Virtually Yours

The growing virtual assistant industry presents opportunities for aspiring entrepreneurs and small business owners alike

When the time came for Wendy Y. Bailey to promote her one-day coaching workshop earlier this year, she didn’t hire a marketing firm to handle the task. She handed over the project to Tonya Thomas, her administrative assistant who oversaw the project from concept to completion.

Using Bailey’s handwritten notes, Thomas created an outline of topics to be covered at the event, wrote short descriptions for each topic, and developed e-mail marketing messages that were distributed to Bailey’s database of contacts. She then developed a PowerPoint presentation for distribution to seminar participants.

By collaborating with Bailey, Thomas was able to accomplish her tasks and, in many cases, recognize challenges and handle them before they became problems. And Bailey, free of the day-to-day management of the project, was able to focus on the heart of her business while reviewing and approving the administrative tasks Thomas worked on. Each element of the project was completed seamlessly, as if the women had been working together in the same office. But Thomas and Bailey weren’t even in the same state.

Thomas, who lives and works in Birmingham, Alabama, is a virtual assistant, a self-employed independent contractor who handles administrative tasks for small offices via e-mail, fax, telephone, and the Internet. Bailey is the owner of Brilliance in Action, an Atlanta-based personal and business coaching firm. She has been using VAs since 2004 as a way to support her growing business. “I look at my VAs as part of my team because they do more than what they’re asked to do; they lend their support and creativity to projects,” says Bailey.

VAs, one of the fastest growing home-based business opportunities, are often the long-term “growth partners” of the small businesses and independent professionals who hire them. Scores of professional VAs joined the ranks of the self-employed after serving as administrative and executive assistants in the corporate world. Unlike temporary employees, VAs are entrepreneurs, like many of their clients.

The growth of this new, creative labor force is due to advancements in technology. Faster broadband and enhanced communication, such as quick file transfers and video conferencing, are expanding an industry where office professionals can provide administrative and other support services without having to be on-site.

Another factor spurring growth within the VA profession is that small businesses understand the benefits of outsourcing: increased efficiency and reduced labor costs, to name a few. When you hire a VA, you get a computer-trained professional who can provide everything from traditional office support to highly specialized project management.

As small businesses increase their broadband usage, VAs are leveraging enhanced communications tools to become virtual lifesavers. VAs can be located anywhere in the country. They work from their computers, many at home, and don’t require office space or health benefits.

Thomas, who launched The Small Office Assistant in 2001, got into the VA industry with $2,500 she used to pay for a computer, fax machine, printer, and a 20-week training program from Assist U, a training, coaching, and referral service for VAs. Armed with administrative experience in

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