I wrote the following article for the Australian Virtual Assistants Association sometime ago, however, I’ve edited it below to include VAs globally. Important that you have some understanding of what you need to do, to get started and also what experience you might need in order to succeed in establishing a VA business.
First and foremost, I need to tell you that Virtual Assistants are business owners. They are not employees, and they work for clients, not bosses and employers. While some VAs might do work for other VAs, the reality is they are still business owners and need to operate their businesses in a suitable way to meet the legal and taxation needs in their own country. VAs generally set their own rates, pay their own taxes and superannuation, and organise their own insurances, leave, etc. No client is responsible for your holiday leave, sick leave, insurances, super or taxes. In some cases clients might purchase software for your use, but generally you supply your own needs, i.e. office equipment, computer hardware and software, and you’re responsible for your own overheads. Given that, the following will tell you what you need to get started and then tell you how to go about getting clients.
Things you need to get started:
- Good reliable computer, printer and internet connection.
- Comfortable chair (you’ll spend a lot of hours in it) and a good desk – even if second hand.
- At minimum Microsoft Office and then any software that relates to your niche service offerings (e.g. if you do bookkeeping, transcriptions, etc)
- Dropbox.com has 2gig free storage and is what most VAs use. Files are not encrypted and works on a drag and drop principle. Can share between multiple computers.
- Via the various VA forums out there and you’ll find examples of agreements, contracts, etc.
- Insurance: business equipment, public liability perhaps. Depending on the service you’re providing maybe professional indemnity. And later income protection but you might not be able to get that till 6 months after you’ve officially started. Check in your favourite VA forums to find out which companies are recommended for your location.
- If in Australia, you do need to register for an ABN. Best to check in your own country what requirements there are for you registering your business.
- If in Australia, you don’t need to register for GST unless you are earning over $75K, however this may mean you cannot claim for GST on your tax returns.
- You don’t have to have a registered business name. You can operate under your own name. However, if you do choose to use a business name, check into the legalities in your state and country.
- If you do register a business name consider getting it Trademarked, along with any logos you plan to use also.
- Consider buying different versions of a domain to match your business name, even if you don’t do anything about a website for awhile. You can use the domain for email and save it for future use, when you’re ready. So you could get a .com but if you’re in a country other than the US, you might want to consider a domain from your own country too.
- You should get an Accountant from the start to help advise you in your business structure set up, i.e. Sole Proprietor, Partnership, Company, LLC, etc
- Think about the services you want to offer and what you will charge for them, be it on an hourly or per project basis. The VA networks will assist you on this but there are resources online also. You may also want to look into creating retainer rates for your services.
What type of experience should you have?
- You should have been working in the workforce at the very minimum, 3 years, but I like to recommend 5 years. This means having been in a position where you are able to make decisions about how work should be done, being used to liaising with customers (clients) and not having to be monitored or constantly guided. As a VA you will be responsible for making decisions on how things are done, how to work to a deadline and what to charge. You won’t have someone else you can turn to.
- At the very least, you should have good keyboarding skills and very good knowledge of the software programs you intend to provide services in. As your business grows you can certainly invest time and money into learning more programs and developing more skills but do not start off your business learning the very thing you’re providing a service in. This will only serve to frustrate the client and convince them that VAs are no good and it will serve to undermine your self-confidence and convince you it (the business) won’t work.
- Word-processing and data-entry are probably the minimum skills you should enter with. Some start with phone answering services and Internet research but there are also lots of other things you can do. Why not read ‘What type of VA are you?’ for ideas.
- Tell people about your business
- Find local networking events close to home (councils often have networking events) and attend them. Spend time getting to know other business owners and let them get to know you. Not just so you can get clients, but also for gaining resources and products for your business and learning what the local laws are pertaining to running a small business.
- Network online via Facebook groups, LinkedIn discussion forums, yahoogroups and other networking avenues – not just groups for your own peers, but groups that will have potential clients.
- Be proactive about promoting your business but don’t spam people and don’t make a nuisance of yourself.
- Make sure you have an online presence. If funds are short, the following items are free or low cost:
- LinkedIn profile – make sure it’s up to date and complete
- Facebook page for your business (not your personal profile)
- Get a domain (these cost under $40AUD for an Aussie domain for 2 years or around $15AUD or less for non-Aussie domain)
- Get low cost hosting and set up a site using WordPress or other website builder. Or, pay someone to create your site.
- Even if you don’t have a website, use the domain for your email address.
- Register with VA networks so you can get a listing on their site and benefit from their client requests, and their online forums. We have a network connected to this site.
- Get business cards designed and printed. They can just have your name and contact details, and perhaps some information about what you do on them. They don’t have to have a logo or business name. Consider adding your photo or an image that relates to what you do. Give them out at networking events and elsewhere. Do add your suburb and state, even if you don’t include your home address. Having a post office box is even better.
- Make sure your web presence has a phone number, with country and state codes included and include your state and country, even if you don’t give an address. Clients need to know where you are if their support requirement means they need someone ‘local’.
Even if you don’t have a client and work straight away, get in the habit of developing routines and systems. Checking your email first thing in the morning and a few times through the day. Checking the networking groups you have joined online. Participate in regular networking events, be it weekly, fortnightly or monthly. Read my blog at this site and the blogs of other VAs.
I hope this helps those of you who are looking to get started. And if you are already a VA, your comments and additional suggestions are most welcome. While you’re at it, why not…
Kathie M. Thomas
Founder, “A Clayton’s Secretary”