To many people, business = Microsoft.
When the Virtual Assistant industry was young, a mere 12 years ago, that equation was pretty accurate. Your clients may have depended on their Virtual Assistant to create spreadsheets (that meant MSExcel), write reports or handle correspondence (that meant MSWord), or help organize a database (that would have been MSAccess).
Oops, I left out these tasks: develop presentations (MSPowerPoint, of course) and assist with contacts and emails (MSOutlook).
Last week a colleague told me that when she opened her VA practice just a couple of years ago, she anticipated providing that same kind of support. Unexpectedly, she found that her clients are all quite proficient with word processing and spreadsheets. They have more specialized needs. So, my colleague is now trying to get up to speed with blogging and newsletter production.
Today, business doesn’t have to mean Microsoft. In fact, mine is an all Mac office, so I use a wide variety of programs, MS Office for Mac among them. So then, what software will YOU need to get your business up and running?
Although it depends, in part on your specialty services, all SOHO workers need a basic set of software applications, with solid tech support standing behind them. Some will set you back a pretty penny, and others will be free.
Thoroughly investigate your many options, but be wary of installing freeware unless you can find clear documentation that such programs can be expected to perform well and not wreak havoc with your system.
Here are some basic types of software that will be the backbone of your business:
- Find and become proficient in an email program, whether Outlook, Mac Mail, or Eudora, with a professional sounding domain attached at the end. You may want to use a free email option like GMail or Hotmail as a back up email address for those unfortunate times when your ISP is offline. Please, please, please, do NOT use one of these free options as your everyday email identity. It is not a professional presentation and screams “I am cheap.”
- For keeping yourself on schedule, you need a calendaring system. Yes, you can use a Daytimer or Franklin Planner, but since some of your projects may entail finding ways to collaborate with clients or colleagues on shared calendars, get familiar with one that fits yours needs and begin keeping track of yourself on your computer.
- Keeping track of your time spent on projects can be done with paper and pencil (you would be surprised how many of us do it this way!) or by using one of the many time-tracking software options.
- Project Management software packages are overkill for many VAs. Take a look at the abundance of organizing / semantic mapping software that’s on the market now. One of those might work for you if you find you need it, but I suggest you wait until you have projects that demand this sort of software before you invest in it.
- Whether or not you offer bookkeeping services, you will need your own accounting and invoicing system. Research what’s available and pick something that fits with the rest of your applications.
- Even if you aren’t doing graphic design or web development, you may sometimes need an image editing program. There are many inexpensive options from which to choose.
- As for keeping your system (and your client’s work) secure, please do not open a business without a firewall, a quality virus protection program, and adware software up and running. If you’re on a Mac, you can disregard part of this advice, but make it your business to stay current on security issues that may affect Macs in the future.
Now, for specific application recommendations, here’s a round-up from some terrific sites elsewhere online:
- Christina Laun, has written excellent treatment of software for both accounting, organizing, and project management in her post, “Be Your Own Virtual Assistant: 100 Tools to Keep Yourself Accountable and Organized.”
- Virtual Assistant Advice has a good list of software and web-based solutions for automating many of your tasks, under this title: “TIME SAVING TOOLS.”
- Home Office Warrior published a series that included a review of software needed. Read The Paperless home Office Part 2 – Software.
(note from ktcosmos: Christina’s article appears on several websites, including VAAssistant.com, owned by Trina Lamarche. You’ll find lots of other goodies on Trina’s site, too.)
Especially for the other Mac users out there:
- In another post by Home Office Warrior, here’s a feature on software specifically for Mac owners.
- Business Applications for The Mac. The Mac Lawyer, a terrific blog for all things Mac, is the publisher of this piece. Hop over there to find some great stuff Mac related Of particular note is a research-based post about why Mac users are sexier than PC users.
- Mac Tips and Tricks lists 100 applications you must have here.
Previous posts from this series:
Still to come:
Part 4: Hardware Needed
Part 5: Basic Office Supplies
Part 6: Utilities (your internet connection, phone service, etc.) Required
Part 7: Reference Material