Geegpay Diaries Episode 4: What Isabella Avwunufe Brings to the Table as a Virtual Assistant

Can you introduce yourself?

My name is Isabella. I’m a mom of 2. I’ve worked as a virtual assistant for two years, though I still consider myself a newbie in the field. I love meeting people and enjoy helping make their work life easier.

How did you find yourself on this career path?

Initially, my dream was to become a medical doctor. Growing up, I had a skin condition, Pityriasis Versicolor, that I couldn’t find a solution for because many hospitals in Nigeria were not knowledgeable about it. I wanted to become a doctor to help other people who had such problems. Unfortunately, I couldn't get into medicine.

I later studied Psychology and Guidance and Counselling at the University of Port Harcourt. I figured if I couldn’t help people treat their physical conditions, I’d help them with whatever troubled them mentally.

But after graduation, it was difficult to get a job. I realised that the demand for psychologists was not rampant. The few parastatals in my city were not also hiring guidance counsellors.

So what did you do next?

I had to find a solution. I started to upskill. I got a job as a customer care rep, then later became an executive assistant, and then I got into operations. I fell in love with these jobs when I realised I was helping people. Not in the way I had planned when I wanted to become a doctor, but still helping people regardless.

At this point, COVID-19 came, and it affected my company, and some of the staff were laid off. I was among them.

So back to finding solutions.

Yes, after staying home for months. I needed to get back into the job market. My brother, who’s a website developer, told me about a post he saw on social media talking about remote work. I started researching companies that were hiring remote workers because it wasn't popular before COVID.

Navigating this new path was confusing. I had so many questions in my head. So I found a private coach to walk me through how to get into remote work.

Was that how you landed your first Virtual Assistant Role?

Hmm… it wasn’t that easy. My training with the coach ended in Dec 2022, and for another four months, I didn’t get a job. It was heartbreaking being on Upwork, buying Connects, and sending, at least, ten proposals every day without getting any positive response.

We had an online group where the students from the coaching sessions stayed in touch. So that was where I saw the news of all the people securing gigs. It made me sad and question why I wasn’t getting any gigs.

How did you stay motivated during this period?

I’ve always believed that good things don’t come easy, so I stayed hopeful and continued sending out proposals until my first gig came some days before my birthday on May 23.

So a birthday gift and the first gig that launched your freelance career.

Yes! It was a $7 editing job for a company that helps job applicants refine their resumes. It was a one-off gig but after it, the client wanted me to do projects on a more regular basis, but at $5 per resume. I did that for about four months.

My next job’s pay was $10/hr, and I worked for about 3 hrs/day. I did that for a couple of months. But I still felt like there could be more. I started researching what jobs paid higher on Upwork, so I could upskill. But I realised that most of those jobs were not open to freelancers in African countries.

I kept researching and somehow landed a job outside Upwork—my current job. I haven’t been on Upwork for 1 year and 7 months. But I will never forget that first gig. It validated me as a freelancer.

Looks like remote work is really your thing

Absolutely! I’m running away from onsite jobs. Jobs where you have to come to work at a certain time and dress a certain way. I’d rather do everything in my PJs. Remote work doesn’t restrict me. I also get to work with brands and people in different countries. I love making their lives easier, taking things off their table and helping them stay organised. Helping people was where it all started. It was why I chose the course I studied, the career I wanted, and that’s the path my life has taken.

What’s the difference between your role as Executive Assistant and as a Virtual Assistant?

Virtual Assistants are jacks-of-all-trades. I learned almost everything I know when I started freelancing as a virtual assistant. As a virtual assistant, you get more job descriptions that were not agreed upon, unlike an Executive Assistant role where the job description is defined. As a Virtual Assistant, you have to be different things to different people. We’re solution-finders, and that can be anything from project management, event organisation, content creation, and so on.

So the more successes you record, the more tasks that come.

Yes. You find yourself constantly upskilling and adapting because the role changes quickly.

What would you say is the hardest part of your job?

Firstly, getting the kind of clients I want. I’ve enjoyed working with international clients because it exposes me to new ways of life. But the language barrier was a big challenge when I just started out. Also working with people from different time zones means you have to readjust your lifestyle to accommodate their tasks.

Secondly, receiving payments. One thing many people agree is difficult in this part of the world is making or receiving payment. It’s difficult to shop online, pay for subscriptions, or receive international payments after you’ve done your job.

I remember this was the biggest challenge that freelancers in my coaching class faced. While I was still trying to get my first client, I paid attention to what the people who had landed gigs were saying in the group. They all had a Payoneer account because our coach recommended it. But the charges for using the platform were too high. They had to work harder to get more clients and then leave their pay until it got to large sums before they withdrew.

Later on, someone suggested another app and we all registered. It worked well for a little while but we encountered a lot of downtimes during that period.

So I started researching a better alternative and that was how I found Geegpay. I saw they were new and decided to try. I was expecting a payment that I already had plans for and I didn’t want any delays. I reached out to one of the founders to ask more questions. And then I registered on the app and got a USD bank account. When the payment was due, I got my money instantly! I was expecting to be disappointed, I wasn’t. When that happened, I went back to the community and showed my coach the Geegpay app and we introduced Geegpay to the community.

Are there some misconceptions about being a Virtual Assistant you’d like to clear?

Working remotely to many people in Nigeria still looks like you’re not working. You can still be mislabeled as a fraudster. So for a job like this, sitting in front of a computer screen for hours, it’s easy to wonder what kind of work the person is doing.

Also, so many people think it's an easy job. But it’s not. For example, for one task, you’ll learn how to use different tools because clients have their own preferences. A client could tell you they use Trello, another could say they use Clickup, and another could say they use and another, Asana. You’d have to learn how to use all of those tools. So it requires a lot of dedication. I’ve lost a client because she wanted a virtual assistant who’s also a web developer because she wanted to lump everything into one role. There’s nothing easy about getting high-paying clients, wearing different caps for different roles, or struggling to receive your complete payment.

Is there an AI tool that helps you with work?

As a jack-of-all-trades, I’ve had to learn different AI tools. I use Chatgpt, Midjourney, and many more. They make my job easier, especially when you nail the prompts. When people say AI would replace jobs, I don’t agree. We just need to evolve and learn how to use the tools to remain relevant. I focus more on what we can do with AI and not just what it could do. Both we and AI will evolve.

Is there any advice you’d like to give other people looking to become freelancers or Virtual Assistants?

First, welcome. The sky is big enough for all of us. Keep in mind that it may be a bed of roses, so expect some thorns because they come with the roses.

It takes hard work, willpower, and motivation to succeed as a freelancer. You’ll get more “sorry, we’re not interested,” than “congrats, we’re happy to have you on board.” But don’t be discouraged. The more “nos” you get, the closer you are to your “yes.”

Have a community. Lean on them, and learn from where they have failed or succeeded. They are the ones who understand your journey and can share ideas and opportunities with you.

Lastly, learn as much as you can from the free tools and platforms you have access to and practise until you’re perfect.