by Leslie Truex, Demand Media
Decide what services to offer and what industry you’ll provide them to. Some virtual assistants focus on specific skills such as website support or customer service. Others focus on providing a variety of services to professionals in specific industries, such as Realtors or speakers. Make a list of your virtual support skills such as typing speed, writing, research, technical knowledge and phone skills. Also list your skills in using specific software and equipment, like word processing and photo enhancement software, or in using digital audio devices for transcription. Finally, list the industries you have experience in or are knowledgeable about. Using these lists, identify the services you’d like to offer and/or the industries you’d like to work in.
Set your prices. Your fees will vary and depend on the level of skill and/or industry knowledge needed, and the amount of time and frequency needed to complete tasks. For example, a virtual assistant for a lawyer can charge more than a general virtual assistant because she needs to know and understand legal terminology. Another virtual assistant might charge $10 to write a single article but $75 to write a press release. Rates can be set by project or hourly rate. You need to calculate which is the better option and still marketable for you. The range of virtual assistant fees is from $15 up to $100 per hour. Clients who need your services on a daily or regular basis, or for long-term projects, will want a monthly rate or project-fee. Retainer fees are usually a discount of the basic hourly rate. For example, if a virtual assistant offers a general rate of $30 per hour, her retainer clients pay $250 a month for ten hours of service at $25 per hour. Project fees are for tasks such as website building or ghost writing. Again you need to calculate not only how much your time is worth, but also what your skills and knowledge are worth. You may want to add a little padding to your fees to compensate for edits or changes the client asks for that are expected to be included — within reason — in your services.
Write a business plan to outline all the details of starting and running your virtual assistant business. Describe your services and target market in detail. For example, providing transcription services to professional speakers or website support to authors. Outline your marketing plan for obtaining clients such as social networking with your target market. Calculate start-up and management costs, as well as profit projections. This needs to include costs of your computer, software needed to provide services and on-going fees such as Internet service. Calculate the average number of clients you need, at what average service price you need to break even as well as to make a profit. Your business plan should detail all aspects of your business and goals for the next 12 months.
Decide on a business name and determine your business structure. Your business name should indicate that you run a virtual assistant business. You can choose a name that is specific your niche, but don’t make it so specific that you can’t add more services. For example, if you name your business ABC Transcription, it doesn’t allow for you to add other services such as email support. You can run your business as a sole proprietor or form a legal entity such as a limited liability company (LLC). Obtain needed permits and licenses from your local city or county government business office. If your business name is something other than your given name, you’ll likely be required to obtain a doing-business-as or assumed name statement. If you form an LLC or other business entity, you’ll need to request an Employer Identification Number (EIN) from the Internal Revenue Service. As a sole proprietor you can use your social security number.
Set up your virtual office. Ideally your office space should be dedicated to your virtual assistant business. It should meet all your needs in terms of space, furniture, lighting and equipment and also be free from outside distractions. Because virtual assistant’s sit for long periods of time, choose a comfortable chair with back support and keep your computer monitor at a level that doesn’t strain your eyes or neck. Further, virtual assistants maintain a great deal of information such as contact lists and billing for clients. To protect this information, equip your office with a back-up drive in the event that the computer crashes.
Market your virtual assistant business online and off. Build a website that includes a portfolio of your work, if relevant such as writing or desktop design samples. Ask for testimonials from current clients. Network with your target market online and off. Send a press release that not only describes your new service, but also provides details on how businesses can benefit from using a virtual assistant. If you’re targeting a specific industry, send articles to that industry’s trade magazine and network with its members locally and online. Develop a strategy to keep your customers coming back and having them refer new clients to you. For example, you can discount a client’s services for as long as a referral of his keeps you on retainer.