Several months ago, I had the pleasure of meeting (virtually) and interviewing Brittanie Elms of My Design Assistant. Brittanie is a total #girlboss and mom-preneur living in a rural area just like me. It's so cool to see how, in the age of virtual business, we can live anywhere (including the middle of nowhere, if you're like me) and still create a successful business.
Without further ado, here's my interview with Brittanie:
Please introduce yourself. Who are you as a person, where are you from, and what are a few of your favorite non-business things?
Brittanie: I am from a very small town in Central Oregon and absolutely love it. I am married to a wonderfully patient man; we have a one year old, two dogs and a cat. We live in a beautiful area, so we really try to be outside as much as possible, whether it be on the trails or on the lake.
I come from a horse family, so I love to go to my Dad’s house not too far away and ride horses. When I am stuck inside, I am thinking of a new home project or rearranging something.
What is the passion that drives you in this business, what is your WHY?
Brittanie: I love learning new things, meeting new people and feeling productive. My Design Assistant helps me to do all of that. I work with incredible designers that make me think outside the box.
I love having shorter tasks that I can complete and hand over to someone, which keeps me motivated. Most of all, I love working in interior design and having the opportunity to be at home more. It is really important to me that I do something I love ( especially when it takes me away from my family) and that I can have a flexible schedule.
How did you end up in this field? How long have you been doing this?
Brittanie: Totally by accident! I had been working in social services as a case manager for individuals with developmental disabilities for almost three years and had just gone on maternity leave. I had been warned that since legislation was changing, the atmosphere I was working in would likely look very different when I returned.
I was completing the last class I needed for my B.S. in Psychology, which happened to be a career exploration class. The students had been assigned to meet with someone who matched the field in which they had tested. I had done three to four different tests that had some form of creativity at the top of the list, and several times interior design was a top contender.
I was lucky to find a designer who had a style I really liked, and they agreed to talk to me. After submitting some examples of my work, she offered to bring me on as an assistant.
What is the process of signing up for your services? What can interior designers expect? Give us a play-by-play.
Brittanie: Typically designers reach me through my website. I send the service agreement, which outlines the services, payment due dates, and the programs I use (so designers can see if we use compatible programs and better develop questions they might have).
We then schedule a phone call to get to know each other better. Once I have received the signed agreement and payment, we are able to get to work. I always ask my clients to give me a minimum of a 24 hour notice for each task and deadline.
What is the benefit to hiring you vs. a traditional or onsite assistant?
Brittanie: The interior design work can fluctuate a lot, which can make it hard for a designer to predict when they are going to busy. That fluctuation makes hiring a full-time person challenging and really intimidating, especially for a smaller firm.
Sometimes there may be a ton of work for the assistant to do, and other times there is nothing. Most of the designers I have met can easily find 15 hours a month to fill an assistant's time, but may find it more challenging to find 20, 30 or 40 hours a week.
Fortunately for them, I am already trained, have my own equipment, and because I am an independent contractor, I don't bring with me the normal fees associated with hiring an employee. The largest benefit is that most of the work I do for designers can be billed back to the client, so a designer's projects actually help cover their investment in me.
What unique struggles do you have as a virtual assistant?
Brittanie: I have designers in different time zones which definitely can be a challenge. They might be well into their day by the time I look at their task email. I tend to prioritize the work of these clients because if I am needing to contact vendors or ask questions, I need to make sure they are all still in the office.
Also, not every designer is familiar with the programs I use, like Home Designer Pro, but I can’t possibly purchase or train myself in every program out there. I bought Home Designer Pro because it allows me to save files in a way that allows them to be edited in different programs.
Lastly, as a virtual assistant I feel it is really important to check in with people often and request feedback, especially in the beginning. They can’t just turn to you and tell what they would like done differently.
What is your advice for designers looking for the right assistants?
Brittanie: Look for someone who is a self-starter--because they’ll ask questions and get things done. I have landed a couple jobs with insufficient education compared to other interviewees, but I am motivated and moldable, which makes me an attractive hire.
Experience is great, but it can also be its own challenge because that person may have their own way of doing things that doesn’t work with your process (and sometimes it’s really difficult to change a habit). Follow your gut and dissect the answers of the people you are interviewing. If the person looks good on paper, but your gut isn’t feeling it, move on. It costs time and money to hire a new person; you owe it to yourself to be picky.