Anyone who frequents this Forum knows Rebecka Melson, and is probably grateful for her generous, no-nonsense advice on all things financial and contractual. Rebecka hails from Oklahoma, where she's had a long history of keeping small businesses in administrative order. Join her here as she talks about her work and offers some relevant business counsel for these rocky economic times. Thank you, Rebecka!
Please feel free to post questions or comments on this thread.
Tell us about your work background, and what led you to become a virtual assistant.
I began working in an accounting office when I was 15, where I learned how to do bookkeeping and prepare income tax returns. I worked there for many years and then eventually moved on to work for other companies, where I fell into real estate. I worked for private real estate investors for about 8 years doing bookkeeping and managing commercial properties.
I decided to become a virtual assistant literally overnight. I had become burnt out at my last job and decided to quit, I was in the process of finishing up my 30+ day notice and was trying to decide what to do from there, not really interested in looking for another job. My mom came over one day all excited telling me about something she saw on Good Morning America about virtual assistants and told me she thought that’s what I should do. She emailed me the video she had seen and told me to watch it. I was skeptical but did it anyway. I thought about it for a couple of days and decided that I would give it a try seeing as how I wasn’t really motivated to find another job.
So, I came home from work one day, set up a website (my first one ever), and the rest is history.
Your business is still relatively young; now in your second year, what comments do you have to make about your first year? What difficulties did you encounter, and what breakthroughs occurred? Are you glad you decided to start this business?
My first year was pretty much a whirlwind. Everything happened so fast I barely remember it. I’ve never been one to take risks or do anything without planning it out first, so suddenly starting a business without any type of plan in place was very new territory for me, but also very exciting.
Probably the biggest difficulty for me was the “lack of money” situation. I am single so I don’t have a second income to fall back on and I wasn’t really prepared to go from making a very good income to no income. Luckily, I landed my first client before I completed my last day at my job and it covered my mortgage, car payment and few other bills, and I made up the difference by using credit cards (not a method I recommend).
The only real breakthrough I can think of has been being able to go out and sell myself by going to networking events, meeting with potential clients, etc. I’ve never been in a position where I had to do that before, and really didn’t even know how to go about it, but I really didn’t have much choice in the matter. All I knew is that I had to start making some money, and fast, before I maxed out the credit cards.
I am definitely glad I decided to start my business, and I don’t regret it at all. I often wonder why I didn’t do it sooner, but I guess it just wasn’t my time.
What do you like best about being a VA?
I like the flexibility and freedom I have to only take on clients and projects that I really enjoy. I have gained some really interesting clients and am getting to try out new things. Although I have stuck to my roots as far as the services I offer, I have been asked to do things that I probably never would have even thought of on my own, and have found some that I really enjoy and have since added them to my service offerings.
What about working at home is good for you, and what aspects of it are not so great?
Working at home has helped me spiritually and emotionally more than anything. I hadn’t fully realized how much of an effect working in the environment I was in really had on me until I left. My first day at home after my last day at work, it felt like a weight had been lifted off of me, it wasn’t until that day that I realized I had been in a bad mood for the past six years. I haven’t been in a bad mood or had a bad day since.
As far as the not so great… being bored!! I am used to a very fast paced environment, working long days, and only coming home to sleep, so being home every day has been a big adjustment.
You specialize in numbers – accounting and bookkeeping. What aspects of the world of finance interest you the most?
I like the challenge of it. There are so many different aspects to accounting, more than just balancing a checkbook. I like to solve problems. I am an analytical person by nature so accounting just fits for me.
What's the profile of your ideal client? Have you found some amongst your actual customers?
I tend to work with people who are the somewhat opposite of myself, very creative and entrepreneurial. They tend to not like dealing with finances or the “business” side of things, so they generally just let me do my thing without trying to micro-manage.
What's your advice when it comes to client relations?
It’s simple, treat your clients how you would want to be treated.
What kinds of marketing do you do, and how much time do you spend on marketing tasks?
I don’t really do any marketing. I attend a couple of local networking events each month and I have a few online forums that I network in. All of my clients either find me online or come through referrals.
Your website includes a page titled "Success Strategies." Talk about your philosophy regarding your business.
I don’t know that I really have one or have taken the time to think about it. I’m just trying to do things I enjoy and do them with/for people I like. That probably sounds a little simple, but it’s working for me right now. I’ve already spent too much of my life being overworked and stressed out.
What's your advice, from the financial viewpoint, to small business owners as we deal with an economy in recession?
When business is good… save, save, save! Buy only what you need and save the rest. Every business has their peak season. It’s natural for things to slow down at some point throughout the year. As a business owner, you should know when your peak season is and be financially prepared for the off season when business slows down.
What are your short term business goals – i.e., what big thing or things do you hope to accomplish this year?
My goal is to obtain a few more steady clients and have my business setup with a steadier income. I don’t really have any “big” goals right now, I’m just taking it one day at a time. I’m still new at being a business owner so I’m trying to educate myself as such.
What advice do you have for VAs in terms of bookkeeping for their businesses?
I would advise that they actually have some sort of bookkeeping in place, whether they do it themselves or hire a bookkeeper. It’s important for everyone, not just businesses, to know where they stand financially. I’m always amazed at how many people have no idea what their income is or how much they spend each month. I think it’s even more crucial to small business though, because you can’t grow if you don’t know where you are starting from. You need to learn what a financial statement is, how to read it and how to use it to project the future of your business.
What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
I’m still searching for a hobby. I spend most of my free time with my family and friends. I love doing things with my nieces and nephews. They are the most fun when they are little and everything is still new and exciting. If I’m not with them then I’m on a computer somewhere.
What, in your opinion, is the future of the VA industry?
I see it growing a lot over the next few years. I think it is the answer to a lot of small business problems and more small businesses are learning about it every day. I think it is a great solution for people who want to work but live in bad economic areas as well, because their work is no longer limited to the area in which they live.
Please be sure to visit Rebecka's website at vbsofok.com. She has a great "Best Free Stuff" page, as well as a "Shop," in addition to the basic VA fare.