For those trying to make an honest living online, becoming a virtual assistant (VA) is one way to do it. One of the big appeals of being a VA is that you do not necessarily need advanced technical skills or a degree, and you can start earning relatively quickly. And there’s loads of online business that are looking for VA’s.
In doing research on VA’s and while conversing with some of the VA’s who submitted their stories (see below), I was frankly quite surprised with how well some of them were doing. I had previously assumed that if you’re doing relatively unskilled work online like updating spreadsheets, answering customer support emails, doing admin work etc. that you’d only get paid peanuts, but that is not necessarily the case. There are actually plenty of people making a great living even by western standards working as online VA’s. They’ve just learned how to sell themselves well, find the right clients, and be diligent in their work.
To help out people who are considering turning to this kind of work, we put out the following query, asking for VA’s to share their tips & stories:
With COVID-19 many people are turning online to look for work, and one way people can earn money is through being a virtual assistant and doing miscellaneous tasks for people and businesses. For virtual assistants who have made a decent living online, we’d like to hear your story. How did you get started, what worked for you, and what tips/advice do you have for aspiring virtual assistants? All input welcome.
The below are the submissions we’ve received from VA’s so far (if you’re a VA yourself, you’re welcome to make a submission). Our requirements are VA’s ONLY — no generic tips from people who have never actually worked as a VA.
I was a virtual assistant for many years until I began my own business. Here are some crucial things I learned in those years.
I had little to no graphic design and video editing experience. It wasn't a requirement of my job. However, the time came when my company needed those services.
I decided to step up and ask my manager to give me a chance to edit graphics for social media and also, his videos for YouTube. I learned quickly and developed new skills that I use till today for my own business.
By challenging myself to do more than whats required from me, I got to learn new skills. I wasn't perfect, but my manager was still impressed and offered to pay for online courses to help me increase my knowledge.
I went through online courses, YouTube tutorials, and forums on weekends. This certainly helped me early on in my career.
Another crucial learning point is the market your company is in. Try to learn as much as you can about trends related to your market. This will make it easier for you to understand what your manager is going through and will also make it easier for the two of you to work with each other.
Work Hard and Play Hard
Most virtual assistants get paid in hours. It seems easy to record 8 hours of work daily, until you actually start working. If 6 hours is your limit for a days work, then let it be, dont try to push any harder in a day. You rather cover up on a Saturday morning.
Remember, 8 hours of work means little to no breaks. This can lead to burnout and burnout is real. Pace yourself accordingly while also finding ways to challenge yourself without it being too stressful.
--Jack Paxton, Top Growth Marketing
I started my VA business, Your Virtual Pro (www.yourvirtualpro.com), about four years ago as a side hustle. I was looking for ways to bring in extra income so I could quit my day job and stay home with my kids. I basically just dove in head first. I didn't buy any courses but I joined many VA Facebook groups, which were (and are) amazing resources with invaluable insight.
I think it's very important to niche down and focus on a specific market: graphic design, real estate, Instagram—whatever your area of expertise. I am an SEO (search engine optimization) virtual assistant and I help bloggers, entrepreneurs, digital marketing agencies and small businesses improve their rankings by providing keyword research, link building and content creation services.
I have found that the best way to find work is to join other Facebook groups where my potential clients spend time and offer my services there. There's no hard sell ever; I just try to offer value, tips and advice and then mention what I do. I have found 90% of my clients on Facebook. It's an absolute goldmine if you can figure out how to work it.
My tips for aspiring VAs would be to:
1. Niche down as much as possible. You can't be a jack-of-all-trades. If you don't have one specific skill, find out what's most in demand and master it. Then market yourself. For example, I see people asking for help with Dubsado. Learn it inside and out and then sell yourself as an expert.
2. Create a website to highlight your services and portfolio and include testimonials.
3. Join Facebook groups for virtual assistants and groups where your clients hang out.
4. Offer value! Share your expertise. Offer to provide some free help. Many times people spread the word and you can get referral work. Sometimes when I see someone asking for help on Facebook I send them a private message with tailored advice and then later mention that I'm an SEO VA. No hard selling ever.
--Samara, Your Virtual Pro
Last year, I decided to start a virtual assistant business but had no prior experience. I created a profile on Upwork, and used the work experience I had as a teacher and small business owner to show I had the skills necessary to be a VA. With the abundance of job opportunities for virtual assistants on Upwork, I was applying to many of them, but still being sure to find the ones I had the experience for, and thought I would be the best fit. It takes time to apply to jobs, but once you land that first client, the next few will come much easier. In the last year, I have now landed 8 different clients, a few I have worked with ongoing for a year. This has become my full-time income, that gives me the flexibility to work from home and on my own hours.
Upwork is a great place to start a VA business, as it has plenty of job opportunities to choose from and is an easy platform to create a profile and show your experience. Take the time to create a quality proposal to send to clients, that you personalize for each job opportunity. Then once you land clients and build relationships, you can move off Upwork and work independently as a virtual assistant.
--Katrina Waardenburg, My Graceful Rose
I started my company in 2016 when I was 7 months pregnant and did not want to go back to work a 9-5 so I just started. I jumped in without knowing who I wanted to work with or what I wanted to offer or how. My biggest advice to ANYONE who wants to become a VA is just start. If you wait until you are completely prepared, you will wait forever. You have to just jump in and take risks, find out what you want to offer, what industry you want to serve and things will fall into place as time goes on.
My top tips for becoming a Virtual Assistant that worked for me is
1. Start, just start without hesitation and give it your all
2. Find Your Niche! I know people think let me serve any and everyone to increase my chances of getting work BUT people want to hire someone that is an expert in their field
3. Do not jump in and take any and every free and paid course on the internet. Really research courses and do your own research on who you want to serve.
4. Brand yourself. People want to see consistency across your social platforms, your website, who you are, be the real YOU and show up as that person.
5. Network. Do not pay for ads and marketing before you've hit 6 figures. There are a TON of free ways to market yourself and most of the time ads bring you cold leads that turn into nothing.
--Taylor Hall, It's V.A. | Tay
I started my virtual assistant business when I still had a full-time job. I started writing for people and doing miscellaneous tech tasks that others were afraid to tackle. Many business owners do not want to deal with the technical aspects of running a business or writing blog posts. They know they need content but don’t want to spend their time writing or creating other types of content.
A virtual assistant can handle tasks that small business owners, coaches, entrepreneurs, speakers, etc. want to hand off to someone else freeing them up to do what they do best. Some VA’s handle bookkeeping and accounting, others handle project management, some do email, others focus on general clerical duties. I am a Virtual Expert® and I focus on video, website design, and writing. I sometimes do other tasks, but those are my areas of preference.
I started on a part-time basis in the evenings and weekends when I worked full-time. Since I left my position I now work more. The joy of virtual assisting and working for yourself is you set your schedule and work as much or as little as your desire. Some days I might work 12 hour days and the next day work 2 hours. I enjoy traveling, so before the pandemic, I limited my work to allow for time to enjoy traveling. Although another great thing about virtual assisting is you can do it from just about anywhere there is an internet connection.
Another thing people need to know is this isn’t an overnight, get-rich-quick business. All businesses take time and work to grow and be profitable. In time you will create a decent income and profitable business, but it is dependent on the amount of time and effort you invest.
I think one of the myths out there is that you just say you are a virtual assistant and the work will come to you. Even if you have outstanding skills it is not necessarily the case. You have to market yourself and put yourself out there. You also have to have marketable skills. People that say they are a VA but have no experience or skills need to learn. A great way to do that is to take skills courses that are available online or at a community college and also take a course on how to run your business. Many successful VA’s have created courses or actually have training programs. I took training to be a Virtual Expert® and it was extremely helpful in building my business.
1. Make sure you have marketable skills. If you need to take a course do so, but don’t stay in learning mode too long.
2. Pick an area to specialize in
3. Decide if this is a hobby or a real business. If a business, then treat it as such.
4. Take action. Many people say they want a virtual business but never actually do anything about it. Move forward. You can take baby steps but move forward.
5. Tell people about your business. They may not need your help but may know someone who does.
6. Put yourself out there and promote your business.
7. Network in-person and online.
8. Know your value and charge what you are worth.
9. Keep learning! There are always new programs, software, etc. to learn.
10. Don’t let the negative people in your life hold you back. They don’t understand the business and how much your skills are needed.
11. Deliver over the top! Be responsible and deliver what you promised and then some to your clients. So many have had bad experiences with people who said they were VA’s but didn’t do the work. Make them so happy with the experience of working with you, they want to tell their friends. (Word of mouth referrals are the best!)
--Robin O'Neal Smith, Expert Content Creation
I got started as a Virtual Assistant in 2002 and immediately took AssistU’s Virtual Training Program (www.assistu.com) on how to become a professional VA.
Since then, I’ve worked as a VA full time and have definitely made a decent living. In fact, I now only work 4 days a week and earn more than people I know who are sitting in traffic every morning to commute to jobs in corporate managerial positions. I love that I have control of my income and love the flexibility. I remember moving from San Francisco to Atlanta back in 2005 and while my husband had to “pound the pavement” looking for a job, I simply plugged in my computer and kept working; just another day in the office for me!
While it’s true that anyone with a computer, phone and reliable internet connection can easily set up a business as a Virtual Assistant, what has kept my businesses sustained and profitable all these years is that initial training that I got through AssistU and the ongoing support they provide. The program helped me create solid business plan, aided me in making the mental switch between working in the corporate world and working virtually and set me up with a network of like-minded professionals that I can turn to when I need them.
While I’ve now transitioned more in to Online Business Management (which is less tasks and more strategy), I continue to support women who want to work from home by mentoring them as they start their journey as VAs.
There’s debate on whether or not women have it all. I have to say, being a VA is as close as it gets as a working mother to having it all. I get to make excellent income and have never had to drop my kids off at daycare in the dark on the way to a “job”; I get to pop dinner in the oven and my laundry is spinning while I work.
My biggest piece of advice to anyone considering the VA industry would be to avoid a gig/freelance mentality as you go in to this. That sounds easy in the short run but will burn you out in the long run. Go in to this from a position of strength by getting appropriate training on how to run a real, profitable business. It will more than pay for itself in the long run in terms of sanity, happiness and cash flow.
--Gayle Bu, gaylebu.com