How to Become a Virtual Assistant: Step-By-Step Guide (2021)

Are you interested in working from home and earning your living online? With advances in technology putting the world at your fingertips, businesses have outsourced many critical tasks to virtual assistants.  

No longer do you have to dress for work or visit the office.  Everyday, folks like you and me start well-paying careers as virtual assistants. You just need a laptop and the internet.

Today we’re going to show you how to become a virtual assistant and answer questions such as;

  • What does a virtual assistant do?
  • How much can you expect to earn?
  • Where to find virtual assistant jobs?

What is a Virtual Assistant?

Virtual assistants (VA’s)  are independent contractors who offer services such as administrative or marketing support.  What makes the job attractive is that they are remote roles usually performed from the comfort of your home.  

Here are some common VA responsibilities:

  • Scheduling appointments, managing a client’s inbox,  making inbound and outbound calls, and booking hotels or flights
  • Some VA’s are able to offer more specialty services based on their unique skills, including copywriting, WordPress development, graphic design, accounting, bookkeeping, and other marketing services.
  • From an employer perspective, virtual assistants offer staffing flexibility as they are contract-based

These are some of the main activities you can be doing as a virtual assistant. Ultimately you will choose what services you wish to offer, so brainstorm your skills and interests.

Why Do People Hire Virtual Assistants?

Virtual assistants are a critical part of many growing businesses.  A common reason employers will hire virtual assistants is when they have a need that is important, but not core to their business models.  

An example would be a small business who starts to experience rapid growth, but isn’t in the position to hire a full-time employee.  They might hire a virtual assistant to take over some of the tasks that are taking up more of their time, such as answering phone calls or emails.

Another example would be when a business owner wants to test out a new marketing strategy, but may not have all the skills personally to execute it.  They might hire a virtual assistant who offers graphic design or social media management services.

​How To Become a Virtual Assistant

These are the main steps to take to get started as a virtual assistant.Your own journey may differ based on skills and experience. 

Step 1. Determine what services you want to offer

Now is time to assess your skills, strengths, and weaknesses .  What is your superpower? Are you great with people or very organized? 

We suggest that you focus on a few of your best skills, so you get neither underwhelmed or overwhelmed. Let us explain.

Offering to many services across a broad spectrum can leave you feeling disorganized. It’s better to choose one area, like social media for example and double down on that.

You also don’t want to limit yourself. One client that you perform Instagram marketing for might need help with emails, but you didn’t mention that in your resume or pitch.

That’s why you should take one niche, and expand on it. Continuing with the social media marketing example, you could offer:

  • Social media account management
  • Posting content to social accounts
  • Social media customer service

Yes, these are different services, but they relate to one thing. This allows you to take on more income-generating tasks, while not feeling all over the place.

​Step 2: Determine your rate and pricing structure

Unless you apply for a salaried virtual assistant job, you will most likely need to create your own pricing structure and bill customers yourself with a tool like PayPal. This is easier than it might sound.

First, you can bill VA tasks a few ways:

  • Hourly rates
  • Per-project amounts
  • Monthly retainers

Establishing an hourly rate is the simplest way to start as you just log your hours and multiply it by your hourly fee. Similarly, you can charge prospective clients for projects as one lump sum, and base it off of how many hours you believe it would take. In this case, it’s common to charge 50% upfront and the remaining after the work is completed.

Offering services on retainer

If you are going to offer ongoing services, virtual assistants can also charge customers a monthly retainer. This is where you establish a specific amount of work to be one every month for a specific price. The customer is billed at the beginning of every month, and then the work is delivered until the next billing cycle.

There’s no cookie-cutter way to decide how much to charge, but the two biggest factors are how much you need to make a living and what your skill level is at.

Let’s say that you need to be earning $20/hour to pay the bills. That’s your baseline. No, if’s, and’s, or but’s. If you are very talented at a particular activity, you can raise the fee to $25/hour, for example.

​Step 3: Establish a online presence and generate interest

A huge element of how successful you will be is going to be driven by your ability to stand out among the sea of VA’s on the internet. To do so, the first thing you need is an online presence. This begins with social media accounts like Twitter, Facebook, and especially Linkedin.

This lets you brand yourself and showcase a professional image. Here’s an example of how a good virtual assistant social media account show looks like.

Linkedin virtual assistant
Example of professional virtual assistant social media account>

Note how this freelancer uses a high-quality portrait, simple cover photo, and sums up her skills in the description. It’s straight to the point, and all of your social accounts should have a similar style.

Build a WordPress site for your business

Furthermore, you can stand out from the crowd with a website. You don’t have to be the Bill Gates of programming to put together a quick site, either. Platforms like WordPress give you pre-built templates to make a high-quality website in minutes.

Having your very own website also means that you will attract users from search engines, having job opportunities land in your lap.  It also helps you stand out from other virtual assistant businesses without a strong online presence.

While a website isn’t mandatory when you first start, make sure that you’ve at least created social media accounts before moving onto the next step.

Where To Find Work As a Virtual Assistant

Once you have your service offering, an online presence, and a professional-looking resume you can start applying for gigs.  Here are some of the more popular job-sites to get you started.

virtual assistant remote.co

Upwork and formally eLance/oDesk

upwork logo

Most freelancers begin their careers on Upwork, and you can make a generous living doing so. It is a freelancing platform that makes finding potential clients or workers easy by putting them in one location.

How to sign up for UpWork

You can sign up for a free account here. The platform has been tightening up their restrictions of who they allow in, so make sure that you:

  • Include detailed experience
  • Complete tests to showcase your skills
  • Use a high-quality display picture
  • Avoid making a broad or generic-looking profile

Once you’re accepted, you can begin sending proposals to jobs you wish to take on. Enter “virtual assistant” or a similar phrase into the search bar to find relevant positions.

Job listings will display the approximate pay, responsibilities, required hours, and other information. You may also have to answer questions that the employer adds to the listing to shortlist the best candidates.

Upwork Virtual Assistants

Pro Tip for Upwork 

If there’s one surefire way to stand out among other applicants, it’s to customize your proposal. Don’t send a copy and pasted message, because it’s obvious and shows that you lack effort. Take the few minutes to create a personalized message, and you will notice an increase in how many more jobs you land.

SimplyHired

SimplyHired logo

SimplyHired is a straight forward job listing site that can help you find lucrative virtual assistant positions. Begin by entering “virtual assistant” into the search bar and hitting “Search Jobs.”

Click a listing from the left sidebar, and a detailed description of the job will appear on the right. SimplyHired is constantly updating their website with new opportunities, so make a routine to check them on a regular basis.

Once you find a VA job that looks promising, click the orange “Apply Now” button. This will forward you to their application form, which may be on Indeed or their company website, for example.applying on the following sites.

SimplyHired Virtual Assistants

TaskRabbit

Taskrabbit Logo

If you’d like to still have some in-person interactions with your customers, you may want to check out this company.  TaskRabbit is an online marketplace that helps match freelancers with local demand, so your customers are nearby.  One thing to note is that TaskRabbit tends to focus more on labor skills but they do have opportunities for folk with design and administrative  backgrounds. 

Craigslist

Craigslist Logo

Another option with more local customers is Craigslist, a US-based company that focuses on classified ads.  If you’ve ever been on Craigslist you can attest to how broad the listings are.  One thing to be careful about is that Craiglist doesn’t vett any of the postings on their site, so you should be careful with who you talk to or meet with.

Zirtual

Zirtual Logo

Zirtual is a virtual assistant staffing agency based out of Ohio.  They focus solely on connecting the right VA’s with the right clients.  All of their work is remote so they might be a great place to look if you want to fully work from home.

Remote.co

Remote.co is a platform that takes the best remote jobs, companies, and workers, and combines them into one place. Click the “Remote jobs” tab from the top navigation, and enter a keyword into the search bar like “virtual assistant.”

Click any positions that seem interesting. The job listing page will outline responsibilities, compensation, and more information about the company. All of this can, of course, be negotiated.

virtual assistant remote.co

FAQ

How Much Do Virtual Assistants Make?

The pay for virtual assistants varies based on factors such as special skills, experience, full-time, part-time, and employer.  According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics report from 2019, salaries can range from $25,000 a year up to nearly $65,000 a year. 

Virtual Assistant Salaries

  • Median Annual Salary: ~$39,000 per year ($19/hour)
  • Top 10% Annual Salary: ~$64,000 per year ($30/hour)
  • Bottom 10% Annual Salary: ~$25,000 per year ($12/hour)

Other sources we looked at such as PayScale, listed a slightly higher range of $26,000 – $72,000.  

How much you earn will depend on how much you work and who it’s for, so focus on finding good customers with steady work.

How Much Do Similar Jobs Pay?

While we are talking about virtual assistants pay, it can be useful to offer a point of comparison to other similar jobs.  Below is what the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics report from 2018 had to say about a few similar types of jobs.

  • Receptionist: ~$29,000 per year ($14/hour)
  • Bill and account collector: $36,000 per year ($17.50/hour)
  • Desktop publisher: $43,000 per year ($21/hour)

What Does a Virtual Assistant Do?

Virtual assistants do a wide variety of services for their clients based on their skill set and the specific client needs. Generally you can expect to be performing tasks, such as:

  • Data entry e.g., order processing, data capture, collection
  • Email outreach e.g., following up on prospects, billings, payables, etc
  • Social media management e.g., running a pinterest or twitter account
  • Website management e.g., managing a wordpress site or Shopify store
  • Customer service e.g., offering help-desk support for SaaS products
  • Calendar scheduling e.g., managing client calendars
  • Travel e.g., booking tickets, tracking down flight information
  • Blog editing e.g. publishing and formatting blog posts
  • Brand engagement e.g., commenting on industry blogs to garner attention
  • Recruiting e.g., helping to identify and onboard new associates
  • Transcribing e.g., listening and transcribing podcasts
  • Translation e.g., translation material from one language to another language 

What Skills do You Need to Become a Virtual Assistant?

There are a few skill sets that businesses look for when hiring virtual assistants; administrative skills, technical skills, creative skills, and digital marketing skills. While you don’t need to be proficient across all of these skills, most VA jobs require at least some of these.

Administrative skills

Most virtual assistant jobs require at least basic administrative skills.

  • Customer service e.g., answering customer product or service questions
  • Email inbox management e.g., helping prioritize email, organize folders
  • Task and project management e.g., manage the delivery of specific initiatives
  • Calendar management e.g., schedule appointments, manage cancellations
  • Data entry e.g., sales order processing
  • Online research e.g., customer and competitor research

Technical skills

There is high-demand for virtual assistants who can own technical tasks for a business.  These roles can also pay higher due to the demand.

  • Website development and setup e.g., setting up a new storefront on Shopify
  • WordPress development and support e.g., running a companies blog
  • Webinar setup e.g., managing webinar tools, signups, and follow ups
  • Optimizing social media e.g., setting up Pinterest boards, engaging on Twitter
  • Process setup and management e.g., creating a reusable process for common tasks
  • Troubleshooting and technical support e.g., answering customer technical questions

Creative skills

From crafting engaging blog posts to designing eye-catching graphics, a talented virtual assistant with creative skills is an asset.

  • Graphic design – designing new images for articles and posts
  • Branding support – ensuring brand standards are maintained across multiple platforms
  • Copywriting – crafting engaging marketing content
  • Creative writing – writing informative or inspiring articles to attract potential customers

Digital marketing skills 

With more business conducted online VA’s with digital marketing backgrounds are in high demand.  

  • Sales funnel building – A/B testing, funnel optimization
  • Lead generation – Identifying and attracting leads for a business
  • Facebook ad management – managing Facebook targeting campaigns
  • Search engine optimization (SEO) – Managing a companies on-page and off-page SEO
  • Graphic design – logo design, book covers, product images
  • Email automation – writing and managing drip marketing campaigns

What Tools Do Virtual Assistants Use?

While becoming a Virtual Assistant is an option for almost anyone, there are a few key tools and pieces of equipment you’ll need to get started.

This includes: 

  • An updated computer – Preferably a laptop with decent in-memory processing.
  • MS Office or Google Office –  In many cases you’ll need both depending on the client.
  • Email –  This is a calling card with customers so it’s worth having something professional.
  • High-speed internet –  Unfortunately dial-up won’t work since many of the tools require decent internet upload and download speed.
  • Zoom or Skype –  Nowadays it’s very common to have virtual meetings
  • Quiet work environment –  This is sometimes the downside of working from home so make sure that your home environment is conducive to the work you’re doing

What are Virtual Assistants With Artificial Intelligence? 

With technology improving exponentially every year, companies are launching more and more apps that help automate everyday tasks.  A very common example of this would be Apple’s Siri or Amazon’s Alexa. 

The tools rely on artificial intelligence and big data machine processing to understand the nuances in how people communicate and respond accordingly.  This is great for everyday tasks like checking the weather or making a dinner reservation.  There is even a company developing an app called ElliQ that can help elderly with things like medication reminders.  

The good news is that these apps are designed to automate tasks that don’t require much judgement and don’t have the ability to think creatively. Which is where you come in. 

Final Thoughts on Becoming a Virtual Assistant

Working from the comfort of your own home is a dream for many people around the world. And, being a virtual assistant is one of the ways you can make that dream a reality.

VA’s help business owners, who are stretched for time, complete business-critical tasks like responding to emails, customer services, and social media marketing. If you’re a well-rounded individual with computer skills, this career path is made for you.

The key is to lay down the foundation with professional social media accounts and an impressive resume. Brainstorm how much you would like to charge, and what services you will focus on.

Sign up for freelancing platforms like Upwork, and apply for positions on remote work websites, such as Remote.co and SimplyHired. Make a routine of checking these places regularly to maximize your chances of landing work.

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