Layoffs, most of the time, are totally unexpected – and totally devastating. In the fall of 2014, my husband was hit with a devastating layoff – and we suddenly needed to replace his income to make ends meet. I was terrified, until that point I felt like my freelancing was just means to get us out of debt faster and have some fun money. Thankfully I had completely overhauled my business earlier that year and went from barely contributing to our budget to being able to support us both on one income. You can do it too and survive a devastating lay off with self-employment – all you need is some time and some sort of skills that you can use remotely – like editing Word documents!
Note – this blog post originally appeared on my personal site in April 2015, but I’ve moved it here and added updates on how we’re doing now! Some of the links in this post include affiliate links, any money I make from those links support this site.
In the fall of 2014, my husband’s place of employment for six years was suddenly shut down by the government for safety reasons. It was completely devastating, 1300 people out of work with no coverage from the WARN Act. It was a huge shock, Jeff actually wasn’t laid off immediately because his department was necessary for security of the company’s assets – but we knew his time was limited. I was a wreck, friends took turns checking in on me to make sure I was OK while Jeff spent the night in his office, and then only coming home for a shower before going back.
We were lucky, most families had both husband and wife working there – and some even their adult kids. We were completely surprised it escalated that far, even though we were always cautious because problems were happening on and off for years.
We went from Jeff’s stable income that always covered our bills and expenses, to my self employment income – which until then we weren’t considering for our budget, but were using to pay off our debt and extra fun money.
Now it was our only income until unemployment came in, and unemployment didn’t even come close to replacing what he made before.
How I Got Started
Let’s rewind to the early 2000’s – I was in college, working part-time doing research and data processing for some local real estate appraisers. When Jeff and I got married, I was too sick from an undiagnosed autoimmune disease to continue pursuing a career in Deaf Education, so I continued to work from home processing appraisals. Some months I would only make $20, others I would easily bring in $600. It was nowhere near a full-time income, even though I felt like I was working full-time trying to communicate with clients, research, and process reports. I was paid by the report, and falsely believed that the easy 45-minute reports made up for the reports that would take me half a day.
After almost half a decade of working for the same pay (and I even let myself get talked into a reduced fee in some cases) with the work just getting harder – something needed to change. I needed to either figure out how to get paid what I deserved, or go back to working outside of the home.
At the same time, I was also designing digital scrapbooking supplies – which meant having to learn the ins and outs of marketing online. I absorbed everything I could about social media marketing, and combined with over a decade of web development – I realized I had more marketable skills than just processing real estate appraisals. But what does one do with that?
When big changes rolled out for real estate appraisals at the end of 2013, I started looking for more income options. Digiscrap wasn’t bringing in that much, I just didn’t have the creative inspiration to pump out enough product to compete in a oversaturated market. That’s when I came across that fateful Pinterest pin – all about how to make an income from home. I bought Lisa’s book and kept Jeff up WAY TOO LATE talking about the mind-blowing revelation – I was going to officially become a virtual assistant and put myself out there for work.
How The Bootstrap VA Changed Everything
That fateful pin was the first time I had heard about Virtual Assistants – and Lisa Morosky’s book, The Bootstrap VA. Technically, I had been a VA since late 2006 – I just didn’t know that’s what we were called. I read the book overnight and within the week had three leads to new clients, and now – just two and a half years later – I have two VAs of my own! As long as you have SOME sort of skills that can be done remotely (even just using Word!) you can become a virtual assistant too – and find independence with self-employment.
- I finally knew I was worth more than the little pennies I was bringing in, that the stress I was under from clients and myself wasn’t worth it. If I valued myself more, I would earn more with less stress.
- I immediately joined The Bootstrap VA Facebook group – an exclusive group for owners of the book that is COMPLETELY invaluable. I have learned just as much from the people in that group as I did from the book, and networking in there has connected me to many of my clients!
- I realized I had more skills than just processing real estate appraisals – from years of playing around in web development, graphic design, and online marketing – I could turn my geeky hobbies into marketable skills.
- Setting boundaries with clients was my biggest weakness for years – but Lisa’s book opened my eyes to the fact that the client isn’t always right, and I need to protect my sanity even if it meant losing out on business. Before, I was available anytime for my clients to drop off a last-minute report. That’s not a way to live for anyone – I needed to set hours that worked for me, and not cater to everyone else.
- The perfect client for one VA, is not the perfect client for another VA. If it doesn’t feel like a good fit, you’re better passing up the opportunity for the next one.
With those lessons, my business and life were completely changed.
How We Survived the Layoff
Right after Jeff lost his job, we were kind of in a daze. Had I had any other job, I don’t think I could have survived that emotional turmoil. Things were still up in the air about the status of the company, we didn’t know whether he could be back in a week or months, or if he even wanted to go back.
But bills needed to be paid.
Fortunately, in less than a year my revamped VA business went from pennies a month to replacing Jeff’s income.
A month later, my hard drive crashed and we were able to buy me a new computer – and that was before Jeff found a new job.
If I had continued working the way I was before, we would have emptied our emergency fund and dug ourselves deeper into debt.
I no longer suffer from crippling anxiety, the reduced stress meant I could finally heal from my autoimmune disease, I don’t have self-esteem issues about not contributing more to our income, and I have the freedom to work when I want from where I want!
All because I was finally equipped to run a business from home, practically from scratch. Yes I was a VA before, but I didn’t carry a single client over from the days before my Bootstrap overhaul – I started over with knowledge gained from Lisa’s book. That’s why I’m so passionate about sharing it – even though I’ve looked at lots of other resources out there, Lisa’s is still #1 in my eyes.
How Do You Get Started?
Grab The Bootstrap VA of course! Follow the directions in the book to get added to the secret Facebook group for people who’ve purchased the book. That group helped me find many of my best clients and walked me through so many rough patches!
I know this sounds overly simple – but read the book entirely – including the interviews with other virtual assistants and their clients! Then read it again and take notes. Often times, questions in the Facebook group from brand new members are extensively answered in the book. Lisa includes a 30-Day Reading Guide and Action Plan in the book – you can complete it in 30 days, or tackle it in a week like I did.
If you don’t have time for the action plan – at least brainstorm the skills you have now, no matter how “small” they seem to you – and brainstorm your interests. Great at organizing? You could assist a blogger with their editorial calendar, email inbox, and more! Come from a digiscrap background? You could help businesses optimize their graphics for social media. Were you the one in school who loved proofing your classmates’ papers? Provide editing services!
What Else Helped?
Encouragement from friends and family got me through the rough patches – just because I had Lisa’s book to guide me, doesn’t mean it was smooth sailing. Not every lead pans out, and not every client is the perfect match.
I also refined my niche – these days I don’t identify myself as a virtual assistant, but a social media strategist. I don’t offer the wide variety of administrative tasks I used to, because I discovered I’m passionate and good at social media managing – all those other tasks not-so-much.
I took courses like Pinning Perfect to expand my knowledge and provide the best level of service for my clients. I’m constantly learning, mostly because social media is constantly changing – but also because I can always do better.
One thing I’ve learned the hard way is that working from home isn’t easy – I need to make time for myself and my husband, otherwise I go stir crazy and can’t stay on task when I’m working. I have another post coming on that, but I make sure I get movement in every hour on working days and that I keep almost normal business hours. If I don’t take time off, especially the weekends, I really suffer!
I really believe not everyone is cut out for virtual assistant work or working from home, but it really helped us survive a devastating layoff. We have other avenues of self employment income now, but my freelancing as a social media manager and strategist is still the main one!