Virtually Yours

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

for the first time. Answering e-mail messages for a client is one thing, but setting competitive fees, managing accounts receivables, obtaining health insurance, filling the client pipeline, and organizing your day when five different clients are throwing projects at you is entirely different.

Effective planning, done early in the VA’s process and updated regularly, says Jordan, can make a significant difference. “At VAU, we explore the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats confronting their practices and develop ‘ideal client’ profiles,” explains Jordan, who advises VAs to look for long-term, retainer-based clients whose needs include marketing, appointment setting, and meeting coordination. “From there, VAs can create a practice that promotes their expertise and sets them apart from others while attracting that ideal client to their practice.”

New VAs can also get help from organizations that offer credentials such as VA Certification’s Professional Virtual Assistant, Master Virtual Assistant, and AssistU’s Virtual Training Program. Obtaining credentials doesn’t always require extensive training or education, and some designations are simply given to paying members of an organization.

Future Insights
A virtual assisting business can be started overnight with a computer, Internet connection, Website, and some sharp office skills. The
field is particularly open for African Americans, says A4VB chairwoman Sharon Williams, who notes that minorities have played a prominent role in the industry since its inception.

“Many minorities who now call themselves VAs were actually doing this a long time before the industry was conceived,” says Williams. “It’s a growing industry because so many small businesses understand that they have to delegate to someone else the responsibilities that they dislike doing or that they don’t have time to do anymore.”

Basic Training
If the virtual assistance industry sounds like a good business opportunity for you, here are some pointers to get you moving in the right direction:

Equipment needed: At minimum, you’ll need a computer/workstation, desk, fax, scanner, printer, telephone with voicemail or answering machine, a copy machine, and broadband Internet access. Other items you may want to add: a laptop, Webcam, dictation machine, and telephone headset.

Skills required: Skills that a virtual assistant may find helpful include bilingual capabilities, any earned degrees or certifications in more than one area (such as law, medicine, science, or entertainment), excellent decision making skills, self-discipline, the ability to work under pressure, and the ability to multitask and prioritize.

Certifications available: No specific certifications or designations are required of virtual assistants, although several organizations offer them. The International Virtual Assistants Association (www.ivaa.org), for example, offers a certified virtual assistance exam for $150, while www.vacertification.com offers Professional Virtual Assistant and Master Virtual Assistant certifications for $75 each.

Finding work: Virtual assistants find clients mostly through networking with other professionals. According to the A4VB survey, practicing virtual assistants get the bulk of their clients through word-of-mouth referrals, networking at business functions, and advertising on the Internet via their own Websites. Other strategies include online networking (using industry-related job boards, for example), community involvement, and public speaking.

Setting and negotiating rates: When establishing rates, be sure to factor in your overhead costs, experience, specialized skill

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