by Maria Grazia Pozzi
Efficient, reliable, multitasking, versatile, strong computer skills, excellent communicator and internet savvy. Remotely. Just an ordinary job ad? Not really, these are some key qualities of an effective Virtual Assistant (VA), but the skill-set is much broader and requires an in-depth understanding of business dynamics and specificities as well as a good dose of entrepreneurship.
There is no doubt that traditional work patterns have, in the last decade, undergone deep changes across Europe; the challenges arising from the global economic crisis have inevitably led to a reorganization of work and to a new way of thinking, leading to innovative approaches and a fundamental shift in the nature of work itself. A new working culture has emerged as a direct result of people’s needs and desire to better match their life-work style. Today the market system is questioning itself as to how integrating such workforce by wiping out the top down, hierarchical and rigid schemes used so far.
Although the concept of a VA is mostly known in the English speaking countries, it is also becoming much more common in Europe where, however, some structural and psychological barriers to changes still persist. Nonetheless, even the most reluctant will have to surrender to this continuing and relentless trend; numbers speak for themselves, the Office of National Statistics reports 4.6 million people self-employed in 2014 in the UK, which is the highest percentage in the past four decades, while the American independent worker population is estimated to reach 24 million by 2018 according to MBO Partners’ study.
“There is a paradigm shift in the mindset of Europeans today in regards to the labour market, which is inherent to the Zeitgeist we are currently living in”, says Danielle Molenaar a full-time VA living in the outskirts of Amsterdam. Born in the Netherlands and raised in Australia, married to a Mexican theologian and philosopher, with four children that she says are “a beautiful mix of European eloquence and Latin temperament”. After twelve years of extensive experience working as an all-round secretary in a small firm, she quitted her job when the company she worked for was sold and so was the staff.
“After a little online research, I discovered that what I had been doing over the last decade actually had a name. Virtual Assistance. I took the plunge and started my own virtual assistant service, Virtual Efficiency five years ago, and acquired a good client base — and income — virtually instantly. My team consists of four dedicated professionals. Most of our time is devoted to website development and maintenance, copywriting (Dutch and English) as well as providing Virtual PA services to clients in the Netherlands, other European countries, the United States and Australia. I truly love what I do and I feel very much a part of a global community.”
“Running a business presents its own unique challenges, but is very rewarding. There is no best business background as it depends on the type of services you wish to offer and there are so many. From Virtual PA services, copywriting, translation, blog management and social media, to web development and maintenance, graphic design. The list goes on. The only things you really need to start a successful business are the correct skills, a lot of experience and a positive mindset. You need to be independent and willing to work long hours. It is very easy to start a business nowadays, and people seem to be doing it on the fly, but it is difficult if you don’t have the correct background or skills.”
As is often the case when personal and professional life get intertwined and sometime merge, there is an event or a story that you will always remember. “That would be when I was in pre-labour with son No. 2 and a client called with the wish to pick up flags he decided he did need for a national convention that was to be held the following day. In the Netherlands we usually have our babies at home, so I said, sure no problem, looked for the flags and placed them by the front door for an easy pick-up. The client arrived when I was in full labour. He rang the doorbell, my husband raced downstairs, handed the flags over to him and raced back upstairs again to me and the midwife. Our son was born about ten minutes later.”
But commitment pays off. “A successful European VA can earn anywhere between €5.000-€8.000 per month on average, working for an hourly rate,” and for those who are thinking of starting a VA career, here are some first-hand tips from Danielle:
“Take a moment and ask yourself: what do I absolutely love doing? Can I develop this skill into a viable business? Am I or is this service a solution to my clients problem? Be sure to write a business plan before you start. And keep in mind that networking and maintaining good contacts is very important as well as establishing a positive online presence and good name. Are you willing to start-up and get in there? Are you excited? Then go for it and follow your dream!”