Turbulent times call for a success story. And boy, do I have one to share with you today.
Tracy of Rock Solid Virtual Assistants stopped by to share how she started as a virtual assistant and grew her business, what an ideal subcontractor looks like and a whole lot more. You'll want to grab a cuppa before reading this - Tracy drops some serious knowledge here!
Hey, Tracy! Thanks so much for dropping by. I love getting to know others in the virtual assistant industry. So tell me, how did Rock Solid Virtual Assistants come about?
In every great story, there’s a beginning and the same is true with this one as well. However, the beginning wasn’t clearly defined in real-time but continues to clarify more and more each day. Let’s go back to July 2015. We were in Las Vegas at an Airbnb. Our family had spent a week in Los Angeles and we were about halfway through a week in Las Vegas watching our youngest son play in high school basketball tournaments. This particular morning, I was up early before the rest of my family and was spending time in a sun-filled living room with my Lord and His Word.
My heart was in a period of transition. My oldest son was home from his first year of college – a very good year but one that had its difficulties. He had been 14 hours from our home and though he did very well, it was hard on my “Mama-Heart”. My youngest son was looking ahead to his senior year of high school and wherever he would end up leaving for college. Because we are a very close, tightly-knit family, my emotions were all over the place.
This same summer, while on our deck at home praying and *possibly* worrying and trying to get all. the. things. organized in my mind, I distinctly heard the Lord tell me, “The best is yet to come.” Yes, great peace. Our God is good and faithful and has never ever dropped the ball. However, it would be about 3 years before I remembered Him telling me this again.
Back to Las Vegas. I had joined an MLM company about six months prior and was selling a hygiene product. This was a leap out of my comfort zone and while I was soaking up all the business techniques and selling seminars and gleaning all I could with this new experience, two other things were happening simultaneously:
1. I was learning that I really, REALLY loved business. I was seeing things in the business realm that truly had never crossed my mind before. I was not 100% sold on the product I was selling, but I was seeing that it was a product that ran out. My customers were not one-time sales. Hmmm…
2. The biggest thing – and what God showed me that July morning in the sunny Las Vegas living room is that I had influence. Honestly, I think God had been trying to get this point to me for a long, long time but I kept getting hung up as each time I would try to see what He was showing me; I viewed it as pride on my part. (Long, awesome story for another day!). I realized that the women who were purchasing the MLM product I was selling really didn’t need or want or could afford the product at all. They were buying… because of … me? Ok, this was a lot to take in. ~and to be very clear, I really have to credit God. I am known for my love for God and my love for teaching His Word and doing some light (maybe heavy) counseling from the Word and using God’s principles. I care deeply for people, but I really think had I been selling ocean front property here in Montana, I might have had a few takers just because of what God has done in my life.
At that very moment, I stopped with the MLM business and vowed to use this influence ONLY for God. Yes, that may have been a mistake, but thanks to God, it ended up being okay! At that time, I believed that the gift God has given me to teach His Word was the only way to honor Him; I never imagined how serving others in the business world could be in His plans.
One more very important thing happened this same morning. I don’t know if it became before or after the influence lesson, but it has been monumental in my life since the day it happened. In my spirit, I heard God say, “Tracy, live on purpose.”
Live on Purpose.
I am by nature a very concrete thinker. I normally prefer that my itinerary has an itinerary. Things should be clear and orderly and implemented with precision. Yes, I kind of chuckle at that ridiculousness as well. But, it’s how my brain functions the best! Life happens and normally knocks things out of kilter just a bit here and there, but generally, we’re on track! So, this very vague command did two things:
1. It had my head spinning! Did God mean live within my purpose? Am I supposed to go into full-time teaching ministry? Yikes! Where I currently live, that is neither favorable nor possible. OR… did He mean live purposefully? Have a plan. Be productive. OR both?! Man, this was good!
2. It brought me great peace! Yes, it was unclear and vague, but God once again showed me He was with me and somehow with this statement gave me confidence yet again that He had great plans for me and my life. I didn’t need to know details and exact plans because I knew He had it all in motion.
“Live on Purpose” has never left my mind. It has guided every day since even when it isn’t forefront.
Ok, to continue moving forward in this story, we need to go back one more year – or more! In 2001 I was a Registered Nurse and suffered a severe back injury. After multiple surgeries and procedures and medications and other such nonsense, I was told in 2002 that I would be in a wheelchair within 6 months. They simply don’t know my God. This is a story of God’s goodness indeed. Needless to say, I have never been in a wheelchair and never will be. From 2002 until March of 2014, I was a stay-at-home mom. I had so much time to learn and study and implement every promise I found in the Word of God.
In 2014, I was told I had to return to work in any way possible. Nursing, or anything in the medical field, was not in my future. I began work as an office manager for the company in which my husband worked as a shop foreman. This was an agricultural manufacturing product start-up. When I began, the owner had never had an office, much less an office manager, and things were not optimized in any way.
Creating order in that business was amazing. I loved everything from organizing inventory and ordering supplies in a cost-effective manner all the way to figuring out where we were losing money on the build, labor, and materials. I learned that the business did zero marketing whatsoever and though there was a website, it was in very poor condition. This business had a very awesome, innovative product and we surely needed to advertise somewhere somehow! I learned how to build a website and make it work as beautifully as it looked. I created purchase orders and contracts and made sure we were operating legally. We began sending out newsletters on a regular basis as well as printed materials educating our potential customers as well as sales. I took online courses to learn social media management and ad creation. I was a very good nurse and loved being a nurse. But… was I finding my niche? I loved this “office work” and finding the newest and best ways to get a job done. I loved the organization and building something and … just everything!
As the business grew and improved, the owner began having some personal difficulties. Soon, our paychecks could not clear the bank. It began slowly and randomly but as time wore on, it was a regular problem. Half of the staff understandably quit and found other jobs that offered a lower hourly wage but actually paid with checks that didn’t bounce. Having no income for 6-8 weeks became a regular occurrence for my family. By this time, my office was in my home because we had internet at home. Our business internet was shut off repeatedly for nonpayment. Normally, we were very responsible with money and didn’t have but maybe $500 or so credit card debt. We were using credit cards for everything from gas in the car to the monthly light bill. It was horrible.
In early 2016, I was sitting in my home office “at work”. I was crying, and my attitude was in the toilet. I very distinctly heard in my spirit, “Virtual Assistant”, and knew God was telling me something. I had never heard that term in my life and had no idea what it even meant. Oh, and did I mention my poor attitude? After a week or so more of crying out to God to “Please fix this!” and either experiencing His silence (Let’s be real – my disobedience in not listening!) or hearing the same two words, “Virtual Assistant”, I decided to at least satisfy God by Googling the term. (Yes, I’m beyond grateful for His patience and mercy!)
The first thing that popped up was a virtual assistant company with a tagline that said something along the lines of “We serve God by serving others” or something like that. Whoa! What? I found 2 others that also looked very promising. My focus was naturally on the one with the tagline and a little research confirmed that pretty much everything I was doing in my current, barely-paid, position was what this type of job required. My excitement soon fell flat as I read the requirements for the company that piqued my interest the most: I must have either 5 years’ experience as an Executive Assistant or a bachelor’s degree. I had neither. Even my nursing degree was an associate degree. I felt deflated even before I got started. “See God! This is never going to work.” Yes, the toilet attitude was still present, sadly. After a short time that I really felt like God was kindly prodding me to submit my application and resume, I begrudgingly did so even though I was sure it was headed straight for the shredder. I submitted everything to all three companies and was offered a contract with all three within two weeks!
Of course, I accepted the position with the company with the tagline. My first client was a pastor and author from Boston and she and I will be friends forever. I learned so much working with her and soon thereafter received another client from the virtual assistant company. Things were looking up.
Working with this virtual assistant company taught me many things. I appreciate business owners and am a great employee. I believe I’m representing my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ no matter the task at hand. However, I also respect honesty and transparency—especially if someone tags the name Jesus to it. I believe business owners can do anything they want – it’s their business. But tagging the Name Jesus to it suggests He is represented by them.
Looking back, the best I can describe all the things learned is stair steps. Every little thing – another step. Learn the lesson. Grow. Move forward.
By this time, my youngest son had graduated and was soon to leave for college. He was leaving sooner than most as he was playing college basketball and left early for practice/training. He and my oldest son were both going to be in the same town for college and would share an apartment. During high school, when either of our boys was on the court, we were in the stands cheering them on and supporting them. This was going to be a new and different basketball year. The empty nest thing hit me very hard. To say we were a close family is surely an understatement. I absolutely love being a mom and every single thing that comes with it. It was difficult.
Something else was happening though. I began thinking that if I was to start my own virtual assistant business I could SURELY treat people great and according to God’s standards and I would certainly pay them better. The other thing that kept picking at my brain is that working as a virtual assistant was a giant blessing in my life. I was able to grab my laptop and go spend a week with my boys in their apartment. We were at every nearby game that we could make it to because of this new job. If this blessed me this much… wow!! How much could it bless others? Moms (and maybe dads) who don’t want their kids in daycare but need to have an extra income… people who can’t stand on their feet for a “normal” job all day long… people who live in very small communities like I do where opportunities are very limited… and the list goes on and on!
My mind was spinning with all the ideas and plans and who would benefit!! It didn’t happen overnight for sure. The “what if’s” stepped in. “Who do you think you are?” All the doubts and questions. I was trained as a registered nurse. What did I know about running a business?
I had 2 clients on my own at this time, as well as one with the VA company. Word had spread quickly about my abilities as a great VA and I was constantly getting additional requests that I had to turn down because I was already at 40 hours per week.
I’m not sure how God actually pried me out of the boat. I am honestly very obedient to Him, once I know for certain I’m following His plans and not my own. I do remember the day it happened though! We were at a high school basketball game in my hometown and excitement hit me like lightning. I actually left the game and went home to jot down ideas and … dream! YES!! Dream. I had been raised that you get an education and then work 40 hours per week. Maybe if you don’t die first you’ll get to retire one day so just hope for the best. Ugh! All of a sudden, I was dreaming about the possibilities and the “what ifs” were changing to “What if it works?!”
In the beginning of 2017, I obtained my LLC and started working under the company name. At the end of April, I hired my first contractor and found her a client in London, of all places. Word was spreading quickly thanks to my clients and their referrals. Today, just a little over a year later, we have multiple teams in place and two international clients. In November 2017 I hired my own assistant who handles a lot of my back office and scheduling. In January 2018 I stopped working as an assistant and my clients all hired an assistant from my company. I don’t know what to say – God is so very good. I have a lump in my throat right now thinking of his love and mindfulness of us!
Indeed, the best is yet to come!
Girl, your testimony is ah-mazing! Whoo! With your faith and attitude, you are right: the best is yet to come.
Tell me a little bit about your typical client. Do you provide services to a certain industry?
We serve C-Suite clients in the start-up realm as well as in established, multi-million dollar companies. However, the majority of our incredible client base is in the creative realm -- wedding planners, photographers, illustrators, videographers, podcasters, etc. Because so many of our clients have come to us as a referral, we tend to stay in that group. However, in the near future, we will be opening up some more admin spots and possibly looking into serving some realtors as well!
That's awesome! One of my first clients was a realtor. What services do your clients request the most?
Most of our clients are looking for social media help and back office support. That can mean anything from content creation to managing the content calendar, scheduling posts, moderating comments, etc. We do a lot with newsletters and blogs as well. As for the back office support, we handle their client inquiries and ongoing needs, weekly schedule, invoicing, and of course manage our clients’ hectic inboxes.
I bet you save your clients a lot of time by providing those services. Do you offer training, especially for new virtual assistants? If so, please provide details.
We don’t offer training, per se; however, we do have a great and vast team of VAs that are ready to help some of the newer VAs at the drop of a hat. I stay very close to our teams the first 3-4 months as well, stepping in if and where needed. Once we bring a new team member on, they are given access to a teaching site that is AMAZING -- they can learn almost anything VA related on this site and for them, it’s free!
I love that team spirit of helping one another. I see you have an extensive hiring process. Could you describe it and the reason behind it?
Our hiring process is very extensive! Each candidate must go through 7 online questionnaires/assignments before having the opportunity of a live video interview. These tests include tasks as simple as writing an email response for a client to scheduling international travel to an extensive social media questionnaire, and more! Both Erin, my incredible VA, and I score each step on a scale of 1-10 and then discuss any potential issues we see as well as any particularly bright spots before deciding whether or not we would like to extend an interview invitation.
This process has proven very worthy. We are able to assess everything from writing style and written communication skills to attention to detail, timeliness, and proactivity within the 7 steps. We find that a lot of people start the process and don’t finish and that’s okay, too! We are looking for those that have the tenacity to go hard after what they are looking for and will step out of their comfort zone to investigate and try something they’ve never done before! We seriously have the very best VAs on our team, and I’m grateful for each and every one of them! By the time they finished the long process, I knew I would offer them a position for sure when the video interview happened!
The reason behind the interview process… ha! This is a personal story for me -- and I’m not sure where to begin. :) I lead with my heart more often than my brain sometimes! That’s really the truth of the matter! In the beginning, I wanted to give everyone a chance and help everyone out and show them how amazing this work was for family life and just life in general… I wanted everything good for everyone I interviewed. Don’t get me wrong, I still do! Now I just mix it with prayer and wisdom! I think that is really where the 7 step process was born - I needed a process to evaluate each candidate’s skills and heart before I was face to face hearing their story. Just as with every step we’ve taken, God was guiding this process from the beginning as well!
That totally makes sense and it seems like it has worked well for you. What does an applicant need to bring to the table to be a successful Rock Solid subcontractor?
Three things I love to find in a VA candidate:
A servant’s heart. People may use a different term for this, but what we’re seeking is someone who really loves to work behind the scenes to help another person out in any way possible. There’s so much gratification in supporting another person in business and in life and we’re looking for those who understand this.
Proactivity. A great VA should be at least a couple steps ahead of their client at all times. We are seeking someone who can see ahead to what will need to be accomplished to complete the task at hand and then get busy implementing those steps. I never ever want to hear from a client, “It’s easier if I just do it myself than ask and have to explain it to my assistant.” Once a task is completed, we’re looking for someone who finds work to take off the plate of their client rather than just sit and wait for the next assignment. This is vital to being a Rock Solid VA!
Self-starters. There are times when a client may ask their VA to work in a program or platform that maybe they’ve never heard of -- I need to know that our VAs are capable of reaching out to the team, looking on YouTube, or visiting the website for tutorials to learn what needs to be done. (Of course, we are very transparent and let our clients know this is a tool we’re unfamiliar with, but then we do everything possible to learn it quickly and efficiently.)
How many hours per month and at what pay can subcontractors expect working with you?
We have recently opened up a few 5-hour contracts, but these are reserved for our most skilled and experienced VAs and we have only one left at this time. Most of our contracts begin at 10 hours per week, but our clients can choose whatever number of hours they need above 10. Some need 15 hours per week, some need 40.
Our assistants have the opportunity to increase their hours in two ways:
1. After 30 days of successfully working with a client, they may request to be considered for another client. After we’ve assessed how the onboarding process is flowing, we can assign them a second client.
2. Many of our clients begin at 10 hours per week. However, once they begin working with a Rock Solid VA, they are so impressed with our skills and competencies mixed with a heart for our work that they increase their hours. We are very flexible with the client’s hours -- they can increase or decrease at any time. Let’s say they have a huge product launch coming up in August and know it’s going to be a crazy month-- they can simply increase hours to 15 per week for August only and then go back down to 10 for September.
We pay our subcontractors $22 per hour.
Many virtual assistants just starting out find subcontracting to be an attractive alternative to launching their own business. What are some tips you can give someone interested in subcontracting?
Let’s be honest, finding clients that have been vetted is difficult. We don’t accept every client request that comes our way -- I want my VAs to be treated well and valued for the amazing work they do. When you’re out there on your own, you’re not even sure who you’re working with or if you’ll be paid on time or at all. Another benefit of working as a subcontractor vs. launching out on your own is that we have a great team that supports one another whether it be helping with Convertkit questions or assistance with a Honeybook issue or just some tips on managing your hours each day. Teamwork really does make the dream work! Finally, we have done our homework, paid for the lawyers, and our ducks are in a row. You’re signing a contract with us that protects you as well as your client should a difficult situation arise. We have left no stone unturned to make sure that everyone is set up for success!
What are some changes you’ve seen in your business and in the virtual assistant industry as a whole?
I think virtual assistance is beginning to get the recognition that it deserves. So often, from the busiest CEO to the public figure/wedding photographer/educator, their assistant is the most vital part of their team. When I began working as a VA four years ago, I wasn’t even familiar with the term “VA” and when I tried to explain to people what I did, it almost felt like I was speaking another language. Today, it seems that the business world is beginning to recognize the incredible value we bring to the table, coupled with the extreme ROI of not having to have the overhead of an onsite executive assistant. This makes me smile clear down to my toes! :)
How large is your team currently? Do you have plans to expand in the future? If so, explain.
We currently have 20+ people on our team and are expanding as I type this. I think there are about 5 new candidates going through the interview process right now.
Tracy, you've shared some amazing stuff and I can't thank you enough! Anything else you’d like to share?
What makes Rock Solid Assistants stand out from the crowd is that we have built this business on a relationship! We don’t ever take on task-based work and make sure that our clients know they are far more than a checklist of tasks or a to-do list we’re rushing through so we can get on with our day. We strive to come alongside our clients for a 1:1 work relationship that works! We often become the client-facing member of the business and we represent our clients with excellence and integrity every time. We work very hard to build these relationships and our clients testify time and again that they just couldn’t do what they do without a Rock Solid Assistant!
Oh my gosh! What an inspiring story. Tracy, thanks so much for sharing with our audience. I wish you all the best - many blessings to you!