virtual assistant

Episode 181: Create Work Life Balance by Delegating with Holly Smith

Create work life balance by delegating with Holly Smith - a photo of Holly working on a laptop on her bed

As creatives, it can be really hard to let go of part of our work. Today, Holly Smith, a virtual assistant, is sharing her advice for where to let go so you can get your life back or focus on the work you really want to do.

Holly is the founder of The Genie VA, a small team of virtual assistants offering extensive administrative support to small wedding & elopement photographers across the US. She is a wedding & events coordinator turned virtual assistant, and now aims to help as many photographers as she can with behind-the-scenes, time-consuming tasks that will help them focus on their passion, spend less time in front of their computer, and allow them to grow their business.

Learn more about Holly:


Introduction 0:01
Welcome to the photo Field Notes podcast, where you’ll find stories, tips and inspiration from professional photographers to get you taking action in your own business and making your business dreams a reality.

Allie 0:14
Hello, everybody, this is Allie Siarto And my guest today is Holly Smith. And she’s the founder of GBA, which is a small team of virtual assistants and they offer extensive administrative support to small wedding and elopement photographers all across the US, which is interesting, because you’re not in the US, we’ll have to tell me how you fell into that. She is also a wedding and Events Coordinator turned virtual assistant and now aims to help as many photographers as she can with behind the scenes, time consuming tasks that will help them focus on their passion so that they can spend less time in front of their computer and allow them to spend that time growing their businesses. All right, Holly, I want to hear this like give me the lowdown on on how you ended up being a virtual assistant, especially for like, specifically these small wedding and elopement photographers in the US.

Holly 1:04
Yeah, definitely. So really, I, I started as a wedding and events coordinator in England. So I’m based in Manchester in the UK, recently moved here, actually. So it wasn’t a very small town, doing weddings at a venue. And basically, I worked with several different vendors. And I always admired photographers, because I saw the work that they produced and the pictures and I just thought if I was ever to get married, that that was what I wanted from my day to look back on those pictures, and photos, admired photographers a lot. And the only bad thing about my job was that I was tied to one place, I was tied to one company that I could only kind of help that particular area. That isn’t what I wanted. I wanted to be able to work with more people, I wanted to help as many people as I could and just spread my wings a little bit. And that’s how I got into this resistance. So when the pandemic hit, I found ways to work online, I took lots of courses, and learn how to become a VA. I started generally offering to wedding professionals. And then I started working with a small wedding and elopement photographer in California. And she just absolutely blew me away with her work. And I saw the need for virtual assistants in the photography market. And I just completely switched up and thought these are the people I want to work with. And I ended up working with us people because I in the UK, it’s not as common virtual assistants and independent contractors aren’t as common. So it naturally just kind of went went that way.

Allie 2:57
Interesting. Okay, start by telling me when you started working with this first photographer, this small wedding and elopement photographer, what did this photographer have you doing when you first got started?

Holly 3:09
Yeah, sure. So to start with, we we had a lot of communication. So always with, with new clients, we have a lot of communication and onboarding and video, little mini video tutorials so that I could see exactly how she likes things done, you know, she would record over it, speaking over it to explain why she does things, I started learning more and more about her business, I would draft out email responses for her, I’d work on her CRM platform. So a lot of her workflow tasks were automated. But you’d have to kind of go in and approve the automation before it actually happened. So I would go in and check everything was okay, personalize a bit of the automated emails, and then send off and basically check that off for her. I would transfer information from questionnaires onto Google documents. So on the day of, you know, wedding, she would have a Google Doc with all of all of the information for her to refer to and I transferred all of the questionnaire information onto this Google Doc for her. I gotta

Allie 4:20
say that, that is one of those tasks that I’m always like, Oh, I have to do this. I have to take the questionnaire and put it into my final format on there. Okay, a lot of directions to go in from there. And one is you talked about, you’re going into the system, and you’re kind of I wanted to ask you about the balance between we have a lot of automation opportunities as photographers, but obviously, we can’t automate everything. And so I’d love you to talk about that balance. But I’d also love to know as you’re talking about sending emails, are you sending them as Polly or are you sending them as that person or is it that person you’re working for? Or is it a mix? depending on who you’re working with,

Holly 5:02
it’s definitely a mix with fun working with, I try to some people I’m very. So there’s one client in particular, we have a very similar way of talking. And when I first reached out to her, she actually said that was one of the first thing she noticed that my email demeanor was exactly the same as her. So for her, I draft out, you know, in response as her, I don’t send them so she can go in and fill in any bits of information that she needs to. And other clients, I sign off as me. So she did a newsletter to let her know that she started working with an assistant to help her to increase the speed of responses, you know, because people email with like, frequently asked questions that you don’t need to respond to, every single time. And if they’re frequently asked, then you can easily give them to an assistant to respond to. So yeah, we sent out an email newsletter to introduce me and tell people a bit about me. And now people have kind of built a relationship with me as well. And it’s really nice, actually. Yeah.

Allie 6:17
Okay, nice. And so I like that you’re drafting it and helping, but then she can still check it and make sure it’s still you know, is the final like, it sounds like her in that case. And then tell me a little bit about when you are so having never worked with a virtual assistant before. When you are doing these emails responding to people. And I know, this was probably a mix and you have your own email. Do you have your own email? That would be like Holly at whatever photographer name?

Holly 6:47
I haven’t actually had anyone that wanted to do that. Yes. I just signed off as my name at the end. Some people I know will want to do that. And other clients. I’ve got the art photographers have set that up for me, and have it Holly at, you know their company name. So it really it all depends on the client, I would say.

Allie 7:11
Okay, so for some are you actually going into their email and, and using their email? How do people feel about that? Because email feels like our, to me, it feels like this, like private, it’s like letting someone into your underwear drawer. Maybe for me, just because I have so many emails. And it’s embarrassing how messy my email is. I’m like, oh, you know, don’t look at I haven’t folded my clothes, you know, I haven’t cleaned up my room. It’s so messy. So how to talk to me about that, like how people feel about that, and what that looks like from your ends.

Holly 7:46
Obviously, no one’s ever said anything to me about being nervous, inviting me into their emails, I think a lot of it is actually the relationship you have with your VA. So like a conversation that we have to start with and kind of building that trust from the get go. Some people just aren’t quite willing to have you go in there and trust you understand that it’s your job and that you’re used to it. And honestly, I love a messy inbox. I love to find a way to get it back under control. A lot of people are subscribed to things that they don’t need to be subscribed to anymore. I never unsubscribe from things without asking. But sometimes when I do ask that I’m like, oh my god, I can’t even remember when I signed up to that. And it’s just a case of getting back the balance of emails that need to be in the inbox and emails that really don’t. And honestly, if if anyone was nervous about allowing someone into your inbox, I definitely recommend setting up a, you know, additional Google account and changing, you know, send inquiries to this email address or, you know, forward things on that you want us to have attention on. But that does increase the workload for you. Because obviously, you’re then having to read all of them and forward them. And so I think it just depends on each person. Well,

Allie 9:15
you make a good point that if it’s embarrassing, because it’s messy, then that’s the whole point, right? That you’re going to go in there and make it more manageable. So that’s actually a really good, that’s a really good point. Let’s talk about the financial commitment, because I find in my case, like I do delegate with like some outsourcing on editing, when I need to, and in general, you know, and I’m really all about automation, but for some reason, I tend to be really cheap and like frugal with things like this, even though I know that they would be helpful to me. So what do you say to people like that who are afraid of the financial commitment to something like delegating Whatever it is that they need to delegate in their business.

Holly 10:04
Yeah, well, firstly is very normal. I’m the exact same, it took me a very long time to outsource. So for example, I struggle a lot with my social media, it’s not something that comes naturally to me. And it took me so long to outsource it. But again, because I was worried about the financial commitment, and I thought I can do this myself, God stop being so lazy, like, just do it. And actually, it wasn’t about me being lazy. It was the minute I started doing it. It made me miserable. Actually, my time was wasted. I spent like 45 minutes creating an Instagram graphic for one post. This is This is madness. What am I doing. And I that’s that was the snapping point for me that made me outsource. Because it was that realization that just because I can do it myself. I hated it. It wasn’t the best use of my time. And it can actually make you more money by working with the VA, because you then have more time to work on other things that are going to generate you more money. So you could take on more clients, for example, because you’ve got more time you’ve got someone responding to inquiries quicker. So you know how brides are, they want answers immediately. And if you’re taking two to three business days to respond to an inquiry, they’ve probably booked someone else. So working with a VA and having someone in your inbox and managing it can actually help you book more clients, and then get a good return on investment. As well as having peace of mind and more time with your family. And generally just feeling more kind of in control of your business and not having to do things you hate as well.

Allie 11:55
You worked on a retainer where you just are paid a certain amount every single month.

Holly 12:00
Yes, yeah. Okay, so that the thing with that is, every VA is different here. So just to state that we work on kind of a 30 day notice period, so you pay on a retainer that’s upfront, so you pay for the month in advance. And then we ask for 30 days notice if you want to terminate the agreement. So it’s not like a six months commitment. Some people do ask for three months signing fee. Others do month by month. So if you want to test the waters as a way of doing that, but I would always say to just be completely honest on a call and say, Look, I am nervous about this. I’m not sure how this is going to work. And just be upfront about it. That’s always just advisory, I would say.

Allie 12:49
Okay, that’s good. Yeah, to be able to, to have a predictable amount, basically for each month. All right. So when it comes to, let’s say, getting started, I guess we kind of talked about like, email might be a really good place to get started. Do you feel like that’s it? Like have someone dip into email? And that’s is that do you feel like that’s the biggest pain point that most people have that you work with?

Holly 13:15
I think other than editing? Yeah.

Allie 13:17
Yeah, that’s true.

Holly 13:19
A lot of people Yeah, talking about editing. But I know that that’s part of the, you know, the art that so I kind of I’ve always been interested in it, but I definitely think it’s quite personal to the photographer. But yes, email seems to be the second biggest pain point. But it’s also something that might make people nervous, and might be the biggest thing that might be Oh, I don’t, I’m not really sure I want someone responding to my emails. So there are other things that you can outsource. So one of the things we offer is blogging, and, you know, website updates, and following up with clients to get testimonials to add to your website, at your social media platforms, because there’s all these other things as well, you know, marketing and SEO for your website trying to draw more people in. So I think blogging is a lot less nerve wracking to outsource because it doesn’t get published, nothing gets sent, nothing gets published until you’ve kind of looked at it. But again, you can say the same for emails, nothing will get sent without your permission and without you looking at it. So I think it really is just individual preference there.

Allie 14:35
Thanks. Okay. Yeah, so those are some some good ideas. I have this whole list that I just made of all the blog posts. I want to write that I haven’t, you know, sessions that I haven’t blogged and then pinned in like months and months because my plate was full. So that makes a lot of sense. If we’re interested in something like this, what do you think like, what kinds of questions should we be asking to make sure that we are finding the right fit for us when we’re looking like where do we even start for finding the right person to do this for us? Yeah, definitely.

Holly 15:09
So that’s a really good question. Because I think it’s important, very important. I’ve been to my clients for a year. And you know, we’ve got a great relationship. And ideally, you want to start with someone who’s going to be there for the long run, who you kind of have a lot of communication within that first month, get to know each other, get to know each other’s business, and it just is smooth sailing from there. So things to check, I would always say is, are they completing the tasks that you’ve asked them to do to the standard, the same standard that you’re expecting? Are they using their initiative? Are they maybe going the extra mile? You know, just being a being your personal cheerleader, which we always like to be? And are they responsive as well, you definitely don’t want to be working with someone who’s not getting back to you in a timely manner and that you don’t trust. That’s a big one. Because it’s your business. And if suddenly they start ghosting you for a couple of days, it’s it’s just not really the one I think communication is key. And I think it’s always very important to have a call beforehand, before signing anything, before talking to anyone further, always jump on a call and meet them and chat to them. Just see what kind of person they are really. And I think as well, it does depend on the relationship you want to have. Because some people want a strictly professional relationship where they just hand over tasks, please do this. Yes. Done. Okay. Thanks. Others. One, a friendship one. You know, a team member, he’s kind of just with them. So it does it all depends on the type.

Allie 16:57
And the ramp up period, do you find that most people will like get started when things are a little bit slower? And then they can take the time? Because you talked about like the video that one person made for you to train you on on specific things? Do most people do that? Where they’ll ramp you up for like a month in a slower time? Or I’m thinking like reality? Is it when they’re already getting crushed? And they’re like, help me just coming in?

Holly 17:23
I would say both, I’ve had both. The first way you mentioned that, I think is definitely the way to go. It doesn’t seem like the sensible way to go. Because you think oh, surely I would hire someone when I’m really busy. But actually, I think especially with button season, that’s kind of predictable. You can see when your bookings are you can see when you’re going to be much more pressed for time, it’s a much better idea to onboard someone, when you’ve got the time to really talk to them. And create those little mini training videos, you know, I had a Google drive full of two to three minute videos of tasks. And the good thing about those is, the client can do them whenever they have the time and pre record them. And the VA can watch them as many times over. So it minimizes the risk of repeat questions, minimizes the risk of mistakes, and just makes it easier for everyone. And means that also, you you get into a groove much quicker, I always find that the first month is ironing out creases, because you’ve just met this person, they’re getting used to your business. And that’s natural, it’s normal with any job if you hired an employee would be the exact same. But after that, it just becomes seamless. And that’s how you want it to be.

Allie 18:55
Yeah, I think that is good advice to get started with any kind of outsourcing when things are less crazy. So that you have time to ramp up because I think that I’ve talked to my sister also runs a business and we’ve talked about you get into us a place where you almost you just feel too busy to hire someone because there is that onboarding that training process. And if you’re so busy, you don’t even have time to do that. Then it’s just even more overwhelmed trying to balance everything. So I think it’s it’s harder to think, okay, like I live in Michigan, the US and I have a definite slower time of the year, like half the year slower half the year is crazy. And so it would be harder for me to be like yeah, now’s the time when I’m just you know, sitting around with plenty of time to figure everything out for myself, but I think it does make sense. So I I appreciate all your tips. Where can people find out more about you and your business?

Holly 19:52
Yeah, so I’ve got my main website, which is the genie And then the same as the exact same tag on Instagram and Facebook as well. I hang out a lot on Instagram. So that’s probably where, where you can find me and my email address as well. It’s just hello at the genie.

Allie 20:14
Very good. Okay, so check out the show notes for those links so that you can get more information. And Holly, thank you for sharing just all of your great advice here today.

Holly 20:23
Thanks for having me.

Outro 20:25
Thanks for listening. check out show notes at photo field And if you loved this episode, leave us a review on iTunes. See you next week.

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