The Virtual Option
Virtual assistants provide a wide range of services including but not limited to bookkeeping, customer service, travel arrangements, calendar management, technology support and Web design.
After being laid off four times in 10 years, Kdee Leinaar decided to take control of her own career. She combined a formal education in journalism, graphic design and photojournalism, with her practical experience as an executive assistant in the financial industry and opened her own business as an on-demand virtual assistant (VA). Rather than being an assistant who reports to one supervisor, she rebranded herself as a service provider responding to the needs of multiple clients.
With ongoing technology advancements and the ubiquitous presence of the Internet, thousands of former “9 to 5” employees like Leinaar have been empowered to depart their corporate jobs in order to provide support services to individual professionals and businesses that they often never physically meet face-to-face. These, often home-based, workers provide a wide range of services including but not limited to bookkeeping, customer service, travel arrangements, calendar management, technology support, data entry and Web design. The common modes of communication and data transmission between virtual assistants and their clients include e-mail, phone conferences, online work spaces and fax machines.
Sierra Harding, who has been a virtual assistant for three years, says that “VAs can work for any company or organization; however, they are often utilized by small to medium businesses.”
Virtual assistants are independent contractors rather than employees, so clients are not responsible for employer-related taxes, insurance or benefits. Clients are also able to avoid the logistical problem and costs of providing office space, equipment or supplies. The cost of a virtual assistant varies between $2 to $50 an hour, depending on the location of the assistant and the client, and the type of services requested and delivered.
“While there is no specific education that is required to become a VA, it is important to have experience in the work that you offer your clients. Experience and skills depend on the type of work that you provide, but in general, a VA needs to be independent, self-motivated, diligent and detail oriented,” Harding says. Leinaar, who lives in Seattle, Washington, adds that a virtual assistant needs to “have a vast amount of skills to be successful. The most important quality a virtual assistant needs is first-rate, top-notch customer service. It is important to make your client feel like they are important and valued.”
Being a virtual assistant is attractive to many people because of the flexibility in the hours and the location of the work. Harding, who loves working from home, lives in Guatemala but has clients in the United States. “I love working from a foreign country, and I love that my usefulness is not dependent on people ‘liking’ me but rather in the outcomes I produce,” she says.
When asked to provide advice to those looking to enter the virtual assistant career field, Leinaar advises that the new entrant should “join groups, such as LinkedIn and IVAA, and learn all you can by listening to other VAs.”
Kaitlin McVey is a writer living in Seattle, Washington.