There are so many networks out there these days that it’s hard to decide which ones to go with, or should you join any at all?
Many people are now entering the Virtual Assistant industry, having read about it in news articles, magazines and blogs, or having seen it via television business shows and news reports. But they are not always sure where to go and how to start.
Using your favourite search engine should pull up various Virtual Assistant networks and organisations which really are your first port-of-call. After all, these groups have been around for some time, have helped shape the industry and are filled with your peers with varying degrees of experience, from beginner right through to seasoned veteran who has seen the industry birth and grow from the mid ’90s.
However, not all realise these groups exist and often they end up at freelance sites or other places, because that’s what they read about and didn’t proceed to do their own exploration. Not everything you read in print or online is factual and it is important that you actually do the research yourself to make sure you do have the correct facts and that what you decide to do, will in fact, help you to develop a successful VA practice.
The 27 Virtual Assistant networks I have linked here, have been around for quite some time, some of them for over 10 years, as in the network I run (A Clayton’s Secretary – established in 1994). Some of the networks are free with members’ chat forums and additional benefits available to you. Other networks have a membership fee involved – the more the network has to offer for its members, the more likely there is to be a membership fee included, so it’s worth checking each one out to see what’s on offer and what you feel you would best benefit from, based on your current situation.
Apart from the membership fee being tax deductible because it’s part of your business’ running expenses, it is also a fact that people don’t often value what they have, unless it’s paid for. Membership to VA networks should be seen as part of your marketing expenditure, or whatever your accountant advises membership subscription fees for industry associations to be listed under.
I belong to the Australian Institute of Office Professionals and the National Speakers Association of Australia. Both give me the opportunity to mix and mingle with my peers, learn from those more senior and experienced than me, keep up-to-date with what’s happening in the industry, and periodically an opportunity for a paid job might come along.
The VA networks in general offer more – many of them have Requests for Proposal, or Job Leads where prospective clients can place a request for work to be done and members of that group can respond accordingly to secure the work. The networks have deliberately set up to not only attract the attention of prospective members, but also prospective clients for their members. But please don’t make the mistake of thinking that any of these networks are going to keep you fully engaged in work. They aren’t – they will help you develop your business and they will point you in the right direction for training, marketing and how to look after your clients. However, securing clients is your job, and some of the networks will assist in that regard.
I don’t know of many other industry groups that actually assist their members to secure clients so we’re fortunate that that is the way the VA industry has grown and developed over the years. Of those industry associations I’ve experienced, or have knowledge of, the majority assist their members with professional development, provide networking opportunities, possibly a publication in the form of a printed or emailed newsletter and perhaps advise on how to handle a situation or point them to legal counsel if needed.
We really are very blessed in the VA industry to have networks that provide a variety of member benefits, including discounts on various items such as software, insurances, computer care, web hosting, training, etc so it really is worthwhile shopping around to see what’s on offer. And if their chat forums are free – join those first, as it will give you a feel for the culture and camaradie of the network members. In fact, the forums are in place of the networking events that many industry associations hold and what’s more, you can have daily interaction – you don’t have to wait till the next meeting! With all that on offer, why would any VA try to do it alone?
Kathie is the owner of VA Directory and is former past President of the Australian VA Association. She founded the Virtual Assistant industry in Australia in the mid 90s, having already been operating a home-based secretarial service. Today the VA industry covers a multitude of office-based services for clients worldwide.