March 26, 2009
I always thought becoming a VA would be a great career for a military spouse and then I met Terri Orlowski, a Navy wife, new mom, and owner of a Virtual Assistant business she calls Beyond The Office that confirmed this.
“A VA is someone who offers administrative, creative, and technical support to other small businesses—virtually,” she explained, her excitement showing. “Each day brings a new set of challenges; but I don’t have to get all dressed up and drive to a corporate office daily.”
I wondered how hard (and expensive) it was for Terri to get started. But Terri assured me that all she really needed was confidence in her skills and some courage. The rest all easily fell into place. She recommends having a quality computer and printer, but uses free software(see her web site for examples). Terri also collects partial pay from clients before beginning work contracts.
Terri had professional administrative experience in both private and public-sector work environments, including administrative work in a medical office, clerical support at a corporate real estate firm, and jobs in both a family-owned law practice and a demanding police department. Initially she didn’t see how each of these jobs led to her career as a VA but in retrospect it made sense. Terri always had sought to learn new skills, enjoyed staying abreast of technology, recognized the importance of legally binding contracts, and had a thirst for creativity.
How did Terri let people know she means business? “Networking!” she explained simply. “Bottom line I had to become more visible.” She attended networking meetings but gave them a fun twist. Conscious of her discomfort from giving an “elevator speech,” she resolved to blog about each experience afterward. Terri attracted business just by getting out there and showing people that she loves what she does. She also volunteers to assist military families and mentors new spouses in alternative careers through organizations such as COMPASS (www.gocompass.org) which helps her continue to market her business.
How did she juggling a business, networking meetings, blogging, volunteering in the military community, being a new mommy, and finding time for her military husband? Terri says the effort is “challenging.”
“The business is not always easy, but neither is being married to a service member,” said Terri. “I had been planning to start my business for several years, and when I finally got the nerve to do it, I found out I was pregnant two weeks later. Talk about timing!”
But sticking to her values, and knowing to set her pace, Terri has made it work—a skill that many of us military families have inadvertently mastered.
Tips on Getting Becoming a VA
• Where There’s a Will There’s a Way Childcare can be a challenge when her husband is not on shore duty. Terri found another Navy wife who provided daycare in her home if Terri had to attend a meeting or work a few hours uninterrupted. The hidden benefit: a little adult time for mommy, and a daughter that is adjusting nicely to a little socialization.
• Making It All Official Terri checked with her local zoning board and town hall for requirements to run a home business, her state tax authority about charging sales tax, and the IRS to obtain a Taxpayer ID number. Terri recommends talking to the lawyer on base, a private business attorney, or a tax accountant for additional assistance on deciding if your business should be set up as a sole proprietorship or and LLC, etc..
• Sharing The Wealth Terri shared several resources she found helpful for virtual assistants; and highly recommends the International Virtual Assistants Association . Others resources and good books include:
Professional Associations To Explore:
International Virtual Assistants Association
Real Estate Virtual Assistant (REVA) Network
Military Spouse Virtual Assistants
VA Training Program To Inquire With:
Virtual Assistance U
Books Worth Checking Out:
(and stay tuned…the next article in this series will explore a military spouse that found freelance writing to be a great portable career).
KristaWells, Ph.D.: Please visit The Military Spouse Coach®. She provides support, strategies, and solutions for girlfriends/spouses of the military. www.militaryspousecoach.com. Krista would love feedback on other careers you would like to see highlighted. If you would like to receive a FREE copy of 21 Ways to “Spring Clean” Your Life, e-mail Krista at Krista@militaryspousecoach.com requesting your complimentary copy.
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