Charlotte Wibberley is the Founder of VIP VA and a Business Success Coach, helping women (particularly those with children) successfully juggle business and family and build their vision on their terms. How? By supporting them in making the transition from employment to self-employment and helping them create an authentic and adaptable business that fits around their lifestyles. Nurturing, supporting and championing the VA industry and creating a platform for VA businesses to collaborate and continue their professional development is her mission.
“Many of my clients are already self-employed, in which case I help them solve a particular issue or help them to focus on growing their business. I work closely with female entrepreneurs such as Virtual Assistants (VAs), having had a long PA career myself. I was a PA for 10 years in the City – I worked for a couple of large blue chip companies as a PA then as an EA and Project Manager.”
So what is a VA? Many people already have their own idea of what the role is, while many others remain unsure. “Indeed. The term VA is a blanket term that covers many different disciplines and skillsets. VAs can be anyone from ex-HR directors that are freelancing as HR specialists, social media managers to web developers and ex-PAs focussing on admin and the running of the clients’ businesses – the industry represents a whole host of skills, individuals and backgrounds.”
Charlotte says her ‘typical day’ is all about juggling. “I’m a mum of two very small children. I tend to structure my day with client coaching calls in the mornings, some social media interaction in the middle of the day using Facebook Live or webinars and back-end content creation such as writing and PR in the afternoon. It is a mixed bag and I love the diversity.”
Naturally, with the nature of the VA role meaning the majority of them work from home, face-to-face virtual interaction with clients and the VA community is the main form of communication. “As VAs we have to be engaged with meetups over webinars and online training; it’s like second nature. Facebook Live for example is just amazing. I have a community of around 450 VAs globally and Facebook Live allows me to be present with them on video, and I can answer their questions in real time. Sometimes I have specific things that I want to focus on talking about, other times I’ll go online and say to them, ‘I’m here for you, have you got any questions?’ It’s interactive and much quicker to build rapport with people because they can see me and hear me.”
Would she say that her job is stressful and what does she enjoy least about it? “It’s way more stressful then my PA job was but it’s much more rewarding. Any person who runs their own business would agree that you don’t leave it at the door. It’ll be nine or 10 o’clock at night and I’ll think of an idea – it’s tough to switch off. My home is my office after all. I love the flexibility that my business gives me but equally too much flexibility can mean that you have to be way more disciplined to avoid over-stepping your boundaries. You have to be self-driven and motivated because no one is there to hold you accountable – you have to motivate yourself.”
And what does she enjoy most about her job? “Engaging with people. I’m a real people person. That’s why I’ve gone from PA to VA to Business Strategist to coaching – because for me, hearing other people’s stories and also using questions and life experiences to help them with whatever it may be that they are struggling with is really rewarding. It’s all about relationships. The whole mission behind VIP VA is to champion the VA industry, raise awareness, to support it and to nurture new people into it. That’s what I love. I’m really trying to pioneer the setting of industry standards to benefit VAs, but also to benefit the clients that work with VAs. I’m working to create a benchmark for VAs and engage with business owners around the world and show them why hiring the right VA can transform their businesses.”
The perception of the VA role is one that is both elusive and eclectic. There is a gap in the understanding and awareness of VAs right at this moment and the future of the role looks bright. “Many PAs don’t realise that the VA route is a viable option for them – especially if things aren’t going so well for them in their corporate jobs. There is often a lack of understanding from Vas themselves and the business owners they work with around what they actually do. There is still this perception that a VA can take on absolutely everything in a business, whereas in my opinion the reality is they fall into one of three camps: techie VAs who are skilled at managing processes, systems, software, integrations etc, marketing VAs focussing on social media, email and digital marketing, blogging etc and traditional ‘right hand woman’ support as I like to call it – running their clients’ businesses.”
What does the industry need to do to champion this understanding and perception moving forward? “As an industry I believe we need to come together and agree what the standards and messaging around the VA role should be. We are already a collaborative industry and to take it forward, we need to stand together collaboratively. As mentioned before, I think there will be the death of the general VA, the superhero who can do everything. I think VAs will begin to niche into the areas that people specialise in – and these niches need to be championed in their own right. People refer to VAs as Virtual PAs, something which I always challenge
because the people I have in my community come from many different backgrounds. Many are ex-PAs of course, however the term VA covers lots of different freelancers and gives people many options. It’s refreshing. I also see the UK VA industry leading the way in terms of raising the profile and standard of the industry and shattering the myth that you can get great proactive support for £10 per hour.”
I tell Charlotte that I’m surprised, as I personally didn’t realise the VA role was so adaptable. “Absolutely. There is a lot of scope to do different things due to how adaptable the role is, the skills and the different backgrounds that VAs come from. It is important to remember, however, that the skills that I needed to set up and run my own business are totally different to what I needed as a PA. There is a gap in knowledge that needs to be addressed to support PAs that want to make that transition. Of course, having a solid PA background is a good place to start and means you have lots of relevant skills to offer in the outset.”
For those of you reading this now who are contemplating making the leap but are unsure about your next step, Charlotte has some words of wisdom.
“It is important to remember that starting out you need to take it one step at a time. There are a huge number of VA forums with tonnes of information to hand – it can be quite overwhelming in terms of where you start, what to focus on, how to structure your business, how much to charge. Before you dive in, make sure you have a support network around you to help guide and strengthen you when you need it. One of the hardest things I found when I made the transition was going from working as part of a large and noisy team in a corporate office to suddenly being at home on my own. Professionally, I felt really isolated, alone and unsure of where to go, with no-one to bounce ideas off. My family were then (and always have been) great but I think there can be that risk of isolation for those of us who come from an office environment. Getting support, be it from an online community, a business coach, family, friends, and people you can talk to is intrinsic to sanity and to success.
“You also need to be able to talk confidently about your business. As PAs our confidence levels can often be low, coming from ‘bottom rung of the ladder’ roles and being used to being supporters rather than directors. I found it hugely challenging when I became a VA and realised that I had to put myself out there, speak up and actually talk about my business. In those days talking about me, my business and how I could add value to my potential clients was hard! I think a lot of PAs find it hard to talk about themselves, toot their own horn and explain what they can bring to the table. Talking about your business and your mission brings it to life and makes it real. You have to get out there and showcase yourself. People buy people (and we are all different!) so what you need to market is actually you!”
With regards to the best piece of advice that Charlotte was given that still resonates with her today, she cites her own business coach, who said: “You don’t have to fit in a box. You don’t necessarily need a title. You could call yourself a fairy godmother if you want! You just need to be confident about what you love doing, how you help people and be able to communicate that to people.” Charlotte continues: “In the end, especially with the VA world, clients work with VAs that they feel they have a relationship with because they trust them and because they know them.”
We touch upon networking and how the industry needs to build this avenue further for the VA community. “VIP VA is like a sisterhood in itself for peers to bounce ideas off each other and provide a safe space for support. Our members share problems, talk about industry issues, and continue their professional and personal development through exclusive webinars and masterclasses. There are quite a few communities that are encouraging VAs to set up their own networks – some of which I sponsor and help with – but there’s much more to be done to support and grow the VA community. A peer-to-peer environment works well from a collaboration point of view, but we need more of these. I also recommend visiting business shows to make connections with clients that use VAs – and engaging with business owners. There is also office* show, but the focus on VAs needs to be greater. Confidence and self-belief is intrinsic and networking really helps build these attributes.”
So what does the future hold for Charlotte? “This year is about raising awareness about VIP VA and my mission. I’m engaging with a greater number of business owners, attending and speaking at more industry relevant conferences and building up my networking and PR. Ultimately, I’m really trying to grow my tribe, support more VAs to grow their authentic and high performing businesses and reach out to more PAs that are feeling trapped to show them they can develop a business to suit their individual situation.”
Watch this space.