Businesses of all sizes need administrative help, but having a full-time employee on site can be cost-prohibitive. Enter virtual assistants (VAs), administrative professionals who offer a wide variety of services remotely, operating as their own small businesses.
Through technology like cloud collaboration software, videoconferences, project management apps and instant messaging, entrepreneurs who want to start a virtual assistant firm have all the tools they need to successfully work with business clients.
"The reasons for utilizing a VA firm have become more needs-driven, customized and service-oriented," said Michelle Anastasio-Festi, CEO and founder of CT Virtual Assistance. "It's gone beyond reducing expenses or needing more time, (and businesses are now) focusing on the bigger picture of how hiring a VA can help them achieve their business goals faster, or promote their brand or service."
If you're interested in taking advantage of this lucrative business opportunity and becoming a VA, here's some expert advice for how to make it work. [See Related Story: Online Business Ideas You Can Start Tomorrow]
1. Read, research and network
Operating as a VA on your own can feel like you are all by yourself, but in fact, there are professional groups, online forums and books to support you in your business dream. By reading and researching what services a VA can perform, you can narrow down your own offerings. And by networking with other VAs, you can benefit from subcontracting work or advice from more established VAs.
"Most VAs are more than happy to help out someone who is new to the field. And even if they don’t have any subcontracting work, they may be able to refer you to someone who does," said Julie Perrine, CAP-OM, MBTI Certified, with All Things Admin.
2. Expand your skill set
There's a lot more to being a VA than helping with the tasks your client needs you to do. Having office experience will help you in your day-to-day duties, but as an independent business, you need to learn the ropes of how to run it.
"Working virtually means you must exercise great discipline," said Tim Petree, senior vice president of BST Concierge. "You're your own boss, (but) those corporate rules that once seemed to be a drag can save you from financial ruin when you're the CEO or sole proprietor. If anything, you must now be conversant in all areas of business administration — sales, marketing, IT, customer service, project management, receivables, payables and compliance."
3. Communicate clearly
As with any type of virtual work, not being in the office for face-to-face interactions with your clients can present some difficulties if your or their communications are unclear. VAs perform many of the important day-to-day tasks that keep a business running, so knowing what's required of you as a service provider is key to customer satisfaction.
4. Adapt to your clients' needs
As a VA and as a business owner, you'll need to be able to deliver exactly what each client needs. It's a good idea to determine the best structure for your service packages and pricing based on what your clients are looking for.
"A VA provides business owners with the opportunity to get exactly what they need, when they need it, like ordering from a menu," Anastasio-Festi said. "Because most VAs offer a wide range of services to various industries, it becomes confusing as to who needs what most. [Our firm] is moving away from hourly retainers and more towards customizing individual monthly packages that are tailored to each client's needs."
Additional reporting by Nicole Taylor. Some source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.