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e-Business in Nigeria: What Opportunities for Virtual Assistants?

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Most business owners and chief executives will agree that the role of the personal assistant (PA) or executive assistant (EA) is vital to any business. According to the organisers of the Personal and Executive Assistants Summit in Nigeria, studies have shown that PAs contribute as much as 40 percent to their boss’s productivity and about 68 percent to overall executive effectiveness.

This is hardly surprising, considering that these assistants are responsible for time and daily management, scheduling of meetings, correspondence, and also a variety of life-management tasks including running errands, purchasing airline tickets, reserving hotel rooms and rental cars, as well as finance-related responsibilities such as buying and selling stocks and paying bills. Some PAs have even been known to undertake personal tasks such as shopping, meal-planning, remembering special occasions like birthdays and anniversaries and purchasing appropriate gifts, and even helping to meet fitness goals via exercise monitoring and motivation.

Now, imagine having access to such services as a business owner or chief executive, without having to recruit a personal assistant or executive assistant. You do not even have to meet them face to face; services can be delivered and payment made electronically.

Meet the new e-business player: the Virtual Assistant. Virtual assistants are independent entrepreneurs who work remotely and rely on technology to deliver services to clients. The virtual assistant industry consists of individuals, as well as companies, who work remotely as independent professionals providing a wide range of products and services to businesses.

Common modes of communication and data delivery include internet-based instant messaging, e-mail, phone-call conferences, fax machines, and more recently Blackberry Messenger, Skype and Google Voice.

The way businesses operate is changing. E-business has seen more businesses moving into an internet-based atmosphere, and Nigeria may soon be ready to embrace the emergence of virtual assistants. Here are a few important things to note about the business of virtual assistants:

Starting a Virtual Assistant Business

*  Building a website is absolutely essential for a viable VA business, but it does not guarantee that clients will come knocking on your door. Be aware that you need a good marketing strategy in addition to your website, phone, PC and Internet connection.

*  There are many levels to what type of work you could choose to target as a virtual assistant. Define your niche and outline exactly what type of services you want to offer. This includes a critical analysis of your professional background to ensure you have the requisite skills and experience.

*  Do a market analysis to determine the demand for the services your niche is based on and focus on how you’ll apply that to your business.

*  Don’t be carried away by the fact that you are saving money which would have been spent on transport fare. Know your budgetary constraints – projected expenses, expected income and how long you can “float” until your business is running successfully.

*  Be sure to register your business name or company properly, and conclude all legal and financial aspects of start-up before securing your first client.

Hiring a Virtual Assistant

*  A virtual assistant who has several years of experience earned in the “real” (non-virtual) business world will add more value than one whose first job in this service industry is as a virtual assistant.

*  Virtual assistants come from a variety of business backgrounds. Be sure that the virtual assistant service you choose has a VA who is knowledgeable in your own field.

*  Business owners who do not have sufficient office space to seat employees usually benefit from employing staff who work remotely. Swapping a PA for a VA means one less cubicle/desk.

*  Whereas a regular PA must be paid at the end of the month regardless of whether there was much work to be done, or little, using a virtual assistant service provides the option of hiring part-time. Not many business owners can afford to keep an assistant or staff round the clock. However, this requires careful budgeting and negotiation, as costs of a part-time service can end up exceeding the amount it would have cost to hire a full-time employee. If you’re just venturing into business, you can pay per project whenever you need help.

*  Hiring a virtual assistant will save you money on employee’s equipment, taxes, training, healthcare and insurance – things that virtual assistants pay for on their own.

It is estimated that there are as few as 5,000 – 10,000, or as many as 25,000 virtual assistants worldwide. Since the start-up costs are minimal and the profit potential is good, business trends forecast an increase in service demands. The options are diverse and abundant. Will Nigerian entrepreneurs be part of this revolution?

 

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Joy Ehonwa

Joy Ehonwa is an editor and a writer who is passionate about relationships and personal development. She runs Pinpoint Creatives, a proofreading, editing, transcription and ghostwriting service. Email: pinpointcreatives [at] yahoo.com

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