How to Become a Virtual Assistant And Work on Your Own Terms
Wanted to help top entrepreneurs grow their businesses while working with flexibility? Becoming a virtual assistant may be the path for you and here’s how to get started.
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Behind every successful business owner with too much to do is a virtual assistant (VA) who keeps their business running smoothly by taking some of the work off their plate.
If you’ve always wondered what it would be like to help others grow their businesses while working on a flexible schedule, then becoming a VA may be the right path for you.
Below, we’ll dive a little deeper into what the work entails and explore how to become a virtual assistant.
What is a virtual assistant?
A virtual assistant is a professional who provides support services to businesses remotely.
VA work is often compared to that of an administrative assistant, but it often extends far beyond administrative work. VAs can focus on a number of different tasks like administrative support, business development, marketing, social media, graphic design, and whatever else a business owner might need.
Companies of all sizes and industries rely on VAs to handle ongoing and administrative tasks, allowing the rest of the team to focus on other vital areas of their business. Virtual assistants are especially well-suited to work with entrepreneurs and online business owners who may not be ready (or want) to hire a full-time office staff.
Some virtual assistants run their own businesses, taking clients on a retainer or contract basis. Others may join a company or agency that places them with businesses that need their specific set of skills.
Most virtual assistants are independent contractors, but some may find part-time work or become a full-time employee of a VA or virtual staffing company.
What does a virtual assistant do?
While many VAs focus on administrative tasks, there’s a whole range of areas that these support angels specialize in, such as email marketing, social media management, copywriting, and business systems. It’s definitely a profession that requires you to be flexible and is tailormade for those who are multi-talented.
For example, in the past, I have hired a VA to handle administrative tasks like answering emails, invoicing, light bookkeeping, and project management, but the same VA was also a whiz at email marketing. She designed and scheduled my emails, designed and implemented email sequences and automation, and even gave me input on my email marketing strategy.
Many virtual assistants will pick a niche early on in their career, which will often determine the type of work they do. For example, someone who works with e-commerce brands will know how to use different online selling platforms like Shopify and might excel at developing product descriptions.
Meanwhile, a VA who works with marketing agencies may spend the majority of their time scheduling social media content, publishing blog posts, and building out email sequences.
What skills do you need to become a virtual assistant?
Even though a VA’s task list can vary wildly depending on their skill set, there are a few skills that come in handy for any virtual assistant:
- Communication skills: As a VA, you’ll be communicating with different people online in a variety of formats. It helps to be both a great verbal and written communicator.
- Organizational skills: Being able to organize your time and set priorities is important for any business owner but especially vital to VAs. VAs run a task-oriented business and good organization is a must.
- Interpersonal skills: Many VAs handle customer service and support tasks that require them to work with a wide variety of people. Even those who handle more behind-the-scenes work will still have to get along with others.
- Tech-savvy: Virtual assistants work with a lot of different systems and programs. While you don’t have to be an expert, it helps to be good at learning new programs and systems quickly.
“Being a VA takes patience, flexibility, and a lot of communication,” says Brady Fuller of Virtually Brady, who has been a virtual assistant for six and half years.
“You need to adapt to different personalities. No client is the same. You really want to communicate with your client, learn more about them, and figure out how they work, so you can best assist them.”
Why become a virtual assistant?
While every job has its upsides and downsides, there are certainly unique benefits to becoming a virtual assistant.
1. Work when, where, and with who you want to
For one, if you work as an independent contractor or start a VA business, you’re able to work when and where you want with clients that excite you.
Being able to work on your own terms offers long-term job satisfaction and flexibility that can be very rewarding. (Plus, you can work in your PJs at midnight if that’s what delights you.)
2. Control your rates (and when you raise them!)
Starting a VA business also allows you to set your own rates, which means that there’s technically no limit to how much you can make.
No more salary negotiations or waiting on a raise. You’ll have control over how much you charge and when you raise your rates, making it a potentially lucrative career.
3. Enjoy low startup and overhead costs
The startup and overhead costs for virtual assistants are also very low. To get started, you basically just need a laptop and a place to work.
As you grow your business, you may invest in a professional website, marketing software, and courses to grow your skills. But you can keep it really simple when getting started.
4. Make a big impact on business owners
There are also less obvious, intangible benefits to being a VA. Virtual assistants play a big role in business success as they take on essential tasks.
Amber Slocum of Amber Slocum Consulting says the greatest part of being a VA is “knowing that the work I’m doing is making someone else’s life and business easier and therefore better and more fulfilling.”
For the aforementioned Brady Fuller, the greatest part of being a virtual assistant is “watching a client’s vision come to life.”
Sure, working from home in your yoga pants is cool, but how many people can say they’re making people’s business dreams come true?
How to become a virtual assistant
If you’re a well-organized and hardworking person who’s good at communicating and keeping up with busy entrepreneurs, then being a virtual assistant might be the ultimate gig for you.
Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to become a virtual assistant by starting your own business:
1. Decide which services you want to offer.
The first thing you need to do is decide which services you will provide as a VA. Most VAs offer general administrative services in addition to specialized ones. If you plan to focus on a specific niche, you will want to focus on services that are most needed by that niche.
When deciding what types of specialized services you’d like to offer, focus on your strengths. If you’re a great writer, you might offer copywriting or social media management services. If problem-solving is your thing, you may want to focus on customer support or project management.
Once you’ve decided which services you will offer, you’ll need to package and price your services. Most virtual assistants work on an hourly basis. But there are different ways that you can package these hours. For instance, you might package different services together and create a “social media” or “customer support” package. Or you can create packages based on the number of hours a client needs each month.
2. Choose a business name and structure.
Choose a business name that resonates with you and your future clients. To get started, you may just want to use your own name. One benefit of using your name is that your business can grow and change over time without having to change the name. If you want to be more creative, you might choose a business name that stands out and communicates what you do.
Choosing a business structure can get a bit complicated. The legal structure you choose for your business will depend on a number of factors, such as where you’re located, types of clients you’re working with, types of services you offer, and risk tolerance, to name a few. I recommend speaking to an accountant or attorney to figure out which structure makes sense for your business.
3. Make it legal
Once you’ve got all the basics squared away, it’s time to make sure your business is legit from a legal standpoint. You’ll need to do some research to discover what permits or licenses you might need, which depend on where you live and what exactly you’ll be doing. You may want to consult with an attorney in your area to make sure you’re covering all your bases.
At some point, you’ll need to request an Employer Identification Number (EIN), which is a federal identification number that’s used to identify tax reports to the IRS. (I promise, it’s not as scary as it sounds.)
As someone who has worked as a freelancer for the last 10 years, I highly recommend getting a business bank account as soon as you have an EIN. Keeping your business income and expenses separate from your personal account will make things much easier when tax time arrives.
Another legal consideration is the contract that you use for client work. A contract lays out what is expected of you and your client during your working relationship. A legally sound contract helps protect your business in the event that a client doesn’t hold up their end of the agreement (such as nonpayment).
If you don’t have lawyer money right now, you can find an affordable client contract template from a real lawyer.
4. Set up business systems/tools
When you’re first getting started with your virtual assistant business, you’ll want to keep things simple. Thinking about software and systems may seem a bit overwhelming, especially if you’re new to working for yourself. However, you don’t need much to get started. Plus, a lot of what you do need can be accessed for free, at least in the beginning.
Here are a few tools that you’ll need as you get started:
- A way to get paid. You’re doing this to make money, right? So you’ll need an easy way for clients to pay you. PayPal is a great place to start since it’s easy to use and accessible to most clients.
- An email address. You probably already have an email address that you can use to communicate with clients. Just make sure your email address is professional and clearly identifies who you are. Your name or business name is ideal.
- A home base. For most businesses, their website is their home base—the place they send potential customers to get information about how to work with them. However, if you’re not ready to invest in a website, you can use something more simple like a landing page, social media account, or even a Google Doc.
- A way to stay organized. Virtual assistants work with multiple clients on multiple projects, so it’s essential that they have some way of keeping information organized. You can use a project management system like Asana (which has free options) or a simple Google Sheet.
In the end, you don’t want to get hung up on the tools and systems (or use them as an excuse to not get started). So keep it simple and just use the tools you already know and love to make things work until you’re ready to invest.
5. Market your virtual assistant business
People can’t hire you unless they know you exist. Marketing your virtual assistant business is essential to getting those first clients. Social channels like Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn are great places to start marketing your business. Post about your new business and the services you offer, and engage with people who may be in need of your services.
Fuller suggests that all new VAs “increase engagement on social media, meet new people in the industry and learn from them, and join some social media networking groups.”
If you have the time and money to invest in a simple website or landing page, this can be a gamechanger for your business. Not only does a website tell potential clients that you are a professional who means business, but it also gives you the opportunity to reach new people online that you may have never otherwise met.
6. Look for work
In addition to marketing your VA business, you’ll also want to actively search for virtual assistant jobs.
One of the best places for new virtual assistants to find their first gigs is in their existing network. Even if no one you know is looking for a VA right now, there’s a good chance that people in your network know others who could use your services.
“Networking is key when starting your VA business. It’s important to network and share your passion for being a VA with as many people as you can. Let them know how you can help,” suggests Fuller.
Another place to find virtual assistant jobs is on online job boards. Many entrepreneurs will use online job boards to find the right virtual assistant. Browse job boards for potential clients, and apply to the opportunities that look like a good fit. While job boards don’t always offer the best opportunities, they’re a great place to find those initial virtual assistant jobs that will lead to even bigger gigs in the future.
You can also reach out to local businesses that might need your services. While VAs are “virtual” and therefore not tied to a certain business location, many small businesses would prefer to hire someone locally. Your location could be a great way to get their attention.
6. Get clients and start working.
Once you get your first client, your focus should be on providing high-quality service. After you have provided great service and built a rapport with a client, ask them for referrals. There’s a good chance that your clients know other people who could use your services.
You can also start to get testimonials from clients that you’ve done great work for. Use these testimonials in your marketing to provide the social proof new potential clients need to hire you.
And when things get tough, just remember that you’re still learning. Slocum offers this piece of sage advice:
“Starting a business is a lot like parenting. You’re going to screw it up sometimes. Be humble, apologize, and show up with a smile. Everything works out the way it’s supposed to in the end.”
Where to find top-paying VA clients
In the end, running a virtual assistant business can be a rewarding venture if you enjoy what you’re doing and can find clients you love working with. While you will need to build up your client list before you can start charging the big bucks, there are still great ways to find clients who will pay you what you’re worth even in the beginning.
As you get started looking for clients and gigs, be sure to check out our free ebook, Virtual Assistant Gig Goldmine. It’s the ultimate guide to finding top-paying VA clients online. In it, you’ll find tons of great ideas for finding awesome gigs and landing new clients.