I recently had a wannabe Virtual Assistant email me seeking advice and help. She very much wants to become a VA but doesn’t have the 5 years minimum experience that many of the VA networks advise members should have and she wanted to know my thoughts. Below is my response to her.
The criteria for 5 years is a guideline and owners of the VA networks use it to ensure that their members have the skills and abilities needed to operate a VA business, particularly if they’re going to operate under the banner of that network and accept work that is channelled through from them. After all, it is their reputation that’s at stake here and most important that they feel confident in the ability of their members to provide the quality of work a client would expect.
However, that’s not to say others won’t be accepted if they can demonstrate they have sufficient skills and experience in the use of the software and services they are providing their business in. That’s not always easy to prove though. Sometimes I’ve accepted someone who has only a couple of years experience in the corporate world but who might have been doing lots of things on their computer and online through other means, i.e. supporting a family or friend in business, providing support as a committee member to a community organisation, or by other means.
We need to ensure that those who join have some experience in dealing with the public, in making decisions for themselves and are used to being in the working world, rather than fresh out of school or Uni. The networks don’t tell you how to do your work and you’re required to know how to do that yourself, but via their forums they do provide support with respect to marketing your business, learning how to deal with clients in various ways or perhaps learning a new service or skill to integrate into your existing business. The networks also need to know you feel confident with using the Internet and know how to upload and download files, attach files to email and be capable of working with the client direct. I know not everyone from the corporate world has that experience either – many are shut into their ‘corner’ of the virtual world and only know what was made available to them by the company they worked with, but hopefully they are reasonably internet savvy and can pick things up quickly.
There is no reason why you can’t start up on your own and not join a VA network but perhaps join in on some of the free VA forums – I have one at Virtual Assistant International Group. You will find though that you miss out on some of the benefits of joining a network – web exposure being one of the main ones, as their websites are already well established in search engines, and job leads from clients who go to these sites seeking VA support. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible and with constant networking (online and offline) and promotion your business will grow.
There are Virtual Assistant training courses though that will help you get into the system much quicker and many are connected to networks and therefore accept you into membership thereafter. This helps bring you onto a level playing field and makes you aware quickly (over a period of weeks or months) the things that are needed to develop a successful VA practice – and in fact, these courses will often help you to set up and develop things that other VAs take much longer to do, simply because the training makes you aware of these things.
Other options include getting coached by a senior VA (by senior I don’t mean in age but rather their years of VA practice), or doing an ‘internship’ with an existing VA practice (sub-contracting to a VA and learning the ropes that way).
You can read about my course at http://www.vatrainer.com/program.htm
or check out those listed here.
I would like to mention though that I have often seen on forums (new) VAs asking for advice on how to do something that might be considered rather basic by most experienced VAs, but it’s important to remember that not everyone in the corporate world has the same amount of internet knowledge and the new VAs need to learn somewhere. As long as they have the experience required in the services they have chosen to provide, then they should be allowed the luxury of learning the other stuff as soon as possible without more experienced VAs querying why they are on the team.