By George_Carey

Virtual (assistant) reality

The start of a new year doesn’t just bring resolutions, it also gets us assessing our lives. Are we where we want to be in our careers? Do we see our family and friends enough? For some of us, freelancing seems to offer the kind of work-life balance we crave. Jodie Taylor reports

The turbulent economy of the past few years has caused redundancies and closures, with even household names failing to survive.  One industry that is booming, however, is the virtual office. Virtual assistants or VAs are becoming increasingly popular as businesses can get work done without the overheads associated with permanent staff. There’s no need to worry about paid breaks, maternity leave, sick pay, holidays and pensions – they simply contact a VA, either directly or through an agency and negotiate a fee. VAs are particularly popular with small business owners as it allows them to buy the skills or time they don’t have. The internet enables businesses to search the world for the right person for the job, and as an added bonus they often get to take advantage of lower wages than are expected in their local area.

The virtual office has been a god send for business, but what about the VA? As stated, there’s a lack of paid holiday, maternity leave, pension or sick pay, but some people are prepared to give all this up to be their own boss and work from home.

The work/life balance

Freelancing often suits people with young children as they can choose to work during term time or around the school day. It isn’t just a convenient career choice for parents though, it’s open to everyone, no matter what their skill set. There are VAs for everything from admin to IT, marketing and accountancy. Being a VA also removes the hassle of the daily commute as well as any office politics. It opens up your work prospects massively as you are no longer restricted by your postcode.

Like any freelance work, being a VA beats the monotony of performing the same tasks for the same business day in day out. It’s also a good alternative for people who are great at getting the job done but struggle with interview nerves and dread the thought of an office party.

Thinking of going virtual?

If you’re thinking of becoming a VA you need to be really disciplined when working from home and it’s important to set up a dedicated work space that’s organised and distraction free. You also need to make sure that others understand your role, warns the UK Association of Virtual Assistants. According to their blog: “Many people are under the misapprehension that if someone works from home then they are not actually working. They may believe that you are fair game for a social call during the day or that you may be able to run errands that would otherwise mean them taking time off work…It’s really important to set the ground rules early and then stand firm. You must make certain your friends and family understand that when you are working, then you ARE working and that when your time is interrupted, you will not be earning”.

You have to hit the ground running as a VA – you don’t get that ‘settling in’ period that you do with traditional employment. There’s no such thing as a probation period and if you don’t deliver on your first task, your client won’t send you another.

It’s also important for VAs to consider whether to take the direct approach or join an agency. If you contact businesses yourself you’ll probably earn more per hour as there’s no agency to take a cut of your fee. However, agencies do take the stress out of building a client base. They are likely to be able to send you regular work and may be a less daunting option for people who are new to the role.

Finally, it’s really important to judge how long each job will take as you may end up working for a pittance if you don’t get it right.  It doesn’t matter how great your hourly rate is, if you misjudge how long a job will take you, you’d be better off in a minimum wage office job.

Calling all VAs…

Do you want to star in our ‘Day in the diary’ feature? If so, email [email protected]

This article is featured in the January edition of Olé magazine. Click on the ‘current issue’ to the right hand side of this article to view the mag in full.

This entry was posted in Work.
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