Businesses ideas for 2014: Virtual assistant

In-house personal assistants on a salary may be a luxury, which is why 2014 will see their online counterparts multiply

By 2018 online work will be a $5bn global market, according to research by Staffing Industry Analysts. There are 1.7 million self-employed freelancers among the 4.2 million business owners in the UK.

As demand for the online work market grows, the need for the nation’s freelance community to outsource tasks grows with it. And they’re not alone. The lean start-ups and entrepreneurs with too much on their plates – but unable or unwilling to lavish a full-time salary on their needs – are turning to virtual assistants too.

If you’re a highly organised individual with experience as a personal assistant, good communication skills, and an ability to get things done with the minimum of fuss, this could be the start-up opportunity for you…

Starting a virtual assistant business: Why it’s a good business idea

Last year we predicted the market for freelancers and consultants would grow enormously, and we weren’t wrong. Instead of recruiting full-time in-house personal assistants, businesses are now looking to hire the virtual alternative and all the cost-saving benefits, support and flexibility they offer.

An established business model, virtual assistants are now moving into the mainstream as time-poor small businesses and CEOs look to streamline and make their business processes more efficient, delegating tasks to experienced, skilled professionals via the cloud. Businesses are not alone in their shift to employ remote assistants; the emergence of “online task marketplaces” such as TaskRabbit has meant an increase in public demand for virtual assistants to help “get jobs done”. Once the preserve of the wealthy, with concierge and lifestyle management services such as Ten Group and Quintessentially, now everyone could do with an extra pair of hands.

Founded in 2008, US-based TaskRabbit launched its UK arm last year and has continued to garner press attention for its online service which offers “taskers” for jobs that people don’t want to do; whether it be posting a package, food shopping or managing emails, and this idea has caught on.

London-based Sooqini, which operates a very similar “virtual task” model raised $500,000 investment in September 2013 to expand its offering, demonstrating the rising demand.

Be it personal or professional one in two businesses is predicted to hire assistants online by 2020, making the virtual assistant role a long-term business opportunity.

Virtual assistant business opportunties

To stand out as a virtual assistant you need to specialise your services rather than operate as a “jack of all trades”. There are several avenues you could consider such as working as a social media assistant, virtual researcher, virtual writer, PA, website designer and so on.

One key area for prospective virtual assistants to target is becoming the worker bee for search engine optimisation (SEO) and social media marketing work as businesses constantly strive to boost followings and their rankings. Trend prediction site What’s Coming in 2014 estimates “if you are skilled at SEO, or are starting to get there […] and can build up a solid portfolio of clients, this one of the fastest ways to make a very high income from home.”

As a remote business opportunity, to start up as a virtual assistant all you really need is a laptop, phone line and a good website. And as clients may hire you on an ad-hoc or ongoing basis, you can be flexible around your working hours.

With regards to fees, you set your own rates and this will vary dependent on the length of time you’re hired, the tasks and your level of experience. According to the UK Association of Virtual Assistants National Survey 2012 this can range from between £5 to 100 an hour, with an average hourly-rate of £21 across the UK.

Who else has started a virtual assistant business?

Advancements in cloud technology and the increased implementation of cloud services in business has made it easier than ever for people to work remotely and virtual assistant market is growing. Aggregate platforms to support the virtual workforce are in rude health with sites such as Time etc now listing hundreds of virtual assistants on its directory and freelance community PeoplePerHour offering virtual assistants the ability to bid for projects and clients across a range of industries.

Barnaby Lashbrooke, founder and CEO, Time etc.:

“Becoming a virtual assistant is a great way for those with assistant backgrounds to start a business and work for themselves in 2014. There are few barriers to entry and minimal set up costs making it an ideal business for those with young children at home or those ready to step back from a long commute / long hours role in the city.

“There are several sites out there to help you find work as a freelance virtual assistant such as Elance, Odesk and Time etc.  On some of those sites you bid against others to win work and rates of pay vary depending on who you’re pitching against. On others, such as Time etc, you’ll be paid a guaranteed hourly rate for any work that you do.

“All you need to start is your experience, a computer and a good internet connection – and with the online workforce and outsourcing industry set to grow massively there has never been a better time to start!”

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