Working as a sole trader can be a lonely business at the best of times, but even more so when you are working in a different country to most of your clients and peers…
VIP VA member Vicki Doudelle shares with us her journey so far in running an international VA business in France…
“My VA journey is a little different to most – I didn’t come direct from maternity leave or from a full-time job – I was struggling settling into a new life, in a new country, not able to find work that matched my experience & skill-set. In actual fact, this is a story that resonates a lot with many VAs I’ve connected with here in France.
Turn back the clock to 2007, when I returned to London after a life-changing year in China, where I realised that living the London-life was no longer an option for me. After years of working in the corporate, fast-paced, challenging buzz, plus commuting the Met line every single day, I wanted something different – I wanted open space & time spent with my future family. My husband is French so we pinned our hopes on Bordeaux and in spring 2011, once our second child was born, we took the plunge and left the UK for a new life.
Roll on 6 years and could I have ever imagined that I would now be running my own business, from home, with international clients, working the hours to suit our family life and having a network of like-minded professionals (thanks to VIP VA) who support each other every single day, just like we used to do back in corporate London? Sometimes, I have to rub my eyes, blink and step back from it all to appreciate just how far I have come.
I decided to give the Virtual Assistant world a go back in January 2013, when after a year of trying to find work in Bordeaux, in a role that was exciting and equal to my skill-set/experience, I had only had 1 interview. My CV back in London would open doors because I had McKinsey & Company as my most recent employee. It was tough to accept that finding work that matched my abilities was potentially not an option for me. I was desperate to earn some money, even if just 100€ a month, I had always earned my own money, ever since my first job at 14 years old.
I decided to set up as an Auto-Entrepreneur (the French equivalent of a Sole Trader) and start scouring the freelancing sites of PeoplePerHour and Elance (now Upwork). My first “win” was for a very small Hollywood studio, who wanted me to organise their social agenda for the Cannes Festival – how glamourous! I was paid £30 for 3 hours work, but it was a start and I had myself a review and a rating online, which meant that I started to win small jobs. My first relatively big break was in April that year when I won a 10H per month VA role with an Entrepreneur in Oxford and from that point onwards, I was on the rollercoaster ride which has brought me to today.
I soon discovered VA companies that took on freelancing Virtual Assistants and they found me extra clients on my behalf – it really was excellent footing and a great way to build my skills, experience & knowledge as a VA, however, the pay wasn’t particularly good – but I wouldn’t be where I am now, if it wasn’t for them. Every step of the way has been a steep learning curve, especially when I soon realised I actually had the savvy to do this alone, to not need employment and to market my own business. In August 2014 I found my first real private client, paying me for 10h work a week at a decent rate – but after we signed the agreement, he had the cheek to say to me “you do know you are worth double that!”, it was then I knew I wanted more for myself, but also more for the VA industry.
Since mid-2015, I’ve had a continuous stream of great private clients, I’ve been building The VA Bee, marketing myself and getting regular leads and enquiries. I continue to learn and I’m desperate to keep growing. One of my main constraints now is networking – realistically, my client-base is in the UK, and I am not. I am building, with some like-minded professionals, a Bordeaux Business Network for English-speakers and after 6 months we are at 300 members and have just launched our website – Event 4 is around the corner – let’s hope this brings me a local client!
I’m also using the powers of social media and have discovered many online networks, but most importantly I discovered VIP VA. The moment I found their website, I wanted to be a member – I even tried to sneak past their rigorous vetting process by pretending I lived at my folks, but their vetting process is so tight that Charlotte quickly pulled me up! However, I had the chance to briefly talk with her on the phone and I instantly connected with her, her vision and everything VIP VA is about. One year further along, I’m a VIP VA member and ambassador, hoping to forge forward with Charlotte, all the members and everything VIP VA is about – standards, support, authenticity & elite support services. The members are a unique group of VAs who assist & collaborate every single day, there’s a definite “Team” atmosphere. The Virtual world is a little less lonely, the journey to here has been a long one for me, I just wish that Charlotte’s VIP VA Nurture Club had been around 4 years ago, in hindsight, I would have joined in a flash!!”