A Seasoned Virtual Assistant – Michelle Zenisek

Episode # 48 – Show Notes:

Michelle is based out of Wisconsin, USA and has been a virtual assistant for 10 years.  I’ve asked her how and why she started a business, working from home and servicing her clients remotely. She shares her experiences with being a home-based business owner.


[Music intro]

The 8th Level Podcast is about being self-employed, entrepreneurship, and managing our online business. It’s also about connecting to our souls, having the right mindset, and self-care. My name is Lourdes, and I am the host of this show. Thank you for listening to this episode today!

Today, my guest is Michelle. Michelle is a virtual assistant based in Wisconsin, and she’s been in business since 2013. Michelle helps clients with the back-end tech that comes with running an online business. Michelle provides the support entrepreneurs need to take their businesses to the next level, from creating and managing websites to setting up and tracking e-mail marketing campaigns. Her unique value proposition is her understanding of both the technical and creative aspects of online marketing, making her an invaluable resource for clients who want to grow their businesses without sacrificing their time or energy.

Lourdes: So Michelle, thank you so much for joining me today! How are you?

Michelle: I’m doing well, thank you Lourdes, I’m happy to be here!

Lourdes: Great! So, I’ve known you for quite some time, but I never really did ask how you got into the VA business.

Michelle: So I started as a virtual assistant back in 2013. I had been downsized from my corproate job, and I was familiar with the virtual assistant industry at that time and it was something that I was always trying to figure out how I could work a full-time job and start as a VA. I was a single mom of 2 young kids at home, and it just never came to happen. And then I was downsized in April of 2013, and I thought well, if I’m gonna do it, it’s now or never. So I jumped in, and it didn’t take long for me to have clients and start growing my business.

Lourdes: Wow, so it didn’t take long for you to get clients. Now how did these clients find you, or did you find them?

Michelle: What I always recommend to people is you need to be telling everybody what you’re doing. So, my cousin introduced me to someone she knew, and this wasn’t a friend of hers, it was someone that she knew through her corporate position that she was in. And I also had friends who had introduced me to business owners, and that’s really I think where it takes off. It’s about who you meet. Not necessarily who you know, but who you meet. But, you never know who in your family in friends, who they know, who are business owners who might need your assistance.

Lourdes: Wow, I think that is the best policy they say, is word of mouth, tell everybody you know. So, what services did you start to offer?

Michelle: In the beginning, I was just doing anything and everything because I wasn’t sure what to do. One of my clients, she had a weekly meeting with her team, and I would be on that call and I would do the minutes. I had another client who had a counseling practice, she was a therapist, and so I would help her with insurance claims. There was another client who she was a consultant and I was helping her with SEO and stuff with Google.

So, I was just trying to figure out where I would fit in. My background was, I worked in the telecommunications industry for over 15 years, and did a lot of system administration and project management. So, I had the tech capabilities, but in the online world it can be a little different. So I spent several months trying to figure out where I fit in, but thankfully I did that while working for clients.

Lourdes: So, how did you find these skills? For example, you’re in telecommunications, did you guys do SEO there, or how did you learn how to do SEO and offer to help a client with SEO?

Michelle: So, no, telecommunications I had no experience with SEO. But you can, in this day and age, you can find the help whether it’s a paid course or free videos on YouTube, there are ways to learn what you need to learn. And for me, thankfully, I had that technical aptitude to learn that, not everybody does, and that’s not a judgment, but it’s really understanding what you’re good at so that you can focus your efforts in those areas.

Lourdes: Alright, so in the beginning when you first started and you started helping people, how many clients did you have at one time? And did it drive you crazy, because perhaps you were the only person at the time working in your business?

Michelle: So, I had some individual clients who were just direct clients of mine, but I also worked on some VA teams. I haven’t been on a VA team in a long time, cause I’m not sure – They used to be a very popular thing, you probably know that Lourdes, but I don’t know how popular they are now. So, ultimately, the VA team owner, she would bring in the clients, and then I worked as a client manager. So the VA team owner would hand the client over to me and I would make sure that the tasks get done, and there were other people on the team like web designers, graphic designers, copy writers, that sort of thing.

And so, that’s where I was using more of my project management skills. However, what I found, and especially working as independent contractors, sometimes people are not as responsive as they should be. And so there would be other people on the team, who, it’s like I would need something done by a certain day, and I couldn’t get in touch with that person, so it was like, well I guess I gotta go in there and do it myself.

So, that’s where I was able to use my project management skills and my technical skills to do these. So I was on probably 3 or 4 teams at a time, and then I had my own direct clients. And, I would say it does get overwhelming, obviously, and it took me a few years before I finally brought someone onto my team. And this is what I always say to people, is that once you do that you’ll wonder why you waited so long to do it.

Lourdes: Wow, so you have a team now. So has your priorities changed since you started this business?

Michelle: Absolutely. I do some of the work myself still, but most of it I try to delegate so that I can focus on bringing in more business, growing my business, creating content, and learning new skills myself. So, some of it I do myself, and I am the point person for the client. I think that’s the next step for me, is if I were to have a project manager who I sign the client, but I hand them over to them. I haven’t quite gotten there where I’m ready to do that, but ultimately that’s, I am the point person, but I have people on my team who I delegate to and support me in getting the work done.

Lourdes: So, the company name is Run With It VA?

Michelle: Yes.

Lourdes: So what do you specialize in, what do you offer?

Michelle: So, I help clients when it comes to their online presence, so whether it’s e-mail marketing or website maintenance. I used to do more social media than I do now, and I’m moving away from the social media aspect and doing more of the e-mail marketing, the automation, helping clients with automation. The tech stuff that clients either don’t have the time to do or don’t know how to do themselves. So, I build a lot of lead magnet funnels and sales funnels, and also do help with building sequences or sending out regular e-mails to a client’s list, and I do some website maintenance as well as some web design; I have someone on my team who does web design, so if we need to create a landing page I give that to her.

Lourdes: So, who is your typical ideal client?

Michelle: My typical ideal client is a coach, age range in the 40s or 50s. Whether she is tech savvy herself or not. I have some clients who are tech savvy, they just don’t have the time to do it, and then I have some who are not tech savvy and they don’t even want to deal with it, so they give that to me.

Lourdes: Okay. So, have you ever worked with difficult clients before?

Michelle: Absolutely. I think that that is just part of, just like when you work in the corporate world sometimes you work with difficult people, you come across clients who can be difficult.

Lourdes: Alright, and how do you handle that, and did you have to let them go?

Michelle: Sometimes. Sometimes, I’ve been able to continue working with them. It’s really about being able to set those boundaries and enforce the boundaries. And it’s when clients don’t respect those boundaries that’s where I then have to make that decision typically to let them go.

Lourdes: Yeah, its rough, boundaries. So, you and I have been in the virtual assistant business for quite some time. What advice would you give someone today starting a new virtual assistant business, and they don’t know how to go about it? Because, let’s say that they got laid off from a job and they heard about oh what can I do from home, and you wanna tell them about virtual assistants. What would you recommend to them or advise on how to begin their virtual assistant business?

Michelle: I think the first thing is to determine who would you want to work with, what would you want to do for them. And that can be kind of broad. Like I said, when I first started I was doing anything and everything. But, you also need to get yourself out there. Often people think working from home, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you don’t need to get out and meet people, because how do people learn about you? So my recommendation is to understand what kind of services you want to offer, people who you would want to work with, and create a business card and get out to your local chamber of commerce and go to their mixers.

You can go on meetup.com and you can find networking meetings that way, and network on Facebook groups and LinkedIn, but ultimately you have to know where the people you want to work with hang out. When it comes to Facebook groups and LinkedIn, you don’t wanna be spamming, you want to provide value. And so you’ve just gotta find those people that you would want to work with and provide the value that they might be looking for, and ultimately create that relationship.

The other thing too, when you’re first starting out, is there are platforms like Fiver and Upwork where you can create a profile and you can get work that way. I did that pretty early on, I was on what Upwork used to be, it was called Elance at the time, and I had a couple clients through that. So, just know that there’s just a ton of ways to bring in work, but you’ve gotta be willing to go out and seek it and find it. It’s not gonna drop in your lap.

Lourdes: Yeah. Do you recommend any basic skills that a new VA should know?

Michelle: I mean, obviously you need to have basic computer skills, but ultimately it depends on what you want to do for clients. But ultimately, working from a laptop, you have to have some basic computer skills, but like I said, it really depends on the type of work you want to do for clients. Social media is obviously a big one out there, but social media is not just about creating content and posting content. There’s strategy behind it, so you really have to do your homework and if that’s something you wanna offer, you gotta do your homework on what strategies work best on each platform. There’s definitely opportunity there as well.

Lourdes: Yeah, social media is pretty big, and like you, I don’t really like doing it as much anymore either. It’s a lot of work!

Michelle: It is, it is a lot of work.

Lourdes: So Michelle, what is the fun part of having a VA business?

Michelle: The fun part I think is being able to create your own schedule and what works for you. I always say to people, you’re gonna get more done when you’re most productive. And some people are morning people, and some people are night owls. And as a VA, you can create your schedule around that. If you work better at midnight, then create your schedule around that. Obviously you’re not gonna be meeting clients at midnight most likely, but you can structure your day around when you are most productive.

And you also, if you need to leave and go to an appointment, you can do that, I don’t have to answer to anybody about it. It’s that freedom, you get to create your own schedule. And that’s where the boundaries come in too, because you gotta make sure that your clients know that this is when you work, and that if… You can send me an e-mail over the weekend, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to respond to it. So it might wait till Monday morning before I respond to it.

Lourdes: Going with the fun theme, my second question about fun is what do you do for fun when you are not working?

Michelle: I love to meet friends for lunch or dinner. My kids are now young adults, and so spending time with them. I love the outdoors. Not so much right now living in Wisconsin and it’s snowing right now, but typically I do like the outdoors, I love to get out and walk. I’m a pretty low-key, mellow person. The one thing I’ve also discovered this year now that my kids are grown, I had family who were going on vacation for three weeks down in Tennessee, and they have a cat, and I offered to go down there and spend 2 weeks there and take care of their cat, take care of their house, and that’s what I did. All by myself, I was there for 2 weeks and I just had my laptop and I was able to work and do some sight-seeing, and it was fun to have that freedom to do these things.

Lourdes: Yeah, that sounds so fun! I’d like to have time off like that and work whenever I want like that, that’s nice! So, being in business, what is your biggest challenge that you overcame throughout your whole business life? Your own business.

Michelle: I think the part about boundaries and managing your time, it’s something I have really learned a lot about over the years. Because what you find is that there are clients who, if you allow them to, they will contact you day and night, and everything’s an urgent matter when really what we do is not life or death. So, it’s really been learning that I’m in control of when I respond and how I respond, and making sure I communicate it to the client. That when I sign a new client, that they understand what the boundaries are, what my hours are, and when I do respond to e-mails.

Lourdes: Yeah. I think working with clients as virtual assistants, sometimes I think they think they’re the boss, or they sorta “own” you where “oh I need you for this and that,” so yeah, you’re right. You have to establish that in the very beginning. And a lot of us made that mistake; I had clients that stepped all over me before too, and I could not. Oh, it was a rough time! But teaching the clients how to treat us with respect and that we are partners and not an employee kind of mind or an employer type of mind.

Michelle: Right, absolutely. And there are some people who get that, you don’t need to spell that out for them. I have some clients who know that and understand that without me telling them. But there are definitely clients that don’t understand that, and so that’s why it’s better to just have maybe a document that documents all of that stuff so that you can send it to them when you first start working with them, and that they understand that this is how it works. That you are calling the shots, they are not. And, that’s the thing too. If I have a client who says “oh my gosh I have to have this done by the end of the day.” Well, I will say to them, unfortunately I’m not going to get that done by the end of the day. I can have it done to you by tomorrow, or I can have it done to you by this date, and then the client then has the decision. “Well, if I really need it that badly, then I have to find another way to get it done.”

And that could upset a client, and they could decide “Well I don’t know if I want to work with this person if they’re not gonna just drop everything and do what I need.” But the reality is you don’t wanna work with someone like that, because it’s not fair to your other clients if you’re having to drop things to help with another client. You’ve got other clients that you have responsibilities for, and it’s just important that people understand that if you wouldn’t want me to drop – If I had another client who came to me and wanted me to drop everything to do their thing, and then I miss your thing because of it, you know what I’m saying? You wouldn’t want that. So, you shouldn’t do that either.

Lourdes: Yeah, for sure. I totally understand, and it pushes everything else back. And you’re right, it’s not fair to the other clients that you’re doing work for too. Cause, they’re not the only client, although we don’t tell them that. Yeah, I agree. Alright, so we are getting to the part where I ask you a funny or weird question. So, Michelle, which would you choose if you were confronted by a non-human creature such as an alien or Bigfoot, and why?

Michelle: So, which would I want to be confronted by?

Lourdes: Yeah, Bigfoot or an alien. I thought this was perfect for Wisconsin! [laughing] I don’t know why.

Michelle: You know, I don’t… I guess I’d probably prefer an alien to kind of understand other parts of the universe? But, you know?

Lourdes: That’s a cool answer. Do you believe in aliens or Bigfoot?

Michelle: I do not. But I also know that even though I don’t believe in them doesn’t mean that they don’t exist. They could, we don’t have proof of that, but…

Lourdes: True. I know, we watch so many things on TV that says they spotted Bigfoot or a UFO was flying somewhere over Wisconsin or Illinois, it’s crazy! So yeah, great answer! I like your answer about getting to find out more about the universe and all. Alright, well Michelle, this has been so fun. Do you have any special promotions coming up?

Michelle: I do not, but I will tell you that – So, I’ve been a VA for almost 10 years, and this year I launched a help desk. And so what it’s meant for is to help people who might not be in a position to have someone do something for them. Let’s say you’re creating an e-mail sequence, and this can apply to VAs too, because there are VAs who do e-mail marketing for their own business. So let’s say you’re building an e-mail sequence and you’re stuck and you’re not sure how to get past it, that’s where my help desk comes in.

So then we get on Zoom, you share your screen, and I walk you through it. And that was just an example. Like, I worked with a woman last week who used to be a nurse, and she took on a sales position for high-end coaches. And she needed to learn how to use Slack and Adobe, and we so we spent an hour on Zoom and I was showing her the basics of these programs. So even as a VA, if you need to learn something, or maybe you’re doing something for a client and you’re stuck and you need help, my help desk is a great way to get that help you need without having to pay someone to do it for you. But you’re getting live one-on-one help to get what it is you’re trying to get done.

Lourdes: That sounds so cool! So, you started that already you said?

Michelle: Yeah, it’s called the Savvy Online Help Desk, and it’s on my website, https://runwithitva.com/ there is a link to the page there, and you can sign up for a drop-in call. And it’s an hour, and we can certainly help you with any tech challenges you’re having, anything you’re stuck on, and also can talk strategy. So you get an hour, so you might as well make the most of that hour.

Lourdes: Yeah, sounds exciting, and sounds very productive too! Okay, so thank you again for being a guest on my show, and we’ll stay in touch!

Michelle: Alright, thank you so much Lourdes!

[Music outro]

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Website: Michelle’s website: https://runwithitva.com/


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