We have quite the treat for you today! We asked our online friend Courtney Westlake if she’d be willing to answers some questions from our Moms Work Hard students about how to land your first (and 20th!) VA Client, and some of our questions as well.
Courtney brings unique expertise to this conversation as a mom who has transitioned from a full-time PR job, to a Stay Home Mom, and now a published author and freelancer. What struck us most about her story is that she has replaced her full-time income with about 15 hours a week of freelance work.
We’re so excited to share her wisdom with you and we just know you’ll learn a ton!
Questions from our Moms Work Hard Students
I think I have a problem with simultaneously under- and over-selling myself. I am confident in my abilities to learn and in coaching, but lack existing skills and confidence in what I do have. How do you promote your strengths while not being overbearing or glossing over your weaknesses?
I’ve found that the first thing someone needs is true self-awareness about their strengths and weaknesses! Sometimes this can be difficult to uncover or recognize. It’s taken me years to refine this for myself, especially because it can also change with what passions you are choosing to pursue.
I love the word you used – confidence! Simply having confidence puts you ahead of the pack already. And people put their confidence in contractors who are confident. I think we as women and moms sometimes discount ourselves because we don’t already know something or haven’t done it before – but if you are confident in your ability to learn and try it, it’s not “glossing over your weaknesses” to dive right in and give it a go.
(On the other hand, if you’re intimidated by something for a reason and don’t actually want to do it, you can simply say that’s not part of your services!)
I also try to turn to the tables – what would I be looking for as someone who is hiring me? What would be a big turn-off? I’ve found that meeting deadlines is a huge problem with freelance contractors, and businesses put a lot of priority on reliability. I always meet my deadlines, so I make sure to highlight this when I am speaking with prospective clients because I think this is a major selling point for my services.
How would you handle that when it is a video conference?
Preparation is key for video conferences. I’m not a fan of video to begin with – I like to collect my thoughts, and video makes that challenging for me!
So the best strategy for me with a video conference is simply to prepare. I try to think of all of the questions they might want to ask, and I come up with a few questions of my own beforehand. I do whatever research might be necessary and if need be, I try to jot down a few specific points or examples that I want to share with the potential client to illustrate my experience or knowledge.
But above all, let your confidence and personable authenticity shine through!
Once we have an interview set up, what is the best way to secure services & payment? Do you use a contract, or simply type up a detailed list of what the client has asked for you to provide including deadline and fees?
A contract is certainly the best way to do it, but I would encourage you to have your detailed job description, services provided and expectations of payment details to be written and agreed upon through email at the very least. There are many different programs you can use to accept payment. One of the most basic: Paypal. Sometimes I send an invoice through email and my client pays via Paypal so I don’t incur fees on that. Freshbooks is another great option for invoicing.
Don’t forget about discussing a payment schedule with your client too. I like to invoice all of mine at the end of the month, but there will also be one-off projects that I invoice at completion.
Your client might also ask you to sign a non-disclosure agreement or NDA. Be sure to read this over, but essentially you are being asked to not discuss your work with others. I have NDAs with several of my clients.
What is the best way to keep track of clients, projects, and deadlines? I don’t want to overbook myself and not be able to meet deadlines.
Start small and build up! Sometimes it’s easy to underestimate how long tasks will take or miscalculate how much time you actually have to spend on work. Growing slowly will allow you to get a better picture of what your schedule and workload needs to be like so you’re not overwhelmed.
Also, it’s much easier to increase your workload from an existing client than to keep adding new clients!
Again, there are programs you can use to organize your client projects, deadlines, payments, etc. Trello and Basecamp are some of the more popular platforms for project management.
I am more old school and like writing things out. I actually have a big white board in my office with my projects written out, and a notebook on my desk to keep track of payment due for the month! ☺
Our Questions about Landing a VA Client
How do you choose to whom you will pitch your services?
When I was first starting, I thought everything sounded interesting! Every niche and every business held so much possibility and intrigue to me. (Much of the time, it still does!)
But then I realized that if I wanted to be paid a certain amount for my work, that eliminated many companies and individuals, particularly small start-ups who are often more cash-strapped. As I’ve grown my business, I’ve settled into a niche of mid-sized companies with very small marketing teams who typically want to outsource projects but not necessarily hire another person full-time.
If I hear about a new opportunity, I try to let it settle for a bit so I can gauge my true interest. At this point, if it’s not a huge HECK YES, it’s a no for me. Because if I’m not 100% excited about it, I know my attitude and my work will reflect that.
If you feel like your ‘pool’ of people has run out, how do you find new people?
Never stop marketing yourself. This doesn’t necessarily mean cold-pitching yourself, but simply being active in online groups or on social media. If you’re always on the radar, it’s much more natural to ask someone for work than to appear out of the blue.
The power of referrals is the real deal. This may include referrals from current clients to new clients, but where I’ve found the best referrals come from is other freelancers or contractors. I’ve been (very gratefully!) passed along some great clients from other freelancers who didn’t need the work or the work wasn’t in their niche area.
The last thing I recommend is having a running list of potential new clients you’d like to work for and start reaching out if you start to see your well run dry.
What do you do when you’re told no?
The sting of rejection is so real! But I have realized that there are two different kinds of No: Not right now or not at all. Either way, send a reply thanking them – this goes a long way to keeping connections alive and well! If the answer is “not at all,” it wasn’t a good fit. I’ve seen that usually, these pave the way for better opportunities down the line anyway!
If it’s “not right now” and it’s someone I really want to work with, I try to stay in touch in a very passive and friendly (not pushy!) way. Maybe I completed a big project I think they would like to see, so with permission, I share it with them. Or maybe I gained new skills in a certain area I think I could help them with. Or maybe I just send a note saying I saw they recently expanded or launched a new product – congrats! – and I’m excited to continue to follow their success. This shows them that I am truly interested in and invested in their company.
How do you make yourself stand out in emails?
First, be active in reaching out! You’ll stand out from 75% of other people who just want to leave a comment and wait for someone to contact them.
Then – as I’ve learned the hard way – never just send an email. Do your research first! Anyone can quickly send an impersonal, generic email. I go to the person’s website, Google them, look at what articles they’re sharing on LinkedIn. Then you can make an authentic connection.
I also try to strike the genuine balance of introducing and sharing about myself, but also touching on some key points about what I can do for them. Everyone you’re emailing wants to know “what’s in this for me?!” So don’t make it all about you, your story, your experiences, your skills. Share about how your skills and experiences will improve life for the person you’re pitching!
Thank you so much, Courtney, for answering all these questions and sharing your wisdom with us!
Want to learn more about landing your VA clients? You might like Patience and Diligence When You’re Looking for Work