It seems appropriate that as (at the time of writing this) we’re in the midst of the Summer holidays, when millions of Brits head abroad for sun, sand, and sea, we also turn our attention to a freelancer based overseas. As if freelancing wasn’t lonely enough, Vicki, originally from London, moved to France in 2011, which is where this story of her freelancing journey begins. Enjoy…
What is your name, where are you based, and what do you do?
Vicki Doudelle, I’m based just outside Bordeaux in SW France and I am a VA, although I’m promoting myself more as an Online Business Manager these days. I call myself The VA Bee, but I’m currently going through a rebrand and will soon become Beeline Solutions, as I have a couple of exciting, but top secret plans in the pipeline!
How long have you been freelancing and why did you decide to become a freelancer?
I’ve been freelancing for almost 6 years now, I found it really hard finding a job when I arrived in France – the prospects here without French qualifications or experience are tough and part-time positions to fit around a young family are few and far between! My CV in London would instantly open doors for interviews, but after a year of looking for a job (relative to my experience) I had had just one interview and I had to think outside of the box about how to make an income!
What support did you have from family and friends? Did anyone advise you against becoming freelance?
This is the one area that I regret not having used more thoroughly in the first instance, I basically felt my way through the dark in setting up my little VA business and have grown & learnt as I’ve gone along. When it got to the end of the second year, I started to realise that I needed to step back in a few areas and even now there are things that I’m still learning & changing – let’s just say my website has been under construction for 3 years (something of a perfectionist), but it’s finally almost ready and this will be a massive achievement for me!
Did you use any professional support resources in starting your freelance business?
No, not really – although once I realised how difficult it was finding clients I did spend a year or so working under a VA agency which gave me a great grounding on the principles of moving away from being an EA to a VA – running a business as opposed to be employed.
How would you describe your clients or customers?
I have been described as a “chief whip-cracker” and a “Swiss army knife” by two of my long-term clients. My longest running client always complimented me on my ability to read a situation and just get on with it, but we had worked together for 4 years from the start of his business, so I grew with it day by day.
Why do your clients/customers select you over your competitors?
In all honesty, I’m not too sure, but I do attract a lot of people via LinkedIn and I believe it’s because I present my profile clearly and on-brand, plus I have McKinsey & Company on my CV, and for anyone who knows about the McKinsey culture & pace, then they know they’ll be getting a quality support service from me.
Is being a freelancer what you expected? e.g. Do you work more hours (or less) than you had first anticipated?
It’s lonelier than I expected, that’s for sure – but one of my 2018 goals is to secure a local client, one that I can physically meet with them for time to time. My target clients are UK-based, so I don’t get that much face to face time with them. Hours-wise, from time to time I will work lots of hours, but I’ve worked very hard to alter my mindset to working fixed office hours and I try to stick to these and avoid answering emails on my phone after hours, plus I’ve set my out of hours rate at double, which works as a good deterrent for non-urgent requests.
What app or website could you not run your business without, and why?
My Skype landline and Whatsapp! Skype as my office number is UK-based and rings through my mobile, which is a great offering to my clients and excellent value for me. Whatsapp, because I can call and text mobiles for free, which is an absolute godsend!
What advice would you give to anyone who wants to start a freelance business, specifically in your field?
Start right at the beginning – by that I mean, have a website, accounting package, marketing/brand in place asap. If you can afford it, get some training, even if you have years of experience as an EA or PA. Build a solid network of fellow VAs, look around and find a VA Facebook group that suits you and get noticed by interacting. On top of that get networking locally to you and also within other Facebook groups such as Freelance Heroes. Where big boots, some days are really hard, some are really quiet. Set your boundaries and stick to them. Have contracts in place, and lastly get insurance!
What are the most notable things you have learnt since starting your business; either about running a business or about yourself?
Have fixed boundaries, ensure you & your clients sign a contract. Sometimes running a business is really tough, but you come out of these moments stronger and with lessons learned.
What is it about being a freelancer that you most enjoy?
I can pick and choose my clients, I can choose to take some time off (even if just a couple of hours) and I don’t have to commute.
What do you enjoy the least about being a freelancer?
Some days I only have our pet rabbit to talk to, and that’s not much fun!
What is your ultimate professional goal as a freelancer?
To do the best I can and to keep my clients happy & organised (and secretly, I’d love to secure a contract for supporting a corporate enterprise, but this is only in the thoughts-stage at the moment).
What one thing do you wish you had known before you became a freelancer?
Tricky one, but I guess that even your most favourite & reliable client can surprise you and pull the plug and that can be tough!!!
To connect with Vicki, visit:
www.va-bee.com (currently under reconstruction)
and, of course, the Freelance Heroes Facebook Group.