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So maybe you were outsourced over the past few years, lost your job and you’re still trying to figure out how to get your old gig as an office administrator back without moving to India. But seriously, don’t you kind of like staying home in your sweats and watching Oprah? Sure, you need a paycheck for the rent and for those fancy coffee drinks, but there’s got to be a better way.

Of course there is &mdash become a virtual assistant!

For all of you displaced accountants, office assistants and web designers, becoming a virtual assistant is a no-brainer.

As a virtual assistant, you will work from home. With a growing number of websites dedicated to teaching you how to be a virtual assistant, you really don’t need much more than a reliable internet connection, a home computer and a fax machine to start working from home. Virtual assistants often work on a part-time basis for several business professionals, helping them with everything from travel arrangements to bookkeeping. As the number of virtual offices increases in 2011, so will the need for qualified virtual assistants.

Tina Rios, a single-mom from San Diego, started out as a real estate agent in 2004, with a 20-year background in the bar and restaurant industry. She sold over 30 homes in her first two years but quickly discovered that while she loved real estate, she wasn’t a sales person.

“I loved the dynamic of real estate, the buyers and sellers, the contracts, title and escrow and lending,” she said. “It was all new and exciting and I had entered into real estate in the most fascinating time.”

More like tough times. But Rios realized she could work her own hours while still making money in real estate and spending quality time with her children. She became a virtual ‘Transaction Coordinator,’ providing services to local realtors “virtually.”

“My business is called VirtualTC,” she said. “Real Estate agents hire me to coordinate the purchase or sale with the buyers or sellers, other agents, escrow, title and lenders. I love it. When the opportunity came for me to work from home I took it.”

A virtual assistant is anybody who provides assistance online. That’s pretty much it. Like Rios who works with real estate agents all over the San Diego area, you don’t have to only provide secretarial work. You can pretty much come from any kind of background. You could be a social media marketing assistant, a travel agent, a bookkeeper or even a paralegal. It’s all about taking the skills that you have and then mixing them up with your passion, and turning that into a business and taking it virtual. Bottom line; if you are providing something for another person you are assisting that person. You can also call yourself a partner. Or a colleague. Whatever, if you are providing something for that person you’re assisting them. If you’re doing it online, it’s virtual… virtual assistance. Get it?

Many virtual assistants work between 14 and 18 hours a day during the startup phase. Even after establishing solid practices, one-third of these business owners admit to working nontraditional hours, including weekends and holidays, but hey, you choose your own hours. Need to pay the mortgage? Work harder. Have a truckload of money in the bank- go to Maui.

Clients are most likely to hire virtual assistants to save money. Virtual assistants pay for their own equipment, taxes, training, healthcare and insurance, but who cares – you’re working for yourself, right? Industries most often hiring virtual assistants include travel, coaching, financial services, accounting, legal, and like Rios, real estate. The world is changing quickly and if you don’t change with it you’ll be left behind, it’s as simple as that. Give yourself a virtual reality check and become part of the new economy by becoming a virtual assistant.

Tips On Becoming a Virtual Assistant

  1. Analyze your background to ensure you have adequate experience and decide just what type of services you want to offer.

  2. Conduct thorough industry research to determine a need for your services in your local area.

  3. Outline who your clients are, where they are and how to access them.

  4. Know your budgetary constraints-projected expenses, expected income and how long you can “float” until your business is running successfully.

  5. Market your services 24/7. Just because you’ve built a Web site doesn’t mean clients will come knocking on your door. Network, network, network!

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