15 harsh truths about what it means to be a Virtual Assistant

As you don’t need any formal qualifications to become a Virtual Assistant, there’s often confusion and misunderstanding in the VA Handbookers Facebook group around what being one entails. Because I sometimes see it described as an “easy side hustle”, I want to explain what it actually means to be a Virtual Assistant.

What it means to be a (good) VA

1) Just because there aren’t any formal qualifications, doesn’t mean you don’t need to have any admin skills.

2) It’s not something that you can just ‘have a go at’ or something that brings in easy money. You need to be good at what you do and ensure your clients receive impeccable service. It is definitely not a ‘side hustle’.

If you don’t commit to making your business a success, then it won’t be.

3) Running a business is hard work and shoddy work or mistakes should not be made if you are pitching yourself as a professional organiser.

You wouldn’t want your electrician or accountant to practice on you – you pay them good money to know what they’re doing.

4) People go into this industry because they have good admin and organisation skills. If your top skill is making websites and you love doing it then you’ll make far more money as a website developer/designer.

5) Offering everything to everybody is not a good business model. People are crying out for good administrators so please don’t offer social media management if you don’t know anything about it.

Posting a few updates on your Facebook page is completely different from formulating a business strategy and analysing metrics and ROI.

6) Clients expect good service, they want someone with skills, they expect you to know what you’re doing and they expect you to communicate well. They don’t know how it all works so they will look to you to lead them.

7) If a client has to continuously chase you for updates on the status of their tasks then I’m afraid you’re not very good at your job.

8) A great VA adds value to their client’s business and comes up with ways to make it run better. This is how they both build their reputation and prove they are worth the money.

They understand their client’s challenges and objectives, and then they provide solutions to both.

9) Every other freelance industry requires skills and virtual assistance is no different – I can’t draw so I’m not a tattoo artist. I have been asked by many disillusioned clients to fix their last VA’s mistakes, their bad experience made them doubtful of my skills (I had more to prove) and of outsourcing in general.

10) At the very least you need to know how to spell – especially if you offer copywriting, proofreading or editing. Virtual Assistants are administrators – that’s what they do.

11) You are entrusted with someone else’s business which means it’s a special relationship that needs to be managed professionally.

The client is placing a lot of trust in you and you need to be meticulous with their data, confidentiality and contacts – because they can fire or sue you if you are not.

(I know people whose VAs have actually damaged their reputation, broken confidentiality agreements, taken their contacts and passed off their work as their own.)

12) When people treat virtual assistance as an easy sideline or charge peanuts, it brings the entire industry into disrepute and makes it harder for everyone to find work and be charged what their skills are worth.

Calling it a ‘side hustle’ implies it’s something you half-heartedly do in a half-assed way.

13) The more you charge the better you need to be. If you charge top dollar then you need to deliver a top dollar service.

14) Not everyone is suited to freelance life. It is not easy and does not suit everyone. There’s no job security, no regular income, it can be lonely, you need to manage your own time, you need discipline and you need to communicate well with people who may sometimes be difficult.

You need to steer your own ship. Many things can go wrong and it is not easy to move from an employee mentality to thinking like a business owner.

15) Faffing around with logos, colours and company names is fun, but clients only care about how you communicate and deliver. You need to actually do the work in order to get paid.

That’s what makes it a business and not a hobby.

Apologies for my bluntness (I can be very forthright I’m afraid – it gets me into a lot of trouble sometimes!) but I want to get across that virtual assistance is a serious profession and not an “easy gig” a “side hustle” or something you can half-focus on while your kids run screaming around the room.

Whilst freelancing does bring a level of freedom, it’s also incredibly hard work. You need admin skills, you need to be able to manage client expectations as well as your own time, you need to be reliable, to be able to focus intently on each client’s tasks and you need to be able to deliver the work.

Think you have what it takes?

If you’ve read this post and still want to be a Virtual Assistant then sign up for my flagship DIY VA course.

With lifetime access and an incredible trainee-only support group, I guide you through the entire process and support you all the way.



Sharon Hadley

I love this. Thinking about what my VA superpower is, it’s actually very strategic stuff like setting up processes to increase business efficiency and how your client communicates with their customers. Virtual assistant is a bit of a catch all term and doesn’t always really show the wealth of skills we have. Coming from the corporate world I’ve spent years honing those skills so need to be sure I’m properly charging for them.

Joanne Munro

I agree. It’s easy if someone is a graphic designer or web developer – you can clearly see what they do for people. Being a VA is so far-reaching, it can be hard to fully explain the value.


Thanks for all the comprehensive information. I had been considering becoming a VA but realise I don’t have the chutzpah to be self-employed! It takes nerves of steel. I appreciate your straight-talking.

Gaynor Brown

I think better regulation of the industry is needed as why can clients use cheaper options from abroad with no regulation and we in the UK have to have loads of requirements?

I have always wondered this.

Karen Rouse

This is so true! I am sick of hearing about how easy it is; just start; you can make thousands of dollars easy; and the worst yet, you can become a VA without any skills. I have been in Admin for over twenty years and am looking to go into the VA arena, but doubt myself even though I know that I am great at my job.

Joanne Munro

You have more admin experience than I do – go for it! Clients aren’t looking for you to build the Large Hadron Collider, they just need a bit of a hand. Working for yourself is hard work and not a way to make a quick buck (“hello, please destroy my business”!) but it is very rewarding.

Raquelle Cozens

Totally agree!! I’m looking into becoming a VA but i’m trying to teach myself some admin skills such as excel. Do you have any advice what else I can invest my money on to learn some new skills to become a VA?

Many thanks!

Joanne Munro

I do have a course on how to become a Virtual Assistant (The DIY VA course) but it doesn’t show you how to do admin etc. There is a VA for every type of business because all VAs have different skillsets and experience, you see.

My advice is to offer what you already know how to do. You can learn new skills as you go along (clients will often show you new platforms) and you can also learn new platforms and skills that interest you later – earn then learn! Google Digital Garage is a great start and you can find a link to that on my Resources page.

Penny Cooke

Fabulous post, Jo – really enjoyed it. I’m having fun with the research side of it – your blogs, the FB Group etc, are SO useful – and I had said to myself that when the website is finished, then that’s the launch date. My developer sent me the 3rd & hopefully final draft yesterday – he’s now on his hols until mid-August, and I go away at the end of September. But I’m ready to go – I had a good discovery call (that unsolicited connection in LinkedIn) at the beginning of the week so that toe is in the water up to calf-level at least! So today I redid my LI profile, said that my website is coming soon, pointed out that the email was a temporary one as it’ll reflect my domain name, put a new photo on it (also on my personal FB page, as per the Guide!). If that chap wanted to talk to me on the basis of my old profile – the one I’ve had on there for ages, and says very little – then I can start making inroads NOW without the website.

Matty Panagopoulous

Brilliant, truthful blog post! Being a Virtual Assistant should not be seen as a side hustle but instead it is each Virtual Assistants responsibility to promote our industry as a serious profession. No matter if you work your business part time or on a full time basis, only through our community of VA’s can we raise the profile of our profession.

Kim Gambill

P.S. I am pretty blunt and to the point too and get into trouble as well. I will have to practice when talking with clients. lol

Kim Gambill

Love this post and you caught me too in #15. I love your advice on this as I just heard in your last FB live too. While watching it I bought my name domain and will change my website. I then can add more pages for the different things on my blog. Brilliant!

Rosa Bosma Parker

Great post! It also annoys me when people think that being a VA means lots of flexibility… No, clients are the ones who get to be flexible. ? VAs work around their needs (as long as requests aren’t ridiculous, of course).

Joanne Munro

I have to disagree with that one I’m afraid. I work with who I want, when I want and where I want. Many VAs think they have to bend to the will of every client, but actually, all business owners call the shots and decide the terms of their own business. VAs should definitely be accommodating but only within the confines of their own business model. So if you decide you want to finish every day to pick up your children from school, you make sure clients know your working hours. If they don’t want to do that, then both client and VA are able to look for a different match.


I’m so pleased to hear this. I’m in the process of setting up my VA business after working as a PA/EA for 18 years. I can only work 2 days a week because I have two very young children. So many people have said I will struggle to get clients due to my availability. So this is lovely and really reasurring to hear, thank you xx

Joanna Chapman

Hi Lorraine I have two very young children too but just be very upfront with potential clients about this and that my normal working hours are evenings and weekends usually.

Lindsey Brigadier

Absolutely loved this article!! As I’m still in the early planning phases of my business, this is exactly the fluff-free info I wanted and needed to hear. And it really confirmed to me that I’m headed in the right direction for a long, meaningful career. Thank you from Ohio, USA xo

Alice Bead

I don’t agree that it can’t be a side venture. I know very successful VAs that do it around a full-time job and are great!

Joanne Munro

Hi Alice, I’ve amended the post to make it clearer because you’re right – it can be a side venture, but it’s when people treat it as a ‘side hustle’ that problems start. It’s then seen almost as a scam and something people half-heartedly do just for a bit of pocket money. Whereas it’s a serious business. So yes, it can definitely be a (serious) side venture alongside another line of work.

Mary Derouiche

I agree point 15 is very relevant to me, I have to stop spending so much time trying to perfect my website which is a work in progress and “faffing about” with my logo, it is now important for me to get out there and get some clients!

Simone Streeter

This is a fine lecture, but how about something on what we can and should expect, in terms of respect, credit, and acknowledgement?

Joanne Munro

The blog post certainly wasn’t meant to be a lecture, however it’s about what it means to be a Virtual Assistant and not what it means to be a client. What you should expect in terms of credit, respect and acknowledgement from a client is covered in many of my other blog posts – but not this one.


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