Have you ever considered getting started as a project management virtual assistant? Hailey Thomas is here to take us through her experiences as a PMVA.
Hailey was looking for an exciting business idea that wouldn’t take time away from being with her young son. After her first venture into business floundered, she came across Horkey Handbook’s, 30 Days or Less to Virtual Assistant Success and took the plunge. It wasn’t long before she filled her client roster and found her niche in Project Management.
She took some time out of her busy schedule to talk about getting started as a project management virtual assistant. In this interview, she offers valuable insight into what skills and characteristics will help you succeed as a PMVA, what kind of income and perks you might be able to earn, and how to ask your clients the right questions about their goals!
If you'd like to learn more about getting started as a project management virtual assistant, read Hailey's Virtual Project Manager case study.
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Hi, Hailey! Can you tell us how you got into virtual assisting and project management?
In 2015 I was four years into a corporate job with a management & technology consulting firm. While I loved the company and my co-workers, I really hated having to be at my desk for 8 hrs a day, the 40-minute commute, and not getting very much face time with my new baby.
In December of that year, I left my job to start a business in the youth sports space. And it flopped! I’m not too ashamed to say that I really struggled with putting myself out there at first.
In 2017 I started another business (my virtual assistant business) with the hopes of starting over with something I could do from home to be with my then-18-month-old.
I started with general administrative offerings because I didn’t know what people actually needed at the time.
I decided to niche down into skills that transferred from my 9 to 5: project management, human resource support, and inbox/document management. Eventually, I niched down to JUST offering project management services, as this was the part of my work that got me most excited and was most profitable.
Can you talk about the advantages of specializing in project management as a VA (AKA becoming a PMVA)?
As a PMVA, your clients will look to you to make planning and resource decisions on their behalf (or in conjunction with them). The expectation is that you will be guiding and driving the effort, doing or delegating tasks as necessary.
The expectation for a general VA is that they are working from a list of to-dos already outlined. So with all that said, I think there are major advantages for both sides (the client and the VA).
When you are proficient at creating a framework for clients to achieve their projects in, it helps them feel more confident in their business and see more success. Being able to offer them that confidence and a more successful business is a huge draw for a client who really envisions that for themselves.
For the virtual assistant, niching down allows you to position yourself as an expert, take on larger, more complex projects (which grows your capacity and skill set), and charge more for your expertise.
There’s also just a HUGE need for it. Businesses of all shapes and sizes need project management in lots of different forms!
What are the most important skills for being a good project manager?
I think there are a few different things that a PMVA must have to be successful:
- Good under stress – with deadlines, project complexity, and lots of unknowns, it's indispensable for a project manager to be cool and focus on getting the right things done.
- Prioritization – projects are multi-faceted! Requirements and deadlines change all the time. The best PMVAs can identify a shift in priorities and then change the top tasks around to fit.
- Think well on your feet – this piggy-backs off of prioritization. A successful PMVA can think critically about how new information affects the project plan and be decisive on the fly.
- Strong communicator – when working remotely, it's critical that you share and receive ideas clearly the first time. It's also the PMVA’s job to facilitate that communication between others, so this skill is needed.
- Disciplined with your time/attention. Distractions are everywhere for both you – the PMVA – and for your project. You must be able to say ‘no' and stick to it.
Are there any particular tools that help when getting started as a project management virtual assistant?
I like to be tool-agnostic, meaning I’m not tied to any particular software to get the job done. I think that’s important when you have a variety of clients. They will all have different needs and will already have different tools in place, so it’s good to be flexible. That said, here are a few types of tools that a PMVA would need to be proficient with:
- File sharing/collaboration tools (like Dropbox, Google Drive, LastPass, 1Password, Email, Slack)
- Project management tools (like Asana, Trello, MS Project, Basecamp, Teamwork)
- Automation tools (such as Zapier or Boomerang)
This list might look intimidating but don’t worry! You don’t have to rush out and learn all of these tools at once! We recommend choosing 1-2 from each category to be proficient in to start. You’ll learn others as you run into clients using them.
Would you need to offer other services in addition to project management, or could you potentially make a full-time income from this one service?
You most certainly could make a full-time living being a project management virtual assistant. You don’t need to offer other services if you don’t want to do so. In Q2 of 2018 (when I was only offering project management services) I averaged $4785 a month with that single service. That might be more or less “full-time income” for different people. But to be fair, I only work about 25 hours (3 days) a week.
What about for busy stay-at-home moms? Is getting started as a project management virtual assistant a viable choice if you only have a few hours a week?
I think it’s a great place to start for moms that are good at scheduling and managing a household. If you can do that – you totally have the chops to be a successful project manager! 🙂
I really dug into project management because I didn’t have to available ALL of the time for my clients. I can often sync up asynchronously with my team, meaning I could adjust my schedule to make it work best for me and my family.
I’d say it’s best to have at least 8-10 hours a week to devote to your business if you’d like to start with project management. I suggest starting with one client and seeing how it affects your family and schedule, then go from there!
Since the kinds of projects small businesses need to have managed for them are very wide-ranging, do you recommend that PMVAs “niche down” or specialize in one type of project?
I think it would be helpful, but honestly, the most important thing in the beginning is just to start! I started off targeting tech companies (since my previous employment was in that area) but eventually transitioned into working with smaller online businesses. Both were profitable for me!
The key is to start wherever you can get some early wins and continue to grow from there. That helps you build up confidence in your skills and be better at finding new clients. A niche will come from doing the work and seeing what fits and what doesn’t. It’s really challenging to choose a niche up front (before having any clients in that area) because it’s not something you’ve had success in yet.
What is the best thing about being a PMVA?
I’ve got a two-part answer! First, it’s been the learning part. I LOVE that I’ve seen into dozens of different businesses at this point. I’ve learned so much of what works (and what doesn’t) from my clients and the work we’ve done together. Because clients trust you with the strategy, you get to see so much of the inner workings – it’s like a crash-course MBA!
Secondly, I love strategy and planning work. And the fact that I get to spend most of my work time doing that is such a huge blessing to me. It fuels me to continue to grow in my career and expertise. I really see myself doing some variation of this kind of work for the long haul.
Who is project management NOT for?
I think people who struggle with structure, clear communication and follow through are going to have a really hard time being a PMVA. That’s the whole point of this role on a team! If you don’t have a track record of those characteristics in your personal life, then you might want to look elsewhere for a career.
Can those who have never led a team before still be great at project management?
Maybe. The thing is, even if you haven’t led a team professionally, you probably have had some experience doing it in other facets of your life. If you’re a parent, a leader at a non-profit or at your kids’ school or in your neighborhood, you’ve got some experience with the skills and characteristics I outlined above.
Even if you don’t have those experiences, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re not capable. Begin looking for opportunities to stretch yourself in those areas. Once you get going, you’ll be surprised at how often those chances come up!
Do you have any advice for someone who’s interested in getting started as a project management virtual assistant?
Project management has the reputation of being an intense field. There are multi-day trainings you can attend and loads of different certifications you can have. Some people study for years to get roles where they manage multi-million dollar projects. Some are specialized in solving financial, organizational, or technical problems.
The rabbit hole goes deep in ‘project management land.' It can be intimidating and confusing.
Even so, I truly believe that a PMVA has a solid place in the project management world. We fill a need that many of these other programs and project managers don't – serving entrepreneurs and small businesses. We are no better or worse than the other guys, just different in what we bring to the table. Each of us is the ‘right' solution to various clients.
Regardless of what you call yourself (a virtual project manager, a project coordinator, a virtual assistant with project management skills, etc.), you are solving a serious need. Never forget that!