Being a Virtual Assistant is awesome. I have an incredible lifestyle and have worked from all over the world in some exotic places. But because the life of a freelancer is not all unicorns and fairies, I’m going to tell you everything you’ll need to know if you’re thinking of setting up your own VA business so you can avoid some of the mistakes I made!
How to start a Virtual Assistant business
(This article is just an overview on how to become a Virtual Assistant. Many of the below sections link to more detailed blog posts on that subject and you can see a list of all my blog posts on the Start Here page.)
Don’t listen to anyone (except me obvs)
There are hordes of people out there called Naysayers who are colleagues, friends and even members of your own family who’ll try and deter you from setting up your own business. They’ll make all kinds of noises and faces that suggest you’re mad for even thinking about it.
But you need to close your ears, smile sweetly, quietly go and set up your business and leave them wishing they had the courage to realise their own dreams.
Research and prepare
You’ll be doing a massive amount of research at the beginning and this website is just the start of it. Begin by reading everything you can on this site, look at other VA websites, think about how you want to present yourself, decide what services to offer, understand how to manage clients and discover what tools to virtually deliver your work.
Every VA has different skills so their business has to suit their own circumstances, wants and needs. So it’s down to you to interpret the information I provide to see how it applies to your own business and what you want to achieve from your own working life.
It’s also important that you know what working for yourself is actually like and that you go into it with your eyes open. A great way to do this is to read all my blog posts tagged Freelance Truths.
Look at your finances
Can you afford to go freelance?
Although there isn’t a huge initial outlay, it might take a while to get clients, then you have to allow for the time it takes to do their work, invoice them and wait for them to pay you. It’s true that there’s no better motivator than having to go out and find work, but it’s also sensible to have a bit of a buffer!
Sit down and work out your monthly outgoings and see what you have to earn to survive. Your partner might be able to help you for a while or you may have some savings you can use. Although it’s brilliant to have a financial buffer, don’t use it as an excuse not to get started either – I found some work to keep me going for a few months then I just jumped into the abyss.
The worst that can happen is that it might take you a while to get going and you supplement your income with a part-time job or you decide it’s not for you and you do something else instead.
There are enough people in the world to hire you, it’s just down to determination and perseverance.
Decide on your brand
After you’ve decided what work you’d like to do you need to decide on your company name as well as 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 details and never actually do any work.
I would suggest making yourself different than the other VAs by creating a unique grown-up brand. I think of myself as a modern businesswoman and cringe when I see pink girlie cartoony websites but that’s just my personal opinion and (damned good) taste.
It’s not the fifties any more and VAs are a lot more than ditsy little typists.
Sort the legal stuff
If you’re in the UK then you need to tell HMRC as soon as you start getting paid. You’ll also need to decide whether to be a limited company or a sole trader if you want to register for VAT and how to keep accurate financial records.
Luckily I have a whole load of blog posts on the financial and legal stuff!
Find a niche and specialise
It’s definitely better to have a niche so instead of thinking about what people might want and then offering those services, identify what you’re good at, what you like doing and what you want to keep doing – then find people who need those services.
Your niche might be your services, the types of people you work with, the industry you serve or a combination of things.
If you have a niche then you become the go-to person in that area (either physical location area, skill set industry or subject area) and you’ll get enquiries that match your chosen field. Your niche is usually what you did for a living before you went freelance – go for the low-hanging fruit!
There’s no point in leaving your job to become a Virtual Assistant if you end up taking on work you don’t like and, although you need to bring home the bacon, doing enjoyable work should be a priority.
Decide what to charge
You’ll need to decide on your rates. You could charge by the hour, by the project, or have retainer rates – but it’s usually a combination of all of them. I was slightly more expensive than some other VAs but my website clearly outlined that I specialised in specific, niche areas and this was why I was worth the money.
Your rates will, therefore, vary depending on your level of expertise, your client base and your industry. It’s much harder to raise your fees than it is to lower them and you shouldn’t undervalue your skills.
Women often undersell themselves, but you’re a valuable resource and people who understand that will happily pay for (and appreciate) your expert help.
You’ll also learn that people who baulk at your rates are people you should be extremely wary of working with.
Market your socks off
Add your company to local business directories (you’ll get loads of sales calls but you’ll need the SEO at first), join LinkedIn, go networking and try out as many types of marketing as you can to find what works for you. I actually don’t need to do any networking or marketing any more and I only use ONE method to get new clients.
Use social media (or don’t)
I used to get loads of work through Twitter and I used LinkedIn to research prospects and grow my network. A social media presence will definitely enhance your SEO and visibility so try to get to grips with it.
You can’t be on Twitter all day or you’ll never get any work done, but schedule useful information that shows you know your business and pop online when you have the time to talk to people and build relationships.
If social media isn’t your thing then don’t go near it. It’s better to leave it than make a pig’s ear of it.
Share and collaborate
I found that knowing all the other VAs in my area has been extremely beneficial to my business. We exchanged resources, passed on work, supported each other and even taught each other new skills.
Don’t see other VAs as competition because your area of expertise will be different than theirs. Virtual Assistants have businesses and challenges that are unlike other freelancers so it really does help to know someone who understands your line of work and can offer advice based on shared experience.
Online groups are also really useful. When I was deliberating over which Time Tracker to choose, I looked at a LinkedIn VA Group discussion and tried all the ones mentioned until I found one I liked. I often listened in to groups to see what apps they used and how they overcame problems. They’re also a great community who are always happy to help other VAs.
I cannot tell you how important it is that you keep learning and stay on top of new developments – not only in the VA 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 and valuable skill set and will be worth more to your clients.
It sounds like you have to be Wonder Woman to be a great Virtual Assistant – because you do.
You’re administrator, researcher, bookkeeper, marketer, web designer, copywriter and a billion other things – and all this before you even do a single stroke of work for your clients.
You might not even be cut out for it but, if you think you have the essential qualities needed and still want to become a Virtual Assistant after reading this, then at least you now have a better understanding of what’s involved.
I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t hard work, but I’d also be lying if I also said it wasn’t totally and utterly worth it.