How I got started as a virtual assistant for $0
My start as a virtual assistant wasn't so much carefully studied and strategized as it was, "Do I post this? Do I post this? Do I ... okay it's posted."
It was a post in one of my favorite Facebook groups:
I wrote this post at 1:41am, then promptly shut my computer, shoved it, and went straight to sleep.
When I woke up the next day, I had inquiries.
Mikli, hey, looks like I could use your help, are you a native English speaker? Mikli, these are the exact skill sets I was looking for, DM-ing you. Hey Mikli, I saw that you also use this particular software on your site, do you think you could help me with that?
From this post alone, I ended up with my first 5 paying clients.
One tiny Facebook post was my minimum viable beginning to becoming a VA, and it cost me nothing but courage and $0.
Things have changed a lot since then. I've worked with amazing clients who taught me so much, refined my services, fixed my pricing (someone messaged me, "Hey, I could be shooting myself in the foot here because I want to hire you, but that's too low!"), and created this website. And it all began with that one little Facebook post.
Technically, I could end this entry here. I mean, that is how I got started as a virtual assistant for $0.
But my journey to get there, to the point where I was able to post something and earn from it overnight, started much earlier.
1. It started with an acceptance letter.
More specifically, my son's.
He got into his first real Big Boy (aka private) school. And while I already knew that, okay, my savings aren't going to last forever. I need to do something -- this was the kick in the butt to actually get me to do something, instead of just saying I needed to.
And so began my quest for Finding Something To Earn Money From.
2. AND a first draft.
At that point in my life, it had just been school -> first job -> law school -> second job. I didn't feel like I had any marketable freelance skills. "I can... read?"
So after thinking of anything I could do, I began Mikli Likes to Raket*: Raket Like a Hurricane, which later became Candid. I offered nine different services in three areas: makeup, photography, and writing.
I felt my way through building a website, first on Tumblr, then on Wordpress.com, then on Wordpress.org. I took the plunge and began a list on ConvertKit, where I had five people on it, including me.
I emailed my teeny-weeny list, and one person replied! We were going to have a makeup day + a photoshoot.
Which I bombed.
Which was good.
Because that made me realize -- I don't want to be teaching people how to put on makeup, I don't want to shoot people who aren't my son or siblings. I probably could, with practice, but I realized this wasn't something I wanted to pursue.
That was when I learned what I didn't want to do. And also, that not all interests need to be monetized.
These were all things I wanted to do for me, for fun, and for free.
I just wish I knew that before wasting time creating an entire website that I was going to end up killing.
*raket: side-hustle, little moneymaking gigs
3. And a second draft, and third draft, and fourth, and...
Then came Iskwelahow*, where I wanted to create a hub for skills school didn't teach us. I asked my friends for things they wished they learned in school, I got a flood of responses, then realized, haha, I can't run this blog. I don't know any of those things, too!
Then came niching down of my old blog, Stesha, from a life/beauty/parenting/photography/writing blog to one about raising my son. People were responding really strongly to those posts, so I decided to go for it! I moved from Tumblr (the old site still exists here) to its current home in Squarespace.
Then everyone kept telling me to "write a book!"
So I created an email course that was going to be Chapter 2 of the book, to test the waters.
The email course had 2 sign ups. That was after I'd run it as an ad on Facebook, and in juxtaposition to my no-freebie-at-all general sign up for "lessons from my 5-year-old" on my blog that got 40+ sign ups without my trying. I was so sad. I didn't do anything for a week except eat. What was I going to write a book on now?
I interviewed people. The ones who were responding to my posts. My posts were working, but I didn't know why. If I didn't know why, I couldn't replicate it. So I asked things like: Why do you like my blog? Why do you read about my parenting stuff even if you don't have kids? What are you getting from it? Why y'all be commenting for more?
I decided, again, to write a book.
*iskwelahan: school, so iskwelahow was a Taglish pun
3. And a book.
I threw myself into writing. For four months, I concentrated my efforts on this little baby.
I had a day job, so I'd write all night and into the morning, sleep from 5:30am to 8:30am, lose the will to write for another few days because I was just so spent, take a 3-day nap, and stay up again.
And then aside from writing itself, I learned the tech, I got cross-eyed integrating systems, I built my own landing page, I ... okay, I asked my sister for help with social media strategy because I don't know how to do that.
I launched the book for presales on my birthday. Facebook would kindly be giving me the spotlight, and with my small network, I really needed that.
And after months of freaking out while simultaneously trying not to freak out so I can get things done, my book was finally released into the world!
It was a pretty good launch. I set a goal to reach P20,000 (~$400) by December, enough for that year's quarterly tuition payment. I made more than P30,000 (~$600) from eBook and print book sales, and it felt so good to pay for my son's tuition with my own money from something I created. It was such a super-empowering single mom moment! Like, yeah, private school. Whaddup. I did that.
I don't think anybody talks about 3-digit launches .... at all, but oh my goodness. Those first few sales? Refreshing my Gumroad dashboard all day? Withdrawing from my bank account without blinking? Being able to say I made you! while cradling that book like a baby and having people message me saying they loved it?
4. And by making friends
I didn't go through the entire journey alone. Aside from bugging my family and friends for help (who were really just fantastic bug-ees), I found myself in the world of e-learning and online communities.
I enrolled in Arriane Serafico's Braver Goals course. That's not an affiliate link; I really believe it was the kick in the butt I needed to get started in online business! Girl's got systems and tough love and will make you act instead of just think. It's a 90-day program, and I enrolled in the version with the small community so it really built up a habit of showing up and getting things done. No time for second-guessing and being scared when there's work to do.
She's the type of person who would say -- and just last week! -- you should make a course about becoming a VA, from someone who's just 2-3 steps ahead. Does that sound like something you'd be interested in? Yeah? Cool! Send me your outline in 3 days. Bam, done.
(So, you know, watch out for that!)
She taught me how to go for small wins (and ergo, small failures, if things didn't work out) and just iterate, iterate, iterate. Experiment, experiment, experiment.
I was also active in online groups. It was great to be learning with and from other people who were in the same online business industry. And as I learned, I shared.
I think it was Maya Elious who said, if you don't have the money, you better have the time. Well, I didn't have the money. So all my time and effort was put into figuring out how to be a one-woman show. Turns out there's a lot that goes into it, and I was just so happy to answer any questions people had about anything I'd picked up along the way.
VA-ing was still out of my radar at this point; I was just gladly replying to posts as someone whose niche was in the faraway land of parenting. AKA, I was helping with genuinely no strings attached.
I also shared my small wins, like this one:
Regina is Regina Anaejionu of byRegina.com: queen of infoproducts + silly accents + generosity. This was posted in her group, Humans of Online Business, where I would later post my VA screenshot, the very first one in this post.
This impulse share was, I kid you not, life changing.
One: Regina shared this and my story with her followers and doubled my book sales overnight. I was subscribed to her email list so imagine my surprise when I woke up the next morning reading an email about myself. Surreal is not a strong enough word, friend.
Two (and this is fast forwarding a bit to months and months after this particular screenshot): Regina didn't catch my post about looking for clients. Someone else who did just happened to mention to her that I was offering services. And she was like, "Mikli? Mikli, the one with the book Mikli?"
And she ended up messaging me.
Did my heart skip a beat? No, 'cause it skipped like 7.
5. By asking myself: Is there a better way?
I made a bit of money with my book in the beginning, but to a girl with a tiny list and network who gets physically drained after doing any kind of promotion? Sustaining sales was definitely not passive. I couldn't keep it up.
Each book is only P511 (~$10.22). I keep most of it for eBook sales, but only make P326.50 (~$6.53) for every print sale. That meant I needed to sell a hundred print books to make the kind of money I made during my launch. If I consigned the books to a bookstore, I'd have to sell even more.
Effort to ROI ratio was not looking good.
I'm going to humor Simon Sinek here and go back to my Why. I didn't necessarily dream of becoming an author. My passion wasn't parenting (at least, in general; I just wanted to parent my own kid, thanks), and felt it was too personal to teach (I have drafts of courses that have never the light of day because I feel so weird about it).
Your girl just needed money to give her son a good education.
My Why was money, it was.
So I asked myself: is there a better, smarter, way to get this money? A more sustainable way? Without sacrificing my creativity and problem solving-ness? That allows me to both earn and learn?
AND HERE WE ARE.
In a pretty big nutshell.
In a weird series of turns and events, I found myself becoming a virtual assistant. Overnight took only a year or so.
In a smaller nutshell, here are my takeaways:
1. Your drafts all count.
I didn't make money from Candid, except for when my one client insisted she pay for my son's chicken nuggets because I refused her money. (I was that bad.) I have a whole Graveyard of Mistakes, with dead opt-ins and websites. I wasn't making much from Stesha, or the tips and tricks I was sharing in groups.
But in a way, I'm currently earning from all of them.
If I didn't do any of that, I wouldn't have the skills I have now to figure out how the pieces of online business work together, I wouldn't have people telling me they booked me because they already knew who I was and what my work was like.
I ended up using everything. My first draft, my second, my third. There were no wasted efforts. I just needed the bravery to begin, and the resilience to keep pushing.
2. And it's so okay to begin small.
Big can be paralyzing; small is doable.
It's just a matter of stacking the little doables on top of one another, and pretty soon, what's doable becomes done.
3. Be helpful without an agenda, be generous where you can.
(Also, side note: you can totally tell if someone's being smarmy and helping just to pitch though, right? Right? I mean, we all gotta make money. But sometimes it just comes across icky and like they're trying to take advantage, y'feel?)
4. Turns out business is one gigantic figuring-things-out after another.
And everybody is still figuring things out.