A real demand for virtual assistants

By Laura Raines, for the AJC

Twelve years ago, the field of virtual assisting hardly existed. “Today, the industry is growing by leaps and bounds, and in the next 10 years I think we’ll see a huge explosion in these services,” said Cindy Opong, owner of Creative Assistants in Colorado Springs, Colo., and president of the International Virtual Assistants Association.
The field is growing on both sides of the supply and demand equation.

Jonathan Bill

Jonathan Bill is the president of Sound Business Services, Inc. in Austell. Photo by Leita Cowart, for the AJC.

“More people are leveraging their administrative, creative, technology or financial skills to start their own virtual assistant businesses, and more large and small companies are in need of their services,” Opong said.

She’s seen her association’s membership and jobs board increase in the past several years.

Virtual assistants perform administrative duties and other tasks from home on a contractual basis for business clients. They command roughly $20 to $75 an hour, depending on geographic location, personal circumstance and skills.

“A company can hire multiple virtual assistants to do different types of tasks, like office management, Web site design or accounting,” Opong said.

For streamlined companies, the arrangement provides considerable cost savings. A virtual assistant is not an on-site employee, so employers aren’t paying for a salary, benefits, office space or equipment, said Jonathan Bill, virtual assistant and owner of Sound Business Services Inc. in Austell.

“They only pay an hourly rate for the tasks performed,” he said.

Bill took his accounting expertise and other skills virtual in 2006 when he saw a good market in helping small businesses that couldn’t afford a full-time accountant. He provides accounting, payroll, desktop publishing, technology troubleshooting and other services to a variety of clients. He’s also a QuickBooks ProAdviser. Bill uses a computer service that allows him to work remotely on his clients’ computers, or he uses his own computer and faxes or e-mails the results.

“It takes a lot of stress off small-business owners to have someone else taking care of their books. I let them focus on what they do best by doing what I do best,” he said. “I love helping them grow their businesses and establish a more professional image.”

Virtual assisting is a relatively inexpensive small business to start. All one needs is a computer, Internet service, office equipment, some marketable skills — and an entrepreneurial spirit.

“If you’re the type who likes the stability of a paycheck and 8-to-5 job, this isn’t for you,” Bill said. “You have to find clients and keep them. Every client is different, so you have to be flexible and have the character and perseverance to accomplish what he or she needs done. The juggling can be hard, but if you work hard, you could make more money in the long run.”

Having worked with her colleagues virtually at Earthlink for eight years, becoming a virtual assistant wasn’t a big jump for Lindsey Schocke, owner of Geeks on Tap in Acworth. She offers newsletter writing, e-mail organization, search-engine optimization and technology support to small business owners, many of whom are business coaches.

“Clients soon realize that a VA can do the job quicker than hiring and training a temporary employee,” Schocke said. “I never know what I’ll be asked to do next. The smaller the business, the more likely they’ll need help with multiple tasks. When you complete a project that has been bothering a client for weeks, there’s always a virtual smile.”

Before starting her Philadelphia-based business, Virtual Business Acceleration LLC, in April, Shari Graham took the 20-week certification with AssistU, a virtual training institution for virtual assistants. She had taken early retirement as a project manager with Verizon when it cut her division.

“I had such a strong skill set from my corporate work, but AssistU taught me how to start and run a micro-business,” she said.

She’s found that being a virtual assistant requires good communication, customer service, project management, networking and organization skills in addition to the skills she supplies to clients. She knows it will take time and hard work to build her business.

“But I love working with different clients, being able to partner with them to help their business,” she said. “Having an opportunity to make a difference in someone’s life is very satisfying. I’m so glad I found this industry.”

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174 comments Add your comment

Sherra Scott ~ Virtual Assistant

July 25th, 2009
7:49 pm

As the owner of my own virtual assistant business, it’s great to see an article about virtual assistants that isn’t touting us as cheap labor. Yes, we can be more cost effective in the long run, but, as you can see from the numbers in the article, we aren’t “cheap”. The article says $20-$75, but knowing what my colleagues charge, $30 is much more realistic for an entry level VA. The costs can go up considerably when you look at VAs who specialize in tasks or niche markets (tasks such as bookkeeping, ecommerce support, social media marketing support, HTML/CSS support, or specialize in areas such as real estate support, author/speaker/coach support, etc.).

VAs are a great resource for entrepreneurs and small businesses, but be sure to do your due diligence. Is the VA you’re looking to partner with a member of any professional organizations (such as IVAA – International Virtual Assistants Association or VAnetworking. Do they hold any certifications? Are those certifications relevant to the support you need?

Cindy Opong

July 26th, 2009
12:04 pm

Thanks for the great article Laura! And thanks to Lindsey & Bill for their great quotes and insights – it’s always great to hear from VAs around the country.

Kelly Poelker, Author of Virtual Assistant - The Series

July 26th, 2009
9:00 pm

Great article. It’s nice to see a good variety of real world examples from industry professionals.

I would share that you’re missing one big ingredient in the reference to a VA business being easy to start. “All one needs is a computer, Internet service, office equipment, some marketable skills — and an entrepreneurial spirit.” — you have to have good business knowledge based on a solid track record of experience. It’s not enough to just plug in your computer, hook up to the Internet and hang out your shingle. It takes good business sense, a good plan, and you have to be able to wear the many hats it takes to operate a successful business as a solo professional.

Jonathan Bill

July 27th, 2009
9:45 am

Thanks Laura for the great article. Thank you also to Cindy, Lindsey, and Shari for your involvement. As was said in the article, VA businesses are relatively inexpensive to start compared to starting other businesses, but take a business owner who not only has skill and experience, but strong character and integrity, who is willing to work hard and perform for his or her customers.

Jacqueline Weaver - JWeaver Virtual Office Solutions

July 27th, 2009
11:16 am

As an emerging Virtual Assistant, it’s great to see that the industry is continuing to grow by leaps and bounds. I am so grateful for blogs such as yours and professional organizations like IVAA for continuing to spread the word on the benefits of using a Virtual Assistant. Thank you.

Shari Graham

July 28th, 2009
2:49 pm

Thank you, Laura! You captured the essence of Virtual Assistance and provided a well-rounded view of how skilled, experienced, and varied we are in helping our clients achieve their goals, grow their businesses, and thrive in their professional – and personal – lives!

From bookkeeping to email management, social media to traditional administrative support, anything and everything can be done remotely (or virtually) to help businesses keep moving forward – even in our challenging economic times.

Thanks for helping us spread the good word about a viable industry with so much to offer our small and large business partners!

Helen Smith

July 28th, 2009
5:59 pm

Many thanks to Laura for this great article on virtual assisting! I too am a virtual assistant, specializing in real estate support, and I began my practice in 2001 when everyone you spoke to about the industry said “what’s a virtual assistant?”. They had never heard of a VA! We’ve came a long way and great articles like this one really help spread the word. Thanks again!

Mellissa

July 30th, 2009
3:44 pm

This article is great, can anyone give advise or tips on how to become a VA. This would be a great opportunity for me, I’ve been laid off since November an have difficulties finding work in this small town.
Thanks!

Andre Kellogg

August 3rd, 2009
9:13 am

Love the comments. I am looking for employment and can add value to any company as a VA. It would be great if you could direct us to companies that are looking for this type of assistance.

Andre’

TWIN #2

August 3rd, 2009
9:17 am

How can I take advantage of this.

mslenaj

August 3rd, 2009
9:37 am

I too would like to know how to take advantage of this.

amccray

August 3rd, 2009
9:44 am

I too would like to know how to become a virtual assistant.

Thank you.

Keyonda

August 3rd, 2009
9:45 am

How can I take advantage of this great opportunity?

Belinda

August 3rd, 2009
9:47 am

Yes, I am looking for home businesses. How can I become involved with this type of business. I am in the field of accounting.

Donna

August 3rd, 2009
9:47 am

Any suggestions for the best way of marketing a VA business at startup? Email promotions? Cold calls? My target area is the legal field (which I have worked in 25 years). Thank you in advance for your advice.

Marceea

August 3rd, 2009
9:48 am

I’d love to have more information on this. I’ve been kicking such an idea around for years, but have never taken steps to bring to fruition. During the recession, many of my friends have lost their jobs, all are computer-skilled from Administrative Assistants to Marketing Analysts…my specialty is spreadsheet design and automation…and I’m seeing opportunity. I’d love to learn more on market demands in virtual assisting so that I can explore how to web our skill sets and board the business solutions of the future!

Tara Hawes

August 3rd, 2009
9:52 am

Greetings,

I am a charismatic executive assistant with over 10 years of senior administrative support experience.

I would be delighted to learn more about current Virtual Assistant opportunities.

Have a Dynamic Day!

Tara Hawes

Jorge Romero

August 3rd, 2009
9:55 am

Excellent article. By the way I would like to get me a job doing this kind of work. I have a bckground in translating and PR. I would appreciate any leads.

Blessings to all

Jorge Romero

Steven C. Hill

August 3rd, 2009
9:55 am

I am very interested in becoming a Virtual Assistant. Please send me any information you have regarding this type of employment.

Wanda L. Brewington

August 3rd, 2009
9:57 am

Good Morning,

I would like to know how I can take advantage of this opportunity. I have several years of administrative experience.

Thank You,

Wanda L. Brewington

Terri R. Waller

August 3rd, 2009
9:59 am

Laura, thanks for this article. As a small business owner I was introduced to virtual assisting about 2years ago and I absolutely love my current VA. I have never seen anyone with such amazing turn around time on a project. So, to all the VA’s and aspiring VA’s good luck and continue to do good things for small business owners.

TRW, Food Safety Project Management Firm
http://www.BensonMillsGroup.com

gisele

August 3rd, 2009
10:04 am

I am very flexible and would love VA jobs with several companies. I do it on my own now, in a way. I do staging in homes for realtors but want to expand into other areas. How do I pick up new clients?

Pamela Wright

August 3rd, 2009
10:06 am

I am looking for home businesses and very interested in starting a Virtual Assistant business. How can I become involved with this type of business.

Angela Childs

August 3rd, 2009
10:08 am

Great article! But honestly, I think those certifications are new ways to make money. Do you really need to be certified to be a Administrative Assistant?? No. If you are experienced, seasoned, professional WITH a entrepreneurial spirit, you can become a successful VA. I think your actual WORK EXPERIENCE is better for this job than a newly ‘required’ VA certification. Like this article says, if you are a 9-5 kind of worker, then this is not the industry for you.

Mendi Boddie

August 3rd, 2009
10:15 am

I have been an Executive Assistant for 6 years, I am now working as an Administrative Assistant. I am very interested in becoming a Virtual Assistant. Could you please let me know the process and where I can find employment. I have seen quite a few “horror” stories about people being scammed with trying to work online.
Thank you.

Deborah

August 3rd, 2009
10:15 am

I’m very interested in becoming a Virtual Assistant. I’ve been in the medical field over 16yrs. I’m currently a Reimbursement Specialist/Medical Biller,I also have accounting and office assistant experience, but as of 4 months ago we’ve experienced drastic lay-offs every other week and a significant pay-cut.

Cynthia

August 3rd, 2009
10:16 am

Great article and a market that I did not know much about. In this tough job market, this would be a great way to showcase my administrative skills. Thanks so much.

Karen Moore

August 3rd, 2009
10:18 am

Yes, I am looking to become a VA. How can I become involved with this type of business. I am a software trainer and have years of experience in administrative tasks, database developer using Access and reporting tools such as Crystal, Acuate and Business Objects.

Deborah

August 3rd, 2009
10:21 am

I’m very interested in becoming a Virtual Assistant. I’ve been in the medical field over 16yrs. I’m currently a Reimbursement Specialist/Medical Biller,I also have accounting and office assistant experience, but as of 4 months ago we’ve experienced drastic lay-offs every other week and a significant pay-cut.

Mark

August 3rd, 2009
10:22 am

I think the article is great but a little off base in the $20-75 range that it quotes. Why would anyone think of paying this in these days…the days of outsourcing? I can logon at 8pm, register on any Indian companies website, pay 1/2-1/3 of the price being shown here, and have the work done for me by the time I wake up the next morning!

Tamara

August 3rd, 2009
10:24 am

I too have over 14 years of executive assisting. For the past 4 years I have working in the field of Internet Marketing.

I also would be delighted to learn more about the opportunities.

To a profitable day,
Tamara Smtih

Victor Alvarado

August 3rd, 2009
10:26 am

I will love to get more information also. I have experience translating into Spanish and in the Marketing field. Thanks

T.S. Leonard

August 3rd, 2009
10:26 am

I am very interested in starting a VA business. I have 20+ years of experience in sales support in the telecom/technology industry.

Kim

August 3rd, 2009
10:33 am

I would love more information on how to get started as a VA. I am in the accounting field, and soon will have my associates in accounting. I love doing payroll and would love to become a VA and help small businesses. Very flexable hours.

Constance R

August 3rd, 2009
10:37 am

How can I learn more about starting my own VA business

Constance R

August 3rd, 2009
10:40 am

Where do you get the training to do this

Gigi

August 3rd, 2009
10:40 am

Send more information on how to start as a virtual assistant, Thank you.

lisa landry

August 3rd, 2009
10:43 am

I would love to have a virtual assistance job as I have young children and am unable to go back to work . How does one go about finding such jobs as they aren’t listed much in the newspaper or online?

Michele Tucker

August 3rd, 2009
10:43 am

I became a Virtual Assistant 4 years ago, and have incorporated website design, logo design, marketing, bookkeeping and even personal errands into the mix. Here are some tips that worked for me:

Get a business license, open a separate business checking account, open paypal account for payments, get a website (webs.com, network solutions or godaddy), business cards. I sent out an email to everybody I knew announcing my new business. Then I did a postcard marketing campaign to all of the nearby neighborhoods, and visited small, local businesses. I joined several networking groups and regularly advertised with local newspapers, neighborhood newsletters and coffee shop flyers. It took a month before I had my first client, but it continued to steadily grow from that point on. Still loving every minute of it!

Michele Tucker
http://www.righthandsvcs.com

Carol

August 3rd, 2009
10:44 am

This is for Mark…..that is the problem with our economy today. Outsourcing to India. Sure they will take the jobs out of our mouths and you can pay them 1/2 but what is this doing to our economy??? Nothing irritates me more than calling a major company and being forced to speak to somebody that has no clue what I’m talking about and can barely speak English.

Kathy Anderson

August 3rd, 2009
10:55 am

Enter your comments here

Renata G.

August 3rd, 2009
10:57 am

How do I apply for a Virtual Assistant Job? I have 10 years experience in Administrative Assistant and accounting, customer service.

Janice Pettigrew

August 3rd, 2009
11:02 am

This is a fantastic article. Having been laid off in may from a company I’d been with for over 16 years I know I have skills that could be used in this market. Any suggestions on how to get started and get certification.

I’d appreciate any direction

Michelle Mangen-Your Virtual Assistant

August 3rd, 2009
11:02 am

Great post! I first learned about the VA industry from a fiction book. Was delighted to find that it truly existed. I knew that my many years as an accounting department manager and assistant to higher management would translate well into the skills I needed to run my own VA company.

The fantastic thing is there are so many different areas that small business owners need help with that if you excel in a particular area you can easily become a VA. However, being a business owner is not for everyone as the post mentions above. It takes tenacity, perseverance and collaboration with others.

If you are looking to become a VA there are many resources out there. AssistU, VANetworking, etc.

Tamarra Horsey

August 3rd, 2009
11:04 am

Goodmorning,
I really enjoyed reading your article on VA. I work at Verizon Wireless and I would love to receive more information on VA jobs. Please contact me with information on how I can take advantage of this opportunity.

Katharine

August 3rd, 2009
11:08 am

Yes, please tell us how we can become VAs.

Kathy Anderson, CyberAssist, Inc.

August 3rd, 2009
11:11 am

Started my VA Practice in 2003, following a downsizing from ‘corporate America’! Had taken the 20-week course from AssistU in 1999 and received their certification. Lots of ‘virtual assistants’ don’t see the need for this, but certifications and professional coursework always stood me in good stead throughout my working career and were important to many prospective clients when I first began.

I’ve found that networking groups are my best source of clients, as now are referrals from my clients – even better!. Building a relationship with my clients, learning about them and their businesses so I can offer pro-active assistance in areas they might never have considered, and adding new skills to handle pressing needs of my clients, gives me an ‘edge’ in this ever-changing market.

I’m celebrating my 6th year of business and feel very blessed to have found this fledgling industry when I did – it’s taken time to build and I’m never complacent. I focus on Email Marketing, eCommerce support, Bookkeeping & Payroll, as well as more general administrative assistance. The rewards of learning to operate my own business, work with a wide variety of clients from across the US and in Europe, and having the flexibility to be creative and supportive far outweigh the struggle to ‘make ends meet’ in the early years.

Entrepreneurs and small business owners benefit greatly from virtual assistance – keeping their costs down, while getting much needed work accomplished professionally and on time!

Jeanne Goldberg

August 3rd, 2009
11:11 am

I have been reading about virtual assistants and was wondering if I could connect with a VA who is competent with the computer who knows how to market online. I recently joined a wellness company that has exceptional–actually one of a kind–skin care products and top-of-the-line nutrients. They are marketing in 50 countries around the world and I need help to do internet marketing.

I have been reading about social media and know WHAT to do, but have not started yet. Since my new company is world-wide, it certainly would make sense for me to be using the social media to communicate with people.

Although I assume that most virtual assistants see that entering the field is a way to have a j-o-b, I can visualize that a good VA can actually do many jobs with OTHER people but they can join ME as a representative of my company and produce a residual income from their marketing effort.

I working closely with my niece who is an anti-aging doctor. I am a health education professional,
I taught in public and private school as well as worked in a medical setting in pain management.
I have a degree in Health and Physical Education from West Chester University and a degree in Horticulture from Temple University.

As I was reading about the growing field of virtual assistance and realized that many new companies were starting up, I thought it might be a sensible income-producing plan for the owners of new–and established–companies to consider emphasizing marketing themselves. Along with their usual VA work, they could start a marketing division, join a company such as mine and have a group of employees hired for the different avenues of marketing. Those employees could could be rep-marketers or they could function strictly as employee/marketers who would search out representatives for the owners of the VA company.

Speaking of leverage, the most productive way to build a business…having employee/reps that work hard for the owner and themselves…is a total WIN/WIN relationship benefits everyone involved.

To recap: I am looking for 1) a marketing savvy VA for myself and I am searching out 2) VA people orcompanies who want to explore the idea of adding a marketing division to do network marketing.
The potential income is quite large for people who learn to market professionally. We teach that to people who do not have the know-how.

Because the company I am working with is a huge company with great financial resources, they have web sites in different languages and excellent marketing material. They also provide training by conference call and at their home base. The training is FREE and is given by the successful leaders of the company. Of course my doctor niece and I do training ourselves. We also train right here in our area, Philadelphia and surrounding communities.

If any of you current VA’s, or potential VA’s or owners of a VA company want to explore the
VA/Marketing idea I mentioned, I would be delighted to hear from you.

In any case, I wish all of you success in your choses field. Success is something we all have to go
after. It is not particularly easy to achieve but with persistence we can make it happen. If we fall down, we have to get up–wipe ourselves off–and start again. Cheers, Jeanne

Owen

August 3rd, 2009
11:12 am

Please contact me about a virtual assistant position!

Betsy Robinson

August 3rd, 2009
11:12 am

Great article. I work remotely from my office for a few medical providers. They love it because they do not have to pay a full time staff and office supplies. I started my company PRN Medical Billing Inc. 2 years ago. With todays economy, I am glad I can help medical providers with small practices reduce cost.