Liz, Virtual Assistant

 
guavabean-liz
 

Hi! I'm Liz and I'm from Tucson, Arizona.

I'm married with four kids. Life is a whirlwind of activity and trying to stay balanced.

What do you say when people ask "What do you do?"

I usually start by laughing. Because I do everything! But when it comes down to it, I say I help people and businesses run effectively.

Why did you get started with online/freelance work?

My biggest priority at this time in my life is my kids. It's very important  to be home and available to spend time with them, and especially to be around during those transition times (leaving and coming home from school).

I've always had small businesses to help supplement our family's income, but  once all of my children were in school, I wanted to do something for me. Something that would enrich my life and make use of my creative and analytical talents.

Freelancing as a Virtual Assistant and Project Manager fit the bill perfectly. Not only has it helped our family financially, but it has given me a creative outlet that helps me be a happier mom.

How many years have you been freelancing?

I've been freelancing for about 4 years.

How long did it take for you to feel like a "successful" freelancer. Until you were able to pay your bills regularly without worrying?

I felt successful from the start. I had always worked at my own businesses, so for someone else to pay me to help improve their business was dreamy.

I have the luxury of only being half of our family income, so the money isn't as important for me as it may be for others. Although my oldest child leaves for college this year, so I do have a greater need to up my game and make more at the moment.

My husband doesn't have the ability to make more at his job, so I'm grateful I can take on more work to expand my income and cover higher financial needs.

Where did you find your first paid freelancing job?

I kind of fell into it. I was actively looking for part-time work, and saw a post in a Facebook group. She was looking for someone who was very organized to work digitally, and I thought, "I could do that!". I interviewed and got the job. That started me on this path.

How did you price your services when you were just starting out?

I had no idea what I should charge, but the first offer I got was around what I wanted to make, so I took it.

After a year, I had more knowledge about what people doing my type of work were getting paid, and I knew my value, so I asked for a raise. Luckily, my employer at the time was already paying a reasonable wage, so it wasn't a huge stretch.

Most freelancers try several jobs before settling down. What jobs did you try before choosing your current occupation?

I have always owned a business of some sort. I was a wedding photographer for many, many years. I owned a sweet roll company, where I made sweet rolls in unique flavors and took orders and delivered them personally.

I've always had some sort of side hustle. In high school, I hand-designed funky stationary and sold it. Even now, I'm a writer in addition to my freelancing.

What are your favorite things about freelancing/working from home?

No pants.

But seriously, I love having complete control over my time, schedule, and what I wear.

I love being available to go on field trips with my kids and volunteer at the school, but still be engaged in living my own life.

I'm also an introvert, so working on my own and hiding in my air-conditioned house is the best creative environment for me.

What's your LEAST favorite thing about freelancing/working from home?

Every once in a while I have to force myself to leave my house, because I love being home so much.

Looking back to when you were just getting started - what tool, tip, or resource do you wish was available to you back then? What would've made your journey into freelancing MUCH easier?

The biggest learning curve for me was to stay on top of all of my tasks. I kept a white board where I grouped and listed all of my to-dos, and also had lists on paper I would constantly go through.

When the team I was working with started using Teamwork Projects, I was so relieved to have an online version of my personal task organization methods.

Project management software + Google Calendar have saved my life.

What's your favorite way to find new clients and job opportunities? What worked the best for you?

I have had the best luck on Facebook. Mainly just interacting in groups where my people are, and being open about what I do. I've offered to help people struggling or starting out businesses just to be nice, and have fallen into freelance work that way.

I'm exactly as busy as I want to be, so I've never had to post a profile somewhere to get work, though that may change soon.

What are the top 5 tools you use most often in your daily work?

Google Drive, Google Calendar, Gmail, Slack, Zapier.

What does your average Monday look like?

After dropping kids off at school, I sometimes take a 30-minute walk, fill my water bottle and settle down with my laptop. I make my weekly schedule on Sundays, so my schedule is already set with the tasks I need to do that day. I jump right in, getting as much as possible done between 8am and 11 am. Then I take a break for lunch and revamp what the rest of my day should look like.

I like to pack my schedule full, but then regroup mid-day and adjust if needed. Mondays I tend to work all day (my days are 8am - 2pm, when my kids are in school).

On average, how many hours do you work on a regular weekday?

2-5 hours, depending on my workload and what else is going on in family life. I never work more than 5 hours a day.

How do you stay motivated and focused when you don't feel like working?

I try to stay flexible and in tune with my needs. Some days I need a "me" day where I blow off work. But I know myself and work well enough now that I know when that's feasible and when I just have to push through and get it done.

Honestly, I love my work so much there are very few days I don't want to at least dip my toe in and accomplish one little thing.

What was one of the biggest challenges or roadblocks that you had to overcome in your journey to be a successful freelancer?

Communication. Understanding how the people I'm working with communicate their needs, and what that actually means. People tend to say what they think they want, but it may mean something else entirely.

So, being very clear in the beginning about what the client wants, and then learning and adapting as your relationship builds without becoming frustrated, has been the most beneficial thing to learn for me.

Now that you've experienced all the ups and downs of being a freelancer, would you go back to a regular 9-5 job?

Never.

If you could work from anywhere, what would be your dream work location?

Home, wherever that may be.

Do you have any work routines or habits that boost your productivity?

I'm a planner, and I respond well to self-imposed schedules and deadlines. Each week on Sunday, I schedule out all of my activities and tasks - personal, family, work (both my paid and personal projects) - on Google Calendar. I specify what tasks I want to accomplish in each block of time.

Each evening I change or adapt my calendar as needed. Maybe something came up and I only worked an hour instead of four. I move the time and tasks around to still fit it in that week. This works for me, because I'm flexible with myself, but still working within time goals.

Your best interview tip?

Be yourself.

I strongly believe in only taking jobs where you can be your glorious, quirky, creative self. That means there are some clients you just really shouldn't work with. If you are yourself in the interview, it will become very clear quickly that it's not meant to be. You'll save yourself lots of misery if you let that job go.

What would you say to someone who asks "How can I find freelance jobs if I don't have much experience yet?"

Find where your clients are. Put yourself in that space. Whether it is a Facebook group, a physical group, or a place where those clients hire freelancers, join the club! Then contribute. Make your presence known.

Whatever work you want to do, make sure it fits you. Build up a portfolio.

Above all, make relationships. And learn... keep learning about the field. Be bold when you describe what you do. Do what you can to banish impostor syndrome.

In your opinion, what's the most important quality or trait for a freelancer to have?

Self-motivation. No one is breathing down your neck giving you deadlines. You have to be able to get the job done and work everything into your schedule. When your schedule pops up for the day, you need to have the will to do the work, instead of binge-watching Brooklyn 99 on Hulu.

What do you wish other people knew about freelancing?

It's real work, and it takes skill.

I once had a stay-at-home mom say to me (after I told her about my job) "I wish I could fall into a job like that." I had to bite my tongue. I've worked hard to get where I'm at and I'm darn good at what I do. I have a unique set of skills that I've honed and refined so I can be the best. It's not something you just "fall into".

If you could go back to your early days as a freelancer and give yourself one piece of advice, what would it be?

Work less. I was trying so hard to be successful that my life was out of balance for a long time and my family suffered. That work-life balance is hard to find and I wish I had found it sooner.

What advice would you give other people who are just getting started, but are still unsure about freelancing?

Just do it. You may find out it's not for you... but you may also find your calling in life!


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