From the February 2001 issue of Startups

You're a valuable, trustworthy office assistant or administrator. You're successful at your job because you complete tasks in a way that makes your boss look good and feel better. But you'd rather work for yourself and be in charge of your own time. Maybe you want to be at home when your kids arrive from school, or maybe you're just tired of commuting. Maybe you dream of living in the mountains or your rural hometown, but you still want to produce an income.

The good news is, the explosion of the Internet and the global economy has produced not only the virtual organization, but also a new business opportunity: the virtual assistant.

As a virtual assistant, you take on the nitty-gritty work for independent professionals and small businesses that don't need a full-time secretary or office manager. Your tasks may include secretarial work, meeting and travel planning, project managing, and logistics coordinating.

If you work as a virtual assistant for a start-up company, you may be busy finding sources of insurance or outfitting an office on a minimal budget. You may help an independent professional like an author or consultant manage his or her hectic life by arranging for pet sitting, calling a plumber, scheduling doctor's appointments, planning a family reunion or coordinating a move. You may do market research, write proposals, send out marketing materials and news releases, handle the billing and bookkeeping, or update your client's Web site.

Depending on the needs and personalities of both you and your client, you may work "on call" or set your own schedule. But in all cases, you're virtual, working from your home for clients who may be based in your community or on another continent, communicating via e-mail, phone, fax and online instant messaging. You and your client may even coordinate via online intranets or have access to each other's computers with software like Symantec's PC Anywhere.

Virtual assistants typically earn between $20 and $45 per hour, but those with more specialized expertise and upscale clients like attorneys may charge more than $100 per hour. Some VAs have retainer arrangements with clients who commit to paying for 10 to 20 hours a month, sometimes at a discounted hourly rate.

There are several places you can obtain training to become a virtual assistant. Stacy Brice, one of the founders of the field, offers virtual training at AssistU, and the International Virtual Assistants Association (IVAA) offers a certification program.

Once you're trained, some job sites like Guru.com and FreeAgent.com have specific listing categories for virtual assistants. Another matching service where virtual assistants can list their services in more than 50 different categories is IVAA affiliate Staffcentrix, which bills itself as a "Virtual Assistant Internet Portal."


Paul and Sarah Edwards are the award-winning co-authors of thirteen books, including Working From Home, The Best Home Businesses for the 21st Centuryand their latest book, The Practical Dreamer's Handbook. More information is available on their Web sites, www.workingfromhome.com and www.simplegoodlife.com.