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Are you be-your-own-boss material?

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in Career Management,Workplace Communication

Emily Morgan works 60 to 70 hours a week and doesn’t even get a steady paycheck. You would think she’d loathe her boss, but you’d be wrong.

Morgan is a virtual assistant. She’s the one who chooses how much work she takes on and how many hours she works. “It’s exhausting, but I have no regrets,” she says of her thriving business.

Practically all virtual assistants, or VAs, enter the entrepreneurial world with a naive vision of what it’s like to work for themselves, she says.

“The big, glaring difference is that you’re running a business and doing the work,” she says. That means you end up working all the time, just like any small business.

Ever wonder whether a VA career might be right for you?

Questions to ask yourself:

1. Are you skilled at managing
and motivating yourself? And not merely when it comes to the admin work. “There’s a whole side to running a business that’s not for everyone—invoicing clients, tracking income, paying taxes,” says career consultant Maggie Mistal.

“If you want to do only the administrative work,” says Morgan, “I’d recommend looking into being a subcontractor,” or working with another virtual assistant who hands you tasks. No business expertise required.

Tip: To set yourself up as a subcontractor, Morgan recommends joining the International Virtual Assistants Association (IVAA) and building a network that could lead to referrals later. “You’re not likely to get work by blindly asking people if they need help,” she says. “But there are RFPs (requests for proposals) on the web all the time for subcontracting work.”

2. Are you someone who can self-promote and describe what you do? As Mistal points out, work won’t simply come pinging at your e-mail inbox.

“If you’re going to be a VA,” she says, “you need to get very clear: Who do you want to serve? What does your ideal client look like? Would you do only certain things? What’s your niche? Do you want a steady set of clients that give you security, or do you want a variety?”

Freelance tools such as www.elance.com and www.guru.com can be helpful. The sites ask you specific questions about your skills, rates and preferred tasks.

3. Are you assertive enough to set expectations with clients? Angie Mattson (www.mattsonbusiness.com), a mobile administrative assistant for the past six years, learned to avoid problems down the road by setting expectations upfront. “I had a client who regularly scheduled hours with me, but once I arrived, she’d say she didn’t have enough work for me,” Mattson says.

After several cancellations and no-shows, Mattson began asking clients to sign a contract, which she’d been lax about initially. “Now I’m explicit: ‘This is what I charge, and if you cancel on the day of the work, I’m still going to charge you. Please make my time as valuable as yours.’ Now they understand.”

4. Are you tech-savvy?
If you’re providing a business based on technology, says Morgan, you need to know your way around the Internet, as well as how to troubleshoot tech issues. And trying to do business without a web site? Forget it. “People aren’t going to talk to you unless you do. That’s your storefront,” says Morgan, whose site is www.delegatesolutions.com.

For an admin who’s a bona fide tech whiz, Morgan recommends making that your niche; she says there’s a strong market for VAs who can fix web sites, do online marketing, set up blogs, use DreamWeaver and OneShoppingCart, and understand social networking.

5. Are you a good networker?
Other VAs suggest joining IVAA, local admin chapters, LinkedIn, Facebook (which has VA groups on it), Elance, and the local chamber of commerce. You should also talk up your profession to people you know. “One, it educates them. Two, they can refer you to others,” says Morgan.

Morgan believes we’re at the start of a virtual-assistant wave, and Mistal agrees. “People don’t want cookie cutter jobs anymore,” Mistal says. “They want to express themselves. You really can define for yourself what you want to do. Don’t want to work Fridays? Guess what. You don’t have to.”

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