In response to some queries about the start-up cost of setting up a virtual assistance business, I’m writing about the investments I made to start my home business in case there are others out there who might also be interested to know.
I’ve written about how I got started, the circumstances that led me to set up a home office, and what I did to jump-start what is now a full-pledged career. Those are the intangibles. So here now are some tangibles.
We had to invest on a high-end computer, and a fast and reliable internet connection. Well, the fast and reliable was, and is, not within my control. So let’s leave it at having a steady connection. But if you have a choice, like if you’re living in a city where there are two or more providers, shop for the most reliable service, don’t even think about the cost. These days, they are almost level in terms of cost, but not in service. I also have a wireless broadband kit as back-up when my ISP gives me heartache, or when I travel. Important: Never ever use free Wi-Fi connections especially when accessing client accounts. I don’t. As a responsible VA, it’s considered mortal sin to put your client at risk.
The computer, in 2006, cost me Php25K. It was not branded, just an assembled unit, with all the specs I needed. My present PC now is branded, which cost me Php32K. I also have a branded laptop that serves as back-up when I really need to be somewhere else but can’t put off work. And then another desktop PC that my husband assembled for me, and is now being used by my onsite assistant. Then there are the peripherals, like speakers, a headset, a microphone (if your headset does not have one) and a web cam. A scanner and a printer are also must-haves. And if you’re considering transcription, you’ll need a pedal. Got mine as a gift from my mother-in-law. So unless you have a mother-in-law as supportive and as generous as mine, list that down as part of your investment, too. The pedal was $80 way back then.
Taking care of your investment means you also need to have a UPS and an AVR. The UPS is costly, but believe you me, it will be worth it. Think of how much time you’ll save and how much heartache you’ll be spared when the power goes off a second before you could press “save” after you’ve typed in pages of notes. Yes, it will be worth it.
I’m sure you have the complete MS Office Suite. If you don’t have it yet, then don’t just sit there. Go get it! Word and Excel are the most basic. Powerpoint will serve you well for presentations, and Publisher worked well for my desktop publishing service. Access is great for database, although more often than not, I just use Excel, too. Very recently, I started using MovieMaker. It’s cool! And I’m learning Photoshop. Uh, not so cool there. But I’m getting results. So I guess it’s kinda cool, too.
You don’t really need to buy expensive softwares. You just need to know what you need, then look for free downloads. ExpressScribe is free, for those thinking of getting into transcription. I use FileZilla now for my file transfers, although I used to have FTP Commander. And Google Docs, too. Plus, clients actually provide software. So it’s not really a problem. You just need to be a fast-learner.
When I first started out, the hottest thing online was medical transcription. So I invested time and money for training. I enrolled in a medical transcription course while my son was still in the hospital. The training was flexible. We were allowed to do it on our own pace. So I just fast-tracked mine. It was actually a crash course in medicine, with all the specializations. Dermatology, pulmonology, gynecology, urology, and all the other -logies in medicine. There were 15 modules. We learned everything from physical examination to surgery. And for every specialization, there is pharmacy, and that’s where I had trouble. But, I passed anyway. The good thing about taking that course was while my son was still in the hospital, I was learning about his condition, so that when the neonatologist or the neurologist tells us that something needs to be done, we were actually making informed decisions.
The course cost us Php27K. Add to that the transportation and meal expense.
But, and here’s a big but… I never got into medical transcription. I did general transcription. Business transcription – conferences, interviews, podcasts, webcasts, speeches, focus groups – but not medical transcription. The closest thing I got to medical transcription was when I did a series of interviews for a medical program at the University of Western Ontario.
Do I regret ever spending that much money, time and effort for a training I did not put into practice?
No. Because that training more than prepared me for all the things I’m doing now. In fact, attending workshops, and networking with people who have already made a career from the four corners of their home, may be the most important investment a startup can make. And I have evolved. I no longer do transcription. Not at all. I mean, I still get transcription projects, but I also outsource them. I just proof and edit and make sure that the transcripts are client-ready. I’m finding my niche in social media marketing, search engine optimization and merchant account management. I did dabble a little in article writing, but it’s too draining for me.
You need to be found. And how can you do that if you’re just home all the time?
Create an online presence. These days, you have a lot of options. Create a Facebook page, be on LinkedIn, join online fora… there’s more than a dozen different ways you can get found. But to me, nothing beats having your own website.
I set up my first blog back in 2009. It was on Weebly. But my research told me that blogging will get me found, having a business site will build me a reputation. So I went ahead and created a different platform for my online services. I spent more than 6k for the domain and hosting, and I DIY’ed everything. It was a steep learning curve, but I did it.
Fortunately for you, setting up a business site now does not need to be that expensive. I have since started to offer affordable domain and hosting packages that can help jumpstart your online presence.
So there. Starting a home business? Assess your skills. Decide on what you love to do for the long haul. Be ready to learn a lot of different things. Then make some investments.
Oh, I forgot my desk. I had one made, not bought at the store, because I want my things to be exactly where I want them to be. So I had one custom-made for my needs. It cost me about Php8K.
How I evolved from being a transcriptionist to a virtual assistant, I’ll write about next time. And how to look for clients. For now I have to do the laundry and start with my girls’ school activities.
Come back soon!