Recently, I was lucky enough to connect with an amazing woman named Kathy McCabe.
Kathy is an internationally recognized virtual assistant who also happens to suffer from Meniere’s disease, as well as several other chronic illnesses. Her story is remarkable. In the face of tremendous adversity, she has found success as a virtual assistant and has been able to continue to work and provide for her family.
I invited Kathy to share her story with you all today, and to explain a little bit more about what a virtual assistant is, and how you can become one, too.
I’m Kathy and I have Meniere’s Disease.
Actually, I have bi-lateral Meniere’s disease, Migraine with Aura and chronic pain. But up until almost 3 years ago, I was normal. (Or at least I tried to be normal). Then, one day, out of nowhere, I had vertigo for the first time as I was walking across the room.
My Tinnitus, which I’ve had in both ears for many years (and has also caused hearing loss), now roars during attacks, which can happen at any time, with little or no warning.
I went to my walk-in clinic and they sent me to the hospital where doctors weren’t sure what was wrong or if I was having a stroke, so they admitted me for observation. I left thirty hours later still dizzy and on my way to a neurologist.
He was the first doctor to mention Meniere’s disease to me, although he said he was sure I didn’t have it since both my ears were affected, but he was at least open to the possibility. He sent me to other doctors for more tests and opinions. It took nearly a year and a long line of doctors before I finally got a diagnosis from Dr. John Carey at the John Hopkins University Hospital in Baltimore, MD. He is an amazing doctor, and really listened!
Working with Chronic Illness(es):
During this time, I became ever more grateful that I worked as a virtual assistant from my home office. When I started my practice nearly twenty years ago, it never occurred to me that I might one day have to battle chronic disease, but now that I do, I’m glad that I can work from home. It’s made everything so much easier for me. Now, when I can’t get up to the office, I can login remotely from anywhere and still be productive.
What exactly is a virtual assistant (VA)? A VA is a highly skilled independent contractor who provides administrative and specialized services from a remote location. VA skillsets vary but all the work is performed offsite, saving the client money because they don’t have to provide office equipment, space, company benefits, or insurance, and are not responsible for the virtual assistant’s taxes. The VA’s office consists of a computer, telecommunications and basic office furniture and is generally located in the assistant’s home. The virtual assistant may be a generalist – an administrative assistant who works virtually – or may be specialized in one or more of a number of niches such as a Social Media Specialist, Author’s Assistant, Website Designer, Marketing and more, the list is endless.
I became a virtual assistant by a fluke. I answered an ad in the local paper and when I interviewed with the company, I discovered it was a home based position doing clerical work. They gave me a week’s trial and during that time we worked out the differences between my pc and their mac and I ended up working with them for years. It was only a month after getting this job that I realized I could do this type of work for other clients, all from home. I never looked back!
When I first started, no one knew what a virtual assistant was. There was literally no industry for it then, with only a few brave souls paving the way. I’m proud to say that I’m one of those early pioneers.
How to Become a Virtual Assistant:
Unfortunately, not everyone can become a VA. Just because you have a computer does not automatically make you qualified. It takes skill, intelligence, and most importantly, the ability to work unsupervised. But if you do possess office administration skills, or are willing to learn the skills you’d like to offer (anything from desktop publishing, website design, online business management and more) and can work unsupervised, then you can become a VA.
Virtual assisting is not a get rich quick scheme. It will require time and patience to establish a clientele. I heartily recommend training in current technology, processes and procedures as well as marketing to promote your business. There are a number of very good online training establishments that can help you learn the skills you’ll need to meet your goals. I recommend:
- Virtual Assistant Training Center: Craig and Kelly Cannings have been providing training for virtual assistants for over a decade and are very well respected.
- AssistU: AssistU was the very first online VA training center. The founder, Anastacia Brice, was the first person to be called a Virtual Assistant. She was the VA for Thomas Leonard, the founder of Coachville, who coined the phrase.
- VA Networking: In addition to being one of the largest VA organizations in the industry, VA Networking also has several very well thought out training opportunities and books. As well as the coveted Virtual Assistant Certification program.
Also, a number of books have been written by very talented virtual assistants on how to start a virtual assistant business. Among them are: Virtual Assistant – the Series: Become a Highly Successful Sought After VA by Kelly Poelker and Diana Ennen, and How to Build a Successful Virtual Assistant Business by Janice Byer and Elayne Whitfield-Parr. There are many others, doing a simple search on Amazon and Google will help you find them
People with chronic illness sometimes feel that they need to hide their condition from their able bodied colleagues. Most of the time, this not by an active omission, but because we know deep down that our illnesses can make other people uncomfortable.
With virtual assisting, all of that changes. Working as a VA means that our illnesses and disabilities don’t have to be a detriment. As a VA I have been blessed to be able to work with clients who are located around the world, all from my home office or from the ‘couch office’ when I’m unable to climb the stairs.
When you are setting up your office for your VA practice, bear in mind that what services you intend to offer will dictate whether your office should be private – and quiet – or not. For instance, if you want to offer virtual receptionist services, it would be a good idea to have an office with a door. However, if you only plan on providing administrative, social media or any other service that doesn’t require a quiet environment, you could make your office the dining room table.
No matter how you choose to set up your space, the there are many benefits to be being a virtual assistant. When you work for yourself, you can do what it takes to ensure your illness doesn’t interfere (as much) the way it would with a brick and mortar office job. Attendance doesn’t make such a difference when you’re your own boss.
In addition to a proper setup for your workspace, be sure to pay attention to the organization of your business.
- Make a business plan.
- Register your business with your state or local entity. This is where you should decide to operate as a Limited Liability Company or sole proprietorship. Be sure to obtain your Employer Identification Number (EIN) for tax purposes.
A Limited Liability Company (LLC) offers you as a business owner a little more protection than a sole proprietorship does in terms of lawsuits. (For in depth information of the differences between sole proprietor and LLC check out this information from Legalzoom.com)
- Decide on your initial services based on your strengths and weaknesses.
- Begin marketing by developing your website and online profiles.
- Work on your social media and content creation to ensure the most search engine engagement. If you are unsure on this process, training is highly recommended.
Also, because virtual assistants work alone, isolation can quickly become a problem, especially if your chronic illness makes it difficult to network or socialize with your colleagues. Online VA associations have definitely filled this void in my life when it comes to isolation. I heartily recommend:
- VA Networking
- International Virtual Assistant Association
- Virtual Assistants League
- And the numerous virtual assistant FaceBook groups.
Not only have I been blessed to be a part of this incredible industry, I have been honored by it. In 2013, I was named the Thomas Leonard International Virtual Assistant of Distinction, which is a singular and prestigious award given to the most deserving virtual assistant as judged by their peers.
Being able to provide support for my clients for nearly twenty years has solidified my belief that this is THE industry that is most suitable for those of us who suffer chronic/or incurable illnesses.
Kathy McCabe is the owner of Hilltop Secretarial Service (www.thebestva.com) and an internationally recognized virtual assistant serving her clients for over 19 years. She is also an herbalist and photographer whose work is available at www.hilltop-arts.com. Additionally, Kathy also offers her expertise as a consultant for new virtual assistants. She is a chronic illness sufferer (Meniere’s Disease, Migraine with Aura, Chronic Pain and visually impaired). She was named the Thomas Leonard International Virtual Assistant of Distinction for 2013, Semi-Finalist in the 2005 Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year for the Rocky Mountain Region, and has been featured in numerous publications and books.
Feel free to contact Kathy to learn more: Kathy@thebestva.com