Working Without An Office: From Personal Assistant to Online Business

by | Making Money

Many people living off the grid, homesteading or trying to live a simpler life in one way or another, also try to work from home. When you look the possibilities up on the internet, you often get the ice cream-and-sunshine kind of stories; people making absurd amounts of money with their dream online business.

Let me tell you up straight – for a long time, that wasn’t my story.

I loved my job and we were able to survive (we also had the income from the bed & breakfast added to it), but it wasn’t always perfect (and still isn’t!).

You can read all about how I started and what happened when we first moved to Spain in the first part of this article (from 2014): Why working online is fabulous when you live off the grid.

However, just a few months later, it all started to go downwards.

Why being a “Remote Personal Assistant” Didn’t Work Out

When we moved from the Netherlands to Spain, several things happened at the same time for me.

First of all, I lost the network I took such great care of building up.

I was no longer in Amsterdam or Antwerp, talking to people, being seen and staying “top of mind”; people would no longer think of me when they needed a job done – they would think of the person they last saw.

Even existing clients would sometimes rather go for somebody who was close by – even if the job would be done from behind a computer anyway, and I was at least twice as efficient as the other person… That other person happened to be at the right time, right place.

I was more than willing to travel North for a few days or weeks while working on a project… but that didn’t matter, people preferred somebody who lived there.

The assignments I would still get were not the kind of jobs that made me happy; no more planning travels to exotic places, no more arranging speaking schedules and planning parties, no more pitches to television studios or promoting events on social media… All I was left with, were translations and administrative trivialities. A signature here, sending out invoices there; nothing that makes my heart beat faster – or that even justified my hourly rate.

I started to get a bit frustrated – the job was no fun, the money barely enough to live off, the relationship with the people I worked with was nothing like the people I worked with before, and the intellectual challenge I was used to getting from my work was down to zero. So I decided changes needed to be made.

I needed to reinvent myself – and redesign my online business.

And it all started with this blog.

How I Discovered Blogging & Virtual Assistants

I always loved to write. As a child, I wrote the most amazing stories; as a teenager, I would have long written exchanges with my friends; as a student, my papers were my pride and joy; when I became a PA, I blogged about it in Dutch; and when we moved to Spain, I started writing in English. The response was overwhelming, so one day, I decided to start writing about more than just what we did that day/week / month – I would start a “real” blog. The website you’re on now.

I love to write about what we do, concepts of simple living and community, recipes and how-to’s, chickens and alpacas, and whatnot. But there’s so much more to blogging than just writing; there’s managing a newsletter and social media, using the right images and marketing strategies, finding an engaged audience, and so much more. So much more FUN to be had.

On that journey, I learned that most bloggers actually use a virtual assistant to do all the groundwork; from sourcing or creating images to go with every post, to scheduling social media and sending out newsletters or doing SEO research. Owners of mid-sized blogs do little else than write their blog posts – and the real big bloggers don’t even do their own writing; they’ve got a team of writers or hire a content marketing agency for that.

A little lightbulb went off inside my head… I love doing that groundwork! And after taking course after course, listening to webinar after podcast, devouring e-books and articles, I was getting quite good at it. And thus started the mutation…

I no longer considered myself a personal assistant – I was now a virtual assistant specialising in social media marketing.

And I loved the sound of that.

Being a Social Media Manager (or a Social Media VA)

I started small in 2017 and started having fun again. I helped people, so they would have more time for their core business – or more free time. Running my own blog at the same time, I was learning by trial and error on the one hand – and taking online courses to learn ALL the things, and reading anything I could lay my hands on on the other hand.

At first, my hourly rate dropped by half; I didn’t want to ask for full pay as I was learning while I was doing it. I knew I was great at being a personal assistant organizing my clients’ lives (which justified a good hourly rate), but as a social media manager/strategist I just wanted to gain more experience first.

However, I finally felt useful and appreciated again. I still got to work from home (really, there’s nothing better than working from home), but I got to do a job that’s intellectually challenging, extremely rewarding (when done right) and basically just a lot of fun.

Online Business is Not for Everyone

Being a remote freelancer or owning an online business of any kind is certainly not for everybody, as it means spending a lot of time behind a computer, having a decent amount of discipline, being a sound planner and able to work towards a deadline.

Not to mention the communication with the client; that can be the tricky bit, as you need to “get” them, understand where they’re coming from and what their goal is, and in the end just do what’s needed to get them there. My experience as a personal assistant was a huge help – I had learned to listen well, ask the right questions and always check with the client when in doubt.

For a long time though, I was as happy as can be helping people make their blog or online platform the best it can be.

  • Needs a link to #3 – how I went from social media manager to owning an online marketing company with a team of 12 people
  • Needs a link to resources for people who want to know more about starting an online business
  • Needs a link to the Farmish Collective

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Hi, I'm Sandrine!

I live off-grid on an olive and almond farm in Spain, with alpacas and chickens and dogs and all the things. We've got solar panels and water from a borehole, we aim to grow our own food and be more self-sufficient, and we also try to make more time for what's really important in life... Come and join the sunny simple living movement!

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