Three Virtual Assistants Who Have Taken Their Businesses to Six Figures

Three Virtual Assistants Who Have Taken Their Businesses to Six FiguresBy Holly Reisem Hanna

When I first started my work at home quest, I was excited to learned about the Virtual Assistant (VA) field. Not only did I possess many of the traits that VAs need (enjoy helping people and good time management and organizational skills), but it’s a profession that allows you to cash in on the skills and knowledge you already have. So if you’re good with numbers, you can focus on bookkeeping, or if you’re a social butterfly, you can focus on social media marketing — the services you can offer a truly endless.

But how do you go from making minimum wage rates to six figures a year?

We have three VAs who are sharing their stories today. Let me introduce to you our superstar VAs. We have Michelle Dale of Virtual Miss Friday, Sherry Carnahan of Total Office Inc, and Michelle Mangen of Your Virtual Assistant LLC. Not only are these women sharing how much they make, but they are dishing the dirt on how they do it.

Name: Michelle Dale

Business: Virtual Miss Friday (VMF Ltd)

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your entrepreneurial journey.

I’m originally from England, and went to school until the age of 16 when I decided I was going to leave school and home and go out into the world to seek employment. I was young and finding work was hard, so finding accommodation was equally as difficult as salaries for a 16 year old were very poor. I did a wide variety of jobs and frequently moved between cities until I eventually landed a job within a bank when I was around the age of 18, and from there I stayed until 2005 when I was 23.

I then had a good long reflection over the previous 7 years of my life, the jobs I had had, the places I had lived and I knew I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life in the 9-5, in the UK, grabbing holidays once a year and living for the weekends, so I quit my job, put my house on the market and sold everything I owned.

I left 3 months later with a suitcase of clothes, a laptop and a one way ticket to Egypt where I’d decided to spend some time thinking about what I wanted from life. It was there the idea came to me to start my own business as a virtual assistant and that’s what I have been doing ever since, still traveling, and I’ve never been back to live in the UK.

What services do you offer?

I started off just with administrative PA type services, now I offer an entire range of Administrative, Marketing and Creative services, specifically focused around online business. This includes consulting, online office support, social media, content creation, design and web development.

How much money are you making?

The company now turns over around $30,000 a month, I love to inspire other virtual assistants to go out there and really push the limits of their business which is why I have now posted 2 income reports, one in January this year and one from 3 years ago showing the company’s progress

What types of marketing strategies work best for you?

Because of the way I travel, I have only ever used various forms of online marketing, since I left the UK in 2005, I’ve been in non-native English speaking countries, and I have to be able to access English speaking clients.

When I started it was tough, in 2005 even Facebook had only just come on the scene and nobody had really heard of it, so I used to visit online forums a lot and use online business directories.

Now I primarily use social media – Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook to reach my audience and a fair amount of content marketing through Video (YouTube and Vimeo), Audio (iTunes Podcasts) and my Blog posts which I publish every week and I often distribute my news using various content marketing techniques such as online press releases. Basically I push my content as far as I can through the Internet via popular social media channels and cultivate relationships with other business owners online, it really works, and I share the juicy details of these strategies and how I’ve perfected them over the years through my training programs at

What’s the secret to your success?

I would say that it’s believing that everything I put my heart and mind to will be successful, eliminating any negative thoughts of possible failure.

Once I set my mind on achieving something I never give up on it until it’s done, no matter how long it takes.

What advice would you give to other aspiring virtual assistants?

Never underestimate yourself or you capabilities, the only limitations we have are those we place upon ourselves. There’s a saying, “If you think you can or you think can’t, either way you are right” – I have taken this to heart.

Whether your goals and aspirations for your Virtual Assistant Business are hoping you’ll be able to turn around a full time income while raising your kids at home, or you want to conquer the industry and make a name for yourself as a VA Thought Leader, you will face times when you are doubtful that it’s possible, or you wonder if you can, maybe people will say you’re crazy or your ideas won’t work or you’re a dreamer. When this happens just think of the Wright brothers, do you think everyone  around them thought it was entirely possible to create a vehicle that was able to fly in the air carrying passengers? Absolutely not, but the most important takeaway from their story is that the only thing that mattered is that they believed it was possible, and then it was.

Name: Sherry Carnahan

Business: Total Office, Inc.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your entrepreneurial journey.

I am currently in my 22nd year of business. My dream of running my own company came to me while I was driving to work (at Roadway Express) back in 1988.  I had just finished listening to a radio interview of a woman who ran a business out of her home, typing for area doctors.

At the time, I was a single mother of two.  I desperately wanted to be at home with my children while continuing to provide for them.  The idea of a home-based business intrigued me so much that from that moment forward, it became a dream that I pursued.  I visualized myself working for a variety of clients throughout the United States—from the comfort of my home. Of course, home computers weren’t readily available back then, nor was the Internet, so how this dream would come to fruition, God only knew!

In October 1992, with only a typewriter and a box of business cards, “Sherry’s Office Services” opened its virtual doors!  I started out doing data entry for a local company and shortly after that I began targeting contractors who worked out of their trucks. I did their bookkeeping, writing up bids, scheduled appointments and handled customer service issues.  The work was plentiful but the contractors were not good at paying on time so that became a problem.

In 1996 companies started downsizing, so that opened up a whole new market as the displaced workers were starting their own businesses.  Business was plentiful and they paid their bills, but, I was wearing myself out trying to learn all the different industries.  Thankfully, in 1997 I was interviewed for Tickler Magazine that targeted Financial Advisors.  I received several clients from that interview and soon realized that I had finally found my “niche”.  Today, Total Office is serving clients throughout the United States…and I’m still operating from home (or anywhere we happen to be while traveling in our motor home visiting our six children and their families).  My husband, James, now works in the business with me and in Dec. 2012, we expanded our Marketing department with a new division, Red Dress Marketing, to address the growing needs of our customers needing Internet Marketing and Web Design support. It’s doing so well that we still haven’t been able to get our own website updated.

What services do you offer?

  • Account Administration & Client Services (Custodial back office work)
  • General Office Admin
  • Writing Services
  • Marketing Services & WordPress Web Design
  • Fulfillment Services (many of our advisors are also author’s and software developers so we handle the order fulfillment and etc.)

How much money are you making?

I currently average between $150K -$165K annually with our best year being close to $200K.

What types of marketing strategies work best for you?

I am a huge fan of Drip Marketing, with my newsletter being the number one way I find new clients.

What’s the secret to your success?

My ability to look into the future and ‘think outside the box’. I try to  do things a little differently than our competition and most importantly, I never stop marketing.

What advice would you give to other aspiring virtual assistants?

Find a niche industry to market too.  Learn everything you can about the industry and be the best at it.  Soon word will get around that you are the expert go-to- person for the services you are offering.

Keep an eye on the changing trends and technology in your industry and be pro-active at making changes to your services. If you don’t, you may find yourself having to regain your footing when the income suddenly starts to drop. 

This is a lesson I learned the hard way. I was so focused on running my business that I didn’t act fast enough when “the cloud” started to gain creditability. We used to handle quarterly portfolio report mailings for our clients, a service that could bring in as much as $12,000 per client each quarter.  Within six months, all of our clients were uploading their portfolio reports to the cloud where their clients could download their reports instead of receiving them in the mail. This left us scrambling to find ways to recover that type of income. You can bet we won’t be making that mistake again!

Name: Michelle Mangen

Business: Your Virtual Assistant, LLC

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your entrepreneurial journey.

It all started back in 2006 while I was in London visiting a friend. I read a romance novel where the main character was a virtual assistant. At that time I didn’t know that the industry even existed and I thought maybe it had been made up for the story. I did some research once I got back to the US and realized it was indeed a real industry.

At the time I was living in Wisconsin and driving 99 miles one way to work. The winter of 2007-2008 was really brutal and in the spring of 2008 I went into my boss’ office and told him I didn’t want to do the drive anymore and I wasn’t interested in moving back into the city. I asked them to have me replaced by Thanksgiving (typically the first snowfall).

For months I wasn’t sure what I was going to do and in July I thought I’d do more research on this “virtual assistant” thing. I spent untold hours trying to get a sense of how to start, what to specialize in, etc. I figured I could try it and if it didn’t work out I could always get a traditional office job again.

I started December 1, 2008 and it’s been quite the journey since then. My hope was to replace my income (I was earning $82,000) within three years. By year two I had grossed over $60K and by year three I had grossed more than $100K.

I’ve learned a lot from the mistakes I made along the way. A few things I would have done differently would have been starting to build a team sooner so I had people to help me out vs. trying to do it all alone, listening to my intuition, and most certainly learning how to say no (still something I struggle with).

In 2013 I inadvertently attracted a cyber-stalker and she gleaned a lot of information about me off of the Internet, things that were public due to being in business for myself. The emotional distress impacted my business and I had to let a few clients go this year (2014), so I could free up some time to deal with things. I’ve learned a lot on how I could have better protected some of my personal information as a result.

What services do you offer?

Initially, I wanted to only offer bookkeeping services as I love working with numbers, but I didn’t take into account the additional level of trust that would be needed with virtual bookkeeping, so I offered general admin services. In 2013, I tried out being an Online Business Manager (at the prompting of my business coach), but quickly realized that’s not really what I wanted to do. At this point I primarily only do bookkeeping, but I do still do some social media and general admin for some clients I have had for a long time.

How much money are you making?

My reported gross income to the IRS for 2013 was $132,579.00. (I report it all!)

What types of marketing strategies work best for you?

I had someone do SEO on my site back in 2009, when I was focusing on offering social media services and I held the #3 spot for quite some time. I also spent a lot of time building relationships on Twitter back when I started my business in 2008. Word of mouth has been a steady source of referrals too.

What’s the secret to your success?

I don’t think I’m doing anything extraordinary. As mentioned above, I spent a lot of time building genuine relationships with people on Twitter. I place everything on my integrity and doing what I say I’m going to do, when I’m going to do it. I’m honest and I treat every single client how I’d want to be treated.

What advice would you give to other aspiring virtual assistants?

I’ve taught several rounds of a six-week online class as an instructor for Virtual Assistant Forums. I repeatedly tell the students to build relationships, even with others in our industry. It’s so important that it comes up every week in the class.

Wow, congrats on your success ladies! If you’d like to find out more about the Virtual Assistant industry, click here.

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