You need a job that lets you work when and where you want without requiring years of experience or a specialized degree. If you’re often the person friends turn to when they need help getting organized, setting up their schedule, or taking care of administrative tasks, a career as a virtual assistant (VA) could be the right fit for you.
VAs can work from home or wherever they have an Internet connection, and many set their own schedules, working as many or as few hours as they like. If you’re intrigued, learn more about what VAs do and how you can get started on your own fulfilling, financially rewarding VA career.
What Is a Virtual Assistant?
In many ways, a VA is similar to an executive or administrative assistant. They provide support to managers, business owners, and entrepreneurs, allowing those individuals to focus on the more important and pressing tasks required to run their businesses. Generally speaking, a VA is responsible for things like:
- Organizing a client’s calendar and scheduling appointments and meetings
- Reading and replying to a client’s email messages
- Sending clients reminders about upcoming appointments and meetings
- Booking travel and making arrangements
- Booking appointments (including personal appointments, such as dentist or doctor visits)
- Data entry and file organization, often using Dropbox or Google Drive
- Sending invoices on behalf of clients
- Paying clients’ bills
- Ordering clients’ supplies and necessities
- Updating and maintaining clients’ social media accounts
- Managing clients’ email newsletters or blogs
- Completing clients’ payroll
- Transcribing documents
While you can work with clients in any type of industry as a VA, many people choose to specialize and work in one particular field, such as real estate, education, law, or medicine. Some VAs focus specifically on working with entrepreneurs or startup companies.
You can offer those services to your clients on top of the basic VA tasks if you have additional skills like photography, marketing, or web design.
Skills You Need as a Virtual Assistant
Although you don’t need a specialized or advanced degree to become a virtual assistant, it isn’t necessarily right for everyone. VAs tend to excel in certain areas and often have innate or learned skills that allow them to thrive on the job. Some of the skills you must have or develop to do well as a VA include:
- Time Management Skills. As a virtual assistant, you’re not only responsible for managing your own time and schedule but the time and schedule of your clients. That means you need to prioritize your tasks each day to take care of the most pressing matters first. You also need to be capable of juggling multiple projects at once, blocking out your schedule to complete everything by the due date.
- Organizing Skills. As you start to build your client list as a VA, you need to take care of multiple tasks, often at the same time or throughout the day. You must have the ability to create a system so everything is accounted for and nothing falls through the cracks. If your clients hire you to manage their documents, emails, and phone calls, you must be organized to keep nothing from getting lost or ending up in the wrong client’s file.
- Interpersonal Skills. You’re likely to encounter a wide range of people during your time as a VA. You might not naturally get along with everyone you work with or meet, but it is still essential you’re able to interact with them in a friendly and professional manner. Having empathy for others comes in handy as you connect with clients and communicate with your client’s partners and customers.
- Communication Skills. Communication skills go hand-in-hand with interpersonal skills. You need to know how to effectively communicate your client’s needs to the people you contact, whether you are trying to set up a meeting or place an order on their behalf. Having a professional phone demeanor and knowing how to send effective emails can help you go far, not only in the daily role of a VA but also in expanding your client base.
- Technology Skills. The role of a virtual assistant wouldn’t exist were it not for technology. It’s helpful to have basic computer skills, such as knowledge of office software and the Internet. If you know your way around social media and tools like WordPress, that’s even better. Having some basic knowledge of coding can also help make you an in-demand VA, as you can then help your clients with marketing and website projects.
- Leadership Skills. Many people think an assistant doesn’t need leadership skills. But being able to manage others can come in handy when you need to set up meetings or connect your client to an individual who’s famous for being difficult to reach.
- Entrepreneurial Skills. As a work-from-home VA, you need to tap into your entrepreneurial side frequently. That means being creative and thinking outside the box when it comes to finding new clients. It also means persevering and keeping at it, even during slow periods or when it seems like the work is too much (or not enough).
- Business Skills. Many VAs are freelancers who own their own businesses. As a small-business owner, you need to know how to bill people, set your rates, file small-business taxes or hire a CPA, and whether a client is a good fit for your skill set.
What You Need to Become a Virtual Assistant
Compared to other work-from-home businesses, the road to becoming a successful VA is short and generally obstacle-free. If you’ve never worked as an administrative or executive assistant in an office setting, familiarize yourself with what those roles typically entail. You also need some basic equipment and technology to help make your new life as a VA easier.
VA Training Programs
Although you don’t need to earn a degree to become a VA, the role does require some knowledge and skills you not everyone has from the get-go. Depending on the industries you hope to focus on, you might need to know how to use specific software programs or understand certain jargon.
One way to familiarize yourself with the VA world and learn more about the skills and responsibilities required is to sign up for a training program. $10K VA is one example of a program that provides education to aspiring VAs.
A successful work-from-home freelance VA created the company. She designed the course to show others how she started her business and eventually started earning $10,000 per month. Although the course can’t guarantee you can make that much, it does promise to show you the following:
- How to decide what services to offer
- How to pitch clients and land jobs
- How to set rates and methods to use to set your rates (such as hourly or per-project)
- How to manage clients
- How to set your schedule and handle daily tasks
- How to increase productivity or grow your business
Tools You Need as a VA
Many of the tools you need to thrive in a career as a virtual assistant are available online. Although some do require a paid subscription, many resources for freelancers are free. Whether you end up using a paid or free version of a program depends on how much you use it and the features you need.
Some resources that might come in handy as you start your VA career include:
- Invoicing Software. You can create invoices using a spreadsheet program like Excel, but it is a lot easier to keep track of what’s due and what clients (if any) are behind on their payments if you use invoicing software. If you offer invoicing as a service to your clients, software is a must-have. FreshBooks and QuickBooks are two programs designed for small businesses.
- Time-Tracking Software. While some VAs prefer to charge per project rather than by the hour, if you do charge based on the time you spend on a project, you need to have some way to track your time and perhaps show your client you were actively working. Hubstaff is a time-tracking program that also captures screenshots and tracks how productive you are. The app also has complementary features, such as letting you send invoices.
- Website Hosting and Content Management. Whether you offer web design or website management services to your clients or not, you need to have a website to advertise your business and to allow clients to find you. Your website is the place where you provide a list of your services and your experience. As you build your client roster, you can also include testimonials and reviews from happy customers. There are many hosting companies out there, such as BlueHost.
- File Hosting. As a VA, you don’t have to worry about handling or sorting your client’s paper files. But they sometimes ask you to manage their digital files. To do that effectively, you require access to some type of file hosting program, like Dropbox, which lets you upload and share files. You can create a system of organization for your client’s files, sorting each document into folders.
- Office Software. Whether you need to type up memos, transcribe documents, create presentations, or update spreadsheets, you need an office software suite. Office 365 and Google Suite are two popular cloud-based programs available for use pretty much anywhere.
- Calendar and Scheduling Tools. You’re most likely going to need to set up appointments and meetings for your clients. A calendar app, such as Google Calendar, can help you and your clients stay on the same page. The app can automatically send notifications and reminders to your clients when they have appointments coming up. If you often have to set up meetings with multiple people and need to find times that work for everyone, programs like Doodle and other types of polling software can help you determine the best times for meetings.
How to Find Work as a Virtual Assistant
Getting started is the hardest part of launching a new career. When you’re completely new to the VA world and don’t know anyone, where can you begin to find jobs?
If you’ve done a training program, such as $10K VA, you’re likely to get leads and tips for connecting with your first clients. Once you land a client or two and begin to build a reputation for reliability and efficiency, you’re likely to find that your business builds itself.
As you start to look for your first few clients, check out these resources:
- In-Person Networking Events. If your schedule allows and you’re interested in working in a particular area, such as real estate, startups, or small businesses, print some business cards and attend networking events. When you meet prospective clients, focus on their needs and concerns before you promote your services and how working with a VA can solve their problems.
- Freelance or Job Posting Websites. One of the great things about working from home as a VA is that it allows you to work with clients from all over. You can connect with potential clients by signing up for a freelance or flexible job posting website, such as Fiverr, Upwork, or FlexJobs. Every post isn’t necessarily a solid-gold lead. Read reviews from others on the sites before you decide to go forward with any jobs offered.
- VA Job Sites. Even if you like the flexibility offered by a VA career, that doesn’t mean you want to start your own business or manage clients. If that’s the case, you can try getting your feet wet by working with a company like Belay, a virtual staffing company that pairs VAs and virtual bookkeepers with companies.
- Social Media. As a VA, you might use your social media skills to help your clients. Now’s your chance to use them to help yourself find clients. Set up professional social media profiles to highlight your skills and promote yourself. You can also connect with potential clients like entrepreneurs and small-business owners on your preferred social media sites.
Virtual Assistant Salaries
How much you can expect to earn as a VA depends on how much you work and what services you provide. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the median annual salary for secretaries and administrative assistants was $39,850 in 2019. But that statistic includes all types of assistants, from those who work in offices or on-site to those who work remotely.
According to PayScale, the typical hourly pay for VAs ranges from $10.18 to $28.78. If you offer specialized services like website design or social media marketing on top of basic VA services, you can typically charge more than the average rate.
If you work quickly and efficiently, it is often worthwhile to charge per project rather than per hour. For example, if a client wants you to update their website, you can charge $100 for the project. If it only takes you two hours to do, you’ve made $50 per hour. But if you charge an hourly rate, such as $15 per hour, and complete the project in two hours, you’ll make just $30.
If you’re organized and want a flexible schedule, look into a career as a virtual assistant.
Finding a way to differentiate yourself, such as by offering additional services or focusing on one particular industry, can help you stand out from the crowd and make it easier to find clients. If people aren’t booking you right away, remember it can take time to get the ball rolling. Stay positive and continue to promote yourself through your website, freelance gig sites, and social media until the jobs come.
Are you interested in becoming a virtual assistant? How do you plan to get started?