Digital Nomad Cafe Podcast | Online Business | Blogging & Remote Work

Tips For Becoming A Successful & Happy Virtual Assistant with Danielle Demi from GrowthFocus.co

EP51- Tips For Becoming A Successful & Happy Virtual Assistant with Danielle Demi from GrowthFocus.co

We discuss becoming a VA, Tips to know your worth and the Inner Game of Success.

Hello, and welcome back. If this is your first time joining then, welcome. This podcast is for digital entrepreneurs carving out their slice of the online economy. To download my free guide on starting a business online, head over to digitalnomadcafe.com/start. 

Today’s guest is Danielle Demi from growthfocus.co. 

Danielle and her business partner Liz, run a business where they teach people how to transition from full-time employment into being a full-time freelancer and also how to start your side hustle by working as a virtual assistant. They offer a supportive environment and online modules to learn the skills necessary to start your Virtual Assistant Business.

This episode is for people who work full time and would like to transition to having their own business and becoming a freelancer. It is for freelancers who would like to get more clients and is for anyone who has a business and would like to start a side hustle at an online gig. We also touch on why freelancers in the United States, and other Western countries shouldn’t be wary or put off this career choice by virtual assistant services in less expensive countries.

We also discuss why doing the inner work and understanding who you want to work with and serve is so important. 

Topics we discuss:

  • We discussed the pros and cons of becoming a virtual assistant
  • How you can leverage your existing skills to transition into a high paying real freelance virtual assistant position.
  • The difference between a Virtual Assistant and an Online Business manager
  • How Danielle got started working online, and how the stars aligned for her to start growthfocus.co with Liz.
  • We discuss why it is so important to know who you want to serve and who your ideal client is before you go looking for your first VA gig.
  • Why the inner work is fundamental to your success.
  • Understanding your work skills & talents and who it is that you want to work with
  • Why this will help you in the long run, to avoid working with clients who you are not aligned with, and doing work that you just do not enjoy.
  • We discuss why having a mentor when exploring making a transition like this from full-time employment to a freelancer is beneficial as it gives you accountability, a framework, and a track upon which you can follow. 

Thank you for joining us in today’s episode. Make sure to subscribe to the podcast and give us a Review on iTunes & a Follow on Spotify.

If you would like to learn more about becoming a Virtual Assistant – check out our post on the Top 7 Virtual Assistant Courses to Kickstart your Virtual Assistant Career.


Adam: Hello, and welcome to another episode of the Digital Nomad Cafe podcast. Today’s guest is Danielle Demi from GrowthFocus.co. Danielle, welcome to the show. Thank you for joining us.

Danielle: Thank you for having me.

Adam: Danielle, yourself and Liz run a business where you’re looking to try and help people to move from having a full time job to launching a virtual assistant business. Would that kind of frame it nicely as to what you do?

Danielle: Yes, absolutely. We help people that want to leave, maybe their structured corporate lifestyle and move into the freelancing world. And it’s not easy to make that transition. And so we really work with people who are just starting with freelancing to get their start. But also, we have worked with freelancers that want to switch gears and offer new services or dive into maybe something they had never considered doing with their careers. So we started helping first time freelancers, but now we’ve grown and we’re helping freelancers from the start of their career to maybe the middle, or maybe they’re just trying to pivot. So that’s kind of like what we do.

Adam: How did this begin? Were you working in a job and you wanted to start branching out freelancing? What was your own journey towards launching GrowthFocused.co?

Danielle: It was absolutely like the stars aligned when we started GrowthFocus. I had grown up with two corporate working nine to five parents. And I just remember I was very, very blessed and privileged as a young girl, I had everything I could ever want. And I’m definitely not complaining. But I always wish I had more time to spend with my parents. And we always had to wait for the weekend, which was two days or their two weeks of vacation, which by the time they had worked a full workweek or all year, the vacations or the time off was spent relaxing. And as a kid, you’re like, “What? We’re having another staycation? We got to go somewhere, just something fun.” So I always wanted more for myself. I didn’t want to spend 90% of my life at work and not very much doing the things that make me happy or spending time with my loved ones. And so I graduated college, and right out of college, my first entry level real job, I guess, was a receptionist working nine to five, Monday through Friday. And it was awful. It was an awful feeling, feeling like I had started that journey to be where my parents were working all the time. And at the time, I had met a wonderful mentor. And she had me work with her. She offered me a job as her virtual assistant. I’d never heard of it before. I was like, “What is that?” So I started helping her with her digital business, along with, I was always a really great writer in college. And so I started writing blog content for her and her clients. And you can imagine my mind was blown thinking that I could do work like that and not have to be in an office or something. And so I did blog writing, and virtual assisting for a few months. And then I really found my confidence in working from home and being comfortable. And that’s when my career started just like going up from there. I started managing her team. So I met Liz in February of 2020. And before that, I had worked in different companies helping them manage their teams manage their projects, I’d become a project manager. And by the time I met Liz, I was a full on project manager. I helped Liz with her business really create the platforms that help her team members and her contractors really do the work that they need to do seamlessly. So we worked together for a little while before her and I really created a really close bond as friends and as dreamers. So Liz’s background is, she is a serial entrepreneur. She operated brick and mortar pet businesses in Phoenix, Arizona. And so she had this big entrepreneurial background and I had this Freelancer expert background. And I’d spent so much time really creating my freelancing business. And by the time we met, we were like, we’ve got to combine forces and teach freelancers how to start and grow their business in a sustainable way. And it’s making so much more sense now, because now there’s this real popularity with freelancing and having a side hustle. And Liz and I are both like, “No, it doesn’t have to be on the side, or it doesn’t have to be something that you do in combination with your full time job. It can completely replace your work and you can do the things that you’re really skilled in.” So, her and I make a Power team. And as soon as we met, we were like, “This needs to be growth oriented. We have to be growth focused.” And so we went with that.

Adam: And that is how the name was born.

Danielle: Yes.

Adam: It’s an interesting one, because like you’re saying, in early 2020, this obviously became more popular. Working from home became more popular, having side hustles, things like that has reached its probable peak of people googling it and people looking into it. But like you’re saying, transitioning from having a full time job with a side hustle to being a full time freelancer, it’s a big jump for a lot of people. And they might have a lot of anxiety and a lot of concerns around it. So when you look at the sort of people who you’re working with and helping, what do you feel comes up a lot when they’re looking at making this transition?

Danielle: Yeah, there’s definitely a lot of anxiety and fear with what’s waiting on the other side. And I think that that’s why we created GrowthFocus to be the way that it is. And you’ll notice that in our brand, we use a lot of natural greens and things that represent growth in so many ways. I mean, we always talk about it. But growth is not easy. It’s not always easy. And especially when you have to make big decisions, like going from a stable and a comfortable work environment to do something challenging that at first that may lead you to doing the work of your dreams. There’s a lot of unknowns that go into that. And so, Liz and I really work on working with our students and our mentee mindset to really switch from, ‘It’s worth it’. And it helps that they’re able to work with us as mentors, because I didn’t have someone in my corner when I was creating my freelancing business. Or when Liz started her brick and mortar businesses, she didn’t have someone on her side, really helping her navigate through the unknowns. So that’s great that we’re able to be that for our Grow getters.

Adam: Grow getters, I love it. There’s a couple of things to unbox here. One part of it is anybody who’s in online business, and basically, which is everybody who listens to this show, most people will have bought a course at some point and then not use the course. Maybe they bought a course and they’re like, “Oh, I know how to do this thing about SEO or this thing about Facebook ads or whatever, web design.” And maybe you open it and then you just forget about it. And this is the difference, I think, in having a course where you’re part of almost a community as well. It brings in elements of accountability, because you have the community built and you’re having, like you’re saying, people have mentorship throughout it. But also, they have that accountability, as well as the trainer modules, that help you to get somebody to where they need to be so much faster than if you just buy a course and they do the course and whether they do it or don’t do it is relative to the person. But if you bring them through an experience with you and your business and you help them get their through mentorship and through accountability, they’re far more likely to potentially succeed in their journey rather than just one and done, you’ll do it of course whenever you have the time, maybe you’ll forget about it and go on YouTube.

Danielle: Yeah, absolutely. And that totally went into our thought process or our creation process when we created our Full-Time to Freedom VA basics course. We knew that people nowadays have such a smaller attention span when we are online. There’s just so much to think about. There’s so much to look at, that we knew that when creating our course, that it would be, to the point, there’s no real beating around the bush or there’s no lengthy, pointless, whatever you might find in something online, but it’s really to the point, it’s concise and we provide the actual resources. So in one of our courses, Canva basics is one of the things that we cover. We give a bite-sized lesson. And that can empower someone to go and try it out for themselves and dive deeper and actually get the hands-on experience. Because there’s learning from listening, but then there’s a whole nother skill set that’s gained when you’re actually doing the work. So we definitely considered the length of our course. And also that community aspect. We have a growth forum that comes with our course. Liz and I are people persons. We love to connect with people individually. So even if the course prepares someone to know the basics, or you have the growth form with other people who are taking the course, it’s still our responsibility to check in and be like, “Are you doing everything that you set out to do?” And if not, “Let’s find something that works.”

Adam: I kind of have a couple of questions about this now, related to the topic of virtual assistants. So do you feel that transitioning into a VA is one of the best transitions for people looking to start a freelance business?

Danielle: Yes, yes, definitely.

Adam: Why do you believe that? Is it because so many of the skills are transferable or that they’re easy to learn?

Danielle: I think you’ll learn a lot about everything, because you have to — sometimes, the people that you’re working with or the companies that you’re working with need someone to help with writing. And maybe you don’t have that writing experience, but you get your hands on learning there. Or maybe you have to try your hand at web maintenance, or whatever it is, or SEO, especially for people that are coming into the digital marketing world. And without that foundational knowledge, and you get that. You also learn a lot about yourself. I don’t know if my path would have led me to GrowthFocus had I just said, “I’m really good at writing.” and just went full on writing mode. I probably would have been burnt out at some point and been discouraged in my freelancing career. I had to really take the time to realize that I love working with people. And it took me stepping out of the writing role and being a manager for teams. And I also love organizing things. So I had to really find those areas of my strengths and skill set. So that VA path, it opens the doors to whatever you want to explore in the future. So that helps you really try everything out and then say, “Okay, this is it. This makes sense for what I do. Or this makes sense for a long term career for me.” And then you start to think about, “Okay, what can I do that makes my service different or what is going to set my freelancing business apart from other people that do this?” So I think it is a great, great start for people that are just transitioning from a full-time career or even if they just went remote, and they have a job currently or whatever the situation may be and they want to start getting this experience in different areas.

Adam: There’s lots of different types of virtual assistants. I hired a virtual assistant, but I call her my online business manager, Maria is her name. And that’s because I feel like maybe the word virtual assistant, it means different things to different people. And when I was hiring her, I just was very mindful of like, this isn’t just like data entry or something like that. I wanted to hire somebody who would help me manage the multiple online businesses that I have. So podcasts, web design, SEO, blog publishing, affiliate marketing, YouTube. I have multiple things happening. And she learned and is trained upon all these different things. But I’ve always thought of her as my online business manager. So when it comes to virtual assistants, I think that there’s multiple layers to it. And as what you’re saying, you may start off more generic. Maybe you’re helping a blogger, or maybe you’re helping a company or whatever it is, but as you learn the skills — You’ll start with a broad range of skills, but you’ll find ones that you like doing. I mean, I think it’s just as important to understand what you don’t like doing. Because maybe you take on a job as a VA and you are doing a lot of data entry in spreadsheets, or maybe you just hate it. You know what I mean? Maybe you’re a real creative person and video and Canva and Pinterest and Tailwind and using all these things, maybe that’s your job. And there is a big market for you to serve bloggers, entrepreneurs, businesses by doing those things. Maybe you need to go to the process, sometimes, of learning. And I guess potentially, this is where doing a course and having some mentorship would help you to identify the things that you’d like doing but also importantly, to things that you you don’t like doing so that you can not take on that sort of work and then eventually become potentially resentful of the sort of work that you’re doing.

Danielle: Yeah, for sure. Transitioning from full time to freelancing, for me, was so life changing in the most positive ways. I am happier. I have this work-life balance, where I don’t feel like, “Where’s my life going?” I don’t have that pressure. I would always catch myself being almost like, really worried about my future when I was working at a desk, and I wasn’t able to be creative. And so when I found that I could do the things that made me feel so powerful online, and from the comfort of my own home, it was so liberating. And if someone has that, and they ditch their full time, and go to something that feels exactly the same and feels full-time at home, that’s not okay. With the possibilities now online, it is so achievable to actually create a fulfilling career online where you don’t have to do the things that don’t serve your clients or that don’t serve you. So Liz and I both have made it our mission to really help people get to that point. And yes, at first, being a virtual assistant, you may have to do the things, and that’s learning. And we go back to the growth and growth is not really comfortable. It is going to take some time to grow. But if you can bunker down, learn that skill, you’ve added it to your resume or whatever, your portfolio, and then have your eyes on the prize and say, “Okay, now that I’ve learned that, let me figure out how to really sharpen whatever skill I have, so that I can elevate that, and ditch that other one. And I don’t ever have to revisit it again.” Where you elevate your specific gift and then you can create your career based around that, to where you can grow out of that virtual assistant, where you’re covering all of these different sections of a business, where you really stand out as the expert in whatever you do.

Adam: It’s an interesting one because I think with virtual assistants, what I’ve noticed anywhere over my years of hiring is some are eager to learn. And you can see it. They’re doing Kajabi courses in their spare time, or they’re taking courses like the one at GrowthFocus. Another one that comes to mind is VA Savvy or something. I think they have a big huge Facebook group. But there’s another one, it’s actually where I hired my virtual assistant from, was through their Facebook group. And when you have virtual assistants from somewhere like America, or Canada, or the United Kingdom, and then you have virtual assistants from places like the Philippines and Vietnam, and Thailand. And you’ll often see these discussion trades, let’s say, where there’ll often be a big difference in price. And I want to get onto that in a minute, like what kind of an entry level VA in America could expect to earn. And then maybe what an online business manager kind of somebody who’s a bit more tenured could potentially earn. But I feel that in the Indies’ Facebook groups, if you read them, you’ll often see that some of the ones in the Western countries would be saying things like, “I’d never do that.” And they seem to have very clear boundaries. And then some of the cheaper VAs tend to be willing to do anything. But in my experience, you might hire somebody, but as soon as they get a higher paying contract, they’ll just go to that next person. You know what I mean? It’s very flaky. Or people can be good, and then they disappear. I have found out, I guess, both with a United States assistant and somebody from the Philippines. So I guess what I’m trying to kind of circle back on here is like, people seem to find it challenging to compete with the virtual assistants in places like the Philippines where English is the first language. What would you say if somebody was thinking about transitioning to being a virtual assistant or perhaps they have preconceived conception or thought in their mind that a virtual assistant, you can’t make great money at it, or that’s something that it’s too cheap to make a full time transition from a job. How would you reframe that? And how would you address that sort of topic if somebody was thinking about it from that perspective?

Danielle: Well, for companies, I work really closely with Liz’s company too. So I have both views of being a freelancer and a virtual assistant, but also seeing things at the company level. But I just like virtual assistants. And I always say, it’s always best to work with someone that is as close as possible to your timezone. And that is just good for longevity. It’s hard to really be on the same page, if you’re working, you know, with an eight-hour time-zone difference between you and your assistant. And that’s what we’ve found to work for, whether it’s our team at GrowthFocus or Liz’s consulting team. It just really helps move the business forward, faster, when you’re on the same page, as close as possible. So we keep that in mind when we’re hiring, for assistance, or whatever we’re hiring for. And it just makes the communication clearer. And it’s good for deadlines and things like that. But just like virtual assistants in the United States, a lot of them really know what they want and what they will not do. And they have these structured offerings as a virtual assistant and what’s included in their work. The same goes for companies and business owners that are hiring for that help. A lot of them really know what they want and what kind of person they want to hire. And if they are anything like Liz and myself, we hire for longevity. It’s not something that we want to hire someone for a few months and then, “Bye!” We work really closely together with our team members. So that one, they get to know us better and our company. They get to understand our goals better, and then we’re able to work together even better, and plan for a brighter future for the company. So I think virtual assistants know what they want and companies know what to look for in their virtual assistant. So if you are just considering going into being a virtual assistant, you have to know that there if you know what you are offering, if you know exactly what you want out of a long term, whether it’s relationship with a company, there is someone, there is a company out there who is looking for you and your skills. You will find someone that matches this person wants a virtual assistant for 20 hours a week, that’s what I have. They want someone that is committed long-term that can help with writing and organizing. Well, I can do that. And so maybe it will take some time for you to find that perfect match. But once you do, it’s going to help you really find out that person’s pain points, what they’re constantly needing, and then it’s going to help you narrow down your search later on down the line. You’re going to understand their needs better, and you’re going to be able to find those clients better. So I don’t think, if you go into it, giving up before you even start and say, “Well, there’s people offering way less”, then you need to do some more soul searching and really realize, find out if this is for you, if this is something you really want. But I have seen so much success in the freelancers that we work with because they know what they want. They know who their ideal client is and they really work to create relationships that will lead them to those contracts or those positions.

Adam: I hear what you’re saying. I guess I was only just kind of framing it from the perspective of — it’s something that I see. It’s a recurrent theme. But like you’re saying, it’s basically internal self belief issues, or maybe people who just haven’t done that internal work that they are worthy of charging a higher fee and they are worthy of the sort of clients that they will deserve. You kind of touched on a few different things that I’d like to unpack a little bit further. One is, do you feel that for being a virtual assistant that it’s very important to have structured offerings, like I do this for this many hours a week, and it costs this much? Do you feel that that is a better approach, rather than saying my hourly rate is whatever dollars does that? In your experience, how to have, like, “I sell 20-hour packages”, or “I sell 40-hour packages”, because that way you’re selling in bulk and it’s very specific.

Danielle: I think that’s a great goal to work up to, to have the structured packages. I don’t think everyone comes into being a virtual assistant knowing about packages and pricing structure. But I do think it’s a great goal to work up to saying that this is what you do. And it really allows you to highlight your strengths and your skills. It makes it individual to the work that you do. And it makes it so where you’re not compared to the next virtual assistant, because you have said, “This is my skill, this is where I shine.” I think that’s a great goal to have. But I started with an hourly rate. And that’s where you really get that hands-on experience in whatever it is that your client really needs. So it’s not bad to start with an hourly rate, especially starting out. For bookkeeping’s sake, I think that’s going to be a little bit easier before you start to create your packages and you start to build and things like that. So I think that’s a great goal to have. But an hourly rate is great for starting too.

Adam: Absolutely. And then I would like to kind of get a gauge on it. Because obviously, I’m based in Ireland, in case you haven’t guessed by my accent, as you already know. Well, kind of rates in the United States. I know it’s like asking how long is a piece of string, but at the same time, generally speaking, in kind of an entry level versus somebody who’s a bit more experienced, a year or two in, based on the people who you’re working with and who’ve come to your course and in your community, what do you see is kind of a general starter rate, hourly rate for virtual assistants who’s based in somewhere like the United States.

Danielle: It usually starts at $20 an hour and it can go upwards. And it really depends. If there’s  a piece of advice that I can give to a potential virtual assistant or someone that’s looking into it, definitely don’t go with what other people are pricing their services at because that’s like the norm or whatever it is. And that’s just because I see it happen so much. But it’s really about your growth and your level of experience and your services. It’s individual to the person, especially if you’re coming out of a corporate job where you are working at an ad agency or something like that, and you have this knowledge that someone else doesn’t. It’s very, very personal. But I’ve seen it also go upwards to as a virtual assistant to like $75 an hour.

Adam: Yeah. I’ve definitely seen that spectrum in the United States. It does typically be about 15-20 from what I’ve seen in the groups and the packages that I’ve been sent. And like you’re saying, you can make right up to very high freelance rates where you could only be doing a couple hours every week and you’d be sufficiently paid for the lifestyle that you’re looking to live. So just to kind of circle in, as we close out the episode, I know that finding clients is something that people definitely are a little bit fearful of, or they don’t really understand how to go about it. So, what would be your tips for not finding your first clients? How would you approach it?

Danielle: This topic has really come up a lot already in 2021 with Liz and I, and we’ve talked about this. It’s always helpful for the freelancer or the virtual assistant to really do the work for their own brands, and really identify who they are, what kind of work they do, how they’re going to serve their client, and really come up with, “This is how much I’m going to get paid based on my experience”, and really have that foundational information solidified for themselves before they think about how they can serve a client. Because if you don’t have that all, if you don’t have your ducks in a row when you are a freelancer and you are looking for clients, you really don’t have the guiding light as to what jobs you should be applying for, and which ones fit your needs, or which ones don’t. So it makes no sense for someone to have these goals for their freelancing business, but then jump at every job that comes through on a job site or whatever.

Adam: I think that is so important. You hit on it earlier on when you’re saying, just knowing who your ideal client is or who is the type of person that you want to work with. Do you want to work with a course creator? Do you want to work with a company? Do you want to work with a blogger? What is the sort of business? Who is your ideal version of a client and then once you have that frame of reference, you can kind of like ready, aim, fire. You can be like, okay, they’re going to be in these types of Facebook groups, they’re going to be titled this certain thing on LinkedIn. Because if you don’t, like you’re saying, if you’re just like, “I just want to be a VA.” For whom? “For anyone.” Then maybe you’ll work with some company, you just don’t like the work that you’re doing. That was because you weren’t specific to begin with. So, to spend that time initially, who do you want to serve and what are your skills that you can develop and offer? So that’s insightful. And that’s kind of the beginner’s work. That’s the work only you can do. Nobody can do that work for you. You can be given all the strategies and all the tactics for how to find those people afterwards, but only you, the individual listening, could decide who it is you want to serve.

Danielle: Exactly. It always comes back to that. It always comes back to that no matter what, and especially like as a service provider. So Liz and I mentor freelancers, and that’s the service that we provide. Any kind of service provider, it will always come back to what kind of work you will do for your own brand, or what you will do for your own, to push yourself forward. Whether it’s taking that time upfront to really outline what you do and who you serve, and then having that as your guide for applying for jobs, that takes that time. But then, the alternative is you don’t spend that time, but you spend so many hours a week looking in Facebook groups for dead ends, or you get the client that makes you miserable because you don’t know anything about their industry, but you just wanted the quick job. So you have to put in the time up front to really understand your goals, and really carve out that game plan for what you will do to make it happen or things that you should avoid. It’s always the biggest accelerator for anyone’s service based business, or the biggest roadblock for anyone’s service based business is themselves. 

Adam: Dropped the mic there, Danielle. Thank you very much. That’s the perfect way, I think, to round up and end the episode. You’re dead right. This is where working on your inner game is important. And having supportive people around you can be helpful, and having mentorship can really help you when you’re having that kind of self doubt or imposter syndrome. And also, that keeps you accountable to make sure that you have clearly identified who your ideal clients are, who you are going to serve. Because sometimes, you just need that person to look at you and tell you, “It’s not very clear. It’s still very broad. We need to work on this a little bit more.” While it might be initially a little bit painful, ultimately, it’ll serve you in the end and help you grow faster and help you find work that you find fulfilling and meaningful rather than work that you just don’t like to do and work on for the sake of it. So, Danielle, thank you very much. So if people want to connect with you, where can they find you online?

Danielle: They can find us on Instagram at GrowthFocus.co and they can find us on our website at www.growthfocus.co.

Adam: Lovely. Thank you very much. Thank you to all the listeners for tuning in as well. Take care. Have a good day.

Danielle: Thank you so much.

Tips For Becoming A Successful & Happy Virtual Assistant with Danielle Demi from GrowthFocus.co

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