Think you've got the right stuff to 'go virtual'?

Despite the obvious allure of being one's own boss, experts suggest virtual-worker wannabes take a hard look before jumping in.

Although places such as Guru.com boast nearly $50 million worth of business contracted on its site, most virtual workers will find that money comes in slowly, at least at first. Successful entrepreneurs need self-discipline to avoid the distractions of working at home. Sometimes, the job gets lonely.

"It's awfully easy to let the Internet depersonalize every aspect of a relationship if you're not careful," says Chris Durst, chief executive officer of Staffcentrix.com, a Web portal for virtual assistants. "We think it's very important to keep the personal touch."

Staffcentrix.com and other Web sites offer chat areas so virtual workers can exchange ideas, and they include tips for how to run an e-business. "To a lot of people, it sounds like a very good idea and they say they're going to do it - and they don't realize how hard it's going to be," says Jane Gray, a virtual programming consultant in suburban Toronto. "You're the marketing department, you're the design department, you're the accounting department."

Unless, of course, you hire other virtual workers to do those jobs.

Here's a sampling of virtual-work Web sites:

*Assist University (www.assistu.com) - Three-year-old training organization and referral service for virtual assistants.

*eLance.com (www.elance.com) - Electronic marketplace where companies post projects and virtual workers bid on them. Heavy international flavor. "The bidding is quite ferocious," says one user.

*Guru.com (www.guru.com) - Highly rated and fast-growing Web site for virtual professionals looking for projects. Projects average between $10,000 and $15,000.

*International Virtual Assistants Association (www.ivaa.org) - Nonprofit group in Chatsworth, Calif., represents the industry, offers a directory of members worldwide, and sponsors a certification exam for virtual assistants.

Staffcentrix.com (www.staffcentrix.com) - Popular place to search for virtual assistants around the world.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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