FAQs about being a Virtual Assistant

FAQs about becoming a Virtual Assistant

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.

Resources

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.

FIND OUT MORE

20 Comments

C. Marie

Hi Joanne,

My sister just started her VA business 6 months ago and I am thinking of doing the same. However, I am a nurse for 10 years now and I have grown tired of the 12hr shift. I am not sure if my work experience would fit in as a VA. What are my chances and is there any particular area that my healthcare experience will be applicable?

Reply
Joanne Munro

Hello! You do need admin experience to become a VA but many VAs specialise in the healthcare industry so it’s definitely an option for you. The best post to read would be this one on finding a niche then I suggest you head on over to the VA Handbookers Facebook group and use the search box to find the words ‘medical’, ‘health’ ‘healthcare’ ‘NHS’ etc. Feel free to post a question about this as I know there are VAs in the group who work in this field and they are all very friendly and always happy to help.

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Jo

Hi Joanne, I have just discovered your website and couldn’t be happier! Filled with everything I need…I think! I am just starting out as a VA and have been given some work, from another VA – so will be working as her Associate. However, I haven’t any contracts in place yet, as this has happened so quickly! I don’t have any clients of my own yet, or a website – in fact I am still working out specifically the areas I want to concentrate on etc. However, I’m really excited to have been given this opportunity and now need to get something in place. After reading through your legal/docs tab and listening to your interview with Janet I will be purchasing the Freelance and DPA contract packs. However, do I also need the Associate Agreement too, or is this something that the lead VA should organise?

Reply
Joanne Munro

Hi Jo! I am so happy that you are enjoying my website! The Lead VA will provide your contract but check it over and make sure it doesn’t contravene anything in your own contract or contain anything you don’t want to do.
Contracts are there to be negotiated and Janet has some amazing tips on contract negotiation here.
Also, I highly suggest you join my VA Handbookers Facebook group as it’s full of like-minded people from around the world and many of them are also looking for Associates. x

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Alex Maghie

Hi Joanne, can you explain the pro’s & con’s of going it alone vs. joining an agency? It seems the latter is less hassle than setting up a business. I’m not particularly fussed about being my own boss & ideally I’d like to work max. 25 hrs a week (I’m currently part-time within my agency). Thanks!

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Joanne Munro

Hi Alex, it’s completely up to you, really. It may be less hassle but they take a large cut and you may not like the work they give you. Also, you are reliant on them giving you enough work. I have never used an agency myself so I suggest asking the question in my Facebook group and gain first-hand experience replies from VAs who may have.

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Georgia

I came across your article as I was doing research into becoming a VA. I love the idea of “being my own boss” and creating my own business but I am apprehensive about taking the risk! I currently work full time in Administration and Business Support. What worries me is that my Virtual Assistant business wouldn’t kick off or I wouldn’t enjoy it and then I wouldn’t have a job! Any advice?

Reply
Joanne Munro

Hi Georgia – you should never give up your job to try something you don’t know if you’re even going to enjoy. Always set up alongside your job and then jump from one to the other when you have enough clients. Freelancing isn’t for everyone so, instead, don’t risk anything at all.
This post will help.

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Esther Christopher

Hi Joanna,
I have just launched my Virtual PA business. I thought the website would market itself once I post on Linked In and my clients would start contacting me..one week has gone by and nothing… I also posted on FB 2 days later and nothing still. I know it’s early days and having gone through your site I realise I now need to start the journey of marketing! Thank you so much for sharing. 🙂

Reply
Joanne Munro

You are welcome, Esther. No, sadly people are not just waiting for you to tell them you exist (I wish it was so!) so they can hire you, you will need to market your socks off now. I have a free mini marketing course and an entire section on finding work (you can find the courses on the Downloads and Training page) to help you though. You need a strategy and plan.

I think you will also like my free website setup course as I show you how to make sure your site is SEO’d to bring in search traffic.

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Anita

Hi Joanne
Thank you for this fantastic free resource which I am finding very informative. I am in the process of setting up my VA business but have a dilemma – whether to set up as a Ltd company or sole trader. My target audience will be predominantly small business owners, however hoping to appeal to larger business for more higher value projects. I would love to know the thoughts of other VAs and the route they took.

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charlotte luykx

Hi Joanna,

I came across your website whilst I was doing research on becoming a VA! I have quite a similar background as yourself I always worked in hospitality (sales coordinator, executive, assistant front office manager, spa membership manager… and recently I worked in a blue chip bank in central london as a event coordinator. Dealing with lots of high end clients and also the administrative part. I had to move country for my partners job and we also welcomed our second baby in April this year. I am so ready to get back into work and I really would love to set up my own business as a VA more specialising in personal assistance/executive assistance/meetings & Events support/e-commerce support/inbox management/ travel management/… I made my website, contacted people to help to register and set up my business in the UK. Its just now the final step to push everything through seems a bit scary… Would you recommend to call myself a VA or rather a freelancer PA/EA?

Reply
Joanne Munro

Hi Charlotte, well, it sounds like you have been very busy and proactive in getting your business off the ground. Well done! Tbh, it doesn’t matter what you call yourself. It sounds as if are more of a freelance PA than a VA but really, it doesn’t matter at all. I think you’re overthinking it!

I am a VA but my website says Munro PA (I wasn’t sure at the time and in hindsight picked the wrong one) yet it hasn’t made the slightest bit of difference to my business. This is why I suggest in my free website setup course that your website URL is your name instead of your business name (because you can change the name later and keep the URL). Also, you have to make 1000 decisions when you run your own business, so this might be a good time to make a call on this one. You can always change it later if you like.

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Joanne Munro

Hi Victoria, as with any profession, you need solid work experience in that area prior to charging people for your services. In the Virtual Assistant world, typically this would be a work history spanning several years and include administrative or personal assistant roles.

Clients buy a VA’s time because a VA has the relevant experience. The training I provide relates to how to run a business and how to manage clients but doesn’t teach you administration as a job in itself. You will need to have gained that experience already.

Being a Virtual Assistant is incredibly rewarding, but running a business is also a lot of hard work. I strongly advise you to gain relevant work experience (if you don’t have it already). If you have skills and experience in specific areas – such as video editing or graphic design, for example, you could always consider niching right down and only offering these services though. You could set up an account on Fiverr to do this.

As a VA, however, I would say you need have gained admin experience before you go it alone. My post on FAQs about being a VA should help you with other questions you may have. x

Reply
Alecia

Great article for new VA’s, thanks! I will be revisiting this as I begin my VA journey, I’m in training right now,

Reply

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