Today’s post is another one of my deviations from the norm. International Virtual Assistants Day (IVAD) is right around the corner on May 18, and so is the 2nd Annual Online International Virtual Assistants Convention (OIVAC) – Thursday, May 17 – Saturday, May 19. (And, as one of the nominees for the 2007 Thomas Leonard International Virtual Assistant of Distinction Award, I must say I’m very excited.) To promote both International VA Day and the OIVAC, Sharon Williams, OIVAC Chairperson, has embarked on a 45-day Podcasting and Blog Hopping VA Tour, and today – stop #26 – is my day. I’d like to welcome Sharon and thank her for taking the time out of her very busy schedule to stop by and answer a few questions about Virtual Assistance and the upcoming VA Convention. Take it away Sharon!
Thanks for extending an invitation to visit today, Terry. It’s always great to stop by a friend’s and rest for a while. Oh, oh, I took a sneak peak at your list of questions, so I guess I won’t be able to rest after all. Let’s see, where shall we begin?
1. How and when did Virtual Assistance get its start?
The precursor to the Virtual Assistant industry dates back more than four decades, when women stuffed envelopes and typed on typewriters while sitting at the kitchen table, but didn’t tell anyone they worked from home. In the late 80s-early 90s, more women acknowledged their work status, although doing so continued to carry a negative stigma that eventually changed in the mid-90s.
As corporate downsizing mushroomed and layoffs became the norm, admin-types were forced to consider alternatives to the uncertainty of corporate employment. During this same time, Stacy Brice, a work-from-home independent contractor began providing virtual administrative support to Thomas Leonard, president of Coach U. Mr. Leonard called Stacy and others who worked remotely for him, virtual assistants; a moniker Ms. Brice believed properly fit the relationship. Based on her experiences with Mr. Leonard and requests from other admins seeking to work from home, she opened a training program and a new industry was born.
2. What do you feel are the most important qualities and attributes a prospective client should look for in a Virtual Assistant?
This is a very difficult question to answer as the response has a lot to do with the customer’s value system. Naturally, virtual assistants should be highly ethical, possess professional integrity and moral standards; have good business acumen and excellent communication, collaborative and interpersonal skills. The VA take should be willing to assume responsibility for her mistakes as well as take a vested interest in the client’s business success. She should possess a high degree of loyalty and always use discretion and envelop her work in a layer of confidentiality. Finally, if necessary, she should be willing to communicate to the client that the relationship is not a good match for her business model, and as a result, end the partnership.
3. What are some of the biggest misconceptions small business owners and entrepreneurs have about Virtual Assistance and Virtual Assistants?
Small business owners and entrepreneurs, especially those who have not worked with a virtual assistant, harbor several misconceptions about VAs and the industry. They include, not in any particular order:
- Virtual Assistants are cheap labor you don’t have to pay taxes or benefits for.
- Virtual assisting is not a legitimate business.
- VAs are glorified office assistants and secretaries, possessing minimum experience and outdated technology.
- VAs should be at the client’s beck and call.
- Virtual Assistants have of free time to watch TV, run personal and family errands, etc.
- Virtual Assistants surf the Internet and spend very little time working.
- VAs will work with anyone, for any rate.
4. The Online Virtual Assistants Convention (OIVAC) is just around the corner Thursday, May 17 through Saturday, May 19. What exactly is the OIVAC, and how is it different from the offsite VA conferences and conventions like the VA Summit and VAConference?
The OIVAC is the most affordable, easily accessible, 3-day convergence of Virtual Assistants. History has shown that most VAs weren’t attending the VA Summit or VAConference, even though each is an excellent educational and networking event. VAs chose not to participate for a sundry of reasons, i.e., cost of travel and hotel expenses, inability to leave family or business, high registration costs, etc. In 2006, I considered these factors and had an epiphany. We are a virtual industry; why not hold a virtual convention? VAs would not incur travel or hotel expenses, or need to be away from family and business for an extended period of time. The convention would be accessible from an internet-connected computer, and if it were inconvenient to attend live sessions, VAs could view and listen to the recording at a more convenient time, within a specified timeframe.
OIVAC is different from the above-referenced VA industry events because of the following reasons:
- It is strictly virtual and accessible from any internet-connected computer.
- No excessive overhead such as travel, hotel, child care, etc.
- Seminars are provided by internationally-renowned presenters.
- Seminars are individually priced to accommodate VA specific interest and pocketbook.
- On average at least 20+ presenters conduct seminars covering business growth and development topics, inclusive of various industry-specific subjects.
- The convention includes international networking activities, and industry workshop.
- Three days of no charge access, open-to-the-public exhibit halls.
- Extensive event and industry public relations campaigns and media coverage.
- The only event that promotes the entire international VA industry.
- Opportunities for individual VA exposure on a local and international basis.
- Announcement of winners of the International Virtual Assistant of Distinction and Janet Jordan Awards, prestigious awards presented to two outstanding virtual assistants.
- Establishment of International Virtual Assistants Day (IVAD) and its accompanying celebration, the 3rd Friday of May, annually.
- Affirmation of the industry creed: ~ DEEDS ~ Dedication, Experience, Expertise and Determination to Succeed of professionals providing administrative and other business support services, virtually.
5. Over the past 10 years, what one event, person or new technology do you believe has had the biggest positive impact on the Virtual Assistant Industry, and why?
One person or new technology? I won’t attempt to identify one individual, because many have contributed in their own special way. I will say that over the past 10 years there have been many trailblazers, unsung heroes, quiet behind-the-scene activists, and internal and external supporters of the VA industry. Without their contributions, no matter how minute or well-publicized, the industry would not be where it is today or headed down the path it is currently traveling.
Well Terry, you’ve presented another set of well thought out questions. The last couple of weeks have really had me scrambling. Speaking of scrambling, it’s time to identify today’s puzzle clue. (#26) ncguancoit. By the way, I hope everyone tuned in to the Team Double Click broadcast yesterday and picked up your newest clue. If you didn’t, stop by the Virtual Voice and listen to this very interesting interview. Tomorrow, we drop in on Shannon Cherry of Cherry Communications. Shannon is another virtual business supporter of the VA industry, and I look forward to chatting with her tomorrow. In the meantime, everyone have a prosperous day.
About Sharon Williams:
Sharon is the Chairperson of the Alliance for Virtual Businesses and OIVAC, and president of The 24 Hour Secretary an administrative, secretarial and internet-based marketing support services company. She is the 2006 recipient of the Thomas Leonard International Virtual Assistant of Distinction Award and co-founder of Virtual Business University an e-learning environment for entrepreneurs willing to step toward their greatness.