There’s never been a better time to learn how to become a Virtual Assistant. The five basic steps to getting started in this career that offers complete autonomy, unlimited financial potential, scalability and time flexibility and freedom are:
- Choose your business structure.
- Decide which services you’ll offer your clients.
- Decide on your pricing structure.
- Establish your online presence.
- Start pitching and networking.
In this guide, we’ll take a look at each of these steps in more detail, including seven steps to finding and landing your first Virtual Assistant client.
Before we dig in, though, you may be wondering how I got started with this whole adventure back in 2014…
I didn’t set out on this path wondering how to become a Virtual Assistant. I saw the incredible opportunity and went for it – and it’s one of the best decisions I’ve made for myself and my family.
After working in the financial industry for over six years as an advisor, I was increasingly plagued (or blessed!) with the idea that there had to be so much more for me. While everything looked great on paper, I was saying goodbye to my family every morning and giving a little piece of myself away each day with a career that was less than fulfilling.
After doing some research and starting a side hustle as a freelance writer on top of my “day job,” I quickly realized that I had other marketable skills. The step into becoming a VA was the next, best, logical one – and one I’m so glad I took.
Within eight months I was able to leave my career in finance and take my business full-time – and completely support my family with my freelance income. Fast forward seven-plus years and my “little VA business” has turned into a seven-figure endeavor supported by a team of amazing individuals.
Of course, I couldn’t have done it without my husband Wade. We made the decision for him to be a SAHD while I was still working in finance so he could be home with our then-two (now three!) kids. He’s supported and believed in me every step of the way, and our life wouldn’t be what it is today without him.
These days I help aspiring Virtual Assistants start, build and grow their own businesses with my VA training program, The #FullyBookedVA System. I’ve made it my mission to significantly streamline the process of figuring out how to become a VA – and what pretty much everyone wants to know right away: how to find a Virtual Assistant job (or several!).
Because really, with the right information, focus and mindset, anyone can build a successful, sustainable Virtual Assistant business. You just need to know where to start and what to do!
So with that, let’s dig into everything you need to know in order to start a rock-solid Virtual Assistant business, including defining just what a VA is and what kinds of services one can provide. By the time we’re done, you’ll have a solid understanding of the steps you need to take and how you can get started today.
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 supporting small businesses — both online and traditional brick and mortar ones.
Many people look at VAs as little more than executive or personal assistants. But there’s much more to it than that! It’s true that there’s a wide range of services and skill levels involved in VA work, including performing some of the “traditional” remote administrative assistant tasks.
The list of services that a VA can offer is amazingly diverse. Essentially, there’s something for everyone when it comes to providing Virtual Assistant services!
Getting back to exactly what a VA is, though, based on my experience I stand by this 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?
One of the most common questions I’m asked is, what kinds of services can a VA offer? In reality, there’s no cut-and-dry list because really, a Virtual Assistant can fulfill just about any need a business has.
This list of 275+ Virtual Assistant services is a great starting point, and it will give you an idea of the potential for building a business doing work you enjoy.
Depending upon your skills and interests, you’re almost guaranteed to find something that will appeal to you. Here are some examples:
- Social media management
- Community management and moderation
- Content creation for blogs and ghostwriting
- Lead generation
- Email management
- Customer support
- Processing online orders and refunds
- Project management
- Content marketing
- Managing product launches
- Website design
- WordPress maintenance
- Graphic design and layout
- Calendar management and travel arrangements
- Editing and proofreading
- Content research
- Keyword research
- Data entry
- Outreach and PR
- Editing videos
The list goes on and on! In the bigger, longer-term picture of your business, the more skilled you are at a few select services, the better (more on specialization versus general VA work later).
What Skills Do You Need to Become a Virtual Assistant?
Services are one thing, but you might be wondering, what Virtual Assistant skills do you need to get started?
Obviously, if you’re planning to work online, a general understanding of how to navigate the 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 those first few clients.
And guess what? Here’s the great news – you already have skills, experiences and strengths that can be translated into services right now.
It’s really a matter of taking inventory of your existing skillset and figuring out how you can turn that into services that businesses need. And don’t worry – it’s not always cut and dry, but rather sometimes involves getting creative.
For example, do you have some natural writing chops? Get started providing writing services!
Have experience with customer service working in the food or hospitality industry? Then you likely have customer service skills that businesses desperately need!
Are you super organized? Maybe email management is a great place for you to start.
Get the idea? The important thing to remember is that these are places to get started – easy entry points, if you will. Because that’s the reality – you can get started offering services very quickly and expand into other skills and service areas as you begin earning income and building your business.
The name of the game is being a constant learner and continuously building your skillset. The result is that you’ll build a business doing work that stimulates and energizes you, and that you’ll be able to charge higher rates for as a VA.
It’s important to note that a perceived lack of skills should never be a deterrent. When it comes to bringing skills to the table as a new VA, a high degree of motivation, good communication skills and a desire to learn are equally, if not more important.
5 Steps to Get Started as a Virtual Assistant
Here at Horkey HandBook, we’re big fans of keeping things as simple as possible and taking consistent action. In fact, I’m a huge believer in the idea that success is really an accumulation of consistent actions – even “small ones” – over time. If you’re here looking for some kind of secret, there isn’t one.
Just get started! And then, don’t stop.
The first Virtual Assistant client that I contracted with was a successful online entrepreneur. Through back and forth emails, I sensed he was having a little trouble keeping up with his inbox.
We had a friendly exchange going and I got the impression 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 (i.e. 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 great! Although we’re not working together currently, even to this day we’re still in contact.
The “takeaway” is that I spotted an opportunity and pitched myself as the solution. In other words, I essentially created an opportunity. And when it comes to VA work (or anything, really!), opportunity really is all around you!
So let’s break this down into some simple steps, shall we?
Side Note: My course, VA Foundations, (formerly called 30 Days or Less to Virtual Assistant Success) included in The #FullyBookedVA System, goes into much greater detail on these steps. It’s a systematic, step-by-step walkthrough across 12 modules, 85+ lessons and over 145 minutes of video (with more being added on a regular basis!).
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.
1. 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? Do you want to work with people in your surrounding community, solely online or both?
- What types of clients will you be working with? Is there a specific industry you’re familiar with, or type of business you love?
- What type of VA work will you get started with? What skills do you already have? What do you love doing? What comes easy to you? Keep in mind that this can evolve as you learn new skills and discover things you’re passionate about.
- Your personal situation (ie. spouse, family, children and liabilities). When do you want to work? How responsive can you be to your clients?
- What is your personal risk tolerance? How will your income be changing as you make the transition to full-time self-employment? (Unless you’re looking to start a side hustle, which is totally cool too!)
While none of this is set in stone, it’s a good idea to sit down and spend some time thinking about what you’d like your business to “look like.” After all, one of the major perks of being a Virtual Assistant is crafting a business (and life!) by design in a way that totally works for you.
2. Decide Which Virtual Assistant Services You’ll Offer Your Clients
Making a decision on services to get started with 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 and again – you want to pick a few services (ideally two to three) that you can get started with right away.
As you start earning income, you can decide which services you’d like to learn more about and branch into as you build your business!
When most people think of typical VA services the things that come to mind are checking email, returning phone calls, managing their client’s calendar and other remote administrative support.
In many instances, VA services can include those things, but as we’ve covered previously there are plenty of other Virtual Assistant services you can offer as well.
One of the main things I did for my first client was to manage his inbox. I checked and sorted his email, responded on his behalf and drafted templated responses for different inquiries.
We also had a weekly call (via Google Hangouts), which was super 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 for 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 would 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 I hear from people who are in the process of starting their business who are struggling to decide on service offerings.
Here’s what I recommend:
- Take a look at the list of 275+ services I shared previously.
- Highlight the ones you feel like you could get started with and/or learn quickly.
- 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!)
Whether that means emailing some friends to let them know about your new VA business and asking for an introduction or checking out some of the Virtual Assistant job boards that are out there, don’t just wait for the perfect client to appear!
Without exception, 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 an hourly rate to a retainer or maybe even productized VA services. Again, the sky’s the limit and you can build your business exactly as you’d like!
3. 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 skillset and experience.
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 (although for most VAs this is super low) – things like office expenses, some software subscriptions, etc.
Because of these expenses, for which you are responsible, you can’t really compare what you make at your salaried day job (or what you could make at a part-time job) with that of your new VA role.
I recommend that you 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 perspective 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. I moved on from this hourly model fairly quickly and worked on a fixed or retainer rate as I became more efficient with my work and could do more in less time.
For any new clients I took on, I charged a retainer 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 Virtual Assistant pricing options (hourly, retainer, contract or productized VA services) 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’ve always been comfortable charging adequately for my time. It’s a matter of “you get what you pay for” when it comes to hiring a Virtual Assistant, so keep that in mind as you’re putting yourself out there and talking with potential clients.
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.
4. Establish Your Online Presence
If you’re going to be working online and providing Virtual Assistant services, it just makes sense to have an online presence. There are some things to keep in mind when you’re planning your VA website to attract new clients, but when it comes to establishing an online presence a website is just one way to go.
In fact, it’s really important to note that you don’t need a website to get started as a VA! There are other quick and simple ways you can establish an online presence (more on this in a bit).
In this digital age, having some kind of online presence legitimizes you as a professional and aids in the “know, like and trust” factor which is so important when connecting with potential clients.
While at some point in your online business journey it’s a good idea to have a website, to get started as a Virtual Assistant you can establish your online presence with one or more of the following options:
- VA-dedicated social media profiles – I recommend focusing on one to two platforms and either creating profiles or repurposing existing ones that highlight your Virtual Assistant business. LinkedIn is a great place to connect with VA clients, for example, and you can even set up a services page there.
- A resume – Not your “traditional” resume mind you, but rather one focused on the skills you can serve business owners with.
- A Work With Me page – If you already have a website up and running, adding a simple Work With Me page highlighting who you are, what you do and who you do it for is a great way to share information with potential clients who are interested in your services. This can even be a great way to start a simple, one-page website and put yourself out there as you’re building it out.
When it comes to social media, I recommend keeping 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.
5. 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. In my experience of teaching literally thousands of new VAs over the last several years, client growth happens exponentially.
Meaning that 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, confidence and again, consistent action-taking. Once those ingredients begin to kick in, momentum builds and the growth process becomes easier.
7 Steps to Landing and Keeping Your First Virtual Assistant Client
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 Virtual Assistants.
Step #3: Begin building relationships with potential clients.
Sometimes I call this courting simply because I want you to understand that building relationships — even business relationships — takes time. Although cold pitching is the best way to start landing clients quickly, in the long run, the best clients are a result of strong relationships that come from authentically networking and making connections.
Step #4: Pitch for new VA jobs daily.
Until your business grows to the point where referrals are consistently rolling in, you need to rely on pitching your Virtual Assistant services. To put it another way, if you want work, you’ll have to go looking for it because when you first launch your business, clients won’t come find you. I recommend pitching daily, sending at least ten pitches per week and following up on previous pitches consistently. I also recommend making it one of the first things you do each day — part of my “always be marketing” philosophy.
Step #5: Offer a trial period for your Virtual Assistant services.
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.
In The #FullyBookedVA System, we provide leads to new and experienced VAs. These leads are typically business owners who are looking for help to grow or scale their businesses. 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 create a regular schedule for checking in with your client to make sure their needs are being met.
Step #7: Make yourself irreplaceable.
If you’re 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 and small business owners 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 and that’s a win-win scenario!
Balancing Your VA Business and Client Work
As a Virtual Assistant, your goal is to help entrepreneurs and small business owners successfully run and grow their businesses. It can be an extremely rewarding process to help someone bring their vision to life and achieve their goals.
At the same time, however, don’t forget that you’re also building your own business. It will definitely serve you to set boundaries and expectations and run your business in a way that works for you. If you don’t take care of yourself and your business, growth and satisfaction are usually the first two things to suffer.
One of the ways you can approach this is to set aside clear blocks of time in your week to work on your business, versus in your business. Adopt the mindset of treating yourself like a client – after all, your business, goals and dreams are just as important as your clients’, right?
Working in your business refers to delivering services and the actual work you’ll do for your clients. Working on your business includes things like:
- Tending to your VA-dedicated social media profiles.
- Sourcing, pitching and following up with potential clients.
- Pursuing marketing strategies like creating blog content or attending virtual networking events.
It’s easy to get caught up in client work and to view all your available time as time you could be exchanging for money. Don’t get caught up in this “employee mindset,” though. The work you do on your business is crucial to its long-term success and sustainability.
But Isn’t the VA Market Saturated?
Lastly, one of the questions I field occasionally is about whether there’s still a demand for Virtual Assistants and is there enough demand that one can charge decent rates.
If you recall, I started this post off with the statement that there’s never been a better time to learn how to become a Virtual Assistant – because it’s absolutely true! Freelancing, in general, has been on a major rise over the last decade. In fact, the number of freelancers in the US has been on a steady rise (8.1% over the last 4 years), and if this trend continues it’s predicted that 50% of our workforce will be working from home in 10 years.
Particularly in the context of the pandemic and the radical shift in our workforce, more and more business owners are turning to contracting out for their needs. While working remotely has been on the rise, it’s become not only an acceptable way to work but a preferred way for many businesses.
I mentioned previously that there are definite financial “perks” for business owners to contract out for services, and there are others as well. Consider this list:
- On average a business owner can save up to $11,000 per employee every year just by outsourcing to at-home contractors.
- Virtual Assistants specifically can save up to 78% on operating costs annually.
- On-site employees experience higher levels of job-related stress (32%-37%) than remote Virtual Assistants (17%).
- The Virtual Assistant industry has grown from approximately $85 billion to over $100 billion in the last three years.
- More than half of Virtual Assistants (59%) hold full-time positions.
If you weren’t sure if being a Virtual Assistant is really a “thing” or whether it’s an industry that’s not only not going anywhere, but that is on the rise – those are some pretty compelling statistics!
The other part of my response to this question also involves something I touched on earlier – choosing services (for the longer-term, not “starter services”) that you can specialize in. A primary reason I help VAs not only start their businesses but also teach them how to scale their businesses is that this is how you ensure a stable, long-term, sustainable business that will not only “pay the bills” but that can open the doors to endless possibilities.
Scaling a VA business can be done a few ways, but one of the primary methods for doing so is specializing your services. As an “expert” in a particular service area a VA can accomplish a few things:
- Make the shift from being a “doer of tasks” to more of a business consultant.
- Provide a specialized service that is in high demand in the marketplace.
- Command higher rates.
- Ensure their relevancy over time and their ability to stay competitive.
In essence, specializing your services is a way to set yourself above the rest, grow a business and scale your income over time.
When you consider that the demand for Virtual Assistants is on the rise and that there are many, many avenues to building a long-term, scalable business, the question of market saturation becomes, well, irrelevant.
Your Next Steps
If starting your own VA business is something you’re passionate about, including all the amazing perks and opportunities for living a life by design that it offers, your next step should be to educate yourself. And while information and learning are crucial to any new endeavor, I’m also a big believer in the power of a supportive community and learning from others who have already been down the road you want to travel.
The #FullyBookedVA System offers a complete, step-by-step walkthrough of exactly how to get your business started and find those first few clients with its cornerstone course, VA Foundations. It’s also a place to be part of a close-knit community of successful Virtual Assistants who are open to sharing their knowledge and experience – and celebrating successes and providing accountability.
In addition to VA Foundations, there are six skills courses designed to help you level up your services when you’re ready, and #FBVA members also have access to weekly group coaching calls, client leads and live training sessions. When it comes to starting, building and scaling a successful service-based business as a VA, we’ve left no stone unturned!
No matter where you’re starting from, the most important thing is to start – and keep moving. The only people who don’t succeed at this are the ones who quit, and getting started as a VA is one of the most powerful ways I know to break in online and open entrepreneurial doors and opportunities you may not even be able to imagine right now.
As I’ve said previously in this post, the sky really is the limit!
Ready to start your journey as a Virtual Assistant? Get started here with The #FullyBookedVA System!