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All over the U.S. there are businesses, entrepreneurs, and start up companies in need of extra help. The kind of help they need is typically provided by another type of professional that is known as the virtual assistant.
What Does A Virtual Assistant Do?
A virtual assistant (VA) is someone who manages routine tasks, usually online or through electronic communications with the client. The tasks vary in complexity and skills needed, but what they have in common is that they are needed by businesses, but don't have to be performed on site at the business location. Depending on the virtual assistant's skills and interests, among the services she or he may offer are:
- Managing databases
- Publishing electronic newsletters
- Planning events
- Internet marketing and social media
- Creating presentations
- Marketing support services
- Managing projects
- Product purchasing
- Telephone answering
- Customer support
- Website design and maintenance
- Social media marketing
- Word processing
- Writing, proofreading, and editing documents
How Much Will You Make?
The amount of money you can make as a virtual assistant will depend on your skills and experience, the number of billable hours a week you work, and to some extent on the geographic area you focus on. Many virtual assistants in the US start out billing $20 to $35 an hour and then raise their rates as demand for their services grows.
How Two Professional Virtual Assistants Started Their Businesses
Like a lot of things, there isn't just one way to start a virtual assistant business. However, there are some first steps you should take no matter the ultimate path you follow. The first thing is to assess your own strengths and weaknesses. What are you good at? What skills do you have? This is a good place to start because you need to know what services to provide to potential clientele before you start marketing yourself.
Kathy Goughenour has been a virtual assistant since 2001. In 2008, she started a ExpertVATraining, a virtual assistant training and coaching business. She recommends first identifying the types of businesses you want to service and the services you want to provide them. "Then do some research to determine if the target market you've chosen needs, wants, and has the money to pay for those services," she adds.
The second step she recommends is to create a website. And the third step is to partner with other businesses who have the same target market as you.
Virtual assistant Candice VanWye, owner of Social Creative Studios in San Diego, offers different advice. Her suggestion is to start locally.
"Most VAs try to get clients online, but I believe it's easier to target people who are in the same area (as you) because you seem more tangible," she said, "especially if you don't have much experience."
After establishing yourself locally, VanWye recommends establishing a blog and using it to attract more clients from a distance. After working as a virtual assistant for one year at the local level, she said she grew her business enough to hire employees and expand her business reach.
The key to succeeding in this, as in any business, will be your ability to find customers. Networking both in person at local events and online will be important ways to get known. There are many other low-cost ways to promote your new business, too.
Should You Use Bidding Sites Like Elance?
Bid sites are controversial among virtual assistants. Some VAs like them and some don't. One problem with bidding sites like Elance is that many business people using these services are looking for the lowest bidder. You could be competing with VAs in India and China, in which case you'll have to offer low prices to get some business.
The upside is you can hone your skills working for low pay and then bump up to the higher end markets when you're ready.
You might find it less competitive, and more lucrative, to start with a service like HireMyMom.com, which is run by a professional mom who works from home. If you fall into the same category, you have a built in affinity group with such services.
A Third Path to Establishing Your Own VA Service
A longer way around to being an independent virtual assistant is to establish your skills working for someone else first. By working with an established virtual assistant company that provides the clients, you can gain some experience in the field working remotely. However your earnings are likely to be lower than if you work on your own, and the virtual assistant company you work with is likely to restrict you from soliciting business from their customers once you go out on your own. Read any document you have to sign very carefully, and avoid any non-compete clauses that might limit or attempt to limit your ability to start your own business in the future.
There are several virtual assistant companies you can work for before going out on your own. Here are two:
You can Google "virtual assistant company" to find more.
As in any other industry, there are several trade organizations that offer virtual assistants industry information, networking with their peers, and other benefits, including access to fee-based certification programs. Two of the better known organizations for VAs are:
International Virtual Assistants Association ( IVAA)
The International Association of Administrative Professionals (IAAP)
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