If every cloud has a silver lining, the skies these days should be raining precious metal. The economy has been shrinking for a year, recruitment firms are awash with gilt-edged resumes and barely a week passes without some other major company either firing out P45s or filing for bankruptcy. Even Adobe recently told 600 workers to start shopping around for a new job.
You’d think that being part-owners of a pile of banks would make us all feel a lot richer than this.
These are tense times, times when it pays not just to have your contact book ready to hand and your LinkedIn profile up to date, but time too to have a plan in mind.
Or even better, two plans in mind.
Work from Home while You Build your Dream
One plan should be the goal you’ve always wanted to achieve – the business you’ve always wanted to build, the killer idea you’re fairly sure will buy you a Caribbean island, even the novel you’ve long been planning to write – but never had the time to work towards. If there is a flash of silver in the sky – and it’s not some business being struck by lightning – it’s that if your daily schedule is about to look fairly empty, you’ll soon have the opportunity to do all of those things you’ve always wanted to do.
But businesses, ideas and novels take time to create and in the meantime, you still need a plan that will continue to pay the mortgage and put food on the table for the kids to stick to the wall. That means doing things you might not have chosen to do but which you do because they pay, and because you can do them. And most importantly, you do them because you can do them from home, in your own time, with the understanding that you get to choose whether it’s a temporary thing until something better comes along or a whole new career with the kind of flexibility you’ve always really wanted.
Administrative work, for example, might not be for everyone but when you can do it virtually, it starts to look a lot more attractive. That’s especially true when administration can be stretched to include database management and website maintenance.
From Typing to Blogging
Andrea Pixley’s work day, for example, stretches from just 10am until 2pm and includes administrating pay-per-click accounts and maintaining ecommerce and customer support websites for four owners of small businesses, some of which are also home-based. Andrea, who lives in Columbia, SC, has been a virtual assistant since 2000 and chose to do it as a way of spending more time with her children who were small when she started.
Contact with clients is maintained through Andrea’s office phone, toll-free voicemail, email, fax, instant messaging and a cell phone for emergencies.
“Each client contacts me by the method that works best for them,” she says.
Australian Kathie Thomas has been a virtual assistant for even longer. She opened her home-based business back in 1996 and although she started by providing basic secretarial functions such as typing, data entry and-phone answering, her tasks too now cover roles more akin to tech support than coffee-making and paper-filing.
“As my knowledge of the web grew and developed I got into database management, Internet research, website maintenance and then design, Web hosting, and also blogging,” she told us. “I love blogging!”
Her clients largely consist of business coaches and professional speakers for whom Kathie manages databases, websites, online newsletters and sales.
According to a 2008 survey conducted by the Virtual Assistance Chamber of Commerce, a support group, over a fifth of virtual assistants have a four-year college degree and a further 9 percent have more than four years of college behind them. Hourly fees tend to be in the range of $30-$39 although two of the 500 respondents polled in the survey said that they charged $90 or more, and seven reported annual incomes of more than $100,000.
The advantages for the women who do this work – and it is primarily women; the survey found that almost 98 percent of virtual assistants are female and more than half are aged between 30 and 49 – are clear. They can work from home, according to a schedule that they set and they’re free to choose the number of hours they work too. Asked why she works as a virtual assistant, Kathie replied with one word: “convenience.”
” I love being at home, I love being here for my family. I like my space, my privacy and not having to tell anyone where I’m going if I choose to go out,” she explained ” I choose the hours I want to work and the type of work I want to do.”
Even camaraderie can be provided through one of the many forums set up to help virtual assistants solve problems, swap ideas and stay in touch.
And the advantage for the client is clear too. Although many companies choose to pay a monthly retainer, they only pay for hours worked not simply for an assistant’s presence in the office. Nor do they have to supply office equipment or, more importantly, pay for their insurance, health care, sick leave or vacation time.
Breaking in doesn’t have to be too difficult either. Almost half of the virtual assistants surveyed said that they had picked up their first client within a month of opening their business and a similar percentage reported referrals as their most effective marketing stream. There’s now a range of different services providing training and accreditation, including AssistU and Kathie’s own course at VATrainer.
The work itself might not be right everyone. It requires attention to detail, a head for administration and a willingness to work for others even while working for yourself. But it does offer one additional benefit.
If your other plan works out, you can easily give up being a virtual assistant… and hire one.