How to Begin: Advice for New Virtual Assistants

“Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it.
Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it.”
— Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

If I were starting my business now, with the benefit of the wisdom I’ve gained along the way, I would do a few things differently.

For instance, I’d select my ideal client type first. I wouldn’t try to serve everyone – or anyone – just to get a business started. I would have been pickier in the early, lean months despite my appetite for those first clients and I would have listened to my “gut” when it told me to decline a project.

I know now that if I’d done this one thing, that I’d have developed a healthy, sustaining and profitable online business faster… with far less pain.

I firmly believe that helping others is the best possible way to success. I’m a Karma girl. My business was built with a four-pillar foundation:

  1. I maintained my faith in my own ability
  2. I offered the best individualized service possible
  3. I worked tirelessly (and didn’t give up even when things seemed hopeless)
  4. I stayed abreast of new developments in my industry and my client industries

Recently, I asked some of my peers to share their best advice for those just starting out. I think you will enjoy the following wisdom from those who have “been there, done that” as full-time career outsourcing services providers.

Question: Who should begin this career? How can I know if it’s a good fit for me?

Answer: (Katie Baird of LooseEnds.net)

I guess the first thing I’d ask is: “How comfortable would you be with completely remodeling and building a house on your own?”

If you are able to juggle all those details, you would probably be a good candidate for this career path.

If you aren’t comfortable with that, if the thought of everything coming at you all at once makes you want to hide, you should probably consider keeping a more traditional job or remain a subcontractor and plan to assist other entrepreneurs rather than dealing directly with clients and building your own business.

Question: What do I need to know first?

Answer: (Karen Drebes of CoordinatorGroup.com)

You have to know the products and programs you plan to use to serve your clients. The more you know, the more money you will make and the less time it will take you to complete projects.

Educate yourself about what you want to provide. This career path is not a “wing-it” situation. You need to have the experience before offering services. You can’t learn on the clients time (or on their dime) and you have to bring something to their party.

You can’t just decide to go into business, hang out your virtual “shingle” without preparation and expect to make a living.

Question: How would you recommend I determine out what services to offer?

Answer: (JJ Murphy of WriterByNature.com)

Base your services on what you know and what you most love. I would recommend that you attempt to subcontract first to get an idea of what the industry standards are and what’s expected from you by successful peers and future clients.

This would also help you identify your strengths, your weaknesses and you get a “built in” mentor for the people that you are helping with overflow. It’s a great learning experience and helps you to build important professional relationships. In this way you can also find out what services are hard to secure and which ones are in highest demand in your choice industry.

Join a networking group of people who were already successful. That’s what I was told to do and it’s what I did – and that made all the difference.

Question: What should I know about selecting equipment for my office?

Answer: (Jeri Winkler of TheSecretAssistant.com)

Having the right equipment for your area of expertise is important. Since I do a lot of mailings, a good printer and paper folder are essential for me. Of course you need a good phone (which is easier said than done) and a good computer (one that is up-to-date, not something that’s a hand-me-down). Treat your business like a business from the beginning.

The one thing that I couldn’t live without now is my wireless router. Now I can take my laptop outside and work in my Gazebo or anywhere else in (or out of) the house – without dragging wires along behind me.

I work long hours and it’s difficult to sit at my desk all day long. The router makes me portable and comfortable.

Question: How can I fast-track myself for success as a new provider?

Answer: (Evy Williams of BrochuresByDesign.com)

Networking with other outsourcing providers and associations is the most important thing you can do. When I networked with others, my business bloomed.

Get your name out there and talk to people, volunteer, and stay visible to enjoy the quickest way to success. For me, it was like a domino effect and I am still feeling the effects of that from when I started four years ago!

Question: What else do I need to know to be successful?

Answer: (Judy Vorfeld of EditingAndWritingServices.com)

Know yourself. Know what you have to offer. Be passionate about your career and nail things down by analyzing yourself and your goals. Create a good business and marketing plan that projects 3-5 years into the future. Take the time required to promote your business, so others know you and know what you have to offer.

Networking is key. I’ve learned so much from fellow virtual assistants over the years and have done my part to help others. I’ve hired other VAs, have shared clients and have been hired by peers. These days, things are changing too fast for people to try and go it alone.

Be willing to analyze your target market, and then when you open for business, always give clients more than they expect. This is sometimes difficult, but there are always life lessons that may be of value later. Keep a good attitude at all times.

Continue to improve your skills and always make time for a balanced personal life… away from the office.

Question: What about pricing my services? Any suggestions on how to do make a real living as a virtual assistant?

Answer: (Lynne Norris of NorrisBusinessSolutions.com)

Don’t under price your services. In the beginning, I took work I didn’t really want for less money than I should have because I was desperate – or I thought I was. The problem was long term, because it’s difficult – and sometimes impossible – to get those early clients raised to a proper rate later.

I wish I had taken more time to determine a living wage from the beginning, that took into account the cost of doing business, the non-billable hours required to run the business and the actual value of the time I was spending to serve clients.

Don’t give up. These days, I turn away work, but it took almost four years for me to wise up and make the decision to work with only those people I adore and accept only those projects I really love.

Question: What about doing the books? Do I have to do them myself?

Answer: (Kimberley Thomas-Catanzaro of On-LineSecretary.com)

You need to be organized. You should not procrastinate in doing essential tasks, especially things like your books. If you don’t have the time or desire to do the tasks that need to be done, hire someone. Learn to delegate. Keep excellent records.

The biggest problem I see is people trying to do their books themselves, and (come tax time) it has to be reentered, recreated from scratch, or reviewed for errors – all under a time crunch.

Question: What’s the secret to being happy working as a VA or freelancer?

Answer:
(Bronwyn Robertson of TheArtsVa.com)

Know your clients. That’s most important. You have to know who you plan to serve. Beyond that, my best advice is to set a livable wage and stick to it and make sure you have a good contract. And the one that was the toughest for me in the early years… always decline work that doesn’t appeal.

Question: How can I make a living serving only those clients that “appeal” to me?

Answer: (George Montgomery of BusinessAndTaxPlanning.com)

Keep track of the income and where your clients and customers come from. Fill their needs and keep them happy. Determine your skills and make sure that they match.

If that’s not what you really want to do, transition your business to serve what you enjoy. Take the business where YOU want to go and do what YOU want to do.

We all hope our experiences will help you as you begin your own path as an entrepreneur. If you are ready to start your business, there’s no better time than now.

“Leap and the net will appear”
– Zen saying

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