Setting yourself up is a virtual assistant is an exciting step but one which should not be taken without some serious consideration. Below is a series of questions you need to ask yourself and a short list steps you should take to put yourself on the road to success.
1. Consider if working for yourself and working from home is for you? Working for yourself and working from home sounds like the ideal situation for most people. The common perception is that you stumble out of bed when you feel like it and head off to work in your pyjamas and have daytime TV entertaining you in the background. You could do this, but you wouldn't earn much of a living. Running your own successful business from home requires self-discipline, determination, focus, persistence, determination and hard work. You must also consider that you will be spending a great deal of time on your own and may sometimes feel like you've been stuck in the house for days. Could you cope? Having said all that, there are huge benefits, no commute to the office, the opportunity to set hours that suit you, the independence and the satisfaction of running your own business to name but a few. Just take the time to decide if you're suited to running your own business from home before jumping in with both feet and resigning from the job that currently pays the bills.
2. Do you have the necessary skills and experience? This may sound obvious but in order to succeed as a virtual assistant you really need to have great organisational and time management skills as well as all infallible administration skills. You will also be asked time and again by prospective clients about your previous experience, so it's important to be prepared for this by keeping your CV updated. You must also consider continued learning. As you are no longer an employee, it will be up to you to find the time and finance to further and update your skills as technology progresses.
3. Decide how you will manage your time. Decide how much time you will spend each week working, divide that into hours for each day that suit you, not forgetting to include breaks for lunch, tea, etc then stick to it. It may sound regimented to do this but its all too easy for your attention to be diverted by the washing that needs doing, or the housework or the shopping. Before you know it the week is half over and you'll be working late into the evenings to try to catch up. It's also important in many cases to make it clear to your loved ones that just because you are at home, does not mean you are not working, make sure they continue to do their fair share of household chores or they can easily bite into your working time. Consider also that into the time you allocate as "working time" you will also have to include time spent running and expanding your business. You will need to spend time on updating your skills, doing your own invoicing and accounts, marketing your business, etc. as well as time spent working on clients projects.
4. Decide how much money you can invest in your business. You may well already have the basics, but consider that you will need the following as a minimum. a. A reliable, stable pc or laptop - preferably two - with a solid virus protection and back up and recovery system. You will also need the last versions of the software you will be using. b. A printer, scanner and copier and possibly a fax machine. c. A telephone with answering machine facility and one or more incoming telephone lines. d. A desk, chair, filing system, storage etc. e. You will need a headed paper, compliments slips, business cards, etc. f. You will also need a web site of your own to advertise your "virtual" business on the Internet. If you don't have one already, www.ukava.couk can put together an inexpensive design to get you started. See http://www.ukava.co.uk/html/web_site_design.html
Also consider that as your business grows, or you offer more varied services, you may need additional equipment.
5. Do your research. This is where the Internet will become your best friend. Research the role of the virtual assistant and what support, training and interaction is available. Most current virtual assistants receive frequent emails from would-be virtual assistants asking them for employment but understand now that the vast majority of virtual assistants are one-person businesses and do no outsource work. Appreciate therefore that when it comes to finding clients, no one is going to do it for you.
Make sure you do your research thoroughly and find out what services your competition are offering and what they are charging for them. Where there are testimonials on other virtual assistants web sites, have a look at the type of clients that are using their services, what industries are they in? Are they small businesses or sole proprietors? You could try looking for similar types of clients.
It's at this stage also that you should consider the legal implications of being self-employed. You will need the advice of an accountant with regards to personal taxation, vat and other such issues and you should also consider your legal responsibilities such as data-protection, client confidentiality and insurance, etc. If you have never been self-employed before, you may also wan to enrol in a
short business course to give you some added confidence and professionalism.
6. Write a business plan. Don't groan! Even if you don't need a bank loan to get started, and therefore may not technically "need" a business plan, it's an essential tool to keep you on track and focussed on how you are running your business. Include in your business plan details of how much money you will invest in your business and in what equipment, the hours you intend to work on customer projects, the hours you intend to work on running your business, how you will market your services, the services you will offer, the types of clients you will be targeting, etc. You will also need to include details of how much you will be charging your clients and your projected income over time. There is a wealth of information on the Internet about how to put a simple business plan together and it will prove invaluable tool in keeping you focussed. Don't forget also that your business plan should remain fluid as your business expands and you begin to achieve the goals it contains so don't forget to keep updating it.
7. Join professional organisations. Join organisations that are committed to the promotion of the role of virtual assistants and that are professional and well run. You can gain credibility from your association with them and they can be an infinite source of information, support and encouragement. The UK Association of Virtual Assistants fulfils such a need and you can also advertise your business in the directory section. The UK Association of Virtual Assistants can be found at www.ukava.co.uk For information on how to sign up to the directory and become a member see: http://www.ukava.co.uk/html/join_the_uk_association_of_vir.html
Consider joining the Federation of Small Businesses. They not only protect the rights of sole proprietors and small businesses but are also a great networking opportunity to meet potential clients. Also consider joining your local Chamber of Commerce for similar reasons.
8. Don't forget to market your business. It sounds obvious but once you're set up, don't forget to market your business. Bare in mind that client jobs will often be one-offs (managing a house move, typing up a dissertation) or a short-term solution (maternity leave, holiday cover, etc.) so while you are working on your clients projects, you must also be marketing your business in order to find new clients. Don't forget your web site, market this on the Internet thorough search engines and submitting it to directories such as the www.ukava.co.uk, don't forget to tell everyone you meet what you do - you'll be surprised how much work comes form someone-who-knows-someone who needs some help, ALWAYS carry your business cards and hand them out every time you meet someone new, consider local press advertising or advertising in specialist press. Whatever you find works for you, just keep doing it.
For more information on the role of the virtual assistant, please visit The UK Association of Virtual Assistants at http://www.ukava.co.uk
This article was written by Justine Curtis, established virtual assistant and a founding member of The UK Association of Virtual Assistants http://www.ukava.co.uk. You are free to reproduce this article providing that it is presented in its entirety with all hyperlinks left intact. Editing of the text
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