(Updated for 2019 to take into account changes in legislation and changes in available resources and technology)
If you are interested in working from home and using your skills to sell services to small business owners and other markets, this information will interest you. Becoming a virtual assistant in Australia means that you need to cover these 7 areas. Over the past decade or so I have taken thousands of successful virtual assistants through these. The information has been updated to apply in 2019.
The following 7 areas will give you the right things to do in the right order to get up and running and start trading as quickly as possible.
There are certain rules you need to follow to have a legal entity to operate from in Australia as a self-employed virtual assistant. All businesses need an ABN (Australian Business Number) that is issued by the Government and to be eligible to get an ABN you have to be a resident and have a suitable visa to work here.
This doesn’t mean that you can’t be a virtual assistant if you don’t live here, you can register a business in another country and still accept Australian clients. You just need to make sure your tax obligations and compliance is consistent with the country where you are registerd.
In Australia there are also tax obligations you need to follow and rules in regards to GST. In addition, you need to be aware of the rules and regulations around privacy, anti-spamming and employment law. Australia also has a trade practices act that you should be aware of and in particular rules around pricing.
Most virtual assistants will start their business as a sole trader. This information on the business.gov website gives you more information on what this means. If you would like to operate under a more complex structure you should consult with your lawyer or accountant. Even if you start as a sole trader, you can change this later on if need be.
This legal essentials for business from the Australian Governments business guide will give you much more information.
Understanding your finances and what your break-even point will be once you cover your costs is an important part of getting set up. Put a rough budget together so that you know how much you need to make to cover your bills. Make estimates on bringing in clients so that you can invest time in marketing without sounding desperate. Clients want to hire experts who know what they are doing and they will shy away from you if they sense any desperation.
A monetary buffer is an option for you. However, if you don’t have a reserve, I suggest you get one. Sell stuff online, work part-time or borrow so that you aren’t under too much pressure to earn while you are setting up and marketing your business.
A month’s running costs is a good starting point. You can then take the time to work on planning and marketing to bring in the clients you want and who will appreciate your services.
If you are anything like me you find that when you are at home the time just flies by! Yet, if you are out working it can drag on forever.
To make sure you focus on marketing and planning and not procrastinating, set up some good time management tactics. Its not enough to do a to do list and check off your items, you also need to prioritize to make sure you are working on what is important first.
My favourite tool to this is to create a default diary and a morning routine. When I follow a structured routine in the morning, the rest of the day takes care of itself. Weave in some healthy habits at the same time. Your health and wellness is essential to keeping your business going so make sure you give it priority as well. A healthy morning routine – drinking water, exercise and healthy breakfast will keep you on track to a great day. A default diary is simply a timetable for the week/month/quarter where you schedule specific days for different tasks that you need to do to keep your business operating smoothly.
In addition, you will need to manage others expectations of you. You will get ‘drop-in’s” and interruptions unless you make it clear what times/days you are working. If you have an office space, put your hours up on the door or get a sign that says do not disturb. It’ll make a difference.
The good news about the technology you will use to share files, answer emails, save and protect passwords and files, communicate with your clients and their clients and to administer your business is all free or low cost. If your client has expensive software they want you to use then the cost will be theirs, not yours.
Before you take on a client, it is a very good idea to sign up for these services and test them out. This activity will build your confidence so that when your client asks “how does this work?” you will have the answers for them and be able to help them through the setting up process.
Check out this special offer for our Technology Toolkit that will step you through this process
How much will you charge? What strategies will you have? Will you sell time?
Selling online brings a lot of opportunities with it. If you are running a business it makes sense to have a few streams of income but it can take some time to build up to this.
It isn’t not a bad thing to start off selling time. I do encourage you not to get stuck here if you want to grow a business that will significantly increase your income.
One of the problems with hourly rates is that the client is focussed on buying your time rather than your service. They may want time sheets for instance or ask you to provide detailed reports on how long things took. They are focussed on time rather than on the overall value that you bring to their business.
If I lined up 10 virtual assistants who all did the same thing and timed them doing it, no two VAs would take the same time. Selling time, limits what you can earn in your business and the biggest benefit of running a business is that you can leverage your time. Not only that but for the client, when you sell them time, it means that they see you as an employee and not a valued contractor or partner.
It can be daunting to move from one step to the next. Fortunately, it is entirely up to you on whether you take these steps or not. You can start on step 1 and stay there for as long as you want to be. Or, if you are motivated, push along the steps to reach step 4. I just wanted to give you a visual of where you can take a VA business if you really want to.
I have to tell you that the very best thing about running your own business is that you have the ability to change quickly and respond to the market. No business stays the same and part of what you do is listen and respond to your market’s needs. This means that you can grow your services as you learn new things and you will learn every single day.
I can’t tell you how many VAs come to us thinking that they will offer xyz services only to discover that they really like doing social media or editing websites or writing content.
It is a bit hit and miss because you just don’t know. The best way to tackle it is to work out what you want, what you like to do and then match that to an industry or sector or job type with people who will benefit most from what you are offering.
You know different industries or sectors can have different qualities. For instance, most creative types don’t really have systems and processes. They tend to be free-spirited. Too much routine can destroy their creativity. So if you are great at systems and processes you might find that a creative industry market would work well for you.
To create an effective marketing message start with the services or skills that you love to do. Then work out who will benefit most from them. The final step is to create a single marketing message that will get you noticed.
You are now ready to get this message out to the specific market you will target. You can target more than one market as you grow your business.
A lot of virtual assistants see marketing and sales as the same. There are important differences. The main difference is that the selling concept is done one-to-one (unless you are a digital marketer). The marketing concept is focused on client wants and needs and is done to many people to generate leads on a one to many scale.
Marketing is about generating prospects and leads and sales is about converting leads to paying clients.
In marketing, you are better to go 1cm wide and a kilometre deep. Most new businesses take the opposite approach thinking that they might miss potential clients so they go as wide as possible.
When you are starting out, you want to take on 1 client at a time. It won’t overwhelm you and will minimize your stress and anxiety. Once you have taken on your first client, you will find it gets easier and easier. Start with small jobs that you know you can do well and move towards bigger jobs. Annually you might just need 6 to 10 clients. So when you do your marketing remember the numbers and don’t go too wide. If you don’t want to pick a certain industry, you can narrow by location for instance.
Watchers of Little Britain will recognize the term “The only gay in the village” Well you are probably the only VA in your village that offers your particular service. Let everyone know you exist and ask them to spread the word.
Some VAs will volunteer their services at a not for profit/charity or offer a free small project to get their feet wet (and hopefully get a fantastic testimonial or review.) Others will attend local networking events and others will go online and sign up for job sites, directories, social media and discussion groups. Aim to set up at last 4 channels of leads in the first 4 weeks and then gradually build them to at least 10.
I am sure you can continue with this list as you consider who and what you know. The key is to get the message out to as many people as possible. Tell them about the problems you solve in your business. Don’t focus on what you do but how you help and the benefits you bring.
This checklist will help you do the right things in the right order and also give you a record of all your important information for safekeeping in the one place.
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