Agnes Ikotun, owner of AI Virtual Solutions
, combines her 13 years experience in administration, customer service, and information technology as a VA. With a degree in Management of Information Systems from Greenwich University in London, England, she is a Cisco Certified Network Associate, Network+ Certified Professional, Microsoft Certified Professional, an Expert Rating Certified Professional, and a National Association of Realtors certified Real Estate Professional Assistant. Agnes uses her many skills to support entrepreneurs and small business owners from her office in Connecticut.
Thank you, Agnes, for sharing with us your experiences as a VA!
You started up as a VA in July of '07. How did you come to the decision to do this?
I had been a stay-at-home mom to my 6 and 2 year old daughters and they were becoming more independent. I began to have more free time on my hands and I just felt the time was right to venture out into the working world again.
Thinking back to the first three months in business, what was it like? What were the hard parts, the easy parts, how far did you progress in that time?
The first three months, actually the first six months were spent working on the business, since I didn’t have any clients during this period. The easy part was putting the business together, creating my online presence and networking. The difficult part was waiting for the clients to come knocking on my doors.
What was the most difficult thing about launching your business, and how would you characterize your progress during the first year of operation?
It was pretty easy launching my business, the startup cost was extremely low and I found many great free resources to get me going…thanks to the people on Virtual Assistant Forums. I would say that my progress so far is interesting as no one week is the same as the last. I’m still learning how to meet my clients’ needs, build my business and balance work and life and not get overwhelmed.
You concentrate in "Administrative Support, Internet Marketing, Web Design, and Real Estate Support," according to your website. That's quite a large range of skills. Please comment on balancing that variety in your work.
I mostly do Internet Marketing, Web Design and Website Maintenance. But I also love when I get to do some administrative, research and other work in between for variety.
What was your previous experience in the traditional job world?
14 years ago, I started off working as a beauty consultant in an exclusive London departmental store. And in between, when I got bored, I temped as an Administrative Assistant. Then I moved into retail banking, providing front end customer services to account holders. My love for computers helped me change my major from Law to Information Systems, and then I shifted gears to the IT industry, where I worked as an IT Administrator supporting business users.
How does being a virtual assistant compare to life as an employee, in your experience?
As an employee, I always chose to do what I enjoyed and it’s the same working as a virtual assistant. I became a stay-at-home mom when we had our first child and I know the challenges many working moms face, even though I was lucky to escape all of that. The biggest bonus of being a VA is that I can manage my family and work on my terms. I don’t have to feel guilty taking time off work because my little one is ill or attend my 7 year old’s class party. Also I can work anywhere and at anytime.
You have many certifications. Please comment on the experience of obtaining these, and their usefulness in your business.
I felt that the quickest way to get into the IT industry without working experience was to get certified and what a great way to learn as well. I self-studied for my exams, using great books and simulations.
I didn’t have plans to go back into the IT industry when kids came into the picture and I was a little disappointed by that. I realized pretty early in my business that I would be using a lot of my IT skills and my clients see the added value that this brings.
What tasks in your business do you enjoy working on the most?
I enjoy doing web design/website maintenance and internet marketing the most.
Which tasks do you dislike the most?
I not too long ago realized that I don’t enjoy doing bookkeeping (for my business), so I’ve taken it off my list of services.
Please describe your office (equipment, furniture, shrines!) and the working atmosphere you prefer.
I have a comfortable home office, a Lenovo ThinkPad laptop, a faithful 7 year old Dell PC and 4-in-1 HP printer combo. I recently got a VOIP phone; it got ridiculous to continue doing business on my cell phone and having dropped calls.
I prefer when it’s quiet, when my kids are at school. I can get a lot more work done.
Your website says you work with "coaches, speakers, authors, and realtors." Does that accurately describe your current clientele?
Yes, it does. I support this clientele because I admire what they do. But I also have clients from other industries.
What is your advice to other VAs regarding client relations?
Make each client feel that they are your only client. Communication is so important; always keep clients in the loop.
What marketing tools or tactics have worked best for you?
All of my marketing activities have gotten me results. Some of my tactics include posting ads on bulletin boards, mailing out postcards, email marketing, and joining on and offline groups. Even if some haven’t yet produced clients, I’ve definitely gotten exposure.
Having thrived during your first year in business, what goals are you contemplating for the future? What changes do you plan to make during your second year; and what do you want life to be like for you ten years from now?
I’m working on building a business that can accommodate many more clients. In my second year, I want to refine my business model for substantial growth. Ten years is long time away. The most important thing for me is I want my family and loved ones to be healthy and safe. And I also want to be pleasantly surprised by how far I’ve come.
When it comes to getting up in the morning, what really motivates you?
My family motivates me, knowing that they are really proud of me.
What are some of your extracurricular interests?
For now, I have very little time for extracurricular interests. I have one or two movie nights a week with my husband and I enjoy school runs plus taking my oldest to her after school activities and chatting with the other moms.
I do plan on joining my local swimming club in the next few weeks.
You keep a blog on your website. Please discuss the benefits and drawbacks you find in maintaining that page.
I wish I could write more frequently on my blog and I will, soon…lol. It’s a great sample of my “limited” writing skills. A number of potential clients have asked for writing samples and I’ve directed them to my blog. The only drawback is having a blog and not keeping it up to date, not good!
Having been associated with VirtualAssistantForums.com for a long time, what is its benefit to you at this stage of your business/life?
I get to meet other VAs with varying levels of experience and the forum helps me stay informed about what is happening in the VA industry. There’s the tendency to focus less on ones business as it grows. The discussions here help me to pay attention to my business.
I have also connected with some fabulous subcontractors here as well.
Here's a sample testimonial from one of Agnes' very happy clients:
"It has been a pleasure to utilize Agnes's services over the past several years. Her work has always been carried out with excellence, in both attitude and performance detail. She possesses an incredibly high work ethic- a rare commodity in today’s marketplace, and she has been a highly valued resource to us in the accomplishment of our business goals."
Lisa Mims, Author/Speaker
A Fulfilled Life