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
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.
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.
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.
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:
- Good communicator
- Resilient / thick skinned
- Dependable / reliable / consistent
- Versatile / flexible / Adaptable
- Understanding / empathetic / tolerant / patient
- Trustworthy / honest
- Problem solver
- Self motivated
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.
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.