Anything you can do with a computer or a telephone can help you begin a virtual office business. Virtual assistants, graphic designers and customer service representatives can make a good income from a home office. When you're starting out, look for contracts with local businesses. People are more comfortable dealing with someone they can meet in person when needed. Working locally also means there's less risk of being undercut by offshore competitors offering similar services for pennies per hour.
Trying to be everything to everyone seldom makes for a strong business plan. Instead, identify two or three services you can offer at a high level and lead with your strengths. Research local ads to match your unique skills with local business needs and make a note of the fees they charge. As you develop your virtual office business, you can add to your list of services simply by asking clients if there's anything else they need.
While your office may be virtual to clients, you need a decent workplace in your home with a desk, a computer, a fast Internet connection and quality telephone service with a call-answering system. You might also want to sign up for a Skype account for video conferences with long-distance clients. In addition to the software to do your work, you'll probably need business-specific apps to track your time, create invoices and schedule callbacks when prospecting for new clients.
Having your own website and a strong presence on business networking sites like LinkedIn is important for advertising your services. Research websites offering similar services to get ideas for your online marketing efforts. Beyond an online presence, successful entrepreneurs and virtual assistants are constantly on the phone finding new clients, networking at business events, handing out business cards, replying to ads and asking clients for referrals. Until you are booked solid for at least six months, reserve a few hours every week to actively seek out clients.
Taxes and Licenses
Just because you're working from home doesn't mean you don't need a business license. Many states require home-based businesses to have one and it's a good idea to check your city and county regulations as well. If you sell services rather than products, some states won't require you to collect sales tax. However, rules vary. In Pennsylvania, for example, services like editing and secretarial work are taxable. In Texas, some data processing services are taxable, including website creation and word processing.
A published author, David Weedmark has advised businesses on technology, media and marketing for more than 20 years and used to teach computer science at Algonquin College. He is currently the owner of Mad Hat Labs, a web design and media consultancy business. David has written hundreds of articles for newspapers, magazines and websites including American Express, Samsung, Re/Max and the New York Times' About.com.