If you have a flair for entrepreneurship and a good work ethic, you might want to take a look at the virtual assistant industry. Known as "VAs," they're independent contractors who provide office-support services to smaller businesses and solo professionals remotely, via e-mail, phone, courier, etc.
WHAT EXACTLY DOES A VIRTUAL ASSISTANT DO?
Virtual assistants perform a variety of duties. They offer word processing and transcription services, and they can take care of daily schedules and correspondence. They keep busy executives on time and on task.
Some virtual assistants provide concierge services (getting tickets to that Broadway show, for example). Others take care of the growing Facebook and other social-networking responsibilities that businesses small and large must now assume to remain competitive.
Virtual assistants design websites, brochures and other marketing materials. They plan events and perform Internet research. They handle PowerPoint presentations and database management.
WHO HIRES A VA, AND HOW MUCH CAN YOU MAKE?
Smaller businesses (fewer than 10 employees) often hire virtual assistants, as do professional speakers, attorneys, freelance writers, Realtors and other "soloists." As independent contractors rather than employees, VAs are less expensive than conventional staff, and they can be used on an as-needed basis.
Depending on their expertise, VAs earn $20 to $35 per hour. VAs with legal, software programming, translation or other specialized skills can earn considerably more money per hour.
THREE TIPS FOR LAUNCHING AND GROWING A VA BUSINESS
Virtual assistant businesses are generally straightforward to launch and operate. They are almost always home-based and can be formed for less than $1,000. Many VAs choose to operate as limited liability companies, or LLCs, which help protect their assets from personal liability.
Here are three tips for making the experience rewarding and successful:
-- Do the Necessary Self-Assessment: Not everyone is cut out to be self-employed or to work from home. In addition to a quiet and up-to-date home office, VAs also need entrepreneurial aptitudes or character traits.
For example, virtual assistants must be self-actualizing and self-reliant. They must understand the difference between self-employment and employment. If entrepreneurs don't drum up clients and workflow, disaster can follow. If they charge too little for their services or a major client doesn't pay on time, the business may fail. In short, there is no "guaranteed" paycheck at the end of the month.
-- Make Sure Your "Significant Other" is On Board: Caught up in the magic of launching their own enterprise, many entrepreneurs increase the odds of failure by assuming that the household is as excited about the project as they are, but the family's perspective can be radically different.
Don't assume that everyone will smile when you are no longer nearly as available as you used to be, or disappear into your basement office to "take a peek at e-mail" and emerge three hours later. Make sure everyone has grouped under your flag before you march off to do battle on the grand field of commerce.
-- Marketing, Marketing and More Marketing: Most VA businesses fail from ineffective marketing, and a mediocre VA who markets well will trump an exceptional VA who markets poorly. Make sure you've got the financial and emotional reserves you need to get out there and sell your new enterprise. In other words, "build it and they will come" makes a better movie line than a business motto.
For more on becoming a VA, see the International Virtual Assistants Association (IVAA) at www.IVAA.org. It's a good place to start, as we should proclaim. We founded it in 1999 before transferring it as planned to its members.
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