How to Become a Virtual Assistant – Step by Step
Working remotely is a dream for many. One of the broadest work-from-home gigs you can pick up is being a virtual assistant.
Interested in launching your own virtual assistant career? Read about how to become a virtual assistant below.
What is a Virtual Assistant?
A virtual assistant, or VA for short, is an individual that provides administrative, support, and related services from a remote location. The term “virtual assistant” emerged in the 1990s as technological advancements provided the ability to work remotely.
Virtual assistants work in all industries, but they’re especially prevalent among online businesses, since many online businesses are run by a solopreneur who works remotely themselves. Smaller businesses that don’t want to bring another staff member physically into their office are also big VA hirers.
Smaller businesses tend to task their VA’s with a little bit of many tasks. Larger businesses need more specialization; they’ll hire VA’s for deeper work on less numerous tasks.
What Do Virtual Assistants Do?
VA’s are able to do anything you’d expect in-office support staff to do, except they do it remotely. Usually, this means plenty of clerical work. However, some VA’s might be tasked with higher-level assignments such as marketing and financial tasks.
To boost their earnings and increase their marketability, many VA’s specialize in a particular skill set or industry.
For example, a financial virtual assistant might handle the bookkeeping and some other basic financial tasks.
Then there’s industry. A financial advisor virtual assistant only works with financial advisors and similar occupations, but they do a variety of tasks for that specific industry.
Business or 9-5 Job?
That’s a trick question, because you can do both. Some opt for the 9-5 route over running their own business as it’s a more “stable” position, at least in theory. However, many decide to start their own VA business instead, taking on several clients at once, so that if any one client drops them, they still have some income coming in.
As a business owner, your earning opportunities far outpace those of a VA who works as a W-2 employee. You can take on multiple clients (thus earning more), set your rates, have more control over your hours, decide which tasks you want to perform.
This isn’t to say working full-time as an employee or contractor for one company is a bad move.
For one, you don’t have to go looking for clients constantly; marketing to clients can be difficult and even discouraging because you’ll be trying to convert cold leads into customers. If you go the employee/contractor route, companies hiring VA’s are already, well, looking for VA’s. That takes much of the marketing burden off of you.
For this same reason, employment and contractor roles are a good starting point for new VA’s. They can gain experience actually working as a VA so they’re prepared when they strike out on their own and have to learn all the other skills it takes to run a business.
Lastly, you’ve got freelance marketplaces and micro gig sites. These pay the poorest of the 3 places VA’s find work, but the jobs are numerous and provide an easy way into the field for brand new VA’s.
How Much Do Virtual Assistants Make?
VA pay, like many jobs, varies widely depending on industry, company, responsibilities, and experience. For example, a VA who handles simple administrative responsibilities won’t earn quite as much as a VA that acts as a “right-hand” person for an executive.
All that being said, VA’s generally earn a pretty good wage, even starting out. According to various job/career websites, VA’s can earn $15-$20 an hour without much experience.
That doesn’t sound like game-changing money, but when you remember that you can set your own schedule and work from your bed if you so desire, that rate doesn’t sound so bad.
Not to mention that you can raise your rates fairly quickly once you collect some work experience and positive testimonials. For simpler VA tasks, you could get up to $30 per hour. If you build higher-level skills such as marketing or finance during your career, $40 all the way to $75 an hour are within your grasp.
Common Virtual Assistant Responsibilities
VA’s have a very broad range of responsibilities; no two VA positions will be the exact same. One company might have you do a ton of tasks, while another might need a VA for one or two tasks but on a more focused level.
Plus, some may need full-time VA’s while others might need part-time VA’s; this adds even more variation to the already diverse VA role.
Your specific tasks could even vary by industry.
That being said, VA positions across all companies and industries tend to be responsible for a few common tasks.
Perhaps the easiest task you’ll take on as a VA is data entry. Nearly every VA has to do data entry at some point.
To excel at data entry, you need to be detail-oriented in order to minimize data entry errors and catch other issues.
Being able to type fast helps greatly as well.
Since you can work from anywhere, most companies will hand you customer support tasks as well. You’ll be responsible for answering questions, addressing concerns, and generally enhancing the customer experience via phone, email, or chat.
Having a thick skin helps in case of rude clients/customers, but remember, they don’t know you; it’s not personal.
Social Media Management
Some companies task their VA’s with handling social media responsibilities. You might be in charge of planning and writing posts, interacting with followers, and looking at analytics.
Email management is definitely a popular VA task. Within email management, you might be in charge of cleaning up the inbox, managing contacts, writing emails to new clients/customers, set up email alerts/filters/rule, and unsubscribing from unwanted email lists.
Some email management tasks overlap with calendar and schedule management tasks, which we’ll discuss next.
If you know Microsoft Outlook and other email software inside and out, you’ll have an easier time landing solid VA gigs.
If you’re a VA for an executive or business owner, you’ll probably be doing a lot of travel and appointment booking. Being able to keep track of appointments and find open time slots is an important skill to have.
Some of this involves working with email. Coordinating with clients, responding to meeting or appointment requests, setting up the appointment or meeting, and adding it to your boss’s calendar.
Bookkeeping is another one of those tasks critical to business survival that most businesses don’t want to do, yet don’t want to hire a dedicated bookkeeper for.
As a VA, you could be responsible for keeping the books and updating the company on their current financial health.
Many VA’s are asked to assist with project management. Project management is basically applying various skills to coordinate a project and take it from beginning to end product. It’s about understanding the goal you have to accomplish, where you are now, how you’ll move from the latter to the former, and where you’ll get the resources to do so.
It’s a bit of a broad responsibility, so your client will probably tell you exactly what needs to be done if you take on any project management.
Becoming a Virtual Assistant Without Experience
Now that you know what a virtual assistant does, it might seem easy to hang your own shingle as a virtual assistant today and start raking in clients.
That route is possible, but very difficult because you’ll likely have no proof of your experience.
Instead, follow this process. By taking these steps, you’ll maximize your chances of landing well-paying gigs that let you work from wherever you want.
Step 1.) Take a Virtual Assistant Course
Taking a virtual assistant course isn’t mandatory, but it is highly, highly recommended. VA courses themselves don’t teach you specific skills you might need (like social media management or bookkeeping), but they do instruct you on how to start and grow your VA business from the ground up.
The blog Horkey Handbook and its founder, Gina Horkey, are authorities on the subject of VA’s. They have an excellent course that teaches you everything you need to start your own VA business.
Step 2.) Niche Down: Decide on Your Service Offerings
There are no hard and fast rules for the types of services you can offer. You don’t want to offer every service under the sun, as you’ll be spread too thin and won’t get the chance to hone in on specific services and learn them in greater detail.
But with so many types of tasks available, it’s easy to suffer “paralysis by analysis” when you’re deciding which VA services you want to offer.
The good news is you can change your service offerings around to fit your skills, interest, and business as your business grows.
If you find that one of your services is rarely requested, but fellow VA’s are being hired for another service left and right, no one’s saying you can’t also offer said service.
Still, you want to start somewhere. To get some ideas, think about what you’re good at, what you have experience in, and what you enjoy doing.
Fast typist? Detail-oriented? Offer data entry services.
Good with numbers and money? Bookkeeping might be a great service to offer.
Love talking to people? Customer support could be right up your alley.
Step 3.) Set Your Rates
We’ve arrived at the everyone’s favorite question. Setting your rates isn’t simple, as your skill set, experience, and the role itself can vary considerably.
When it comes down to it, though, you need to make sure you’re earning your fair share for the time you put in.
Most VA’s start out charging hourly. Hourly pay means trading time for money, so you have to make sure you’re earning enough money to be worth your time.
As a contractor, you don’t have all the benefits of being an employee, and you have to pay both employee and employer taxes in the form of self-employment taxes. Plus, there’re business expenses.
To figure a good hourly rate, you should take what you’d expect to make in a similar 9-5 job and give it a nice 25%+ boost.
As you progress, you may disdain trading your time directly for money. You work faster, getting more done for the same pay. Moving to a flat rate pricing system might be a good business move for you.
That way, you can earn the same amount per project regardless of speed. That task that used to take you 3 hours now takes you 1.5 hours, leaving you 1.5 hours to either pick up more clients or end you work day early and enjoy life.
Some VA’s miss the predictability of regular monthly or semi-monthly paycheck. Retainer pricing can fix that.
Under a retainer agreement, your client buys X amount of your time or Y amount of services for $Z per month, usually a slightly reduced version of your hourly rate.
Let’s say your hourly rate is $40. You might sell 20 hours of your VA services per month to a client for $700 per month or $35 per hour, rather than the full $800 that you’d earn at $40 per hour.
It’s kind of like when you buy an annual subscription vs. a month-to-month subscription; the client pays up front to score a discount, like how you might pay for a year of Netflix to save money in a monthly sense.
Everybody wins; you get paid right away and in a predictable fashion, while your client gets a guaranteed amount of services.
The best part is your client might not use the full 20 hours of services, but you still get paid the same amount. If they need more services, however, you can charge extra fees!
Step 4.) Niche Down Again: Pick Your Target Market
Part 2 of niching down is picking your market. This one’s easy: what types of businesses and/or industries do you enjoy?
For example, do you love eCommerce? E-commerce businesses are always looking for VA’s.
Maybe you enjoy finance. Financial advisors often hire VA’s to draft emails and juggle clerical client responsibilities.
Step 5.) The Legal Stuff: Business Name and Structure
The legal aspect of starting your VA business has a fun side and a stressful side; the former being picking your business name, with the latter being selecting a business structure.
Picking a name is fun, but there are a few tips to follow when doing so.
Brainstorm some cool name ideas, assessing each one for how catchy they are. When you’ve settled on your top 3, ask some friends for feedback.
Then, run a search with the Secretary of State to make sure your business name can’t be easily confused with other businesses. Otherwise, your marketing will be a lot harder.
Lastly, see if you can get a domain name with your business name in it. This is critical to creating a website your clients can find easily.
Here’s a tip: you can use your own name if you’d like, as long as it’s not easily confused with other businesses.
There is no one-size-fits-all business structure. The optimal business structure for your VA endeavors depends on business location, types of clients, types of work, your current family situation, and similar information.
Your business structure affects the way your business is taxed, as well as how some of its operations will function. At the end of the day, you’d want to talk with an attorney or a Certified Public Accountant about your business structure.
All this being said, many VA’s opt to file for an Limited Liability Company (LLC) with their state. Applying for an LLC is quite cheap, as low as $50 in some states; they aren’t all that hard to file for either.
LLC’s protect your personal assets in case of a lawsuit – meaning if you’re sued by a client, for example, your house, car, or other possessions can’t be used to compensate the client for damages.
Step 6.) Create Your Website
Today, every business needs a website to survive, especially on who’s work arrangement is based on working virtually.
In other words, you need a website to land VA clients.
Too many VA’s overthink their website. No, you don’t need to spend hours agonizing over themes and plugins, nor do you need to drop hundreds to access premium features.
Just grab a domain name, build a simple website with something like WordPress advertising your services, and you’re good.
Step 7.) Market Your Services
Time to start pitching clients. Your first few jobs will be by far the hardest, so don’t give up. Once you’ve secured the first few gigs, you’ll have experience and testimonials to back up your words.
Also, always be investing in your education. Acquire more skills and get better at your current ones by taking courses, reading books, and attending events.
Where To Find Virtual Assistant Jobs?
VA jobs are everywhere; you can find tons simply by running an internet search. But sorting through all the results to separate the good from the bad from the scams takes a lot of your precious time.
There are plenty of solid sites with plenty of VA opportunities; we’ve pulled together some of the best places to find VA jobs below.
Zirtual is a giant VA company providing all manner of VA services to companies all over the country. There won’t be as many opportunities listed on their site, as you work for them (kind of like a VA agency), but landing one of these jobs can be lucrative, interesting, and secure.
Fiverr lets you package your services and sell them at $5 a pop (that’s why it’s called Fiverr). However, you aren’t stuck at $5 for long. By completing a few jobs and gathering testimonials, you’ll soon have clients coming to you – meaning you can raise your rates and start earning your fair share of that VA money.
Upwork is a step up from Fiverr in terms of earning potential, but you have to seek out gigs a bit more. Users spend “connects”, Upwork’s currency, to submit proposals to the gigs clients post.
Upwork is free, but their $15 per month membership grants you several perks, such as a monthly allotment of connects, the ability to see competing bids, and several other smaller perks.
FlexJobs is a job board catering to remote workers and the companies looking to hire them. Although it’s a job board, FlexJobs also posts opportunities for freelance and contractor work.
They let you create a profile to market yourself to employers, as well as take skill tests to demonstrate your skill set and increase your marketability.
The downside to FlexJobs is that it costs money to use. Prices are
- $14.95 for 1 month
- $29.95 for 3 months
- $49.95 for the whole year
But this paywall is in place for a good reason. Because you’re paying them money, YOU’RE their client, not the employers or businesses looking to hire VA’s. They screen each and every job posting submitted by an employer and deny anything that seems scammy or low-quality (such as low-paying work).
Traditional Job Boards
These are almost always going to be employee or full-time contractor arrangements, so keep that in mind when you’re searching for gigs.
Lastly, one of the best ways to find clients is from your current and former clients! Do a good job, and they’ll happily pass your name along to more prospects.