Camryn Pickworth The First Pick VA Group

Editor’s Note: The First Pick VA Group has been named to The Story Exchange’s list of 12 Brilliant Business Ideas.

The First Pick VA Group is a Salem, Oregon, agency that connects businesses in need of some (remote) help with a pool of virtual-assistance freelancers that are vetted and trained. Camryn Pickworth launched her business while still in college, knowing that online work, at least in some forms, was here to stay. Everyone on her roster undergoes a week-long training, and must also complete a month-long trial and mentorship period, she says. We agree with her assessment of remote work’s staying power — Pickworth acknowledges that the pandemic “absolutely helped shape and create my business due to it’s tremendous impact on online work” — and appreciate a small business dedicated to helping other small businesses thrive.

Here’s our lightly edited Q&A, from The Story Exchange 1,000+ Stories Project.

What was your reason for starting your business?

I heard horror stories from clients about unreliable, unintelligent, and just downright bad freelancers they were finding on a lot of other platforms. However, this made sense to me as the platforms do not require proof of work history, training or certifications. That is when I decided to start First Pick and create a structured environment for freelance VAs to get training before ever meeting a client. Not only this, but I am providing a safe and nurturing environment for women in particular to work online during some of the hardest times in modern history.

How do you define success?

Success is not as simple as what you have in your bank account. I’ve known plenty of people with lots of money but very little happiness. Success can be found in those who have crafted balance in their lives and achieved a fulfilling career that allows them to grow and learn. Success isn’t a zero-sum game. It is an ebb and flow that allows for the continued chasing of goals and thus excitement for what we do.

What is your biggest success so far?

As a sophomore in college, I was struggling with ways to make real money and discovered the virtual assistant world. Eventually, I was working with permanent clients and even some notable businesses. When the pandemic started and my senior year of college came around, so many people were out of work and scrambling online to find jobs. This led to an increasingly saturated and overwatered market for my clients to navigate. So client after client came to me, asking if I knew anyone else like me that could join the team. I realized that my clients didn’t need these large platforms with millions of unvetted, unskilled laborers (like Upwork or Fiverr). So, in 2020, The First Pick VA Group was born. Over the past two years, I have grown from being a solopreneur to a team of five (myself plus four virtual assistants from around the country) and we are continuing to expand rapidly in 2022. Ultimately, in the span of 2 years, I took what was a part-time college side hustle and turned it into a full-time, near 6-figure multi-employee business. 

The First Pick VA Group is helping home-based workers find opportunities. (Credit: Nenad Stojkovic, Flickr)

What is your top challenge and how have you addressed it?

Sales and marketing. We are primarily a referral-based business and I have little background in this area. Even just with referrals we have grown tremendously, but we are now working on building out our referral network as well as bringing on a part-time sales team member.

Discrimination has come into play a few times, given my age and gender. As a 22-year-old female entrepreneur, it can be hard for people to take me seriously, even though I am already highly skilled and an expert in my field.

Have you experienced any significant personal situations that have affected your business decisions?

Being treated incredibly poorly by clients in the past. I have both been illegally denied payment as well as been personally attacked by clients. This was part of why I wanted to create a safe space for our freelancers. All of my team members know they can come to me to help mediate conflict and have a whole team behind them to support them when things are hard. Not only this, but they have legal recourse for when a client mistreats them. This is often not something that you have when working independently as a freelancer — and people take advantage of that.

What is your biggest tip for other startup entrepreneurs?

The first and foremost would be to just get started. Overcoming your own self-doubt is one of the absolute hardest parts of starting any business. But failure is unavoidable and mistakes will happen. If you refuse to get started out of fear, then you are limiting your ability to grow.

How do you find inspiration on your darkest days?

I always try to center myself around the growth moments. As hard as it can be, when I’m struggling I try to remind myself that at the end of every dark tunnel there is always a little bit of light. The world will not come crashing down around me because I made a mistake and if I learn from the pain I’ve gone through, then I’ll be okay in the end.

Who is your most important role model?

My mom is my role model. She is also a female entrepreneur who started a medical practice with my father back in the 90s. After my father passed away in 2008 she was left to run a business completely on her own with two young daughters to take care of. Regardless of the stress and overwhelm she was always there for us and provided a good example of exactly how strong and impactful women can be.

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