Expert Advice: Tools a Virtual Assistant Needs

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What’s it take to get your virtual assistant business off the ground? Probably less than you think, and many of the tools you need you probably already have.

This week, my panel of expert VAs weigh in on what you should be investing in to help build and grow your business.

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Lisa Wells of Coast2Coast Virtual Assistant Training says…

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There are many tools that I believe a VA should invest in, but when you are just starting out it’s hard to pick just what tools are really needed. And much of this depends on what your clients may be using or what you specialize in. For example, one client may use Asana and the other client prefers Basecamp for project management. And a social media VA needs very few programs while a graphic designer VA requires quite a few.

But there are a few tools that I recommend when you are new and they will stay with you as you grow:

1. A well-designed WordPress site. Having a great and functional site is your best marketing tool so it’s very important that you don’t skimp. You only get a few seconds to make a first impression, make it count!

2. Dropbox for file storage and sharing. This program will come in handy as you take your business mobile, travel, and as a first-line backup. I recommend that your client use their account and share a folder with you so that they retain ownership of the content.

3. TimeStamp for time tracking. Tracking your time is really important, especially if you charge by the hour or if you want or need an accounting of time management. This is a free shareware program by Syntap.

4. Aweber for list management. This is one area in which I don’t recommend going “the free route.” As you grow your business, you’ll want a reputable and scalable list manager that can accommodate autoresponders, newsletters, and other items for emails.

About Lisa: Lisa established her online business, Coast2Coast Business Support Solutions, after 15 years of working with people, helping them use computers to be more productive in their day-to-day work. She partners with entrepreneurs to manage and build their online businesses. Of her role as a virtual assistant, Lisa says it boils down to just one thing: “To free you up so that you can focus your time and energy on the things that only YOU can do in your business.”

Alicia Jay of General Transcription Bootcamp says…

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When I started my VA business, I had a pretty non-existent budget so I searched for no-cost or low-cost tools that packed a punch in order to make things happen. Here are a few things I think are really valuable:

  • A good computer and internet access. Since you’re working virtually, your computer is the hub of your business.
  • An easy and reliable way to create invoices and receive payments. PayPal is great for this and it’s free.
  • A way to share files and information with your clients. I use Dropbox for this. It’s free in-the-cloud file-sharing software. You can create a folder for each client and no one else can see what you share with them.
  • You’ll need to keep track of all of your expenses for tax purposes. FreshBooks is great for this. Each time I purchase something, I just add it to my expenses in the software. There is even an option for recurring expenses like monthly membership fees. When tax time rolls around, I can just print out a report for my accountant that’s already itemized for me. There is a free version of FreshBooks and a paid version as well. You can also use it for invoicing clients.
  • Skype is great free option for phone and video calls. You can even use it for tutorials with your clients by utilizing the screen share feature to take them through a process or to brainstorm together.

About Alicia: Alicia specializes in helping service-based business owners leverage their existing content, saving them time and making them more money

She works with coaches, bloggers, speakers, online business managers, and more. 

Stephanie Watson of Virtual Assistant Moms says…

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The tools a VA needs to invest in depend entirely on her niche. A new VA should sit down and figure out exactly what it takes for her to do her work each day for the type of clients she wants to work with.  Go through the process and figure out what can make it simpler. That might be a faster PC, a Tablet, software, a comfortable chair or something else entirely. The system and the niche will dictate which tools she should invest in.

Having said that, most virtual assistants will need to manage multiple projects, she likely needs a good Project Management System like Basecamp.com. She’ll need to bill clients, so she’ll need a way to send professional invoices in a way that enables tracking. A good system to try is Freshbooks.com. She’ll also need a way to keep track of her income and expenses. An easy program to use is Go Daddy Bookkeeping formerly called Outright.com.

But, if the VA is technologically self-sufficient she might try an all- in-one system like Pancakeapp.com which does all of the above relatively simply and they’ll install it on the VA’s server for them. It’s also just a onetime charge, plus whatever you need to pay for your server each month. So that’s nice. The downside to that is if something goes wrong you won’t get as much help as you do with Freshbooks.com, Go Daddy Bookkeeping, and Basecamp.com.

So to recap, every VA needs a way to manage projects, a way to keep track of billing, and a way to keep track of money coming in and going out. One other very important thing I would like to mention is off site backups and storage. An extra hard drive is nice, but it isn’t good enough. Pay for backups and storage like Google Drive, or Dropbox.com, and a back up service like AutoSiteSaver.com .

A VA needs storage off site, and backups that are off site, because if something horrible happens, such as happened here in Alabama on April 27, 2011 with massive tornadoes destroying everything, you’ll still have your work, and your client’s work.  An added benefit is that client files are accessible with any device with Internet service, making work more portable and the Virtual Assistant that much more dependable.

About Stephanie: Stephanie has been working from home providing services remotely since the mid 90s. She has worked as a Virtual Assistant, Community Manager, Website Designer, Affiliate Marketer and other online positions.

Stephanie provides content development, management and support for her clients. If it’s content related, she does it.

Loretta Oliver of Transcription Crash Course says…

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Free tool: Dropbox. You can use it to deliver files to clients and to share folders for ongoing projects. Even if you just use it to store backups of client work, it’s a great tool to use. There is a paid upgrade if you need more space, but you can store a lot of files and projects with just the free level.

Paid tool: Freshbooks. Actually it’s free to try, you can add your first two clients and invoice them without upgrading to a paid account to make sure you like the system.

When I first started doing virtual assistant work and even when I started focusing on transcription, I didn’t have a bookkeeping system. I was manually creating invoices and doing the math on a calculator. I look back at that and wonder how I managed to do that for so long without making myself crazy. Using Freshbooks has saved me time and headaches, and since it’s web based I don’t have to store a bunch of stuff on the computer or run a special program, I just login, send the invoices, and I’m done. It makes life easier come tax time too.

About Loretta: Loretta is a mom, affiliate marketer, writer, friend, cross stitcher, transcriptionist, blogger, wife, and finder of little boy’s lost shoes…

At Teleseminars Transcribed, her goal is to provide accurate and reasonably priced transcripts of all sorts. Her experience in the transcription industry has included work for insurance companies, journalists, internet marketers, large transcription firms, podcasters, bloggers, small businesses, authors, and even a police department investigation team.

Cindy Bidar (me!) of EducatedVA.com says…

I have to agree with everyone here. Love Dropbox and Pancake, and it’s hard (but maybe not impossible) to run an online business without a good website.

There’s just one more thing I would emphasize: a reliable computer.

I’ve seen many virtual assistants stressing over getting client work done when the computer craps out, and I always wonder why they don’t have a back up. I have multiple computers, and while I realize that’s probably not the norm, when you work online you should have more than one.

Here’s something else – it should be your own. I can’t even imagine how tough it is to get work done when you have to share your computer with the kids, who are trying to get their homework done.

So to recap:

  • Online storage and file sharing: Dropbox
  • Billing software: Freshbooks or Pancake or even PayPal
  • Project management: Basecamp or Asana
  • A mailing list: AWeber
  • A solid, reliable computer

What other tools do you use in your business? Let me know what we missed in the comments. 


Comments

    • Cindy says

      Monica, Dropbox rocks. It’s probably my favorite tool. I recently upgraded to the paid version, so I have 100 MB of storage, and everything I need is accessible from any computer, my iPad, or my iPhone. It’s awesome. (And the free account is plenty to keep you going for a while.)

  1. says

    You’re so right about the reliable computer!

    I’m lucky, my husband builds computers and built mine. I’m a little stressed out though about Windows 8, and I know I’ll eventually have to upgrade, but I don’t want to. I like Windows 7 so much! I might end up with a Mac because of Windows 8, much to my husband’s chagrin. But, that’s at least a couple years away.

    • Cindy says

      I have a Mac as my primary computer, but we also have [an embarrassing number of] PCs as well, because they’re so much less expensive to buy. But I think with Windows 8 we’ll probably gradually move to all Macs. Not today, but eventually. Don’t tell my husband. He’ll have a stroke about the cost alone. 😉

  2. says

    A good computer isn’t quite enough. I have seen numerous people who have computer issues, simply because they have no anti-malware software installed (like Malwarebytes) or they do not use a system optimization/cleanup program like Avanced System Care.

    Like our cars, homes, etc., our computers require regular maintenance & cleaning too. The 2 above have free versions as well as paid- one more tip- download the free version, companies often you a discount to upgrade.

    • Cindy says

      Yup, you’re absolutely right Kathy. I’d even go one step further and recommend multiple computers. It’s hard to run a business when you rely on a single, fallible machine. And now that you can buy a desktop for a couple hundred dollars and a laptop for not much more, there’s really no excuse not to have a backup.

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