Emma here, and I am soooo excited to share this bonus episode with you all today! You can listen to my interview with Abbey Ashley, founder of The Virtual Savvy. Abbey shares with me the story of how she changed her career (and life!) when she taught herself to become a Virtual Assistant, making it possible for her to work from home with her children. She grew that business but then eventually started teaching others how they too could own their own business and become a VA and have the freedom to work from home, or work remote, just like she had found.
I love Abbey’s story and her enthusiasm is inspiring! If you are looking for a flexible career change, you might want to check out this FREE training her team offers. And if becoming a VA isn’t for you, you might still want to check out her site or sign up for her newsletter because Abbey and her team are excellent at marketing—and we talk a little about that in our interview as well.
Episode 87 Transcript
Emma: You’re listening to A Beautiful Mess podcast. Today I’m doing a mini episode with Abbey Ashley of and The Virtual Savvy. I love her story, it endlessly inspires me. She started out, she was having her second child and needed to find a way to make money from home. She became a virtual assistant and now she runs a virtual assistant teaching basically empire, where she teaches lots and lots of different people to do exactly what she did. And as you can imagine, in 2020, her business boomed and it had already been killing it. So we’re going to talk with her today, hear more about her journey. And she’s super inspiring. And I can’t wait for you to hear our interview. All right. So the first thing I wanted to ask you, in case any of our listeners don’t know, is what is a VA, what is a virtual assistant?
Abbey: The very good question. So a virtual assistant is any kind of remote freelancer that helps with administrative, creative or technical tasks. So kind of think of it like a small business. Instead of hiring an admin to come into a physical office to do tasks for them, you would hire somebody remotely to help with social media posts or blogging or invoicing or some of those tasks that need to be handed off in a business. A virtual assistant can do those tasks for a business owner remotely.
Emma: So typically, do VAs work for small businesses or do even like large companies tend to employ VAs? I know you work with lots of different students. So you’ve probably seen a lot of different situations. And I’m just curious who is employing all the VA’s?
Abbey: Right. I would say that the majority of people who are hiring virtual assistants are small business owners. So people either in that startup phase or maybe in that like six or even seven figure mark in their business. But more like solopreneurs, there are businesses, bigger businesses for sure. Companies even, I think as virtual assistance is becoming more of a known industry that are starting to hire virtual assistants or even a lot of VAs end up going on to specialize. And they’ll become a Facebook ads manager or a Pinterest manager. Right? And I think that especially for those specialties, that bigger companies are starting to realize, oh, there’s a real value in hiring these specialists to come in on a contractor basis. And so a lot of companies are starting to hire VAs or specialized freelancers as well.
Emma: That’s kind of what I was wondering is it seems like it would be a great path to kind of get your foot in the door to become maybe a social media manager or some other different areas that VAs tend to cover, which I think is really cool, because sometimes you you know, you don’t know how to get your foot in the door in certain arenas unless you start your own thing. And for some people, that’s just not what they want to do. They don’t want to be, you know, have their own social account that they have to manage first. They want to do it for someone else and learn the skills and all that, which I think is awesome. And typically, when you started out as a virtual assistant and then the students you now teach, is it usually you own your own business, you are a sole proprietor or start as an LLC or whatever you want.
Abbey: Yeah. So that’s mainly what I teach. Now, there are companies out there that will hire you as like an employee to work for their bigger VA company. That’s not necessarily what I teach people how to do. I think that most of us have the skills and to start our own business, we just kind of need that step by step path is like, oh, OK, I need to for my LLC or I need to get this certain license because it’s required in my state or whatever it may be. We need that path. But once you do it, it’s, you know, we are skilled people. I think that most of us discredit our experience and our background and we don’t realize that we really do have skills that small business owners could be using. And so, yeah, most people, you know, it’s pretty simple to set up a LLC or just to start out as a sole proprietor and you can start your business with the skills that you already have. And I love I love that so much because like you said, it can be such a stepping stone. And some people start their virtual assistant business because they want to homeschool their kids and make an extra couple hundred dollars a month or whatever. But then there’s people who go on to build these full blown out agencies. I know somebody who has 60 subcontractors underneath her, like she’s grown this massive agency or, you know, somebody is growing a blog, which, as you know, can take time to really gain some traction with, to start making some some really good income with. It’s an awesome opportunity, but a lot of times people will, you know, the skills that you’re already learning by starting your own blog or by writing a book or whatever it is your big dream is, a lot of those skills could be used to help other people in their businesses so you can make money with services in my opinion, pretty quickly, I think it’s one of the fastest ways to make money online while you are building relationships, while you are establishing your traffic for your blog or whatever it may be. I just think that it’s a really great stepping stone for a lot of people. But then again, some people it’s not a stepping stone and they just they live there and they they expand these huge businesses just as a VA. So a lot of opportunities there.
Emma: Well, tell me more about what your life was like, like your journey when you became a VA, because now you teach and you have this whole little empire. And I admire it so much, but you start out as a virtual assistant. So tell me more about that, because I love what you just said about how we probably already have skills that could be useful that we could be using to make money or side income for our business. So where were you at when you started with that journey?
Abbey: Definitely so, I had no idea what the VA was. I’ll just go ahead. So if this is the first time you’re hearing about virtual assistants, it’s OK. You’re in — you’re you’re in good company. So, you know, I was actually pregnant with my second child. And it’s…I know you’re pregnant right now. So there’s like this I don’t know, there’s like…
Emma: Panic (laughs)
Abbey: …waves, Yeah, number one there’s panic (laughs). But number two, this was my second also. But like, I would get these waves of, like, being super tired and then super, like, energized and productive and like, oh, I could conquer the world at building a human! (laughs) So anyways, I was I was pregnant with my second child at the time and I, you know, was just really needing to find a good, reliable way to make money from home. I had previously, I was an I was a academic advisor for an online university. So I kind of had some experience in the online space, but not really. I mean, I was helping kids with like their class schedules and not really anything transferable to small businesses. And I had nannied for a while. I try to start other businesses like I did this thing where I would like invite people over and we would do like these freezer meal parties, but like with two kids running around, that’s not going to be really that great of idea. I would like find jeans at thrift stores and sell them on eBay like I did all these little side hustle things. But none of them really grew to be substantial and none of them were super flexible. Right?
Abbey: If they still needed a certain amount of time and I had to go to the post office to send off the jeans or whatever. And so a friend actually suggested she said, “hey, my sister in law is a virtual assistant. Have you heard of that?” No, I haven’t. So that night I just did what most of us do. And I spent till three a.m. googling everything in the world about virtual citizens. And the more I read and the more I learn, this is back in twenty fifteen. So there was there was quite a bit of information, but definitely not as much as there is now. But I just devoured everything I could find and I thought I could do this. The more I started reading the descriptions and while I didn’t have virtual assistant experience, you know, I had, I had gotten a degree in marketing, which may maybe helped me. I was at least interested in small business and entrepreneurship. Right. And I thought this could be my thing. And so I literally started calling myself a virtual assistant. The next day, I got some business cards and I was living in the…yeah I was like let’s just do this. Right. Yeah, go set. Ready is like one of the things my family and I, we say all the time, we’re like, let’s just let’s do this, we’ll get set and ready along the way. And so just kind of jumped in. And I was living in the Washington, D.C. area and so there were some local networking events. So I’m showing up, you know, eight, nine months pregnant to these networking events, handing out my business cards and got clients really quickly. Honestly, I was literally typing on my hospital bed to my clients, like I’m going to be out for a few weeks, maybe not the best time to start a business, but that’s what I did. It was really great because I you know, I got that freedom. I got that flexibility. And within a few months, I ended up having so much work that I was able to employ other basically moms at the time to help me with some of the extra work. So I had subcontracting team and I was running my own little mini agency from my basement apartment with one window in Washington, D.C. right?
Emma: You had so many clients. You’re like, I need other virtual assistants to help with the workload. I really have never met someone who owns a small business, who didn’t have other weird things, they tried first like the freezer meals or reselling jeans. I’m like I used to resell like DVDs in college online and like, yeah, just like random things. You’re always trying. I love a curious mindset and I love your confidence of, like, started calling yourself a VA right away and it worked. So many people like it where they like I, I can’t do this or I don’t have any right to like start something. I don’t have any right to call myself this thing when I’m not ready. I’m not a professional yet and I just love that you dove in. I think that’s like the boss mentality, you know?
Abbey: I mean, I think we have to. We have to remember we all we all started somewhere, right? Yes, exactly. I’m starting to do like weightlifting and I’ve been doing it for like two and a half months. And there was this machine that my coach wanted me to get on and do. And I’m looking at it and I’m like, I don’t think I can physically do this. And I got on the machine, but I really couldn’t do it. I was just not it was just not working. And I honestly, I started to tear up and I was frustrated. I was like frustrated that I there was like this thing that I couldn’t conquer and I couldn’t do. And I had to remind myself, I’m like, Abbey, you started this the last week of January. And so for reference, that’s been like, you know, two months from now, like, do I really think I’m going to be an expert? Do I really think I’m at advanced expert status two months in? No, I’m not like, you know, it takes there’s there’s baby steps. And so the next time I went, I was like, OK, this time I’m good. I’m going to get on the machine without crying. That is my goal. And then the next time I’ll go a little further and do a little more and I’m going to work at it. I’m going to get better. And I think we just…you just have to start, right? You got to start where you are. And yes, even if it’s scary,
Emma: I love that so much. I have definitely had moments at the gym or like just trying something new that you see other people doing and you’re like crying because you’re like, I can’t figure this out. Why is this hard for me? But I can see that this person has it figured out. And I feel like so often we’re in that place of comparison or of, oh, I’m just not a gym person. I’m just not a business owner type. Oh, I’m just not the kind of person who’s going to make my dreams come true. But it’s like, no, you are. But yeah, the first time you get on the machine, you might cry. And that’s that’s the beginning. That’s not the end unless you choose to stop. So thanks for sharing that story because, yeah, I’ve been there I’ve been there at the gym or doesn’t work and I don’t know what to do! So for a long time you were a VA and it sounds like you were successful enough. You had to start getting other Vas to work with you to manage the workload. At some point you transition to what you’re doing now. Virtual Savvy, teaching people to become VAs and to own their own business. So tell me why again, you felt the confidence that you could do that and how did you begin to scale that business?
Abbey: Yeah, it’s just so funny how when you take like, I had no aspirations, like I literally started this, I was like, oh, I would like to I was a stay at home mom. I’d like to contribute some financially and I want to do some some entrepreneurial things. And now we’re like a team with like twenty employees and all that. And I’m just like, what where did how did this happen? Sometimes I look back at it just I don’t know. So for me, I started the business in early 2015 and one of the clients that I got a few months in was an online course creator and he had a course on how to get email subscribers, so how to get lists. And I was just like it was incredible. It was like the best paid internship ever. It wasn’t a paid internship, but it’s what it felt like because I was getting paid to be behind the scenes of this guy who would do these course launches and would make hundreds of thousands of dollars in a week or two weeks of opening up his course. And I’m like, this is amazing. And so I didn’t know what I was going to teach honestly, but I just thought, I want to do this like this. Now I know that again, this whole world I didn’t even know existed. And I thought, this is what I want to do. I want to launch courses and I love to teach. I love to….I just thought that that would be really fun. And I loved just kind of the marketing behind all of it. I’ve always been really intrigued with marketing. So I started taking his advice, taking his course on how to build an email list. And that’s where I started. I just I talked about anything that I knew how to do and I had a little freebie download I think it was like how to get clients on LinkedIn because I got clients on LinkedIn. I was like, oh, I teach people how to do that right. And so I wrote a little ebook and people would download it. And so I just slowly started building this list. And so it took. For me, it took me about a year and a half to get to a thousand email subscribers, but that was like my goal. Like I put it in front of me, I’m like, I’m going to get a thousand people on my list. And I talked about everything, marketing, branding, even though I’m not actually very good at branding and things like I, I just I talked about what I knew and would email my list every week and tried to get more email subscribers. And then once I got a list of a thousand email subscribers, I asked them, I said, what do you guys want to learn from me? Like, what if I were to create a course in something? What would you want it to be about? And I was actually really surprised because the the responses I got back were we would want to learn how you became a virtual assistant, how you started a virtual assistant business. And I didn’t even know that that was the audience I was building. I really didn’t. So I thought, well, I can teach that. Obviously, I it’s like I didn’t even know that that’s what people wanted to learn. And so I, I kind of followed this this guy’s methodology, which his name was Brian Harris, by the way. He has a business called Growth Tools. It’s phenomenal. Check it out. He would basically say to to kind of launch your first time, you know, you could spend six months building and recording and doing all the things or you could do a little bit of a pre launch. And so I sold the course at half the price of what it was going to cost eventually in my head at least. And I so I was selling it for four ninety seven because my eventual goal was to sell for nine ninety seven. And I said this isn’t built yet, but here’s what I’m going to cover and you guys will be on the journey with me as I’m teaching it will kind of teach it live. And so I remember because we were, we were coming home, it was like Christmas time and I was my family and I were coming to Missouri because we were living in DC at the time. And I’m like doing this course launched right before Christmas, which was probably a terrible time to launch a course, but I didn’t know any different. (laughs) And so I got 16 people to buy. And so in a week I made eight thousand dollars, which was like amazing to me. I was I was just blown away and I was hooked. I’m like, this is it. All right. So I took that money and I invested in actually a Pinterest manager myself. I’m like, I’m going to blog and I’m going to do Pinterest. And to this day, I still don’t even know how to do my own Pinterest account because I’ve always just hired somebody to do it for me. But that’s exactly what we did. We just started growing an audience and I was like, all right, so a thousand people was my first goal. Now I want to get to ten thousand email subscribers. And so the goal has kind of always been get more email subscribers, because then I can know how many of these people will percentage-wise maybe convert and buy my course. And we launch it a couple of times a year. And it just makes me so happy because the stories that come out of it are incredible, like the people who are taking the course and changing their lives and have confidence in themselves and finding remote work, flexible work, which is really needed for a lot of people.
Emma: Yeah. Well, I was going to say I knew you all were crushing it, I mean, for years. But I’m guessing and maybe I’m wrong, I don’t know. But twenty twenty might have been a big year for you all because so many people careers change life change needed more virtual options for work, remote work. Yeah. I could see a lot of people needing the service or like needing to needing something new, a way to make money at home with their kids in the background, home schooling.
Abbey: We all became homeschooling parents, what do I do now?!
Abbey: So it, it, it was, it was interesting because we just I think none of us knew, you know, it’s February 2020 and we’re all the world is starting to shift and we’re all the business owners are going, OK, I know this is going to affect us somehow, but what’s, what is it going to do? And we really had no idea. And, you know, at the time, I had six full-time employees who were all moms and all became homeschooling moms. And so, like, OK, I told them just because we were in the same boat and at this point I had retired my husband. So he was able to help with the kids. And I knew that my employees didn’t have that same like advantage. And so I said, here’s what we’re going to do. Like, you know, they’re all full time 40 hour week employees. I said we’re going to, like, write down the things that have to get done. Like, absolutely. Like these things have to get done and do those things in the week whenever you can get them done. And other than that, like if you can get those things done in five hours a week, you’re working five hours a week this month, like for the entire month of it was actually I think it was April that that was when like things like home schooling. And so that’s what they did. And we they they all were working like five to eight hours a week as opposed to forty hours a week. So they could kind of adjust, oh, this is the new normal. This is what life is now. And it was crazy because that was the month that we doubled. So, of course, all my employees were like, we should just all work 5 hours! And I was like no no no, we do have to go back to actually working full time. But, yeah, it was crazy. The business like of virtual assistants, just in general, like all of our students, saw an increase of people wanting to hire them. And it was one industry that fortunately really did thrive during the pandemic.
Emma: Yeah, which is great. And it’s amazing that you were able to offer that kind of flexibility to your team. I mean, it’s just a really, really cool to watch. I’ve loved learning about how different businesses have kind of made it work last year. I think it’s really inspiring. And the empathy that I have seen from people I talk to just inspires me endlessly in my own journey to try to be a good boss. Anyway, the last thing I wanted to talk with you about is kind of how like what you guys are up to right now with Virtual Savvy, because so often I think, I do this too, you kind of look at others and you’re like, wow, she has a team of 20. She’s got it made. And that’s it’s done. Happily ever after. But I feel like life is a series of small goals and always growing and always getting on that new workout machine and crying the first time. It’s always that it’s a continual thing. And so I love to hear like what you all are up to. What’s on the horizon for you?
Abbey: Yeah, for sure. So we have senior leaders now, which is…I love growing a team. That’s like my favorite part of…it was this unexpected thing that I fell in love with. I’m like, oh, I didn’t realize how much I love growing a team until I had a team and now I have a team. And it’s like my favorite part of the business is growing a team and having this team culture and things like that. So we have senior leaders. And so right now we’re really training our senior leaders to have ownership and make decisions. And it’s been really cool, but also very stretching because you don’t realize how much of a control freak you are until you start letting other people make decisions for you.
Emma: Yes, yes. All of a sudden your ego is like, oh, you’re better at this than me. Are you doing it different than I used to? Yes. That’s that’s hard to let go of and get off the reins a little bit, I think.
Abbey: Yes. That was the biggest thing. Exactly what you said was it happened about two months ago where I had this moment. I stepped back and I was like, you guys literally do this better than me. And like that might have not seemed like a big deal. But for me, I don’t know, like I had done every element of the business for so long and handed off little things. But when it came to like actual like big decisions being made, I don’t know. It’s been really, really rewarding. So we’re handing off more to them. And then my kind of my right hand person and I are starting to work on it seems like we’ve grown really fast, like we’ve grown one hundred percent year over year since we started. And…
Emma: That’s amazing.
Abbey: Thank you! But it’s it’s…it seems like we’ve grown fast. But when you really look, it’s like we’re still selling like that exact same course, like we’ve tweaked it, we’ve we’ve rerecorded it, but we’re still doing the same things that I started in twenty sixteen. And we’ve we’ve slowly added like one new product. So we’re selling two things and that’s it. We just wash, rinse, repeat and get better and better and better and better and better at it. And so now we’re starting to launch. We’re working on a marketplace where people can hire virtual assistants and it’s a whole new world for me. And so I’m jumping into that. So that’s been really stretching as well to be like, OK, time for a new product, let’s do this and do it well. And yeah, so that’s that’s what I’m working on right now, which I couldn’t do that if I didn’t hadn’t built a team of amazing people to support the current business. So.
Emma: Yep, yep. I’m the same. I work with a lot of smart people who do things better than me. Same. So OK, well tell us if anyone listening is interested in becoming a virtual assistant, tell us where to start. I also kind of want to put it out there for our listeners, even if you’re like, I don’t think I want to be a virtual assistant, but maybe you want to learn a little more about marketing. Just a heads up. Abbey and her team are really like the way that they do their email marketing. I spy on their strategies all the time. So you might want to sign up even if you’re not wanting to be a virtual assistant just for everyone. But tell us some things that people might want to check out first,
Abbey: It’s so funny because we had your strategy. (laughs) So that’s fun. When you spy on each other, spy on your friends. That’s the moral.
Emma: Definitely spy on your friends. Yes.
Abbey: Ok, so if you are interested in virtual assistants, you can go to thevirtualsavvy.com/checklist. It’s our step by step checklist for how to start a virtual assistant business. And so again, having that step by step blueprint is my biggest advice with any new business venture. Just kind of follow the steps of somebody that’s gone before you, so you’re not having to figure it out all on your own. So that is checklist is really helpful for that.
Emma: Wonderful. Thank you. And I’m going to have lots of links in the show notes so you can go to abeautifulmess.com/podcast to find that. And you can click on the links, find Abbey, find her team and learn about their amazing business, just like I have.