- Emilie Given is the founder of She's A Given, a Seattle-based virtual assistant company that aims to inspire women to create a career that allows them to focus on passion instead of paperwork.
- After a complicated childbirth, she began to pursue entrepreneurship to be able to spend more time with her family.
- In 2018, she was able to turn her 10-hour-a-week side hustle into a full-time job and business by following seven key steps.
- She recommends entrepreneurs build their networks and client-facing collateral like a website and social media before even beginning to start their businesses.
- Given also pushes freelancers to think big and launch loud — that's how she was able to put herself on the path to make multiple six figures this year.
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I never dreamed of being an entrepreneur. I was perfectly content in my administrative job, supporting executives and climbing the corporate ladder. I coveted the corner office with a window that overlooked the Space Needle and dreamed of the days where I would be a director with an assistant of my own.
However, after a complicated childbirth where my son and I almost lost our lives, I began to pursue entrepreneurship out of sheer necessity.
Don't get me wrong — I had a perfect, cushy job as an executive assistant at Amazon corporate headquarters making roughly $75,000 a year, but my near-death experience sparked something in me that I couldn't ignore. What it boiled down to was two lessons: Family is precious, and you can't get time back.
The decision to support executives as a virtual assistant was relatively easy. My professional background was in administrative support, and I know my personality type thrives on helping others, so I made the decision to become a freelance VA while still at Amazon. I started with one client at about 10 hours per week, then added another at 10 hours per week, and finally another 10-hour-per-week client. It was becoming clear that I could turn this side hustle into something bigger.
There was just one setback: I knew nothing about running a business.
Determined to inhale every ounce of information I could, I jumped head first into the entrepreneurial world, and before I knew it, I was completely and utterly consumed. I had previously been working 70- to 80-hour weeks for almost a year when I finally realized that I had "proved it" to myself — I could make a sustainable living owning my own business.
Giving notice can be scary. It can be scary to leave a stable job with benefits, scary to consider what people might think of you, and scary to jump into so many unknowns. However, when I put my notice in, the only feeling I felt was excitement! I received applause and support for starting my own business. The vice president of my organization told me, "You'll be successful in whatever you do." That statement gave me confidence, and the positivity really set me up for success.
Today, I own a virtual assistant agency that has become wildly successful since I left my job five months ago. Revenue projections for this year are in the multiple six-figure range, and I'm expanding my reach to include courses and coaching for women who are interested in following a similar path.
One of the smartest decisions I ever made was to start my business while I had the security net of full-time employment. Having a year to reach big and fail big with minimal risk was a huge asset, and I highly recommend it. If you have the opportunity, it's very important to get your ducks in a row before clocking out forever. Here are the seven steps that I took (and you should, too!) before I stopped "working for the man" and became a leading lady.
Before you even announce your business, it's a good idea to start connecting with your target market on and offline.
My first plan of action when I got started was to research startups in Seattle and connect with startup CEOs in the area. I didn't pitch them — I just introduced myself and explained that I was interested in connecting with other local business owners. I also found that analyzing my list of current Facebook friends who owned businesses was very helpful. I pinpointed specific ways I could help them and sent each a personalized email. To this day I continually build my network on social media and at in-person networking groups — and this is the bread and butter of my client base.
The last thing you want someone to say when you are telling them about your business is, "Oh great! What's your website!" — and you don't have one to show them. It's best to create all of your client-facing collateral before you launch. This includes your branding, website, business cards, and social media handles.
I sought out a digital marketing agency as a client that did my branding and website in exchange for my virtual assistant services. I knew I had to have everything in place before I launched, and trading my services was exactly how I got there with a limited budget. I also started posting on social media about three months before I publicly launched, including productivity tips, motivational quotes, and most importantly, posts on getting to know me, the person behind the brand.
Something I learned while working at Amazon is to "think big." It's one of their leadership principles, and it still sticks with me today. I started small as a freelance virtual assistant, but when my business started to hit a ceiling, I started to think bigger, which ultimately led me to start an agency, which then quadrupled my revenue.
As a freelancer, working 160 hours per month earned me $5,600 in total, but that was unsatisfying to me. So I decided to brainstorm how I could increase my earning potential. I decided that an agency model worked best for me, and it led to five-figure months in an eight-week period.
Be humble, but also think of ways that you can make a bigger impact. How can you scale? How can you help more people? Set small goals, but immediately set your next-level goals right after that.
When I started my business, it was just me, but I knew it wouldn't always be me. So one of the first things I did was document my processes and create standard operating procedures so that I could delegate when the timing was right.
I used Google Docs with Loom videos to write my standard operating procedures, Canva for turning my client-facing SOPs into branded collateral, Trello and Asana for workflows, and Slack for team communication. I documented every single thing, from job descriptions to questions asked during phone interviews to client onboarding to how I do payroll for my contractors.
Basically, if I got hit by a bus tomorrow, my business would still be able to run. Starting this from the beginning rather than later saved me so much time and prevented me from being chained to my desk for 10 hours a day.
When you're ready to tell everyone about your business, do it loud! Have a launch party and Q&A session. Don't be modest about your new venture — be proud. You worked hard to get this venture off the ground, and thus you should shout it from the rooftops. The more people you tell about your business, the more buyers are within your reach.
I've gained some great clients just by simply talking about my new business. One day, I was out wine tasting with friends and someone toasted my new venture. The owner of the wine shop happened to be next to me and asked what my new venture was. She told me she needed me, and we were drinking wine together at a business meeting two days later.
Someone knows someone who needs you. One thing that I did, which I found to be wildly successful, was to build anticipation with my audience. For example, I posted on my Facebook and Instagram pages that I left my job at Amazon and to "stay tuned." People were on the edge of their seats waiting to hear about what I was up to next, and this anticipation helped create excitement around my launch. People were eager to follow my business pages and share my announcement with their audiences as well.
Owning a business is an ever-changing process. While I was researching client databases, I wasted so much time analyzing them, trying them out, and comparing to other systems before I realized: There are so many on the market — just pick one and go with it.
It's fine to weigh your options, but there's a fine line between taking action and procrastinating with research as an excuse. The same is true for email campaigns, social media posts, and choosing where to market your services. There's no way to find out what works and what doesn't work unless you get it out there.
My first social media posts were kind of sales-y and had little to no engagement, but without those stats, I wouldn't know if that worked or not. I toyed with many variables — color scheme, quotes versus no quotes, and content before I figured out that personalized content about myself, why I started, and my vision and photos of myself and my family got the most engagement. What I'm saying is: Get it out there. Take messy action, and you're a lot closer to actual results than being stuck in edit mode.
This one is last, but certainly not the least. In fact, consider this the foundation of your entire business. If you don't 100% believe you're going to be successful, then why should your clients believe in you or your product?
When you speak to others, don't say "I'm thinking about starting a virtual assistant business because I think I can help others save time." Phrase it: "I own a virtual assistant agency that helps others free up their time." Exude confidence and believe in yourself. Success is up to you!
Emilie Given is a wife, boy mom, and entrepreneur. She founded She's A Given, a Seattle-based virtual assistant company, in 2018 to be able to spend more time with her family. Through her thriving business, Emilie's primary focus is to inspire other women to create a career that allows them to focus on passion versus paperwork and family over familiarity. Follow her journey on Instagram.
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