Chapter One

The Reality Of A Virtual Assistant Career: Pros and Cons

Every career has its pros and its cons, and virtual assisting is no different. Before you decide that becoming a virtual assistant is the career path you want to take, first consider the advantages and disadvantages of the virtual assistance career.

One of the biggest advantages of working as a virtual assistant is that you will work from home. Unlike other work-at-home positions such as medical transcriptionists where you may have to start out working at your employer's office, virtual assistants work from home from day one (alas the term "virtual assistant").

For many who have worked in the nine-to-five grind, the idea of working at home seems almost too good to be true: Setting your own hours, avoiding a grueling commute, and wearing whatever you want are just a few of the many benefits of a work-at-home lifestyle.

While there are indeed many benefits to working as a virtual assistant, working from home can have distinct challenges with which many traditional employees do not have to deal. The reality is working from home requires both dedication and discipline. You are going to face distractions at home that you would not normally deal with in a traditional office setting.

For example, if you have a family, you may be asked to stop working in the middle of the day to go grocery shopping, to the park, or just to hang out with your loved ones. While you can set your own hours, you will not be able to comply with every request and your family must understand that. Of course, because you set your own hours, you may want to take an afternoon off in the middle of the week or to set aside several hours each afternoon to spend with your children.

In addition to loved ones, there are common distractions around you from the television to personal phone calls. You must be able to overcome those distractions to succeed as a virtual assistant working from home.

To succeed at working from home, regardless of whether you are working as a virtual assistant or in some other occupation that affords you the freedom of working from your home, you must set boundaries.

The first step is to determine where you are going to work in your home. In a perfect world, you already have a spare room that you can transform into your office. But, we do not live in a perfect world. If you do not have a spare room, find a place in your home that is quiet and away from the distractions of everyday household activities.

The second step is to set office hours. Those are the hours in which you are focused on your work, and interruptions from your family and friends should be kept at a minimum. Ensure that your family and friends know your office hours and request that they keep interruptions at a minimum.

As you first begin as a virtual assistant, especially if you are starting your own business, you will work much longer hours than you will once you have established yourself and your business. Working long hours will naturally give you less time to spend with loved ones before you begin your own business. Their cooperation is vital to your success.

Another advantage of working as a virtual assistant is the freedom and the independence that it will afford you: You evaluate your own skills and determine what services you will offer to your clients. Whether you work full-time for one client or start your own business and have a long list of clients, you choose for whom you work, what services you offer, and how much work you want to take on. If you thrive on being swamped, you can take as much work on as you want. If you prefer to work part-time, you can do that too. (And, if you start your own business, you can hire other virtual assistants to do the work you do not have time for or simply do not want to do, and you will still make a profit.)

You can also work from anywhere in the world you want. If you decide you want to spend a few months in the mountains, you can take your work with you. Your business is, by and large, portable, which gives you extreme flexibility as to where you work. As long as you have your computer and internet connection, you are able to work.

Finally, because the virtual assistant profession is still a relatively new one, there is unlimited opportunity for you to join others in helping the profession to evolve. You also have the ability to introduce the concept of a virtual assistant to those business owners and entrepreneurs who are not familiar with what a virtual assistant does and how it can benefit them and their businesses.

Before you go any further, consider taking some time to sit down and compile your own list of advantages to working as a virtual assistant: How will it benefit you and your family?

As with every business and career choice, there are also disadvantages. Consider whether the advantages outweigh the disadvantages when determining whether virtual assisting is right for you.

One of the biggest disadvantages of being a virtual assistant is you will not get benefits like vacation and sick time. Of course, you can take as many vacations as you want for as long as you want, but you will not get paid for those days of lost work.

In addition to benefits like sick and vacation pay, you will not receive healthcare unless you purchase it yourself, or unless you live in a country, like Canada or the United Kingdom, that offers universal healthcare coverage.

Healthcare is often a consideration that many take into account before starting their own businesses or venturing into the freelance world. The good news is there are organizations specifically for small business owners and the self-employed such as the National Association for the Self-Employed that offer affordable health insurance. If healthcare is a big issue for you, do your research before you make the leap into self-employment.

If you do not work for a virtual assistant company and instead work for your own business or as a freelancer, you will also be responsible for paying your own local, state, and federal taxes either each time you are paid or on a quarterly basis. You must also keep impeccable accounting records, detailing all income you receive and keeping record of all your expenses, so your tax preparer can ensure that you get all of the pertinent deductions when tax time rolls around.

Finally, if you are a people person and thrive on the socialization that working outside of the home allows, you may find that working from home as a virtual assistant is a lonely proposition. While you will communicate with your clients, you will not have coworkers to chat with and you will, in large part, be by yourself. Consider whether you can thrive when working alone.

There are organizations you can join, which we will talk about later in the book, that will help to dissuade that loneliness, but for the most part, you will be working alone from home. Really think about whether that is something you would enjoy or something that would hinder you.

Again, consider making a list of the disadvantages of starting a virtual assistant business or of working as a virtual assistant. It is important to really consider both the advantages and disadvantages of a career as a virtual assistant, so you can determine if it is really a career path you want to take.

Next: Chapter Two: Virtual Assistant Skills

Previous: Chapter One: Virtual Assistants And Specialized Responsibilities

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