I belong to a number of VA chat forums and the common request from new VAs on all the lists, is ‘how do I get started?’
I encourage you to read through the archives on those forums – it will help give you a foundation to build upon and start putting you on the same level playing field as those who have already begun. There’s a steep learning curve in front of you. You’ll find a lot of answers at http://vadirectory.blogspot.com/2006/01/advice-for-new-vas.html and other posts on this blog. If you use the search feature at the top you’ll also be able to find other VA blogs dedicated to assisting you in your quest for information.
Something you do need to take note of, and that is, whilst the chat forums are free, to benefit from many of the networks and what they offer to VAs, there will usually be a membership fee involved. I know that a lot of people think it’s on the Internet and it should be free, but let’s take a look at this for a moment. If you have a secretarial background, chances are you belonged to an industry (secretarial or professional administrative) association whilst in your corporate job that related to your industry. As with a graphic designer, web designer, IT support, bookkeeper, there are also industry associations. Memberships to these come at a cost and are tax deductible – as is your membership to a VA network or association.
With the ‘physical’ associations you belonged to, there would have been an annual fee, a monthly publication, invitations to monthly networking or educational events, perhaps one or two annual events (like the popular Administrative (or Office) Professionals Day breakfasts) and there might have been an accreditation or certification program. Unless you’d formed a close bond with another member it is unlikely you had daily contact with your peers.
With the ‘virtual’ association or network there are usually free chat forums which allow you constant (daily, if you want) contact with your peers and free advice, and with paid membership there will be additional items which might include web page listing, materials (books and other products), advertising programs, job referrals, direct client contact, web hosting and/or web design, mentoring and/or coaching, discounted services or products from partner suppliers, training and so on. Some might hold events with discounts to members of those networks. Others may have medical or insurance plans in place (usually country specific). All of this requires someone (or sometimes several someones) at the other end maintaining databases, websites, tracking information, passing (client) information on, answering questions by phone or email, helping members (particularly the new ones) and sourcing more benefits, in other words Association Management.
Association Management is a service that some VAs provide to membership groups (like business councils, industry associations, sporting groups, etc) to look after their membership base, bookkeeping, database and websites, as well as organise events, take minutes of meetings and so on. Most VA networks have been developed along similar lines but it is hard for a member of any association or network to see what goes on behind the lines.
I encourage you to look at the different networks around and view what they have on offer to their members and what might suit you best. If you are able to join their chat forums before becoming a (paid) member, then I suggest you do, so you can get a feel for the group and how well you would fit in, and more to the point, how much you might learn. Two great sites that list different VA networks are: Work The Web and Alliance for Virtual Business. Both sites have lots of interesting information about the VA industry in general as well. Happy reading! KMT