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Remote Career Development: Erin Mort Of ‘Online Service Provider Training Academy’ On How To Advance and Enhance Your Career When You Are Working Remotely

An Interview With David Liu

You do not have to already have an arsenal of technical skills in order to get started. As long as you are attentive, you will learn so much on the job, just like you would in any traditional corporate setting. You will learn from mistakes, you will learn as you go, but don’t let your lack of online skills or experience hold you back from starting.

Career development is the ongoing process of choosing, improving, developing, and advancing your career. This involves learning, making decisions, collaboration with others and knowing yourself well enough to be able to continually assess your strengths and weaknesses. This can be challenging enough when you work in an office, but what if you work remotely? How does remote work affect your career development? How do you nurture and advance your career when you are working from home and away from other colleagues? How can you help your employees do this? To address these questions, we started an interview series called “How To Advance and Enhance Your Career When You Are Working Remotely”. As a part of this interview series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Erin Mort.

After years of establishing herself in the corporate world, ERIN MORT created and launched Online Service Provider (OSP) Training Academy in 2021 to help anyone build an independent career in virtual assistance or providing online services. This C-suite level program not only provides comprehensive training but was meticulously developed out of Erin’s first-hand experience building her own business from scratch as well as a tumultuous personal journey of self-discovery.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. What is your “backstory”?

I actually had a late start in my corporate career because I failed out of my freshman year and had to seek treatment for substance abuse and eating disorders. When I returned to college, I had no idea what to major in and chose a degree based off a Forbes article predicting business technology as a lucrative field. I earned a degree in Management of Information Systems and pretty much hated it the entire time. So instead of pursuing a career in that field, I took a position as the executive assistant of a very prominent Manhattan figure who made “The Devil Wears Prada” look like a children’s movie. I only lasted six months and quit to take a similar position at a real estate firm and ended up being promoted to the manager of IT and investor relations.

However, I still felt really stuck. As someone who struggles with anxiety, there were days when I just wanted to take a mental health day. But in the corporate world, taking a day off for any reason or even coming into work a little bit late is scarier than making a massive error. I had been so conditioned to believe that putting my own mental health and wellness first was something that would hold me back if I wanted to succeed.

While the gig economy was still developing I was already aware of people in remote jobs or working for themselves, having the time to travel and live the life I dreamt of. I wanted SO badly to be able to do the same. I was on the verge of investing another $20k into my education to learn web design so I could be a freelance web designer when I discovered the world of being a virtual assistant. Having been an executive assistant for most of my corporate career, I was good at being the jack of all trades, the “go-to” person, and helping people manage their lives and businesses. So, rather than invest more money on a new skill, I spent a lesser amount on a business coach who ended up helping me get over my fears of starting my business and marketing myself online.

Shortly after starting a side hustle, I was fired. This gave me the time to go all in on finding clients for my virtual assistant business, marketing myself, and eventually making it work. Within weeks, I had doubled my corporate salary, and within months, I was making $10k/month supporting people in their business. After reaching this milestone, I realized that there were so many others out there going through the same struggles I had faced for years. So, I took the framework I used to build a 6 figure VA business and developed my OSP training program to help people (now over 500 and counting) learn how they can ditch the 9–5 grind but make a decent income working remotely, and still have time to travel and live their own dream lives.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

One of the most interesting things that happened was when my boss who had fired me reached out to congratulate me after I was featured in Forbes. I naturally had thought that since I had been fired that they weren’t really “rooting” for me in any sense. But shortly after my article came out, I got a text message stating that they were proud of me. It was really moving and a full circle moment for me.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

One of my first clients had asked me to make the emails that go out to her clients look nicer. I had no idea about email marketing at this time, and thought she wanted to me to use Gmail. So I downloaded some extension that gives you the ability to format emails and worked until 2 AM creating all these “beautiful” emails in Gmail. When I showed them to her, she thanked me, but explained that it had to be done in her email marketing system, and that we couldn’t use any of these emails at all.

The first lesson I learned from this was to ask questions. I was afraid to look silly by looking for clarity, and as a result, I spent hours doing work that wasn’t what my client needed and still ended up looking silly anyway. The second lesson I learned was that mistakes move you forward. This mistake was my intro into email marketing, and because of it I went out and learned about how email marketing works. After this incident, I was able to add email marketing to my list of skills for future clients.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“No one doing more than you will ever put you down” — It took me years to get the courage to start marketing myself and use social media for my business because I was SO afraid of being judged by other people. Then I realized that if anyone judges me for wanting to grow a business, better myself as a person, and put myself out there which takes a lot of courage — it’s a reflection of their own insecurities. It’s not about me. The people out there who are reaching their goals, living their best lives — they’re not spending time putting other people down. So if anyone ever judges you for wanting more, remember that no one doing MORE than you will put you down — only those doing less.

What advice would you give to other business leaders to help their employees thrive and avoid burnout?

More employers would get more and better work from their employees by doing simple things like giving them half day Fridays or letting them work on their own schedule. I learned through starting my business that I do my best work at different times throughout the day, and that working during a traditional 9–5 frame never served me or my employers. I also think that when employees are treated well and appreciated, they are motivated to do good work. A simple gesture of ‘your hard work is noticed’ or a Starbucks gift card can be a huge boost in employee morale.

Ok, let’s jump to the core of our interview. Working remotely can be very different than working with a team that is in front of you. This provides great opportunities but it can also create unique challenges. To begin, can you articulate for our readers a few of the main benefits and opportunities of working remotely?

For employers, your talent pool increases because you’re not bound to whoever is available locally. I’ve had highly skilled people on my team from all over the world, digital nomads who are just generally happier and more productive people. I do love getting the team together in person every once in a while, but we make it an experience and more of a work retreat. That not only creates stronger relationships, but also rewards them for their hard work. For those considering working remotely, the benefits are even more: dispensing with the costs of a daily commute, meals, and maintaining a corporate wardrobe not to mention the freedom to set your own schedule and adjust work around your life and not the other way around.

Can you articulate for our readers what the five main challenges are regarding working remotely?

The five main challenges you need to be aware of and plan for are:

1. Finding your schedule. This isn’t as easy as you think because you need to figure out when you’re at your most productive and determining the pace you can perform your work tasks.

2. Letting yourself be a work in progress. It’s very easy to be overwhelmed if you start with a mindset that you have to be absolutely perfect from day one.

3. Communication. Working remotely comes with its own set of communications issues because you may not have the advantages of visual cues during a physical interaction with co-workers. And when you’re online, it can be tempting and even easier to avoid uncomfortable situations when they’re better addressed sooner rather than later.

4. Marketing yourself. For many, self-promotion may not come naturally. It takes courage to put yourself out there and own your value to a company and not be hesitant to promote your skill set.

5. When it’s time to rest and when it is not. Working from home can make it difficult to separate your work from your personal life. You need to be prepared to set boundaries for yourself so you can distinguish when you need to be in work mode and when you need to step back.

Based on your experience, what can one do to address or redress each of those challenges? Can you give a story or example for each?

1. Many entrepreneurs tout that “the early bird gets the worm” and that waking up super early is one of the keys to success. However, this may or may not really work for you. In fact, I’ve found that this thinking puts unnecessary pressure on people who may not necessarily be at their best early in the morning and often forces them back into a 9–5 type structure that doesn’t serve them. Take some time to understand when you do your best work, and create a schedule and routine that works for YOU

2. You do not have to already have an arsenal of technical skills in order to get started. As long as you are attentive, you will learn so much on the job, just like you would in any traditional corporate setting. You will learn from mistakes, you will learn as you go, but don’t let your lack of online skills or experience hold you back from starting.

3. Because there’s less face to face time, you have to get used to having what could be considered more ‘difficult’ conversations in order to work effectively with others. There have been times where I’ve avoided uncomfortable conversations because they’re not fun to have, but what I’ve always found is that the fear of the conversation is always worse than the conversation itself. Putting it off is just delaying the inevitable and can even cause the situation to worsen.

4. If you’re setting out on your own and want to start landing clients, you’re going to have to promote yourself — something many of us are not used to. But people can’t hire you if they don’t know you exist. Put yourself out there, humble brag about your accomplishments (that’s what a resume is after all, right?), and don’t let other people’s opinions of you stop you from reaching your goals.

5. When you’re not in an office environment, it can start to be difficult separating work and life. Your living room becomes your office, your bedroom becomes your conference room. Suddenly, the two worlds have much less separation than they used to. And if you’re working for yourself, you may feel like you’ve gone from a 9–5 to a 24/7. Learn when it’s time to be in work mode and when to take time off. Learn to take breaks. Figure out when you do your best work, and give yourself permission to stop at a certain time of the day. By constantly pushing yourself to do more and more, you’ll eventually burn out, then require even more time to recover from burnout, when you could have avoided it by just giving yourself a little bit of rest when you need it. Take it from someone who’s been there (more than I’d like to admit).

Let’s talk about Career Development. Can you share a few ideas about how you can nurture and advance your career when you are working from home and away from other colleagues?

There are so many opportunities to learn and grow with online skills. By setting aside a little time each day to do something productive like listening to a podcast, reading a book, taking a course on Skilshare or Udemy — you can advance so much in a short period of time. Trade the Tiktok and Instagram scrolling (or at least some of it ) and work on yourself instead. Your future self will thank you!

Can you share a few ideas about how employers or managers can help their team with career development?

Employers can support their remote staff and as a result increase work productivity by providing resources such as Skillshare or LinkedIn learning accounts. By inviting in guest speakers on various topics that are of interest and value to employees. By talking to them about their career goals and providing insight / opportunity if it exists within the company. It doesn’t have to be anything huge — sometimes just pointing them in the right direction make a huge difference.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 😊

For all those people who want to really change courses with their career toward doing remote work, but are afraid to be on their own, I would encourage them to JUST START. Scared? Start. Lost? Start. Feel under qualified? Start. So much of life is spent worrying and waiting to feel “ready.” But readiness doesn’t actually exist. We never feel fully ready for anything.

I started my business when I was experiencing the worst anxiety of my life. I was suffering from depersonalization and derealization. Nothing felt real in my life. I had no confidence and even though I had valuable corporate experience skills. I didn’t know what I would do to help clients, let alone how I’d get the courage to market myself online. But I had big dreams and goals, and I would always rather try and fail than never try at all.

If you start something that terrifies you, you never know how drastically it could change your life, even in just a short period of time. So I would encourage anyone and everyone that no matter what it is you want in life, no matter your experience, age, background, skills, whatever — if you want something, just start.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

You can follow me on Instagram at @erin.mort, my website at www.erinmort.com and join my free Facebook group at Virtual Assistant Army with Erin Mort

Thank you for these great insights! We wish you continued success.

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David Liu

David Liu

David is the founder and CEO of Deltapath, a unified communications company that liberates organizations from the barriers of effective communication