How to Become a Virtual Assistant: What You Need to Know

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When anyone asks what the best freelance job is for someone with no experience, I tell them: become a virtual assistant. Well, that’s not exactly true. The first thing I tell them is to pick something they are good at, then offer it as a service in a freelance capacity. If they are having trouble figuring out what they are good at, that’s when I bring up the idea of becoming a freelance VA. 

What Is a Virtual Assistant? 

A virtual assistant is someone who provides administrative support to businesses from a remote location. The duties of a virtual assistant can vary depending on the business’s needs and the skills of the VA. 

While any business can hire a virtual assistant, it’s the single entrepreneurs of growing businesses who are finding that they have less time to manage the company’s simple yet critical day-to-day tasks. A virtual assistant with the proper skills can free them up to focus on the work that only they are qualified to perform. 

What Services Can a Virtual Assistant Offer? 

There are no hard and fast rules around what services can be offered by a virtual assistant. It depends on the needs of the business and the skillset of the VA. If there is a limitation, it would be that services are delivered remotely, though, with today’s technology a lot can be accomplished with a laptop and a wifi connection. To give you a better idea, here is a list of the most common virtual assistant duties:  

  • Bookkeeping 
  • Content management/creation
  • Customer support 
  • Data Entry 
  • Email account management 
  • Facebook ads 
  • Graphic design 
  • Photo or video editing
  • SEO/keyword research 
  • Social media management 
  • Transcription
  • Travel arrangements 
  • Website maintenance

Why Do Businesses Hire Virtual Assistants? 

You may be wondering why a business would hire a virtual assistant instead of a traditional employee. There are several reasons. Often, the business owner lacks the physical space to have an employee on location. Also, hiring a freelancer on a contract basis is less complicated than worrying about employee benefits, income tax reporting, etc. And while a virtual assistant can perform a variety of duties, the business may only need them for a limited number of hours each week, or temporarily. 

How Much Do Virtual Assistants Get Paid?

Several factors determine how much you can make as a virtual assistant. A more experienced VA will be able to charge higher rates. The pay will also depend on the types of services you are able to provide. 

For example, a virtual assistant who has website design, WordPress maintenance, or graphic arts skills can charge more than someone who can only perform simple tasks such as managing email accounts or data entry. A virtual assistant who can do all of these things will be in high demand.

A new VA can expect to charge around $20/hour, while a more experienced virtual assistant can command as much as $50 an hour. That sounds pretty good, but keep in mind that all of your work expenses come out of your income as a freelancer. Rarely are they covered by the client. 

Expenses can include your laptop and accessories, tools that you pay for, travel costs, etc. Most of all, you have to account for income taxes. Because you are operating as a contract worker, your client is not submitting any income tax on your behalf. For this reason, I recommend that before you set your prices, decide how much money you need to keep after all expenses have been covered, and work your way up from there. 

How to Become a Virtual Assistant with no Experience  

You’ve made it this far, and the thought of becoming a virtual assistant still sounds appealing. The good news is that you don’t need any experience to land your first gig as a VA, but there are some steps you should follow: 

1. Determine what services you are going to provide.

Your first step is to figure out what service(s) you will provide from the outset. Don’t feel as though you have to be an expert at everything. You only have to know one or two to get started, and you can build from there. Many VA’s learn on the job, as their clients will often train them to perform additional tasks. Many businesses need help with basic tasks such as email account management or scheduling social media posts. 

2. Set your initial price.

I touched on this earlier. You may not be able to charge a high price out of the gate, but you’re not in this to lose money either. The best thing to do is figure out how much money you want to have in your pocket after all of your income taxes and expenses are covered, then add those amounts to your desired profit. 

It’s always good to speak with an accountant regarding the amount you should hold back for taxes, and rates vary depending on where you live, but a good rule of thumb is to set aside at least 30% of your gross earnings to be safe. 

3. Choose an industry niche. 

If you already have the tools required for the job, such as a laptop, you may not have much in expenses. That’s the beauty of remote work. Still, you need to factor that into your rates.

No rules prevent you from working with clients in multiple industries, but it helps to pick a niche and focus on building a name for yourself in a particular sector. Don’t worry about there not being enough jobs when you narrow your potential pool of clients. Trust me; there will always be enough jobs. 

4. Land your first client.

Easier said than done, right? At some point, you need to go out and get your first client. I’ll show you how to do this in more detail a bit later, but a good place to start is in your existing network. 

Consider offering your services to businesses in your area. Set up a Facebook Page for your freelance business and get the word out in your local community Facebook group. 

5. Start your website.

I’m a huge believer that anyone serious about their freelance business should have their own website. The only reason this is number 5 on my list, and not number 1, is because it’s even more important to get started. 

For many, the idea of building a website can act as a major roadblock, one that might prevent them from launching their business and landing their first client. 

It’s ok to wait until you have a few jobs under your belt to start building your site. When you do, I recommend going with a WordPress site hosted by SiteGround or any other reputable service, but any website where clients can find you will suffice. 

6. Upgrade your skills 

You can do this anytime, but once you’ve gained some experience working with a few different clients, it’s the perfect time to consider adding a skill or two. You’ll begin to notice opportunities – additional needs your clients may have, and this will help you decide what skills you need to upgrade. 

The good news is, you don’t need a college degree. Nowadays, you can learn just about any skill only by watching YouTube or taking an online course. 

7. Re-visit your pricing. 

By this point, you’ve worked with several clients, and you’ve gained confidence in your virtual assistant side hustle or career. In all likelihood, you’ve also upgraded some skills. It’s now time to re-visit your pricing. To help, I highly recommend the book Pricing Freelance Projects, by Tom Hirst. Tom earns six-figures as a web developer and knows more than a thing or two about how to price yourself as a freelancer. If you’re looking for a free resource, this article on freelancer pricing is also helpful. 

Where to Find Virtual Assistant Jobs

You’ve decided on the VA services you’re going to offer, and you know how much you want to charge. All you need now is customers. Here are a few places to start looking. 

Freelancing Websites

Freelancing sites like Upwork and Fiverr connect freelancers across all disciplines, with businesses looking to hire. And while a site like Upwork is a legit place to find your first client, freelancing sites have several drawbacks. 

The odds of finding good-paying gigs are few and far between because many of the clients have smaller budgets, the website takes a large cut of your fee (as high as 20% in Upwork’s case), and a lot of freelancers are competing for jobs.

On a positive note, once you reach a point where you’re making more money, the fees decrease, and it gets easier to find clients as your profile grows. 

Online Job Boards 

Several websites feature online job boards where you can apply for freelancing opportunities. As opposed to freelance marketplaces, job boards are usually free, and the clients tend to be better paying. I can attest to this. I landed a five-figure job via the ProBlogger job board. It was my first paying client, believe it or not! Here’s a list of some of the top online job boards. 

Attend Conferences In Your Niche

This one can be expensive, but it can also be one of the most effective ways to find clients. Earlier, I mentioned choosing an industry niche for your freelance business. A logical next step is to attend a conference in that niche, where loads of potential clients will be hanging out. It’s a great way to network and build relationships, which, in my opinion, is the single best thing you can do to grow your freelance business. 

Social Media

You don’t have to attend a conference to network with potential clients in your industry. A more affordable, and less time-consuming option is to join Facebook Community Groups in your niche. 

Once you’re in, avoid making the hard pitch as you risk coming on too strong. Instead, add value to the group. Chime in when someone is requesting advice, and don’t be afraid to ask others for help. 

Over time, people will begin to recognize you as someone they trust. At that point, you can start to get the word out about your VA services. Other social media channels, such as LinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram, can also be powerful marketing tools. 

Offer to fill in temporarily.

When you see a business looking to hire, on social media, for example, let the owner know that you’re available to fill-in temporarily until they find the right candidate. Finding the right person can take time, and there’s a good chance that they’re in a bit of a jam until then. 

Without making a long-term commitment, they may be more than willing to take you up on your offer. And who knows, if you do a great job, it may be you that moves to the front of the line. I happen to know of a freelance writer who employs this tactic regularly, with success.  

Search businesses in your your local area

There’s a good chance that you know some business owners in your local area. Ask around to find out if anyone needs administrative help. Even if you live close by, you can still work independently in a freelancing capacity.

What Is an Overseas Virtual Assistant? 

Modern technology and remote work have created a truly global marketplace. In the freelance world, this means that businesses can hire virtual assistants located just about anywhere. In recent years, there has been a trend toward hiring overseas virtual assistants for apparent reasons. 

For one, a business can pay an overseas virtual assistant a living wage at a fraction of the cost of hiring domestically as many foreign countries’ currencies are undervalued against the U.S. dollar. This doesn’t mean that all virtual assistant services are moving overseas, however. 

While countries like the Philippines are full of capable, skilled workers, there can be disadvantages to working with an overseas virtual assistant. Depending on the business’s needs, the following can be problematic: English language skills, internet connectivity issues, different time zones, difficulty sending payment, lack of cultural understanding (on both sides). 

As a result, many businesses will decide that it’s worth the increased cost of hiring freelancers that live in the U.S. or Canada. 

Final Thoughts on How to Become a Virtual Assistant 

As with any freelancing business or other creative venture, the best advice is just to get started. Don’t wait until you’re ready because you’ll never feel like you are. I love virtual assisting because almost everyone has at least one or two of the skills required to find their first client. It’s easy to build from there. Other freelance jobs, like writing, graphic design, or web development, may pay more, but many people are making a living as virtual assistants. Will you be next? 

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