Aderson Oliveira: I have spoken with the very colorful Amethyst Storey about one of the very popular outsourcing specialties out there, which is called Virtual Assistant. She told me about how she became a virtual assistant, what it takes to be a VA, and the different types of VAs as well. Because I'm about to hire VA, I asked her what should be my approach on selecting my virtual assistants. She also shared with me one of her horror stories and what she learned out of that. Just a hint: have contracts and don't work for free.
Hello, hello, Aderson Oliveira here. This is another interview for the OuchSourcing Podcast where we talk to specialists, to business owners, to professionals about outsourcing, and what we can do to make that process easy for anybody out there. Today, I have with me Amethyst Storey. Amethyst, thank you for being here.
Amethyst Storey: Hi. How are you all today?
Aderson: I'm doing just fine, and excited to have a virtual assistant for the first time talking to me, and it's such a great time for that. Let's start with the basics here. First of all, for people that doesn't know what a virtual assistant is, let's start by defining that. Go for it.
Amethyst: A virtual assistant is somebody that can help businesses, busy entrepreneurs, and consultants with tasks that you may not like doing or are not good at. For example, you don't like creating content. There are VAs out there that can help you create your content, they can format it for you, you can proofread it and edit it. You don't want to deal with your social media because you're busy trying to find clients. There are VAs that can create graphics for your social media, they can schedule your posts, they can figure out the best way to market you on social media. There are many different types of VAs that can do many different tasks.
Aderson: Got it. You have a web presence, which is how I came across your name. Your website is theinfiniteva.com, and my next question to you is, again, going back to the basics here, where are you located and how long have you been a VA?
Amethyst: I'm actually located in Vernon, Connecticut in the U.S. I started my business in December of 2016, but I actually have 14 years of experience. I've been doing the types of services that I offer for friends and family for a number of years, and I just realized that I can make money doing this.
Aderson: Got it. Officially, it has been just about six months for you.
Amethyst: Just about.
Aderson: Just about. You said that you have been doing that for a while. When did things click to you that, "Hey, maybe I can become a VA"?
Amethyst: I actually came across a Facebook group for virtual assistants, and I reached out to them because I wanted to learn more about exactly what that was, because I was unsure of what that meant. And when I reached out in the group, I started to see definitions of what a VA was, how many different types of VAs there were. I got a look into some free training, and I said, "Wow, I already do this stuff. So, how about I start a business and let's try to make some money, because I have three special needs children and I'm really tired of the rat race."
Aderson: I get it. You mentioned there, when you were answering the last point, that there are different types of VAs. Can you touch a little bit about that? What are the different types of virtual assistants?
Amethyst: Yes. There are VAs that can help you organize your life that do calendar management, project management, they can help you with personal assistants, travel planning, and things of that nature. There are VAs that can help you design a website, can help you with graphic design, do social media management. There are general VAs which do general administrative tasks, proofreading and editing, they can do chat, email, phone, customer service. Pretty much any type of service that can be done virtually, you name it, there's a virtual assistant for it.
Aderson: Okay, that makes sense. Let me just try to differentiate if there's any differentiation there. You said that there are VAs that do design and VAs that do copyrighting. I mean, are those really VAs or are they designers, are they copywriters? I mean, is there a line that needs to be drawn there that someone should draw there of, "This is a VA or this is a web designer"?
Amethyst: Most virtual assistants offer more than one service and that's going to be your difference. Instead of just being a graphic designer, they may offer graphic design, but a lot of them offer social media management with it. It's usually a person that offers remote services in more than one category.
Aderson: Got it. Let me ask you this. What is the profile of your typical client?
Amethyst: My ideal client is a busy entrepreneur that either does not have time to organize their schedule or their life or just wants to focus on the things that they're good at. I take the things that they're not so good at and handle all of that for them and then report back to them each week so that we're all on the same page. So, it's basically like having a personal assistant for business.
Aderson: Got it. In the same point, what is your typical client, have you come across someone looking for a virtual assistant and you say, "This person will not be a good client because if X, Y, and Z," have you come across that?
Amethyst: I have. I have come across that, and usually what I do with those clients is that I refer them out to another VA that I know can handle their exact needs and specifications. I have a very wide networks of VAs that I have personally worked with, and I really don't mind outsourcing to other VAs. These are people that I have worked with personally. I will never refer a perspective client out to somebody whose work ethic I don't know.
Aderson: Got it. But here, what I was trying to ask is this potential client has a profile that is not suitable for a VA. I guess that what you answered is there are certain things that you don't do, so you outsource that to somebody else. That's great. It's partially what I asked for. But, what I'm asking is that this client will not be a good VA client. This client does not have the right profile to really make good use of a virtual assistant. Have you come across that kind of individual?
Amethyst: I have once, and what I did with them was I actually took the time to sit down with them and give them some other solutions. For example, I found somebody that really was looking for a telemarketer. Most VAs, we don't do telemarketing. There are some that do, but this potential client really needed, he had a limited budget, and most VAs if you want quality, we are on the expensive side because of the quality of our work. What I was able to do was find him somebody that could answer his phone calls, work on the commission basis that he needed, and wasn't a VA. So, I do work with other business owners as well if I clients that VAs are not suitable for.
Aderson: Okay. If I ask, what are some of the things that VAs are not good for? I mean, it's not appropriate, it's not the best use case of a VA's time or it's just not the right profile. What are some of the things that people ask you to do that, "Hey, this is not really what we do, anything like that?"
Amethyst: Usually it's just telemarketing or anything that is on a commission basis. VAs expect to be paid for the work we do, and if we don't get a commission, say they don't get a commission, then we don't get paid for the time that we put in. That is not a good use for a VA.
Aderson: Okay. Can I say that, and I'm talking about digital work related to the web, related to applications, can I state that whatever I can do, recording, how I do it and give it to somebody else, would that be -- of course, it's not commission-based. It's really on a time base. What if I can record and I can document, is that enough and appropriate to hand that over to a virtual assistant?
Amethyst: What are you looking to do with the video? Are you looking to have it transcribed? Is that what you mean?
Aderson: Actually, my point is this. What if I can document via recording a video. Let's say I had to do some research on the web and I say, "This is a video that I have recorded on how I go about doing this," and then I provide that to my VA. Is that usually enough for a VA to take over, follow the video instructions, and then take over from there?
Amethyst: Yes, actually. There are VAs that are very good at doing that.
Aderson: Got it.
Amethyst: As long as your instructions in the video are detailed, that would be enough for a VA to work with you.
Aderson: Okay. Do you leverage some of the outsourcing platforms out there like Upwork, like Zirtual? Do you work with any one of those platforms?
Amethyst: I have tried those platforms. What I've actually found is that there are a lot of people putting proposals out there, and I don't make enough money to continue using them, because there are a lot of VAs in other countries that are willing to work for pennies on the dollar. I'm not trying to be conceited here, but I definitely know what my services are worth, and I'm definitely not working for $5 an hour.
Aderson: I get it. Have you heard about - and again, if you have not, that's fine - but I'm just curious to see if you have heard about Zirtual?
Amethyst: I have.
Aderson: Because, they are an organization that only works with U.S.-based VAs. But, I guess that you have never worked with them.
Amethyst: I have not had the opportunity to work with them yet, but that is something that I will be looking into.
Aderson: Perfect. Let me see here. You touched on an interesting point here, which is a platform like Upwork, they have professionals all over the globe, and as you're saying people working for $5 an hour. How do you compete on an open market like this that you have people working for so little? But, bear in mind, I just want to make that clear that those people are not been exploited. It's just because the dollar stretches a lot longer on their country as compared to Canada or the U.S. But, my point is this, how do you compete in an open market like that where people can go very cheap on the type of service that you are providing?
Amethyst: The way that I compete in an open market is to create value for people. I show people what I'm worth and what I can do for them first without charging them for it. I do video marketing, I'll do trainings. I'll actually record some trainings if I can't do them live. It's all about showing value. If you can show your value and show that you're worth it, you can compete in an open market. It's definitely doable.
Aderson: Got it. I went through your site and I saw a few things that got me interested. You just have six months in business and I see that you put together packages, your site looks professional, you have packages, you have testimonials. How did you come to know about how to put those things together? Because, I have to tell you, I got impressed by your presentation in your package there. Where did that come from?
Amethyst: I actually followed successful competitors in my field. I network with them. I found out what they were doing and what I should be doing. I asked a lot of questions in groups on Facebook and LinkedIn to see where I should be going with things, and then I kind of just took it from there. I'm a very ambitious person, so when I get my mind to something, it's getting done yesterday.
Aderson: Got it. I also want to touch that aspect as well. It may seem irrelevant, but I don't think there's anything irrelevant here. You have a very, I'll say, unique visual and unique take. It comes across as your personality. Does that help? You have seen people, "Hey, you know what. I don't like that hair." I know that people will not say that in your face, but do you think it's more of a benefit for you being distinct, being different or not? Tell me about that.
Amethyst: I do actually. I feel like showing my personality not just on the inside, but on the outside allows my ideal clients to find me. So, if they may not like me visually, then they know, right off, we're not going to be a good fit. That's one factor. The other thing is I was raised to be different. I've always been different. I go and I make my own path. Life is what you make of it. I don't want to be a sheep. I want to be a lion.
Aderson: Okay, I can live with that. I can live with the lion. We touched a little bit on your profile. At this point in time, how are you finding new clients, new businesses?
Amethyst: I use my social media a lot to get the word out there about trainings that I'm doing, about my services. I actually recently rebranded, I'd say, within the last two weeks. I moved from a brand that was not really suited for my ideal client. I actually have two business mentors and I have calls with them every week, and they are actually steering me in the right direction.
The ideas are mine, but they're telling me step-by-step how to get to the end result for my goals. My rebrand is basically a beach theme, because of what I do. It's to show client, it's to pull them in to show, "Hey, if you choose me, you're going to feel relaxed at the end of the day." That's my brand. It's different than it was before, but I like it. It's something that belongs to me, and it shows my personality. This is the type of person you're working with, and that's how I want it to come across.
Aderson: Let me tell you. You're very right there because people don't buy from your features. They buy from the feelings and the sensations that they can acquire after working with you, after doing business with you. Again, I really, really agree strongly with the, "You're going to become relaxed after working with me as your virtual assistant." I love that.
Question here, going more personal now. I know that you have three kids. How is a busy mom -- my wife, we have two kids and she has her hands full, and I could not see her -- I hope that she's not listening to that, but I don't know how crazy she would go if she had to manage to kids and manage a business as well. How are you able to coordinate that?
Amethyst: I am a very organized person. Google Calendar is my best friend. Anybody that does not have it, I highly recommend it. I manage my schedule on Google Calendar. I have my alert set up. My three kids have special needs so we have appointments every week. But they're every week at the same times, so my schedule always remains the same. I schedule in everything.
Currently, I'm not doing this full-time. I am going to be doing this full-time within the next six months; that is my goal. But, I currently am still working a job as well, so I schedule all my work time. I schedule my time for my business in the mornings before work when my children are at school, and in the evenings after they go to bed. That is the best time for me to work without being completely distracted.
It’s basically have a handle on your schedule. If you have a handle on your schedule, and you have everything scheduled out, you're not going to go wrong.
Aderson: You said at the beginning -- I want to step back. We go back and forth here and to your beginnings and to where you are as things come up to mind I'll keep jumping back and forth. Let's, for one second, go back here to the beginnings. You said that you have been doing this kind of work for friends, for family, but you made that as a business. Did you have a certain web presence at that point in time, or you were starting pretty much from scratch and with no social following? How was that decision of starting this business and starting from scratch?
Amethyst: I actually pretty much started from scratch. I have personal social media presence, but not a business one. I hadn't done any networking at that point, so I basically just started from the beginning. I started networking with other people in the field, other entrepreneurs in different fields to get a feel of what they were doing, and then I basically took in as much information as I could. I went through trainings and took notes. I went and I did all kinds of tutorials, and then I sat down and put everything together in an order that made sense and said, "Okay, this is my starting point," and I took it from there.
Aderson: Okay, got it. At this point in time, you mentioned that you were doing social outreach. Are you working via educating people and then they come back to you? How are you growing at this point in time?
Amethyst: Currently, what I'm doing is I'm offering a lot of value beyond my content. I do Facebook Live. That's going to be a new thing, but I have done video marketing in the past. I offer articles and tips and tools that are going to be helpful for other people in my business, as well as other entrepreneurs. Actually, both of my clients found me on social media platforms. Went and took a look at my website and then booked the consultation with me right from my website. So, they have actually have been finding me via my content.
Aderson: I get it. I think that I don't fully recall how we connected, but I know that I saw you on Twitter, maybe, when I was looking for outsourcing people. I don't know, but again, it was definitely via the social media out there that I connected with you. Let me shift, here, the conversation a little bit to the tools on your tool belt. Which tools, which software platforms, what systems out there do you use, first, to communicate with your clients and, second, to manage the day-to-day work with your clients?
Amethyst: So, to communicate with my clients, I generally use either Zoom or Skype. Most people want to have a video meeting, which is completely fine with me, because you want to see who you're working with. That's a big deal to see and speak to who you're going to be working with. You have to be able to trust somebody with your business. That's your baby.
That's what I use, and I also want to know who I'm working with. So, it's a good way to gauge if our personalities are going to be a fit. As far as the day-to-day work, I use a program called Freedcamp. It's very similar to Basecamp, except that it's free. It's project management software that allows you to set up the project under the client's either their name or their business name, then it allows you to set up the tasks, prioritize the tasks, assign the tasks to a specific person, and put a deadline, as well as notes in there. Your clients can also communicate with you via Freedcamp any time they need to.
Aderson: Perfect. Great two cents. By the way, I would like to get those links and you can send me that afterwards. And all the links will be posted in the show notes.
Aderson: Perfect. Let me see here what else what I have here. Actually, I have quite a lot here because, as I said before, I'm in the market for a VA. Let's put the hat of a client here for a second. What should I be looking for -- actually, how should I be evaluating a potential virtual assistant to work with me? What would you recommend there?
Amethyst: What I recommend, most VAs, when you go to book a free discovery call with them, they have a questionnaire before you book the appointment, and it basically asks us for your social media profiles and your website so that we can do research on you, and asks you about your business. It generally asks you what types of services you're looking for. Due to the fact that there are so many VAs, we like to narrow it down to specifically what it is that you need to help grow your business. If you're unsure, then there is a box for unsure, and we can actually talk about your business on the discovery call and get you to the point where you're able to figure out exactly what it is you need.
Aderson: Okay. Let's simulate that. I want to do a little bit of a -- it's not role play because, actually, as I said, I'm in the market for a virtual assistant at this point, and very specifically, I would like this person to help me booking guests. I have the OuchSourcing podcast, and one of the challenges that I have is that, yes, I keep contacting a lot of people, and I want to have someone to organize the booking of those guests, and not only that, but also research new guests. I'm looking for guests with this profile and that profile. Can you find me 10 individuals that meet this profile? Can you provide me their email address? Do I sound like I'm in the right direction here for a VA?
Amethyst: Yes, and actually, you're in the right direction for me. Online research and organization, especially calendar organization and scheduling, are some of the many services I provide.
Aderson: But, let me ask you something about scheduling. At this point in time, I almost have the feeling that scheduling has been solved by online tools, like I use Calendly. I think it's Calendly.
Amethyst: Yeah, you're correct.
Aderson: Which, I can say, "Hey, I'm free this time. Come in. Book a time with me." Isn't calendaring solved, in a way, already by those tools?
Amethyst: It is, and Calendly is a very good one. I actually specifically use Acuity. I have Acuity hooked up to my website, and when people come in, they can schedule an appointment with me. You set up the times that you're available, and then they can choose from your available times. It really does take the work out of scheduling, because it will not allow somebody to schedule a time when somebody else is already scheduled. That's the fantastic idea and something I recommend to all my clients.
Aderson: Let's keep digging a little bit deeper into helping me select a virtual assistant. How can I try and see, "Hey, this person here is a good fit." How do I start slowly and grow as time -- how do you recommend that I test someone, whether or not it's yourself or somebody else? How would you recommend, for me, to get experiments with this individual?
Amethyst: My recommendation would be to go with somebody that would start you on a trial basis, which just means that, instead of having a contract that's open-ended, there would be a specific end date for the contract. That way, you have a specific period of time where you can test out the services of the VA. You'd still be paying for it at the normal rate, but you could test them out, and then at the end of the period, if you wanted to renew with them, you could renew the contract. And if you wanted to go with somebody else because you didn't think they were a good fit, then the contract could be terminated with no penalties.
Aderson: Got it. Still the same topic, what would be some of the red flags that myself, as a client, would say, "Maybe this person, he is not the right fit"? What would be some red flags that you would have in mind?
Amethyst: First off, I always recommend having the discovery call, because you have to see if your personality is a match. You have to be very clear on what the client wants. For example, if the client wants to meet with you. How many times a week do they want to meet with you? I have no problem meeting with clients once a week to go over things, or you can contact me via email, and I have a one business day maximum turnaround time.
Not being able to get in touch with your VA is a huge red flag. If they don't offer check-in times -- so, for example, if they don't offer times included in your pricing that allows you to check in with them to see how they're doing and they charge for every call like that, that would be a red flag to me, because that's going to cost you a lot of money and should be included in your package.
The red flags really just depend on your personality. For example, I'm unable to work with people that micromanage only because I work best when you give me a deadline, check in with me once a week, and I will get you your work done by your deadline, if not sooner. Micromanaging just means if you're going to be down my throat constantly and giving me new tasks that are not in the original contract, that is going to be a major red flag for me.
Aderson: At the end of the day, if you are in the market for a virtual assistant, and if you micromanage, it's defeating the purpose of having a virtual assistant correct?
Amethyst: Exactly. You get it.
Aderson: It does make sense. Great. Very good points there on how I should approach this, and we can talk more about that off-camera here. I'd like you to now think about someone that is watching this interview and is considering becoming a virtual assistant. Where should someone like that start? What is the first thing that they need to be aware before they get into this business?
Amethyst: Before you get into this business, you need to be aware that Rome wasn't built in a day. You have to be willing to put in the time and effort to take the training materials, make notes. You can't just try to do everything at once. You have to take it one step at a time, and it does take time to build, but the rewards are numerous. There are plenty of free resources out there to help you get started, plenty of them. If you don't have the money right away to invest, you don't have to invest in that expensive tool right away. I guarantee you there are free tools out there that do the same thing.
Aderson: What are some of those free tools? Again, all links will be listed here but just give us a hint of some of those.
Amethyst: Google Calendar is free, Google Suites, they have docs, they have spreadsheets, they have presentation software, all free. There is Freedcamp, which is a project management software, that's free. There's a site called hellobonsai.com. It allows you to create a custom contract and invoice your clients, also free. Skype and Zoom for your video meetings, both free. All of those tools are free tools, and they're excellent tools.
Aderson: You mentioned, at some point, in your previous point, that there is training out there as well. Where can people find training about becoming a virtual assistant?
Amethyst: I'm actually working on creating a freebie to offer of sites that offer free training. But, in the meantime, before I get that up and going, if you Google "free virtual assistant training" there are a number of websites that will come up. There is the techiementor.com, there's vanetwork.com. Both of those sites offer free training, as well as looking up virtual assistant groups in Facebook. Those Facebook groups are amazing for offering free trainings.
Aderson: Got it. Very good. Is there any point that we have not -- before we jump to your plug, because I want to plug you and your business. Any point that we have not touched, that we have not covered that you think it's important, but again, we didn't reach there? Anything else?
Amethyst: Yes, contracts. Always, always have a contract in place, and make sure that your refund policy, your late payment policy, what you will and will not do are all in there, because that's what's going to protect you. You have to have it. I learned the hard way. I'm just trying to prevent anybody out there from learning things the hard way, and that goes for both the VA and the clients. You want a contract in place to protect yourself.
Aderson: Got it. So, you said, "I learned the hard way." I want to dig for a second deep into that. Tell me that horror story right there.
Amethyst: I had a client who originally had started off that she wanted her blog proofread and edited, and she needed it done quickly. So, I said, "Okay, I'll proofread your blog for you," just thinking I'm trying to offer value in helping somebody else, because it only took me five minutes to go through it and edit it for her. So, that turned into, "Okay, I need somebody that can do this regularly. I also need somebody that can post my content on my social media." I said, "Okay," I said, "Just so you know, I don't do content creation. You would have to provide me with the content and the graphics, but I have no problem posting this for you. Let me know how often."
Boiling it down, it came down to the fact that I did all the work. I offered her a sample of what I do for services, and she ended up not paying me for my work, not signing the contract, and that was my mistake because I wanted to show her my work and I didn't have a portfolio at that time. Never give away your work for free. That was the mistake I made. I gave away my work for free thinking that I was giving away a sample so that she would hire me, and what ended up happening was she didn't hire me, and she didn't pay me, and things went south from there. I take it as a lesson learned.
Aderson: Perfect. Lesson learned there. Contracts and don't work for free, correct?
Aderson: Very good.
Amethyst: You can offer value for free, you can offer a training for free. Do not work for free.
Aderson: Love that, because I'm also from the same concept. As you're saying, there is some stuff that you can offer for free, but not everything, and don't let people exploit you.
Aderson: We are coming towards an end here. I want to give you the opportunity to plug your services, to plug your business, and to tell people how they can get in touch with you if they have questions, or if they want to potentially engage in your services.
Amethyst: There are several ways to get ahold of me. My website is www.theinfiniteva,com. You can also get ahold of me on Facebook. My username is The Infinite VA. I'm also on Twitter under The Infinite VA. I'm on Instagram under the_infinite_virtual_assistant, and then I'm also on Pinterest under The Infinite VA LLC. You can find me on any of those social medias. I'm also on Google+ under Amethyst Storey. So, feel free to connect with me. Even if you're not looking for a VA, I'm always looking to network and get new ideas.
Aderson: Perfect. Before we say our goodbyes here, I would like you to let me know if there's one and only one thing out of this interview, out of this conversation that you'd like people to know about either from an outsourcing point of view, from a VA point of view, from a client point of view, what is it the one thing that you want people to leave this conversation today knowing about?
Amethyst: First thing that pops into my mind is honesty. You really have to be honest with your VA, and you need to choose a VA that's honest with you. You need to be able to handle constructive criticism, because a good VA is going to give you a constructive criticism to make your business better.
Aderson: Perfect, and a good VA will also accept criticism.
Amethyst: Correct. Always. It's a very give-and-take process. You have to be able to give and take from each other. It's not going to work out as a business or a personal relationship if you don't.
Aderson: Perfect. Amethyst, I cannot say how thankful I am to have you around and have you as a first VA introducing us to the VA side of outsourcing as well. Because, one thing is that when we think about outsourcing, we usually think big business outsourcing or development outsourcing and business-to-business outsourcing. But, hey, as human beings, we can outsource some of what we do as well, and that's where virtual assistant come in place. If it has outsourcing on the name, we are talking about it. Amethyst, thank you very much, and I'll talk to you soon. Bye.
Amethyst: Thank you.