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The Portfolio Career-ist

Toks works as a Virtual Assistant (VA), supporting social and creative entrepreneurs by taking all their admin off their hands, she works for a social enterprise supporting the homeless, and finds time every now and again to work as a security assistant in the evenings! How does she fit it all in?

Can you tell us a bit more about yourself? About what you do?


It’s hard to say what my main thing is, because I work 50-50 on my VA business and I’ve got a part-time role at the charity as well. The Virtual Assistant business I started, coming up to 4 years ago. I was looking for a job but wasn’t having much luck. And then I came across virtual assistance one day.


Do you want to explain what a Virtual Assistant is?


Of course, a virtual assistant is a freelance PA (personal assistant). We are self-employed and we work remotely – which is where the virtual comes in – from our clients. They don’t need a fulltime or part-time assistant but they still need some support for their businesses. It tends to be small businesses, one-man bands sometimes. We just help with various admin tasks that we take off their hands so they can focus on their core business activities.


What has been your reason to want to work as a VA?


I was looking for jobs. And one day I came across work-from-home jobs, and this was something I was not so familiar with. It wasn’t as big a thing in 2016. Or it might have been growing over time. This article mentioned virtual assistants.


I looked it up on Google and a whole world opened up to me. I thought this is really interesting, like a freelance administrator. I can do that! I had an interest in business, and possibly running my own business one day. I just never really thought what in.


After the third interview I’d failed I thought ‘you know what, I’m just going to try this virtual assistance business’. It went from there.


And how about your other jobs?


In one of my other jobs I work as a Security Assistant or Steward. Mostly for events, for one of the security companies in the UK. I started working there 5.5 years ago now. I’d previously worked for the company as a temp, back in 2012 for the London Olympics. I moved to Edinburgh, and went to look for a job there with them. It’s quite good. It’s zero hours. Especially if you can pick up shifts when you’ve got the time. I quite like the flexibility of it. And it’s a fairly easy job as well. Guarding doors, controlling crowds, stuff like that.


I picked up another role there as well, as a recruitment assistant, to recruit stewards. Also on a zero hours contract.


I also work for a Scottish homelessness charity called Cyrenians, based in Edinburgh.


I was doing my VA business. I had ups and downs. I was at a point, two years in my business, where I wanted to look at something part-time to do. I previously had done volunteer work for the charity, years ago.


So, it all fits together based on your availability? Is that how it works?


With the charity it was initially on a one year fixed term contract, 25 hours a week. I did that and did my VA business as well, alongside that, a few hours on top. The security job, if you do at least one shift every three months you stay on their books. It’s a job that I can fall back on and pick up shifts as and when I need to.


What is it that you like about your VA business?


I like running my own business. Sometimes it’s fun, sometimes not so much. But you have to constantly do it, to keep your business alive. The things I like is the variety of tasks I get to do, and the variety of different clients I work with. As well as the new skills I’ve been learning.


What type of clients do you have?


I tend to work with creatives. Marketers. I work with one guy who is an actor/producer. A few social enterprises. I also work with coaches, consultants and trainers.


What type of activities do you do for them?


It varies. That’s why I like being a VA. It’s the variety. It could be anything, from data entry, research, email, diary management, creating word documents, helping them write up an e-book, or proofreading, creating presentations, typing up notes, I do transcription, a bit of social media support as well.


What did you learn?


I had to learn how to create a business. You learn about all the set-ups, about how to run a business, what different types of marketing there are, how to do stuff on social media as well, learning new software, that the client wants you to use. Like email marketing programmes and databases and things like that. I learn quite a lot and transfer my skills onto other projects. In other jobs you may not quite get the opportunity to learn a lot.


What for you are the main advantages of having a portfolio career?


I came into a portfolio career by accident.


My first job, at the security firm, is a good back-up job, there when I need it to be.


The VA business has had its ups and downs, it is getting better now. And I’m glad I’m building something for myself.


I like the part-time job as well, at the charity. Because that is quite stable. It’s a piece of work and income that is coming in every month. That I haven’t had to look for. And it helps working in a charity. Some charities wouldn’t be able to afford my VA rates, so it’s nice to work with them that way.


The economy can be unstable, especially now. With a portfolio career at least you’re not relying on one job. I’ve been fortunate that I’ve been able to have these various kinds of income, which makes me a bit more stable. I could lose one, but at least I’ve got the other.


The main advantage is that I love the variety. And I feel that it’s a bit more financially secure.


What is or has been hard having a portfolio career?


It’s very hard if you don’t know how to manage your time properly. It’s easy to get overwhelmed. Which has happened to me a few times.


The amount of VA hours I do is enough for me, it’s not overwhelming. I’ve been at capacity some weeks.


The contingency I’ve put in place is that I have a couple of associate VAs. They just help me out when I have a bit of overflow of work. And at least that gets the work done. Instead of stressing to get it all done.


Also, I sometimes feel I’m not ‘proper’, because I don’t work freelance full-time.

But at the end of the day I have to just look out for myself and just make sure I’m able to feed myself.


How did you prepared for making that transition into your own business?


I wasn’t one of these people who was working a full-time job and was trying to make a business on the side. I didn’t have that, which was good in a way.


The down side was that I didn’t have much money, so there was a bit of pressure to make the business work. But at least I had the time. And the mind space to work on the business. I just did that work alongside the security shifts, really.


Did you study to become a VA?


I had skills from my job. I did do a course in how to set up my VA business. That was more focused on setting it up, trying to figure out what services you should offer. It wouldn’t teach you skills. It just teaches you how to set up the business, specifically a VA business. That was quite useful. Because if you don’t know what you’re doing you’re just stumbling along by yourself.


In hindsight, would you have done anything differently?


I wouldn’t say I have regrets. I know I’ve done stuff that didn’t quite work. Like joining certain networking groups that didn’t get me any work. But you had to just try it. I wish that I had had a bit more of a strategy and was a bit more consistent with my marketing. And then it would have been easier to get a bit more work in. So maybe that’s what I would have done differently.


How do you get your clients?


A few different ways:

  • Networking events - I used to go to a lot of networking events, when I first started my business. I got some clients of that through referrals.


  • LinkedIn - When I meet people, I like to connect with them on LinkedIn. So that’s another way you can keep in their mind and keep in touch with them, even if you don’t meet at a networking event in a while. I use LinkedIn quite a lot. My method is connecting with my ideal clients, and engaging with them on their posts, as well as writing my own posts. Trying to get people to engage.


  • Emails - Sometimes I sent prospect emails as well.


  • Facebook -  I’m in business Facebook groups. I get work from them as well. Just from posting about my business, chatting and engaging. Just like I do on LinkedIn.


What are your other plans, inside your business, or outside, with your other jobs?


With my business I’m in the process of creating some packages. To package up some of my services. I’m also in the process of re-branding as well. Hopefully I can unveil that a bit later in the year, when the design is ready for that.


With my other work - the charity - I was originally going to be fixed term for one year. They extended it by 6 months, and then again. I also now do admin for another department in the charity. They’re both due to end by the end of September, and I’m going to see if they’ll extend me again or not. I’ll see how things are. I don’t like to plan too much.


What are your recommendations to women who would want to pursue their very own portfolio career?


If you’re going to do employed work part-time is good. And then you’ve got your other hours to do something else: another part-time job, a business, or contracting.


I’d say: Do your time management well. I don’t have kids, but if kids are part of your life you’d have to know how to factor that in and manage that.  


Try and do jobs that you enjoy, that are going to add to your career and your life. Transferable skills and all that.

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