This time of year invariably brings up a couple of regular items for comment in news articles and blogs: New Year’s Resolutions, and ideas for changing jobs or starting a business and so on.
These days it seems that starting up a Virtual Assistant business is ideal for the ‘cash poor’ as I saw it promoted on more than one website, and these are usually written by those who do not work in the industry at all. So, I want to touch on this for all those who are interested in working at home and what it might cost them to do so.
First, let’s get it straight. Not anyone could set up a business as a virtual assistant, simply because they have a computer and internet connection and can do a bit of typing. You need to be able to do much more than that.
It is recommended that those wanting to be VAs have at least 5 years’ corporate experience. Why? Because they need to know how to make decisions about the work given to them, need to be able to work without supervision, need to know how to deal with the public and also need to have some ability to work out how to sort out a problem if one occurs (and they do periodically).
You also need to have good computer and software skills. Knowing how to type might get you somewhere with email or an unformatted document, but the minute you are required to do some formatting, using Outlines, tables and inserting graphics, then you had better know what you are doing. You really can’t charge a client a full rate whilst learning on the job. And don’t think you can get away with charging a small rate because you are learning on the job. Because further down the track you’ll find it hard to up your rate once you know what you are doing, and you’ll also serve to make clients think that all VAs charge similar rates. You will also get disheartened about how long it takes to build up a business, gain good clients and earn a reasonable income. And this only applies to wordprocessing. By the way, what is your typing speed like? Or perhaps you favour doing database management, graphic design, desktop publishing, website maintenance? Better to start with good skills and experience behind you.
Then, there comes the set up. You need to have dedicated space to run your business – a corner of a bedroom, kitchen or loungeroom really isn’t adequate. If you have the occasional client come in, you need to feel comfortable with them seeing your office. You also need to have sufficient room for filing (you’d be amazed at how quickly the paper piles up!), a decent desk to sit at (make sure it’s strong, sturdy and will last for a long time), a current computer and software – you don’t want to be trying to upgrade and update only 6 months down the track, a suitable chair because you’ll be spending long hours at your computer and need to be comfortable. A good printer for output for clients – not all work is going to be emailed back and often clients will want you to print and post off on their behalf, or they will come pick up the work.
Next there is the phone line – are you going to use the home line or get a dedicated line for your business? And what about a fax line? Voicemail, and a broadband internet connection – if it’s available in your area it’s much better than using dialup which is more costly in the long run – both financially and timewise.
After that, you might decide you want a website – along with that comes webhosting and a domain name. Then advertising – you can’t run a business and not let people know you exist. Joining various VA networks will help here. Yes, there are membership fees – these networks can’t be run without it costing something. And they definitely give back in return. So join some networks and get your website on their listings. Look at what business directories there are too (like your local council for example).
Finally, there’s the promotion and meeting people, that is networking. You can’t attend networking events without that costing something also. Memberships fees, or attendance fees for breakfast or lunch, or for listening to a speaker. Don’t forget business cards – a very necessary item. You can’t meet people and not have something to give to them so they can remember who you are and how to get in touch.
So, as you can see, whilst being a VA isn’t a high-end business cost, it is going to cost you something. Let’s recap here:
- Experience – you need to have put in the years first.
- Decent furniture – you’ll spend a lot of time sitting at it and on it
- Current computer and software – something old and outdated will frustrate you and soon put you out of the market
- Advertising materials – business cards, letterhead, website, domain name, web hosting
- Membership fees – both local and online networks – these are both for learning from other business operators and for exposure amongst clients
- Time – be prepared to put a minimum of 6 months in before getting something back for your time and effort. Many VAs don’t see their first regular client much before then, although some do, because they’ve done the research and put in the work.
- Money to support you whilst you build up your business – either a partner who is on a good income that can help support you, and/or savings you’ve put away to keep you going.
Now, does that sound like it’s an ideal career for someone who is ‘cash poor’? Nah, I didn’t think so! KMT
This article also relates.