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.
“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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