Virtual Assistant Career

Are you interested in a virtual assistant career? VocationVillage.com interviews virtual assistant Cheryl Allin about her business.

What does a Virtual Assistant do?

A Virtual Assistant provides remote administrative support to clients located all over the globe. Services can range from simple tasks such as data entry all the way up to specialized tasks such as marketing or other niche services. A Virtual Assistant is best suited to work with entrepreneurs who may not want or need to hire in-house staff.

What does a typical day look like for you?

I usually start my day in my jammies with a cup of coffee, checking my email. I check status of some online accounts for one of my clients and I sometimes have transcription projects to work on during the morning. I take time out throughout the morning to care for my two small children, and we usually all do lunch together about mid-day. My husband also works from home, so he and I trade off managing the kids so we can both work on projects. Afternoon naptime for the kids enables me to finish up any pending projects and make any plans for the following day. I track everything with TraxTime software from spudcity.com, and I keep reminders in Outlook.

What do you like best about your business?

I love the freedom of scheduling my own hours, but even more I love the fact that this business is wholly mine, its success or failure depends solely on my actions. Every day now has meaning and a depth that you don’t get when you’re just doing the 9 to 5 (or 6am to 10pm) drudge of a “regular job.” It’s very satisfying.

What are the most challenging things about your job?

I’d have to say keeping an eye on the big picture. As an entrepreneur, you have to have your fingers in all the pies. I have to be aware of taxes, liability insurance, our own medical insurance needs, keeping up in current trends and software, and so many other issues that are all vital to my businesses success. What eases these challenges are the online organizations for Virtual Assistants or for entrepreneurs in general that allow me to mentor or be mentored by other business owners in my same circumstances.

How did you land your first clients?

First, I had my husband design a terrific Web site for my company. Then, through the advice of another esteemed Virtual Assistant I began joining online groups and networking with other online individuals with my same interests. I’m happy to say that it definitely worked. One of my best clients came from a post to DigitalEve, an online high tech women’s networking group. I’m also fortunate in that one of the Virtual Assistant organizations I belong to has an RFP service, and I’ve won several clients from that.

How much time do you spend on marketing now?

I really spend negligible time on my marketing now as my current roster of clients is rather full. I do try to do brand building whenever possible. I have a Web decal on the back window of my car advertising my URL and I was recently interviewed for an article on women owned businesses for the Tacoma News Tribune. I had emailed the reporter several months prior, complimenting her on a story she wrote and she remembered me. Very rarely I have contacted companies advertising for in-house staff in the paper. I usually send an introductory letter explaining what a VA does and offering to follow up at a later date. I haven’t done this enough to quantify the results, however.

What was your professional background before launching your virtual assistant career?

I started my professional career as an Arabic Linguist for the United States Army. After my time in the military, I began an administrative career working in several fields such as customer service and financial services but I hadn’t found my niche. In 1998, I bought my first PC and got online. When I was looking for work in 1999, I used the Internet to find a position as Assistant to the CEO of one of Tacoma’s very first ISP’s. After that company folded, I moved on to become the Launch Coordinator/Customer Service Manager of ImprintStore.com. I felt strongly after three years in the dot com scene, I was ready to break out onto my own.

What is your educational background?

I graduated from Rogers High School in Puyallup in 1986 and then went right into the military.

What skills are most important to succeed in a virtual assistant career?

Most important, you have to have excellent problem solving skills. Clients want solutions, they don’t want someone to tell them it can’t be done, or someone who has to ask how to get it done. You also should have an entrepreneurial spirit and be willing to be flexible in your day to day operations.

What advice do you have for someone who wants a virtual assistant career?

Do your research. There are online organizations like the IVAA.org or individual VAs such as myself where you can find out more information. Make sure this is the life for you.

Are there any commonly held misperceptions about your career that you would like to clarify?

Many people still think of VAs as “temp help” at best or unskilled stay at home mommies trying to “get rich quick” at worst. In actuality, VAs are the smartest solution for very small businesses. VAs are only paid for “time on task” so clients don’t have to provide desktops, software or expensive benefits.

What is the income range for virtual assistants?

A one person VA firm typically charges anywhere from $25 – $70 per hour for services, depending upon the task. Many VAs eventually increase their earning potential by outsourcing client work to other VAs and keeping a small percentage of the fee.

Any other comments?

Outsourcing is a trend that I see increasing in business today. With outsourcing, a business can focus on the key elements that grow their business and leave the rest to the organizations that partner with them.

Thank you, Cheryl!


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