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?
A virtual assistant is an independent contractor who performs specific tasks for a company. A virtual assistant normally performs the type of work that small businesses need to get done, but:
- Cannot do with their current employees, AND
- Cannot hire someone as a full-time employee to do the work
Virtual assistants (VA’s) often bring important skills and years of experience to small business owners because small business owners often need help in areas that don’t require a full-time employee. Because VAs work as independent contractors, they often can meet clients’ needs, such as performing administrative tasks, at a fraction of the cost of a full-time personal assistant.
And because a successful virtual assistant often operates their own virtual assistant business, they often have many clients hiring them for specific skills. A good virtual assistant will often work for several firms, performing similar work for each one.
As a result, a good VA will bring much value to a firm because of:
- Prior experience performing the requested work
- Outstanding organizational skills and communication skills, allowing them to support multiple companies
- Limited ‘learning curve’ in providing virtual assistance to a new customer.
What makes the job attractive is that virtual assistant services are roles usually performed from a remote location like the comfort of your home. And the average salary for many VAs can be much higher than as a full time employee.
Here are some common VA responsibilities:
- Providing administrative support, such as: scheduling appointments, managing a client’s inbox, making inbound and outbound calls, and booking travel arrangements
- Some VA’s are able to offer more specialty services based on their unique skills. These skills might include:
- WordPress development
- Managing social media platforms
- Graphic design
- Accounting & bookkeeping
- Handling administrative tasks as a personal assistant.
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, based on your skillset, education, and prior experience.
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 enough to warrant bringing on a full-time employee.
In that situation, the company owner 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 to help the company strengthen its social media presence.
How to become a virtual assistant
There are three primary 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.
Don’t start too broad.
If you build a resume that’s too broad, then you’re casting with a pretty wide net. The problem is that everyone casts a wide net. As a result, you end up competing against everyone else’s net.
In that case, it’s going to take a long time for you to stand out. Either you’ve got to have an outstanding social media presence, or you’re going to have to grind for a long time before customer referrals start bringing you extra business.
Don’t limit yourself.
You also don’t want to limit yourself. One client that you perform Instagram marketing for might need help with emails. But because you didn’t ever mention it to them, they brought in someone else.
The key is to be very in tune with your potential clients. Watch out for problems that exist, but they aren’t aware of. Then be prepared to present yourself as part of the solution.
Establish a niche, then grow within it.
You should take one niche, and expand on it. Continuing with the previous 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. You simply log your hours and multiply them by your hourly fee. Hourly rates are also the highest. As a result, when a client wants more of your service, they might look for project rates or a monthly retainer for a set number of hours.
When billing for a project, 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 accomplished 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:
- Income requirements
- Skill, education, experience levels
Let’s say that you need to earn $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.
But when first starting off, any client revenue is good revenue. So expect your rates to go up over time. This is a phenomenon that happens across many industries.
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 allows you to brand yourself and showcase a professional image. Here’s an example of how a good virtual assistant social media account profile looks like.
Note how this freelancer uses a high-quality portrait, simple cover photo, and summarizes her skills and education 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 your own 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. Having a website will also help you stand out from other virtual assistant businesses because you can create the website in a manner that showcases the skillsets and expertise that others are looking for.
For example, if you specialize in email marketing, you can create a series of articles that showcase the skills you might have in this regard. And you can demonstrate value through your online presence that identifies you as the person worth hiring.
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.
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 raising their standards and restricting those who the allow onto the platform. Some things you’ll need to do to improve your odds of success include:
- 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.
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 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.
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.
Another option with more local customers is Craigslist. If you’re not familiar with Craigslist, it is a US-based company that enables job listings to be placed on classified online 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 vet any of the postings on their site, so you should be careful with who you talk to or meet with.
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 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.
Frequently Asked Questions About How to become a virtual assistant
How much do virtual assistants make?
The pay for virtual assistants varies based on factors such as special skills, education, and experience. Salaries also range based upon:
- Whether you’re working part time or full time as a virtual assistant
- Whether you’re performing VA duties as an independent contractor or as agency employee
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 (full-time): ~$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 Do Similar Jobs Pay?
While we are talking about virtual assistant compensation, 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. Many experienced VAs are able to dictate what services they provide, and under what conditions.
When starting off, you may not have that luxury. Generally you can expect to be performing tasks such as:
- Data entry: This might include tasks like order processing, data capture, collection
- Email outreach: Following up with prospects, setting up meetings on behalf of a principal, etc.
- Social media management: This could include running social media accounts, like Pinterest or Twitter.
- Website management: Managing a WordPress site or Shopify store
- Customer service: Offering help-desk support for SaaS products
- Calendar management
- Making travel arrangements, like booking tickets, tracking down flight information
- Blog editing: publishing and formatting blog posts
- Brand engagement: commenting on industry blogs to garner attention
- Recruiting: helping to identify and onboard new associates
- Transcribing: listening and transcribing podcasts
What skills do you need to become a virtual assistant?
There are a few skill sets that businesses look for when hiring virtual assistants. These might include:
- Administrative skills
- Technical skills
- 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.
Most virtual assistant jobs require at least basic administrative skills.
- Customer service – answering customer product or service questions
- Email inbox management – helping prioritize email, organize folders
- Task and project management – manage the delivery of specific initiatives
- Calendar management – schedule appointments, manage cancellations
- Data entry – sales order processing
- Online research – customer and competitor research
There is a lot of demand for virtual assistants who can bring technical skills into a business. These roles can also pay more because of the higher demand.
- Website development and setup – setting up a new storefront on Shopify
- WordPress development and support – running a companies blog
- Webinar setup – managing webinar tools, signups, and follow ups
- Optimizing social media – setting up Pinterest boards, engaging on Twitter
- Process setup and management – creating a reusable process for common tasks
- Troubleshooting and technical support – answering customer technical questions
From crafting engaging blog posts to designing eye-catching graphics, a talented virtual assistant with creative skills is an asset. Here are some of the creative skills that small businesses might look for in a VA.
- 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?
It doesn’t require much to be come a VA. As a result, becoming a virtual assistant is an option for almost anyone. With that said, there are a few key tools and pieces of equipment you’ll need to get started.
- 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 people 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, hopefully, is different from the value proposition that you bring to the table.
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.