Now that you’ve decided to become a virtual assistant, you naturally want to be the best you can be–and the best in the business. This is one of the few part-time money making ideas that can turn into a great full-time career, if you play your cards right. So, here are ten suggestions to put you on the road to success…
It goes without saying, that if you want to be the best, you will need to pick an area to specialize in. As you go to choose your area of specialization, keep your skill set and natural abilities in mind. Don’t choose an area simply because it seems lucrative, or sounds interesting; choose jobs you can already do, and do well. If you’re a talented receptionist, but would rather be a web designer, that’s fine. Earn enough as a receptionist to pay for web design courses, and then switch. When it comes to succeeding as a VA, expertise is everything.
2. A Business Plan
Your dad would tell you that “you didn’t plan to fail; you failed to plan.” And most new entrepreneurs who start their new venture without an adequate business plan do fail. A good plan will include a market analysis, a look at your competition, a financial plan and a business model, among other sections. Remember, you don’t need to have a formal document, but a very informal way to keep track of all the necessary elements works just as well. Unsure of how to proceed? A quick search online, or at your local library or bookseller will turn up plenty of reliable references. It may seem like so much hoop-jumping when you’re raring to jump into your new life, but a little time spent in planning could well save your business later.
3. A Great Website
Even if you plan to find your first assignments on message boards, you still need a professional web presence. Make your site as attractive and user friendly as possible, and add quality content, such as a business or niche-related blog. Make sure your contact information is clear and easy to find. Your website is your chance to make a great virtual first impression, and one way to market yourself, using search engine optimization (SEO). While you’re at it, it may be time to clean up your social media profile, if necessary; clients read Facebook, too!
4. A Marketing Strategy
One difference between running your own business and traditional employment is that you’re responsible for finding your own clients. Research effective advertising methods and use them whenever possible. Don’t be afraid to try a technique that’s outside your comfort zone, such as visiting area businesses in person, or sending out press releases. Remember, however, that word-of-mouth can be your best ad campaign, so don’t skimp on the service!
Even if you’re not going in to the office every day, you still need business connections. The right people can encourage you, help you solve problems, teach you, and help you find new clients. So don’t forget to network! Go to conferences; spend time in forums and on message boards. Get acquainted with experts in your niche. And remember, one of the best ways to get a hand up is to provide them yourself.
The early years of any business can be the hardest, and the virtual assistant profession is no different. You’ll have a learning curve, both in your niche, and in the art of running your own company. At first, due to start-up costs and lack of work, finances may be lean. You’ll find yourself taking assignments you dislike that pay very little, for the sake of having work, any work at all. You’ll be at your desk far more than you initially planned; working late into the night, on weekends, and on holidays is not unheard of. But as your skills and client lists grow, you’ll find the balance and success you envisioned when you began. It just takes patience, determination, and ambition. Many VA’s quit in frustration when they could have achieved their dreams with just a little more time and effort; don’t let their story be yours!
7. Financial Know-How
You don’t have to be a financial genius to turn your money making ideas into successful business, but you do need to be organized and disciplined. Create a realistic budget for expenditures, such as office supplies, postage, software and an additional phone line (if needed). Keep a detailed record of income and expenses, and save all receipts and invoices for tax purposes. You may even want to look into ways to automate your invoices, and find better ways to track your expenses. Pay yourself a salary; don’t commingle business and personal funds. If you have employees, learn what the IRS and your state require of you. Worried about the math? A good financial software package will keep your numbers straight!
8. The Right Stuff
You’ve got the skills and the ambition, that’s obvious. But what about the actual stuff? Research your proposed VA niche to learn what kind of equipment you’ll need. Is your current computer adequate? Do you need another phone line? What about software? A postage meter? Some positions require a quiet environment to give phone calls and video conferences a professional aura; can you provide a kid-free, clutter-free zone? Don’t let a lack of equipment or money discourage you; you may just need to be creative. Use the office equipment at a local copy shop or library; barter child care with a friend or hire a reliable teen for in-house babysitting. You may need to start small, but as your client list grows, your office will, too.
As virtual assisting comes into its own as a career, professional associations, college courses, and certification programs are emerging. Although you don’t need these to become a VA, they can only help establish your credentials and initiative. Finances permitting, make it your policy to pursue continuing education opportunities whenever they arise.
10. A Cheering Section
Going into business for yourself can be tough. No matter how well you plan, you can’t foresee every challenge, and reaching your goals takes time. You’ll need some encouragement to get you through. Share your dreams and experiences with friends and family. Establish friendships with other VA’s for advice and support. If your family occasionally feels shortchanged, remind them that you’re working for their benefit, and reward their sacrifices with quality time, little surprises, and genuine appreciation. Even sole proprietors don’t fly solo all the time; never forget the people who make it all possible.
Of course you’ll have other necessities–a ready supply of caffeine and chocolate, to name just two more–but these ten will go a long way towards making your money making ideas a pleasant and rewarding reality!