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Behind the Scenes of a Virtual Personal Assistant

In this interview Erika Yocom has taken some time out of her busy schedule to give us a glimpse into her daily work, her passion for technology, and why she couldn't imagine a workday without Mailbutler.

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    By Tiffany

    Tiffany studied Language and Economics, and now likes to write about business topics and conduct interviews with interesting people. She spends her free time looking after her plants and with her dog.

    Erika Yocom is a Virtual Personal Assistant (VPA). As a VPA, Erika takes over the backend work for solopreneurs and entrepreneurs so they can fully concentrate on driving their businesses forward. Erika doesn't only take care of the typical assistant tasks, though; she also works as a generalist. This means she's a social strategist, tech trainer, and website developer, on top of the rest of her work. Today she's taken some time out of her busy schedule to give us a glimpse into her daily work, her passion for technology, and why she couldn't imagine a workday without Mailbutler.

    Erika, it’s great to have you here today. Thanks for making the interview possible! Let’s start with our “Fill in the Blank” questions, to get to know you a little bit.

    The best thing about my job is…

    ... the variety. I’m a ‘generalist’ because I like doing a whole bunch of different things for my clients, from creating a website to managing their Inbox, or becoming their COO.

    The most flattering thing a client has ever said to me is…

    ... that I have a way of explaining things that make it easier for them to understand. I love seeing the lightbulb go off over their head, and if I can help with that, I am a happy camper!

    An important characteristic a good VPA should have is…

    ... patience. Sometimes, the best thing I can do is listen and offer to take something off a busy person’s plate. And sometimes that takes a few conversations to find the pain point(s).

    In order to work productively, I need…

    ... clear instruction. I’m a ‘doer’ - if you know what you need done, I will find the best way to accomplish it. The one skill I don’t have is to see inside someone else’s business vision. I need a plan, a map, and I will get them there as quickly, easily, and cheaply as I can ;~).

    I wouldn’t get through the day without…

    ... Mailbutler. I know, that sounds like a suck up, but I really can’t imagine running my business without this valuable tool. I cannot count how many times a day I use the ‘oops, not yet’ pull-back function. Oh, and knowing someone has opened an email has become very important, especially when I’m directly contacting my clients’ clients.

    Thanks a lot for those responses, Erika! Now let’s dive into your day-to-day work. You’re working as a VPA. For those readers who haven’t heard about VPAs, could you explain to us what a VPA is and what you do, please?

    I’m actually the first ‘VPA’ that I know of. It was a name I created over 11 years ago. I wanted to combine ‘virtual assistant’ with ‘personal assistant’, so folks would know that I could do both sides of that position. My clients are solo- or entrepreneurs that have too much work to tackle alone, but not enough to hire a full-time executive assistant.

    On your LinkedIn, I read that you’re supporting business partners “so they can work on their businesses, not in their businesses.” What does that mean?

    I take over the backend work - site updates, invoicing, spreadsheets, email management, and calendar management - so my clients can get back to building their business. They can get back to being creative, or selling, or whatever it was that got them into the business in the first place. 

    Sounds super-efficient, Erika! When talking about your business partners: Who are they and with what kind of problems do they come to you?

    Goodness, that’s a big question. I do pretty much anything my clients need, with the exception of bookkeeping or cold calls. I do everything from booking travel to finding the best Christmas presents, from building a new procedure to reaching out to their clients to book appointments. Again, I like variety.

    As you already mentioned, you’re not just involved in the “regular assistant tasks” for your clients, but you’re also a social strategist, tech trainer, and experienced website developer. Does a good VPA need expertise in all those fields nowadays?

    A generalist like me does. There are niche VAs that work within specific areas, e.g. a real estate VA. I love technology, so I love adding to my quiver of skills. I’m not afraid of tech, so my clients know I won’t shy from a challenge.

    How come you love solving tech riddles? What is it that fascinates you about technology? And does every VPA need to be a tech-enthusiast?

    I have been a tech-head since 1986 when I got my first taste of the internet on a chat board. I became absolutely enthralled to know I could reach out across the world and find others out there to mentor me, commiserate with, or encourage me forward. Being virtual, yes, tech is necessary. To what extent depends on what kind of client you’re trying to serve.

    A quote from you that I took from your website is “I want my clients to feel free to send over any project, any issue, any item they need help with and know I will do my very best to get it taken care of.” What would you say was the most unusual task you’ve ever been asked to carry out?

    Finding a doggie DNA kit was fun. Turns out, they’re all over Amazon, but I had never even thought about needing one until a client wanted to use her puppies' questionable parentage to run a ‘betting pool’ with her clients. Oh, and booking a multi-country European trip, using mostly public transportation, was a lot of interesting work.

    Wow, I bet that was not an easy task! As already discussed, you’re working with plenty of programs and software. We’re proud to say that you’re also a long-term Mailbutler user. How does Mailbutler support you in your work as a VPA?

    As I said above, I cannot imagine not having these tools in my business. I’ve become very accustomed to knowing when folks open an email, and having an awesome email signature, and snoozing email (that one is HUGE for me!). Currently, I manage 10 different inboxes. I’ve been as high as 18. So having a trusted email tool has been incredibly important to me!

    We are very happy to hear that, Erika! Would you recommend Mailbutler to your clients to help them work more productively?

    I tell everyone about Mailbutler! I’m an affiliate, too. And, as you’ve been to my site, you know I don’t have a lot of those. I have to really believe in a product to promote it to my clients!

    Last question, Erika: If you had three wishes for 2021, what would they be?

    Calm, health, and growth - in our personal as well as business lives.

    Thanks a lot for your time Erika. All the best to you!


    Don’t forget to read our interview with EA How To founder Alicia Fairclough. Check it out now.

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