So you’re ready to start an AWESOME online career and you’ve heard about this virtual assistant thing! Welcome to the best job ever.
This is a flexible, challenging, and rewarding career. You might want to become a virtual assistant to leave your 9-5, work from home, be closer to your family, or travel the world and work from your laptop. Those are all fantastic reasons to become a VA!
I became a virtual assistant in 2016 to supplement our family’s income and it grew into my passion.
I made a CRAPTON of mistakes in the beginning! I wish there had been some kind of guide to help me get started. That’s what this is: the ULTIMATE guide for people who want to become a virtual assistant. This guide will explain everything from picking a niche to finding clients – and how to manage them once you’ve got them!
Get cozy, this is going to be a long one. No time to read right now? Scroll to the bottom to get the printable version of this post to print and read later!
(Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links, which means I earn a commission when you purchase through a link on my website. All opinions are my own and I only promote products I use and love.)
What is a Virtual Assistant?
If you’re here, I’m assuming you have a basic idea of what a virtual assistant (VA) is, but just to clarify:
A virtual assistant is an independent business owner who works remotely performing tasks for clients.
What kinds of tasks? Administrative tasks. Social media. Blog-related work. Graphic design. All kinds of tasks. If you can do it from your computer, you can probably offer it as a VA.
Wondering what skills you have that you could turn into virtual assistant services? Check out this list of tasks you can outsource to virtual staff for some inspiration.
Where to Start
There are three main ways to get started as a virtual assistant: agencies, subcontracting, and independent clients.
I started out with great difficulty, competing on Upwork and working for an agency that paid me $11 an hour. While some virtual assistants do make a good living through freelance sites and working with agencies, it is one of the more strenuous paths and tends to pay less. If you just want to be a VA a few hours a week to supplement your income, an agency could be a good option because an agency will match you with clients and you don’t have to do the legwork of marketing.
I will say that working for an agency brought me steady income while I was working on finding my own clients, so it can be useful when you’re starting out.
Some of the popular agencies are:
Subcontracting is when another virtual assistant outsources work to you. This comes in many forms. Some VAs hire out jobs on a per project basis when they’re feeling swamped or a client needs skills they don’t have. Other VAs have a more long-term relationship and consider their subcontractors part of a team, throughout which tasks are dispersed to whoever has the best skills for the job. Some small teams even function like an agency and match you to clients to work with one-on-one (but the pay is usually better).
Subcontracting is a great way to learn from experienced VAs as you enter the industry. If you’re interested in subcontracting, skip down to the section called “Network with Virtual Assistants” for a list of some of my favorite VA groups on Facebook. Ask around to see if anyone is hiring!
You can also head over to my team’s application page and apply to subcontract with my company, Be Vibrant Business Services. We are looking to expand our team over the next year and will keep your application on file and contact you for an interview if a spot opens up on the team.
This is the goal for most VAs – to have their own clients, be their own boss, and work their own way. This style of work takes the most time because there is a lot of marketing involved, but is the most financially rewarding and gives you the most flexibility as far as how you work and the types of clients you work with.
The rest of this guide is written with the assumption that you want to have your own business and clients.
Choosing a Niche
Choosing a niche is the first step to becoming a VA. The types of clients you’re going to work with or the types of services you’ll offer will guide the rest of these steps. Define your ideal client or list of services before you do anything else.
It might be very specific: “I’m going to work with mom bloggers.”
Or more general: “I’m going to work with creative independent professionals.”
You can also specialize in a specific service like podcasts or blogging.
Figuring out my niche made me crazy in the beginning. Pick something. I will tell you one of the best pieces of advice I ever read: You are anonymous right now. No one knows who you are. This is the best time to experiment with your business before your name gets out there. Don’t be afraid to try new things. If you don’t attract clients in one niche, try something else.
Here are just a few ideas for client-based niches:
- Real estate agents
- Sole proprietors
- People with network marketing or direct sales businesses
- Wellness professionals
- Spiritual entrepreneurs
- Pet businesses
Or maybe you’re going to be service-oriented:
- Product launching
- Project management
When you’re choosing a niche, look at your past experience, current skills, and think about who you’d like to work with. You’re becoming a virtual assistant to have a job you love and to work on your own terms, so it’s OK to have a dream client and market to them!
What to Call Yourself
On a side note, you don’t have to call yourself a “virtual assistant.” I go by Virtual Assistant and Social Media Manager. Some other titles that VAs go by include: online executive assistant, online business manager, blog assistant, virtual personal assistant, virtual concierge. I take a lot of pride in being a “virtual assistant,” but some people like to choose something that more specifically describes what they do.
Pricing Your Services
Ugh, this is one of the worst parts of starting a virtual assistant business and new VAs frequently undersell themselves. I charged $12 – yes, twelve dollars – per hour when I started. That’s pretty dang low. I now charge $30-40 per hour, depending on the service.
The trouble with pricing is that there is such a broad range of rates. Some VAs charge $20 while others charge over $80 per hour. VAs in some countries charge less than in the United States. Many people new to the industry believe they should charge less because they don’t have experience.
Generally, virtual assistants with administrative experience charge less than virtual assistants with technological skills aka “tech VAs.” I’ve seen anywhere between $20-35 per hour for administrative services. If you are charging less than $20 per hour, you’re undercharging. The price you charge should be based on your skills, the types of services you offer, and the clients you are working with.
Some people believe that because the cost of living is lower in countries like Kenya, the Philippines, and India, those VAs should be paid less. It’s not uncommon for people in the US to outsource work to other countries and pay their VAs $8 per hour. This drives me batty.
I am a firm believer that skill and competency are not location-based. If you are an amazing VA in the Philippines and you can do your work with the same level of proficiency as a VA in the US, charge the same amount. A common argument is that people in other countries do not speak English as well as people in the US and Europe, therefore there are language and cultural barriers with overseas VAs, making them less effective than American or European assistants. Again, your rates should be based on your skill level and services. If you speak perfect English and are a WordPress pro, charge the same $50 an hour as everyone else. You deserve it. We all have to make a living.
Finally, if you’re worried about charging too much without experience and want to charge less when you’re starting out, that’s OK, but remember that you already have skills and past job experience that are valuable too.
Types of Pricing
While we’re on the topic of pricing, we should talk about hourly, hourly retainer, and package pricing.
You charge by the hour and track your time. Hourly is good for small projects and for people just starting out, but can be cumbersome to manage when you have multiple clients. You don’t get paid until after the hours are completed and you submit an invoice for the time you worked.
With hourly retainers, a client pays you upfront to reserve a number of hours for the month. For example, if your rate is $20 and they purchase 10 hours for the month, they pay you $200 upfront and you reserve those 10 hours for their tasks. You still track your hours, but you get paid before you do the work.
Hourly retainers are an easier way to work hourly but manage your client load. If you want to work 30 hours per week, that’s 120 hours per month. You can sell blocks of time until you reach that 120-hour mark, so you’ll know just how many clients you can take on without being overwhelmed.
Packages are the ideal for most virtual assistants. With a package, a client pays for a finished product rather than a number of hours. One example is my social media management package, which includes:
- A social media strategy and calendar
- Daily scheduling of posts for 2 social media accounts
- Content curation for both accounts
- 5 custom graphics per account per month
The client pays for those things to be completed. It doesn’t matter if it takes 2 hours or 10 hours, the rate is the same. This is great for the virtual assistant because you can charge a little more as a buffer if something takes longer than normal. If it takes less time, you make even more money. No messy hour tracking either! The client is happy because they know exactly what will be delivered each month.
It’s generally recommended that new virtual assistants start with hourly retainers before packages. You need to track time and know how long different types of tasks take before you can package them and price them accurately. Once you have a good feel for hourly, then try creating some packages!
Writing a Business Plan
I could write a whole book on how to write a business plan, just for virtual assistants. Writing a business plan shouldn’t be rushed. I won’t go into details here, but I will say that you NEED a business plan to give you direction and that business plans should be fun. You’re planning your dream business, so get excited about it! You don’t have to write something stuffy. Check out this free template for a creative business plan.
Writing a Contract
I cringe when I hear about virtual assistants working without a contract. A contract protects you and the client. YOU ABSOLUTELY NEED A CONTRACT. There are many templates available online for virtual assistant contracts, but if you’re really serious about making this a business, I suggest having a lawyer do your contract. If you can’t afford a lawyer, some virtual assistants have also gotten help from LegalZoom.
Setting Up Social Media
Set up one or two social media profiles to start. It can be overwhelming trying to manage every social media channel at once. I recommend Facebook as #1. Twitter and Instagram are also popular for virtual assistants. If you’re planning to blog as part of your marketing, Pinterest is a good option too.
It’s important to keep your social media profiles professional and to use the 70/30 rule: only 30% self-promotion, 70% other content. Social media marketing is very involved, so I recommend my Social Media Marketing Pinterest board as a starting point. I’ve linked to lots of helpful articles.
The best way to learn social media marketing is to read everything you can get your eyes on, learn from other virtual assistants, stay on top of trends, and experiment. Remember what I said about being anonymous? Now is the time to see what works and what doesn’t so don’t be afraid to play with social media!
Networking with Virtual Assistants
Once you’ve decided to become a virtual assistant and have the foundation of your business (niche, business plan, etc.) it’s time to start getting social. Before you start looking for clients, meet some other VAs. My favorite place to network with others in the industry is in Facebook groups.
Facebook groups are a safe space to ask questions, get feedback, and make VA friends. You can also find subcontracting opportunities in many groups.
A few of my favorites:
- Virtual Assistant Lifestyle
- Virtual Assistant Subcontractors for Hire
- Virtual Assistant Empowerment Group
- VA Tips & Tricks
Building a Website
While you can build a virtual assistant business with only social media profiles, a website is a handy place to send people for information about you and your services.
I recommend purchasing a domain name. A “yourwebsite.com” domain looks more professional than a “yourwebsite.wordpress.com” domain or something similar. Yes, a website is an investment. You do have to invest a little in your business upfront.
I recommend HostGator for web hosting because their site is so user-friendly and they have good customer service. Their plans start at around $11 per month and get cheaper as you purchase more months of hosting. If you’re really tight on cash, try A Small Orange. Their site isn’t as sleek and convenient, but you can host your site on a month-to-month plan for $5.
I use WordPress.org for all of my websites. WordPress is free software that you can install on any web host and will give you the most flexibility in designing your website. You will need to choose a theme. There is a huge library of free themes in WordPress, but if you have a bit more money to invest, try Divi, a drag-and-drop builder that you can use to create beautiful sites in just a couple hours.
At a minimum, your website should have the following pages: homepage, about, services, contact.
Should you list your rates on your website? There is a ton of debate about it. Some people believe that listing your rates on your website weeds out bargain hunters and people who don’t value your services. Others think that if you sell well during a consultation with a prospective client, they’ll love you so much that your price won’t matter. I side with the former and list all of my rates directly on my website. You decide what is best for your business.
A Media Kit
If you don’t want to or don’t have the funds to build a website, a media kit is another option. Traditionally, media kits are used by businesses and bloggers for communicating with well…the media…before product launches or press releases. However, you can create something similar to help you convey important information to potential clients. Here is what mine looks like:
A media kit will contain similar information to what you’d have on a website. Here are some ideas:
- Business name
- A photo of you
- An “about” section
- Testimonials from clients
- Links to your social media pages
You can design a media kit for free using Canva. Save it as a PDF to send to prospects who contact your via email or social media.
Finding Your First Client
The first piece of advice I give to every new VA in regards to finding that first client is to start with your personal contacts. Tell everyone what you’re doing.
When I started out, I felt like being a VA was weird because no one knew what it was. I only told a few people. It turned out, people think it’s pretty cool and glamorous that I make a living online. I got my first three clients through a friend who owns a business. Imagine how many more connections I might have made if I’d just opened up my mouth and proclaimed that I was starting a virtual assistant business. Start there.
Next, go to where your clients are hanging out. Are they at business meetups? In Facebook groups? Are they local businesses? Figure out where they congregate and go engage with them. Engage, don’t sell. No one likes to be pitched to. Instead, build relationships with people who might make good connections or might need your services in the future. Tell them what you do, but don’t shove it in their face.
Try different forms of advertising, like business cards, fliers, or posting a classified ad in a newspaper or online.
Another place to look is Flexjobs, a website that connects remote workers with jobs. It’s a paid membership site, but it only costs around $15 per month. Sometimes ads for remote workers come up on Craigslist as well.
This is really where the hustle begins. If you want to grow your business quickly, you need to put real effort into finding clients.
My Story – Why You Gotta HUSTLE!
I had another young business and had been supplementing my income with a part-time job before I became a VA. When I lost my part-time job, I swore I wasn’t going to work for someone else for minimum wage again, so I decided to become a virtual assistant. I had four weeks to make up my lost income.
I did it.
What did I do every day to make it happen? As I mentioned in the beginning, my start wasn’t ideal. I took really low-paying writing jobs on Upwork. I worked for an agency for a fraction of what I now charge as an independent VA. I reached out to contacts I had from my first business. I posted in Facebook groups. I created a website. I emailed local businesses to introduce myself. I spent hours every day looking for clients and I did low-paying work to make ends meet until I got my footing.
If I was not in such a desperate position, I would have done it differently. If there were 3 things I could have spent my time on, in the beginning, knowing what I know now, I would have:
- Told everyone I knew about my new business, shared it on all of my personal social media profiles, and asked them to connect me with anyone they might know who might benefit from my services.
- Networked in Facebook groups. (See Networking Online below.)
- Joined a local business networking group.
If you don’t have clients yet, you need to be spending all your working hours trying to find clients.
Use ideas from these two blog posts to inspire you as you begin marketing yourself:
Testimonials give you credibility. Prospective clients want to know that other people have had a good experience working with you. It can be difficult to get testimonials in the beginning when you have few or no clients.
One way to get testimonials is to do work for family, friends, or former colleagues or business connections. They’re usually willing to say something nice about you, even if you’re new or inexperienced.
However, I’ll be honest…I bartered for mine in the beginning. I posted in an entrepreneur group on Facebook that I was willing to do three hours of work for a three people in exchange for testimonials for my website. If you don’t have a ton of work yet, nine hours of your time is a minimal investment and is worth the praise you can display on your website or media kit.
Pro tip: Make them sign a contract like any other client, but where you’d normally list their monthly rate, put it in writing that they’ll provide a testimonial in exchange for your work. Hold them to it!
Networking on Facebook, Twitter, and other social sites is vital to running a business online. It’s the NUMBER ONE way to meet new clients and other entrepreneurs who can connect you with people who need your services.
This topic is another that deserves a giant blog post of its own and I can’t go into too much detail here, but you need to be building relationships online. Join Facebook groups first, groups where your clients are mingling. Be helpful. Answer questions. Ask questions. Get feedback. Promote yourself on their promo days. Don’t sell. Right now, you’re building relationships.
If you want to learn how to really network on Facebook, as well as some other brilliant ways to market online, try the Sign a Client in 30 course from Create Your Laptop Life.
Marketing yourself consistently brings clients, but then what? You’re doing the work, obviously, but here’s some advice on managing clients, time, and tasks.
- Keep a planner. I use Passion Planner because it’s designed with goal-setting in mind and can be a HUGE motivator when you’re starting a business. You can get 10% off with the code AMBERMC10.
- Use tools to help you manage each client’s tasks.
- Utilize your peak time of day. If you’re an early riser, get to work straight away. If you’re a night owl, stay up late to work. The beauty of working as a virtual assistant is that you get to decide your schedule.
- Always ask clients to schedule calls rather than calling you at random. Otherwise, you will spend all day on the phone instead of doing work and marketing. I ask that all my clients schedule calls with me through Calendly, which is free and integrates with Outlook or Google Calendar.
- Let clients know your working hours as well as a turnaround time on most tasks. For example, I’m available to schedule calls and answer emails 9-5, Monday through Friday, but all tasks have a 48 hour turnaround time. This gives me the flexibility to work at my peak times without feeling overwhelmed.
- Stay in touch with clients and follow up on open tasks. I always say that 50% of what I get paid for is chasing people around telling them they forgot something. That’s part of the job. Don’t let communication lapse.
- Provide weekly status updates to your clients so that you’re on the same page as tasks are completed.
Best Tools for Virtual Assistants
When you become a virtual assistant, organization is a priority. In addition to the tips for managing clients, there are tools you can use that are totally free that will help you stay organized and run a business efficiently.
Task management: Asana
Receiving payments: Paypal
Scheduling social media: Buffer
Graphic design: Canva
Tracking hours: Toggl
Storing files: Google Drive
Creating digital contracts: HelloSign
Email marketing: Mailerlite
Continuing Your Education
A virtual assistant should upgrade her skills regularly. When you learn new skills, you have more to offer to your clients.
My go-to source for courses is Udemy because they have courses on almost everything. I have taken courses on sales funnels, Facebook ads, blogging, web design, and more.
Two other popular sources for virtual assistant training are VA Classroom University, which is only open to enrollment three times a year, but is PACKED with valuable training, and The Techie Mentor, which offers many courses on in-demand tech skills like WordPress and Infusionsoft.
Virtual assistant work is a rewarding career path that can be adapted to almost any lifestyle. With planning and dedication, you can grow your business to a part-time or full-time income in a short amount of time.
Download the Printable Version
That was A LOT of information and you might be feeling overwhelmed right now. That’s OK.
Download the printable version of this blog post to refer back to as you walk through each step to beginning your virtual assistant business.
Want more advice and information on beginning your VA business? I offer affordable, customized 30- or 60-minute guidance sessions for new virtual assistants, as well as an in-depth business planning session in which I will help you write your business plan step-by-step. Get all the info here.