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Questions You Really Wanted To Ask A Virtual Assistant

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Posted: 5th Jul 2016  |  Share this Article:

I would like to introduce Amanda Johnson. 

Amanda launched Your Executive Secretary Limited in 2012, which is a virtual PA consultancy after retiring from the Royal Navy. After 18 months in business, she was Runner-Up in the Virtual Assistant of the Year Awards 2014 for the South of England. Today, Amanda is a wife to Andrew and Mum to James and Jacob and juggles life around all that.


Why did you decide to become a virtual assistant and set up Your Executive Secretary?
In 2008, I was a Lieutenant Commander in the Royal Navy, who thought her life was mapped out ahead of her including being pregnant with twins. As a Logistics Officer, married to a someone in the Army having children was just logistics. But then my children died and the bottom fell out of my world. I don’t tell you this for your sympathy but to tell you how I thought I had created the Virtual Assistant industry. I did what lots of people going through grief do and that is spend money… I bought new double glazing, new gas central heating etc and I would great frustrated each day as the fitters didn’t return my calls, in fairness to them, they were out doing what they did best..fitting gas, fitting windows, and then in the evenings and weekends they were out quoting for jobs. I had what I thought was a lightbulb moment, and thought I know what they need, they need someone to do admin support as and when they need it, on a pay as you go basis – that is affordable! I thought I can create an industry here to support them… So after 23 years military service (in 2012), I left the military and decided to set up this new industry that I had created and it was only when I started to research how I would do this (investigating things such as professional indemnity, public liability and data protection) that someone said to me, oh you want to be a VA and I went “A what…” and they said a VA. I looked at them blankly and they said someone who does admin support as and and when you need it on a pay as you go basis, exactly as you have described and I thought “sugar” I haven’t created this industry – someone else beat me to it!

What were the challenges in setting up your own consultancy?
One of the biggest challenges was the fact that although I had lived in Dorset for 15+ years, I didn’t actually know business owners and so it took time and effort to really get myself known amongst local business owners which I felt was really important. The reality is, they are not my target market for working with but what it enabled me to do was soften my military edges and become a much more rounded business owner and gave me a great network of people to bounce ideas with and a brilliant list of potential suppliers.

Can you provide a glimpse into your daily routine?
Hmm, no two days are ever the same. I have set things that get done at certain times of the month in relation to my clients – so on a Monday, I check in with the clients for which I am still their VA for etc – it allows me to keep up to date with what is going on in their offices and keeps me in line with their vision and their values – allows me to know what work they have coming up etc or that I need to ensure gets done that week. Invoicing gets done on the last day of the month but other than that… anything goes really. That’s actually one of the reasons I love to be a VA. I am also very lucky, in that I have a team of Virtual Assistants working with me to support clients on a day to day basis, which means that I can spend more time either doing business development or coaching and mentoring PAs and EAs to set up their VA business.

What are the positives and challenges of being a virtual assistant?
As a VA, you are often working from a home office, so people think that you are not working and that you are available for coffee or to take a parcel in for them at the drop of a hat etc. They forget that you are actually working. When I started out, I had to ban my mum from calling me during the day for a “chat”. The positives though are that I am in control of my business and my life. I describe this as having work / life integration (note I didn’t say balance). When I talk of work/life balance, for me that means no longer having to go away for 6-9 months at a time. Instead now I look for work/life integration – you see, sometime there will be times when I make decisions that affect my family in order to progress something for the business and at other times, I will say no to business decisions because it doesn’t fit with our family life. So for me it’s about having a good blend of what’s important to me, knowing and accepting that at times, one will take precedence over the other.

How has the VA profession evolved since you started?
The VA profession is evolving almost daily but that is not to say that its saturated or that people shouldn’t consider it. With the growth of the internet and mobile integration into our daily lives, society has moved its work channels from the physical to the digital, erasing the lines between work and life. As a VA clients are wanting you to be able to support them in those digital arenas.

The role of a VA is highly desirable what are the 3 things that people should consider before they embark on this career?

* Ask yourself why you are doing this? What is the underlying reason for setting up your business.

* What skills do you have that you want to be able to offer to others? What are you passionate about?

* What are your core values?

Being a VA is not about getting rich quickly, instead its about providing a service to clients and making a difference.

One of the difficulties I have heard from other VAs starting out is the difficulty in attracting clients, what advice would you give?
It’s a well known phrase but often forgotten but “generally people will do business with those they “know, like and trust” and so when a VA starts out, they forget that they need to take the time and the effort to achieve this. Having a website, social media profile and a business card does not mean that someone will want to work with you. So networking is absolutely critical to the success of a VA, now that’s online and offline networking and its about adding value to the people you meet. However, it’s not good enough to just go networking you have to have a strategy – otherwise you are just going for a coffee (or a nice lunch)!

Can anyone become a Virtual Assistant?
I won’t lie to you, you need to be able to work on your own, so its important to be comfortable in your own company, you do need to have an element of self discipline in you and the desire to be an entrepreneur. But the technology and tools are available to allow you to feel as if in fact you are in the office.

Prior to launching a VA business, as PAs and EAs we are often what I describe as used to being “in service” – a company asks us to do something and we do it, we don’t question it. At the same time we haven’t had to go out there and be the hunter / gatherer for clients etc. But as a VA, we have to stand up and be that Business Owner – so that means taking responsibility for the business and making decisions as a Business Owner, so one minute you might be the CEO of your business, then you might be the Chief Finance Officer, the IT department, or the Social Media Marketing person – it can often feel as if you have a dozen hats to fill. This is true whether you are a small VA business or someone who is trying to build a VA agency.


In my VA training business, I don’t teach people how to manage a diary or anything like that – that is all assumed knowledge instead I hand hold them through the business set up. I also believe its important to have some “life experience” before establishing your VA business – but that links back to being a Business Owner first and VA second.

Are their any common misconceptions that always come up in relation to being a VA?
The VA industry is a great career for those wanting to juggle external commitments but you will find very few VAs working from their beds, in their pjs, or with children sat on their lap! Now, I am not saying we haven’t all done stuff like this when trying to finish off a project or something late into the night. But first and foremost a Virtual Assistant is a Business Owner, they just happen to sell business administration services.

What about networking, do you and other VAs network? How do you share best-practices?
Networking is absolutely critical for Virtual Assistants, both within the industry and with potential clients. The emphasis is on cultivating and nurturing relationships with other professionals who might help you build your business and where you might be able to help their business. It’s very much about building relationships. This networking needs to be done both on and offline, and it will be necessary to invest time and money into networking. VAs do network with each other too, sometimes, clients will need something that you don’t offer and so its about working with someone else who might be able to service the needs of the client. There are a number of professional organisations both UK based and internationally and a lot of VAs will be members in order to continue their professional development.

Tell us about your VA business and the services they offer?
So my business is Your Executive Secretary Limited and there are 2 arms to the business; in the first, we work with Business Owners to help them build their businesses; so we will do everything from traditional PA/EA support, through to strategising and systemising their business, marketing, social media management and events – in fairness the list is endless and constantly changing – the term VA means so many different things to different people and in my humble opinion is just a label. Then in the second arm to the business I coach/train and mentor EAs and PAs to set up and launch their own VA business.

What’s next for you?
I am really passionate about inspiring, challenging and supporting business owners and I just love making a difference. On the training side, I am working with some amazing people to deliver new and exciting training opportunities – with new courses and programmes launching in Autumn 2016.

Some people find it strange that I had 2 sides to the business, but I think it’s important to still have the VA side of my business. In order to provide the best VA coaching and mentoring to my VA trainees, I have to know and understand the issues of clients and be able to use the tools and techniques to eliminate them. At the same time for VAs to be the best and to support great Business Owners, I want to ensure that they have the foundations and fundamentals of being a Business Owner in place too.

Thank you Amanda.

Connect with Amanda via the following:
email or
T: 01202 872061 Website: 
Twitter: @Execsecamanda Facebook: VA Training: 
Twitter: @vatraininpro

Interview conducted by Vivien Edwards, Managing Director Cornerstone42. Vivien is a former EA who matches talented Executive Assistants with the best roles which suit their skills and aspirations.

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Vivien Edwards

Written by

Vivien Edwards

Cornerstone42 founder

Vivien has nearly 20 years administrative experience covering project and event management, recruitment, training and development, mentorship and supervisory for other admins.

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