Exactly four years ago this week, I set sail on the wonderful adventure of running my own business as a VA. It’s been a thrilling journey, although I can’t say it’s all been plain sailing: sometimes I’ve felt completely all at sea, at others like I’m walking the plank! I’ve had the wind taken out of my sails on a few occasions, weathered numerous storms and even hit the deck. But, through the good times and bad, I’ve somehow managed to keep an even keel: I’ve kept my sights firmly on course and I never, EVER, wanted to abandon ship.
It’s been a massive learning curve, but I’ve got to know the ropes, through the successes AND the failures, I’ve found my sea legs through pushing the boat out and making mistakes. And after four years, I’d like to share a little of what I’ve learned with you.
Transparency has always been the key for me, just like a PANE of glass. It’s important from the get-go to let people see the real you, in person and online. Be open, be honest, be realistic: don’t tell them you can do EVERYTHING, it’s physically not possible, and far-fetched claims will only lead to failed expectations and people being wary of you.
It seems to me that there are many parallels between being a great sea captain and a great VA, not least that both need to lead from the front with a sense of calm. But it’s the following components that have helped me find my true bearing and stay firmly on course over the last four years of my journey, whatever the weather. This is my PANE:
Some things can’t be forced, and, like a journey across the seas, starting off as a VA requires you to take time to get yourself fully prepped, on board and out of the harbour before you raise your sails. You’ll pick up speed once the wind gets behind you, but the early days are all about getting to know the ropes and building relationships. Taking time to get to know your prospects ensures that, when the time comes for them to need the services you offer, the trust that’s already there will stand you in great stead.
This is really important because things never quite go as planned. Accept, from the outset, that your course may change. This will prepare you to be more flexible and adaptable when the winds change. You can drag your anchor, reluctant to let go of firmly-held beliefs or plans, rigidly refusing to change your path, ideal client or your ‘why’, OR you can accept whatever comes your way, clear the decks and go with the flow. Adapting to changes along the way will help both you and your business to grow.
Building up a fantastic network of associates, prospects, clients and customers is a fundamental part of running a successful business. As the natural rhythm of life on board a ship includes team-building and problem-solving situations, so too does being a successful VA. Knowing the strengths of your “team” enables you to outsource to the best people, and putting yourself in your prospects’ shoes helps you to understand where they are, what they need and ultimately how you can help them. Remember that not only do people buy people, but people buy people who are like themselves!!
Know your vision, visualize it every day, this will keep you fixed on your destination and in hot pursuit of your dreams.
Aim big – it’s fine to want to sail the seven seas, with all guns blazing, but plan your journey in achievable, manageable chunks to avoid being pulled up short by overreaching.
Of course you’ll have expectations of money, your clients and your business, but please remember that nothing is set in stone and YOU are in control. Keep connected and always be attentive to what’s going on on-board your boat, but be flexible when appropriate and manage these things at your own pace.
I can’t deny that the past four years have been hard work, but they’ve also been exhilarating, invigorating, and hugely enlightening. I’ve grown as a person and I’m proud of not only the business that I’ve built but also the truly priceless support group of treasured friends and associates I’ve developed. All along the way, I’ve found that my failures – as much as my successes – have ignited within me a passion to share what I have learned with other VAs and “Find Your Path as a Stand Out VA” is my new online mentoring & guidance programme (coming soon)….watch this space !
It’s true that going it alone means venturing into unchartered waters, the weather may be stormy and you may feel a little woozy from time to time, but as long as you’re prepared to work hard, be patient, keep your eye on the destination and adjust your sails along the way, you’ll soon be steering your OWN ship and LOVING the adventure!