Being a Virtual Assistant Offers Women Flexibility

Today in Dallas we kicked off our Take Control tour where we're tackling the issues that matter most to women throughout the country.

While at the Women's Museum, I was surrounded by hundreds of women who've taken control of their lives, and are now making every moment count in the ways that work best for them and their families. For many of them, it means working from home, or working with flexibility.

We met Margaret Hooshmand, an executive assistant at tech giant Cisco, who takes advantage of the company's telepresence technology that enables her to sit in Dallas while virtually seeing and supporting her boss in California, 1,600 miles away.

It wasn't just the availability of that sophisticated technology that enabled her to move her job to another state; most importantly, Hooshmand was seen by her boss as a solid, loyal performer, who the company didn't want to lose.

And, since flexible accommodations are rooted in mutual trust, it's essential to focus first on having and maintaining a positive relationship with your manager before asking for special requests.

A Growing Trend

Virtual assistants are a rapidly growing trend, driven by a few key factors: the desire of employees to maintain more control over their work styles, demand from businesses to lower costs and improve efficiencies, and the availability of technology that enables both sides to connect.

A virtual employee saves the company considerable costs: no need for office space, no payroll tax or benefits, and no equipment to maintain. And the job can be tailored to the exact needs of the boss. If a business only needs a few hours of administrative work each week that's what they pay for - saving the cost of a full time employee.

As a virtual assistant, you're doing much the same as an office-based admin: handling correspondence, travel arrangements, maintaining the calendar, billing/accounting, research, translation, transcription, paralegal, concierge services and more. You do this as an independent contractor or freelancer. Unlike an office employee, you set your hours, decide the services you want to provide, and choose your clients. Virtual assistants can reasonably charge between $20 and $45 an hour depending on the nature of the work, as well as level of expertise and the clients' needs and budget.

Training and support.

While formal training and certification is not required to get hired as a virtual assistant, you're expected to be highly trained on your own and able to take quick direction to complete the tasks asked of you. If your skill level and experience isn't where it should be, consider taking courses at a local community college or online through several organizations, including Virtual Assistance U or International Virtual Assistants Association. You can also Google the term "virtual assistant" to discover other sources for training, support and leads on jobs and assignments. You can also hire a private coach who'll help you to establish your business. Check references and be sure you're clear on the expectations and deliverables before settling on someone. Some training can be very costly, so be sure you shop around before deciding on one program over another.

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