So you’ve decided to become a Virtual Assistant, huh? You’re definitely in the right place. This post is one part how to, one part inspiration, and one part that I affectionately call “slap-you-in-your-face-wake-up-call”. I’m not going to sugar coat things and give you some big rah-rah push about how this is THE thing for everyone. It’s not. Just like not everyone is cut out to be a work-at-home kinda person.
And it’s long. So go grab yourself a cup of tea. Or coffee. Or vodka. I’ll wait.
You already know my story, so we’ll skip that (but if you haven’t read it yet, go check it out now. Yes, really. Go!) and head straight into what the hell this business is all about and how you can snag yourself a fancy title too. If you Google “virtual assistant”, you’re going to come up with a ton of sites which all have the same basic description – but it boils down to someone who, while working virtually, assists people or businesses in some specific or general way. Easy, right?
Getting started is as easy or as difficult as you want it to be. There’s no governing body and there’s no stamp of approval that you need from anyone. So if you’ve got the goods and the know-how, you can make it happen. Since that’s not super helpful for anyone who wants to start a business, let’s break this ‘getting started’ section down a bit.
When I started out, I needed to write an actual business plan for the program I was about to go into. I found it a great way to get all my ideas into one place and map out how my business was going to look. It may be daunting, but it doesn’t have to. You may want to pick up a my Virtual Assistant Business Plan eKit. This kit includes the actual business plan I used when I created my business as well as the executive summary and blank copies of both for you to use for your own business.
That’s great, but what do you REALLY need in order to get started?
This is a must. If you’re going to fight me on this, or if you’re going to question if you can get by with a free website, just click off the page now. Honestly. If you can’t afford $60-$70 a YEAR to host a proper website you have absolutely no business being in business. This can be the part that people get caught up in, so take this bit of advice and rise up: don’t get stuck on design. Use WordPress for your website and pick a decent theme. Yes, there are lots to choose from. Pick something to get you going, give it a quick customization and get your butt in business.
There’s a few big VA forums out there, and on at least one of them there is the “official” virtual assistant description and this horrendous table that shows the savings between hiring a VA and a regular employee. When I look at sites, I can always pick out the relative newbies to the scene because you’ll find both of those things listed prominently on their site. Please skip it. First, there are a ton of people with the same damn thing sitting on their site. Snooze fest! Second, you want someone who’s going to “get” working with a VA and those people do not need anyone to explain why hiring you would be a better option than hiring an employee.
1. Take a decent picture of yourself. It doesn’t have to be a professional shot (though, if you can – do it!) but don’t put something that looks like you snapped a selfie while holding your children at bay.
2. List your rates or don’t. There’s no definitive answer here. But don’t get hung up on doing it and stall your business. Pick one choice and go with it.
3. You’re a one horse show. Don’t throw around “we” unless you’re working with a team. It doesn’t make you look more professional and it doesn’t make you seem more “big league”. Being yourself will net you so much more.
4. If you do any of the following, I hereby promise to never speak to you again: put music on your website, riddle your page with useless keywords because some SEO magician said to do it, or load it with ads of any kind because you figure it’s a great way to make some money while you’re waiting for clients to stream in.
I’ve briefly talked about how to price things before, (if you haven’t read it yet, at least go grab the free pricing sheet download) but never about choosing what to offer your clients. Really, the most basic way to look at this is what you can do vs what you can’t do. That’s a pretty damn good place to start. Still stumped? Don’t worry – more people ask me what kinds of things they can offer clients than almost anything else. Here’s a quick list of some of the common services offered: newsletter compilation, email management, calendar management, transcription, bookkeeping, comment moderation, website creation or maintenance, project management, travel management, social media creation and maintenance, customer service/support desk management, proofreading, copywriting, data entry, graphic design/desktop publishing.
Now let’s talk balance. If you grabbed the pricing sheet I just mentioned, and you’ve figured out what you need to charge per hour in order to live the kind of life you’re planning, you have to compare your soon-to-be services against your rates. For example, let’s say you figure out that you need to charge $50 per hour but your list of services include managing calendars, data entry, and basic proofreading. You’re going to have a really hard time finding someone who’s willing to pay that kind of money – especially if you’re a new kid on the block. To give you an idea, a general VA should have no problem charging about $30 per hour. When you add experience or more specialized skills to that mix, you can get away with a higher rate.
This is about the time that people start thinking about volume. They can charge less money per hour, and have a lot of other people working for them. Most people aren’t going to start a multi-va business right off the bat, but that’s not to say it can’t be done. Be mindful though, because you’re going to need to put some extra time into each day, week, and month to manage those new contractors, not to mention, they aren’t going to work for peanuts.
One last note – don’t list a bunch of stuff on your services list because it’s something you can actually do. You don’t want to get into the habit of settling for anything. Choose things that you actually enjoy doing. You’ll thank me for it later.
I’ll be honest, some people take months before they land their first client, so that’s something you need to be prepared for. The most lucrative way to get new clients is through referrals. This doesn’t help much in the beginning of your business, unless of course you use your connections from your past job(s) to land some new clients.
Social media is a fabulous way to get some new inquiries. I’m all for Facebook, but the real gold in this case is Twitter. It’s easy to search and it’s fast-paced. So when you sit down to do your marketing for the day, start by searching for anyone who may be talking about needing a VA on Twitter and get connected. Publicity is another great way for people to find you. Grab your local paper and see if they have a business section. Write an informative post about your business and the industry along with your contact information and forward it to the writer of that section. You can also register for HARO to get thrice daily emails from reporters who are looking for information.
Just like with your services, do not settle when it comes to clients. Recently, in a VA Facebook group I frequent, a new VA mentioned how a client asked her to work for free “for awhile” to try things out. Uhm, no. In the beginning, you may need to take whatever comes in, but set your sight on your ideal client and keep moving toward that ideal.
Slap In Your Face Wake Up Call
You knew it was coming, so grab a seat and heed the warning. If you truly, honestly want to make a real business by becoming a virtual assistant, there’s a few things you need to hear first.
1. If you’re only doing this because you don’t want to go back to your job, want to quit your job because you hate (insert anything here), you want to stay home with your kids, you can’t hold down a job, you want to do whatever you want during the day instead of listening to someone else … then find a new industry. Really – it’s not going to go well and you’ll give the rest of us a bad name. Just like every other industry, working for yourself often means working more hours and you drop the requirement to please one boss for the requirement to please several clients. This isn’t something that you can do after the kids go to sleep or in between naps. Unless you’re going to work for a friend or POSSIBLY as a contractor for another VA, this just isn’t going to work. And really, as a VA who has hired contractors in the past – I’m not all that interested in hiring someone who may or may not be available when I need them.
2. Most of the time, being “good at computers” is not going to be enough to cut it. Even if you’re smart. Or a fast learner. The majority of business owners that you’ll encounter are going to be primarily online so you’re going to have to have some kind of knowledge of the things they’ll need you to do. Don’t have that experience? Start learning. Understand what options there are when it comes to things like newsletters and social media (at a bare minimum). It’s much better to push back your business by a few months and be able to charge a decent rate because you have some idea of what you’re doing, than it is to only be able to charge $20 an hour because you simply don’t know how to do very much that your client needs.
Questions and Answers
How do I get trained as a VA?
There are online schools (and at least on college here in Canada) that train VA’s but it’s definitely not a necessity. I learned as I went and my business morphed as I went along. It was a tedious process, but it did work for me. VA Classrooms (linked above) is not the only one out there so do your due diligence before deciding if you need a school like this. You may find that taking an individual course or two to give you some new marketable skills are more in order. Remember, there’s no governing body that says that you have to have X in order to be a VA. If you choose this route, choose it because you need to learn the skill, not to impress a client.
Should I open my own business, or try to get hired by another VA company?
This depends on a few things. Most importantly – what do you want? Despite the low start up costs, you may need to buy quite a bit of software or hardware if you don’t already have it (and you may need to do that whether you work for yourself or as a contractor). Working for another VA company is often your best bet if you’re trying to work around another job or raising a family, but like I said earlier – that’s still not an ideal situation for most companies.
Do I need to be a registered business?
Technically, no. But please do.
What software do I need to have in order to start my business?
The very least – a reliable computer and high speed internet. You’ll need to have a way of accepting payments – PayPal is used most often. If you don’t have a separate line, grab a Skype account and subscription. You’ll also need anything related to providing your services.
More questions? Leave ‘em below and I’ll answer everything that comes in. You may also want to pick up a copy of The Bootstrap VA. Not only did a friend of mine write it, but I’m also a contributor.