How to Create a 'Virtual Assistant' Business
By Glory Borgeson
Virtual assistants are one of the newest careers in work-at-home businesses. Using a personal computer, a phone, and a fax machine, virtual assistants (VAs) create value for their clients from their home office. They create their own hours, have no commute to a job, and call the shots in their own business. Some of the work a VA does during the day is administration. They do various tasks for their client as if they were at their client's office. This could include mailings to their clients' customers and prospects, creating presentations, and making reminder phone calls for appointments. The beauty of the VA business is that it is "virtual". Your clients can be anywhere: they don't even have to be in your vicinity! They can even be in a different state!
In my companion article, "
Could You Be a Virtual Assistant?
", I discussed the skills you need before deciding to become a VA. These include being organized, excellent grammar and spelling skills, good communication skills, and computer hardware and software knowledge.
How to Get Training
Some VAs learn the business from another VA. Other VAs attend a school that trains them how to be a VA. Most such schools conduct teleclasses, so you can attend from anywhere.
One VA school is called AssistU (
). Their virtual training program lasts 20 weeks.
Another school is Virtual Assistance U (
). Their virtual training program lasts 16 weeks.
A third training program to look into is with The Virtual Wizards (
, or call 352-242-2234).
If you attend one of the VA schools, you will automatically be introduced to a support network of other VAs. You will also want to check the International Virtual Assistants Association (IVAA) (
), The Virtual Business Group (
), and for military spouses who are VAs, look into Staffcentrix (
Clients and Fees
Most VAs bill at about $30 an hour or more. The rate you charge can go higher if you:
Have industry-specific education and your clients are in that industry
Gain more experience as a VA
Can do many types of work for a client without requiring supervision from the client
Have many resources and skills at your disposal
Know a little html code and can update your client's website
Some VAs bill clients for actual hours worked and break it down to 30-minute increments. They may invoice weekly or bi-weekly. Others work on retainer. They plan a certain number of hours per month for a particular client. The client pays the retainer fee at the beginning of the month. During the month, the VA keeps a log of hours worked for each client to make certain that retainer clients do not go over their allotted amounts (or, they may have an agreement in place for billing additional time). Unused hours do not roll over to the next month. VAs will often discount their hourly rate by 10% for clients paying on retainer.
You can invoice your clients using a software program such as Quickbooks, which also allows you to easily keep track of unpaid invoices. (You would also use Quickbooks to enter all of your expenses, whether paid for by cash, check, or credit card, reconcile your bank statements and credit card statements, and keep all of your data together for monthly [or quarterly] and annual tax reporting.)
You can also receive payments by credit card, if that is how your clients prefer to pay. If you sign up to use an online system, such as Practice Pay Solutions (
), the client will get a receipt by e-mail to notify him or her of their purchase of your services after you enter the charge online.
If you give your invoiced clients, for example, "net 15" terms, you need to decide how many days past due is too long, and start contacting the client to request payment. You will find that some clients pay on time and others pay late. You will need to decide how late is too late.
If a new client wants you to just work on a project, consider asking for some money up-front. First, think about how much time the project will take, multiply that by your hourly rate, and then ask the client for one-third of that amount up front. Trust your instincts on this issue.
If a client asks you about how long a project will take you to complete, you will need to use your experience to arrive at your best estimate. It is generally a good idea to give them a range (for example, "It will probably take somewhere between 4 and 8 hours."). Also, it is best to give your estimate on the high side. This is a customer satisfaction principle in action. If you estimate on the high side, and the actual comes close to that or lower, your client will be happy. If you estimate too low and the actual comes out higher (for example, you estimate that some work will take 8 hours, but it actually takes 11 hours), your client will get a "bad" surprise and his "customer satisfaction" level will be lower.
Who Will Be My Client, and How Will I Find Them?
Who can use the services of a virtual assistant? Just about any "solo-preneur" who does not have office support staff! For example: Insurance agents, consultants, coaches, speakers, authors, caterers, artists, etc., may be able to use the services of a VA.
When you are first starting out, tell everyone you know about your new business and the services you offer. Send them a letter with your business card, and then follow up with a phone call. Ask people who they know who might be able to use your services (and give them examples of the types of businesses that might be interested).
Ask your friends for introductions to people who might be interested in your work. Join a local chamber of commerce and attend networking events. Make certain that your business card includes a brief list of your services, even if it's printed on the back of the card. Two or three months after you first notify all of your friends about your business, contact them again. Stay in front of them, reminding them of your new business.
Frequent networking in your current circles and in new groups will ensure that people are reminded of the work you are doing, and they will be more likely to remember to refer you to people they meet.
Tips for Doing the Work
Some VAs agree that they do their best work with clients who have established long-term business relationships with them, as opposed to project work or piece work. They enjoy working in 'partnership' with their clients. The longer a VA works with a client, the more she gets to know the client. This is especially important when, for example, a client gives you documentation that has errors. If you have worked with him or her for some time, you will be more likely to catch the errors than if you rarely work with them.
An area where your organization skills become of utmost importance is in following up on phone conversations with your clients. Since you have no visual cues when you are on the phone, taking detailed notes during a call with your client is very important. Just as crucial is sending an e-mail or fax to the client after the call to confirm what you've agreed to in the call. Your organization of your clients' projects must be done as if you're a project manager. You will have tight "to do" lists. Keep as much work as possible in soft copy so that you do not accumulate too much paper. Have a good PC "filing system" in Windows Explorer. Remember to back up your PC regularly.
What Software Should You Know?
Most VAs agree that you should have and know how to use Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, ACT, and Adobe Acrobat PDFWriter. Some VAs do very little PowerPoint, while others create several presentations a month. Many clients will want their documents given to them in a pdf format. Adobe's PDFWriter is very easy to use to create documents in pdf. Some VAs have learned some html code in order to make minor changes to their clients' websites. Most recommend using software such as Dreamweaver, but do not use FrontPage. Others use FrontPage for ease and convenience's sake.
You need to get to know your clients and what products you need to know in order to serve them well. Take intermediate and advanced classes in these software titles to provide a great level of skill for your clients.
Are You Ready?
Is it time to create your own "to do" list about taking steps to begin your virtual assistant business? Print this article and then start a list of the tasks you need to do to get started!
Review how much time you have to devote to this business: How much time do you have now, in 6 months, in 12 months? How many hours per week to you want to work? What skills do you currently have, and which need improvement?
Is your PC ready for this business?
After you print out this article, go through it and note what you need to do, first, to decide if this is the business for you (also see my article titled, "
Could You Be a Virtual Assistant?
"). Second, go through this article again and note what you need to do to get the business going. Make a "to do" list out of it and schedule those "to do's" into your calendar. Then follow through. And let me know about your success!
Glory Borgeson is a small business consultant and coach who loves to work with clients by phone from her Chicago-area home office. Please contact her at 630-653-0992 or by e-mail at
for more information about your home-based business. Permission granted for use on DrLaura.com