The role of an assistant is typically linked to being the right hand woman – as they tend to be female, although not strictly, of course – of a high powered executive, always by his side or behind him, and sometimes something of a shadow.
However, as anyone in the profession will tell you, being an assistant is more than these analogies give credit to, and much of the work involved requires a high level of methodical and intellectual skill, which is why performing them remotely as a Virtual Assistant is entirely possible.
There are many reasons why becoming a VA can be beneficial, with the biggest impact seemingly on quality of life – you can effectively work from anywhere you like, and although you’re still working to a schedule and time frame, you’ll doubtless spend more time with your family. It also adds the option of working for several unrelated clients – it’s not unusual for a single PA to manage the diaries of 3 or even 4 senior board members at the same company, well, a VA can do the same thing for executives at entirely different entities, even different countries.
The Virtual Assistant industry has been gaining pace, and forecasts predict that demand is on the rise for the foreseeable future. But before you start writing your letter of resignation and begin looking for the idyllic beach house from which you’ll be working in your new VA career path, take heed: it ain’t an easy job.
Any PA or EA will know that the title brings with it a certain amount of effort, hours and demand. Well, as a self employed VA there’s the added pressure of being in charge of yourself, and of financial independence… As any successful VA will tell you, it’s hard work, especially to begin with.
VA’s are effectively, in their majority, entrepreneurs who work from their own space, serving clients the world over. A stable phone line and internet connection are about as essential to the role as it gets – so before you start thinking about that beach hut on a tropical island, ensure you have a high speed connection.
But be warned, competition in the Virtual Assistant realm can be fierce, so make sure your skills are up to scratch and do your best to find a niche. And when the work does pour in, remember that it can slow down at a moment’s notice, along with your income as a freelancer, so adequatemoney management is crucial to your survival and success as a career VA.
Here are some tips on how to get started as a Virtual Assistant:
- Research: Before you start your journey, make sure it’s for you. Do your research, get in touch with other VA’s who’ve made the transition and look into courses to help you through it.
- Skills: Ensure your basic PA related skills are all up to scratch, and look into adding to your skill set by taking additional courses.
- Planning: Decide on how much you want to be working – whether full or part time – and plan accordingly.
- Niche: If you can differentiate yourself from the rest of the VAs out there, do so. Competition is fierce and you’ll regularly be undercut, so make yourself worth your asking price.
- Target: Decide what sectors and type of clients you would like to be working for and target them, both in honing your skills and in promoting yourself to those markets.
- Equipment: You won’t have an IT team to hand so ensure your equipment is up to scratch – and back up options are always a good idea.
- Finances: Be fully aware of your overheads and expenses before setting out and determine what your minimum income has to be and how long your start-up budget will keep you going for.
- Money management: As mentioned, workflow can change rapidly, so ensure that you manage your money properly to tide you over during dry spells.
- Taxes: It goes without saying, but being self employed also means tax returns. Save you receipts and claim back every last penny you can.
- Marketing: You’re effectively now a product, so it’s time to market yourself. Creating a website and registering on directories is a good place to start, but think outside of the box and keep at it. Sometimes simply picking up the phone and churching out calls is the best way to go about it.
- Networks: Once you’ve set yourself up, a quick way to help get started is by joining freelancer networks, They all work differently, with some, such as People Per Hour, akin to a bidding site. Make sure you highlight skills that set you apart and will make you a better investment that the VA’s from developing regions who’ll no doubt be in a position to undercut.
- Alternatives: There are, of course, alternative options as a VA. If being a freelancer isn’t for you, keep a look out for “in-house” VA roles. Although rare, such roles are not entirely unusual, as your prospective employer may itself be virtual or simply someone based from home as well. There’s also the option of joining a virtual workforce, such as Time Etc, with work distributed and monitored centrally.