Many people living off the grid, homesteading or trying to live a simpler life in one way or another, also try to work from home. When you look the possibilities up on the internet, you often get the ice-cream-and-sunshine kind of stories; people making absurd amounts of money working their dream job. Let me tell you up straight - that's not my story. I love my job and we're able to survive (thankfully, we've been able to add income from the bed & breakfast to it), but it isn't always perfect.
I have been a personal assistant for a while now, and I love my job. You can read all about how I started and what happened when we first moved to Spain in the first part of this article (from 2014): Working without an office.
However, just a few months later, it all started to go downwards.
How being a "remote personal assistant" didn't really work out for me
First of all, I lost the network I took such great care of building up. I was no longer in Amsterdam or Antwerp, talking to people and "exposing myself"; people would no longer think of me when they needed a job done - they would think of the person they last saw. Even existing clients would sometimes rather go for somebody who was close by - even though the job had to be done from behind a computer anyway, and I was at least twice as efficient as the other person... That other person happened to be at the right time, right place. I was more than willing to travel, come to the North for a few days or weeks while working on a project... but that didn't matter, people preferred somebody who lived there.
The assignments I would still get, were not the kind of jobs that made me happy; no more planning travels and booking flights to exotic places, no more making perfect schedules for full days of meetings, no more making presentations and reports... all I was left with, were translations (which I do enjoy, depending on the subject) and administrative trivialities. A signature here, sending out invoices there; nothing that makes my heart beat faster - or that even justifies my hourly rate.
I started to get very frustrated - the job was no fun, the money barely enough to live off, the relationship with the people I worked with was nothing like before, and the intellectual challenge I was used to getting from my work was down to zero. So I decided changes needed to be made.
I needed to reinvent myself.
And I did just that.
It all started with my blog.
How I discovered blogging & virtual assistants
I always loved to write. As a child, I wrote the most amazing stories; as a teenager, I would have long written exchanges with my friends; as a student, my papers were my pride and joy; when I became a PA, I blogged about it in Dutch; and when we moved to Spain, I started writing in English. The response was overwhelming, so one day, I decided to start writing about more than just what we did that day / week / month - I would start a "real" blog.
That blog is Simple Living in Spain; I love to write about what we do, concepts of simple living and community, recipes and how-to's, chickens and alpacas, and whatnot. But there's so much more to blogging than just writing; there's managing a newsletter and social media, using the right images and marketing strategies, finding an engaged audience, and so much more.
One day I was talking to a fellow blogger (she's been at it for far longer than I), and I mentioned I was a personal / virtual assistant. That's when I discovered most bloggers actually use a virtual assistant to do all the groundwork; from making assorted images for Pinterest, Facebook, Instagram or Twitter to go with every post, to scheduling social media and sending out newsletters or doing SEO research - most bigger bloggers do little else than just writing their blog posts.
A little lightbulb went off inside my head... I love doing that groundwork! And after taking course after course, listening to webinar after podcast, devouring e-books and articles, I am getting quite good at it. And thus started the mutation...
I no longer consider myself a personal assistant - I'm now a virtual assistant specialising in social media marketing.
And I love the sound of that.
I'm a virtual assistant, specialising in social media marketing.
I've had a few smaller assignments so far, and I'm having fun again. I've helped out people, so they would have more time for their core business - or their family. I'm now able to give sound advice and support when it comes to Squarespace or Facebook - and I'm starting to get better at Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, and managing mailing lists. I'm still doing one course after another, and reading anything I can lay my hands or eyes on. I'm learning every day - and most of all, I'm learning as I'm doing it.
I can see the big picture when my clients have lost sight of where they're going.
My hourly rate might have dropped by half (not asking for full pay when I'm just starting out myself), but I finally feel useful and appreciated again. I still get to work from home (really, there's nothing better than working from home), but I get to do a job that's intellectually challenging, extremely rewarding (when done right) and basically just a lot of fun.
I'm not saying if you're looking for a job you can do from home, you need to be a VA; it's certainly not for everybody, as it means spending a lot of time behind a computer, having a decent amount of discipline, being a sound planner and able to work towards a deadline. And then I'm not mentioning the communication with the client; that can be the tricky bit, as you need to "get" them, understand where they're coming from and what their goal is, and in the end just execute what they want. There, my experience as a personal assistant is a huge help - I've learned to listen well, ask the right questions and always check if I'm not certain of how they want something done.
For now, I'm as happy as can be helping people make their blog or online platform the best it can be.