One of the easiest home-based businesses to start is a secretarial business. If you have worked in an administrative capacity, taken a course in secretarial education, or have a fairly good typing skills, you will find that a growing number of businesses are seeking outside help to perform their clerical tasks.
The tasks of a secretary have evolved from simply typing documents to a much varied portfolio of services. Today, home-based secretarial services offer additional services that clients value and will pay more for, such as editing, copywriting, proofreading, mailing list management, desktop publishing, and web site design and research. The new breed of secretarial service providers are no longer called “secretaries” but “virtual assistants” who not only provide basic secretarial services but have become the all-around administrative help of many business owners (read the article How to Start Your Own Virtual Assistant Business )
A secretarial business is ideal for a home-based setting. Through email, Web, smart phones, tablet computers, online collaboration tools, chat and instant messages, technology has facilitated working with a secretary on a virtual basis. Your clients can simply email you the instructions on your research assignment, or fax to you the letters that you need to type, or they can simply give you access to the website you need to maintain.
A home-based secretarial business allows you to work as many or as few hours as you want. It is not a job that requires you to clock in from 9-to-5, but can work on a more flexible schedule. If you have kids or babies taking up most of your day, you can even choose to work at night. With hardly any start-up expenses, you can earn $20 to $30 per hour providing administrative and typing support to others.
The market for home-based secretarial services are varied. Small business owners who often do not have the resources to hire a full time staff are great candidates for this business. Contact new or existing small businesses in your area — including the home based online business owners — and ask them if they need administrative or research help on a regular or as-needed basis.
Skills and Qualifications for a Secretarial Business
According to the Association of Business Support Services International (ABSSI) (http://www.abssi.org) and the Global Workspace Association, a typical office support provider has “a keyboarding speed of 70 words per minute, 2-3 years of administrative-assistant or equivalent experience, and a good command of English grammar.”
If you type less than 70 words per minute, you can still make a go at this business provided you can offer one very important thing accuracy. Speed is a skill that can be acquired as you get more work. You can also practice using software programs such as Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing to help you increase your keyboarding speed within just a few weeks.
To succeed in this business, you need more than typing speed. According to the book “Start Your Own Secretarial Business” edited by JoAnn Padgett, you also need to have “self-discipline, motivation, good organizational skills, conscientious work habits, and the ability to get along with people.” You also need to be good at promoting your services to others.
Getting Started on Your Secretarial Business
There are two ways to start your home-based office support service business. One, you can be a “sub-contractor” for an existing home based secretarial service. Hook up with a service provider in your area, and offer your help in case he or she has too much workload. This approach enables you earn some income while learning the ropes firsthand.
Or, you can plunge into the business head-on. Starting your own secretarial service is definitely much more profitable than being a “sub-contractor.”
However, like any other business, there are several important considerations you need to do. First, you need to determine your target market area. Know what types of prospective clients are in your area, and find out the possible services that they may need. Also know how many similar services are operating in your area (check your telephone directory). Do a bit of investigation by inquiring about the current rates being charged. This way, you will also get a feel as to the demand for the business.
Once you have ascertained that the market can still sustain another secretarial business, start doing the legal work. Register your business with your local county. Decide on a fictitious business name, and open a bank account. If you expect to sell taxable products (photocopies, extra résumé printouts, blank paper, etc.), or if your state requires you to charge sales tax on services, obtain a seller’s permit from the State Board of Equalization.
The following articles will guide you the step-by-step process in setting up a business:
- Most Common Questions Asked When Starting a Business
- How to Launch a New Business Successfully
- Checklist for Starting a Small Business
Secretarial Business Start-up Costs
The start-up cost will depend on how you set the standards for your business. Some business owners want to buy all the equipment needed immediately at the start-up phase while others procure items slowly as the business grows. Others want to have an entire inventory of office stationary, envelopes and business cards printed with their business name and logos before opening their doors to others. Some decide to just get a business card, then print the stationary themselves.
Your start-up costs can be as low as $500 if you already have most of the office equipment, like computer and printer. However, if you still don’t have the basic office equipment, expect to spend about $5,000 to complete your arsenal of equipment needed to make a go of your secretarial business.
The most important equipment for this business include computer and printer (typewriters are well, a relic of the 20th century). Whether a Macintosh or Windows-based PC, you need a computer with the biggest hard drive you can afford. Invest money in a zip drive for back-ups and storage of your files. As you go along, you can invest in a CD writer so you can burn your files into a CD, a plus for clients who work on large files. You can get a good computer (plus accessories) for $1,500 for the low-end, or $3,000 for the high end PCs.
You also need to invest in a quality printer. Laser printers would cost about $500 or more. It is also a wise investment to purchase a colored inkjet printer. The “more perfect” your finished product, the more clients you’ll attract and keep.
Depending on the types of specialties you plan to offer your clients, you may also need to buy additional software in addition to your software suite. These software may include accounting packages, desktop publishing, presentation and graphics, contact management, or even Web design. Budget about $100 to as high as $1,000 for additional software.
Fax machines, scanners or copiers are also important tools of the trade for an office support specialist. If you transcribe tapes, you’ll need to buy transcription equipment too—to accommodate standard and micro-sized cassettes. These equipment can cost anywhere from $200 to $1,500.
If you don’t have the equipment that you need, contact office equipment stores in your area to get quotes on leasing a computer system. Check out government auctions of office supplies. Dot-coms who have recently succumbed also auction off their computers and office equipment.
Include in your budget your initial marketing cost, such as listing in the Yellow Pages directory, and possibly classified ad advertisements.
Marketing Your Secretarial Business
There are several ways to market your secretarial business. Here are some of the most effective ones:
1. Online Marketing. The Web has become an important channel for businesses. Start by creating a website for your business. Think of it as your online brochure that is available to your target market 24/7. Your website should list the secretarial services that you offer, explanations of why clients should choose your services, and ways to contact you. You can publish your rates, or choose to have it available only if you are contacted.
2. Networking. Networking is an important source of making contacts and meeting potential clients. Participate actively in one or two organizations that contain a high percentage of potential clients, including chambers of commerce, industry organizations, and trade groups. Your involvement in these organizations will allow you to meet prospective clients’ sources of referrals. Networking could also be done online, including virtual assistant forums, and various social media outlets such as Twitter and Facebook.
3. Direct mail advertising. Send direct mailings or your brochure to new businesses in your area, prospects in your specialty market. Be prepared though to follow up the mailing with a phone call, offering to drop by to present how you can save them time and money, as well as samples of your work. You can also try sending postcards or half-sheet cards with lists of services, which can sometimes be more effective as your prospects can immediately see your offer.
4. Yellow Pages listing. Yellow Pages advertising used to be important for a secretarial business. It used to be the most frequent way secretarial businesses get customers. However, Yellow Pages advertising has been going the way of the dinosaurs and its usage have considerably shrunk in recent years. Instead, look to online versions of yellow pages directories such as YellowPages.com and recommendation/review sites such as Yelp.com. More importantly, use job freelancer job sites such as Elance.com.
The market for a secretarial business is wide, and every business in your area could be regarded as a potential customer. You can start out by calling former bosses or business associates and explaining to them your new venture. Offer your services to them and tell them that they could call on you should they have an overload of work. Request for a referral.
Income Potential of a Secretarial Business
Your income potential depends on your long-range goals, field of specialization (if any), geographical area, marketing efforts, and amount of time devoted to the business.
According to ABSSI, if you are operating your business full time for 50 weeks per year, you could bill 1,500 hours a year. In the office support business, you can expect to bill no more than 75% of your available business hours. If your hourly rate is $25, then you can expect to earn $37,500 a year. Expect to earn less if you are working on the business part-time.
You can expect to breakeven within 3 to 12 months, or sometimes longer, depending on how specialized your service is, how aggressively you promote your business, and how high your expenses are. Like many other businesses, give your business time to grow and your reputation spread as it could take 1-3 years before you regularly fill each full-time day with clients’ projects.
You can increase your profit potential if you take on additional tasks such as desktop publishing, particularly creation of newsletters, brochures, and flyers. Other ways to boost your income could be to expand your services to office organization or helping businesses organize their files and systems; or to work for companies compiling data as a researcher.
Particularly in the very beginning of your business, you need to be flexible to keep jobs coming in. It is important to ensure a healthy relationship with your clients, as they may be source of repeat income for you. Oftentimes, satisfied clients will often ask for help with other things they need. It is easy to sell your other services because they have confidence in you.
Things to Watch Out For When Starting a Secretarial Business
Given the ease of entry into this business, competition can be fierce. The key is to find a niche for your business and tailor the services that you provide to that niche. As businesses and people increasingly have technology in their businesses and homes, your success in an office-support business depends on specializing in doing things that clients cannot do on their own or find it inconvenient or difficult to do.
You can specialize in assisting other home-based businesses; or work for local real estate agents. Some fields, such as transcribing medical and legal documents, pay more but requires additional specialized training. Unless you provide services other than straight word processing, your income is limited by your keyboarding speed and the number of hours in a day.
Expect to work under the pressure of tight deadlines. A client may give you a tape to transcribe today expecting the report first thing tomorrow morning. Many secretarial support services derive a hefty percentage of their income from premium charges collected from “rush” jobs. You must also consider the impact of repetitive typing actions on your health.
Recommended Books on Starting a Secretarial Business:
- How to Start a Home-Based Secretarial Services Business
- Starting a Secretarial Firm (Business of Your Own)
- Administrative Assistant’s and Secretary’s Handbook
- The Definitive Personal Assistant & Secretarial Handbook: A best practice guide for all secretaries, PAs, office managers and executive assistants
- How to Start and Grow a Secretarial Business?
- Starting a Secretarial Service Business
- Office Business Centers: Is it Right for Your Home Business?
- 5 Step Process to Start a Home-Based Business
- Bringing a Client to Your Home Office and Privacy Concerns