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Virtual Assistance is one of the hottest home-based businesses, according to articles published by BCentral.com, MSN.com, entrepreneurial experts Paul and Sarah Edwards, and a long list of other publications and experts. One reason is that it’s a relatively easy business to start — the start-up costs are low, and Virtual Assistants (VAs) provide a much needed and valued service that’s easy to understand.

Having said that, however there are many things to consider before jumping on the band-wagon:

Benefits of Virtual assistant

  • Working with a Virtual Assistant can save time and money!
  • NO employee-related tax insurance or benefits.
  • NO extra office space or equipment costs.
  • Minimal or NO training.
  • To pay only for time and materials spent on project.
  • The ability to stay on schedule

Q: Am I the right kind of person to be considering working for myself?
That’s a terrific question to ask yourself before you take another step forward not everyone is cut out for the rigors of owning a business! Here at eWorkingWomen, there are experts waiting to help you figure it out. Learn more from Mary Jo Wehniainen, and entrepreneurial expert Priscilla Huff. To help you figure out if a career as a Virtual Assistant is for you, read on.

Q: What is Virtual Assistance?
A: Virtual Assistance is a fairly new administrative profession. The professionals are called Virtual Assistants, or VAs. VAs is micro business owners who provide administrative and personal support while working in long-term collaborative relationships with only a handful of terrific clients. Using phone, fax and email, VAs supports their clients without having to ever step foot inside the clients’ offices. It’s a fabulous way of working, and opens new doors for administrative professionals!!

Q: What isn’t Virtual Assistance about?
A: As you move around the ‘net, you’ll see a variety of definitions about what Virtual Assistance is, and what VAs do. It’s up to you to decide which definition you want to embrace. One definition is that a VA is anyone who provides any sort of assistance to another person or business without having to be physically present in the client’s location. When I formalized the industry with the founding of AssistU in 1997, I created a strong definition; one that has become our brand, and that we believe creates the highest and best standard for the industry as a whole. That definition has a VA providing administrative and personal support, across the board, in long-term and collaborative relationships. So, a VA is a person who supports a client, across the board, administratively and personally without being geographically present in the client’s location. See the difference in the definitions? Based on my feeling about what a VA is, it then stands to reason that a VA is not someone who provides consulting services. That person is a consultant. A VA isn’t someone who only provides bookkeeping services. That person is a bookkeeper. A VA isn’t someone who only provides marketing support. That person is a marketing consultant or a marketing assistant. A VA isn’t someone who books speaking engagements. That person is an agent. Nor are VAs Tax Advisors, Accountants, Medical Transcriptionists, Web Designers, or professional business and personal coaches. In my opinion, “Virtual Assistance” isn’t a handy catch-phrase for people working from home. It’s a profession in its own right, and it deserves a definition that separates it from all others. Much in the same way that all brain surgeons are doctors, but not all doctors are brain surgeons, all VAs are virtual workers, but not all virtual workers are VAs. What makes a person a VA isn’t that the services can be performed at a distance from a client, but rather that the services that are being performed are administrative in scale and scope, and are provided with the desire to support the client across the board, not with just one specific function or task, no matter how ongoing that might be. While it’s possible that a VA may offer additional services, those who offer limited or non-administrative services are not, in my opinion, Virtual Assistants. Am I judgmental? I don’t believe so. There’s certainly room in the business world for whatever any entrepreneur wants to do. However, I feel, and have always felt, that there needs to be a strong definition of what this profession is about; in order for Virtual Assistance and VAs to have a future, we need to distinguish ourselves and what we offer as distinct from all others.

Q: What’s the history of the profession?
A: It’s difficult to pinpoint when, exactly, virtual assistants began working. I know that I was working as a VA to clients in the mid-80s, long before working that way was easy or cool. I may or may not have been the first VA, but I did formalize the profession when I founded AssistU in early ’97. In the past two years, more companies have started that also support people who want to work in this profession. Right now, the question people ask is “What is a VA?” I believe that by 2005 the question will be “WHO is your VA?” As a profession, we’re young, but moving quickly toward a time when “Virtual Assistant” will be a well-known term and the vast majority of small business owners and entrepreneurs will be working with at least one VA. Additionally, other client groups will be working with VAs on a usual basis, including busy families and retired executives. We also see the day coming when corporations will be ready to see administrative professionals as professionals, and will want to work in partnership with admins. When that happens, we’ll see more VAs working with individuals in corporations.

Q: In the corporate world, many managers are required to do most, if not all their own administrative work. Don’t small business owners do it all themselves?
A: They usually do, but sooner or later, as their businesses grow, they often find what managers do — it’s impossible to do it all and have a great life. Something has to give! Fortunately, small business owners can do something about it. Managers are fundamentally stuck running faster on the corporate gerbil wheel. Business owners and entrepreneurs find what great administrative professionals have always known deep down: When the client gives work to a VA, and allows the VA to proactively support the him or her in reaching his or her goals, freed up time and energy are created and available for an abundance of other things.. the things that they love and do best, and should be focusing on. VAs are dedicated, driven, masterfully skilled administrative professionals who genuinely want to powerfully impact the lives of people they work with.

Q: I can see why it’s a great idea for busy people everywhere, but I have to ask, does it work? Why would a client consider it? And, why would I consider it as a profession for myself?
A: For the client, working virtually is especially powerful for many reasons:
1 Giving work away that doesn’t need his/her attention gives back time and space for an abundance of other things, which may include
.Growing a business
.Doing just the work he/she loves
.Spending more time with family and friends
.Seeking other opportunities or being able to take advantage of those already aware of More life balance
2 : No need to share space in a home-office, or find additional office space for an employee
3 : No need to buy additional equipment
4 : No need to deal with the managing of an employee
5 : No need to deal with the administration details associated with payroll
6 : No need to pay associated payroll taxes, insurance, and possibly benefits
7 : No need to adhere to Federal and State mandates, like OSHA, the Federal Fair Labor Standards Act, and the Employee Retirement Income Security Act
8 : No need to pay someone else to administer all of the above, so that he/she isn’t further bogged down.
9: Gets to interact with another business owner (the VA!!) who isn’t simply task oriented, but instead, wants to help find great solutions to challenges and the best ways to really go for opportunities. You can see that there are powerful reasons for a client to consider working with a VA! For you, the VA, working virtually is especially powerful for many reasons:
1 : Gaining independence and control over your own life.
2: Being successful on your own terms.
3: Changing the paradigm from working for someone and running on that corporate gerbil wheel to owning your own company and choosing with whom you will work.
4: Working at home lets you spend more time with your children.
5: Only doing work you love.
6: Doing diverse work.
7: Getting to contribute in a way you may never have been permitted to before.
8: Getting to use your creativity freely.
9: Doing dynamic work with interesting people.
10: Having no commute.
11: Working with people who genuinely appreciate your contribution.
12: Being a pioneer in a new profession.
13: Setting your own hours, taking as much time off as is desired.
14: Devising a schedule that works best for you and your family.
15: Receiving compensation that genuinely honours the contribution you make. essional in your own right.
You might consider becoming a VA because any one reason in the above list, or for a reason not shown. What I know is that the only job security in this country is the security you create on your own. The corporate world will continue to ask you for more, while giving you less. And downsizing continues… there is simply no way for you to know how long your job will be viable. If you want to, and are ready to create your own destiny, becoming a VA might be just the way to do that.

Q: How is it different than being a home-based secretary?
A: Generally speaking, the difference is in the scale and scope of the relationship.

A Virtual Assistant:
Works in a relationship. That relationship is ongoing, with the people working together daily. Because of the nature of the relationship, a VA can only work with a relatively small number of clients. Becomes the right hand of the person assisted, getting to know the client, his business, his customers, his life. She becomes, literally, a partner in his success. Does secretarial work, but as partner, she often does much more than that, and it often crosses over into supporting the client in personal matters as well as professional. Creates value for her clients through a dynamic learning process — the more she learns about the client, his business, his customers and his life, the more she is able to support him, and the more value she creates.

A home-based secretary:
Does piece work. Can have hundreds of clients because a client might only need assistance once or twice each year. There is no partnership. Doesn’t usually get to know a client’s business well because there’s no need. Only task oriented work is given to them, so the level of trust doesn’t need to be high. Provides a value which is commodity based through a select set of secretarial services offered. Q: You keep talking about the relationship aspects of being a VA. Can you tell me more about that? A: Virtual Assistance is similar to Administrative or Executive Assistance, well known in the corporate workplace in many respects. But the corporate world generally devalues its administrative staff. They simply don’t yet see, much less understand, the power that could be created if bosses and managers actually saw their administrative people as more than functions, and as being able to bring more to the table than what’s typed on a job description. Incredibly lucky is the administrative professional who has a real partnership with her boss — the reality is that those kinds of relationships are too far and few between. So the main thing that makes Virtual Assistance so special (besides the fact that it’s, well, virtual) is the relationship — the partnership formed between the VA and client. It’s a brave, new world, and in our world we shatter traditional models and rewrite definitions all the time — here’s how I define “partnership”…

A Partnership is the purposeful and collaborative commingling of talent, strengths and goals contributing to the constant benefit of all those involved.

Let’s look at that more closely to see what this new partnership is all about, because understanding it is going to be critical to you as you consider whether this is the profession for you, and if so, how you want to structure your business: First, I believe it’s critical that the partnerships are constant — the people involved need to be committed to working together on a super frequent and ongoing basis. Each action taken within the relationship leads the pair to another action, moving forward to a specific goal. Each goal moves the pair toward the goal, and the momentum carries them forward, together. For the VA/Client relationship, the ultimate goal is harmonious and constant partnering — not a series of transactions. Next, the relationship is purposeful — it’s no accident that the two are working together. They chose each other and moved together into the relationship, and they will move together to achieve results. In the VA/Client relationship, if the purposefulness isn’t there, there’s no basis for the relationship. Partnerships are also a commingling of talents, strengths and goals. That implies that each member of the partnership brings all of their talents and strengths to the table, incorporating them together — with each giving what they have so that they can together achieve more than they could alone. Their goals may not be completely the same, but in the shared experience of the partners, both people achieve their independent and combined goals. In the VA/Client relationship, the VA gives all she has, in terms of talents, skills and resources — BUT here’s the important point: while it would seem she does so simply for the good of the client, that’s simply not so. That’s more traditional corporate thinking. Instead, partnerships create constant benefit for all involved, and as such, the VA derives as much benefit from the relationship as the client, and in very similar ways. While the client may grow a business, free up more time for family and friends, do only the things he/she’s good at, and generally have a better quality of life as a result of the relationship with the VA, the VA benefits by having greater freedom and flexibility, grows her own business, does the work she most loves and is good at doing, and generally has a better quality of life. The client gets all this by giving work TO his VA partner, and the VA gets all this by taking work FROM her client partner. Neither can have all they want and need when working alone. The VA/Client partnership synergistically provides the missing elements.
Q: Why would I want to do this at home, rather than working for a company in their offices?
A: For all the reasons I mentioned above, plus one: control over your own life. Life is, after all, short. We don’t get to rehearse it. What you have is what you have, and unless you’re willing to take a stand and do what you love and make you happy, you’re likely to have regrets when you get to the end of your life. If you want it badly enough, you can have it all — fabulous well-paying work, and a high-quality personal life. If you don’t have that now, perhaps you should ask yourself what would bring it to you.
Q: What’s the idea behind Virtual Assistance?
A: Originally, it was driving by corporate downsizing, and by the reality that more and more people were starting their own small or home-based businesses. In order for them to maximize their potential, they really need support of all kinds. As time has gone by, those same kinds of clients still need support, but other client groups have emerged as well. All of them needing the administrative expertise and passion they lack. Working in a collaborative relationship with a Virtual Assistant is a terrific way to get that support.
Q: Who would work with a VA?
A: All sorts of people. Consultants (marketing, sales, management, corporate, etc.), coaches, professional speakers, CPA’s, attorneys, writers, photographers, authors, professional athletes, celebrities, therapists, financial planners, stock brokers, executive recruiters, entrepreneurs – what professions can you think of where a small business owner would need support? The list is limitless! Additionally, we’re seeing a trend toward busy families having relationships with VAs as a way to recoup valuable family time rather than dealing with the overwhelming number of tasks and family management details faced on a daily basis. Q: OK, but why wouldn’t they work with a temp? A: If they have a home-based business, it’s unlikely that a temp agency will send someone to work with them. More importantly, they still need to have the space, furniture and equipment in order to have a temp; expenses many small business owners would rather not have. And families could hire a housekeeper; however the expense is usually prohibitive, where the cost of working with a VA is affordable.
Q: How do I decide if being a VA is the right career path for me?
A: If you’re here reading this, if what you’re reading is exciting to you, if you have great administrative, communication, and cyber skills, if you genuinely love being of service, if the idea of collaboratively supporting a busy person jazzes you, if you are insatiably curious, love to learn, and love being a resource for people, if you want to create a company of your own visioning — one where you’ll do work you love with dynamic people, chances are becoming a VA is right for you.
Q: Aren’t the skills I have enough for me to just go out and start working now?
A: Perhaps you have great office and administrative skills. That’s perfect! You’ll need those every day you work with others as a VA. Still, my experience tells me that that learning to build a virtual business and develop a successful thriving practice happens far more quickly and easily when you get industry specific training. I firmly believe that anyone considering this profession probably needs additional training. I am certain that people, who get great training and really understand the power created in the relationship between the VA and the person assisted, will get their practices up and running much quicker than those who try to do it on their own. It’s a fact that most new businesses won’t make it to their fifth year. You and your business deserve every advantage to get you to that point, and beyond. I think professional training gives you that advantage. Having said that – you can do it without training. I did. And I was terrifically successful, and possibly the highest paid VA ever. But I stumbled a lot. I made some really horrible decisions. I participated in groups for women business owners where it was clear to me that the opinions I was getting as I asked for ideas and support were coming from others who weren’t in any better shape in their own businesses than I was in mine. It felt very much like the blind leading the blind, and no one seemed particularly sure about what she was doing, or especially happy. And despite the fact that I had the support of a fabulous professional coach who helped me a great deal, doing it on my own held me back in significant ways. Part of the reason I founded AssistU was to provide to others an absolute formula for success, so that they could avoid the potholes and pitfalls, so they could have a strong foundation for their new businesses, so that they could not only start, but sustain a business that would make it, long-term, and that would support them in living high-quality lives of their own creation. And that’s the work I do now, every day of my life.
Q: Can this be done part-time?
A: You can structure your practice any way you like. It’s your business! You set your own hours, and if you only have one day a week, or evenings and weekends only, go for it!! Finding clients who need that kind of support might be a bit more difficult than it would be if you were available from 9-5, but it can be done. Some people think they’d like to keep a full-time job, and work part-time as a VA in the evening and on weekends, building a practice until the income generated is on par with the income earned at the full-time job. If that’s something you’re considering, know that, depending on your circumstances and financial needs, which might not be an especially realistic goal, as it may require you to work more hours than you have the capacity to handle. What’s more realistic is that you have a transition plan — a way to move from working full-time to working in your own business. There are only a few ways to make that happen without making yourself crazy in the process, and most of them require you to make some firm choices for your life because transitions aren’t easy. If you want to make the transition, however, you’ll find a way to make it work for you. Q: What kinds of work might I do as a VA? A: The beauty of this work is that the only things you can’t really do are things which actually need to be touched in your client’s office, such as paper filing (and even that’s possible if you’re creative!). Otherwise, you and your clients are only bound by imagination, need, skills and desire.

Some things we’ve known VAs to do:

  • Handle email or US mail, handling most and forwarding to the client just those which need his/her attention
  • Make appointments,keep a schedule
  • Make/receive phone calls/inquiries
  • Fax/receive faxes
  • Research of all sorts
  • Plan meetings and events
  • Plan parties (business and personal), weddings, and reunions
  • Make travel arrangements — business and personal
  • Handle reservations for seminars given by clients
  • Writing
  • Proof reading
  • Copy editing
  • Desktop publishing
  • Newsletter publishing (print and internet)
  • Coordination of web design/hosting
  • Mailings
  • Buy gifts/cards for customers of clients
  • List managing (majordomo, listserv)
  • Reminder service
  • Transcription and Dictation
  • Bill paying
  • Bookkeeping – business and personal
  • Create/maintain databases

you’ll remember that all of that is done with a foundation of providing classic administrative and/or personal support.

you’ll remember that all of that is done with a foundation of providing classic administrative and/or personal support.

It’s not so important that you know how to do it all. What’s important is that you know how to get it all done. That’s what’s important to clients, and part of what creates uncommon value for them.

Q: What could I expect to earn?
A: Much depends on your skills, what you want to do, how much value you create, your experience, etc.

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