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Virtual Assisting as a Home Business Opportunity

by Jean Murray on December 10th, 2008

In response to questions about Virtual Assisting as a home business opportunity, I am interviewing several people.  The first is Stacy Brice, founder, President and Chief Visionary Officer of AssistU.  (I can see why she is successful - what great positive enthusiasm!)  Stacy founded AssistU in March 1997 as a way to help people create the business and life they wanted.  Read more about Stacy’s journey to founding AssistU on her bio.

Questions for Stacy Brice:

1.  How did you get into the VA business?  What motivated you to start AssistU?

I got started as a VA, working for myself, because I was fired from a job for doing something I’d been specifically asked to do. At home, horrified to be unemployed, yet more horrified to think about ever being in that position again, I decided to work from home doing for myself what I’d been doing at that job. That was travel planning. But I reinvented it and myself as “executive travel planner” and offered fee-based travel services (a reality today, but no one was doing it in the early 90s!). To my high-end travel clients I also provide admin services. They loved it, and so did I. That’s how it started.

In ’96, I worked with a man providing only admin services who put the name (Virtual Assistant) to what I was doing. Later that year, I was contacted by a reporter who wanted to do a piece about my work. When that piece hit the newsstands, I was inundated with email and calls from women who wanted to know how to do what I was doing.

Seeing an opportunity, I smartly stepped up and created AssistU to meet that need. AssistU is now nearly 12 years old.

2.  What kind of people join AssistU?

The people who come to us are mostly women, 19-70 years old, usually administrative assistants who are tired of being treated badly as employees, and who yearn for something more for themselves and their families.

At the same time, they’re smart—and see that through our training, they don’t have to reinvent the wheel, and can have a model to lead them to success and a community to help keep them successful.

3.  What help and training do you provide them?

Our comprehensive, 20-week Virtual Training Program takes them from A to Z (everything from putting solid foundations under their new businesses, to pricing their services, to how to invoice, to how to market, to how to interact with clients on a daily basis, to how to handle challenges that might crop up)—giving them everything they need to start, and then sustain, their Virtual Assistance business. We also provide training in writing skills, internet-based skills, and life skills (we know that in order to have a great business, you have to have a pretty good life), professional coaching while they’re in the program, and a professional community of colleagues who believe in collaboration rather than competition. We also offer them peer mentoring alongside the training, a “newbie” special interest group where they can learn more from each other and experienced VAs, and occasional free community classes where they can learn things not specifically covered in the VTP (for instance, I recently led a class specifically about Twitter for the community). (I need that class too! - Jean)

They often enter the VTP not knowing very much about how to even think about being in business for themselves, or how to do what a Virtual Assistant does, and they pop out the other end infinitely prepared to open their virtual doors and start working with clients.

Once they graduate, they’re invited to stay members of our professional community, and have access to internships, additional training opportunities, certification and our referral service.

4.  Can someone become a VA without going through your training or similar training?

Absolutely. I didn’t have anyone to train me. But I taught myself, and I was smart and did it well, with really high standards for myself. What happens often today is that a woman will join a Virtual Assistant membership organization, where, in great measure, the blind lead the blind (meaning that people who don’t know what they’re doing but are trying to figure it out try to help other people who don’t know what they’re doing and are trying to figure it out). In the time it takes them to engage in trial and error, they could have been so much further along, had they gotten training.

Training shortens one’s learning curve by, in part, allowing the new person to benefit from the hard won experience of others, and, in our case, a proven model for success.

An accepted standard (I believe originating from the SBA) is that more than 50% of all new businesses won’t be in business after five years. My experience is that training, and having a proven model, drastically improves those odds.  (I agree - Jean)

Additionally, I know that many of the prospective clients who come to us for referrals come to us specifically because the VAs they have been talking with have in-depth, industry-specific training. Everything I’ve seen over the past 11+ years tells me that training matters to many clients.

I also want to point out that there absolutely is no training similar to ours. There are other trainings; that’s true, but nowhere in the world can someone get anything even close to the fullness and rigorousness of what we offer.

5.  What income can a VA make?  How long does it typically take for a VA to make reasonable income (whatever that means) being a VA?

I know that our VAs are among the highest revenue generators in the industry. Much of that is due to my unwavering proof to them that there’s no way for any of them to be profitable at less than $30/hour. Many other VAs still think they’re doing well if they’re billing $12-15/hour while working at home in their bunny slippers.

So, at the low end in the AssistU community, VAs are billing mostly in the $35-45/hour range, with the occasional still-scared newbie billing at $30. Mid-range is $50-65/hour, and The VAs in our community with the highest hourly rates are billing $70-$100+/hour.

For the VAs we train, they rarely bill more than 30 hours/week (because they need time to work on unbillable things—like their own businesses), and some bill as little as ten hours/week (often because they primarily want time with their children).

They really are only bound by their own ambitions.

6.  What characteristics make a good VA?  What kind of characteristics would prevent someone from being a good VA?

Good characteristics: Self-motivated/directed, relationally mature, focused, communicative, collaborative, proactive, quick, bright, well-rounded, open, flexible, intuitive, committed, honest, realistic, tenacious, confidant, insatiably curious, loves to learn, has a large capacity and manages it well (doesn’t get overwhelmed easily, and when she does, knows how to fix it quickly).

The opposites of/absence of the above characteristics would prevent someone from being a good VA.

7.  Can mothers at home with young children become VA’s?  Can they be part-time VA’s?

Yes! It’s far easier if they have child care—either in home, or outside–because it’s really difficult to only work when your child naps. Yet women do it.

And women can be part-time VAs—there are two ways this plays out:

1. Women who simply want to be part time business owners.

This is a very easy thing to do. If there are children at home, I still recommend child care during the work day.

2. Women who are working full time, want to transition to a full time VA practice, and decide to start part time, after work.

Most VAs start out this way. It’s not easy, and what’s important is for a woman to be super realistic about her transition plan (for instance, it’s not realistic to think that she’ll work full time at a job, then come home and work with clients in her VA practice until she can replace, dollar for dollar, her income from her job….she’d likely drop dead of exhaustion, first!). (Believe me, I know! I’ve tried it! - Jean)

8. What life circumstances make it easier or harder to be successful as a VA?

Easier: High-level support from family and friends, few naysayers in your life, 6-12 months financial reserves, no ongoing drama, believing in abundance and attraction.

Harder: The opposites of the above and any high-level stress that’s ongoing.
An example of that kind of stress, Jean, is the person who comes to us, needs/wants to start a VA practice, and goes on to tell us that her husband is divorcing her and suing for custody, while she’s had to let her elderly mother with Alzheimer’s move in with her, and she’s afraid she might lose her house. That person’s life circumstances make it nearly impossible for her to be successful as a VA.

9.  What advice do you give to someone wanting to be a VA?

1. Be sure this is what you want to do and that it lights you up inside
2. Get training
3. Hire a business coach
4. Be realistic about how your business will likely grow. Traditional business wisdom says it will take 3 to 5 years to build a business to where the owner wants it to be. Many VAs who don’t invest in training think that the skills they have are enough to let them start working with clients tomorrow, and that they’ll have a full practice in a matter of weeks. That’s simply beyond unrealistic and can lead to catastrophe.

Thanks, Stacy!

I’m excited about the prospect of helping many people become Virtual Assistants.  If you decide to take the plunge, let me know.  If you are still interest but you are not sure, stay tuned.  I will be interviewing several VA’s over the next few weeks, one of whom is a mother with young children.

Image source: Newscom

Tags: AssistU, Home Business Opportunities, Stacy Brice, virtual assistants

POSTED IN: Business Ideas, Entrepreneurship, Home Business Opportunities, Home Businesses in Troubled Financial Times, Interviews, Kids & Business, Personal Experience, Questions about Home Businesses, Success Stories, Work At Home Moms, Work Life Balance

4 opinions for Virtual Assisting as a Home Business Opportunity

  • Stacy Brice
    Dec 10, 2008 at 12:13 pm

    Thanks for the opportunity, Jean! I wanted to add that I do a monthly informational call for people who want to learn more about what it is to be a Virtual Assistant. I do no selling on the call–I’m there to make sure the participants get the information they need to help them decide if this career path is for them!

    If your readers are interested in participating, they can get more information and register here:http://www.assistu.com/va/va_tele.shtml. For people who can’t make a live call, there’s a recorded one available on that page, too. :)

    Additionally, if they want to get a better sense of who we are and what we do at AssistU, in order to evaluate our training opportunity (for which, btw, there are payment plans!), they might be interested in reading some diaries from our trainees (http://www.assistu.com/va/va_diary.shtml).

    We’re here to help…

  • Darlene McDaniel
    Dec 11, 2008 at 9:37 pm

    EXCELLENT Post!! WOW!! I will be linking back to this post on Interview Chatter. Excellent information for anyone considering any new home business opportunity. I especially liked this because, I believe that the VA business is still in its infancy and there is lots of opportunity for anyone, man or woman who want to support others virtually and be well paid for it!!

    Thanks for an excellent interview!

    Interview Guru

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