The flexible, work-from-anywhere revolution has been underway now for several years, and recent events like the pandemic and the Great Resignation have only accelerated it. Maybe you’re among the millions of professionals across the globe re-evaluating your career and widening your horizons.
This kind of re-evaluation and big-picture thinking is exactly what prompted Trusty Oak’s founder, Amber Gray, to turn to becoming a virtual assistant (and eventually owning a virtual assistant company). It’s what made me decide to become a virtual assistant in 2017, back when I had to explain what the term meant to anyone who asked.
If you’re considering becoming a virtual assistant, I can speak from personal experience that it’s both a wonderful opportunity and not for the faint of heart. Here are my best tips for how to become a virtual assistant for beginners.
What is a Virtual Assistant?
First, let’s answer the basic question. What is a virtual assistant?
A virtual assistant is someone who supports an entrepreneur or business owner remotely, often performing administrative or back-office tasks. Many virtual assistants specialize in one area based on their expertise and experience. Many virtual assistants work entirely independently as a 1099 contractor with their clients, while others work through virtual assistant agencies or job platforms like UpWork or Fiverr. Still, others do all three, with independent clients, clients through agencies, and one-off jobs through platforms.
There are many different types of virtual assistants, including:
- Administrative virtual assistants
- Marketing virtual assistants
- Social media virtual assistants
- Executive virtual assistants
- Bookkeeping and finance virtual assistants
What Does a Virtual Assistant Do?
Virtual assistants have the enormous benefit of flexibility and can do almost anything you can imagine. As I mentioned, many VAs choose to specialize in an industry or expertise.
Virtual assistants can do all sorts of tasks, including:
- Calendar management
- Inbox management
- Scheduling and booking travel or appointments
- Personal assistant tasks
- Executive assistant tasks
- Managing social media accounts
- Creating marketing content and publishing content
- SEO-related tasks
- Graphic design
- Project management
- Customer support
- Customer Relationship Management (CRM)
- Basic website updates and maintenance
This list is far from exhaustive. While some virtual assistants focus on more specialized tasks, there are also many VAs who build their services around general administrative and marketing offerings. This makes them an attractive option for small business owners who need help with the back-end work of running a company.
How Much Does a Virtual Assistant Make?
If you’re looking to make the leap from your 9-to-5, you’re probably calculating how to replace your current income. Virtual assistant wages can vary widely, particularly because many VAs are building their own businesses and setting their own prices.
How Much A Virtual Assistant Makes Per Hour
Many virtual assistant agencies offer hourly wages starting around $15-$20 an hour for virtual assistant work. Many agencies offer the opportunity for bonuses or wage growth of up to $25 an hour or more depending on tenure and expertise. If you are working without an agency, I recommend starting your prices at around $25 an hour. This is important because, if you are working outside an agency, you have significantly more costs associated with running your virtual assistant business.
How Much It Costs to Run a Virtual Assistant Business
Before we move on from the question of how much virtual assistants make, I want to take a brief moment to talk about the costs of running a VA business. When I freelanced on my own as a marketing virtual assistant, I had several costs associated with running my business, including:
- A Squarespace website as my online portfolio showcasing my work
- My time running an Instagram account to market to potential clients
- My laptop and technology needs for a home office
- My time performing tasks like invoicing, communicating with potential clients, and creating proposals
- Several software subscriptions and ongoing tech costs, such as a Gmail account on my website domain, my annual web domain subscription, Grammarly, Canva Pro, and others
- Annual taxes as a self-employed professional
We’ll discuss the costs of running a VA business later in this article when discussing how to set your prices. However, it’s important to mention this part of the virtual assistant life when discussing how much a VA makes. If your business costs are not part of the equation, you may make a miscalculation that will literally cost you in the long run.
How to Become a Virtual Assistant
Now that we’ve covered the basics, if you’re still reading, you want to know exactly how to become a virtual assistant. The neat thing is the minute you sit down and decide to do this – congratulations, you are a virtual assistant! But of course, being a great virtual assistant and making money takes a little more than that. Let’s get into the nitty-gritty details.
1. How to Decide Your Virtual Assistant Specialty
Your first step to becoming a virtual assistant is to decide what kind of VA you want to be. We’ve already gone over the different types of virtual assistants, and of course, there are even more beyond my list. If you have a background working in an office, becoming an administrative virtual assistant is likely well within your experience. If you have any background in writing, the arts, or creative fields, marketing may also be an option for you.
When deciding your specialty, don’t let self-doubt and imposter syndrome hold you back. If you are feeling rusty in an area, start with a few online courses to get yourself more comfortable. Spend some time thinking about your experience in past jobs and how you could leverage that to help a small business. You can turn your experience into a service offering and viola, you’ve found your virtual assistant specialty.
A final note on choosing your virtual assistant specialty: be careful not to fall into offering a service you will actually hate doing. You may be a whiz at data entry but it makes you want to stab your eyes out, or have a knack for SEO blogging but find it soul-crushing. It may be tempting to offer services you know will pay the bills but don’t bring you joy. While paying the bills is important, you’re freelancing for a reason. Choose a specialty and service offering that makes you happy, ideally, or at least doesn’t make you want to quit.
2. How to Set Up Your Virtual Assistant Business or Choose a VA Agency
After you’ve narrowed in on your specialty, it’s time to set up your business officially. You need to consider some of the less-fun parts of being a business owner during this phase, such as tax liability and the “official” stuff.
For most virtual assistants and freelancers, the simplest option is to set up a sole proprietorship. Most freelancers pay taxes as a sole proprietor, and there’s nothing special you have to do to set this kind of small business up. If you choose a sole proprietorship but want to operate your business under a name different than your own, like Really Awesome Virtual Assistant Company, you’ll need to file a separate form with the IRS for a DBA (“Doing Business As”).
You can also choose to work with a virtual assistant agency rather than doing it all on your own. Note that if you choose an agency to work through, you are still a 1099 contractor and still responsible for paying your own taxes and finding your own health insurance, etc. Look for an agency whose service offerings fit the specialty you’ve chosen, that pays well and offers the type of work environment you’re looking for.
3. How to Set Your Virtual Assistant Pricing and Service Offerings
Next up, you’ll need to decide how you’ll structure your services and offerings. This is important to have some idea before you start marketing or finding prospective clients. Here are a few questions to answer as you consider your pricing and service offerings.
- How will you structure your pricing? You could choose to price your services per project, per hour, or per time period (like a retainer). This varies widely depending on the service you’re providing: for instance, ghostwriters might charge by the word or by completed project, while graphic designers might want to charge by project with plenty of wiggle room for scope creep. Keep in mind the minimum hourly wage you want to be making if you choose something other than hourly and don’t let yourself work for less than you’re worth.
- What are similar virtual assistants charging for services? You’ll want to make sure you’re within the market for your services. Do some market research and gather as much intel as you can from websites and articles.
- How will you manage your projects? Your clients will want to know ahead of time what to expect for project management. For instance, will you be communicating with your clients on a regular basis, maybe with a weekly status report? Will you be using a project management system like Trello or Asana so they can be involved in the project as it moves forward?
- How will you handle out-of-scope requests? If you choose a per-project, proposal-based approach to your offerings, be sure you outline what will happen if a project creeps out of scope. For instance, when I did freelance writing, I stipulated how many rounds of edits were included in the per-blog post price I set, and how much I would charge for additional edits if they were requested.
- How will you handle contracts and/or letters of engagement? Many virtual assistants choose to have simple contracts on file with all of their clients to protect themselves. Sample contracts for freelancers are available online, but be sure to cover at least the basics such as payment terms, payment due dates and late fees, and scope of work. Be sure to update contracts with your clients if and when things change, such as raising your rates or changing your services.
This is only the beginning of considering your services and pricing for your virtual assistant business, but it will get you started. For many VAs, services and pricing are an ongoing process of refinement as you learn more and improve your business.
4. How to Develop a Virtual Assistant Web Presence
If you’ve done all of the groundwork in the previous steps, you are ready to put yourself out there. For me (with my writing and marketing background) this was the fun part!
You’ll want a basic web presence if you’re serious about getting a consistent book of clients. While you can keep it quite simple, you can also go all-in with your web presence if you want.
How much you invest in your web presence and marketing depends on a few factors:
- Your industry: For instance, if you’re advertising marketing virtual assistant services or social media management, you absolutely have to have a stellar presence on these platforms as they’ll serve as proof of your expertise.
- Your budget: If you’re charging higher prices, you may have more leeway to invest more in your web presence, which can cost a lot of money and time. You may also need to have a more professional web presence to help justify your higher prices to prospective clients.
- Your client acquisition process: If you’re mostly networking and relying on referrals for your clients, your web presence may be less important. However, if you’re going after clients mostly through the web and social media, of course, these platforms will become more important.
Regardless of how far you take your web presence, in today’s world, you must have something. It’s not optional these days to run a virtual business without a web presence.
Here are the basics I recommend:
- A website: This can be something built with a template on Wix or Squarespace, or, if you have the background, you can get fancier with WordPress or another CMS. Your website should, at minimum, tell clients about you and your services, and ideally build authority with client testimonials, case studies, or examples of past work.
- At least one active business social media account: Most virtual assistants choose one social media platform to pour their time and energy into. Do some research to decide where your target audience spends the most time and emphasize that social media platform. I’ve seen freelancers grow an audience and their business on LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, and other platforms. At least one active social media account is going to be a must for potential clients researching you.
- A LinkedIn account: I know, I just said one social media account, and maybe you chose Instagram and now I’m bait-and-switching you into yet another social media account to keep active. However, I think LinkedIn is a must for freelancers. It can serve as a portfolio, a social media account, a resume, and a networking tool. If you don’t have a profile, set one up right away and start filling it out with information about your virtual assistant business. If prospective clients search for you online, your LinkedIn account will likely be one of the first things that pop up, so it’s a must.
Again, you can take your web presence as far as you’d like, getting fancier and more extensive than this, but these recommendations are the minimum I recommend to get started. Keep in mind that some virtual assistant agencies will do some of this work for you, including giving you a profile on their website and (of course) marketing services and acquiring clients for you.
5. How to Land Your First Client
Once you’ve taken all of the steps to get set up, it’s time to land your first client. This is the part where there are a lot of potential paths to success. I got my first client by emailing the CEO of a company a friend of mine worked for and offering to write for his web agency. Subsequent clients I gained through social media and through referrals from friends. Sometimes you have to do some cold outreach (like the email I sent to that CEO) while other times you can acquire clients fairly organically through your network.
Get creative finding clients, but be careful not to “marry the first person who asks you,” if you know what I mean. Say yes to clients only when they fit your work style (as far as you can tell) and are willing to pay your prices without nickel-and-diming you. I was not shy about requesting on-time payment or discontinuing work with clients if they failed to treat me respectfully or pay me on time.
You Can Become a Virtual Assistant!
If you’re considering becoming a virtual assistant, I hope this blog post helps you along the way. Being a virtual assistant is incredibly rewarding and, while it takes a lot of work and initiative, it’s also an opportunity to build something that’s all yours that you can be very proud of. Whether you choose to do it on your own or go through an agency, these steps will get you started and well on your way to building a book of clients and earning an income as a virtual assistant.
If you’re interested in taking that path I took (after freelancing on my own for a few years), check out virtual assistant jobs with Trusty Oak!