Archive for May 6th, 2009

Dear Danielle: Is Certification Necessary to Start an Administrative Support Business?

Dear Danielle:

I have wanted to start my own administrative support business for a while now. I’ve been with the same large corporation for 12 years, some of that time spent in the Medical Law department, as a human resources assistant and about six years as an executive assistant juggling multiple managers. Prior to that, I worked from a woman’s home as her assistant as she ran her own company bringing in over $400,000 gross per year. I have the experience, I have the drive and motivation; I learn quickly; I’m resourceful; I am able to work independently and have a record of excellent customer service and problem solving skills.  I am concerned that not having a certificate from a college may hinder client selection. From your experience, are degree-less virtual ssistants making a living out there? Do you know of a legitimate online Virtual Assistant certification? —CR

Fabulous! You’ve state just about everything you need to start an administrative support business: experience, drive, resourcefulness, ability to learn quickly and excellent customer service and problem-solving skills.

The only other requirement is going to be excellent business sense. Because running a business and doing the work and taking care of clients are two completely different things.

I’ve written extensively on the subject of certification. You do not need anyone’s piece of paper to “certify” that you have the administrative expertise to offer your services.

I say this as someone who has been in this business for nearly 15 years and never once been asked by a single client ever about certification.

Most of the certification programs in our industry are a joke. I’ve even had colleagues go through some of these programs where the administrators themselves can’t spell, litter their correspondence with typos, and get their own exams wrong.

Plus, there’s a proliferation of opportunists and exploiters out there who are just using these programs as personal sales vehicles. They’ll certify anyone willing to pay.

Save your money.

There is only one thing you need to prove to clients and that is done by simply demonstrating your qualifications, competence and service in all that you do.

Your site, your messages, your writing and articles… every bit of it is an example of your skills, expertise and professionalism.

When you demonstrate a professional level of expertise and competence, no one is going to ask you about certification. Those questions only come when prospective clients don’t see those things exampled on your website, your business image, your content and your communications.

When you DO demonstrate those things in all those places, you instill credibility and trust. They don’t need to ask because they already get that sense of your competence through all your displays of marketing, presentation and interaction.

No piece of paper will prove those things. And any certification you get becomes meaningless if you don’t demonstrate on a daily basis, in everything you do, the qualities that the certification is supposed to “prove.”

Here are some other posts I’ve written on the topic of certification and demonstrating competence:

Are You Trying Too Hard?
Demonstrate Your Competence
Dear Danielle: What Can You Tell Me About Credentialing?


It sounds like you’ve got all the qualifications and experience you need to open an administrative support business and offer a professional level of skill and service. Learning to be a good businessperson may take some additional skills and education, if you don’t have those already.

Don’t bother with certification, though. Just become a good student of business.

Read business books. Find business mentors (like me). Ask lots of questions.

If you do take some kind of course, I recommend those on business management and marketing, not a certification course.

Good luck to you and thanks for the great question. We need more highly skilled and competent people like you in our field. 🙂