How to Be a Virtual Assistant Interview: Jo Harrison

By Tanya Kuhrt

A great way to get some inspiration is to listen to other VAs’ stories. Recently I interviewed Virtual Assistant Jo Harrison, focusing on how she helps authors with formatting books. This is an edited transcript of the interview.

Hi Jo. Welcome to the Podcast. Can you just briefly introduce yourself?

Hi I’m Jo Harrison. I’ve been a Virtual Assistant since 2011, when I took voluntary redundancy from a job in the UK. I work with a variety of clients, helping them out with social media and newsletters among other things. I also help authors with formatting their books. I live and work in France.

You started in 2011 which was when Virtual Assistants were reasonably new I guess?

Yes, it wasn’t as popular as it is today when I started out. I kind of fell into it –  I didn’t say to myself “I’m going to be a virtual assistant”.  When I took voluntary redundancy in 2011, I was looking for something I could do at home and I picked up a few jobs on PeoplePerHour, the freelancer website. Just admin jobs similar to admin that I’d been doing in my previous jobs. I thought: “I could do this every day. I could help people out virtually!”

What sort of services do you provide – do you have a specialism?

The services I currently provide are mainly around social media. I do social media scheduling for a lot of clients, and I do the occasional website.  Also, I help with marketing – newsletters using Mail Chimp for example. And now I have quite a growing group of author clients – I’m formatting books for them ready to publish on Amazon Kindle and also formatting print books on CreateSpace.

Am I right in thinking you’ve got a separate website for the author stuff?

Yes I have two separate websites. Last year, I was considering merging them, but I decided not to, because I have two very separate audiences for the different services I provide.

Your main website is joharrison.rocks. I love the domain name of the website. There’s no dot com or dot co.uk – it’s dot rocks, which is brilliant. I love that! And the author publishing website is ebook-formatting.co.uk. Jo, where did you find your very first client?

My very first client was on PeoplePerHour.com, and it was a recruitment agency. They asked me if I could format CVs for them. I spent quite a lot of time formatting CVs for a very small amount of money.

Yes, that’s one of the things about PeoplePerHour. I know there are Virtual Assistants that do work on PeoplePerHour regularly and they do charge top rates. However, it’s very easy – especially when you’re at the start – to be tempted to work for quite low rates on freelancer sites isn’t it?

Eventually, the rate went up.  I also got another couple of other clients on there. Then I started branching out into social media and using LinkedIn to find clients, which is really good.

I’ve said to people before that PeoplePerHour can be a good way of getting your foot in the door or getting a bit of experience and getting your confidence up, even if you might not be able to charge the rates you want right at the beginning. I know some people rule it out completely and say, “Oh, you should never work on PeoplePerHour”,  but I’m one of those people that never says never. Everyone is different.

Exactly. If I’m having a quiet period, I might have a flick through PeoplePerHour even now sometimes, if I don’t have a lot of work on, just to see if there’s anything around. Sometimes there are jobs on there which do pay well. You have to be in it to win it!

Where do you get most of your clients from now?

I get a lot of referrals, particularly from the author clients that I work with. I have quite a big group of author clients, and often, they refer me to their author friends. In fact, sometimes I have to actually send new inquiries to my colleague in the States who does formatting as well, because I just don’t have the capacity to do them all. My VA clients I tend to hold on to for quite a while, so I don’t really have a big turnover of clients. Generally speaking, I get them through referrals from existing clients or maybe LinkedIn and occasionally Twitter.

I know you’re involved in a podcast as well. Tell us a little bit about the podcast.

It’s not technically my podcast. It’s broadcast by Phil Byrne from Positive Sparks, and the podcast is called Positively Sparking. It’s a marketing and entrepreneurial podcast. He has lots of guests on there with strange stories or interesting things that he thinks people might like listening to. We do a monthly podcast together about our favourite apps and tools for the last month. We literally just did it yesterday for this month. I also have a Facebook Group called Online Productivity Tools & Applications.

You live in France, don’t you? Did moving to France have anything do to with your becoming a Virtual Assistant or vice versa? I mean, did the idea of being able to work from anywhere and have a lifestyle career play a part in you moving to France?

That’s a difficult one to answer, because it was a bit of both, really. I left my job in the UK at the end of July of 2011, and I started my business on the 1st of August. Then, I went on holiday to France to visit my mum, because my mum’s lived here for years. I spent two weeks there, and I was working at the same time, formatting the CVs for the client I’d found. I was sitting there thinking: “I don’t have to be in the UK to do this. I could do this sort of work and be in France”, and nothing was really keeping me in the UK.  That’s how it came about. I literally moved to France three months later. It caused some problems, because I’d already registered with HMRC for my business, so I had to go through all the process of sorting that out. But it’s been brilliant. If I’d opened a business like a shop or something like that it wouldn’t have been so simple, but I just needed my laptop, so I could have gone anywhere!

Jo, what’s the best thing about being a Virtual Assistant?

It’s the flexibility of being able to just work when I want to work, rather than having to go into the office at nine o’clock and finish at five. I’ve got nobody looking over my shoulder and telling me what I must do. I can take the dogs out for a walk. I can go and watch TV if I want to. As long as I get my work done, which obviously I do, because I wouldn’t have any clients otherwise! The work/life balance means I’m far less stressed than I used to be in the UK in an actual employed job.

What advice would you have for anyone who is thinking of setting up as a Virtual Assistant?

The main thing you need to do is to get yourself out there, whether that’s networking face to face with people, or networking online using social media. That’s the main thing you need to do, because if you don’t do that, you’re not going to find any clients. You need to get your face out there and people need to get to know you. As we talked about earlier, even if you go onto PeoplePerHour or similar freelancer websites just to kick-start the work coming in, that’s what I would advise, really, just to get things moving. Once you’ve got one job, then you can go out there and look for similar jobs in a different area.

Thank you Jo. It’s been really interesting, I really appreciate you taking the time to talk to me today. Good luck with the business , the podcast, the Facebook group and all the rest of it!

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