Remote work and travelling in Italy pioneer and in training a VA army
Hannah Dixon: A pioneer VA in Italy
After a great talk at The Nomad World Summit – which has registered the highest pick in the audience – we’ve decided to organize a chit-chat with Hannah Dixon to know more about her experience as a Digital Nomad in Italy and about her FREE training on “how to become a Virtual Assistant”.
VALENTINA: Tell us a little bit about you, who is Hannah Dixon? And how did she start her remote life?
HANNAH: I am Hannah, digital nomad for 8 years (great traveller long before that). I was born and raised in the UK, left the country at 16. I was doing a lot of Workaways before starting to work in the remote world. At that time, I would go back home to work for a couple of months to get some money and then jump on the next flight.
I was in Italy when I decided that I wanted to make money and become a digital nomad. I was doing a Workaway working in a construction project and at some point I decided to go to Milan to see some friends. I was just off work and I was covered with plastics and got invited to a fancy party. This was the moment when I decided that was the time to find a job and start making money and I took a flight to go back home to the UK.
When I arrived at home I met an Italian girl, Valentina. She was working online in SEO. She could work from wherever she wanted and I loved the idea of all of that and wanted to learn as much as possible from her. We started working together and started an SEO and web development company together. Later on, the company fell apart, but I kept working in the VA online business.
At that time I had realised that there was the need of VAs in the world and of more training about that: this is the reason why I’ve created a 5 days free training for VA, training more than 12.000 people so far and since then, the big adventure started.
V: Where were you living in Italy?
HANNAH: I was in Umbria, Sicily and then in Sardinia (Valentina was from there).
V: Why did you choose these places?
HANNAH: I chose those places for several reasons: beautiful beaches, culture, food, climate, people, history, food, the beauty of these areas and the fact that my grandparents are Italian. They were from Sicily and Calabria so that these have always been regions that I wanted to visit.
V: Do you speak some Italian?
HANNAH: Forgot everything.
V: What did you really love about Italy and what were the biggest challenges that you had faced there?
HANNAH: Love the things that I just mentioned, but I also love the fact that you always feel healthy when you’re in Italy because you can eat tasteful and healthy food and have easy access to locally grown food.
Regarding my biggest challenges, at that time they were mainly with bureaucracy and taxes. I know that things have changed about taxes and right now there are a lot of tax incentives, which makes me think about going back to Italy again. Another struggle was about infrastructure and transportation in certain areas, especially in the south of Sardinia, when I had to move between islands.
Now things have changed a lot, the infrastructure has improved a lot, especially in Sicily and there is a big community of digital nomads, but when I went to live there I was a pioneer and there was no community at all.
V: Why do you think that Italy is changing and may become a convenient country for nomads that want to spend some months/years there?
HANNAH: Because of all what I’ve previously mentioned and because of some of the incentives that are coming up (like for taxes). Now I have seen that a lot of nomads are moving in different areas in Italy, in cities, but also in the wild, so that I feel an improvement of the nomadic culture. Now more than ever, after the pandemic people want to go to places where they can get things that matter the most.
V: If you think about your experience in Italy and your learnings, mistakes and things that you would do differently, what would you advise to people that want to go there as a digital nomad?
HANNAH: Always check ahead the place where you want to go, especially if you’re going to remote areas or small towns. Make sure that you’re fully organised for transportation and infrastructure (i.e. when I was in the south of Sardinia I struggled a lot because I was often going from one island to another and it was complicated). Nowadays, every place is ready for nomads, but I think that some places are more ready than others so that it’s easy to ask around in communities especially in Facebook groups such as the Digital Nomads Italy.
V: You already mentioned that you met Valentina and started learning from her. Did you learn first about SEO and then about the rest? What were your first steps in this world?
HANNAH: At the beginning I messed up a lot, but I’ve also learned all that I could also about the online world and about SEO. However, SEO has never been my interest because it was not my thing. I became the support of the company, I was doing emails, marketing, outreach.
When we stopped working together I just started offering my online services to people. I have also realised that people that need SEO, often need all the rest as well like social media, outreach, etc… My first ever paid gig was on a freelance website for only 5 dollars and it took me 5 days to complete the project: it was an article about the 26 best cities where to bring children in the states, it was so funny!
V: Was it easy for you to find jobs on these platforms?
HANNAH: This was actually the only time that I’ve got a gig on one of these platforms. I think that there are a lot of nice jobs there, but there is also a lot of competition.
V: If you’d have to suggest to a newby some skill to learn in order to work online, what would you suggest?
HANNAH: I would definitely ask them about what’s the experience that they already have and especially what they like to do. Working online just for the sake of working online does not relieve you from the stress that you may get from a normal job (if you’re doing something that makes you feel miserable in real life it will be the same online).
Skills to work online do not need to be necessarily technical skills like coding websites, people can have soft skills such as mediation, dealing with angry customers, etc…
Nowadays, everyone under the age of 40 can use the internet quite well, can navigate the things that you need to use and the rest is figureoutable.
I’d always advise to start with something that you know and there is always space for you in the VA world. There is always space for you if you make space for yourself. In order to be ready, you need to be ready to put yourself out there. You should tell people what you do and this can be tricky for people that have never worked for themselves before, it’s tricky to say to people “I am in charge of whatever I get paid for”.
It’s not easy because you become totally responsible for your income, for all that happens from now on and even if you’re just applying to find new customers or to find new gigs and you get rejected, you cannot stop applying or looking for other opportunities because your job at that moment is looking for a job.
V: How would you advise people to start with pricings? What should people charge at the beginning?
HANNAH: This is a wide topic. It depends on what you do and on your experience, however I would say that, just because of your nationality or your location, don’t feel the pressure of charging less to compete with anyone. If you have the same skills as someone in another country, just charge what your work is worth because you have the opportunity to work on an online global market.
Always look at what other people are charging, but not on freelance platforms, look at what people are charging on social media or on their websites, because in these channels you can usually find people that are taking their jobs seriously and are making the business more sustainable.
As a benchmark you could start with $15/20 /hour and then an average price for a VA $ 30/35/hour.
V: If you’ve never worked in the digital field and have no digital skills (just out of school or worked in bars or cafes or hairdressers) do you think that it’s possible to start an online remote job and how to start learning?
HANNAH: When I started, my experience was working in farms and I didn’t even know how to use a computer. If you have a unique background like hairdressers for example, you could do social media pages for hair saloons, that’s a great niche! You probably already know everything about the industry and how to use social media (everybody knows it nowadays). There are a lot of things that we do on a daily basis like making reels and scrolling on Instagram and you could actually get paid to do all of this! We know how to do this stuff, we just don’t know that this may be a job. I think that’s just about identifying what you can get paid for. If you can only use Google Sheets and nothing else, you’re already a step ahead of someone that doesn’t know how to use that. I’ve hired a person to put together some Google sheets because I am not good at formulas. If there is something that you’ve learned from school, you should use it even if it’s only a little skill, because this still places you in a position of an expert compared to someone that doesn’t know how to use that.
When I was working as a Virtual Assistant I didn’t know what that was. I was just doing stuff online until the moment when someone told me that I was a VA and then I was like ooooohhhhh… we have a name for it…!
Just go online and see what people are looking for and start talking to people.
V: There are people that start working for free to create a portfolio and use it after, what do you think about that?
HANNAH: I would say that there are 2 ways to go about that: if you wanna take this seriously and want a career transition, then you become a business owner and you will need to have all those services that you offer to people. If you want to be a social manager, then your Instagram needs to be exceptional and this is going to be your portfolio. If you’re going to be a web designer your website is your portfolio. I would work for free only in one case: if it’s for a charitable organisation, something you really care about.
V: Starting is always the most difficult part, do you think that this would help them to land their first client?
HANNAH: A lot of people hiring VA don’t even ask for a portfolio. If you’ve visual jobs like video editor, you will definitely need it, otherwise not always.
A good trick to start with your first clients is to offer a low cost starting package, like a 5 hour package, just to see if you like each other and then, once the 5 hours are gone, you can have a meeting and talk about pricest. Low cost, low risk for them and it will give them an idea of what it’s like to work with you. And it’s much easier to sell that at the beginning.
V: How is your VA course structured? Would you go over all what a VA can do? Because this is a very wide topic: a VA can do basically everything!
HANNAH: Yes, the VA world is really wide. It’s like going to a general practitioner doctor or to a specialist. I do 2 kinds of courses, the first one is a 5 days VA challenge once every 3 / 4 months that is totally for free. It gives you tons of examples of how to apply your knowledge online. The first day, for example I go through what the participants’ skills are (all of their skills) and what their interests are (all of their interest) and then I show them how this can be applied online. At this moment of the course, people start understanding if it can be an interesting course for them or not and if it’s not, they can easily quit because it is a free course.
We also look at what they can learn, what’s the lifestyle that they want to have, where do they see themself in a few years. I really focus on the mindset, because if their head is not in the right place, this is not gonna work as well as it could.
The program is different compared to other VA trainings because I also teach them how to create and manage a business: how to land clients, how to keep clients happy, how to deal with customers and complaints, how to manage a project, and then of course there is always a little bit of graphic design and technical information, but all this stuff is easily figureoutable.
How to run a business and make it work is what I am focusing on, because you can be the best web designer in the world, but the world doesn’t know who you are, you’re not earning any money.
Ipek: Thank you for your availability, is there anything else you want to add for our readers?
HANNAH: If you’re reading this, then you’re already in the community. You’re already connected to a community that is going to help you, to lift you up to what’s next, but I would advise to start making real connection with people in this community and maybe jump on a zoom call once a week and make yourself accountable for your goals because surrounding yourself with the right people is gonna make the real difference.
People who you hang around with really impact this and Digital Nomads Italy is the place to be for that!