You have decided to work from home. But your skills are more administrative in nature: data entry, business correspondence, spreadsheet work, etc. You are good at what you do, but you are NOT a computer programmer, webmaster, graphic designer or have any specialized knowledge. Can you find work on the Internet? Absolutely! Is it easy to find? Not necessarily.

So how do you start? At the minimum, you will need a good computer, internet access (preferably hi-speed) and a good word processing program. A lot of virtual work requires phone work, so a phone with unlimited long distance is a good idea. Some companies require you have a land line.

Your office is equipped. You are mentally prepared. Now comes the tedious part: finding the right opportunity for you.

If you enter “work at home” or similar phrases into a search engine, you’ll get literally millions of results. Most of those will probably be marketing jobs of some sort: internet marketing, direct marketing, multi-level marketing, etc. Lots of people make fair to fantastic money at these positions, but that’s not what you’re after.

Narrowing the search to “virtual administrative work” targets your search — but doesn’t yield fewer results. So what are some other options?

• Become part of your profession’s community. If you don’t think of yourself as a “professional,” you need to change that mindset immediately. You are an independent contractor now: you are a professional. You need to think of yourself as a professional and act accordingly — and expect to be treated accordingly. Join one or more association. Look for forums that you can be part of.

Once you’re part of the community, look for job boards. Many sites will have postings that you can apply for directly, or will at least give you some direction. Build up a relationship with some of the other members and see if they have suggestions.

• Check your leads carefully. The lead may read as though it’s a job, but when you go to the website you find out it’s more of a job placement site. In the brick-and-mortar world, this would be like answering an ad for a job placement agency instead of directly for a job. You may also be led to a bidding site (jobs are posted and you bid on the job). You can get work that way. Remember, though, that you are in the virtual world now, and people from literally all over the globe can be bidding on these jobs. You don’t want to price your services too low, but it can be hard to secure jobs for what is considered a reasonable rate in the United States when people from countries with a lower cost of living are able to bid at a much lower rate.

• Be leery of jobs requiring you pay anything — even for training. Again, think of the brick-and-mortar world. Would you take a job that required you to pay $xx up front for “processing”? Doubtful. Would you answer a classified ad that promised you a job after you paid $xxx for their specialized training course? You would if you found the ad under an educational headline. But under a job posting? Probably not.

• Use your common sense. A job promising $50/hour strictly for data entry? I don’t think so. However, the cost of living does vary quite a bit across the United States. If you live in the mid-west and the company you are contacting is based on either coast, the pay scale will likely be higher than you would expect for your area.

• Do your due diligence. You get a lead for what appears to be an actual job with a specific business. Go to the website. Does it look professional? Is it well-written? Look for a physical address and a phone number. Read the testimonials or comments. If you didn’t get the lead from your virtual community go there and see if anybody there has heard of the company and can give you any feedback (positive or negative).

• Once you find a company you’re interested in applying to, follow the instructions exactly when contacting the company. If you are told to “Call Bob between 1:00 and 5:00 pacific time,” then call Bob between those hours. Don’t call at 10:00 and ask for Bob or see if you can talk with anyone else. If you’re told to email your resume as a.pdf attachment, then send a.pdf attachment. Don’t copy and paste it into an email or send it as a Word attachment.

Specific instructions are listed for a reason: when you are working virtually it is imperative you follow instructions. The company also may be testing to see how well equipped your office is and/or how computer savvy you are. You have done everything you can to check out the company before you even contact it. The personnel director is much more limited in his ability to check you out. He can’t see your winning smile or sense your charisma through your email. This is your first impression: make it outstanding!

There is an immense amount of trust required in virtual work: on your end, that will you be paid for the work you’ve done and that your personal information won’t be stolen. On the company’s end, that you will DO the work you’re contracted to do and that you don’t sell the company’s confidential information to the highest bidder.

Virtual relationships can be made that are very strong. The owner of one company I contract with and I respect each other, enjoy our working relationship, and consider each other a friend though we’ve never met. Trust your “inner voice,” use your best judgment, then take the plunge. It may be the best career move you’ve ever made.

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