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Sierra College Virtual Office Professional Student Interview

May 15, 2009

Sierra College in Rocklin, California offers Virtual Office Professional classes. You can read more about what one of the professors has to say about the program at Rocklin & Roseville Today. Students are asked to interview a virtual assistant as part of their finals. One student, Wendy-Lee Ollikkala, contacted me and asked if I was willing to be interviewed and I agreed. An excerpt of her final paper follows.

For my final, I interviewed Ms. Sue Canfield owner of Awesome Assistant. Sue is a Virtual Assistant located in Roseville California. She opened her business in 2003. She works in conjunction with her husband who is a website designer and author. They offer virtual office administration with Awesome Assistant, small business mentoring with The Commonsense Entrepreneur, and web design with Spinhead Web Design. Sue also helped found the Northern California Association of Entrepreneurs in 2007. I submitted my questions and they were answered via email. Sue and I had a follow-up phone conversation a few days later.

Question 1:  What would be the minimal equipment you would recommend to start your business? What is your favorite virtual gadget?

Sue Canfield:  A virtual assistant needs to have a decent computer with programs such as Word and Excel. A reliable and fast internet connection is vital as is phone service. I recommend getting a toll-free phone number also. A good headset is very useful. My favorite virtual gadget is EchoSign.com. Their free version allows you to get up to five contracts signed a month.

Question 2:  Did you have a set path or goal when you started your business or have you followed where the business has led?

Sue Canfield:  When I first started working as a virtual assistant I hadn’t even heard that term and didn’t know that was what I was doing. So for the first two years or so I followed where the business led me. However, in the last year I’ve created very specific goals for the business in terms of growth and income as well as the services I offer.

Question 3: How do you handle accounts receivable? What type of payment do you accept?

Sue Canfield:  The majority of my clients pay a retainer fee in advance for a set block of hours at a discounted rate. I accept checks or clients can use PayPal. If a client has a one-time project, I usually require a 50% deposit with the balance due upon completion of the project. In the rare case that I bill upon completion of a project, payment is always due upon receipt.

Question 4:  How do you stay on top of the constantly evolving technical aspect of the business?

Sue Canfield:  As with any industry, it’s important to continue to educate ourselves to stay current. I encourage virtual assistants to schedule regular time to learn new skills. There are many free teleclasses online to help us keep up-to-date with the ever evolving technology. 

Question 5:  How do you handle the security of your computers and confidential customer information?

Sue Canfield:  Since we’ve owned our own web design business for over 15 years, we have our own web server and firewall. We regularly change passwords and have backups of all vital information so that all confidential customer information is kept secure.

Question 6:  What would be the top three office services and skills for the new VA?

Sue Canfield:    

1. Excellent people skills that include top-notch service and quick turn-around times so your clients are eager to recommend your services.

2. Knowledge of word processing and computer skills.

3. The ability to use the internet and online marketing skills.

Question 7:  There are many VA forums available to join. Do you find VA forums and support groups helpful for you and your business?  How would you recommend a new VA select one or more to join?

Sue Canfield:  The two forums I’m most active on are www.VirtualAssistantForums.com and www.FindVirtual.com. I have found both of these to be extremely helpful. The virtual assistants active on these forums are friendly and eager to help one another. I recommend a new VA visit several forums to see which ones they are most comfortable with and then pick two in which you are regularly active.

Question 8:  Did you do any freelance work when you first started? Was it profitable?

Sue Canfield:  If you mean did I work for another VA first, no.

*Sue and I spoke more about this question. I was inquiring if she had done business on sites such as Elance.com. She said she had been on these sites but felt her time was better spent working with friends and clients at a reduced rate. She felt that she would learn more that way and it would help develop the type of niche that she was looking for. She wants clients that she is in a partnership with, not just a dollar sign.

Question 9:  What one piece of advice would you give to a new VA?

Sue Canfield:  Remember you are now a business owner and be sure you know how to run a business before you begin work. Too often I find new VAs have skills but no idea what it takes to run a business. That’s why my husband and I just wrote a book, The Commonsense Virtual Assistant: Becoming an Entrepreneur, Not an Employee, to assist new and aspiring VAs with basic business know-how. It can be ordered at http://bizba6.com/cva/. 

Question 10:  How has social networking impacted the VA profession? Is it profitable as a service offering? Is it a good marketing tool?

Sue Canfield:  Since social networking has become such an important part of the online marketing strategies for many businesses, the VA industry is where these business owners are turning for assistance to keep up with social networking. It has become a much sought after service and has proven to be an important service I provide to many clients. Used appropriately, it can be an excellent marketing tool. Caution is necessary so as not to flood your social network with too much self-promotion. The key is to provide information that others find valuable.

My interview with Sue Canfield was a positive experience. She was very generous with her time and her insight. We seemed to share many of the same values. She has a wonderful outlook on her business. She told me that she does not want her clients to be happy with her customer service; she wants them to be ecstatic. Sue also discussed the importance of making your potential clients comfortable with the idea of using a VA and working with a person that they have never met face to face. Working with a VA requires some degree of giving up control. She explained that many business owners have hired a VA before only to be disappointed in the lack of professionalism and unhappy about the cost. Sue emphasized that Virtual Assistants must work with a high level of professionalism to help promote and support this growing career field.

The most important piece of advice that I took away from my interview with Sue was to start.

She explained that this is a constantly evolving business and one person is never going to know or learn it all. It is important to start somewhere and learn along the way. She encouraged me to be very honest with my potential clients about my abilities. She told me a story about a current client she had that wanted her to provide a service that she wasn’t quite comfortable in her ability to perform. She was honest with her client and offered to find them a VA who did offer that service. The customer appreciated her candor and hired her to do it anyway because they valued her customer service. She was able to learn a new service, which she didn’t charge the customer for the learning time, at the same time she was able satisfy her customer.  

Thank you Wendy for taking the time to speak with me and for permission to reprint this interview!

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. Michael Storz permalink
    May 16, 2009 4:17 pm

    That was a good interview. Thanks Sue for taking the time to be interviewed.

  2. September 29, 2009 10:31 pm

    Great Interview! I found it to be very informative and love to hear any advice from Sue Canfield. Her experience and training has been an important part in starting my Virtual Assistant Business.

    Thanks Sue!

  3. September 29, 2009 10:36 pm

    Thank you Neilia. It makes me feel very good to see you putting into practice the things we discussed and I know it will bring you and your business much success.

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