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Sebastopol ‘virtual assistant’ teaching others the business

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Three years ago, Emily Hirsh set out to learn what it takes to become a virtual assistant.

Today, the Maria Carillo High School grad has a burgeoning consulting business with four employees similarly trained as virtual assistants. So quickly has her success grown that she’s also signed up some 30 people to take her new “Virtual Assistant Academy” course, an online training regimen that teaches how to build your own virtual assistant business.

Hirsh is 22 years old. In high school she was a teenage entrepreneur who with a friend was hired by more than 20 clients in the Oakmont senior community to do yardwork and clean homes.

Today she lives in Sebastopol with a husband and young son and is expecting a second child. Other moms, she said, can relate to why she enjoys the work.

“It gives me the freedom to not leave my child all day,” she said. The work allows mothers to “put your brain to use,” earn money and stay at home.

Virtual assistants tackle a variety of remote tasks for other businesses, from formatting and broadcasting mass emails to posting items on a range of social media sites. The assistants typically work from home and take on essential though less-creative tasks so entrepreneurs can focus on work that will grow their businesses.

Allison Braun, a consultant to personal coaches and healers, hired Hirsh over a year ago and calls her “a jack-of-all-trades superwoman.” Hirsh has helped her place Facebook ads, answered questions for clients in Braun’s private Facebook group and tackled invoices, bulk emails and scheduling.

“She takes a lot off of my mind and my plate,” said Braun, whose company, Soulful Coaching & Retreats Inc., is based in Saskatchewan.

The virtual assistants allow new entrepreneurs to get work done without the need to hire employees and lease space to house them.

Their use is similar to that in large corporations that increasingly are turning to temporary workers and contractors to tackle projects.

As one example, The Wall Street Journal this week attributed to sources that Google parent Alphabet Inc. has roughly equal numbers of contract workers and full-time employees.

Hirsh got started three years ago when her husband, Peter, and she launched their online coaching and training website for kettlebell workouts, kettlebellmovement.com.

She soon realized she needed to learn about social media and marketing, including concepts like “sales funnels.” She defined the term as customer journeys during which clients discover a product or service and learn more through blogs, email, Facebook ads and other means.

“Companies used to do it with mail,” she said.

Her business grossed $250,000 last year and is on track to double that figure in 2017, she said.

“It grew really quickly because there’s a huge need,” she said.

This year she launched her virtual academy, for which she charges nearly $1,500 for a four-week course of online videos.

Lindsay Padilla, who teaches entrepreneurs how to create online courses, said Hirsh and she have worked together to grow one another’s businesses. She called Hirsch mature and a hard worker.

“She’s so amazing,” Padilla said. “I was shocked to find out how old she was.”

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