I admire Bonnie Schafer’s perseverance throughout her Virtual Assistant career. She thrives and becomes better each passing day, as she understands the value of harnessing one’s skill set in order to become a valuable asset for her clients. She has her strategy, and it’s working pretty well — great job, Bonnie!
Always wanting her own business, Bonnie Schafer knew that someday, she would have one, and luckily, she found a successful business using her own talents and skills. As a teenager, she was fascinated with typewriters. She loved to type. She broke typing records throughout high school, winning numerous awards in school and in Future Business Leaders of America, so she was pretty much destined to land in the business world doing what she did best – typing.
She worked as a litigation legal secretary for several years out of high school. But she had bigger ideas – she wanted to work for the head of a casino company, and that she did, supporting the CFO, COO and CEO of Harrah’s Entertainment, the then largest casino company in the world.
After her 12-year stint with Harrah’s, while getting a college degree later in life during that time, she decided to move to the East Coast U.S. to be closer to her elderly parents. She started her Virtual Assistant career in 2014, and supports clients such as a wildly successful international speaker and author; is a paralegal for a boutique bicycle crash law firm; works with her sister in a health and wellness company and supports a successful executive coach. She lives where she loves to be, in the beautiful land of Eastern Tennessee, with her cat Sammie.
What made you decide to venture into a Virtual Assistant career? How does this help you with your long-term goals?
There are a few reasons that I decided to venture into Virtual Assistance. First, I’ve always wanted my own business since I was probably 5 years old. So it was a natural transition for me to step out on my own after several years in high level administrative roles in large corporate organizations. I am grateful to have had those fabulous positions with senior management and C-Level executives, as they provided me a good living, the ability to meet fabulous people, move to interesting places, and make friends for life.
Second, my parents were growing older, and I needed more flexibility in my life to be able to travel to them and help them when needed. Finally, I wanted to live in a location that was chosen by me and not by my job, and having my Virtual Assistant business has allowed me to do that, living in beautiful Eastern Tennessee.
As far as long-term goals, I don’t know if I’ll be a Virtual Assistant forever, as I feel that there is a lot more that I can do out there, but it’s great for me right now, and I’ve gained a lot of confidence knowing that I truly can run my own business.
What is a typical day like for you?
My day consists of one or two exercise DVDs, morning devotional reading and quiet time, followed by the usual getting ready ritual. I “dress” for my day every day. I don’t like to hang in my PJs during the day, plus I never know when an unscheduled video Skype of Google Hangouts will pop up during my day (yes, it happens every now and then!). I usually start working at 9:00 am, take an hour for lunch and end by 4:00 pm, or later, if it’s lovely outside and I want to go walking.
What do you think are the cornerstones of being an exemplary Executive Virtual Assistant?
- Commitment – It is extremely important that VAs are committed to running a successful practice. I’ve heard stories of VAs that just disappear on clients. It’s appalling, and I’m not quite sure why that happens, but a Virtual Assistant really needs to be committed to their business, committed to their clients and committed to giving 100% all day, every day.
- Being the best partner for their clients. A true VA is a client’s partner in their business, and should be able to have the willingness to learn their client’s business inside and out in order to create the best help in taking over responsibilities for their client so that they can continue building their business. The last thing a client wants to do is worry about lingering administrative tasks that they don’t have time to do.
- Delivering excellent and consistent customer service to clients. Clients want to feel that a VA has a consistent “can do” and cheerful attitude toward them, as well as treating their customers just the same, since it’s the client’s customers who contribute to building their business! The partnering VA is the face of their client’s (or clients’) business. So be sure to put on a happy one!!
What type of work are you best at? What are you most interested in learning more about?
I love organization. Whether it’s organization of a business, organization of business processes or organization of a client’s life, it makes me happy to put “pieces of a puzzle” together to create a smooth running business, office or life. I’m most interested in learning about how I can help others using the skills and knowledge I have to create their own VA business. I want to help others to be able to create and hold the vision of starting their own business, to go out on their limbs and jump off, soaring toward building their own successful Virtual Assistant.
How do you go about assessing and customizing your services to fit into your client’s custom needs so that you add value to their company the best way possible?
When I speak with new clients, I ask questions and soon realize where there are gaps in their business processes and where improvements can be made. I can then think about where in these gaps and places for improvement I can create value with my skill set, tools and knowledge. It’s very helpful in an initial conversation with a new client to be able to offer examples of how you can help, given my observations and determinations – they love that!
We understand that you’ve gone through certain training programs in becoming a VA. What invaluable things have you learned from CoachU and AssistU training programs?
I absolutely loved taking the courses with AssistU and CoachU. AssistU was founded by a remarkable lady whom I refer to as the “trailblazer” of the VA industry, Anastacia Brice. She founded AssistU in 1998, when the VA business was unheard of, and she saw a need. She grew it tremendously, and I wanted to tap in, so I took and graduated from AssistU’s Virtual Training Program (VTP).
It was a program not to teach hard skills, but how to create and run a successful Virtual Assistant business at a very high, professional level. One of the things that stands out for me in that training was to not be afraid. I was afraid of leaving my J-O-B and not having the comfortable benefits that go along with a corporate job. I remember Anastacia Brice telling me that “it won’t kill you” to not have those benefits. Boy was she right! I’m still alive!! Also, the VTP trained us on interviewing with clients, how to come up with a formula for an hourly rate that made sense, and importantly, how AssistU VAs differed from the then 2 or 3 dollar per hour VAs that people were hiring at the time.
I graduated from CoachU’s Core Essentials Program a couple of years after, as Anastacia mentioned that she also was a coach, obtaining training from CoachU. I always kept that in the back of my mind, when a couple of years later, I thought, “I’m going to see what’s all about.” I participated in a conference call to see if it was for me, and I decided to take their Core Essentials Program, which I graduated from a year later. I decided to not continue on that career path, as it required completing a lot of coaching hours, which I could not do at the time, but I learned a lot of valuable skills. Namely, how to listen better. Coaching is 80% listening and 20% talking. It’s hard to do, but you have to in order to be able to really understand how to be present with your coachee.
Also, I learned to ask better questions and more of them. Questioning is one of the modules in the training, and it sure helps to dig deeper into someone’s world to see what’s going on, in order to be able to help. Another thing I learned was that I needed to hire a coach in order to have someone be my encourager and cheerleader; someone to hold onto my business vision; someone to be there to help me succeed.
What advice would you like to share to aspiring VAs who would like to build a name of their own?
- Create a vision of the business you want to have. Hold onto that vision – find pictures that physically describe the Virtual Assistant business you want to create and put them into a Word document or something tangible that you can print off and place it in front of you every day to remind you of where you want to go. This is extremely important.
- Commit yourself to that vision. You have to be all in, be and stay committed to your vision, and don’t be afraid – “it won’t kill you!”.
- Hire a coach. It was a such a great investment for me to hire a coach to help and encourage me along the way. She held onto my vision, and we discussed it often. We’re still great friends!
- Start slow. You can’t build a business overnight. I had a full-time job and started my VA business part-time until I could leave my full-time job. That turned out to be a very smart move.
- Don’t ever give up, and be grateful for where you are and for the ability to take the journey you’re about to embark! So get out there and rock the VA world!