Setting up your own Virtual Assistant business may seem like hard work, but I’m sorry to tell you that it’s actually the easy part. Being a good VA isn’t simply about helping someone with their admin, a large number of personal qualities are required to be a successful business owner and you should be aware of what they are before you start.
I’ve been shocked by many of the stories I’ve heard from clients, new enquiries and VAs who are looking to hire associates and can’t find one who passes muster.
I’ve heard stories of VAs who fail to deliver on time (or at all), who don’t keep their clients updated on the status of tasks and who constantly keep checking back with their clients when their job is to get on with a task they say they can do and are being paid a lot of money to do.
Here are some of the most important qualities required of every top-notch Virtual Assistant.
A good Virtual Assistant is:
Being unreliable seems to be the most common of all the problems. A number of clients have told me they’ve been let down by flaky VAs who messed them about, didn’t report back on their progress, or simply didn’t deliver it at all. Sometimes they’d given their new VA a brief and then… nothing.
The VA just disappeared. Sometimes the VA had even taken a retainer payment upfront and then vanished. This kind of behaviour not only gives the Virtual Assistance industry a bad name but the next VA the client hires will face suspicion and doubt.
I even know people who say they will never hire a VA again because they’ve had such a bad experience.
Professionalism is paramount in our industry, so if a client sends you an email or leaves a voice message, they should receive a reply. It doesn’t have to be immediately, but it needs to be the same day.
Virtual Assistants are not cheap and, even though mistakes will inevitably be made, a VA sells themselves on their ability to provide reliable and accurate business support.
This is why I always suggest that VAs offer what they know how to do – at least when they first start out. If you offer the things you already know how to do, you will be confident about doing them and will do a good job.
Clients always need to know the status of their tasks. Both you and your clients should always be clear on deadlines, each other’s availability, the frequency of updates, and when and how the updates are to be delivered.
Some clients may want weekly updates, some are happy to just let you get on with a task and others may want daily feedback. Some may prefer these updates by email and others may use a specific app or platform.
Using Trello or Asana is a great way to keep track of tasks as the client can see the status at any time even if it’s out of working hours.
A client should never, ever have to chase their VA for updates.
Can manage their time
VAs work with multiple clients but each one will think (and needs to think) they’re your only client – or at least, the most important one!
You will have countless things to do each day so it’s important to diarise everything and plan ahead. It’s also a good idea to schedule tasks that require more focus for when you’re at your most efficient or have an uninterrupted period of time.
This sounds a bit mean, but people often send me emails or ask questions in my Facebook group about things they could easily find using Google, using the group’s search box or by reading my website.
Virtual Assistants are professional problem-solvers and you will be asked to find or sort numerous things.
You’re not Yoda so you’re not going to know how to do everything – and clients won’t expect you to either. A VAs job is to ‘sort stuff”, so if your client needs a plumber, you just find one – you’re not going to learn how to plumb in a sink!
Keep learning and try to keep on top of developments in technology, the VA industry and your client’s industries as well.
Can manage expectations and instil confidence
If you appear hesitant about your abilities or look like you don’t know what you’re doing, your clients will doubt your ability to help them – they will also question whether you’re worth the money.
They are paying for a professional.
Think about how you would feel if you hired an electrician, a hairdresser or an accountant. You wouldn’t want to see any of these people look doubtful of their abilities!
So, although you may have to ‘fake it until you make it’ confidence-wise, anyone who runs a business should be confident in their abilities.
Many VAs lack self-confidence when they first start out and they even want to charge a lower fee ‘because they’re new’. But even if you’re new to freelancing, you will have years of experience behind you. You may be a new business owner, but you’re not new to the world of work.
Many VAs will often just wait to be given work and they aren’t proactive in making work for themselves.
If you’re invested in the success of your client’s business and you know why they set up their business, how they get clients/customers, what their follow-up processes are, what their challenges are or what they hope to achieve each year, they will see you as a valued resource and will never want you to leave.
So, think for your clients, introduce them to new tools or ways of working, anticipate their needs, find ways they can improve their processes, help them set annual goals (and then review them), and help them find opportunities.
If your clients have more work and money, you will have more work and money.
Is self-directed, disciplined and can work alone
It’s quite common for freelancers to feel lonely. I was surprised when I first discovered this because I’m very happy working by myself and had never considered that some people might miss the company of others.
While you can use co-working spaces and occasionally work from coffee shops (get headphones!), you will spend most of the day by yourself.
Co-working spaces are great actually, as you will often pick up clients there and being around other business owners means you can stay on top of developments and be exposed to other types of businesses and ways of working/thinking.
It can also be hard to focus and not be distracted by social media, emails, the Internet, cat videos, the doorbell, and domestic distractions (“oh, I’ll just do the washing/run the hoover around/dust”) when you work from home.
Self-discipline and the ability to get on with your work is vital. No work done = no money!
What other VAs say:
I have a Facebook group with thousands of members from all over the world. When I asked them what qualities they thought were essential in a good Virtual Assistant they said:
- Good communicator
- Resilient/thick-skinned (being thick-skinned is a big one!)
It might not be for you
I sometimes used to write CVs for freelancers who wanted to return to full-time employment.
Their reasons included disliking: the solitude, having to constantly motivate themselves, unreliable income, late payers, marketing, awkward clients and the responsibility that comes with being a business owner.
So think hard about the qualities needed to be a successful VA and whether you have them.
Running your own business is really hard work and it is not for everyone, but if you do possess these qualities you could be a fantastic, stand-out Virtual Assistant who does our industry proud.
Think you have what it takes?
If you shouted “I have all of those qualities – and more!” then maybe it’s time to start setting up your Virtual Assistant business.
With lifetime access and an incredible trainee-only support group, my DIY VA course will get you there in no time. You can even pay in instalments.
Wow. I need to possess those qualities for me to be more successful. Thank you so much!
great list of qualities looking forward to gaining them as I start my internship soon
This is a great list of qualities that a virtual assistant should have. Everything is on point.
I agree! Being a Virtual Assistant isn’t really that hard. You just have to put yourself out to provide your utmost assistance to your clients. These qualities are really what every VA must possess, especially the self-confidence. Anyone must be confident enough to help and must always believe that they won’t let their client down whatever it takes.
I have all these qualities and I do all of this already in a company setting. The only problem is, I like working by myself too but in a company setting that’s seen as being anti-social. I always let the buck stop with me, even when there’s a possibility that other co-workers were involved … I thought that was a good thing but apparently they see it as me making them look bad. I don’t know if I’ll make a good VA, but everything you wrote seems to fit well with me.
Great article – first I’ve read on your website (just stumbled while searching on how to start VA job). I’m actually anxious and reluctant to give it a try – even though I really want to. I think because the industry is very competitive nowadays, and I’m afraid I may not be able to keep up. However, after reading this…I don’t know…it just makes me feel excited and challenged to do so.
Guess I need to read more of your works and get myself convinced!
Thank you, Jo 🙂
hi just stumbled on this article ,very insightful. and right timing for me ,giving that am seriously considering being a VA.what motivated me to path ,is that I spend a lot of idle time in the Internet basically doing nothing profitable.then I began searching and looking for ways to be useful online and I stumbled on this skill called virtual assistant,still trying to learn all what is involved but deep down my guts tells me this career path is for me.All the qualities u mentioned in this article I sure posses them .nevertheless I need some more guidance in this my path of interest.I keep searching and schooling myself.please wish me luck. A big thank you for the write up
Totally agree with you,thank you so much for sharing all this..
God bless you Jo.
Hi! I would like to ask if a VA needs to have some specific trainings or college degree? And can an 18 years old student apply as VA? Thank you! Hope to get a response soon!
No, you don’t need a degree but you do need to have very good organisational and admin skills. A VA is a freelance administrator / PA foremost so they need to have excellent language, communication, spelling, grammar and admin skills.
Helllo! I am really happy I found this website and read this article. I am a graduate student and I have been thinking of working online now as a VA well because I want to further my education. As a total beginner i was scared and doubting myself whether this job is the right one for me or not. So in order to boost my self-confidence i try to filled my head with resources and getting help from Google. After I read this article, i knew i found the best resources. I felt relieved but still there are a few lingering doubt inside me like if i can do a job well done or not or if i can keep up with the client’s requests. Nonetheless, I will try my hardest to do my best. And although i do this for the money, interest and knowledge, I know a job as a VA is not to be belittled. Thank you for this article!
I totally agree with the need to be RESOURCEFUL. Whenever friends approach me and ask how to be a VA, I always tell them to be resourceful and 99% of anything they would not know, they will find it in the web. Unfortunately, even if I say it that Google will be their friend, they always tend to ask questions to a real person (and that’s me). All silly things such as how to use gmail and screenshots. And that’s irritating! And then they would ask if I can refer them to my clients??? Urgh!
Thank you for your comment Milette, sadly this seems to be a very common occurrence. Some people want everything on a plate and not have to find out anything for themselves. Unfortunately the opposite is exactly what you need to do in order to work for yourself!
A well-written post. There are so many people out there who want to work online but did not do anything to become one. I mean they don’t research and just want someone to spoon-feed them all the ideas!
This is very true! After hating virtual assistance for long, I came across this post several months a go. I can now say I discovered myself. Thanks
I just recently embarked on this journey of becoming a Freelance Virtual Assistant and somehow, I realized that it’s really more of leading your own business to success than just following someone else’s lead towards theirs. The set of qualities you have written is absolutely a good read for a beginner like me. Talk about setting proper expectations! Thanks, Jo! Will be digging into more of your posts for helpful insights.
Good article listing these virtual assistant qualities. It is always saddening to hear about those clients who got a bad experience from their previous VAs. Those VAs who are messing up with their job, mess up with the clients and give bad reputation to the skilled and performing VAs. I am a VA for years now and I remember when I was a newbie. I never considered myself one because I do not want to give myself some justification why I cannot do my job. Newbie or not, you were hired because you had what it takes to perform the tasks. It is a matter of being serious about your job and considering the business your own.
Thank you for your comment Mariane and you are so right. People seem to think because they’re new they somehow can’t do their job. They’re new freelancers not new at the task and are very much underselling themselves. x
Found you this week and downloaded your handbook. I set up my VA business in the 1 Oct and I’m hearing so many different things but your handbook was very easy to read confirmed what I already have in place and what I need to do which fortunately is not too much. I agree with you on the use of social networking for my business and am very alien to it so I have arranged one to one training with a local specialist in this area so that I can offer it to my clients. I have landed my first day’s work for next month along with some regular work through another VA company so it is all systems go which will give me more confidence to obtain and work with more clients. I know I have the qualities you mention above to make this work. Thanks for all the tips.
That is great news Lisa! It sounds like you’re well on your way. You’re doing the right things and you have the right attitude – which is something you can’t learn. I’m really pleased my website has helped you and that you’re finding my tips useful. Feel free to attend my live Q&A session (details in the blue bar at the top of the site) or maybe listed to the replay if you can’t make it. x
Great article. I tick all the boxes so I’m off to buy a bucket of confidence and start my amazing new career! As you can see, I’ve got my email address and website set up so there’s no stopping me now….is there????
No, there is absolutely NO stopping you now! You’ve clearly grasped the concept of only having one life and being determined to live it on your terms so you never wake up one day full of regret. Go get ’em Helen!! x
HI! I am from Mauritius and would like to start as a Virtual Assistant. Do you think this will bring me success in a country like ours.
Hi Vidya, I don’t see why not. You look at what skills you have and then find people who need those things doing. Also, you’re virtual so can work for anyone in the World! Your job is to do some research by asking around and finding out. Use my blog post on The Best 3 Ways to Find Your First Client to help you. x
I’m at a point in my life when the Corporate world has chewed me up and spat me out too many times.. I’ve wanted to become a Virtual Assistant for the past year or so since redundancy No 4! I’ve done quite a bit research into it and even have a couple of ‘introductions’ to work with but I’ve found it all a bit slow-going and once I get an itch I need to scratch it!!
I have spent the past couple of hours trawling through your various guides and general information and now feel even more driven to get started. I will follow up my introductions but at the end of the day, I need to be the driver behind my future and not totally rely on others to make this happen for me.
Thanks – I’ll be back!
You go girl!
Managing expectations and instilling confidence – these two should be discussed between the virtual assistant and the client before agreeing to any contract. For one thing, the virtual assistant needs to be clear of her abilities or capabilities to be able to give value to the client. For another, the client must be able to provide a clear picture of the tasks involved.
I couldn’t agree more. Both things are vitally important when managing clients. Thank you for your contribution – much appreciated!
Thank you Joanne for the wonderful site, I have been on this site just a few times, since I met you on Quora, and I have found there is so much to learn in here in regards to Virtual Assistant work. It’s as if you are the person I have been looking for all this time ever since I began my journey into Internet work life.
I finally have started to see my destiny more clearly since I found your site just a few weeks ago. There is nobody who says it all so clearly and better than you do, I for one have a rather unique VA story that I would like to share with you, so please look out for my story in your inbox. The story is just about how the VA industry can and has helped me try fight poverty and daily life struggles from a slum in Africa.
Please expect my story soon, and Thanks again for the great site
Thank you for sharing your knowledge and experience – the good, the bad, and the ugly!
I’ve been trying with the idea of becoming a VA – doing loads of research, and attending business planning sessions – your words have reminded me to take the plunge (rather than wait ’til everything is perfect!)
I know it’s not going to be easy, but will make the most of the ups and downs along the way!
Hi Wai, I’m very happy you’re ready to take the plunge now. It can be very tempting to research the whole thing to death when you just need to get started! Good luck! x
Thanks so much for your blunt and candid information on becoming a VA. I’ve been toying with the VA idea for a while now, having not worked since having my son 6 years ago. I’d love to have my own business, I have over 20 years admin experience, I’ve already spoken to a Training provider about updating my skill set and I’m still wondering if this is a good fit for me. I’m so scared of letting people down, by people I mean clients, I’m scared that I’ll find it hard to set boundaries so work and family life become too intertwined. But I keep getting all these references popping up everywhere about becoming a VA! Aggggghhhhh!!! Any advice please for the confused mum? Thanks
Hi Jo, I can’t help you with your fears sadly as they’re things only you can fix. I can say that you’ll never know how you’ll handle anything until you give it a go. You’re worried you’ll let clients down – then don’t, you’re worried you’ll find it hard to set boundaries – you’ll adapt and work it out. These fears are in your head and are not yet real. What if you’re great at it and wish you’d tried sooner? At least you know what things you don’t want to happen so have awareness, that’s a good thing surely?
I’m not here to convince you to become one, only to guide you once you’ve made the decision. It sound like you have everything you need to become a VA, you just need the courage to try. What’s the worst that can happen? It doesn’t work out and you do something else! x
Hi Jo, I’ve just been re-reading my post and your encouraging comments from last year. They made me smile! I’m going ahead and am excited for the challenges and lessons it will bring. Your website and the info on it are so amazingly helpful and I really do appreciate your candid approach. Thanks again. Jo xx
Jo, thank you for another brilliant post. It never ceases to amaze me how many people want to become a VA but don’t know where to start or what to do or even know that much about it. It worries me. I always say RESEARCH! Why don’t they do it? We have this amazing and vast educational tool called Google, you can find anything you want and even stuff you never thought of. I am still on a learning curve and expect to continue to learn as technology changes so quickly. It is hard but I have never had any doubts that I made the right choice and keep plugging away. There is also mindset – you have to be able to step away from being an employee and become a business owner. You work with your clients to improve their business rather than work for them.
You do talk an awful lot of sense and I’m lucky that I found your website about a year ago, during my initial research – it became my bible. Thank you Jo
Thank you Tracey, what a lovely thing to say! What worries me is when people say they’re thinking of becoming a VA because they need the money. It’s far easier to go and get a job in a shop or pub than it is to set up your own business. I’m disheartened when people think all they have to do is a little bit of admin here and there and they’ll make it as a VA because there’s loads more to what we do than that.
I’m still learning. I use Feedly to bring in news feeds from my favourite blogs – experts on SEO, marketing, social media, freelancing, technology etc – then make sure I read them to stay ahead of the game. You also have to like learning; if you’re doing it just because you feel you should then it’s going to be much harder and not enjoyable.
I agree with you on the mindset one too. The day I realised I didn’t have to take orders from one of my very first (and domineering) clients and fired her instead was a revelation. It can often take something like a nightmare client for you to realise that you work with them not for them. Your actions and the words you choose need to subtly make and keep the distinction clear.
I love it when people comment on here so thank you very much for your contribution. Much appreciated. x
I am new member on here, to be honest its 5:35 in the morning and I have been up most of the early hours soaking in Jo’s VA information and CV writing site, Career Pioneers. I just wanted to say I am quite blown away by what has been imparted to me. I have over the last few days gone from strength to strength and learnt a lot of lessons of the calibre of professionals out here on the web, and Jo is just simply amazing – I will be contacting her shortly for professional help re writing my CV.
Thank you thank thank you Jo!!
Thank you so much for your lovely comments Dawn, you must be shattered now! Drop me a line if you’d like your CV written and we can take it from there. x
Ahhhh, about time SOMEONE wrote this in as clear and friendly language as you do Jo, THANK YOU!
Happy you agree!!
This is very timely Jo, as I am a starting newbie being an early retiree from the corporate. This makes realize the distinction to the VA world but will go for it. Thanks!
I just love your sense of humour and straight forward style 🙂
I just have to say Jo, I love your work. I can honestly say it’s easy to read and understand, honest and to the point. I take so much from it.
You’re my new best friend…
Oh my word! Here I am with all the qualities mentioned above and I still hesitate to put myself out there as a VA scared that I’m not going to “fit the profile of a good VA”. Thanks for writing this post, now I know I’m on the right track and need to get my ducks in a row so I can get started.
What are you waiting for? Do it now – go! go! go!