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CEO of your own life?

This week I’ve researched venues for Christmas dinner, put together course materials, made travel arrangements for a business trip, taken the minutes at an HR investigation case and make lots of diary appointments. Does this sound like pretty much your average day too as a PA? The big difference for me is that I’m self-employed; I completed these tasks for several different clients and I didn’t have to beat terrible traffic to go to work because I’m a Virtual (Personal) Assistant, a “VA”.

There are 4 questions that people already in administrative industry invariably ask me when I tell them I’m a VA:

Q1: How does being a Virtual Assistant work in practice?

A1: Well, I use all of the skills that I’ve gained over last 17yrs of my career as PA and as a Project/Export/Sales /Travel -Administrator but I work virtually i.e. I use latest cloud-based technology to share tasks/documents/calendars with my clients from my own office and note I say clients rather than boss! I work for several different clients who are all small business owners (mostly sole traders) with very diverse occupations and I work from my own office.

Q2: How do I find clients?

A2: Through lots and lots of hard work! Joking aside it means building up a strong brand and trust, targeted quality networking (face-to-face and on social networks) and lots good word of mouth referrals.

Q3: How does it work in reality re. pricing ?

A3: I agree on tasks based on my client’s needs (on an ongoing or ad-hoc basis), we draw up a contract and I charge per hour or at an agreed project rate if applicable.

Q4: Have you had any special training?

A4: I did a 1day workshop called from ‘PA to VA’ and referred to a wealth of online courses and resources. (I have a modern language degree and a post-graduate diploma in business administration). In the past, I have completed several PA courses but it is experience and common sense that is the most important ingredient (most VA’s are aged 35yrs+ and have 8yrs+ admin experience in senior roles)

Advantages for me of being a VA:

  • I get to choose the type of work I want to do
  • I get to choose the type of people I work with
  • I get to choose (within reason) the time of day I work

If you are an early bird like me-you can get up as early as you want and as  a night-owl vice versa!

  • I get to choose what time of day I take my lunch and how many days and when I take my holidays
  • I get to choose where I want to work from –my office, one of many co-working spaces in NI,  a hotel in Rio! (anywhere reasonably quiet with good WiFi connection)

Advantages for my clients:

  • They get to choose how much work /what type of tasks they give me
  • They get to have flexibility as to when they need work done for them
  • They pay me only for hours they need me –so no additional costs pension, sickness, maternity etc.


The term Virtual Assistant first appeared back in 1995 in Australia and western states of the USA primarily due to the large geographical distance to travel to work. The industry began to grow with the creation of the Internet, search engines, the cloud and smartphones which meant that people were no longer restricted to one fixed abode to work in. 1,300 Virtual Assistants were recorded in UK helping 7,700 clients in 2014 and VA Industry is continuously on the rise here in NI with the ever-growing number of self-employed business owners needing flexible but professional administrative support.


I became a Virtual Assistant in April 2014 after 9yrs abroad working as PA to a Director in a European institution, I wanted to move back to N. Ireland and I wanted a role that was flexible, interesting, creative and not restricted to one industry/sector but I just couldn’t see a job that  particularly interested me. Then I saw a workshop for Virtual Assistants advertised and had a light bulb moment as it let me put all my skills to use (co-ordinating others, diplomacy, maintaining confidential data, IT skills) but with the added advantage that I’m also my own boss and that of course brings its own set of particular challenges!


I could paint a very rosy picture of good points of being a VA but in reality being self- employed and being responsible for every aspect of running your business is Very Very hard work. You are the Finance, IT, HR, Marketing department all rolled into one! And I tell you there are days I sadly miss having those people at end of the phone. Though saying that, these days PA roles are often very demanding and many of us are already used to such multi-jobbing.

The biggest challenge for me has been learning to switch off and ‘allowing’ myself to relax. Even though as a freelancer you have the flexibility to work when you want, it’s hard to get into that mindset after so many years ‘working 9 to 5’ as Dolly sings.

There is also the isolation which is a big factor. As a bit of an introvert working by myself doesn’t bother me but it’s important to get out from behind 4 walls of your own office from time to time (for business and sanity purposes). I’m a member of several networking events but I particularly enjoy coming to  Personal Best NI PA Forum. A forum event for the banter and to see what new developments are happening PA world.

Monday past I worked 8 am to 8 pm but then it meant that on Tuesday when the sun was shining I was able to go out on my bike for a few hours. On other occasions, I’ve shifted my working patterns around to take my mum to hospital appointments or pick up errands for my sister (who works 9-6pm).

I love being a Virtual Assistant as no 2 days are the same and as I’m working with people from lots of different industries, I’m constantly learning. It’s also very interesting to connect with Virtual Assistants all over the world but most of all I love the flexibility and challenge of being my own boss. When I left my former employment, a colleague commented ‘ah you want to be CEO of your own life’ and I couldn’t have put it any better! If you are at the stage in your life that you need flexibility that your current employer can’t or won’t give or you just want to find out more about being a Virtual Assistant don’t hesitate to drop me an email at alison@virtuali.uk


Alison Matthews

VirtuAli Admin Solutions



http://CEO of your own life ? PA’s looking for a change? Published LinkedIn 19th August 2016

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