I take my hat off to side hustlers. Not only are they working a full-time job, but they're running a business on the side. Pretty impressive! In this edition of the Side Hustle Blog series, we're going to get to know Ana Patterson.
Hey, Ana! Welcome to the Side Hustle Blog Series. So happy to have you here.
Please tell us a little bit about yourself and your business.
I have been working as a legal assistant for the past 17 years full time, specifically in the area of family law in Los Angeles, CA. I had two babies back to back, 2012 and 2013, and started thinking that maybe I should be working from home instead of working a 9-5. Coupled with the high stress and high volume of work, I felt like it should be something I should consider sooner rather than later.
In 2013 after I had my son I stumbled upon two network marketing products and I “attempted” to sell the product, but failed. They are wonderful products, but I soon realized that I was not made to sell people on products.
My next venture was blogging. I did the research, built a couple of WordPress sites, and didn’t go too far because I had to have emergency surgery shortly after (gallbladder removal because of all the stress from work.). After the surgery I had plenty of time to strategize and think over what I wanted to do: I loved the process of creating WordPress sites, the research behind it, the creativity and I have a niche for office administration. So, I put two and two together and decided to be a VA instead, with my niches being WordPress sites, online marketing, and office administration.
Yeah, I went down the network marketing road myself and like you, I wasn't good at it. I'm so glad you found your niche. What has been the most challenging aspect of building your business?
The most challenging: being patient while placing all of the systems in place (website, resume, testimonies, contract, etc. etc.). I am currently working on obtaining various certificates for WordPress and online marketing, and it is very easy to get overwhelmed and consumed with the thought that I have to have everything done now!
There's definitely a lot to do to get up and running. How do you handle it?
Honestly, prayer and taking things one day at a time. I had to start prioritizing what is truly “priority” right now and then giving myself a realistic timeline on when to get those tasks done. And, giving myself a grace period. I had planned to finish my courses like two weeks ago! I am now giving myself enough time and space to finish by April.
Definitely give yourself some grace. Steady and slow wins the race. What’s a typical day schedule for you? How many hours a week do you work?
My schedule: it all depends. I like working late at night because my kids are asleep and won’t pull on me as much! Initially, I was working Monday - Sunday as much as I could. Now, I make sure I work Monday - Friday (before work, during my lunch and after the kids go to bed.), and save my weekends for my family and for school/courses.
Ana, how do you manage your projects?
I manage them using Asana, Google Keep and Toggl. I made sure that I had systems in place that were easy to use, and to prevent me from losing time and going in circles as to what I am doing, and for who, and deadlines. Asana and Google Keep help me keep it all together.
Cool! What did you have to let go of or sacrifice in order to allow your business to blossom?
I don’t think I have sacrificed anything. Instead of me putting in extra time here at my 9-5, I invest that time on my OWN business now!! My husband is wonderful, so he helps with the kids when I have to step away for calls during the weekend.
Running a side business and working full-time can be draining. When do you know you need a break from your business?
I know I need a break when I am feeling my creative juices are low or need way too much coffee to stay alive. If I cannot “flow” like I usually do, then I need to stop and go spend time with the hubby or take a nap!
For me, it's Pepsi to keep me going! What is one of your biggest upsets/setbacks/fails as a side hustler/business owner?
I have not had one yet, and I pray that I don’t.
Amen to that! I get messages from folks wanting to know how to launch a virtual assistant business. What advice would you give to individuals just starting out?
Take it one step at a time! There is nothing wrong with “not knowing” how to do a certain task! It all takes time and patience. I listened a lot to Danielle Greason from VA Lifestyle Design on Youtube. It really helped me get over my own personal/emotional “ditch”. We can be our own enemies when it comes to this business. Once I got past that “ditch”, I was in a flow for sure! Clients were coming left and right and I had to stop and take a breath!
But, it ALL takes time.
Great advice. What are your top three tips you can give that has helped during your business journey?
First: be certain you know the path you want to take. There is nothing wrong with stepping back and reassessing your next step. You will always need to do that as a VA.
Second: be wise when choosing your clients. Interview them, ask questions! Make sure that you “both” are a good fit for each other.
Third: Make sure that the work you provide your clients is the best work you can provide. I am hearing a lot about VA’s not providing good work product and making potential new clients uncertain of hiring other VA’s because of it. What did you do first to build your clientele/customer base?
I told everybody that I knew (outside of my 9-5 job), of the services that I could provide. I made every opportunity count. I obtained my first client in a nail shop while I was getting my nails done! I don’t “sell” my services, but I do make it known in a natural casual way.
The second is referrals. My best friend is my biggest fan, and she makes sure that she advertises my services to everyone she knows. I have one of my biggest clients through her.
And finally, I had my logo done by a professional web designer. During the time that I had my logo created, I made sure I made friends with him. He also is now one of my biggest referral sources!
I love referrals. What was your strategy to charge what you deserve in your business?
Not to undersell my services. My rate is my rate, and I only lower it if I see that it is going to be a long-term relationship and an investment. And even doing that it is a very minimal reduction amount. Value yourself, and the client's will value you and your skill set too.
How were you able to get your husband on board with your vision?
My husband is amazing, and wants me to be home! He is super supportive and has been there since the day I had the thought of starting to work from home. So, I didn’t have to do much.
Bravo! What are your favorite tools that help you manage your to-do lists and time?
Email: Gmail with:
Boomerang for sending emails later, or sending back “boomerang” when I don’t receive a response by a certain time.
Assistant.to to help schedule appointments and help prevent going back and forth with clients or potential new clients for a time to speak.
Stamp Wise for a super cute signature, but it also adds hyperlinks for people to easily add you to their Facebook or LinkedIn network.
Textexpander - lets you instantly insert snippets of text from a repository of emails, boilerplate and other content, as you type – using a quick search or abbreviation.
Toggl - Timesheets. This allows me to accurately keep an account of my time spent on each project/client, and it gives me reminders of how much time I have spent for each project/client. Very convenient.
17hats for my quotes and invoices. I was concerned and overwhelmed at first of the thought that I had to chase and consistently follow up regarding my quotes, invoices, contracts, etc. With 17hats I can create workflows to automate all the necessary actions I need. You can send a person a quote with options on what services they want, how many hours (if that is an option), sign a contract right there and even pay the invoice. Super awesome, and a total lifesaver. And the clients and super impressed on how automated and professional it looks. I am just happy I don’t have to trigger each action myself!
Wow, Ana! You just shared a few tools I haven't heard of. Thanks! What’s next for your business? Are you working towards going full-time? Anything else you’d like to share?
I am working now to go full time by early next year. I am taking my time to make sure all the systems I want are in place (like my certifications, my super awesome desk, and double screen desktop).
Ana, you've shared a lot of advice that I know will be helpful to our readers. Is there anything you'd like to share?
Don’t compare yourself to any VA! We all had to take a journey of our own to get to where we are. It was not a magic app, or course that did it. It was hard work and genuine hustle that gets you there.
Ana, thank you so much for stopping by. I wish you all the best in making your full-time dream come true. You're rockin' it!
To learn more about Ana:
Ana is a Virtual Assistant & WordPress Designer, and has over 17 years of experience as a Legal Secretary at a prominant family law firm in California. Her goal is to help business owners manage and grow their business by providing exceptional office support, web design and marketing services.
I'd love to feature other side hustlers so reach out and contact me.
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