By the simplest definition, a virtual office assistant is an independent contract worker who provides administrative, creative or technical services. Often that means handling the same types of tasks as an office secretary or manager, but doing them from a home office, using the virtual assistant's own computer equipment, software, phone and Internet connection [source: International Virtual Assistants Association].
Here are some of the general tasks that an office assistant may do in a virtual office:
- Manage contact lists and customer spreadsheets
- Maintain a calendar and set up meetings
- Take transcription and handle correspondence
- Make travel arrangements
- Handle billing and accounting
- Prepare and send out e-mail newsletters
- Prepare, collate and ship proposals and meeting materials
- Send out requested information to customers
- Handle client inquiries by phone or e-mail
For this type of work, you can expect to be paid $20 to $45 per hour. Businesses may commit to paying a monthly retainer for 10 or 20 hours of the virtual assistant's time, or they may buy hourly blocks of time, leaving the assistant free to work for more than one client at a time. The virtual assistant generally sets the fee, based on the complexity of the work and the turnaround time on specific projects. Rush jobs cost more than those with regular turnaround [source: PR Log].
Depending on the industry, payment may be set up differently. One real estate agent, for instance, pays his virtual office assistant a commission based on the number of closings each month rather than a salary. His assistant, who lives several states away, handles advertising, design and Web site management for him while he focuses on selling and listing houses [source: Realty Times].
By specializing in services they offer or the businesses they support, experienced virtual office assistants can often demand higher fees of up to $100 an hour. You can charge more for these and other areas of specialized expertise:
- Translation and preparation of bilingual written or online materials
- Medical transcription
- Market research
- Specialized Internet research
- Industry knowledge in technology, financial services, law or health care
- Development and maintenance of Web sites
Succeeding as a virtual assistant takes skill, contacts and personal organization. You have to be able to set your own work schedule, based on client needs and stick to it. And you need to be able to produce high-quality work on your own.
Here are the core competencies that the Alliance for Virtual Business recommends that you have:
- Drive and determination to see clients succeed
- Ability to work as part of a team
- Excellent customer service skills
- Basic understanding of business operation, including budgeting, creating business and marketing plans, contracts and agreements and time management
- Willingness to admit and correct mistakes
- Respect for others' intellectual property (no plagiarism or software piracy)
- Good organizational skills
- Good spelling, grammar and punctuation skills
You'll also need current technology, including a reliable computer, Internet connection, phone with voice mail or answering machine, fax machine or computer faxing capabilities, business and communications software and antivirus software. You'll need to be proficient at using this software, along with e-mail, the Internet and instant messaging.
If you're ready to make the move to a virtual office, go to the next page to learn about training.