I didn’t set out on this path wondering how to become a virtual assistant. It kind of just fell into my lap. And I consider myself pretty darn lucky!
Call it a natural fit — after supporting the senior financial advisor I worked with for six years, VA work seems like the logical path to follow. I knew that the traditional career path wasn’t for me, I wanted to spend more time together as a family, control my own income and not have to answer to a boss.
Back then I was making decisions on the fly — learning the ins and outs of running my own business while working hard to support my young family. Thank goodness for my husband Wade! He took over the responsibility of managing our household and taking care of our then toddlers so mom could build her biz and bring home the bacon 🥓.
These days I’m still juggling a long-term client or two while also helping aspiring VAs to start and grow their own businesses. I spend a lot of time talking to new virtual assistants and speaking about the industry as a whole.
Whenever I host a webinar or am invited to be a guest on a podcast, the thing people resonate with the most is my personal story. They want to know how they can use my experiences to springboard their VA career — launching their own successful service-based business in the process.
In this post, I’m going to cover everything you need to know in order to follow in my footsteps. Outlining each of the individual steps required and pointing you in the direction of our best resources. By the time you get to the end, you should have a solid understanding of the steps you need to take and how you can get started today.
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What Is A Virtual Assistant?
Although this industry is growing by leaps and bounds there are still plenty of people who don’t really understand what a virtual assistant is or how they can play a vital role in the growth of a business — both online and traditional brick and mortar.
Many people look at VAs as little more than executive assistants. But it’s more complicated than that! It’s true that in some circumstances we might be performing some of the traditional tasks associated with administrative work.
But the list of services that a VA can offer is amazingly diverse. And for this reason I created the following definition:
A virtual assistant is anyone who offers services to other business owners from afar in exchange for an agreed upon fee.
Pretty simple right? As you read through this post, you’ll quickly begin to understand why I decided to create such a broad definition.
What Services Does a Virtual Assistant Provide?
The second most common question we are asked revolves around the types of services that you can offer as a VA. The truth of the matter is that there is no cut and dry list of activities that a virtual assistant does.
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We’ve compiled a list of 150+ common VA services that provide you with a great starting point. We also wrote a more detailed post that covers 50+ service options for you to consider. Depending upon your skills and interests, you’re almost guaranteed to find something that will appeal to potential clients. Here are a few examples:
Processing online orders and refunds
Graphic design and layout
Calendar management and travel arrangements
Content creation for blogs and ghostwriting
Editing and proofreading
Creating sales pages
Managing product launches
Social media management
Community management and moderation
The list goes on and on! For many busy entrepreneurs, the greater the variety of tasks you can handle, the better (more on specialization versus general VA work later).
Services are one thing, but you might be wondering what skills do you need to become a virtual assistant?
Obviously, if you’re planning to work online, a general understanding of all-things-internet is a good place to start. Having some specific skills and experience will make getting started easier and it’ll definitely help with landing the first few clients.
Your experience could include any variety of business activities — both online and offline. At the same time, it’s important to note that a lack of skills should never be a deterrent. A high degree of motivation, good communication skills and a desire to learn are equally, if not more important.
How To Become a Virtual Assistant
Here at Horkey HandBook we’re big fans of keeping things as simple as possible and taking BIG action. If you’re here looking for some kind of secret, there isn’t one.
Just get started!
The first virtual assistant client that I contracted with was a successful entrepreneur. Through back and forth emails, I sensed he was having a little trouble keeping up with his inbox.
We had a friendly banter going and I sensed that I could help him, he’d be fun to work with and that I might benefit in more ways than just earning a paycheck (by learning the inner workings of his business).
Basically, I stepped out and boldly told him he should hire me?. Can you say nerve-wracking?
He said yes and we ended up working together for a little over two years. My inklings were right on the money – I enjoyed working with him, I learned a ton and the regular paycheck was nice! Although we’re not working together currently, even to this day, we’re still in contact.
So let’s break this down into some simple steps, shall we?
Side Note: Our course, 30 Days or Less to Virtual Assistant Success goes in much greater detail — walking you through each individuals step across 58+ lessons, 13 quizzes and over 145 minutes of video.
Here are the basic steps you’ll need to follow:
Choose your business structure.
Decide which services you’ll offer your clients.
Decide on your pricing structure.
Launch your website and create your online presence.
Start pitching and networking.
Now, let’s take a look at each of these steps in greater detail.
One thing to keep in mind as you read through these is that your objective is to start promoting and pitching your services as quickly as possible. Acquiring clients and generating revenue should always be at the top of your priority list.
Choose Your Business Structure
There is no such thing as cookie-cutter advice when it comes to selecting your business structure. The answer will vary depending upon a variety of different criteria including:
Where is your business physically located?
What types of clients will you be working with?
What type of VA work will you be doing?
Your personal situation (ie. spouse, family, children and liabilities).
What is your personal risk tolerance?
What are the different business structures available in your area?
This is an area where we definitely think it’s worth your time to speak to an accountant or attorney. They can provide you with valuable feedback that is specific to your particular situation. For you, that might mean sole-proprietorship, LLC, a corporation — such as an S-Corp or C-Corp in the US, or a partnership.
In some instances, you may also be able to decide upon a location for your business depending upon your ability to meet specific requirements.
You can see the importance some of these factors or questions might play in your overall financial and life plan which is why you definitely want to get this equation right. Can it be changed? Sure, but it cost time and money so aim to make the right choice the first time around!
Decide Which Virtual Assistant Services You’ll Offer Your Clients
Making a decision on services is a sticking point for many new VAs. The good news is, it doesn’t have to be. There’s no rulebook anywhere that says you have to stick with a specific service offering once you start.
When most people think of the typical VA services the things that come to mind are checking email, returning phone calls and managing their client’s calendar.
In many instances, it can include those things, but there are plenty of other services you can offer as well.
One of the main things I did for my first big client was to manage his inbox. I checked and sorted his email, respond on his behalf and draft templated responses for different inquiries.
We also had a weekly call (via Google Hangouts), which was beneficial. The more I was able to learn about his business, the better equipped I became to help him.
Like many entrepreneurs, he was juggling multiple projects and responsibilities from consulting, coaching, writing courses, managing his blog and subscription list and more.
He’s brilliant and an inspiration, but I like to think one of the ways I helped was by reining him in from time-to-time and keeping him accountable to some of the things he needed to do. Especially the things that weren’t always his favorite tasks (like email!).
He’s also voiced that our weekly meetings were his favorite part of working together (because we get so much done).
You’re completely free to grow and adapt your business as you see fit. This means changing, adding or eliminating services based upon client demand, profitability, your available time commitment and your personal interests.
As you’ll discover in launching your VA business, freedom to choose can be a double-edged sword. I can’t tell you how often we hear from people who are in the process of starting their business who are struggling to decide on service offerings.
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Here’s what we recommend:
Take a look at the list of services that we mentioned at the beginning of this post.
Read our post on virtual assistant services you can offer your clients.
Pick 2-3 ideas that you feel you’d like to begin with and then….
Get Started! (yep, you’ll notice we say that a lot around these parts?)
Without exceptions, this is the most important step you can take. Once you take the first step, you’ll begin to gather momentum and each successive step will become easier.
You can adapt and change over time in a way that suits your business. For example, you might decide to move from hourly billing to a retainer or maybe even productized services. When you’re ready, you might want to learn more about pricing structure.
Decide on Your Pricing Structure
Everyone wants to know “how much does a virtual assistant make per hour?” What’s the right amount to charge and how much is enough (but not too much)?
The reason the answer varies so much is that the role itself can vary quite greatly – and so can your skill set and experience. We wrote an extensive guide to setting your virtual assistant rates but let’s cover the basics here.
When you’re setting your rates, figure out what would make it worth your time. If you’re planning to charge hourly (at least initially), you’re trading time for money so it’s important to consider several important factors:
You’re not an employee. You’re a subcontractor and in the US, for example, you need to pay both the employee and the employer side of taxes (i.e. self-employment tax).
You also aren’t entitled to any benefits – no sick days, paid vacation, health insurance or retirement contributions are coming your way (with some rare exceptions).
You’ll have an overhead that needs to be covered — things like website hosting, office expenses, some software subscriptions etc.
Because of this expenses, for which you are responsible, you can’t really compare what you make at your day job (or what you could make at a part-time job) with that of your new VA role.
What we recommend is that you need to take whatever wage you think would make sense from a take-home pay perspective and inflate it by at least 25%.
Most business owners will understand that you face these additional costs and if need be, you can break it down for them!
Also keep in mind that from the point of view of business owners, there are definitely perks to hiring a freelance virtual assistant instead of a part or full-time employee. Your client doesn’t have to incur the cost or the time involved with setting up (and many times training) a new employee. Nor do they have to worry about a whole slew of additional expenses and responsibilities that typically come with taking on an employee.
To give you some personal context, I started out charging $34 per hour. For my current clients, I have since moved on from this hourly model and now work on a fixed or retainer rate.
For any new clients I take on, I charge a flat rate (rather than an hourly one), as I would rather have a set of tasks to complete and complete them on my schedule, rather than having to track my time and feel like I’m “on the clock.”
An hourly rate is part of the reason I escaped from corporate America but that might not be the case for you. Take a look at the different business models (hourly, retainer, contract or productized) and pick the one that works best for you.
I like to believe I’m fairly educated and skilled (learning new skills by the day!), which is why I’m comfortable charging adequately for my time. It’s a bit of “you get what you pay for” when it comes to hiring VAs (and for any position really), so keep that in mind as you’re bidding for jobs or hiring your own support staff.
I’d suggest reaching a little higher than the number that pops into your head. It’s easy to undercharge in order to secure the job, but that’s not what’s going to keep either of you happy for the long-term.
Launch Your Website and Create Your Online Presence
We feel strongly about the idea that if you’re going to be working online and providing virtual assistant services from your desired location, it only makes sense that you have an established online presence. We wrote a post that covers some of the most important aspects that you need to think about when planning your website.
In most cases that includes both a website and a social media presence. No matter how you slice it, the combination of those two items makes it much easier to market your business to potential clients.
The days of direct mail, flyers, cold calls and print advertising are behind us. Time and time again, we’ve seen how even a simple website that explains a little bit about you and your services can play a key role in the growth of your business.
As a general rule, we recommend WordPress and a custom theme when setting up your website. And don’t worry, if it seems too overwhelming, we’ve created an in-depth video-based tutorial that will walk you through each step of the process. We also have a post that explains some of the most important elements to consider when creating your virtual assistant website.
The most basic steps include:
Why you should choose WordPress and an appropriate theme
Deciding on general branding elements including colors and fonts.
Creating a simple yet effective logo for your business.
Determine and communicate your value proposition.
Committing to the process of gradual and ongoing improvement.
When it comes to social media, we recommend that you keep things as simple as possible. Instead of trying to juggle multiple social media platforms just follow one simple rule: be where your clients are.
In most (but not all) cases this means Facebook or Linkedin. But going deeper than that, you also want to be in the same groups and communities as your prospective clients. Use social channels to create and build relationships over time. Never jump into a new group and start promoting yourself. Instead, look for opportunities to be genuinely helpful and let relationships grow naturally.
Land New Clients by Pitching and Networking
The final and most important step towards launching a new VA business is, of course, finding your first few clients. What we have typically seen for many VAs who take our course, 30 Days or Less to Virtual Assistant Success is that client growth happens exponentially.
Getting from client number 0 to 3 takes a lot more work than getting from 3 to 6. The difference seems to be a result of time, exposure, experience and confidence. Once those four ingredients begin to kick in, the growth process becomes easier.
The process that we encourage both new and experienced VAs to follow when building their business is simple. It involves being both proactive and consistent in your efforts and we have a simple process for finding virtual assistant clients:
Step #1: Know who your ideal clients are. To put it another way, know your target market. That means figuring out the types of businesses and markets that interest you and where you can find them.
Step #2: Find the ideal prospects in your target market. What attributes are you looking for in an ideal client? This could include businesses that are profitable, who need help and even those who have a history of hiring VAs.
Step #3: Begin building a relationship with potential clients. Sometimes we call this courting simply because we want you to understand that building relationships—even business relationships—takes time. We’re big fans of cold pitching, because it’s the best way to start landing clients quickly but the best clients are a result of strong relationships.
Step #4: Pitch new prospects daily. Until your business grows to the point where referrals are consistently rolling in, you need to rely on pitching. To put it another way, if you want work, you’ll have to go looking for it because when you first launch your business, nobody even knows what you do. For new VAs, we encourage daily pitching. Usually, we recommend that you make it one of the first things you do each day—part of our “always be marketing philosophy’.
Step #5: Offer a trial period. Until you’ve established some trust, clients don’t really know what to expect. And to be fair, neither do you. A short trial period is a great way to test the waters and see how well you are able to work together. It also takes away some of the risk and fear that comes with making a long-term commitment early in the relationship.
Step #6: Check in early and consistently. As part of our VA Leads Community, we provide leads to new and experienced VAs. These leads are usually business owners who are looking for help to grow or scale their business. One of the most common complaints we hear about their past experiences is that their VA had poor communication skills. It’s an easy problem to overcome! All you need to do is set yourself a regular schedule where you check in with your client to make sure their needs are being met.
Step #7: Make yourself irreplaceable. If you are interested in keeping a client for the long term, the best thing you can do is provide as much value as possible. Make yourself an invaluable part of their business. Exactly how you do this will vary with each client but let’s look at solopreneurs as an example.
Many solopreneurs are juggling multiple tasks at once. They work long hours and sacrifice personal time, time with their families and even their own health.
Find a way to take specific tasks off their plate, relieve productivity bottlenecks and help them get their weekends back. By doing so you’ll be providing more value than someone who simply exchanges a few hours of time for money.
You’ll become a valued member of their team which results in a win-win scenario.
Some Final Thoughts
As a virtual assistant, your goal is often to help other people grow their businesses. It can be a very rewarding process to help other entrepreneurs grow their business. And you always want to provide as much value as possible.
But at the same time, don’t forget that you are also building your own business. You need to learn to set your own boundaries and run your business in a way that works for you. Because if you don’t take care of yourself and your business, then growth and satisfaction are usually the first two things to suffer.