Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Only to a Virtual Assistant

This can only happen to a Virtual Assistant. I provide live phone answering for a company and a gentleman just called me and asked to speak to someone. I asked him for his name and he said "Mr. _____. I'm calling from upstairs." Well I just had to giggle because he's not calling from upstairs! Otherwise he would be calling from my kitchen or bedroom!

After I got back on the line to tell him that the person he was looking for wasn't available he told me that he would just drop the paper work off to him personally. He then said, "Okay! I'll see you in a few minutes." Again, I had to giggle.

It truly is a gift to be able to work at home and it makes me smile! It makes me feel good that people assume I'm in an office working just like them. To me it validates that I'm doing a good job and Virtual Assistants are just as professional as anyone else out there!

Monday, December 1, 2008

Starting Your Virtual Assistance Business Week #2

I hope everyone did their homework and is ready for the next installment on "How to Start Your Virtual Assistance Business." By now you know more about yourself and what you think you can provide your clients, the services you can provide, the space and equipment you will need to use.

You now need to decide how you are going to run your business. Are you going to be a sole proprietorship, a partnership, a corporation or a limited liability corporation (LLC). There are advantages and disadvantages to each of these. Take some time to research each of these entities before you make your decision. Of course, feel free to talk to other Virtual Assistants and ask them how they run their business and why they came to that decision. Every Virtual Assistant figures this out for themselves on an individual basis.

Think of what your Virtual Assistance business is about...now jot down some ideas of names for your business. Make it catchy and make sure it's the name that you want to keep. You are going to put this name everywhere (on business cards, letter heads, websites) and if you decide that you no longer want to use this name, it's not going to be easy to switch. You will have a paper and Internet trail of your old business name.

Once you have decided on what you are going to name your business, you need to do some research and find out if that name is already taken by another business. If it is, it's in your best interest to find a new name for many reasons. One reason is because the other business most likely already owns that domain name too. This means you will not be able to build a business website with this name. Some different ways to research a business name before you secure it is to look that name up in your local phone book under "secretarial services" or "administrative services" and make sure that it isn't already taken in your state, call 411 or your directory assistance and ask for that name and of course, Google it!

Also, since you will most likely be using your business name in your domain name for your website, it won't hurt you to take a look at http://instantdomainsearch.com/ to see if that name is already taken by another website. If not and you have some spare change, go ahead and buy that domain name asap! Even if you're not ready to build your website yet, at least no one else will be able to purchase it in the meantime. And it's also in your best interests to buy the .com, .net, and .org extensions for your domain also. Just because your website is www.johnjonesva.com doesn't mean that the other John Jones can't own www.johnjonesva.net. You don't want to leave any holes for people to take your company's individuality away!

Okay, you have your business name now and you know what kind of business entity you are going to run. Next, you need to register your business with your state or county and obtain a license. This is usually a simple process with one or two forms to fill out. There is also a small fee usually associated with registering your business. In the state of Maryland I had to contact the Department of Assessments and Taxation to register my trade name and it cost me $25.00. Every state and/or county is different. So, take a look at your state and city or county websites and you should be able to find the information you need on how to register your business.

Your homework for the next week:

1.) How are you going to run your business? What is your business entity going to be?

2.) What is your business name going to be? Now research that name up one side and down the other! Take a look at domains and purchase one in your business name if available.

3.) Find out how to register your name in your state, county and/or city.

Until next time! Please leave me comments and let me know how you are doing!

Monday, November 10, 2008

Starting Your Virtual Assistance Business Week #!

I joined Twitter about 1 month ago and since that time, I have been asked by quite a few people to give some advice about starting up their own Virtual Assistance business. I was driving myself crazy trying to remember all of the people that I promised to send information to, so I decided to start a blog series on the basics of starting up your own Virtual Assistance Business. I hope you enjoy my tipsand I wish all of you luck! The wonderful thing about being a Virtual Assistant is that we all have our own specialities and niches; which makes us unique! There is enough work out there for all of us. Please feel free to comment with questions or your own stories!

Let me start with saying, that you do not necessarily have to have a business or administrative background/degree to do this type of work from home. (Of course it always helps though!) I have a Bachelors in Education and I’m working on Masters in Education. I do have administrative experience though, but only about 5 years of it. What do I have? I love to help people, I have a niche that works well for me because it’s my passion, I learn quickly and I’m very computer savvy.

Take out some paper or even start a journal and let's start with some questions: "What do you have to offer?" or "What can you bring to the table?" What are you passionate about? My passions are children, education, special education, disabilities, health care and non-profits. The things in my life that drive me are the same things that my Virtual Assistance business is built on. My services are geared to helping professionals in these fields because I find these topics to be exciting and the people worthwhile to work with. Think about those two questions and decide for yourself, who do you want to work with, what do you have that makes you different than others and what are you good at? Don't feel frustrated if you aren't able to answer all of these questions in one day or even a week! This is a learning process, so enjoy the process and don't feel pressured to know all the answers right away.

So, you have a general idea of what kind of people or businesses you would like to offer support services to. Next, you need to decide if you have the dedicated space in your house to offer to your business. If you don't have this space yet, you need to have it before you start your business. Take a look around your house and decide where can you make your business "fit." If you already have this dedicated space, then you can move on to the next step.

Evaluate what technology you may already have and what do you need to make your Virtual Assistance business work. Generally speaking, you will need a computer (Mac/PC; your preference) with Internet access (high speed preferably), a business phone line (there are many low cost options out there), a fax machine, scanner, and a printer. There are other things that could be included in this list, but it depends on what type of services you plan on offering your clients. You may want to purchase a scale to weigh mail if you plan on offering a mailing service to your clients, for example.

Your homework for the week:

1.) Find out more about yourself and what you can offer others...what is your gift?

2.) Where is the space that you can dedicate to your business?

3.) What services can you offer your clients and what technology do you need or do you have to purchase to make your services possible? (Start writing a list of possible purchases you may need to buy so you know beforehand how to budget your business.)

4.) Do some research. Look at other Virtual Assistant's websites and see what services they offer and who their clients are.

Leave me comments! I would love to know about your beginning Virtual Assistance ventures! Until next week!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Social Networking (And All That Other Cool Online Stuff)

I spent the majority of the day with my sick son (who I lovingly refer to as Captain Pukey Pants) and my laptop. Lucky for me it was a slow day, so I was able to do most of my work from the sofa of my living room with my son and his bucket lying next to me. While keeping up-to-date with the Twitter world from Twhirl, a tweet came through about a blog listing the "50 Most Influential Women in Social Networking". Well, I got totally caught up in looking at all 50 of these websites and blogs. Wow, what an amazing group of women! There was so much to learn and look through. So I spent my evening updating my Delicious website and bookmarking all of my favorites and then I had to research some live RSS feeds for my favorite Blogs, so I don't miss a thing! (I ended up with FeedDemon; so far I'm happy with it.)
Anyway, I had wondered in the past if it's too much sometimes, belonging to so many social on-line networking sites. At what point do you get "on-line networking overkill"? But when I was looking at some of these websites of people that have been deemed "Social Networking Gurus" I realized that this is most likely how most of these people got their name out there. Most of them had at least two to three blogs and belonged to at least six social or business networking sites. I also noticed that many websites supported each other with links or blogs about "sister-sites" and so forth.
So, the moral of my story is that I now feel that I will continue my journey of Social Networking because it looks like it does work when you put time and effort into it. I feel like I got a good head start today! And I hope that I eventually will have the support of other virtual assistants, stay at home moms and other entrepreneurs in the future so that we can link up websites and connect!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

And So it Began...Because I Was on Bedrest

Wow...so I started my Virtual Assistance business in July of 2008. It has been a fun journey so far, even though I'm only 3 months into it! First, it would make most sense to give you a background on me! For some reason, I feel that this blog will bring me the type of clients that I'm looking for. Not to say that the clients that I currently have are not worthy of my time, they most certainly are! Especially the ones that fit into my "population" that I have in mind. But, if I tell my story, maybe the people that I want to help the most will come forward, ha ha!

Okay, so a short education background: Graduated in 2004 with a Bachelors degree in Early Childhood Administration and I am currently enrolled in a Masters program in Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment. But, I feel that I learned the most valuable lessons in life from working with children and adults. I feel at times the degree is there to "validate" that I'm a professional in my field and I'll take it!

I discovered my love for educating when I was in high school. We had a child development lab in-house that provided child care services for parents. We were responsible for creating lesson plans for the children, providing the material for the lesson plans and even developing the curriculum that they were going to follow that year. I loved it! I loved discovering new ways to teach the children. I was a firm believer from the moment I started working with children, that we all learn differently and that a teacher is responsible for providing these various learning methods to ensure the success of her children.

Okay...so I graduated from high school (yeah)! I started my first "real" job in the Baltimore County School systems. I was a reading tutor for elementary school students. I learned a lot from this job. I learned that I didn't necessarily like to work with children who were taller than me (that eliminated everyone older than 8) and that when you work for someone and you are being paid from a "Poverty Grant" you may not have a job the next school year:) The wonderful thing about this job is I learned the importance of data collecting and written observations as they pertain to education. I also discovered that I LOVED kindergartners; which further proved that I was meant to be an early childhood educator.

I moved onto two different children's learning centers. I started out as an assistant in the classroom at the first one; got my certification and started teaching as soon as possible. The problem was there were no teaching positions available at this center. So I learned my most valuable lesson at this center: negotiating. I negotiated with the center director to change every one's work day to a 10 hour day (a 4 day work week) versus 8 hour (a 5 day work week) day. Everyone loved the idea! And it allowed me to teach every day! The teachers alternated their days off and I taught in their class in their absence. When I left this center, it was because I wanted my own class. I loved the variety of a different age group everyday, but I had no space to call my own. At the second center in which I taught, I had a fabulous class of fifteen three year olds. Yes, you heard me right, fifteen three year olds. At this center I learned the valuable lesson of team work. Let me tell you...there is some great help out there when it comes to assistants in the classroom...and then there is the other people. I went through four-five assistants in the one year that I taught at the center before I found the assistant of my dreams. She was wonderful and we made a great team!

I decided that although I loved the classroom and the children, I needed to go back to school and earn a Bachelors Degree so that I move up the "educational ladder." To do this, I needed a job with a little more flexibility and shorter days. I left the children's center and started working for Kennedy Krieger Institute as a 1:1 aide in a classroom for children with various special needs. I worked with children with Autism, Fragile-X syndrome and traumatic brain injuries (to name a few). Guess what...I was a little disappointed that I was working with children that were older than the age that I thought was comfort zone (therefore the children were all taller than me) until I realized that working with children who had special needs isn't something that everyone can do...but I could and I think I did it really well! Kennedy Krieger Institute proved to have so many opportunities for me...I was a Child Development Teacher for a while at an Early Head Start that they funded and an Activities Coordinator in KKI's pediatric rehabilitation hospital. While working at the hospital I finished up my Bachelors Degree.

After receiving my degree, I was promoted to a Therapy Center Specialist and co-ran the Therapy Center. The Therapy Center was a very unique department. In it, you could find Child Life Specialists, Therapeutic Recreation Specialists and a plethora of other professionals. My responsibilities (along with my partner in crime) were to create rehabilitation goals for the patients that they were responsible to work on in every therapy, develop an appropriate curriculum to follow through out the year, develop activities for the patients to participate in when they weren't in therapies, running orientation to the department and other administrative tasks that come with running a center. I also started working for a non-profit organization at this time that provided services to families with children who have Autism. I supervised technicians that worked in the homes with children providing them with individualized support, respite care and family training.

I was where I wanted to be! I had two jobs where I was respected and was working with the populations that I loved: early childhood and special needs.

So, of course, I get pregnant...

I came back to work after three months off with my beautiful baby boy. I was excited to come back to work. With some negotiation, I was able to come back part-time. I still loved my job, especially the administrative aspects of it. I'm a planner and developer. I loved to develop new data collection sheets or lesson plans or groups for the patients to participate in. But something in me had changed, I was a mother and I wanted to be home with my son. I thought that if I worked three days a week, that would be enough for me and I would be satisfied, both at home and at work. Not so much. I lasted nine months and decided to be a stay at home before his first birthday.

Fast forward a bit...I got bored...so I decided to go back to school and earn my Masters Degree. I still worked for my non-profit organization also and once again was loving the administrative side of my job. I started to get busier with my non-profit and started to work with more families.

Guess what? Pregnant again! Well, 26 weeks into this pregnancy, I end up on bed rest after a hug gone wrong by my now two year old whose head managed to dive-bomb my lower stomach so hard, it caused me to have contractions which led into pre-term labor. I was on bed rest until my 36th week. I went a little stir crazy. I had to stop my work with my non-profit for the time being because I couldn't visit my families. So I began to think about me, my life, my children and where I wanted to be after I had this baby. I did some research and discovered the wonderful world of Virtual Assistants.

I was excited because I had a niche....already, I had a niche! This is one of the hardest things about being a VA, is finding that one thing that you were good at and wanted to work with. I knew that I wanted to provide services to the areas of my work experience that I loved the most: Educators, Health Care Professionals and Non-Profits. So, here I am three months later with two clients, one that falls into my "niche" and one that doesn't. But that's okay, because we all have to start somewhere.

So, what now? Now I'm working on marketing to my "niche" which isn't easy. The bad thing about the majority of clients that I want to help have no idea how they would use my services. The good thing about that is I think I'm one of the few that provides this service, so it shouldn't be so hard to find clients. Once again, not so much. But it's only been three months and I keep plugging along.

And here I am, a two year old who finally fell asleep at quarter of twelve, a six week old that will be awake any minute and me, who just finished her first ever blog...and all of this, because I was on bed rest!