Being a Virtual Assistant is awesome. I have a fantastic lifestyle and have worked in countries all around the world. But the life of a freelancer isn’t all unicorns and fairies, it’s definitely not a “side hustle” or a way of making easy money. Let me tell you what’s actually involved in setting up and running a VA business so you can decide if it’s for you.
(This post is a broad overview of how to become a Virtual Assistant. It contains links to more in-depth articles on the various subjects mentioned within it and further resources on how to set up.)
Why should you become a Virtual Assistant?
There are many reasons that people want to become a Virtual Assistant. The main ones are flexibility and freedom, but here are a few more:
You can work when you want
From being able to spend more time with your kids to caring for elderly family members, working as a Virtual Assistant means you can organise your day to fit around the life you have or the type of life you want to create.
You can work where you want
I’ve worked from locations all around the world because all I need is my laptop and an Internet connection. If you’re looking for a location-independent or digital nomad lifestyle, virtual assistance will fit the bill perfectly.
You get to use your brain
Working for yourself is a constantly evolving journey that requires you to think for yourself and come up with creative solutions for both your own business and your clients’.
Dedicating years of your life to a company that doesn’t value you or appreciate your loyalty and hard work is heartbreaking. But, when you run your own Virtual Assistant business, it’s you who’s rewarded – both financially and emotionally.
You finally get to see what you’re made of and what you can achieve.
Even though there will be ups and downs (if it was easy everyone would do it), you’re in control of what happens to you.
No more waiting to see if the axe of redundancy will fall… you’re the one who gets to decide your future.
When you run your own Virtual Assistant business you have more choices than employees and are in control of what happens to you.
Why Virtual Assistants will always do well
Virtual Assistance is a highly robust industry that withstands turbulent times. Here’s why:
- Virtual Assistants have numerous transferable skills and can work with any type of business, in any location, in any timezone and in any currency. This means they have more options than employees.
- A Virtual Assistants sole purpose is to assist small businesses. It’s even in their job title! Their entire business model is helping other businesses thrive which means they can help their clients adapt and pivot to changing times as well.
- Virtual Assistants possess a plethora of valuable skills from many years of office experience. They have also undertaken multiple types of tasks for clients within a wide range of industries. Even though they may have a specific niche, they will also have clients in other industries. So if one client is impacted, the rest won’t be.
- Virtual Assistants know how to communicate and collaborate virtually and they possess a wealth of tech knowledge that all types of businesses can benefit from.
- Virtual Assistants are resourceful, highly organised and have excellent forward-planning abilities. They’re unflappable and excellent problem solvers.
How to become a Virtual Assistant
On one hand, freelancing is simple:
- Find people who need help
- Help them
- Send them an invoice
- Get paid
- Pay tax
But obviously, there’s a bit more to it than that!
My DIY VA training course covers in detail every single step you need to take, but here’s a simplistic overview of what you need to do to set up a Virtual Assistant business.
Know why you want to become a Virtual Assistant and commit to making it work
I’ve noticed that the people in my VA Handbookers Facebook group who struggle with running a business often don’t appear to be fully committed to the process.
They don’t have both feet in the boat.
They use phrases such as “I’ll give it a go” and “I’ll try to make it work” and often approach what is actually a serious profession as a “side hustle”, a hobby or a way to make a few extra bucks here and there.
They will never become high-flying, sh*t-hot, kick-ass, well-paid Virtual Assistants.
You need to know EXACTLY why you want to leave employment and become a business owner and then do everything in your power to succeed… or you won’t.
You need to show up and do the work (even when you’re tired), suck it up whenever things don’t go to plan (which will be often) and give it 100%.
It’s that simple.
Research and plan
I’ve been a freelancer since 2008 and I’ve pretty much covered every single thing you will ever need to know about becoming a bulletproof Virtual Assistant business here on my website.
I’ve categorised all of my blog posts so you can find every subject that reflects each stage of your journey here on the Post Index page.
My advice is to work your way through these posts, join the Facebook group, check out the interviews and videos from real-life VAs, make a plan and then methodically work through it.
Or you could just skip to the end, sign up for my DIY VA course and get me to walk you through the entire process!
Decide on your business model
Everyone is different so you will have to create a business model that reflects your own particular set of circumstances and matches what you need at this point in your life.
For example, do you want a 100% virtual business model so you can work from anywhere in the world or do you like being around people and are happy to go into their offices?
If you need to pick your kids up from school at a certain time each day then you will have to turn down work that requires you to check emails at specific times etc.
The great news
Look at your finances
Can you afford to leave your job and go freelance?
While there isn’t a huge initial outlay, there are costs in setting up any business.
Obviously, you don’t just chuck in your job before you even know if you like being a Virtual Assistant or are good at it, but it may take a while to secure clients. Then you have to allow for the time it takes to complete the work, invoice and receive payment.
It’s well known that all freelancers can experience periods of ‘feast and famine’. Some months are brilliant and others are not.
Having clients on retainers will provide an indication of upcoming earnings but some months such as August or December can be quiet because your clients (and their clients) are often on holiday or winding up for Christmas.
Also, clients aren’t for life.
A client can give you notice at any time so you should assess your monthly outgoings, see what you need to earn each month then have at least three months’ worth of savings to act as a buffer whilst you focus on setting up and finding work.
Virtual Assistants seldom have a steady and reliable income. This is why freelancing doesn’t suit everyone and why we charge a high hourly rate.
To be honest, if you need a reliable and steady income, you’d be far better off sticking to your day job.
Sort the legal stuff
If you’re in the UK then you need to tell HMRC as soon as you start earning money. You will also need to pay the ICO an annual fee, decide whether to be a limited company or a sole trader, keep accurate financial records and either learn how to do your own tax return or hire an Accountant.
You also need contracts and insurance so you don’t get sued or screwed, website policies (if you have a website, obvs), and a Data Processing Agreement (DPA) for GDPR compliance.
Luckily, there are articles in the money and legal category of my website to help you navigate your legal obligations as a Virtual Assistant.
Look at your niche and services
When looking for clients, it’s definitely better to have a niche. If you have an employment history, you will already have at least one niche.
So, instead of thinking about what people might want and then offering those services, identify what you’re good at, like doing and want to keep doing – and then find people who need help with those things.
Your niche/s might be the tasks you offer, the types of people you work with, the industry you serve or a combination of these.
If you have a niche (which is always in addition to regular admin services) then you become the go-to person in that area and you’ll get enquiries that match your area of expertise.
Your niche is usually what you did for a living before you went freelance, so try to go for the low-hanging fruit when getting your first client as you can always move sideways into another niche area later.
There’s no point in leaving your job to become a Virtual Assistant if you end up taking on work you don’t like or that doesn’t match your business model.
Although you need to earn money and bring home the bacon, doing enjoyable work should be your priority or you’ll end up hating working for yourself and won’t want to do it anymore.
Decide what to charge
You’ll need to decide on your rates as Virtual Assistants can charge by the hour, by the project or have clients on monthly retainers. You will probably offer a combination of these options.
The current average hourly rate for a UK Virtual Assistant is £27 but many VAs charge a helluva lot more than this.
Virtual Assistant rates vary depending on the VA’s skillset, level of expertise, length of experience, who their clients are and what industry they are in – their niche.
As an example, “techie” VAs can charge more because they have specialist skills that other VAs do not possess. These can include things like SEO, setting up membership sites and landing pages, video editing and graphic design.
Director-level VAs who deal with High Net Worth Individuals (HNWI) are more like freelance PA/EAs and they can also command a higher rate than a Virtual Assistant who only has basic admin skills.
Many Virtual Assistants struggle with pricing but it’s important to remember that it’s not a VAs business to decide how much their clients can afford.
Your rates are your rates.
It’s far harder to raise your fees than it is to lower them and you shouldn’t undervalue skills that have taken you years to acquire. Women often undersell themselves, but you’re a valuable resource and clients who know that will happily pay for your expert help.
You’ll learn that people who baulk at your rates are people you should be extremely wary of working with and you’ll also learn that if you don’t charge a high enough rate then you won’t be in business for very long.
Decide on your brand
After you’ve decided what work you’d like to do you need to decide on your company name and design your branding and logo. I started off with quite a basic VA website but later redesigned it.
So you don’t wait until everything is perfect – just get going!
You need to have a good online appearance as your website and social media profiles WILL be judged by potential clients, but your main aim is to get clients and not faff around getting caught up in irrelevant design details and never actually do any work.
Market your socks off
Know that marketing your business is something that you’re going to have to do constantly and for the entire duration of your career.
So it will (literally) pay to be good at it.
If you’ve never done much of it before, marketing isn’t something that you’re going to be good at straight away, but it’s easy to learn. You may feel uncomfortable about it at first but it will quickly become your new normal.
You could start by adding your company to local business directories (you’ll get loads of sales calls but you’ll need the SEO at first), crafting a stellar LinkedIn profile, networking online and face-to-face and telling everyone you have ever known what you can do.
However, marketing is simply about having conversations, building relationships and providing solutions. Which I know you can do.
I’ve provided some marketing resources at the end of this post.
Know that you don’t have to do everything yourself
Virtual Assistants often think they need to be able to do every single thing a client wants, but a VAs job is actually to sort sh*t out for their clients.
If your client needs a logo you don’t have to rush out and learn to become a graphic designer – you can just outsource the task to a graphic designer. They will do a fantastic job in a fraction of the tie – because it’s what they do for a living.
As long as your client is aware of the situation, there is no reason why you can’t just project manage any task you don’t know how to do.
You can’t do everything, doll and it would be crazy to think or pretend that you can.
Know your tech
A modern Virtual Assistant isn’t the same as a traditional PA and, although you won’t know how to do everything, you will need to have an understanding of the technology used to work and collaborate online.
When the pandemic kicked off, the VAs that helped their clients move classes and consultations online, wrote and sent newsletters, set up Facebook groups and introduced clients to video recording software who were rushed off their feet.
So, if you’re more of an old-school traditional administrator or if you’re a technophobe or someone who doesn’t enjoy learning about technology, it’s probably best to market yourself as a freelance PA and help local businesses with their admin instead of promoting yourself as a Virtual Assistant.
I cannot tell you how important it is that you keep learning and stay on top of new developments – not only in the Virtual Assistant industry and your own niche but also with new technology and ways to work more efficiently.
If you keep your skills up to date then you’ll have a more varied skill set (in addition to your niche) and can provide more value to your clients.
Freelancing is not for everyone and shouldn’t be seen as a “side hustle” (a term I absolutely hate) or a way to make “easy money” doing a bit of admin.
It is a serious career choice and you need to be fully committed to doing a good job for your clients.
Oh, and those articles about jobs you can do from home with no investment are lies.
You need money to start any business, and if you don’t have any money then it’s not a good idea to become a Virtual Assistant.
You’ll end up feeling desperate, you’ll take any task you’re offered and you’ll feel anxious all the time. And you did not leave your job only to hate something else!
Running a business is hard work. You will have to do your own admin, bookkeeping, website, copywriting and marketing – oh, and did I mention that you have to do a LOT of marketing for the entire duration of your career?
Cool, I just wanted to tell you that again.
As a Virtual Assistant, you will have to manage multiple tasks for multiple clients with constantly changing deadlines. Some of your clients might be “challenging” (a polite word for some bless ’em) and that’s before we even get on to tyre-kickers and late payers.
You will need a thick skin and you will need to be resilient, adaptable, resourceful and pragmatic.
Being a natural detail person will make you a good Virtual Assistant, but to be a good business owner you ALSO need to be a bigger-picture person – this is something that may not come naturally and will have to be learned.
You may not have the essential qualities needed to become a Virtual Assistant but after reading this post, you at least now have a better understanding of what’s involved and what to do next if you still think it’s something you might like to do.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t tell you that running a business isn’t a helluva lot of hard work and that you will be wildly out of your comfort zone a lot of the time.
But I also need to tell you that it will be an absolutely freakin’ crazy and exhilarating ride.
If you decide to become a Virtual Assistant and set up your own business, you will learn more than you ever thought possible and you will feel like you’re finally, truly living your own life.
Further reading and resources
- Read the most frequently asked questions about becoming a Virtual Assistant to help you decide if it’s the right career for you.
- You can find all of my downloads and training courses here.
- Here are all the Virtual Assistant legal documents you need. They have been written specifically for VAs by an international contracts lawyer and, if the law changes, the contracts are updated and resent to buyers free of charge.
- Download my free guide on the tools you need (and don’t need) to set up a Virtual Assistant business.
- Come and join my fun and friendly VA Handbookers Facebook group. It’s full of awesome people from around the world and they all freakin’ LOVE to help, encourage and support each other on their VA journey.
Just want to get going?
If you really want to set up your own VA business 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. You can even pay in instalments.