Everything You Need to Know About Becoming a Virtual Assistant

Feeling burned out by your 9-5? Or maybe you’re just looking for a way to earn some extra cash on the side. Either way, you may want to look into the possibility of becoming a virtual assistant (VA); this is one of just a handful of opportunities that allows you to make decent money without the need for a degree or advanced skills.

If you have a computer with reliable Internet access (and maybe a phone), along with at least a few hours to spare each week, working as a virtual assistant could be an excellent choice for you. By having a better understanding of what virtual assistants do and how to get started with your VA business, you can feel more confident as you move forward.

What Does a Virtual Assistant Do?

Specifically, a virtual assistant is somebody who offers remote services to a business or individual. The scope of the actual work can vary greatly based on your unique skills and interests. For example, many virtual assistants offer customer support for businesses by responding to comments on their social media pages, taking phone calls, and responding to e-mails. A VA can also provide website management services, remote marketing services, and even writing/editing services.

The size and scope of a VA project can also vary. For example, some businesses may be looking to work with a virtual assistant for a short-term project with a set completion date, whereas others may be looking to hire a VA for ongoing work. Some virtual assistants will work for multiple clients at once, whereas others may put in the majority of their hours with a single client.

Benefits of Working as a Virtual Assistant

There are many advantages to becoming a virtual assistant, starting with the freedom that this type of work can provide you. As a virtual assistant, you will be an independent contractor; this means you’ll be able to more-or-less be your own boss. Yes, you ultimately need to please your clients, but you can decide which clients are worth working for based on the pay, the schedule, and the scope of work.

The flexibility offered by virtual assistant work is something many can benefit from. Many busy stay-at-home parents have used virtual assistant work to bring in additional income without having to pay to put children in daycare. As a virtual assistant, you can choose to put in as many (or as little) hours as you desire, so it can become a side-hustle or a full-time source of income. And of course, you can complete all your work from the comfort of your own home.

It’s also worth noting that becoming a virtual assistant doesn’t require an advanced degree or any special skills. Of course, having a degree or having some marketable skills (such as knowing HTML coding or being well versed in editing/proofreading) can come in handy, but it’s certainly not necessary to be successful in this field. Many of the skills you need to be successful as a VA are ones you can easily acquire with a little time and practice.

Potential Drawbacks of Working as a Virtual Assistant

Of course, there are some potential drawbacks to consider when it comes to working as a virtual assistant. For starters, the pay and stability of this type of work is inherently unpredictable. This is true with any type of independent contractor work, as finding (and keeping) steady clients can prove challenging in a competitive market. The stability of the work and pay can increase over time as you become more established, but starting off can be scary for those who are planning to quit their 9-5 jobs in favor of becoming a virtual assistant.

As an independent contractor, your tax situation can also become more complicated. All freelancers/independent contractors, for example, are subject to a self-employment tax that totals 15.3% of the year’s taxable income. With a “traditional” 9-5 job, your employer would cover half of that tax. Unfortunately, when you work as a freelancer,  you’re required to pay all of it.

Speaking of taxes, you may also be required to pay your income taxes quarterly when you’re self-employed. This is generally the case for any self-employed individual who will owe $1,000 or more in income taxes by the end of the year. The process of calculating and sending in your tax payments (both to the state and the IRS) can be a hassle.

Finally, keep in mind that most freelancers don’t receive benefits, such as paid time off or retirement contributions. You may also need to purchase your own health insurance from the marketplace if you don’t have the ability to enroll in a spouse’s or partner’s plan.

Getting Started as a Virtual Assistant

Now that you have a better idea of what virtual assistants do, along with some pros and cons of this type of work, are you ready to get started? Before you dive into the field, there are some tips you’ll want to follow that will help maximize your chances for success.

Figure Out Which Services You’ll Offer

Because the scope of VA services can range so greatly, you’ll want to get started by narrowing down the specific services you’ll be comfortable with offering your clients. Take some time to think about your strengths and areas of expertise here, as this will help you pare down your list. For example, if you’ve always had a knack for writing and editing, you might consider offering blog-writing or resumé-editing services for small business and professional clients. If you’ve worked as an administrative assistant in the past, then you may want to offer customer-support services, such as answering phones and responding to emails. If you have experience building and maintaining websites, then these VA services are in high demand as well.

Take Advantage of Resources

Now is also a good time to consider expanding your skillset by taking some free online courses or undergoing other forms of free online training. For example, if you want to be able to add website management services to your list, there are plenty of free HTML and other coding tutorials online that can help you learn the skills you need to begin confidently offering these services to your clients.

There are also websites that offer free online college courses, such as Coursera. If you have the time to commit to one of these, this can be a great way to learn more about a particular field or pick up additional skills from an accredited college or university.

Consider Building a Website

You don’t absolutely need a website in order to begin working as a virtual assistant, but having one will help establish your credibility and make it easier for potential clients to locate you. With this in mind, you may want to look into building a website once you’ve narrowed down the scope of services you’d like to offer your clients.

If you don’t know where to begin when it comes to building a website, don’t worry; it’s easier and quicker than you might think! You’ll need to begin by registering your domain name, which can be done inexpensively through a service such as GoDaddy. From there, consider using a free WordPress theme to design your site with ease. Be sure to include information such as your areas of expertise, past experience, your rates, and contact information.

Once you have your website set up, it’s also a good idea to have some business cards printed with your basic contact information and a website link. Business cards are inexpensive and make it easy to network when the opportunity arises.

Look Into Incorporating

Any time you go into business for yourself, it’s not a bad idea to consider incorporating. This legal process is relatively simple and affordable (there are plenty of online services that will handle it on your behalf), and incorporating your business can help protect your personal assets in the event that you’re sued for any reason. Hopefully, you’ll never find yourself in this situation (and the chances are slim that you will), but if you do, having an incorporated business will allow you to separate your business and personal assets.

Building a Client Base: Tips and Tricks

One of the biggest challenges in starting your virtual assistant career is building a client base so that you can have steady work (and therefore start bringing in a relatively steady income). It’s important, above all else, to be realistic here. You won’t be able to dive into a VA career overnight and begin making $50k a year right off the bat. Instead, you will need to put some time and effort into finding clients and building your reputation in the field before you can really begin reaping the benefits.

Still, there are some tips you can keep in mind that will help you start finding clients as quickly as possible.

Get Started on a Freelancing Website

For those who are brand new to VA work and want to get a feel for it, creating an account on a freelancing site such as Upwork is a great starting point. These sites allow you to fill out a profile with your skills and other information so that clients looking for virtual assistants can find and hire you directly. This is one of the easiest ways to begin finding clients as a new virtual assistant and can help you build experience.

When working through a site like Upwork, just keep in mind that the starting pay may not be great. Upwork will take a commission out of your earnings, and competition for jobs on these kinds of sites is high (which brings rates down). Still, if you’re looking for a way to find your first few clients and to begin building your experience so you can find private clients (and charge more down the road), this is an excellent place to start.

Contact Local Businesses

Are there businesses in your area that could benefit from your services? Consider reaching out to them privately, offering them some basic information on your services and how they could benefit from them. You may be surprised at how many businesses are open to hiring somebody on a freelance basis for odds-and-ends tasks, such as responding to social media comments or posting blogs on the company website.

Advertise on Social Media

It never hurts to do a little shameless self-promotion on social media. Put it out there that you’re working as a freelance virtual assistant. Provide a link to your website, along with a summary of your experience. You may be surprised at how well the power of social media can help connect you with clients. And when it comes to social media, think beyond platforms like Facebook and Twitter. Having an active profile on professional social media platforms, such as LinkedIn, is an absolute must.

How Much Money Can You Make as a Virtual Assistant?

Earning potential as a virtual assistant is limitless, but the current average pay is around $16 per hour, according to Indeed.com. As with any freelance position, however, rates can vary greatly based on your skills and the particular client for which you are working.

As you become more experienced and start building up a larger client base, keep in mind that you can always increase your rates and re-negotiate pay with your clients. And depending on the type of work you do, you might decide to charge by-the-hour or work out some other arrangement. For example, if you offer editing or writing services, it is not uncommon to charge per-word or per-page. For some projects, it may even make sense to charge a flat-rate fee for the entire project.

How much you can earn as a virtual assistant will also depend on how much work you’re putting in. It’s easy to make a side income as a virtual assistant, but if you want to make a full-time salary, it’s probably going to take some time and serious dedication.

The Bottom Line

If you’re looking for an opportunity to work from home without the need for a college degree, a job as a virtual assistant can be a great choice. Many virtual assistants love the flexibility that comes along with this type of work, along with the ability to put their own skills to use. As with any type of work, there are drawbacks (such as a lack of paid time off or other benefits)—but for many, the benefits greatly outweigh the challenges. With a little dedication and planning, just about anybody can enjoy success as a part- or full-time virtual assistant.