Qualities to be a stand-out Virtual Assistant

Qualities you need to be a stand-out VA

I know that setting up your own Virtual Assistant business seems like hard work so I’m very sorry to tell you that it’s actually the easy part. Being a successful VA isn’t simply helping someone with their admin or supporting their business, it’s knowing how to manage people. And, from listening to feedback from my clients and new enquiries, a lot of VAs are woefully lacking in the right skills.

I’ve actually been shocked and somewhat appalled by the stories I’ve heard. Stories that have not only been told to me by clients and new enquiries, but by previous VAs who are now looking to hire a VA of their own and can’t find one who comes up to scratch.

Essential Virtual Assistant qualities

Reliability

This is one of the most important ones because sadly it seems to be the most common. A disgraceful amount of clients have told me they’ve been let down by flaky VAs who’ve messed them about, haven’t fed back on their progress, or simply haven’t delivered at all.

Sometimes they’d had a chat, given the VA the brief – and then nothing.

The VA just disappeared, didn’t answer their calls or emails, and generally messed them about until they stopped chasing them and went off to find another VA who did want their business.

This is totally inexcusable and not only gives the Virtual Assistance industry a bad name, but the next Virtual Assistant they call has to take the brunt of the client’s suspicion and doubt about how effective using a VA actually is. I was embarrassed when I heard these stories – embarrassed and angry.

Professionalism is paramount in our industry so if a client calls you then ring them back, if you get an email then reply! It doesn’t have to be immediately but do it the same day for God’s sake.

Good communication skills

Leading on from the first point, you need to let the client know how their work is going, so establish how and when you should update them when they become a client as well as before you begin each new task.

I have one client who likes Friday updates, one who is happy to just let me get on with the task and chuck it into Dropbox when I’m done and another who likes daily feedback.

I update most clients by email but one prefers private Twitter messages, so ascertain how your clients want to be contacted and how often. If in doubt update the client at the end of each day and if you’re running behind schedule then tell them asap.

If a client is constantly having to chase you for updates then assume you’re not doing your job properly.

Time-management

Research apparently says you should focus on just one thing and that it’s inefficient to multi-task, but it’s kinda what we do for a living! Of course you need to focus on the task at hand, but you’re also going to be working with multiple clients who all think they’re your only/most important client.

You’ll probably have numerous things to do in a day so plan ahead (leaving time for unplanned things to drop in) and schedule tasks for when you’re at your most efficient. I use a Google Calendar and mark personal things in pink and work stuff in blue.

I know I write better in the mornings so I try and schedule meetings for the late afternoon. I also enter all my work tasks into my calendar (including planning time) so I realistically know whether I have time to get everything done.

Resourcefulness (or not being thick)

I often get emails from wannabe VAs asking me technical questions they could easily find using Google or asking me how much my training costs when they haven’t even bothered to read the entire page I’ve written on the course.

You’re going to get asked to do a lot of things you’ve never done before and you’re just going to have to find out how to do them. VAs are required to provide solutions and solve problems for clients… that’s the whole point of us!

If you don’t have the ability to work around a problem and find out how to do something then you won’t be a good VA.

You’re not Yoda so it’s unrealistic to assume that you’re going to know how to do everything, but you need to have the nouse to go and find the info out for yourself. As long as you’re honest with a client about the extent of your abilities then you’ll be fine.

Clients don’t expect you to know everything either (well unless it’s something in your specific niche that you should know). Tell them you’ve never done that particular thing before but you’re happy to find out how to (in your own time obv) and will get back to them.

You need to keep learning so watch YouTube videos, do skills swaps with other VAs, ask questions on VA forums and generally swot up. Try to keep on top of what’s moving and changing in both your industry and the world of technology – decide what things you want to learn more about then investigate them.

If a client wants a spreadsheet reordered alphabetically then Google how to do it!

Managing expectations and instilling confidence

You not only need to know your stuff, you have to make sure the client knows that you do. Often a client has never worked with a VA so if you seem hesitant about what you can do and how it all works, then they’re going to seriously doubt your ability to help them.

A new client will probably be looking to you to lead them through the process so you need to know and explain how you work. This mainly comes with experience but practice your new enquiry spiel or do some role plays or even some voluntary work for a business owner you know so you can get a testimonial and do a trial run if you’re worried about this.

You may have to ‘fake it until you make it’ confidence-wise when dealing with a potential client (they’re just another person and won’t bite you), but you do need to have a certain level of self-confidence in yourself when running your own business because your success is totally down to you – and you need to be accountable for that.

Adding value

My ex-VA friend who now runs a new business says she’ll only hire a VA if she can see it’s more than just a job for them.

She wants value and she wants the VA to go the extra mile and not just do the minimum amount they can get away with. She needs to feel the VA is invested in the success of her business, is trustworthy, reliable and isn’t someone she has to worry about or chase after.

And she’s more than happy to pay top dollar for those qualities.

Working alone

I once read an article on Freelance Folder on how to combat loneliness. Apparently it’s quite common for Freelancers to feel lonely which surprised me as I’m completely happy working by myself and had never considered that some people might miss having others around.

You can use co-working spaces of course and I sometimes work from coffee shops when I have some research or data entry to do, but being by yourself all week is something to consider.

What other VAs say:

I have a Facebook group that currently has over 3000 members in it from all over the world. I recently asked them what qualities they thought were essential to be a good Virtual Assistant and the results were:

  1. Good communicator
  2. Resilient / thick skinned
  3. Dependable / reliable / consistent
  4. Versatile / flexible / Adaptable
  5. Confident
  6. Resourceful
  7. Organised
  8. Understanding / empathetic / tolerant / patient
  9. Trustworthy / honest
  10. Professional
  11. Accessible
  12. Approachable
  13. Problem solver
  14. Self motivated
  15. Proactive

Things to remember

  • If you mess up then fess up, fix it and don’t charge for it.
  • If the client isn’t happy with the work then it’s probably your fault for not ascertaining/clarifying the perimeters of the task.
  • You’ll need to motivate yourself to work. Every. Single. Day. Forever.
  • If you see a client can do something better, use your initiative and suggest it.
  • You’re going to have to market yourself forever because that’s what working for yourself entails. If you’re not happy with that then it’s not for you.
  • Your clients will all be different so you’ll need to adapt to their personalities and the way they work.
  • Sometimes it doesn’t always work out with a client and you need to fire them.

Conclusion

Not everybody has all these qualities, and if you don’t then you should seriously consider whether being a Virtual Assistant is right for you.

If you want to be a VA because you think it’ll be an easy life and easy money then you’re in for a shock because the reality is very different. It’s a brilliant life once you’ve nailed it but there can be a steep learning curve at first.

I actually used to write a lot of CVs for Freelancers who want to return to full-time employment. Their reasons included: they miss having company or people to bounce ideas off, they need a regular set income, they’re sick of having to find new business, they’re tired of juggling multiple clients and they don’t like that the buck stops with them.

So think hard about these things.

Running your own business is really hard work and it’s not for everyone, but if you not only have these qualities but can actually deliver them, you’ll be well on your way to being a fantastic, stand-out Virtual Assistant who does our industry proud.

Click here if you still want to learn to set up and run your own Virtual Assistant business.

35 Comments

Natalie Johnson

Oh my word! Here I am with all the qualities mentioned above and I still hesitate to put myself out there as a VA scared that I’m not going to “fit the profile of a good VA”. Thanks for writing this post, now I know I’m on the right track and need to get my ducks in a row so I can get started.

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Lynnette Davis

I just have to say Jo, I love your work. I can honestly say it’s easy to read and understand, honest and to the point. I take so much from it.
Thank you.

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Tess Ruiz

This is very timely Jo, as I am a starting newbie being an early retiree from the corporate. This makes realize the distinction to the VA world but will go for it. Thanks!

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Tracey Preater

Jo, thank you for another brilliant post. It never ceases to amaze me how many people want to become a VA but don’t know where to start or what to do or even know that much about it. It worries me. I always say RESEARCH! Why don’t they do it? We have this amazing and vast educational tool called Google, you can find anything you want and even stuff you never thought of. I am still on a learning curve and expect to continue to learn as technology changes so quickly. It is hard but I have never had any doubts that I made the right choice and keep plugging away. There is also mindset – you have to be able to step away from being an employee and become a business owner. You work with your clients to improve their business rather than work for them.

You do talk an awful lot of sense and I’m lucky that I found your website about a year ago, during my initial research – it became my bible. Thank you Jo

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Joanne Munro

Thank you Tracey, what a lovely thing to say! What worries me is when people say they’re thinking of becoming a VA because they need the money. It’s far easier to go and get a job in a shop or pub than it is to set up your own business. I’m disheartened when people think all they have to do is a little bit of admin here and there and they’ll make it as a VA because there’s loads more to what we do than that.

I’m still learning. I use Feedly to bring in news feeds from my favourite blogs – experts on SEO, marketing, social media, freelancing, technology etc – then make sure I read them to stay ahead of the game. You also have to like learning; if you’re doing it just because you feel you should then it’s going to be much harder and not enjoyable.

I agree with you on the mindset one too. The day I realised I didn’t have to take orders from one of my very first (and domineering) clients and fired her instead was a revelation. It can often take something like a nightmare client for you to realise that you work with them not for them. Your actions and the words you choose need to subtly make and keep the distinction clear.

I love it when people comment on here so thank you very much for your contribution. Much appreciated. x

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Dawn Williams

I am new member on here, to be honest its 5:35 in the morning and I have been up most of the early hours soaking in Jo’s VA information and CV writing site, Career Pioneers. I just wanted to say I am quite blown away by what has been imparted to me. I have over the last few days gone from strength to strength and learnt a lot of lessons of the calibre of professionals out here on the web, and Jo is just simply amazing – I will be contacting her shortly for professional help re writing my CV.

Thank you thank thank you Jo!!

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Joanne Munro

Thank you so much for your lovely comments Dawn, you must be shattered now! Drop me a line if you’d like your CV written and we can take it from there. x

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Jo Peirson

Thanks so much for your blunt and candid information on becoming a VA. I’ve been toying with the VA idea for a while now, having not worked since having my son 6 years ago. I’d love to have my own business, I have over 20 years admin experience, I’ve already spoken to a Training provider about updating my skill set and I’m still wondering if this is a good fit for me. I’m so scared of letting people down, by people I mean clients, I’m scared that I’ll find it hard to set boundaries so work and family life become too intertwined. But I keep getting all these references popping up everywhere about becoming a VA! Aggggghhhhh!!! Any advice please for the confused mum? Thanks

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Joanne Munro

Hi Jo, I can’t help you with your fears sadly as they’re things only you can fix. I can say that you’ll never know how you’ll handle anything until you give it a go. You’re worried you’ll let clients down – then don’t, you’re worried you’ll find it hard to set boundaries – you’ll adapt and work it out. These fears are in your head and are not yet real. What if you’re great at it and wish you’d tried sooner? At least you know what things you don’t want to happen so have awareness, that’s a good thing surely?

I’m not here to convince you to become one, only to guide you once you’ve made the decision. It sound like you have everything you need to become a VA, you just need the courage to try. What’s the worst that can happen? It doesn’t work out and you do something else! x

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Jo Peirson

Hi Jo, I’ve just been re-reading my post and your encouraging comments from last year. They made me smile! I’m going ahead and am excited for the challenges and lessons it will bring. Your website and the info on it are so amazingly helpful and I really do appreciate your candid approach. Thanks again. Jo xx

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Wai Fong Lai

Jo

Thank you for sharing your knowledge and experience – the good, the bad, and the ugly!

I’ve been trying with the idea of becoming a VA – doing loads of research, and attending business planning sessions – your words have reminded me to take the plunge (rather than wait ’til everything is perfect!)

I know it’s not going to be easy, but will make the most of the ups and downs along the way!

Thank you!

Wai

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Joanne Munro

Hi Wai, I’m very happy you’re ready to take the plunge now. It can be very tempting to research the whole thing to death when you just need to get started! Good luck! x

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Aboda

Thank you Joanne for the wonderful site, I have been on this site just a few times, since I met you on Quora, and I have found there is so much to learn in here in regards to Virtual Assistant work. It’s as if you are the person I have been looking for all this time ever since I began my journey into Internet work life.

I finally have started to see my destiny more clearly since I found your site just a few weeks ago. There is nobody who says it all so clearly and better than you do, I for one have a rather unique VA story that I would like to share with you, so please look out for my story in your inbox. The story is just about how the VA industry can and has helped me try fight poverty and daily life struggles from a slum in Africa.

Please expect my story soon, and Thanks again for the great site

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Cloudsecretary

Managing expectations and instilling confidence – these two should be discussed between the virtual assistant and the client before agreeing to any contract. For one thing, the virtual assistant needs to be clear of her abilities or capabilities to be able to give value to the client. For another, the client must be able to provide a clear picture of the tasks involved.

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Joanne Munro

I couldn’t agree more. Both things are vitally important when managing clients. Thank you for your contribution – much appreciated!

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Liz Debonnaire

I’m at a point in my life when the Corporate world has chewed me up and spat me out too many times.. I’ve wanted to become a Virtual Assistant for the past year or so since redundancy No 4! I’ve done quite a bit research into it and even have a couple of ‘introductions’ to work with but I’ve found it all a bit slow-going and once I get an itch I need to scratch it!!

I have spent the past couple of hours trawling through your various guides and general information and now feel even more driven to get started. I will follow up my introductions but at the end of the day, I need to be the driver behind my future and not totally rely on others to make this happen for me.

Thanks – I’ll be back!

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vidya

HI! I am from Mauritius and would like to start as a Virtual Assistant. Do you think this will bring me success in a country like ours.

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Joanne Munro

Hi Vidya, I don’t see why not. You look at what skills you have and then find people who need those things doing. Also, you’re virtual so can work for anyone in the World! Your job is to do some research by asking around and finding out. Use my blog post on The Best 3 Ways to Find Your First Client to help you. x

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Helen Gower

Great article. I tick all the boxes so I’m off to buy a bucket of confidence and start my amazing new career! As you can see, I’ve got my email address and website set up so there’s no stopping me now….is there????

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Joanne Munro

No, there is absolutely NO stopping you now! You’ve clearly grasped the concept of only having one life and being determined to live it on your terms so you never wake up one day full of regret. Go get ’em Helen!! x

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Lisa Wenborn

Hi Jo

Found you this week and downloaded your handbook. I set up my VA business in the 1 Oct and I’m hearing so many different things but your handbook was very easy to read confirmed what I already have in place and what I need to do which fortunately is not too much. I agree with you on the use of social networking for my business and am very alien to it so I have arranged one to one training with a local specialist in this area so that I can offer it to my clients. I have landed my first day’s work for next month along with some regular work through another VA company so it is all systems go which will give me more confidence to obtain and work with more clients. I know I have the qualities you mention above to make this work. Thanks for all the tips.

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Joanne Munro

That is great news Lisa! It sounds like you’re well on your way. You’re doing the right things and you have the right attitude – which is something you can’t learn. I’m really pleased my website has helped you and that you’re finding my tips useful. Feel free to attend my live Q&A session (details in the blue bar at the top of the site) or maybe listed to the replay if you can’t make it. x

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How to become a Virtual Assistant | Bloggers Making Money

[…] 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 […]

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Mariane

Good article listing these virtual assistant qualities. It is always saddening to hear about those clients who got a bad experience from their previous VAs. Those VAs who are messing up with their job, mess up with the clients and give bad reputation to the skilled and performing VAs. I am a VA for years now and I remember when I was a newbie. I never considered myself one because I do not want to give myself some justification why I cannot do my job. Newbie or not, you were hired because you had what it takes to perform the tasks. It is a matter of being serious about your job and considering the business your own.

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Joanne Munro

Thank you for your comment Mariane and you are so right. People seem to think because they’re new they somehow can’t do their job. They’re new freelancers not new at the task and are very much underselling themselves. x

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Joanna Macatiog

Hi,
I just recently embarked on this journey of becoming a Freelance Virtual Assistant and somehow, I realized that it’s really more of leading your own business to success than just following someone else’s lead towards theirs. The set of qualities you have written is absolutely a good read for a beginner like me. Talk about setting proper expectations! Thanks, Jo! Will be digging into more of your posts for helpful insights.

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Ludiah

This is very true! After hating virtual assistance for long, I came across this post several months a go. I can now say I discovered myself. Thanks

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