a moment. These people are effectively asking their competitors for free advice to start up in business so they can compete and possibly poach business from the very person they expect to give them that advice. Can you imagine a retail shop giving away all its business secrets? Can you imagine a solicitor nursemaiding a colleague and helping him start up in business with free advice? No, nor can I. Yet that is exactly what happens in the VA industry each week. Many of us freely and willingly give advice and support. However, a small part of me still remembers the effort I made starting my own business. Years ago, there was very little online help available and certainly none of the outstanding email lists we have today. Sometimes I’m very tempted to turn round and say, go figure it out for yourself - I had to!
The range of advice and help available to newcomers nowadays is tremendous. The VA world is full of generous, knowledgeable people who are willing to share their experience with others – and all for nothing. How often on the mailing lists do you see a plea for help to which other VAs immediately respond, no matter how busy they may be? Almost every day I see examples of this unstinting generosity.
Most of the organisations and articles you see on the internet are provided by volunteers. Successful business owners who have decided to share their knowledge with others. They don’t have to – no one pays them for it. They do it because they remember their struggle to succeed and hope that they can assist others, thereby helping them to avoid the mistakes they made. That's partly why the Alliance of UK Virtual Assistants was founded, to raise awareness of virtual assisting in the UK.
It’s such a pity that a minority feel they have a right to this free information without expending any effort themselves. The harsh reality is that no one owes you any favours. No one owes you a living and it’s unrealistic and unprofessional to think otherwise. There are no quick fixes, no get rich-quick solutions to developing your own business. I’m sorry if that sounds brutal – for once, it’s meant to. I've written previously about the mental attitude needed to work for yourself. Ultimately, it’s up to you to change your attitude and adapt to self employment but not everyone is capable of making the changes necessary to succeed in business.
When you read articles full of advice, do you think “That was interesting. That’s given me some good ideas to try for myself” Or do you think “Yes, that’s all very well, but surely there must be an easier way – a short cut? Why can’t they tell me exactly how to go about it”? Now ask yourself. Which is the correct, professional attitude? Which is the one more likely to succeed in the long term?
Sitting at home in front of your computer and deciding “This is the life for me” is not enough. That alone does not make you a successful business owner. All the advice, articles and support are valuable, but the rest is up to you. The sheer hard graft, long hours and worry associated with making a business successful is your responsibility. No one person or organisation can guarantee you work – not even the online agencies can do that, whatever they claim. No one will hand you work on a plate or spoon feed you an easy solution. The responsibility for gaining clients, making a living and nurturing a successful business is yours and yours alone.
© Irene Boston 1998-2003
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This page was last updated 19th January 2003