There is so much on the web these days about being a Virtual Assistant and for newcomers who have just discovered this industry it can indeed be a challenge working out where they should go for information, what they need to get started and how they find their clients?
May I say that it’s important to check the credentials of those giving ‘advice’? Many may be well intentioned but not all have the experience or knowledge to point you in the right direction. One good way to avoid this is to find out where experienced practicing VAs hang out and join them. So you want to look for Virtual Assistant networks and forums. There is value in learning from others who are already treading the same path and where we don’t view each other as competitors, but rather as valued allies and peers. So for information, VA networks and forums are your best resource generally.
There are a number of books written about the Virtual Assistant industry but again, I encourage you to check the credentials of those who have written the books. Have they walked their talk? How long have they been in the industry, meaning have they actually run their own VA practice and had their own clients? What do their clients have to say about them? Are there testimonials on their site? What do their peers say about them?
It is important to do your research because money spent in the wrong quarters can become an expense rather than an investment. Same applies to any training or coaching programs out there. There are some very good programs available in different price brackets, depending on what you’re looking for. But these programs don’t teach you how to provide the service you want to provide for the most part, generally they teach you how to run a business, market yourself, service clients and so on.
Next – what do you need to get started?
Skills are very important. If you do not have good typing skills, or have little knowledge of the software programs you intend using, then chances are you aren’t going to succeed or hang around long in this business. So you need to know what kind of service you wish to offer and make sure you have the necessary skills. People skills are also very important. If you’re not used to dealing with people (not bosses but clients) you’ll need to learn quickly how to handle them.
Equipment and software. The newer your computer the better but it could be 3-4 years old and still be running adequately if the software is also about the same age. The newer the software the newer the computer should be to keep up with the processing and memory needs, not to mention adequate disk space. I would recommend nothing older than Windows 2000 and Office 2000 but that is getting a bit old now. I still use WinXP for my operating system and Office 2003 but will be looking to upgrade very soon. I don’t always upgrade as soon as a new piece of software or operating system is available and will often encourage my clients to wait too. Why? Because older pieces of software can often be rendered incompatible and if I upgrade my database for example it means the clients whose databases I look after and sync with also have to upgrade their software. My bookkeeping program doesn’t take kindly to too many upgrades either so I have to make sure it’s compatible with a new operating system. And so on. But once you have your programs established you could realistically work with them for at least 5 years without having to upgrade – depending on the services you provide.
Furniture. Make sure you have a decent work desk – not something small in a corner, and a suitable ergonomic chair to sit on. You are going to spend many, many hours at your desk and on your chair so look after your body properly by providing it the right furniture to be in and at.
Internet connection. Dial up isn’t preferable these days but if that’s all that’s available to you, be sure you plan to dial in on a regular basis and download to keep in touch with clients and others. Broadband or ADSL – something that can be permanently connected online would be the best preference. Clients can get in touch at any time of day or night. Don’t let your email build up on the mail server as it will produce bounced messages to those trying to contact you. Not a good image for your business.
Web presence. You don’t have to have your own website but you do need some kind of online presence. Being a member of one or two VA networks (at least) will give you a listing in their online directories so clients can find you. Make sure also that your email address isn’t a hotmail or yahoo address. Sorry, but they just don’t cut it for business these days and too many spammers use them. If you don’t own your own domain (and why not? They are quite cheap now) then use gmail or similar to give a more professional appearance for your business.
I’ve already mentioned VA networks. Many of these provide a service to clients to find a VA to support them. Which is one of the many reasons why you should join a VA network. Yes, it usually involves a membership fee but consider this: most pay for advertising which you benefit from. Most provide a web page listing for individual members which you benefit from. Most provide backup support so if you need a more experienced VA to assist, or perhaps you need to sub-contract to other VAs, then the facilities to do this are available. There are many other benefits too.
Other ways to find clients are: set up your own website and get it listed with the search engines; advertise with Google Adwords; place your business cards where they can be left in shops, post offices, newsagencies, supermarkets, libraries and other places. Join business networking groups to meet other business owners who aren’t your VA peers. Many of these do need your support and will engage you once they’ve gotten to know you. Carry business cards on your person everywhere and give them away. They’re no good stuck in a drawer or on a shelf somewhere.
The above should help get you looking in the right direction and get you started. There is more that can be done but then if I continued here, you’d have a book on the subject.