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Working From Home

A guide to earning a living in your pyjamas!
by Emma Crabtree, Red Box Business Support

Recently, I have been in conversation with new acquaintances and the subject always comes around to “What do you do?” When I say that I am a VA it draws a blank, always. Saying that I am a PA but I work from home, usually gets a nod or two, but then I add that some of the time my workplace is located in Portugal and then people become really confused.

So, here you have, in less than 1,000 words, what, why & how I do what I do.

When we relocated to Portugal, in 2004, I knew I would have to work, but at what, or as what? I had no locally recognised paper qualifications or letters after my name, so looking for work locally, where you need a Phd to be the typist, was not going to be an option. I did not speak reasonable Portuguese back then either. Bills need to be paid, petrol put in the car…

In February 2005 I saw an article in Red magazine, where a woman had started her own Virtual Assistant (VA) business. A high-flying friend was staying and he thought that I would be perfect as a VA. It suited my lifestyle, drew on the experience and knowledge I already had and the start up costs were relatively small. Red Box Virtual Office came into being in June 2005. This year (2015), as Red Box Business Support, we celebrated 10 years in business.


In a nutshell, I am a business administrator for lots of other businesses. I’ve worked with start-ups, SMEs and fully formed businesses. I’ve also worked with banks and human resource institutions when they needed someone to outsource short-term projects to. As an idea of who uses my services, I am currently working with a not-for-profit fundraising organisation in the UK, a management consultant in Denmark and a personal coach based in the USA.

While the individuals and businesses that work with Red Box are different, they all require someone to undertake the day to day administration that is time consuming and/or not profitable or efficient for them to do in-house. They may also not need someone full or even part time & not having to pay sick leave or for vacation time, insurance or pension contributions is a big draw. I act as the customer service department, I undertake research, maintain databases, do lots of sourcing & procurement as well as updating websites and blogs, answering emails and taking phone calls.

I mainly work from home. And yes that does mean that I get to work in my pyjamas on the cold days. It also means no commuting, taking breaks when I want/need to, setting my own schedule & workload, as well as the ability to do those dull but necessary domestic duties through the week rather than just at the weekend.

However, working from home isn’t for everyone and there are certain things I miss. No colleagues (I miss those ‘water cooler’ moments), can be very isolating and domesticity can be very attractive when faced with a mountain of paperwork you don’t want to do.

The first 18 months were the hardest until I had two or three regular clients. At this point I was taking on transcriptions from other VAs as an additional source of income. It is, however, only in the last three or four years that I have felt comfortable saying that Red Box is a success.

I do run a small, successful business! Networking is key and my first couple of years were spent on the A1 up and down to Lisbon and Porto attending workshops and seminars and drinks evenings; just getting your face seen is very important. I am also very vocal on on-line networks, such as Linked In, which are a great asset if you aren’t part of a large business or work from home.

And how does it all work? By email and Skype and Whats App, of course! I doubt whether I could do what I do if I was starting up 15 or 20 years ago. Advances in technology mean that you don’t need to be sharing office space, let alone be in the same town or even in the same time zone. When asked, “How do you receive assignments?” I reply, “The same way you assign projects to your staff or co-workers; via email or a project management system like Asana or Basecamp.” Think about it; when was the last time you dropped a file off on someone else’s desk? Walked down the hall and had a face to face meeting with someone? Quite!

And we’re all adults. It’s in my interests to be proactive, tenacious and personable. To get work completed on time and to budget.

What about getting paid? I have had my fingers burnt once or twice, when clients didn’t pay at all or it was like trying to get blood out of a stone to eventually get paid. But as most of my clients are now referred on to me by word of mouth, there’s a certain amount of security and confidence that everyone will play fair.

If you’re starting a business here, because you’ve relocated for one reason or another, bring ALL your contacts with you. You never know who will be useful down the line. One of my first clients was a contact of a tenant of my ex-boss… Join local and national business associations, such as the British Portuguese Chamber of Commerce, who have members that have been where you are now and are a great resource. Get your profile on line with networks such as LinkedIn and Facebook.

Could Red Box support you and your business? If you’re thinking about starting up an on-line business, I may be useful to talk to or to brainstorm with. You may need support with putting together a mailing list or a newsletter; what platforms to use, how to go about it. I could help with that. If you’re already running a business, what do you do for holiday cover or when you have a house full of family & friends? Customer service, checking emails & social media streams, orders, invoicing and obtaining feedback from clients can all be outsourced. Knowing that the day-to-day items are covered can be very reassuring.

Doing what I do has been a hard sell to the Portuguese. Determination and long-term thinking were key. The cost of living here isn’t as cheap as it once was and unless you are fortunate enough to have a sugar daddy, it is essential that you either bring with you a business that is already established or have funds that you can dip in to while you are establishing yourself. If you are determined and can work with the Portuguese bureaucracy, working from home & an online business could well be the income opportunity you were looking for.

Emma Crabtree


Skype: coimbragirl

One thought on “Working From Home

  1. Wife and I are planning our first trip to Portugal to look see about retiring there. We have 10 days. Read your letter in “buying property in Portugal “ and found it very enlightening. We now live in Florida.
    The town you now live in sounds great. But could not find name in your letter. We may want to visit the area. Thank you

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