I know from experience that when you first discover VAs exist and you suspect you might want to become one, you research the subject to death and then quickly become overwhelmed with information. So, here are the most frequently asked questions about becoming a Virtual Assistant to help you decide if it’s the right career for you.
What is a Virtual Assistant and what do they do?
It can be hard to define exactly what a VA is because there are as many types of Virtual Assistant as there are businesses.
However, simply put, a Virtual Assistant is someone who helps business owners by doing tasks they don’t know how to do, are too busy to do, don’t want to do or that would be better outsourced.
The purpose of a VA is to help make or save their clients money, and to free them up so they can get on with what they do best – or simply to give them more free time.
A VA’s services are usually related to what they did for a living before they became a VA – because these are the things they know how to do well. However, a VA will pick up new skills over time (through self-directed learning or because clients introduce them to new platforms) and these are often added to their initial services, or the VA may decide to change their services to match their new-found skills.
For example, I started out offering pretty much everything to everyone (which is not a very good business model!), but I had an interest in social media and new technology and, over time I became knowledgeable enough to offer more specialised higher-paying ‘techie’ services.
Can a man be a Virtual Assistant?
The VA industry isn’t gender-specific, and there are many male Virtual Assistants – I have some in my Rock Stars training group – but most VAs seem to be women. I think the reason for this is twofold:
More women work in admin than men and women undertake the lion’s share of childcare.
So, being self-employed naturally fits around women’s existing responsibilities, routine and skillset. There are lots of male VAs, though and the role will suit anyone with the right skills and aptitude regardless of gender.
What types of people hire Virtual Assistants?
The people who hire VAs are predominantly small business owners or one-man-bands, such as consultants. They are people who don’t need to take on an employee (or because they don’t want the hassle or associated costs such as pensions etc) but who need help with ad-hoc or regular tasks.
Where do I start?
VAs are detail people by nature which means they (and by ‘they’ I mean we!) often overthink things. But overthinking can cause overwhelm and result in decision paralysis. Which isn’t ideal if you want to set up a business!
After spending years in employment, you become used to taking instruction and being told what to do. You know the parameter of your job role, and you know what is expected of you. While this means you will adapt well to a VA’s workload, business owners have to make dozens of decisions every day as well as manage awkward clients, discuss rates and reinforce boundaries.
These are things you may not be used to or comfortable with.
Luckily, I have a free mini-set up course which covers the basics. The course is just an overview of what you need to do though; if you want a step-by-step roadmap and be guided through the entire set-up process and supported throughout your career, you should buy my DIY VA course.
Investing in VA training will get you where you want to go sooner with fewer mistakes. But it’s a big decision, and you should read some FAQs about my VA training course first to make sure it’s right for you.
What do I need to set up?
I have a free guide called ‘the tools you need (and don’t need) to set up a Virtual Assistant business’, and you can download it here.
How much money do I need to get started?
Have you ever come across one of those enticing ‘1000 jobs you can do from home with no investment’ articles online?
They’re total bullsh*t.
It takes money to start a business – any business – and those articles are irresponsible.
Off the top of my head, you need a laptop, a mobile phone with a good data plan, strong and reliable internet (which means a higher-level broadband package), insurance, legal documents, and Microsoft Office. If you decide to get a website, you will be hit with annual domain and hosting fees as well.
I have a free guide on the tools you need (and don’t need) to set up a Virtual Assistant business, but if you don’t have any savings, I suggest waiting until you do.
How long does it take to set up a Virtual Assistant business?
It depends. I’ve had trainees set up with paying clients within six weeks, but it usually takes around three months to set up properly.
Setting up a business is a big deal, and it shouldn’t be taken lightly or rushed.
It’s important to consider the kind of business model you want. You also need time to assess your skillset, decide who you’d like to work with, what services to offer, how you’ll manage your workload and to work out how much money you can realistically earn vs how much time you have.
If you’re going to set up your own business, it has to be financially viable, and it should be better than what you had before.
I actually tell my trainees to take a week off after the first section of the DIY VA course so they can let the information seep in and to prevent them hurtling off in a direction that doesn’t ultimately suit their short and long term goals.
If you set up a business that doesn’t reflect your needs or what you want from work, you’ll exchange a frustrating job where you feel trapped, for a frustrating business where you feel trapped. It’s far better to try to get your business model right from the start and not have to go back and undo it all later.
If you rush it, you’ll regret it.
A business is like a house, and it needs a solid foundation. There’s no point picking out cushions before the roof is on!
How long does it take to get clients?
Again, it depends. How long you take to get clients will depend on whether you already have contacts to reach out to and how much time you put into promoting your services.
Some VAs get work right away, and some don’t. Some get work right away then take ages to get more, and some VAs take ages to get clients but then loads come at once.
How much money do Virtual Assistants make?
Women, in particular, seem to have mental blocks around money. They feel uncomfortable talking about it, and they often undercharge or let clients haggle them down to a cheaper rate.
It’s important to remember that a VA is a professional business owner and that anyone who wants to cheat you out of money (and that includes friends) is not someone you want to work with.
The Society of Virtual Assistant’s 2020 annual survey shows the mean average hourly rate for a UK VA is £27 an hour, the average turnover is £28K a year disregarding hours worked, and the mode average (the figure reported most often) is between £21K – £40K a year.
However, there are many ways you can make more money without working more hours. These include project and package rates, tiered pricing and retainers.
I talk more about how you can do this in my Pricing course, and you can use my hourly rate calculator to get a realistic view of what you need to earn and charge. You will find both of these on my Downloads and Training page.
What legal things do I need to know about?
Although I am only familiar with UK laws, I do know that every business owner has to comply with data protection (GDPR) laws wherever they are and that there are specific requirements for website owners too.
It’s your responsibility to find out what legal and tax requirements you need to meet in the country where you are based and/or the country where your business is registered if they are different.
You can find all of my legal articles here or by selecting the relevant category in the sidebar.
Do VAs need to know a lot about technology?
Although you don’t need to be a tech whizz, the clue is in the job title, and Virtual Assistants should know how to collaborate and communicate remotely.
Some VAs know a lot more than others and some specialise in more ‘techie’ services such as social media, video editing, newsletters, graphics, websites etc. All VAs need to understand and be familiar with virtual ways of working.
A Virtual Assistant can’t be scared of technology.
When the Covid-19 lockdown hit, it was the VAs who offered the more traditional services who struggled because they didn’t know how to help their clients pivot and move online. You can read more about how VAs helped their clients during the pandemic here.
It has been my experience that tech-savvy VAs secure more work. They can also earn more money as these services are easier to charge as a project rate. If you fear technology and don’t want to learn, then I would suggest you market yourself as a freelance PA/administrator rather than a Virtual Assistant.
Do I need years of admin experience?
While my background is hospitality and events, I still had a fair bit of admin experience when I set up. I wasn’t an executive-level PA or a whizz with Excel, but I knew my way around a spreadsheet. I was also organised, capable, solution-focussed and confident that I could work stuff out.
I also discovered that my clients didn’t particularly need anything complicated and, if they wanted me to create a specific filter or calculation on an Excel doc, for example, then I just Googled how to do it or asked someone.
So, while you don’t need executive-level admin experience or to have worked as a secretary, you do need to have some admin experience and be confident and resourceful. Here are the qualities every Virtual Assistant needs to have.
How do I get clients? I hate the idea of selling myself
Although you’re not ‘selling yourself’ marketing your business is something you will be doing for the entire duration of your career.
So it will (literally) pay to be good at it!
You can’t just randomly post on every social media platform. You need to know what you’re saying to who and why. You need to have a strategy and a plan, or you’re just shouting in the wind.
There are many ways to get clients, but they all involve building relationships and solving problems. I have a free mini-marketing course to help you or, if you just want to know how to market yourself now and forever, you can invest in my Ultimate marketing course and just be done with it!
Do I need a website?
Some of my trainees have created a successful business without a website, but if you do want one, I have a website set up course which covers everything you need to think about and include. The first lesson is free.
Can I really work anywhere in the world?
I regularly work while travelling, and so do many other VAs.
Having a location-independent business is great, but I recommend you only start travelling when you’ve landed a few clients. This way, you’ve already gained experience of managing your workload and what it takes to run a business before you throw another challenge into the mix.
If you would like to take your VA business on the road, register your interest in my upcoming online travel course.
How do I run a business and manage childcare?
Flexible working and being able to spend more time with family is the reason most women give for becoming self-employed.
Around 80% of my Facebook groups have children, and you can read how they juggle work and childcare in this blog post.
How do I get over my fears and lack of confidence?
Life is full of challenges and obstacles, but you overcome them every single day and have done so since the day you were born.
You’re just scared because you haven’t set up a business before.
When you think about it, you have tackled countless things for the first time. You learned to walk, write, read, add up, swim, cycle, drive, and raise children. The list is endless.
There’s a narrow line between excitement and fear. But understand that fear is normal, decide to be excited and then step forward and do the thing you want to do so you can never say you lived your life with regret or for someone else. I have a free mini-confidence course to help you.
And don’t worry about making mistakes. You’re definitely going to make at least one mistake during your career. I know that for certain. I can guarantee it. It’s 100% going to happen.
Being worried that you’re not going to get something right the first time is kinda silly. Look at all the things I just listed above. You didn’t do any of them perfectly the first time you tried, but you persevered and that’s how you became good at them.
Again, this is why I always recommend you start by offering things you know how to do. You’re far less likely to make a mistake if you already know how to do a task.
Mistakes made with clients are fixable. You try not to make them, but they will happen. You need to make mistakes with your business because trial and error is the only way we learn and grow. We always learn more when something doesn’t go to plan than when it does.
Also, if you give up because you might fail, then you’ve failed already!
What if I’m asked to do something I don’t know how to do?
Urm… you say you don’t know how to do it.
This question always makes me feel a little sad actually. Maybe it’s because women are expected to do everything (or they just expect it of themselves) but you can’t know how to do everything and clients won’t expect you to either.
A VA’s job is to sort sh*t out so if you’re asked to do something you don’t know how to do then you:
- Say you don’t know how – and then the client shows you how to do it (and then you know).
- Say you don’t know how but you can work it out if they are happy to let you (and then you know).
- Say you don’t know how but you will find someone who can (then you still helped).
- Just say this isn’t something you offer as a service because it’s not within your specialised area.
You don’t have to take on every task you are asked to do.
This is not how it works. Sometimes you can work it out or they can show you but for example, if the client wanted a website building or a log designing, you’re not going to learn how to be a Web Developer or Graphic Designer – because that would be insane!
Just as you wouldn’t learn how to become a Plumber if your client needed their boiler fixed, you don’t have to know how to do everything. Because that is impossible.
This is why I always recommend you offer what you know. You will pick up new skills along the way and you may decide to offer these as services but if you start off by offering things you already know how to do then:
- You will know how to do the work and will feel confident talking about where you can add value.
- Your clients will feel confident that you know what you’re doing and their money is being well spent.
- You will know the kinds of people who need this work doing and so your marketing will be easy.
- Everyone wins.
I don’t know how to (insert the thing you don’t know)
There will always be something you don’t know how to do… yet.
However, the answer is probably somewhere on this website or in one of my courses or a member of my VA handbookers Facebook group will know. Also, Google and YouTube exist.
You can find the answer to literally everything on the internet. If you don’t know how to do something, then find out. If you struggle with marketing or pricing or networking or confidence or… whatever, then focus on improving it.
A Virtual Assistant’s job is to solve problems and find solutions.
How do I know if being a VA is right for me?
Well, if this post filled you with horror, then it probably isn’t!
But if you’re not currently running for the hills, I have a few blog posts dedicated to the reality of being a business owner to give you a better idea of what it’s like.
At least then you can say you knew what you were letting yourself in for. Or that you investigated and decided that the juice wouldn’t be worth the squeeze.
It is not easy to run a business.
There is no reliable income, the hours are long (especially at first), you have to manage difficult clients, you will face countless obstacles and setbacks, there will be tech issues, you will get late-payers and non-payers, and there will be days when you wonder why you ever started.
But you will learn more than you ever thought possible. You will discover what you’re capable of, you will learn something new from every single client, you will float on air when you solve a problem or overcome a challenge, you will become better every day, and you will be so proud of yourself you could freakin’ burst.
There are downsides to everything, but if you want the incredible things more than you fear the obstacles, then Virtual Assistance may be for you.
In addition to the links provided in the post, I have a number of resources dedicated to helping you set up and run a successful Virtual Assistant business.
- My Post Index page contains a list of every article I’ve written. Simply scan down the list to find the post that reflects your current situation.
- My Downloads and Training page contains all of my guides, courses and documents. Some are paid resources but a large number are free.
- My Resources page is where you’ll find all the tools and apps that I think Virtual Assistants should be familiar with.
Just wanna skip to the end?
If you want to set up your own VA business ASAP then check out my DIY VA course.
With lifetime access and an incredible trainee-only support group, I hold your hand throughout the entire process.