How To Become a Virtual Assistant

Do you want to work from home or your local cafe by getting involved in one of the fastest growing opportunities since the advent of the internet? If your answer is yes, then you’ll want to know how to become a Virtual Assistant (VA).

But first of all, what is a Virtual Assistant?

A Virtual Assistant is a self employed professional who works from home (or wherever they can get an internet connection!) with a variety of business owners, entrepreneurs and companies. VAs can specialise in just a few services or offer a myriad of skills, depending on their skills and interests. The great thing is that you can offer your existing skills and know-how that you have perhaps gained in previous employment, so becoming a Virtual Assistant is something that is open to many people.

What is it like working as a Virtual Assistant?

Working as a Virtual Assistant makes for a very flexible lifestyle. You can work from home, your local library or internet cafe, or even while travelling overseas. It’s a truly portable business, so if you decide to relocate to a different country, it doesn’t have to affect your business at all.

You create your own schedule, so if you’re an early bird you can get a head start on the day and get tons of work done before lunchtime, or if you’re a night owl you can plan to get work done later in the day.

If you have children, you’ll find the Virtual Assistant lifestyle a perfect fit for you because of the opportunity to earn an income while being at home with your family, and the huge savings you’ll enjoy by not having to pay for expensive child care costs.

Additional cost savings come from not having to invest in corporate attire and not having to pay for public transport or petrol to get to work.

What Services Do Virtual Assistants Provide?

When the Virtual Assistance industry first came into being, most VAs typically offered administrative, secretarial and design support, for example:

  • Word processing
  • Transcription
  • Document formatting
  • Diary management
  • Organising travel
  • Research
  • Phone answering
  • Data entry
  • Editing, proofreading
  • Desktop publishing
  • Graphic design

However, as Internet Marketing and Social Media have gained more prominence over the years, more and more Virtual Assistants have moved beyond secretarial and administration tasks, into:

  • Social Media marketing
  • Copywriting
  • Audio/Video editing
  • YouTube marketing
  • Organising webinars and teleseminars
  • Internet marketing: Search Engine Optimisation, autoresponders, newsletters
  • Managing membership sites
  • Blog design and management

Personally, I started out as a Virtual Assistant by offering my existing skills at the time which were typing, editing, proofreading, research, Powerpoint presentations, Word and Excel. I had worked as an Executive Assistant for over ten years in a variety of corporate settings, and it was very useful to leverage those skills and experience into my Virtual Assistant business. I then evolved and expanded my service offerings by taking online and offline courses in web design and internet marketing. I love learning new software and marketing strategies so it was a natural progression for me, and one which really paid off in terms of attracting new clients.

Virtual Assistants Are In High Demand

Media coverage of the Virtual Assistance industry has been growing, which has meant that ever increasing numbers of entrepreneurs are turning to Virtual Assistants as a solution to being time-poor and not being able to afford a traditional employee.

With a Virtual Assistant, the business owner only has to pay for time worked, rather than having to incur all the usual costs of employing someone full-time or even part-time such as sick pay, holiday pay and other benefits. This is a much more flexible and beneficial way of delegating projects and tasks, and frees up valuable time for entrepreneurs so that they can work on their business, not in their business.

The Virtual Assistance industry has grown to such an extent that even larger companies are making the most of working with Virtual Assistants.

What type of businesses need Virtual Assistants? Practically any type of business can work with a Virtual Assistant! I have worked with business coaches, public speakers, consultants, internet entrepreneurs, lawyers, schools, a finance broker, a dentist, a personal trainer, a mining company and a gym, amongst others. I specialise in the technical and digital marketing side of things and love the variety of working with different industries and applying my skills and knowledge in new environments.

If you wish, you can choose to work with a specific industry, in other words you can choose to work with a “niche”. For example, there are Real Estate Virtual Assistants and VAs who only work with public speakers and coaches.

Another way of choosing a niche is to specialise in terms of the services you offer. As mentioned, I specialise in digital marketing and technical projects. In terms of other niches, I have come across VA s who have niched down to providing book publishing services, admin, transcription, event organisation etc. The benefits of establishing your niche are that you stand out from other Virtual Assistants (there are lots of generic VAs), and your marketing is made easier because you’re more focused.

The great thing about becoming a Virtual Assistant is that you get to make your own choices and create a business which suits your individual personality and passions.

Does It Pay Well?

If you’re located in the Western world, hourly rates range $35 – $100 per hour depending on the task performed, skills and experience. You may notice rates as low as $5 and $8 per hour on various freelance job boards but these rates are offered by people based in India, China and the Philippines with a less expensive cost of living.

In addition, working with a Virtual Assistant whose mother tongue is not English can be challenging, and this is reflected in the lower hourly rate. From a client’s point of view it’s completely different working with a $5 per hour Virtual Assistant and a $40+ per hour Virtual Assistant, in terms of efficiency and ease of communication. There are many reports of clients having to get work redone after having worked with a $5 per hour VA and being frustrated at misunderstandings during the working relationship. So, although there are lots of VA companies supplying Virtual Assistants at rock bottom rates, rest assured that there is still, and always will be, a huge market for VAs who offer a personalised, high quality service, which is reflected in the rate charged.

How To Become a Virtual Assistant

1. Do a self assessment

The first thing you need to do on your journey to becoming a Virtual Assistant is to sit down and go back over your work and education history. What skills have you learned along the way? What kind of projects have you worked on? What industries do you have experience in? What are you particularly good at? What interests you the most?

Then give some thought as to what kind of things you would like to learn more about, that you could potentially offer clients.

This is a brainstorming exercise so write down everything that comes to mind and don’t edit anything out. By the time you have finished, you should have quite a few ideas of what skills you could offer as services, perhaps even an idea of what types of clients you could work with and some inspiration as to new skills you could learn in the future.

2. Decide on your business name

Get a piece of blank paper and write down as many keywords as you can which relate to your business. Have a look at other Virtual Assistants to get inspiration and to help trigger your own ideas. Some Virtual Assistants use their own names as business names, and others create names based on the services they provide. Try to keep your name short and catchy, and while you’re at it, look into whether the name (or a similar name) is available as a domain name for your website.

3. Set up an appropriate business structure

The best way to do this is to consult your local business association or an accountant to find out what your options are. In general, you can set yourself up as a sole proprietor, which is the cheapest and most basic type of business structure, or a company, which is more complex but has certain advantages in terms of limiting liability to the company itself, rather than the individual business owner. This may sound confusing but actually it’s quite straightforward if you seek out proper advice specific to your individual location.

4. Create your working environment

Find a quiet spot at home where you can work without being disturbed. In terms of equipment, you don’t need a lot of bells and whistles to get started. Overheads for a Virtual Assistant business are very low, compared to other types of businesses. Here is what you need:

  • Desktop computer or laptop
  • Smartphone so that you can access the internet and reply to email while you’re out and about
  • High speed internet connection
  • Appropriate software related to the services you’re offering. E.g. Microsoft Word for wordprocessing and document formatting
  • All-in-one printer/scanner/fax

5. Set up a website

Becoming a Virtual Assistant means that you’re working with clients via the internet, hence getting a website is essential so that potential clients can see what you have to offer. Creating a website is a straightforward process these days and doesn’t have to cost lots of money. A professional website should include information about you, your skills and experience, your services, what a Virtual Assistant is and how you can be contacted. You could start with a simple one page website and add further pages and information to it later.

6. Create business cards

Another essential component of marketing yourself as a Virtual Assistant is creating professional business cards. Tell your friends and family about your new Virtual Assistance business and give them cards so that they can easily pass on your details to anyone they know who may be interested in working with you. When going about your daily activities, look out for opportunities to give out your business cards, as potential clients are everywhere!

7. Participate in social media

How To Become A Virtual Assistant

Potential clients are also on social media such as Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+ and Pinterest. Each platform has its own quirks and unique features so it takes time to get to know how to use them but it’s well worth the effort. Effective social media marketing is about building relationships and becoming visible by being helpful and sharing useful information. It’s not about jumping in and promoting your business off the bat, as that will only put people off. Approach social media by providing value to the community.

8. Get involved in forums

There are lots of online forums where entrepreneurs hang out to connect and share information. Similar to participating in social media, taking part in forums is very effective in getting your name out there and building relationships with people who could be interested in working with you. Include your website URL in your forum signature so that you are easily contactable.

9. Start a blog

Blogging goes hand in hand with getting involved on the social media platforms. Essentially, blogging is about sharing your thoughts, tips and know-how in articles that you publish on your website. A blog can easily be added to a website and the platform of choice is WordPress. Once you start blogging, you then share links to your blog posts via social media. This is a fantastic way of attracting potential clients to your online presence.

10. Check out opportunities on your local community

This is often overlooked on the path to becoming a Virtual Assistant, because many get into the mindset of only networking virtually. Look into opportunities to go along to local networking events in person and get talking to people. This is not as daunting as it sounds, if you view this as simply a way of making new acquaintances and getting out and about.

I hope this has given you some confidence as to the first steps to take in becoming a Virtual Assistant. As a long-term VA I would highly recommend this as a genuine and lucrative work-at-home opportunity with growing demand. Thanks to the internet there will be more and more entrepreneurs setting themselves up in business, which means an ever increasing potential client base for Virtual Assistants.

If you want to accelerate your path to becoming a successful Virtual Assistant, I have created a step-by-step system called “The 5 Key Steps To Your Virtual Assistant Business” which takes you through the entire process from start to finish. I have made lots of expensive and time-wasting mistakes along the way, and in the system I teach you how to avoid making the same mistakes on your VA journey. The System also includes templates for your business plan, marketing plan and start-up checklist. Find out more here

Image: Kate Hiscock 

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