This is a great article if you are interested in what Virtual Assistants are and what they do. It's quite amazing how quickly the industry is growing and how the definition of work for small business owners is changing because of VA's.
Virtually- How Virtual Assistants are changing the face of the
Virtual Assistants, or VA's are changing the way
we do business. Not only is this field growing tremendously,
but it's offering employers and business owners alike an
attractive new alternative to hiring employees.
Perhaps because this is a relatively new
industry, it's hard to pin down exactly how many Virtual
Assistants there are out there.
Susan Valeri was a VA before she even knew she
was a VA.
"I started [doing this work] and then I came
across the term Virtual Assistant on the Internet and I
thought, '...that's me!'. I didn't really know that there were
other people doing it," Valeri comments.
So is there an easy way to define a Virtual
Assistant? Not according to Stacy Brice, President and Chief
Visionary Officer of AssistU, an organization that provides
training and coaching to virtual assistants.
"The definition of what a VA will vary,
depending on who you ask," Brice contends. "I have a very much
branded definition [and that] is that a VA is a person who
owns her own business, works from her home office, provides
administrative and personal support across the board to
clients who can be down the street or around the world...but
in collaborative, long-term relationships."
Some define a VA as anyone who works from home
and provides any sort of support virtually.
Stacy disagrees. "If you're a Marketing
Consultant, and you do that from home, that doesn't make you a
Virtual Assistant, that makes you a Marketing Consultant who
works from home. So, I think that using the term Virtual
Assistant as a catch-all for anything a person can do from
home, that is supportive of other businesses, is a false
The International Virtual Assistant's
Association (IVAA) defines a VA as:
"VAs are independent contractors who provide
administrative support or specialized business services from a
distance, through the Internet, fax, telephone or another
method of communication. They can help a company that needs
extra people to meet seasonal demands; provide unique skills
for a special project; or step in to meet the demands of
business growth, locally, domestically or globally."
Despite the varying definitions, what everyone
can agree on is the fact that this is a growing industry that
can be a lucrative home business opportunity. At the same
time, a Virtual Assistant can offer tremendous benefits to the
business owner that contracts them.
Virtual Assistants are not hired as employees.
They are business owners themselves and are hired on a
contract basis. An employer who works with a VA has the
distinct advantage of not having to deal with taxes,
unemployment insurance, sick leave, vacation pay, or benefits.
Rather than having to provide additional office space, and be
responsible for the development and supervision of an
employee, they can enjoy the support and assistance of a
professional without the headaches of hiring and managing
And while VA's are in a support role, that
doesn't mean that they are in a subordinate role.
According to Brice, the ideal VA is someone who
"genuinely loves being in a support role and doesn't see that
as having to be in a sort of one-down position. Someone who
can really see that if I use my skills in supporting you, I
can absolutely be your equal. I'm just bringing a different
set of skills to your table."
Asked about the skills that make for a
successful VA Brice responds, "I think that VA's typically are
talented admins, who just want out of the corporate world."
Of course, basic administrative skills are a
must. At AssistU, fewer than half of the applicants get to the
Says Brice, "I don't want to be teaching someone
to use Word for the very first time. I don't want to be
talking to someone about telephone etiquette. Of course we can
talk about that on a higher level, but what was important to
me is that these people come out of a background where they
already have a certain number of years with that kind of
experience. I think that someone who doesn't have any
administrative type background would find it possibly very
much more difficult to become a fabulous VA."
Another critical skill would have to be
resourcefulness. Most VA's are generalists, that is they offer
a variety of services to clients across different industries.
Sooner or later, a client is going to ask them to do something
that they don't know how to do.
"It's not so important that any VA can do it
all," says Brice. "What's more important is that she knows how
to get it done. Because if you're my client, and you need
something done, and I don't know how to do it or I don't like
to do it, you're not really going to care as long as I can get
it handled for you."
As with any business, flexibility is important.
Susan Valeri, who lives in the Central time zone, has a client
on the West Coast. This can be both a benefit and a challenge.
"[It] works out great for me because by the time
she wakes up, I've got her work done!" On the other side of
the coin, "She's getting revved up when I'm getting ready to
have dinner. So I can hear my email going off while I'm
In addition to administrative skills, soft
skills are also integral. A successful VA is someone who can
be proactive about how they can help a client to achieve their
goals, and they need to be able to convey this to a potential
And as with any business, integrity is vital.
One of Valeri's responsibilities is to answer emails regarding
her client's business. "I'd better be honest, open and
knowledgeable about her business," she insists. "Get a good
grasp of my clients business, how they want things run, what
their product is, so that I can intelligently answer
Aside from the obvious impact that integrity has
on the success of any business owner, it also affects the type
of client that a VA attracts.
"If I act with integrity, then I'm going to get
more business and I'm going to attract the kind of people that
I want to do business with," Valeri says.
Brice agrees. According to her, one of the
smartest things a potential VA can do is to invest in their
own life because, "you'll become more attractive and be able
to attract a more high quality client." If your goal is to
work with people of a high caliber and high ethics, you'd
better demonstrate those principals yourself.
While most VA's are generalists, many specialize
in a particular field. For example, when Brice was a VA she
was deeply niched and only worked with best-selling authors.
One advantage of becoming niched is the ability to charge a
higher hourly rate. According to Brice the low end of the pay
scale is about $30 per hour. In fact, she feels that a VA
cannot make a profit billing at less than that. She projects
that by 2003 the average experienced VA will be billing at
around $60 per hour, and "much higher for someone who's deeply
niched and incredibly good at what she does." Brice herself
commanded over $100 per hour for her services when she was a
While this is a fairly new industry, there are
several organizations that offer support and resources to
VA's. Many VA's agree that becoming a member of one of these
organizations can be a tremendous help to someone starting
Valeri says that looking back, she would have
joined a professional organization earlier to start networking
with other people doing this type of work.
And Brice offers this advice:
"Look at all your options. Look at what it would
be to get trained, and really investigate that. Look at what
it would be to go it on your own and investigate that, as
well. And find the organization, whether it's AssistU, or
another VA organization. Find the organization that you
believe is going to support you in the way that you need to be
supported. And be honest with yourself about it. That's where
I see alot of arrogance. 'I've been an administrative
assistant for 12 years, I don't need any help.' Trust me, you
need help. This is a brand new world. Working virtually is not
the same as being an assistant in the corporate world. It just
Want more information?
AssistU hosts a free telediscussion about
Virtual Assistance. For information on how to participate,
Learn more about what AssistU
Visit Susan Valeri's website at
Sharon Davis, Work-At-Home expert, author and consultant,
helps people to achieve their goal of working at home,
telecommuting or starting a home business.
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