Become a Virtual Assistant and live life on your terms

How to become a Virtual Assistant

Being a Virtual Assistant is awesome. It’s incredible in fact. I have a really enjoyable lifestyle and have worked from Vegas, Zurich, Rome, Provence, Oman,  the Canaries, Austin and Verona. But the life of a VA is not all unicorns and fairies – I worked my arse off to become successful, but I also learned a helluva lot in the process. And now I’m going to tell you everything you’ll need to know if you want to become a Virtual Assistant yourself.

How to start a Virtual Assistant business

(This article is just an overview on how to become a Virtual Assistant. Many of the below sections link to more detailed blog posts on that subject and you can see a list of all my blog posts on the Start Here page.)

Don’t listen to anyone (except me obv)

There are hordes of people out there called Naysayers who are colleagues, friends and even members of your own family who’ll try and put you off becoming a VA. They’ll frown and make noises and faces that imply you’re mad for even thinking about it. But you need to close your ears, smile sweetly, quietly go and set up your Virtual Assistant business and leave them wishing they had the courage to realise their own dreams.

Research

You’ll be doing a massive amount of research at the beginning and this website is just the start of it. Begin by reading everything you can on this site, look at other VA websites, think about how you want to present yourself, decide what services to offer, understand how to manage clients and discover what tools to virtually deliver your work.

Every VA has different skills so their business has to suit their own circumstances, wants and needs. So it’s down to you to interpret the information I provide to see how it applies to your own business and what you want to achieve from your own working life.

Look at your finances

Can you afford to go freelance?

Although there isn’t much initial outlay, it might take a while to get some clients. Then you have to allow for the time it takes to do their work, invoice them and wait for them to pay you. It’s true that there’s no better motivator than having to go out and find work, but it’s also nice to have a bit of a buffer!

Sit down and work out your monthly outgoings and see what you have to earn to survive. Your partner might be able to help you for a while or you may have some savings you can use. Although it’s brilliant to have a financial buffer, don’t use it as an excuse not to get started either – I found some work to keep me going for a few months then just jumped into the abyss.

The worst that can happen is that it might take you a while to get going and you supplement your income with a part-time job or you decide it’s not for you and you do something else instead.

There are enough people in the world to hire you, it’s just down to perseverance.

Decide on your brand

After you’ve decided what work you’d like to do you need to decide on your company name as well as 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 details and never actually do any work.

I would suggest making yourself different than the other VAs by creating a unique grown-up brand. I think of myself as a modern business woman and cringe when I see pink girlie cartoony websites but that’s just my personal opinion and (damned good) taste. It’s not the fifties any more and we’re a helluva lot more than ditsy little typists.

Sort the legal stuff

If you’re in the UK then you have to tell HMRC as soon as you start getting paid and register for National Insurance contributions as well. You’ll also need to decide whether to be a limited company, Vat registered or a sole trader, whether to get a business bank account and if so then with whom, and you’ll need to keep accurate financial records.

Click here to sign up for exclusive subscriber-only content and freebies plus a free guide on what you need (and don’t need) to set up your own successful VA business.

Find a niche and specialise

It’s definitely better to have a niche so instead of thinking about what people might want and then offering those services, work out what you’re good at, what you like doing and what you want to keep doing – then find people who need those services.

Your niche might be your services, the types of people you work with, the industry you serve or combination of all those things.

If you have a niche then you become the go-to person in that area (either physical location area, skill set industry or subject area) and you’ll get enquiries that match your chosen field.

There’s no point in leaving your job to be a Virtual Assistant if you end up taking on work you don’t like and, although you need to bring home the bacon, doing enjoyable work should be your main goal.

My 3-step course shows you exactly how to work out your niche if you’re struggling.

Decide what to charge

You’ll need to decide on your rates. You could charge by the hour, by the project, or have retainer rates – or usually a combination of all of them! I’m slightly more expensive than some other VAs but I make sure my website clearly outlines that I specialise in specific areas and why I’m worth the money.

You get better and faster the longer you’re in business so your fees should reflect this.

Your rates will therefore vary depending on your level of expertise, your client base and your industry. It’s much harder to raise your fees than it is to lower them and you shouldn’t undervalue your skills.

Women often undersell themselves and you’re not some silly little admin girl; you’re a valuable resource and people who understand that will happily pay for your expert help.

I’ve also learned that anyone that baulks at your rates is someone you should be extremely wary of working with.

Market your socks off

Add your company to local business directories (you’ll get loads of sales calls but you’ll need the SEO at first), join LinkedIn, go networking and try out as many types of marketing as you can to find what works for you. I actually don’t need to do any networking or marketing any more and I only use ONE method to get new clients.

Find out how I get my own clients
30 VA services you could offer
The 3 best ways to find your first client
23 ways to market your business

Network like mad

When you tell people you’re a Virtual Assistant most of them will stare at you like idiots. The penny usually only drops when you give examples of the kinds of tasks you do as they can then see how your service would make their lives easier.

When I called a VA way back when I first started researching, I asked her if she’d do anything differently if she had to start again. She said she wouldn’t have printed any flyers but would’ve done more networking instead. If you’re a VA that works within your local area rather than completely virtually then networking is a great way to get your name known.

Use social media (or don’t)

I often get work through Twitter and I use LinkedIn to research prospects and grow my network. A social media presence will definitely enhance your SEO and visibility so try to get to grips with it. I personally like Twitter and use my Feedly RSS reader to collate relevant information which I schedule through Buffer to go out over the next two days.

You can’t be on Twitter all day or you’ll never get any work done, but schedule some useful information that shows you know your business and pop online when you have the time to talk to people and build relationships.

If social media isn’t your thing then don’t go near it. It’s better to leave it than make a pigs ear of it.

How to be da bomb at Twitter.

Share and collaborate

I’ve found that knowing all the other VAs in my area has been extremely beneficial to my business. We exchange resources, pass on work, support each other and even teach each other new skills.

Don’t see other VAs as competition because your area of expertise is probably different than theirs. Virtual Assistants have businesses and problems that are unlike other freelancers so it really does help to know someone who understands your line of work and can offer advice based on experience.

Online groups are also very useful. When I was deliberating over which Time Tracker to choose, I looked at a LinkedIn VA Group discussion and tried all the ones mentioned until I found one I liked. I often listen in to groups to see what apps they use and how they overcome problems. They’re also a great community who are always happy to help other VAs.

Join my thriving, friendly Facebook group and chat with like-minded people.

Keep learning

I cannot tell you how important it is that you keep learning and stay on top of new developments – not only in your industry but with new technology and ways to work. If you keep your skills up to date then you’ll have a more varied and valuable skill set and will be worth more money.

It sounds like you have to be Wonder Woman to be a great Virtual Assistant – because you do.

You’re administrator, researcher, book-keeper, marketer, web designer, copywriter and a billion other things – and all this before you even do a single stroke of work for your clients.

You might not even be cut out for it but, if you 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.

I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t hard work, but I’d also be lying if I also said it wasn’t totally and utterly worth it.

Want to set up your own Virtual Assistant business? Find out more

44 Comments

Tracey Preater

Awesome! I love it, so much really helpful info. I have spent the last couple of months setting up a VA business – there was a ‘eureka’ moment over Christmas and the path is set. Still working full time but have secured a good redundancy package and will finally be able to launch during the summer, once released from my contract. I recognise a lot of what you say, especially when you tell people of the intentions! Oh, the blank looks and the “really?” comments. The comment about the chicken sexer made me laugh out loud. I am absolutely confident that I am doing the right thing. Luckily there have been no really negative responses – family have been positive and helpful. There have even been requests for help already. The website is almost there – not perfect, will still need a few tweaks but more or less good to go. I love your use of plain english and I must get out of the habit of business-speak – I hate it. You have given a lot of food for thought and I am re-considering some of the services that I have listed. They may provide ‘bread and butter’ work but won’t necessarily be enjoyable, the more specialised areas are probably the ones I should promote. My LinkedIn profile will have a major overhaul once I leave work, it’s more or less written but I still have the day job to consider.
Thank you for all the fantastic advice, all that remains now is to buy the ‘how to get new clients’ information. I’m intrigued.
All the best

Tracey

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Joanne Munro

Hi Tracey, thank you so much for your comment – it sounds like you are well on your way to becoming a successful VA. I’m really pleased you found my info helpful and even more pleased you’re thinking of reconsidering your core services. Making money is great of course, but making money doing the tasks you love whilst improving and developing skills, is much better. Having a speciality is far better (see the VA interviews for evidence of this) and then when you do buy my guide, you’ll see exactly how easy it is to find and secure your ideal client.

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Caroline Pickup

Thank you for providing so much information and great advice this is just what I was looking for.

I currently work part-time but would love to work from home for more flexibility around child are. Just can’t see how to start a va business and work too!

Anyway I was just wondering what legal contracts one would need to have in place ?

Many thanks
Caroline

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Joanne Munro

Hi Caroline, you don’t really need any legal contracts in place. You’re just working as a freelancer for hire. You can get insurance if you like but I don’t so, as long as you tell HMRC that you now work for yourself, you’re good to go! x

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Dee Bleigh

How about people with Full time jobs and doing VA business on the side?

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Joanne Munro

Oh yes, you can do anything you like and any type of system set up that works for you. Some of my trainees get clients and do their full-time job until they’re so busy they can’t cope, some do their job part-time and VA part-time and others just do their fill-time job and have extra work with no intention of leaving their job. How you make money and live your life is entirely up to you – that’s the great thing about it! x

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Beatha

Hi Joanne,

Thank you so much for the article, it is quite helpful. I’m still working full time, but would like to become a VA. I’m thinking that i will consider leaving my full time employment once the business has picked up as i’m a single mom.

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Karen

Hi Joanne

My husband has been telling me for ages now to think about becoming a virtual pa, but I’ve always been scared of taking the risk of not having any work or not being any good, although after 30 years as a PA I guess I must be good at something! However reading your website has made me think that there really is no reason why I can’t give it a try and have been interested to read that you think that part time working is feasible as I currently work three days a week. I have also passed on your details to a friend of mine who was also thinking about it, so maybe you’ll have helped another two scaredy cats on the road to a better way of life.

Thank you
Karen

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Joanne Munro

Hi Karen, That’s great news! I’ve discovered lately that a lack of confidence is really common in people considering the VA life, but if you spent 30 years as a PA then someone must’ve thought you were good at it! I personally think it’s much better to try something and it not work out than to not try at all and always wonder. We only get one go at this life and playing it safe never led to any adventures. You get the work because you need to get the work. My guide shows you exactly how you do this and so it’s then just down to perseverance through not wanting to settle for mediocrity in a rubbish boring job.

People don’t seem to believe that they can pretty much do whatever they want to if they work at it. We’re not talking Rocket Scientist or Astronaut here, it’s just being a freelance PA.

I say go for it Karen. Do it now. x

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Gill

Hi Joanne

Thank you so much for all the information published on your website. I’m just starting out and have found myself going cross-eyed trying to process the vast amount of information available to new Virtual Assistants! The information you provide is so helpful and easy to read. Look forward to reading more of your tutorials.

Best wishes

Gill

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Joanne Munro

Hi Gill – you’ve just made my day! Thank you. I wanted the site to be exactly how you just described it, so I’m very happy I got it right. If there’s any info you’d like to see here then please let me know… I’ve definitely still got websites to cover!

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Ellie

I have done sales for the past 33 years could I use these skills to become a Va. Advice would be much appreciated.
Thanks Ellie

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Joanne Munro

Hi Ellie, luckily there are numerous types of Virtual Assistants covering an untold number of niches! Pretty much every skill is desirable in a freelance capacity to someone so just work your way through the site and have a good read of the How to Choose Your Niche blog post. x

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Jenny Churcher

I am seriously considering setting up as a Virtual Assistant, and need to know where to begin with basics like hardware, software, Companies House, tax, etc. I have a friend who’s willing to invest in helping me with the setup costs, but in don’t know how much that is.

What do I need to start doing NOW in order to get my business off the ground?

Many thanks,
Jenny

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Joanne Munro

Hi Jenny! First get my free guide on what you do and don’t need to set up, then go to the Start Here page and start reading the rest of my articles.There’s one on pretty much everything involved in setting up including HMRC. Starting a VA business is exactly the same as starting any freelance business so also check out other websites like Freelance Switch and Freelance Folder.

This site is mainly to show you where to start and not to talk you through every aspect of being a freelancer as there are plenty of sites out there solely focused on that. I set up with a laptop, Internet, a mobile phone, business cards and a basic website. You don’t need a ton of stuff – you just need clients!

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rubs

Hi!
I have all ready to go website, name, outlook, skype.. etc
The thing is that i have a lot of time at my current job like a lot so i want to start getting 1 or 2 or more client as a VA while i am at the office but i cant obviously use skype or the phone.
Is that possible?
and how will it work to make travel bookings, i mean essential needs without their credit card details like we do for our CEO?
once all ready to go, how do you start working?
thanks

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Joanne Munro

Hi there. I wouldn’t recommend either looking/working for clients on company time as it could get you fired! On your lunch break though you could research your ideal client (as outlined in my guide on how to get clients) and gather info about them so you can email them when you get home.

With travel bookings, I usually give my client all the details (itinerary, prices, times and the website URL) then they book the travel themselves. I also have some client’s card details so I can make the booking myself after they’ve okayed the itinerary and price. Those are more long-term clients where we’ve built up a trusting working relationship.

I’m not sure what you mean by “how do you start working” though. Can you clarify? x

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Ratko

Nice article Joanne, I really like the part of finding the niche and finding clients (a remark where you stated don’t look for detail rather find work).

I think a niche is really important. VAs may suffer from doing everything, and even if you’re a fast-learner and a talented businessman or woman, you would be investing time learning new things on a whole lot of different areas rather than honing skills on a few areas to greatness.

I have two points to add (one to ask:)) – if someone wants to try out being a freelance VA my suggestion is, think a bit about your decision before you start and jump head strong into it – I’m a firm believer that if you want to do something the right way, you should invest every essence of your being into it.

My second point is – why not look for work on freelance sites? Yes, you will find a lot of low priced projects that aren’t worth your time, but there are a lot of good priced ones as well.

Oh, and my last addition (apologies for the long comment), if you cater to a lot of clients, find a good project management software (or at least a to do list or something similar). I’m a project manager by profession, and managing a lot of projects/clients can get messy. I think nowadays some of the pm software are for freelancers as well.

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Joanne Munro

Thank you for your fantastic input Ratko! Yes, I agree a person should really invest every essence of their being into setting up their own business – if they can’t do that for their own business then they won’t do it for anyone else’s! I have a blog post on Freelancer jobs sites actually which I think people find useful. I don’t use a project management system but I know a lot of VAs do, so another good point there.

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Ratko

It’s worth checking out. I’m actually trying to create a VA platform, like a freelancing one just for VAs. That industry is getting bigger and bigger by the second.

In terms of the pm tool, it’s a really useful thing in project management. And as I’ve worked with a few clients at the same time, it’s vital to manage yourself as well. Haven’t tried the solo ones, but I guess they’re worth it. I manage my tasks with a to do list software (combined with my tasks through a pm tool related to a client) called Clear.

If you do look at to do lists, my two cents are – find a simple one. One where you can put the tasks you need to do (if priority scales are your gig, that’s great, they aren’t mine, maybe if the task list contains 50 tasks, but I can glance at 10 and know which one comes next), easy to tick them off and categorising them in folders is a plus if it’s for multiple clients

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Jennifer Powell

I am looking at making this a career option. I currently have no job and being a VA is appealing to me. I love organisation and helping people, but I am not sure I could really commit to this given my other goals and dreams.

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Joanne Munro

Hi Jennifer, then this isn’t the job for you. For most people being a VA IS their goal and dream. If it’s not yours and just something you think might earn you some money, then it won’t work out. Working for yourself is something you need to commit to and, if you;re not 100% into it, you won’t be successful. x

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Zoe

Hello Joanne Munro. Your article is really nice and kinda boost up my motivation of being a VA. I have been thinking of doing this job since 2 months now but don’t know where and how to start it. It’s really confusing. I have been thinking of joining a VA website and get myself hired. I don’t know if it’s a good idea to start off this job. I really need help. Your advises will be kindly appreciated. Thanking you in advance.

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Joanne Munro

Hi Zoe, I’d go straight to working for yourself rather than relying on work from a VA website (not than many of them exist) you build up a client base and all the money is yours. It’s not really like working for a temping agency or anything and you can earn a hell of a lot more by yourself. Sign up for my newsletter and it’ll take you through all the stages. x

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Cloudsecretary

The best way to becoming the best virtual assistant is by getting a lot of experience, learning from them and make necessary adjustments when things suddenly change.

Clients would fight over you.

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Sarah Lam

It’s really worth it to be a VA. With all the hardwork and difficulty in the beginning, it really pays off when you land your first customer (and many more to come!).

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Jayne

Hi, Jo. After leaving a full-time position 18 months ago, I have been working as a transcriptionist on a purely subcontract basis. I feel as if I am now in a position to source my own clients, offering other services in addition to the transcription. I came across your website when searching for particulars regarding client service agreements. I can’t tell you how helpful it has been to find such straightforward and uncomplicated information. I have downloaded several of your templates and also just purchased the Learn LinkedIn training package – exchange rate isn’t the best but I’m sure it will be worth it! I have devoured A LOT of VA information over the past few months and I haven’t come across anything as useful as what you provide. Thank you.

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Joanne Munro

Hi there – I cannot tell you how pleased I am to wake up and find this message from you. It’s not even half 9 in the morning and you’ve already made my day! I’ve just enrolled you on the course which I know you will find useful. Thank you again for leaving such a lovely comment; it always makes me happy when people take the time to write something. Have a great day, connect with me on LinkedIn and give me a shout if you need anything. x

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Audrey

“It sounds like you have to be Wonder Woman to be a great Virtual Assistant – because you do” – so true! I have a VA friend. She says that it is a great experience for her to be a virtual assistant. Everyday she is learning new things and considering a wide range of issues. Sometimes I ask her to help me with some tough tasks and she does them well all the time! I wondered how she do it so good and easy and she said – “I am studying all the time and improving myself”. I’ve been even thinking of becoming a VA too. But that is in process. Your articles boosts my desire. THANKS.

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Chetan Kulkarni

Hii there
Thank you for this useful information it gave me little bit more understanding about VA business as I am quite new to this VA world..
Let me tel you about myself I’m 23 years old indian I’ve done aircraft maintenance engineering, due to recession worked in sales and marketing industry,customer relationship jobs
Now I want to start VA business so that I can make atleast USD $300 a month (for my own living in india) and keep looking for a job in aviation industry (that’s my passion)
So do you think that it is possible to make atleast $100 to $300 a month in VA business (I know I have couple of different skills to become a VA bt need experts advice)
Thankyou so much

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Joanne Munro

Hi Chetan, I would definitely say so but how much you make depends on how munch work you put in marketing your business really. My trainees with marketing experience are always busy.

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richard villa abrille

Hi joanne,

You’re a blessing from heaven. Awesome information and very inspiring. I want to start somewhere but I don’t know how and what to offer. More power and success to come.
God Bless you.

Rc

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Annette

Hi Joanne!
THANK YOU so much for the helpful information. How well written and resourceful You are a true professional!
I am grateful and inspired by your assistance.
My best,
Annette

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Chris

Hi. I work full time and on a rotating 6-7 day shift pattern and frankly hate my job. I’ve been looking for another job without finding anything that appeals. I decided to take the approach of deciding what type of lifestyle I want and assessing my strengths and weaknesses and being a VA fits perfectly. I don’t intend to rush in and courses are certainly to be looked in to. On starting out alongside my full time job do you think my inability to commit to the same time each week (e.g. every Thursday morning) will make this a difficult business to start or gain clients. I also note that VA’s work a various locations or on holiday etc, so do they therefore take and make many calls on a mobile or are there VA’s who do virtually all of their work through online communication only? Thanks for your help and info. I intend to look in to this much further.

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Joanne Munro

Hi Chris, not being available to work on any given day shouldn’t be a problem at all. The best thing to do is what I did and not take on work that has to be done at specific times of the day or days of the week/month. I take on tasks where the person says “can you get it done by next Friday?” etc so I can just complete the task as and when I want.

You would be the business owner so you would decide what you wanted your business to look like and how you wanted it to run. Learning how to be in control is actually way harder than learning how to set up.

With regards to working virtually abroad yes, some VAs take actual holidays so they are unavailable to their clients (let them know in advance and put your voicemail and out of office on). most stake working holidays and others work as ‘Digital Nomads’ where they work and travel continuously. When I work abroad (I’m flying to the Canaries tomorrow actually!) I do all my communication online although I do have a mobile phone tariff that means I have free calls and texts while I’m away.

Looking at the tech info on Digital Nomad sites such as Hecktic Travels, Legal Nomads, Technomadia and Nomadic Matt’s Travel Site will help as they focus solely on how to work whilst travelling.

I hope that helps! x

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