Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hey there! Mary Marsh here, Founder and CEO of Aim2Assist. We’re a virtual assistant services company, launched in 2014 and 100% bootstrapped. My lifelong dream was to create a company at which folks could work from home - or from anywhere - providing them with the flexibility they need or simply desire. Equally important, I wanted to offer clients superb service, one which stands out from all the rest.
We offer premium services, primarily to C-level executives. Our virtual executive assistants are the best of the best; USA-based and college-educated with varied, highly specialized skill sets. Aim2Assist strives to do Virtual Assistance differently than other Virtual Assistant companies out there. Our Virtual Assistants are the most important part of this company and we make sure they know it. We compensate our Virtual Assistants fairly because we know that people who truly feel like part of a team do great work.
Aim2Assist has grown more than 75% since its inception. Our monthly revenue is currently 66K, with an Executive Team consisting of CEO & Founder, CFO, and CoS. Our virtual executive assistants currently total 15 and are independent contractors.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
Aim2Assist is my second company; IDDS (Industrial Design and Drafting Services) was my first, established in 1996, as a sole proprietorship. My background is in c-level executive support and as well, structural and mechanical design engineering. As a single mom of 2 children, one of which was a bit challenging, it became necessary to be at home as much as possible. I started IDDS and contracted design work from an engineering firm near my home for 20 years through 2016.
Starting a business from scratch and on your dime is hard. Every obstacle you overcome is not only a win but also a growing and learning experience.
During the economic crisis of 2009, my engineering work was cut in half. Times were very hard and to pay the bills, I needed a second job. I applied to a virtual assistant services company (now one of my competitors) and worked with them part-time for nearly 2 years. I loved their business model, initially, and it provided the extra income I needed until the company went in a different direction - one which no longer worked for me or my situation. That’s when the “aha” moment came - I can do this myself!
I began the planning stages of Aim2Assist six months before launch. I was 56 years old and seriously wondered if I was “biting off more than I could chew”. At that time, I had no idea what I was getting myself into but something deep inside me (God) told me I could do this and I would succeed. I committed and never gave up.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
I had a good base to start with - the basics of the business model from the “competitor” I once worked with - with some tweaks to make it mine and make it better. I spent several weeks researching my competition, i.e., what services were they offering and what were they charging for those services; what did their service plans look like?
A great deal of thought was involved and many decisions had to be made before our service offerings could be defined, such as:
- Employees vs contractors
- Pay rates
- Experience/education requirements
Once these decisions were made, then the focus shifted to service offerings:
- Hourly vs monthly plans & rates
- Specialty services
After a few months of planning & due diligence, we began with:
- Independent subcontractors
- Pay rate of 50% - 75% of client rate per month
- Reciprocal paid time off
- C-level Executive Assistant experience with college degree
- Hourly and monthly subscriptions
- Specialty services
- 20% discounts for the first 30 days of service
- Client and subcontractor agreements
Describe the process of launching the business.
Aim2Assist launched on December 19, 2014, after a 2-week delay; the website wasn’t ready. A friend and past co-worker offered their partner to create the website at no charge as long as they could include it in their portfolio. Sadly, the site didn’t fit with my vision. We launched, regardless, and I spent the next 3-4 weeks, 18-20 hours per day, designing and building the site myself.
Being limited on funds and bootstrapping the business, advertising was done on social media using Hootsuite. I used as many free services as I could, supported my seven clients as their executive assistant, continued working as a design engineer for the next two years, and operated, while slowly building, Aim2Assist single-handedly for the first four years.
Initially, costs were very low. I worked out of my home office, and as previously mentioned, utilized free services such as Hootsuite, Google Voice, Hip Chat (now Slack), Skype, Zoom and others. My only costs were GSuite, 3 domain names & web hosting. Advertising on social media (Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn) was also free although all new business came from referrals.
We’ve learned that concentrating our efforts on current client happiness produces the best sales in referrals as well as repeat clients.
Lessons learned - six months wasn’t near long enough to plan a new company. If I could do it over, I’d give myself at least one year. As well and in hindsight, it would have made more sense for me to build our website myself. Many times it’s much more difficult for others to see your vision through your eyes unless they’re experienced in this regard or share your vision.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
The majority of our business is based on referrals from current and past clients which, as we’ve discovered, are typically the best. When clients are happy with their service, recommendations to new potential clients are golden. They’re the easiest to sign up because they already know what to expect - a premium service. When 95% of your business comes from referrals, you know you’re doing a good job!
We have an advertising budget of $3600+ per month currently although we started with less than $500 per month after one year in business. Interestingly, our digital creative director was my very first client before Aim2Assist’s inception. Ads are posted on three social media platforms (Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn) daily. We see the most engagements from video ads with pets or beach scenes!
A newsletter, utilizing Mailchimp, goes out to our mailing list (requested on our site) twice per week. These newsletters have produced a few new clients recently and our mailing list grows on average of 25% per month.
We offer an ongoing discount to new clients of 20% on their first 30 days of service. Throughout the year, and especially during the holiday season, we typically offer a 30% discount to boost sales. While virtual assistant services remain difficult to sell, these discounts help but don’t always produce the sales we’d like to see. We’ve learned that concentrating our efforts on current client happiness produces the best sales in referrals as well as repeat clients. When a client cancels their services (generally due to a change in their business structure), we periodically check in with them and offer a returning client discount where appropriate.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
We’re doing well! The business supports one part-time and two full-time executive team members. I’ve not had to personally support clients since March 31, 2020, and I’m able to focus 100% of my working hours on Aim2Assist. I’m still wearing a few “hats”; responsible for client acquisitions, client happiness and retention, innovation, HR (with the help of my CoS), and contracts. As we continue to grow, I hope that I’ll eventually focus primarily on innovation.
Although there has been a huge amount of growth since 2014, we believe we’d be further along had it not been for the pandemic. In 2020 we acquired more clients due to shutdowns with those who could work from home being required to do so. In 2021, although still profitable, we had some clients canceling due to financial challenges with very few new clients signing on.
We’re hopeful for 2022 in that we are making changes to our advertising along with more efforts on bringing back past clients. We have too many “eggs in one basket”, so to speak, and we have to be prepared for the worst-case scenario. Ten of our virtual executive assistants are currently assigned to one client which is fabulous as long as you have at least twice that many EAs spread out among other clients. We have some work to do!
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
Starting a business from scratch and on your dime is hard and I don’t know anyone who didn’t meet with obstacles along the way, including myself. Every obstacle you overcome is not only a win but also a growing and learning experience.
Our word means something because any relationship worth having should be built on a foundation of trust. We don’t make excuses, we take responsibility.
I had been out of the “rat race” since 1995 when I started this company and I quickly discovered that things had drastically changed - specifically, the employer/employee relationship. I also did not fully understand the difference between employees and subcontractors or independent contractors. I came from the era where one never disagreed with their boss and always answered with a “yes sir” or “yes mam”. Whether you liked your boss or not, you always treated them with respect - whether they deserved it or not. I had to relearn how to treat those who work for me and as well, understand that independent contractors are their bosses.
One of the best decisions I made was contracting with a marketing team for our website design, SEO, blog posts, social media, google ads and as well, email marketing. They have the expertise in this area and have made a huge difference with our online presence. Another, equally important decision was adding a CFO and CoS to the executive team. It’s like having 3 sets of eyes - they bring so much more to the table than one person can bring alone and their uniqueness is vital to the success of Aim2Assist.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
My favorite business tools include Google Workspace and Slack as both provide exactly what I need each day. I like to keep things as simple as possible! Google calendar is great for scheduling meetings/calls (with notification reminders) and is even more advantageous for me in that I can schedule blocks for focus and business building time.
I can’t say enough about Slack. To be able to reach folks immediately is a lifesaver for me rather than waiting on return emails. I set reminders, integrate with other apps such as 1Password and Google calendar plus set up birthday and work anniversary reminders so I never forget to congratulate our valued subcontractors.
Compared to the small handful of free tools we once used in the beginning, we are utilizing a great deal more, paid tools currently that are imperative to effective business operations. Along with Google Workspace and Slack, they include:
- Acrobat Pro DC
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
I’m currently finishing up a book, The Seven Evolutionary Levels to Profound Selling, by Glenn Roller. It takes you through a type of deep dive into all seven levels beginning with the self-absorbed salesperson and ending with the enlightened salesperson. But this isn’t just about basic selling; it allows you to understand yourself and others on a much higher level, looking way beyond sales and understanding the human dynamics at work. It’s profoundly life-altering!
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
I think the most important thing I did when starting Aim2Assist was refusing to give up, regardless of the obstacles, mistakes, difficult months financially - I ALWAYS believed the company would survive. I was 56 years old - if I can do this, anyone can do this. You’re never too old to try new things. If it’s your dream, do it! Don’t give up. And trust God.
We treat our subcontractors like they’re the most important parts of our business - because they are. We pay them at a higher percentage than most virtual assistant companies and we give them perks that aren’t typical for contractors such as reciprocal paid time off, Christmas bonuses, gift cards on Administrative Assistants Day, recognition for birthdays and work anniversaries plus EA of the month with a gift card for the winner. We believe - we KNOW - that the way to keep clients happy is to have happy assistants.
We live by our core values, in business and our personal lives, with a particular focus on “do the right thing”. Our word means something because any relationship worth having should be built on a foundation of trust. We don’t make excuses, we take responsibility.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
Aim2Assist is always hiring highly-skilled, senior-level virtual executive assistants with a minimum of 5+ years of experience supporting C-level executives. These positions require heavy calendar management, domestic and international travel management, meeting attendance with note-taking, meeting facilitation, etc. Competitive bimonthly pay for subcontractors with full-time availability in any US time zone; part-time hours are considered on an as-needed basis. To apply, please check the requirements and follow the application process here.
Where can we go to learn more?
This was a very thought-provoking interview and I’ve learned a great deal from it. Thank you for the opportunity to share my story!
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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