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Virtually Amazing

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Ann Brown, president of Virtual Admins Plus, based in Cleveland, Ohio, has been a NASE member since 2005, shortly after she became self-employed. Her company provides outsourced marketing, web development, and administrative tasks.


What inspired you to start your business?

I started my business out of necessity, more than anything. I had been working in sales/marketing in the hotel industry, and then 9/11 happened. Over the next four years, I was downsized twice and my job eliminated once. I knew that if I worked for myself, I would have job security, so to speak (I wouldn’t fire myself!), and that’s when I decided to start my own business.

The services your company offers seem to go well beyond just basic administrative services. How did you choose and develop the expertise in these areas?

When I first started, I was only working with REALTORS®. I would take their existing website and then redesign it for them. I was doing okay, but I was still struggling. At that point, I knew I needed to offer a wider range of services to generate more income, so I added graphic design, freelance writing, and website setup to the services I offered. As technology caught up, I was able to add video marketing and social media assistance as well. I never took any formal training or instructions. I had the desire to succeed, so I taught myself what I needed to know as I went along through the years.

How many people work in your company and as consultants to you?

I have five independent contractors I work with on a regular basis. Rather than typical employees, I choose to work with other self-employed individuals to help support them as well.

What other organizations are competitors to yours?

I suppose I have many competitors – other virtual assistants, web design companies, etc. However, I’ve always had the mindset that the “world” is my client base, so I don’t really think of anyone as my “competition.” For instance, I have two clients in the United Kingdom that I have worked with since 2009, and they hired me because I could do what they needed me to do. That is how my business works, rather than my being in competition with another virtual admin company. I can help people by doing the jobs they 1) don’t like to do, 2) don’t have time to do, or 3) simply don’t want to do. I am either a good fit for them or I’m not. More often than not, I’ve gotten hired because people make a connection with me on some level that fits their business, and that’s what has made me successful.

In a sense your own clients and their tendency to want to hire their own people instead of outsourcing these functions are a form of competition. Do you see it that way and how do you approach that?

I don’t see that as competition at all. Many people I speak with have never heard the term “virtual assistant,” so I usually explain first that I’m an administrative assistant, but I do it from my home office instead of going to the client’s location. Once I explain how much money they can save by not buying office equipment, paying insurance, training a new assistant, lunch breaks, phone calls, etc., they love the idea of going “virtual.” My job in the beginning is really more to educate the client on working together so they can be more successful in their business.

How do you market your business?

I’m blessed to be working with many of my clients for years, whether it’s on a monthly basis or when they call me because they need something done. At the moment, I don’t do any heavy marketing, as most of my inquiries come from referrals of existing clients.

What types of businesses comprise your client base? What are some of the key differences in the types of services they need?

The range of my client base covers real estate agents and professional coaches to cosmetic company executives and a cleaning company. I manage their social media campaigns, do website maintenance, graphic design work, check and respond to voice mails, manage emails, pay invoices, etc. So far, there hasn’t been anything I’ve been asked to do that I haven’t been able to figure out, although the only thing I don’t do is telemarketing.

What challenges have you faced in your business? How have you overcome them?

My biggest challenge in the beginning was always getting consistent business. Each month, I felt like I was starting from scratch to find enough new business to pay the bills. I finally developed different monthly packages that fit into my clients’ needs, and that enabled me to build a steady monthly income without feeling like I had to continually scramble.

What’s the best thing about being self-employed?

The best part of being self-employed is choosing to work when I want and with whom I want. It’s truly all about having that freedom. I don’t think I could ever go back to working in someone else’s office, playing by someone else’s rules. I think a lot of people starting out with a business give themselves an “out” and that is why many people fail at being self-employed. When I started, I never said to myself, “If this VA business doesn’t work out, I can just go get another job.” I was ready to do whatever it took to make my business work, because I didn’t give myself another option. I’ve worked hard, I’ve had many sleepless nights, but I’m enjoying the rewards now. I wouldn’t have it any other way than to be self-employed.

Where do most of your business leads come from and how do you get them?

My clients give me referrals, and I am so lucky to have such great clients!

What’s the best compliment you’ve ever received from a client?

Best compliment ever from one of my clients: “You’re up early, you’re always creative, you’re never upset or frustrated, you always think of others….in short….YOU’RE AMAZING! I can’t wait until cloning becomes a reality!”

Which NASE member benefit is most important to you?

I love that NASE is always there for me if I have questions or need advice, and that they stay on tops of issues related to self-employed individuals and keep me informed. And, I love the discounts I receive from other companies by being an NASE member!

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