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

Kerry Clay

August 3rd, 2009
11:14 am

The Article is excellent. Sounds like an opportunity am very much interested in. Can you please send me more information about the whole VA opportunity.

Earlene

August 3rd, 2009
11:17 am

I would like more information on becoming a VA.

Lori Montgomery

August 3rd, 2009
11:29 am

This is something i know i can do, i would like more information on how to find these jobs and market myself for this type of work.

Renita Dortch

August 3rd, 2009
11:32 am

This opportunity is very appealing to me. Could you please send me more information about the whole VA opportunity?

Kim Lynk

August 3rd, 2009
11:32 am

This is a great article and I eagerly read all of the feedback. I’ve owned my VA business for 3 1/2 years and I was a little discouraged by some of the comments. What I’ve interested my time and efforts into is not a “fly by night” scam. I’ve worked extremely hard to develop my business connections and skills to give my clients the best possible end result. It needs to be crystal clear that this isn’t a business you just jump into, anyone looking to make quick money from an easy job should probably consider other avenues. I work unusual hours sometimes to support my clients but I do it because it’s what they need to keep their business moving forward.

I do charge considerably higher than $25 for my services and my clients gladly pay it because they know I’m worth it. Their work is done promptly, professionally and in a timely fashion. My rates are higher than what they would pay an employee but they only pay me for the actual time I am working for them. They do not pay any employment taxes or benefits, which is a savings to them. For one client, moving from a traditional 40 hour employee to my VA service, he was able to cut his admin expense by 75% and I did twice as much as work as his previous admin!. I don’t know about you but if I could get 50% more result for 75% less investment, I’d jump all over it.

To anyone considering contracting with a VA, yes, you can find many who charge next to nothing per hour. For most of us, our business is our primary source of income. Do you want to trust your income to someone who is cheap or someone who is good?

Angela

August 3rd, 2009
11:41 am

I am very intrested in gathering information to become apart of this program. Please email me the information so that I can get further information, I think this is a great idea. I wish more people and companies would put something like this together to help more people find that perfect job that they are seeking. angela@johnsonward.com

Cindy

August 3rd, 2009
11:53 am

Michele, thanks for the info on how to market a VA business. Could some of you other VA’s share your marketing tips? Has anyone used Elance? And on the business side, where would they find a VA?

Rosa

August 3rd, 2009
11:56 am

How exciting!, I worked for a fortune 500 company for 11 years in A/R and Customer Service. My strengths were corresponding with customers via the internet. I would love this. Please let me know how?

Anxiously Awaiting Information

Anne Gilson

August 3rd, 2009
11:58 am

My husband and I owned a small business until a year ago, when we sold it. We both decided that we weren’t ready to retire, and that we had, between us, all the skills and knowledge to help other small businesspeople to maintain and expand their businesses. We now do contract consulting work, not as VA’s but we actually go to the employer’s location. I am an accountant, and focus on general office management. My husband has the skills to help small business owners establish procedures to improve productivity; to position a small business for future sale or investment by outside sources, or bank loans; and consults in the field of food safety and security (specifically, how to be ready for and pass food safety audits without disrupting you day to day business!) We have found that there is a great need for our services, and small business owners are happy to pay to have experienced, mature people do these jobs for them! You can find us on the web at Oceana Food Safety, in the Atlanta area.

Angie Thornewell - Virtual Touch Admin

August 3rd, 2009
12:17 pm

I have been a VA for about 6 months now after being laid off from my Office Manager position due to downsizing. I have had a business over 15 years doing Desktop Publishing and Graphic Design so transitioning the 21 years of my Administrative skills into a business was a great thing! I never was a 9-5b type person so this has given me a new freedom but also your desire to excel increases as you are representing yourself and not just company… Definately believe in continuing training and certifications to make you more marketable. But integrity and character also will be a selling point in the business. Also need to be steadfast as there can be slow periods and it can discourage but if this is your passion it is not just about the money but fulfilling a need for your client and having them return~
Good luck to those aspiring to become a VA!\

Angie T – http://www.virtualtouchadmin.com

Renz Smith

August 3rd, 2009
12:21 pm

I am a research and analyst guru whom would really shine as a VPA (Vitrual Personal Assistant).
Please contact me for your needs.
(First name twice at hot mail).
Renz

Kare

August 3rd, 2009
12:21 pm

I would like more info on becoming a VA – have 23 yrs. experience in real estate law office as administrative assistant doing all types of office tasks before being downsized earlier this year. How do I get going with AssistU?

Tara

August 3rd, 2009
12:28 pm

I am very interested in becoming a Virtual Assistant. Please send me any information you have regarding this type of employment. I always wanted to work from home and have years of administrative and IT experience.

Sharon Jones

August 3rd, 2009
12:37 pm

I am a semi-retired Executive Administrative Assistant with over 35 years of experience. I have a desire to begin my own virtual assistant business in the future. In the interim, I’d like to begin my exploring positions in this field and would greatly appreciate more information on how to become a VA .

Tia

August 3rd, 2009
12:38 pm

Currently i am a customerservice for a WAH company, but sitll lookig for possibilites of working with accounting, 5-7 yrs in accounts payable, and customerservice, i do enjoy working from home. littel low paying right now, but keep looking.

staneisa phinazee

August 3rd, 2009
12:43 pm

I am very interested in this opportunity. Please send me more info on this position.

PAT

August 3rd, 2009
12:44 pm

How Do I find the companies that are willing to do this.

Danny

August 3rd, 2009
12:46 pm

I am also interested in starting this type of oppurtunity. Any information will be helpful.
I have an MBA degree with over 5yrs experience in the field of mental health

thanks.

Cathy Bing

August 3rd, 2009
12:49 pm

This article was very helpful in describing the various functions preformed by a VA. Please send me more information regarding becoming a VA.

Thank You!!

Karen

August 3rd, 2009
1:04 pm

Laura,

Thanks so much for this article on VA’s, I was just looking and applying for work this morning when I came across your article, I was feeling really depressed about not being able to find work in my field, I have been and Admin/Executive Assistant for years and this sound just like the job for me. Can you please send me ALL the info you can on how to get start and certified. Thank you my spirits have been renewed.

Glenda Howison

August 3rd, 2009
1:12 pm

I have read your articles and comments about virtual assisting and it sounds like an opportunity that would benefit me and my family. I have been an administrative assistant, a loan processor, an interior design sales manager and a quality improvement coordinator for an Alzheimer’s Center…I am certain I can do this job as well. Please contact me so that I can get more information. Thank you, Glenda

Lucinda Cross

August 3rd, 2009
1:16 pm

I would love to speak with all of the ladies and gents who are interested in this lucrative business called Virtual Assistance. Check out my site then visit my blog I would love to chat and I have success VA’s to give you the nuts and bolts of how to make it.
http://www.ultimatevasupport.com
http://www.corporatemomdropouts.com

Dawn Holland

August 3rd, 2009
1:18 pm

Great article, I love helping people if you have any information you can send me please do. Thanks, Dawn D. Holland

Marie MacAulay

August 3rd, 2009
1:34 pm

I was an Administrative Assistant for a church for three years and also a Sales Support Specialist for two years with Panasonic Broadcast Division. I lost the first job due to downsizing and the second because the company required the Managers to operate from their home offices. I have more than seven years of Administrative experience and am interested in more information about a position of this type.

Thank you for any assistance you can provide me.
Marie MacAulay

Sineice Robinson

August 3rd, 2009
1:45 pm

I would love to find out more about becoming a VA. This can really help me. Plese send me information about this great opportunity.

Thanks,

Sineice

Carolyn

August 3rd, 2009
1:52 pm

How do i get started? I have prayed to get this started for so many years. Tell me everything, I will do it.

J William Haga

August 3rd, 2009
1:58 pm

Thanks to Virtual Assistants I’m a Virtual Millionaire in just 6 mos. Acquiring services on an hourly basis has been around since the first caveman opened a business. Just because you use a computer and the Internet to help doesn’t make this any different.
What is it with people under 35 who seem to have to rename everything before it gets interesting. And by becoming independent contractors you’re also heaping a pile of tax and liability issues on yourselves that this article doesn’t mention.
Depending on the amount of control and the contribution of the VA to a task the IRS may say that what acts, talks, and smells like an employee is in fact just that: an employee.
An FYI…an accountant that I don’t know by face value……and who can’t assist on-site, be for real. And Certification/Accreditation by an agency that itself didn’t exist 3 years ago……………again, I’m chuckling.
The Internet may widen your search area for employment but it does NOTHING (am I shouting?) for adding credibility or proof of experience.
Now I’m going to go work on my Virtual Tan.

Nichole

August 3rd, 2009
2:14 pm

I just told my husband last week that this is what I wanted to do. I got up this morning and have started my website. I know I have the skill set and experience, but I need help with locating the clients. Information on starting and succeeding as a VA is much appreciated!
Thanks, Nichole

Paris

August 3rd, 2009
2:17 pm

This is an interesting article. I would like to read more about how to get started. I have been a successful full charge bookkeeper for fifteen years and recently have been laid off.

Lisa Degen

August 3rd, 2009
2:32 pm

Thanks for the info. I would like to learn more about VA’s. I have been an executive assistant in the past and am presently a real estate agent. Please send me more info on becoming a VA.

Thanks

Lisa

Kim

August 3rd, 2009
2:45 pm

This is a very good article. I was a Virtual Assistant for nearly two years. I loved it and would be interested in finding companies that are looking for someone. Please contact me with more information.

thank you

Frank

August 3rd, 2009
2:50 pm

Wow. Two years ago I was diagnosed with heart failure and I’m only 23. It keeps me from being able to have a normal job but I could probably do something like this if I learned the proper software. Better than just being on disability.

Stacey Heerssen

August 3rd, 2009
2:52 pm

Please tell me how to get in this business.

Stacey Heerssen

August 3rd, 2009
2:52 pm

please tell me how to get into this business.

Cheryl = Atlanta

August 3rd, 2009
2:54 pm

I have over 15 years as an Executive Assistant, what must I do to become a Virtual Assistant? Thanks for your help!

Andrea

August 3rd, 2009
3:28 pm

I would also like some more information please. Do you know of any specific VA companies that are hiring?

Selena Jackson

August 3rd, 2009
3:38 pm

I want more information or websites where I can apply to become a VA. Thanks

Hebert Henry

August 3rd, 2009
3:46 pm

I hold a B.S. degree in Comp. Sci and a Masters in Information Systems, and more than 18 years experience in IT. I am currently out of work and would be interested in exploring the VA alternative. Where would I start?

Your suggestions would be much appreciated!

Hebert

IT7

August 3rd, 2009
3:48 pm

@Mark Getting stuff done in India for 1/3 to 1/2 the cost. It really depends on what you need and the complexity of the task. For simple stuff like a web page sure it’s possible for complex stuff like marketing segmentation and data mining -you’ll run into the issue most big companies run into. Poor communications, cultural biases, and poor translation of task along with high turnover in India.

If you’ve got process sure it can be outsourced but typically processes can be just as easily automated. Six months on task with your firm makes the indian worker worth double right down the street -along with methods and procedures you documented so well. I kid you not as an american one of the tasks a major US firm wanted to hire me for was to cut turnover rates of contracted workers in India.

Most folks especially small businesses feel more comfortable and better served pulling VA talent from the US and Canada, especially for the service side and critical stuff. Classic “4 hour Work Week” by Timothy Ferris. Out source locally or be prepared to have a detailed process for everything, and if you got detailed process why not just automate to begin with?

Web pages I’m all for that, writing my briefs that I might have to correct myself at 8:30 am –I’m going to the US or Canada for a VA. Data mining projects think real hard and ask yourself do you feel lucky? Well do ya?

IT7

Elizabeth Young

August 3rd, 2009
4:07 pm

I have been wanting to do something like this for years. I have over 25 years of customer service and office management skills. I know I would be a asset to any company. Effective is Time and Time is Money.

Jane Zeitouni

August 3rd, 2009
4:45 pm

I would appreciate any assistance or further information on this career. I have over 35 years of Executive Administrative Assistance experience with some major companies. Thank you.

Myrlene Hoyte

August 3rd, 2009
5:48 pm

I own a virtual assistant company and it is refreshing to see an article devoted to what we do. This is still an area that is unknown to a lot of people but with articles like this one, we are on the track to letting the world know about the benefits that a virutal assistant can bring to a company.

G W Etienne

August 3rd, 2009
5:49 pm

This is an extremely good article, it’s very informative . This would be a great fit for me. Please send me all information about this great opportunity.

Barbara

August 3rd, 2009
5:59 pm

I will be graduating in December with a Bachelors in Business Administration/Information Systems, I’m currently employeed as a Systems Consultant. I’m very much interested in Virtual Assisting, how can I get the information that I need to get started.

Kimberly

August 3rd, 2009
6:21 pm

I am in the process of starting my own VA business for the legal field. I am a certified paralegal with experience in civil and criminal litigation. I also have experience in other areas of law such as personal injury, worker’s compensation, bankruptcy, corporate law and estate law. I would appreciate any information on how to generate contacts for my business.

Thank you….great article

Delores

August 3rd, 2009
8:16 pm

I live in the great state of Texas and would love to become a VA any info you have would be a true blessing.

Jean Sturgeon

August 3rd, 2009
8:36 pm

I would love to learn more about being a Virtual Assistant. I have a computer at home with internet access, could get fax access, a telephone and transportation. I am a fast and accurate typist, expert with Microsoft Word, Access and Excel and have used QuickBooks in the past. Any help or advice would be appreciated. Thanks.

Jama St. John - Gulf Coast Office Support

August 3rd, 2009
9:13 pm

Thanks for the great article on Virtual Assistants!! I started my VA business in 1997 — before it was Virtual Assistance. Back then it was business support, office support or secretarial service and working “virtually” was still doable, but more complicated and accepted less.

For all the aspiring VAs, do your research. It is not a “job” — it is a business. You have to market your VA business just like any other business. Check out the International Virtual Assistants Association, VANetworking and Virtual Assistant Forums. All are great resources for VAs just starting out and the old pros!

Patty Munroe

August 3rd, 2009
9:15 pm

I am very interested in the Virtual Assistant business. Please send me any information. I would really appreciate hearing more details. Thanks

Michelle Jenkins

August 3rd, 2009
9:29 pm

Right now, I work 4 days a week. This would really be something great for me to do on my “off” day. I have sales support, typing, proofing, AP, AR experience. Please send me information on the VA business. I would love this opportunity.

Thanks, Michelle Jenkins