Being a Virtual Assistant is awesome. I have an incredible lifestyle and have worked from countries all around the world. But the life of a freelancer isn’t all unicorns and fairies and it’s definitely not a way of making ‘easy money’. So, let me tell you what is actually involved in setting up and running a Virtual Assistant business so you can decide if it’s for you.
(This post is a broad overview of how to become a Virtual Assistant. It contains links to more in-depth articles on the various subjects mentioned within it and further resources on how to set up.)
Why become a Virtual Assistant?
There are many reasons that people want to become a Virtual Assistant. The main reasons are flexibility and freedom, but there are actually many more.
You can work when you want
From being able to spend more time with your kids to caring for elderly family members, working for yourself means you can organise your day to fit around the life you have or the type of life you want to create.
You can work where you want
I’ve worked from locations all around the world because all I need is my laptop and an Internet connection. So if you’re looking for a location-independent or digital nomad lifestyle, virtual assistance will fit the bill perfectly.
You get to use your brain
Working for yourself is a constantly evolving journey that requires you to think for yourself and come up with creative solutions for both your own business and your client’s business.
Dedicating years of your life to a company who doesn’t value you or appreciate your loyalty and hard work is heartbreaking. But, when you run your own business, it’s you who is rewarded – both financially and emotionally.
You finally get to see what you’re made of and what you can achieve.
Even though there will be ups and downs (if it was easy everyone would do it), you’re the one in control. No more waiting to see if the axe of redundancy will fall… you’re the one who gets to decide your future.
When you run your own business you have more choices than employees and are in control of what happens to you.
Why Virtual Assistants will always do well
Virtual Assistance is a highly robust industry that withstands turbulent times. Here’s why:
- Virtual Assistants have numerous transferable skills and can work with any type of business, in any location, in any timezone and in any currency. This means they have more options than employees.
- Virtual Assistants sole purpose is to assist small businesses. It’s even in their job title! Their entire business model is helping other businesses thrive so they will have numerous solutions to help their clients adapt and pivot if they are struggling.
- Virtual Assistants possess a plethora of valuable skills from many years of office experience. They have also undertaken multiple types of tasks for clients within a wide range of industries. Even though they may have a specific niche, they will also have clients in other industries. So if one client is impacted, the rest won’t be.
- Virtual Assistants know how to communicate and collaborate virtually and they possess a wealth of tech knowledge that all types of businesses can benefit from.
- Virtual Assistants are resourceful, highly-organised and have excellent forward-planning abilities. They’re unflappable and excellent problem solvers.
How to become a Virtual Assistant
On one hand, freelancing is as simple as: find people who need help, help them, invoice them, get paid, pay tax, repeat. But there is also a bit more to it than that!
My DIY VA training course covers in detail every single step you need to take, but here is a basic overview of what you need to do to set up a Virtual Assistant business.
Know why and commit to making it work
I’ve noticed that the people in my Facebook group who struggle with running a business are the ones who don’t appear to be fully committed to the process. They do not have both feet in the boat, as it were.
They use phrases such as “I’ll give it a go” and often approach what is actually a serious profession as a hobby and a way to make a few extra bucks here and there. You need to know EXACTLY why you want to leave employment and become a business owner and then do everything in your power to succeed – or you won’t.
You need to show up, do the work, suck it up when things don’t go how you want them to, and keep going.
Research and plan
I’ve been a Virtual Assistant since 2008 and have been running my VA Handbookers Facebook group since 2016, so you’ll be pleased to know that I have covered pretty much every single thing you will ever need to know here on my website and in my courses.
I’ve categorised all of my blog posts and you should find an article that reflects every stage of your journey here on my Start Here page.
My advice is to work your way through these blog posts, sign up for some of my courses, join my Facebook group, check out the interviews and videos from real-life VAs so you’re aware of the reality of running a business, make a plan and then methodically work through it.
Decide on your business model
Everyone is different so you will need to create a business model that reflects your own particular set of circumstances and matches what you need from your life at this time.
For example, do you want a 100% virtual business model so you can work from anywhere in the world or do you like being around people and are happy to go into their offices? If you need the flexibility to be able to pick up your child from school at a certain time each day, then you should refuse all work that means you need to check emails at specific times etc.
Look at your finances
Can you afford to go freelance?
Although there isn’t a huge initial outlay, there are always costs in setting up any business. Obviously, you don’t just chuck in your job before you even know if you like being a VA or are good at it, but it may take a while to secure clients and then you have to allow for the time it takes to complete the work, invoice and receive payment.
Freelancers also experience periods of ‘feast and famine’ so you might have a good income one month but hardly any in another. Whilst retainers will give you an indication of upcoming earnings, some months such as August can be quiet (because your clients and their clients are often on holiday) and clients can give notice at any time.
Clients aren’t for life.
So, you should assess your monthly outgoings, see what you need to earn each month then have at least three months worth of savings to act as a buffer whilst you focus on setting up and getting clients.
Freelancers do not have a steady and reliable income which is why it’s not suited to everyone and why we charge a high hourly rate. To be honest, if you need a reliable, steady income then you’d be far better off sticking to your day job.
Sort the legal stuff
If you’re in the UK then you need to tell HMRC as soon as you start earning money. You’ll have to decide whether to be a limited company or a sole trader, know how to keep accurate financial records and learn how to do your tax return.
You will also need contracts and insurance so you don’t get sued or screwed, to register with the ICO if you are in the UK and a Data Processing Agreement (DPA) for GDPR compliance. This is because data controllers (your clients) need to sign a DPA with any parties that act as data processors (Virtual Assistants) on their behalf.
Luckily, I have a lot of blog posts in the money and legal category of my site to help you navigate your legal obligations.
Look at your niche and services
It’s definitely better to have a niche so instead of thinking about what people might want and then offering those services, identify what things you’re good at, like doing and want to keep doing – then find people who need those things.
Your niche/s might be the tasks you offer, the types of people you work with, the industry you serve or a combination of these things.
If you have a niche (which is always in addition to regular admin services) then you become the go-to person in that area and you’ll get enquiries that match your area of expertise. Your niche is usually what you did for a living before you went freelance, so try to go for the low-hanging fruit when getting your first client as you can always move sideways into another niche area later.
There’s no point in leaving your job to be your own boss if you end up taking on work you don’t like or that doesn’t match your business model. Although you need to earn money and bring home the bacon, doing enjoyable work should be your priority or you’ll end up hating working for yourself.
Decide what to charge
You’ll need to decide on your rates and can charge by the hour, by the project, or have retainer rates, but you will usually offer a combination of these options.
The average hourly rate for a UK Virtual Assistant is £25 but many VAs charge much more than this. Their fees will vary depending on their level of expertise, length of experience, the types of skills they possess, who their clients are and what industry they are in.
So, techie VAs can charge more because they have specialist skills other VAs do not, and Director-level VAs who deal with High Net Worth Individuals (HNWI) will charge a lot more than a VA who only has basic admin skills.
It’s important to remember that it’s not your business to decide how much your clients can afford. Your rates are your rates – Mercedes is not going to lower their prices just because I can’t afford one of their cars.
It’s far harder to raise your fees than it is to lower them and you should never undervalue skills that have taken you years to acquire. Women often undersell themselves, but you’re a valuable resource and people who understand that will happily pay for your expert help.
You’ll also learn that people who baulk at your rates are people you should be extremely wary of working with.
Decide on your brand
After you’ve decided what work you’d like to do you need to decide on your company name and design your branding and logo. I started off with quite a basic VA website but later redesigned it so you don’t wait until everything is perfect – just get going!
You need to have a good online appearance as your website and social media profiles will be judged by potential clients, but your main aim is to get clients and not faff around getting caught up in irrelevant design details and never actually do any work.
Market your socks off
Know that marketing your business is something that you’re going to have to do constantly and for the entire duration of your career.
So it really will pay (in the physical income-based sense too!) to be good at it.
If you’ve never done much of it before, marketing isn’t something that you’re going to be good at straight away, but it’s easy to learn. You may feel uncomfortable about it at first but it will quickly become your new normal.
You could start by adding your company to local business directories (you’ll get loads of sales calls but you’ll need the SEO at first), crafting a stellar LinkedIn profile, networking online and face-to-face and telling everyone you have ever know what you can do.
However, marketing is simply about having conversations, building relationships and providing solutions. I’ve provided some marketing resources at the end of this post.
Know that you don’t have to do everything yourself
VAs often think they need to be able to do every single thing a client wants, but a VAs job is actually just to get stuff sorted for their clients. If your client needs a logo you don’t have to rush out and learn to become a graphic designer – you can just outsource the task to someone who knows a lot more than you do.
As long as your client is aware of the situation, there is no reason why you can’t just project manage any task you don’t know how to do. You can’t do everything, and it would be crazy to think or pretend that you can.
Know your tech
A modern Virtual Assistant isn’t the same as a traditional PA and, although you won’t know how to do everything, you will need to have an understanding of the technology used to work and collaborate online.
During the current Coronavirus crisis, it’s the VAs who are helping their clients move classes and consultations online, writing and sending newsletters, setting up Facebook groups, setting up video recording software and assisting with social media who are rushed off their feet right now.
So, if you’re more of an old-school traditional administrator or if you’re a technophobe or someone who doesn’t enjoy learning about technology then it’s best to market yourself as a freelance PA and help local businesses with their admin instead of promoting yourself as a Virtual Assistant.
I cannot tell you how important it is that you keep learning and stay on top of new developments – not only in the VA industry and your own niche but also with new technology and ways to work more efficiently. If you keep your skills up to date then you’ll have a more varied skill set and can provide more value to your clients.
Freelancing is not for everyone and shouldn’t be seen as a ‘side hustle’ or a way to make ‘easy money’ doing a bit of admin while your kids play around your feet. It is a serious career choice and you need to be fully committed to doing a good job for your clients.
Those irresponsible articles on jobs you can do from home with no investment are lies.
You need money to start any business, and if you don’t have any money then it’s not a good idea to start one. You’ll feel desperate, you will take any task you’re offered and you will feel anxious all the time. And you did not leave your job only to hate something else!
Running a business is hard work. You will have to do your own admin, bookkeeping, website, copywriting and marketing – oh, and did I mention that you have to do a LOT of marketing and for the entire duration of your career? Cool, I just wanted to tell you that again.
You will also have to manage multiple tasks for multiple clients and constantly changing deadlines. Some of your clients might be “challenging” (a polite word for some of them, bless ’em) and that’s before we even get on to tyre-kickers and late payers.
You will need a thick skin and to be resilient, adaptable, resourceful and pragmatic. Being a natural detail person will make you a good VA, but to be a good business owner you need be a bigger-picture person – and this is something you will have to learn.
You might not even be cut out for freelance life but, if you do think you have the essential qualities needed and still want to become a Virtual Assistant after reading this, then at least you now have a better understanding of what’s involved and what to do next.