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My Virtual Assistant Journey

virtual assistant journey

November is Canada Career Month, a time for Canadians to celebrate the importance of accessing meaningful work. I can’t think of a better time to share some information about my own career and how I came to be a virtual assistant.

According to a study of the virtual assistance industry sponsored by the Alliance for Virtual Business, the most popular reasons people enter the VA industry are as follows:

  • Wanted to work at home / stay home with kids / dog
  • Tired of job / corporate politics / bad economy
  • Wanted to be own boss
  • Liked the flexibility
  • Like the control over hours, income, etc.

My story is a little different. Even though my dad and his dad both ran their own businesses, I never really had the desire to be self-employed myself.

In 1999, I was working in the field of Career and Employment Services. I’d recently been laid off from the government and had training money available to me as part of my severance package, so I decided to take the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator Qualifying Program. The MBTI is a widely used career assessment tool, and I thought it would be a good thing to have on my resume.

In the course, I learned that we are all born with one of 16 different personality types, and that our personality type influences not only our career choices, but also many other aspects of our lives. I was particularly fascinated with the way that personality type affects the way we deal with time and space. I was so excited by the possibilities that I wasn’t satisfied to simply have the MBTI listed on my resume – I wanted to actually use it! Since there was no opportunity to do so in the position I held at that time, I decided to start a side business where I would use my new knowledge to help others choose a career or become more effective by using organizing strategies that respect their natural preferences.

According to the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, my personality type is ISTJ. The following phrases have been used to describe ISTJs:

  • believe in thoroughness
  • pride themselves on their organization
  • emphasis on cross-referencing and easy retrievals
  • get things done on a timely basis
  • honour deadlines

It’s therefore not surprising that I would get a lot of enjoyment out of the administrative side of my business, often more than the actual client work. Because of my strong computer skills, I often found myself helping friends and acquaintances to find ways to simplify some of their routine tasks. Right around the time that I was trying to find ways to cut down on this and other forms of unpaid work, one of my organizing colleagues asked me to help her automate her monthly newsletter. Because this was someone I liked and admired, I just couldn’t say no, even though I knew it would take me half a day, including my travel time. As it turned out, because of the way she had been managing her mailing list up until then, it was going to be quite time-consuming to transfer it over to the automated system. She had neither the time nor the interest in learning how to do it, and asked if she could pay me to do it. That was the moment that I realized that you can organize someone’s workspace, and you can teach them good time management skills, but sometimes the best way to help them is to free up some of their time. That way, they can work on things that are going to generate income, or spend more time with their families, or whatever else they would rather be doing.

This was a real turning point for me, and I began adding website design (which I’d been doing on the side for several years already) and virtual assistance to my service offerings. I enjoyed this type of work so much that I reached a point where I wanted it to become my full-time job. I resigned from my outside employment in 2005 and have never regretted it for one moment! With the growth of my client base, I phased out the organizing side of my business. A few years later, after realizing that web design is my true passion, I narrowed my focus once again and no longer refer to myself as a virtual assistant, though I still actively run the GHVA Group.

So you see, it was rather a winding road for me, but I really don’t think I’d be where I am (and WHO I am) today, if I hadn’t taken that route.

Photo © Janet Barclay

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