We have a lot of people stop by each year looking specifically for information on how to become a virtual assistant. This term has come to encompass so many things over the years and is no longer just secretarial work.
What Do Virtual Assistants Do?
Both online entrepreneurs and small local businesses may have the need for remote help. The assistance needed runs the gamut and can be entry-level or require someone with special training. One business may simply need someone to answer their office phones a few hours each week while another may need someone to perform blogger outreach for their upcoming product launch.
If you are a beginner, here are a few in-demand services you can offer when you’re an entry-level virtual assistant:
1. Email Management
Email management is an interesting skill that many would-be VAs don’t know about but are totally equipped to do. It also happens to be one of the single greatest problems that busy entrepreneurs need to be solved.
Email management, sometimes called inbox management, involves you accessing your client’s email inbox (or inboxes) and getting things sorted and organized for the client. You may end up setting up folders for the client to use (things like “to read” and “needs your reply” and “FYI”). If something comes through that you can process, you go ahead and process it — like renewing a subscription, approving a comment, or confirming an appointment.
You may even pick up some customer service responsibilities by replying to common inquiries, processing refunds, and doing that sort of thing.
Many of us are inundated with emails; with email management, you make it much easier for your client to see only what they need to see, and you take care of the rest.
2. Blog Management
If you’re familiar with WordPress — or even if you aren’t but you learn fast — you can do all sorts of blog management tasks. A lot of entrepreneurs and small businesses that hire virtual assistants run blogs on their websites, and there’s a lot of every-day administrative tasks that come along with managing the blog. Much of it is time-consuming but not very high-level stuff, making it perfect for outsourcing to an entry-level VA.
These tasks could include of the following:
- Proofreading the drafts
- Approving and replying to comments
- Formatting posts (adding headings, etc.)
- Adding links to posts
- Setting up the pins and images within the post
- Drafting new posts
- Adding information to any extra plugins (like putting the keywords into an SEO plugin)
- Scheduling posts to go live when they’re ready
- Updating plugins
- Organizing and updating past posts (adding categories and tags, etc.)
There’s really no limit to the work that could be done on a blog, but these are some of the tasks that are well suited for a beginner VA.
3. Graphic Design
Many people who are in business online understand the importance of good graphics, but they have no idea how to actually go about creating them. If you’re visually oriented and you know your way around free graphic design services like Canva (or you can figure it out pretty fast — it’s fairly intuitive!), you can make a real difference by offering graphic design for your VA clients.
Good graphic designers are hard to come by, and the ones that are extremely good are also very expensive. If you have a knack for visual design, you enjoy the creative process, and you can come up with good graphics relatively easily, there’s a huge market for you — even if you’ve never been paid for that service before.
The key to getting work doing graphic design as a new VA is to have a portfolio ready to go. Once you understand the kinds of graphics your ideal clients will need, you can do 2 or 3 samples for each of them to build yourself a solid portfolio, relatively quickly.
So what are these in-demand graphics? Here are just a few things to get you started:
- Blog post featured images (with the post title included)
- Pins to circulate on Pinterest
- In-post “ads” that entice the reader to click
- Facebook and Twitter covers
- Instagram posts (this is HUGE in some markets) and other social media posts
- Facebook ad designs
Take a look at some of your favorite blogs (including this one!) and see what kinds of graphic design elements are used. If they’re the kinds of things you can look at and say “I could totally make this!” then you might have an in-demand, marketable VA skill ready to go.
As more and more entrepreneurs are doing things like live videos, podcasts, webinars, and courses, the need for transcription services is growing. Transcription is something that many people can do — it doesn’t take any specialized skills, though you’ll do better if you can type quickly and pick up some helpful transcription software like oTranscribe (free) or Transcribe ($20/year).
5. Customer Service
Customer service is a HUGE area for working at home, whether you want to work for a company or start your own. Customer service skills are ones that many people possess naturally, and there are tons of sales-based online businesses that need customer service reps. This is a great role to outsource to a VA, and it’s a great role for an entry-level VA to pick up.
When you’re doing customer service as a VA, the majority of it will be done through emails. You might answer questions about products, help people troubleshoot their accounts (by resetting passwords and whatnot), and possibly even process refunds.
6. Social Media
If you enjoy social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, and you feel you have a knack for producing posts that are interesting, you might be interested in adding social media to your initial virtual assistant service offerings. It’s something that many business owners feel they should be doing but few have the time to do consistently, which makes it a great task for you to pick up.
There’s a strategy to using social media effectively, and social media marketing is a solid niche you can choose if you decide you really like it and want to focus on it as a VA. But many times there are clients who just need you to post on a platform regularly, and they’ll provide the content or give you guidelines for what you should share.
One of the most in-demand platforms at this time is Pinterest. You can learn more about becoming a Pinterest VA here.
How Much do Virtual Assistants Make?
According to ZipRecruiter, the average annual income for Virtual Assistants in the US is around $60,000 as of June 2019. Your income potential will be greatly determined by your skill set and whether you choose to work for a multi-VA firm or go into business for yourself.
Working an entry-level position for a multi-VA firm like Time Etc., for example, may only pay $12 to $15 per hour. If you have an in-demand, specialized service you are offering to direct clients, on the other hand, you may be able to charge $25/hr, $40/hr or even $60/hr depending on the market.
Virtual Assistant Tools of the Trade
As a Virtual Assistant, you will find there are some great tools out there to help you stay organized and maybe even increase your profits. Here are a few tools I used as a virtual assistant:
- Quickbooks– I have long been a QuickBooks user. It's great for invoicing and accepting online payments. It also offers time tracking and project management.
- Google Drive – Google offers an open source version of common software like Word and Excel. Not only are these perfect alternatives, you can also easily share files with others.
- Asana – This is a free software that will help you stay organized and even allow you to share folders with clients and contractors.
- Dropbox – Dropbox is a great alternative to Google Drive. I use both. I primarily use Dropbox for photo storage and sharing.
- Grammarly – This is an awesome online tool that will help you with proofreading. You never want to look unprofessional! A free version is available.
- Lastpass – This is a safe way to share passwords with clients
- Freelancers Union – this site offers contract templates you can use for free
- WiseStamp – Never miss another opportunity to inform someone of your services. This online tool will add an appealing signature to your outgoing emails that includes your picture, contact information and more.
- Google Voice – It's usually never a good idea to give out your cell number, even to clients. Inevitably one is going to come along that feels they deserve 24/7 access regardless of whether you are in a doctor's office, on vacation or at your kid's birthday party. Google Voice is a great alternative and provides voicemail service.
How to Become a Virtual Assistant
- Determine your skills and service packages
- Create a website or landing page describing your service packages and experience
- Establish your target market – who is your ideal client? What industry are they in? What's their budget? What are their struggles? How can you help?
- Find your market – Where are they hanging out?
- Establish yourself as an expert – If your ideal client is hanging out in online forums or Facebook Groups, take the opportunity to offer helpful advice in a non-selling way.
- Apply for virtual assistant jobs and send pitches to your target market.
- Conduct an online interview to determine if you are a good fit professionally.
- Sign a contract outlining the job description and payment terms.
- Get to work! Provide results and meet deadlines.
Who Is Your Ideal Client?
First things first, who will be your first client? It is imperative to know who you want work with. Everyone has their personal preferences when it comes to demographics. Grab your pen and paper and start thinking about how the following apply to your ideal client:
- Age – Is your ideal client in your age group? Does the older or younger crowd appeal more to you?
- Entrepreneurial Experience – Do you prefer to work with start-ups or those who have been in business for a time?
- Niche – Where is your ideal client’s expertise? Do you like working with coaches, real estate agents, internet marketers, other virtual assistants, etc.? Do you prefer working with online or offline businesses?
- Communication Preferences – Do you prefer to communicate with your clients via phone, email, Skype? This seems like a small detail, but it is important.
- Hours – Nail down your office hours. Depending on the service you are providing, or your communication preferences, time zone differences can come into play.
- Level of Participation – Do you prefer to work with clients that want to oversee every step, or would you prefer not to be micromanaged?
Take some time to mull these things over. You don't have to stick with it indefinitely, but it will help you get started.
Where Can I Find Virtual Assistant Jobs?
Many new virtual assistants opt to work for someone else before going out on their own and getting their own clients. Companies that hire subcontractors are often called multi-VA firms. These companies are usually started by a virtual assistant that has amassed enough clients that they can no longer handle the work on their own. They then hire virtual assistants of their own in order to outsource that work.
While there are a lot of smaller multi-VA firms around, there are a few big ones that are frequently hiring:
- Fancy Hands
- Red Butler
- Time Etc.
- Virtual Assistant USA
- Virtual Office Temps
- Worldwide 101
Working for someone else usually comes with a lower wage. Eventually, you are probably going to want to break out on your own. When you are ready to start building your own business and getting your own clients, here are some great tips to get you started:
- Know the services you want to offer and have a few packages to choose from
- Know who your ideal client is – what's their industry? what type of services do they need? where do they hang out online?
- What's their budget? Can they afford to hire help?
Luckily, there are so many places to find clients – both online and off. Once you know who your ideal client is you will have a much better indication as to where to start looking.
The Hard Truth About Cold Pitching for Clients
Many new freelancers want to take a more passive route in attracting clients. You put up a fancy website. You create a Facebook Page. You wait. And, you wait. And, you wait some more.
One of the reasons so many new online businesses fail is the unwillingness to get aggressive in the startup phase. While referral marketing may keep your plate full down the road, it isn’t going to pay the bills now. You have to take your future into your own hands and help make it happen.
How? It’s time to start pitching.
Especially in the case of freelance service providers, cold pitching can be highly effective. Even though outsourcing has been gaining momentum over the past few years, many small business owners still may not know it’s an option. You are also likely to run into a lot of business owners who need help but don’t know where to start or maybe even how to delegate. That’s why pitching can be a great way to get yourself positioned in front of potential clients before they have even had a chance to check out your competition.
Not all pitch emails are effective, however. A bad one can guarantee you don’t get the gig. Here are a few tips to get better results and more clients into your portfolio.
Make It Personal
Any email that opens with Dear Website Owner is heading straight to the Trash bin. Aberdeen Group found that personalized emails can increase conversion by 10%. You must take the time to research your target and tailor your email. You may not always be able to find the person’s name, but you should give it your best. If you can’t, a simple Hello is better than Dear Website Owner.
You should also try to mention something recent and of significance to the person you are pitching. Perhaps they published a great article recently that you really enjoyed. Maybe you have been a member of their community for a long time. Flattery works, but don’t lie.
This brief mention is also a great time to bring up your services. If you are a social media marketing expert you could say something like, “I really enjoyed your recent article on running a business with your spouse. As an experienced social media marketer, I see a few opportunities for increased exposure for not only this article but several others on your site. Is this an area you are interested in growing?”
The Money Is In The Follow-Up
It’s easy to walk away from an unanswered email with your tail between your legs, but you shouldn’t. You should always follow-up. Once.
Your inbox is probably no different than those you are pitching – full. Emails get lost and unintentionally unanswered. Give it one more try just in case.
Wait at least a week before following up. Keep it simple and short. Let them know you contacted them a week or two back and were checking in to see if they were interested in talking further or had any questions. You can include a link to your portfolio or examples of your work. Thank them for their time and close. That’s it.
Pitching can be a highly effective way to gain new client interest. As it’s done by email, you should look at it as less stressful than cold calling or in-person networking. That makes it a great option for everyone, including introverts.
The Phone Call & Interview
Consultations with potential clients used to cause me a lot of stress. The virtual interview for an online service provider is much different than interviewing to be an employee. As an Independent Contractor and business owner, you are an active part of the interview process. You are just as much choosing the client as they are choosing you.
Once you find that first person interested in your services, you will want to make sure you are a great match. You will need to do a little interview or online meeting so you can both learn a little more about what's needed, what you can offer and whether you are a good personality and professional match.
This is a time you will want to set clear expectations on your turnaround time, your hours of availability, how you expect to be paid and when, and your preferred means of communication. Be stern. Set your rules and don't allow yourself to be taken advantage of.
A good first step prior to the interview is to have your lead fill out a “client application form.” This allows you to get to know them a little better and start identifying areas where you can help and maybe where you can't. Possible information to acquire prior to speaking with a potential client are as follows:
- Full Name
- Business Name
- Time Zone
- Referral Source (How did they hear about you)
- What do they need assistance with?
- Who is their target market? What services do they provide?
- Are other virtual service providers contracted that you will be working with?
- How many hours do they anticipate needing?
- What is their budget?
There may be other questions that are relevant to the type of service you provide. The importance of the client application form is you can start analyzing if this potential client will be a good fit for you. If their budget or hourly needs are not in line with your current rates or time constraints, you will be able to start gathering the names of your colleagues that may be a better fit.
If they have an online presence, this is a great time to start doing some research. Take a look at their websites. Google them. Look for any red flags or ethical issues that you are not comfortable with.
Make a note of that referral source. This will provide a little insight into your own marketing avenues.
The Client Application Form can be done in a few different ways. You may prefer to gather this information through your contact form on your website, or you may wish to send this form via email after the initial contact (you can find a free sample here). Do what feels comfortable to you, and modify the questions as you see fit.
The next step in the process is the virtual interview. Now before we go any further, let’s chat a bit about how important it is to get on the phone for this step. Even if your preferred method of communication with clients is via email, you can gain much-needed insight into your potential client by actually speaking with them. Talking on the phone or via Skype can possibly uncover red flags that can be covered up in emails. You can also start building rapport in the event you both decide to proceed.
You are an active participant in the interview process. You are interviewing your potential client just as much as they are interviewing you. Turn on your ears and your gut.
Virtual Interview Questions
1. Experience with Service Providers – Ask your potential client if they have worked with virtual service providers in the past. What type of services did they contract? What was their experience? Why are they no longer working with that person(s). If they have been through a number of service providers and voice a lot of negativity regarding their experiences, this could be a red flag. There are always two sides to every story. Take note of how you are feeling regarding any negative issues that arise here.
2. Expectations – You need to know what their expectations are or you may be the one they are talking about in Question 1 on their next Virtual Interview. Are they expecting you to drop everything when a need arises? Do they want a 1-hour turnaround on projects? Are they going to expect you to be on-call for weekends and holidays? Are you on the same page regarding how and when projects will be handed over and completed? Things that come up here can be deal breakers. Find out what they expect from you, and be honest in what you can provide. I have had clients call me on holidays, at 11 pm and at 4:45 on Fridays wanting things done NOW. Discuss these things during the interview.
3. Payment Methods – Discuss your payment practices with your potential clients. Do you only accept payments via PayPal? Is a retainer required? How often is your billing? When do you expect payment? Be clear on these issues. If you aren’t, you may find yourself waiting indefinitely for a check that is “in the mail”.
Be confident in your practices, policies and abilities during the interview. Don’t flim-flam, or make exceptions. Under promise now so you can over deliver later. Don’t set yourself up for failure. Watch for those that try to get you to lower your rates or make payment exceptions. Keep your eye out for those that want a lot of free advice, but have no intention of moving into a contract. Listen to your gut on these calls. If you see red flags or are feeling uncomfortable, take note.
If things went great, let them know you will send a contract over for their review. If things don’t seem right, you can end things now or you may want to think it over. Let them know you will be taking a look at your current schedule and get back to them with your final decision.
The Final Decision
If things went great, you are going to email them a welcome packet. Include your proposal for the services they need, a service list in the event they need more assistance, and a contract for them to review, sign and return.
If things didn’t pan out, you need to let them know that too. Inform them of your unavailability, your feeling that someone else may be a better fit for their needs, etc. Always thank them for their time and be professional. Provide them with a list of referrals if you have colleagues that would be better specialized for their needs. Direct them to a RFP system, if available. Even if you can’t help them personally, go above and beyond in providing possible solutions.
If they have notified you in the interim that they don’t feel you are a good fit for them, thank them for taking the time to speak with you. If you have their mailing address, send them a nice note. If you have some great resources that may be of interest to them, email them over.
Always remain professional, and always leave a great last impression. Even if they are not your ideal client, they may have colleagues that are. Everyone is a potential referral source.
Keep a potential client database. Keep all of those notes you took. Make a note of how the follow-up went. If someone contacts you a year down the line that sounds familiar, you can hit the database and see how things played out, what red flags you saw, etc.
Once I stopped flying blind and began taking some control of client consultations, I found I had a lot more confidence during virtual interviews. Having a structured plan of attack in place will prevent you from getting into sticky situations.
If you have been at your virtual assistant job search for awhile and aren't getting any nibbles, revisit your email pitch and online presence. I recently interviewed several of those who hire freelancers and they were kind enough to share their turn-offs which included not following directions, an unprofessional appearance online and not being able to clearly and confidently share their skills, wants and worth.
Affordable Virtual Assistant Courses
One great thing about becoming a virtual assistant is that many of the skills you will use to better your client’s businesses can also better your own. That’s why so many bloggers, freelance writers and even Etsy shop owners add virtual assisting services to their offerings. The skills they excel at in building their businesses whether that be social marketing, email marketing or writing awesome SEO Etsy product descriptions can earn them additional income when offering it to others.
But what if you’re just getting starting and don’t yet have a booming business of your own? Simple. You learn the skills you want to offer.
Many VAs will start out as “generalists” doing just about anything that needs to be done. The ones who earn a lot more money than average, though, have become specialists in a specific type of task, like managing Facebook ads, running Pinterest accounts, managing busy blogs, or setting everything up for webinars.
There are all kinds of courses, ebooks, and other resources you can use to strengthen your skills and start finding better clients (with bigger budgets). If you want to go from making $15 per hours to $30, $50, or even more per hour, specializing in a complex, in-demand service is the way to do it.
A Few Great Virtual Assistant Courses
- Pinterest is a great thing for you to learn if you have an online business. (I love using it!) Once you learn how to work the platform, you can use it to market yourself and your services. But there’s another level, too — you can use your Pinterest skills to niche your services as a VA. (Want to learn more? This course teaches you how to Become a Pinterest VA Today.)
- When I was working as a Virtual Assistant, I took several classes through VAClassroom, now known as FreelanceU. They offer top-notch coursework on the most in-demand skills.
- Gina Horkey has a popular course that will help you find your first clients as a general VA. Find out more here.
- Caitlin Pyle has a very popular course that will teach you how to become a proofreader.
Don’t Stay Entry-Level
Whenever you’re first starting something, it makes sense to do it at the entry level. This means lower rates, steep learning curves, and sometimes doing work you don’t necessarily enjoy simply so you can get the experience. There’s no limit to the services a VA can offer, so it’s a matter of finding someone who needs the type of help you can provide.
There’s nothing wrong with entry-level work, but I’d encourage you to “level up” as quickly as you can. Pick a new skill to add to your offerings and take a course on Udemy or FreeU so you can master it quickly. Dive into a specific service that you really enjoy and develop an expertise in it so that you can command higher rates for that service.
Try to understand the strategy behind the tasks your clients give you, so you can understand how the business works and then find ways to make an even greater contribution. The more you understand the strategy behind business decisions, the more your time is worth.
Even if specialization is something you’re nowhere near ready to do, just know that you won’t be entry-level forever. Getting started is the hardest part, so jump in the minute you’re ready!
Published February 2015. Updated June 2019.