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076_How to know if you’ve got what it takes to be a great virtual assistant
The Goodness Squad Podcast Episode #76
You know you’re supposed to be online, spreading goodness and helping other people. But, what if you don’t feel like that means starting your own business? Have you considered the possibility of helping someone else build their business? Maybe you don’t want the non-stop ideas running through your mind. Maybe you don’t want to (or can’t) invest the time and/or money to grow a business. Maybe you just don’t have the support at home. Whatever the reason, perhaps becoming a virtual assistant is the right path for you. Today I’m chatting with MY virtual assistant about what it takes to be a great VA.
Resources mentioned in this episode:
As you know, I’m pretty darn picky about who I bring on here to teach you and talk with you and share important things with you. Today, my guest is someone who is one of the most generous people I know. She is kind, she is resilient. She’s smart. She’s a photographer. She’s a really quick learner. She’s very humble. She’s patient with people and with the Lord, she is an extremely hard worker. She’s a mom of three. She makes me laugh. She’s a published writer, a Time Out For Women speaker. But, she chose not to start her own website.
In this season of the podcast, what we are talking about is what to do if you want to quit. If you’ve tried to start your own website, your own online business, and you just keep running up against walls and you’re wondering, “Am I in the right place? Is this really what I’m supposed to do? Should I quit?”
So today I wanted to bring on my virtual assistant, Audra Elkington, and have her talk a little bit about why she, even though she’s incredibly talented and I believe could do anything she wanted to, why did she decide to be my virtual assistant instead of starting her own website?
MISTY: Welcome Audra.
AUDRA: Hey, thank you. That's kind of fun to sit through.
MISTY: It's fun to have somebody to say nice things about you, huh?
AUDRA: Yeah. Especially when your love language is words of affirmation.
MISTY: Well, I do hope that made you feel loved because you are very loved and so appreciated in this household. Not just by me, but by my kids and by my husband. You give me more time with them. And your role in my business is extremely, I wouldn't even say extremely important, it's essential at this point.
Choosing to become a Virtual Assistant
Let's just start right there. Why did you decide to become my virtual assistant instead of starting your own website around the many, many things that you could teach others about?
AUDRA: Well, that right there is part of the reason - the many, many things. My husband often calls me fickle and I have just started telling him that I'm multi-faceted. I've never been able to narrow down my interests. You talk a lot about niching down. I've never been able to do that because I want to learn everything there is to learn. I want to know how to do it all.
I have run a business in the past. I ran a really successful Senior photography business when my kids were younger and I really enjoyed it. And then we moved right as my business was really taking off. I have toyed with starting a business over and over again, but I just do not have the desire or energy to put in to building something back up.
I still, however, felt this urge to just be out there. I felt this urge to help women feel like they could do that because, I think for so long, a lot of us have just felt like 'I have to be a mom. That's what I'm supposed to do. I'm supposed to be a mom. I don't have time for something I want to pursue.' I don't think that's right. I think that we are meant to explore those interests that we have and to use the gifts that Heavenly Father gave us to help spread goodness in the world.
Being a virtual assistant was a way for me to do that without having the pressure of having to build and come up with the ideas and figure out what my niche was. I'm able to support someone else who does want to do that and I can just focus on the things that I feel are in my wheelhouse.
MISTY: Great answer. Really fantastic answer. So this was going to come later in the interview. My cute little outline that I have here, but I want you to tell me a little bit more about what you just said. I know that you believe motherhood is our most important role, but I've said before, most important doesn't mean only. It doesn't need to be our only role. And I think you believe also, that in many ways, as we expand our own talents, we are benefiting our children.
Making important things happen as a virtual assistant
So tell me a little bit about why you believe you're still doing that as a virtual assistant. President Nelson has said that we need women who know how to make important things happen by their faith. Do you do that as a VA? How do you fulfill that need as a VA?
AUDRA: Absolutely. When my kids were little, before I started the photography business and we moved and I wasn't working, I just noticed I was irritable all the time. I was always angry. I was depressed, honestly, I was depressed. And as I started to explore that a little bit more and try to really get to the root of what it was that was causing me to feel that way, I felt like I didn't have anything for me. I felt like I wasn't pursuing anything that helped me use my talents and gifts.
I have a voice. I like to talk. Anyone that talks to me knows that I always have something to say. If you ask me a question, I will always have a response. I think my ward probably gets tired of me going up to the pulpit on fast and testimony Sunday, because I just can't sit there and not say something. And I felt kind of stifled when I wasn't using my voice to do something outside of motherhood.
I don't think it's that way for everyone. I think there are women who that's what they feel called to do, to use their gifts in their motherhood. That wasn't me. I didn't feel that. But on the flip side, I have a husband who has frequently worked out of town and we don't live close to any family members. And so I've never really had that support system at home for me to have the time to build something and to really throw all my energy into it.
By helping you build your business, I kind of get the best of both worlds because I'm learning things I had no idea how to do before I took this job, but I'm also still here at home to support the needs of my family. My kids will come over and they'll see me creating graphics on Canva And I have a daughter who is incredibly talented in art and she'll just come and stare over my shoulder and she's like, "Oh, What are you doing? How did you do that? That's really cool." And she will sometimes help me by saying things like, "I don't like the way that looks." And I think that's fun. It's fun for her to see me learning something new and she gets to be a part of it. It's something she's interested in and it helps her understand, "Oh, maybe I can actually do art for a job someday." I feel like it kind of brings all of that together in one.
MISTY: It's giving her permission to be who she wants to be, that it's okay to have these interests. It's okay for her to pursue them. That's beautiful.
So my answer to this question, "Is Audra still seen in my business?" As many of you know, this business started when I couldn't get a quote from President Kimball, that President Nelson has recently re-quoted, out of my head. It talks about how, in the latter days, the good women of the world will be brought to the church as the women of the church are seen as distinct and different in happy ways.
I've thought a lot about Audra, and her contribution here in this business, and wondering if she is seen. She is! Oftentimes you don't even know it. There are many, many times when I ask Audra for advice: what do you think about this? Should we go down this road? Should we go down that road? What decisions should I make here? What products should I create next? She'll encourage me, reign me in, help me fine tune what it is I'm thinking about. So a lot of what you see that comes out in this business, has Audra written all over it.
Many of you have probably recently seen her on Instagram. She's so much better at creating reels than I am. It helps our business be seen, the more reels we create on Instagram, right? If you're not creating reels, you aren't going to be seen. And she's doing that for me, for our business. And she's really good at it. Really good at it.
She's also a fantastic writer. Most of what you see on Instagram is copy and pasted from a podcast episode transcript. If she's creating that Instagram post she'll put in words that come from the actual podcast episode. But every once in a while, especially when it's like a motivational quote, it's Audra and it's her words. And I will read that and sometimes (because it gets posted and it's a surprise to me) sometimes I know that she's going to do it, but I don't know exactly when and I go on my Instagram account and I'm like, 'Oh my goodness. Look at that.' It will bring tears to my eyes, the things that she says.
So she is still such a huge part of this business, of my business, of what you are seeing and learning. And I'm just forever grateful for her.
Perks of being a virtual assistant
MISTY: Okay. So tell me what you love most about being a VA.
AUDRA: Honestly, one of the things I love the most is that I'm getting to learn how to do things I never imagined I would be able to do. I love listening to podcasts. I've been obsessed with podcasts for years. I used to text one of my friends and just say, "how does one get a job transcribing podcasts? Because that's what I want to do." So it was so funny to me when that was one of the things you wanted me to do, because I was like, 'Ooh, there is a job for that.'
I'm a writer, I like to write. And that's one of the ways that I get to write, figuring out 'okay, that is not what you just said in that podcast. Let's go ahead and fix that.' That's fun for me.
I also love the flexibility though. I can still be home and available for what my kids, my husband and young women (I'm the YW President in my ward) need. I'm still available for everything I want to do in my life. I still have time to pursue my other interests that I'm working on and I can fit in work when my schedule allows, which is really flexible. Yes, I have deadlines. Certain things need to be done by a certain time, but how that fits into my day, I get to be in charge of that. And that is really, really nice.
The other thing I like is meeting the women that you work with. I have loved getting to know you and be your friend, but I also love getting to know the women in the community. I feel like I kind of get a sneak peek at what they're doing before anyone else does. And that's really fun for me.
How being a VA is different from being a business owner
MISTY: They really are the best part of this job, getting to know these incredible women. I love that you said you like the flexibility and how that's different from my flexibility. I can set my own hours. Absolutely. I can fit my work into where I want to, but it's different in that it never shuts off in my brain. Because like you said, all the ideas are on my shoulders, all the direction and I don't really have a deadline other than what I set for myself.
There is a difference. So while it's a really great balance where you can set your own hours, but there's end to it. You know it's "15 hours this week and I know I'm done and I can fit that in wherever I want and make it happen." Whereas for me, I can be like, "yeah, I only want to work 20 hours," but then I end up working more because I get really excited or overwhelmed or whatever. And it can more easily overtake your life when you're the actual business owner.
AUDRA: Yeah. And that's honestly one of the things I hated about running a photography business. I felt like the ideas never shut off and I didn't like that. I want to be able to sleep at night and not have my brain telling me that I need to go jump on this fun idea that I just had.
The Cons of being a virtual assistant
MISTY: So, what is hard about being a VA? Say someone is out there and they're thinking, "okay, this sounds great. Everything she said so far is wonderful. And maybe this really is for me." What would you warn them about?
AUDRA: I would warn them, yes, you're flexible, but you also need to be available. Sometimes Misty is getting things done last minute and I need to make sure that I've planned ahead to be able to still do my part of that. And that's just how it goes. It doesn't bother me because I've prepared myself for that. But I think if you're not ready for it, that can be really difficult at first. That's really the only thing I feel is hard.
I guess another thing would be that you do have to be a little bit disciplined because you don't have someone else dictating your hours. There are days where I'll get caught up in doing something in my house. I have to shut myself in a room because otherwise I'm going to look at the dishes piling up on my counter and it's going to stress me out and I can't focus on what I'm supposed to be doing for work because I'm eyeing those dishes out of the corner of my eye.
So it does require a little bit of discipline. And that took me some time getting used to when I first started. Now, I'm kind of in a routine and I have applied tips that I've found from Misty, but at first that was really hard for me.
What makes a virtual assistant valuable to a business owner
MISTY: I'm surprised to hear that. I've had virtual assistants before so I can tell you maybe a few things that I have seen in Audra that have made her far more valuable than any other assistant I've ever had.
#1 - First and foremost, she is not scared to learn new things. She is willing to make mistakes. She's willing to jump in and try, make mistakes and learn from them. That excites her. It's a really good thing. So if you are really afraid of making a mistake, this may not be for you because you, it happens. It just does. You learn and you grow.
#2 - It is a huge benefit to me, as a business owner, to have an assistant who doesn't wait for me to tell her every single thing that needs to be done. She has oftentimes seen things that need to be done in the business and just gone and done them without me saying anything. She has made adjustments or improvements that I've asked for. She'll find answers to her own questions and only come to me when she really can't find the answer anywhere else.
Those are skills and traits that are unique, honestly. I haven't had them in previous virtual assistants, and it can be draining as a business owner to have an assistant who is constantly asking "exactly how do I do this? Can you show me one more time? Did I do it right?"
#3 - A perfectionistic type is going to be very hard for a business owner. So that's one thing that I would say, isn't hard for Audra because it's naturally part of her personality to just really want to learn, but if you struggle with perfectionism that's something that maybe you ought to consider.
She gets things moving forward. When I very first hired her and I didn't know how incredible she was, she would post something and I'd be like, "Wait I didn't approve that graphic, but I really like it!" It's been such a fun journey to have her on my team.
Don't compare your journey to someone else's
Anything else that you want to say that you feel women should know if they're considering this.
AUDRA: You talk a lot about comparison and that's something I've struggled with a lot. If all my friends are starting a business and I'm not, I get FOMO. I'm not going to lie. I suffer really, really bad from FOMO.
One of the things I have really, really leaned into is, President Nelson, since he became prophet, has really stressed the importance for us to learn how to hear what the Lord is telling us personally. Not what he's telling your best friend, not what he's telling your relief society president, not what he's telling your kids. He is speaking to each of us individually. And it's up to us to figure out what he's saying to us.
A couple of years ago I was trying to decide between starting a business or going back to school to be a physical therapist (I was doing group fitness instructing at the time). I came across this verse in D&C 31:10. It says, "Behold, I say unto you that you shall be a physician unto the church, but not unto the world for, they will not receive you." And at that time in my life, that verse just hit me.
All of a sudden, all these little things, like why I couldn't get motivated to start a photography business here, why it was so difficult for me to figure out how to go back to school, why my body was breaking down as I was teaching group fitness classes. In that one verse, I was like, 'Oh, I'm not supposed to do this for the world. I'm not supposed to have a business like this." The Lord wanted me to free up my time and energy to focus on teaching the gospel and helping people find the Savior in their life.
But my natural woman side still wanted to make money. I like making money. I like working. I like learning new things. This job has allowed me to do both. I have my time to focus on the things the Lord really, really wants me to focus on, but it's like, he's given me this gift of being able to still have what my earthly body wants. He's letting me have the best of both worlds.
To me, that speaks so highly of what a loving Heavenly Father he is - that he would allow me to do His work, but also to do something that I want to do. And so I think sometimes you just have to tune in to the Spirit. Maybe he is telling you to do something. But maybe you don't have to be a physician to the world. You don't actually have to be the one solving the public problems. I know I solve a problem for you, Misty, but I don't have to solve a problem for hundreds of thousands of people. He has other work for me to do.
MISTY: I'm so glad you brought that up. If someone were to ask me, "what do you think Audra's biggest strength is?" I would probably tell them her ability to hear the Spirit. From what I've observed of you over the last year, that we've known each other, you listen to your Heavenly parents and do what they want you to do. And I think, ultimately, that is the answer to this question that we're addressing during this season.
Should I quit? What should I do? Where should I be? Am I in the right place?
Ultimately, the answer is seeking help from your heavenly parents. And sometimes I think that answer is go and do what you want to do. Just go have fun. It's okay. And like you said, sometimes it's both and he gives you a way to do both, but I believe that ultimately, that truly is the answer. He knows where your talents and skills will be best used in His kingdom.
Don't be a fish climbing a tree
I have debated this whole episode whether or not I should share this quote. I don't know that it applies directly to you Audra, but I do feel like maybe there's somebody out there who needs to hear this.
Albert Einstein said, "Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid." I love this concept. I absolutely believe that each one of you listening to this episode right now has what I like to call a superpower, which is a funny little name for it, but has a place in God's kingdom somewhere that is your personal zone of genius. Where he needs you. And if you spend all of your time trying to be a fish, climbing a tree, you're not going to be successful. You're not going to feel the joy that comes from truly using that zone of genius that is yours.
And so if you feel like that, if you're here online and you're feeling like a fish that is trying to climb a tree, consider asking if that's really where you're supposed to be. Which is a funny thing for me to say, right? When I want you online because I want to be able to teach you and help you. And I hope that you can feel the sincerity in that. I don't believe everybody is meant to be here in this space. If everybody was here, we'd have a lot of other needs in the kingdom that weren't being fulfilled. I would encourage you to do what Audra just said - to try to hear Him. To hear your heavenly parents and to listen to their advice for you and where they would have you be. Any follow up to that?
AUDRA: I think sometimes it's easy to have the big concept of "yes, I need to listen to the spirit, but what does that look like? And how do I know if that's what the Lord is actually trying to tell me?" It took me a long time to realize that he was telling me not to have my own business going and as I look back in hindsight, what I can tell is that I was so anxious, to the point where I would feel sick to my stomach. And like I said earlier, I was irritable. I was always stressed out. I could never focus on one thing.
Now I get anxious, but it's a different feeling. I don't feel sick to my stomach anymore, you know, if I'm really interested in something for work, it's not that, "uh, I feel so sick" and nauseous about it. There's a clarity in my mind. Yes, I might feel that nervous energy, but it's more of an excited, nervous energy. It's not that I don't want to get out of bed, I don't feel good. There's a difference in that anxiety when you are supposed to be doing what you're doing and when you're not.
I think that's important to just really take a step back and figure out what kind of anxiety you're feeling, because I know that that's a big mental health issue and sometimes it might be mental health, but a lot of the times it's just that maybe you're not on the right path. And I think you can tell the difference if you take a step back and really evaluate just the physical feeling that you're having from that.
The Lord is not the master of contention. He doesn't want you to feel that internally, just that turmoil, and I think that's a really good way to evaluate if that's what the Spirit's trying to tell you.
MISTY: That's beautiful advice. I know Kristen from KristenWalkerSmith had taught once that, "how do you know when the Spirit's is warning you? What does that feel like? And she talked about how it's like an excited courage. Not fear, right? Because God doesn't speak in fear. And so if he's trying to tell us, 'don't go there,' or this is the wrong choice, or it's like this excited courage. It's not that it's easy. Hard can be good, but do you have an excited courage around that hard thing instead of just kind of a depressed, overwhelmed, anxious, worried, sick feeling, right? There's, there's a difference there even when it's hard.
Tips for getting a job as a virtual assistant
So one last thing. Do you have any tips for somebody who wants to get a job as a virtual assistant? And this is kind of funny because she wasn't looking for a job as a virtual assistant when she found this one.
AUDRA: First, we're all online. If you see someone that you really like what they're doing online, reach out to them because maybe they don't need help, but maybe they know someone in the same ballpark that does. I've reached out to Misty about a friend of mine who was looking for something and maybe she knows someone, maybe she doesn't, but you don't know, unless you ask,.
Second, would be to help get yourself seen, I guess is how I would put that. If you're not in circles with other people, how is anyone even going to know what your talents are? Yes, Misty, you just emailed me, but I was out there for someone else to be able to recommend me to you. Someone else had seen what it was that I had to offer. And I think that's important. You have to be willing to put it out there in the world. Someone is going to see that. And if they need your help, they'll come to you because they have seen what you produce.
Third, is to learn. I wanted to learn how to transcribe podcasts, I thought that would be so much fun. Okay. So how do you do that? Go searching for information. I didn't know all these editing software companies existed for podcasting. I didn't know that, but I went looking and I found out. And then that made it a little bit easier when Misty came to me and said, "Hey, I want you to do this part of my job." I was able to at least have some background knowledge about that.
And the more you learn how to do, the more you're going to be relevant to someone else if they're looking for someone to help them.
MISTY: I think the more confidence you're going to have when you put yourself out there too. From a business owner's perspective, I would respect someone who reached out to me if they knew about my business and were passionate about what I was doing. So if someone just reached out to me randomly and said, Hey, I'm looking to be a VA. Are you looking for someone? That's probably not a request I'm going to respond to. Versus if somebody came to me and said, Hey, I have been following you online for a month or two and this post really spoke to me. And I really loved when you talked about this on your podcast. And I could tell that they knew about my business, they said I would really love to support you in what you're trying to do. Here are some skills I have that might be able to help that. That's a request I would absolutely respond to.
And even if I wasn't able to hire that person right then, I would put that in my back pocket. That would be there for when I have those needs and the ability to hire them. And like you just said, Audra was referred to me by Sarah, from Sarah Grace Live. Sarah wasn't able to hire Audra, but when she found out I was hiring, she said, this is a great person. You need to grab her. And so, like Audra said, if you like somebody's business and then somebody I know of in my circles who needs that, of course, I am going to then go and tell them about you because you reached out to me in a really, impressive way.
Any last words here as we sign off?
AUDRA: If you're beating your head against the wall, trying to build a business and you just, you're not excited about it. Don't be afraid to look at other options. It's okay. Maybe that's not for you. And that's totally okay. I had no idea that I would love being a virtual assistant as much as I do, because I do like to talk and I do like to be on stage and speak. And I like to write for everyone to read. I like that, I'm not going to lie. I like the spotlight and not in a "Oh, look at me kind of way." That's just a gift I was given, I'm good at it. I enjoy it. It's fun for me. I'm not terrified of it like other people.
So never in a million years did I think that I would like being the support to watch someone else build their business, but I love it. And I think I love it because I followed the Spirit. Heavenly Father knew that my life is not in a position to be able to take on the responsibility of building a business. But guess what? I'm really good at helping someone else build theirs. And that's okay.
MISTY: You are excellent at it. I love that advice. Really consider it guys. Follow the Spirit, all the promptings. I think that's the overall message from today's podcast episode, seek help through prayer and through the Spirit.
In the next episode, I think there's going to be two left in this season. The next episode, we're going to be talking about what to do if you've decided that you need to start a business, but you just can't get motivated. What do you do? I will see you there.
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