We’ve been getting lots of questions from readers who want to learn how to become virtual assistants.
Makes sense. Becoming a virtual assistant is a super flexible way to earn money from home. You become an invaluable member of someone’s company and help them grow their business along the way.
Plus, as more and more businesses are operating mostly online – bloggers, e-commerce store owners, podcasters, freelancers, and more – the opportunities are expanding for new virtual assistants.
This guide covers the most in-demand virtual assistant services and the steps you need to start your own VA business.
Learn How to Become a Virtual Assistant in 2020
What is a virtual assistant?
A virtual assistant or VA works behind the scenes for their clients – they’re kind of like an online personal assistant for business owners. Because so many basic business tasks can be done online these days, VAs can easily work remotely from the comfort of their home.
Virtual assistants are huge assets to business owners because VAs can take over responsibilities that don’t have to be done by the business owner. These are things like scheduling, billing, email management, and a lot more.
This frees up time for the business owner to focus on high-level work, so it’s easier for them to scale their business.
In a more traditional business setting, virtual assistants would be considered administrative assistants, and you’d probably be tied to a desk with normal 9-5 hours. In the flexible world of online businesses, VAs can work 100% from home and set their own hours.
What does a virtual assistant do?
If you want to learn how to become a virtual assistant, then it’s important to understand that there is a wide variety of services you can provide for business owners.
There are dozens of services you can offer as a virtual assistant. Here are a few examples of the most popular and most in-demand VA services:
Virtual assistants who specialize in social media management usually work across multiple social media platforms. This includes the big three – Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter – but there’s also demand for VAs who understand how to work on Pinterest, TikTok, Snapchat, LinkedIn, and more.
There are some subtle differences with each platform, but the gist of working as a social media virtual assistant is:
- Posting status updates, photos, pins, etc.
- Responding to comments
- Updating profiles
- Managing or moderating Facebook communities
- Running ads
The kinds of clients who need social media management include bloggers, influencers, authors, podcasters, life coaches, e-commerce site owners, and more.
2. Blog management
Running a blog is way more than just posting an article or two a week. And the bigger a blog gets, the more is behind the scenes work there is to do, including:
- Scheduling posts
- Formatting images
- Editing posts
- Checking links
- Managing affiliate relationships
- Organizing and categorizing past posts
- Applying tags
- Updating plug-ins
- Paying freelancers
For a blogger, this is pretty mundane and time-consuming work, but these are essential tasks if you want to run a successful blog. Some larger blogs have multiple VAs working as a team to support the blogger.
We have three virtual assistants here at M$M: Rachel and May are responsible for general blog management (formatting, scheduling, and publishing posts). They also make minor changes and edits to any of the posts. Then Liz, who is our Logistics Manager, handles affiliate relationships, inbox management, billing and invoicing, and a whole lot more.
3. Email management
Dealing with emails is one of the most tedious things you can spend your time on.
Responding to customer emails, corresponding with clients, etc. – these things can take up a considerable amount of a business owner’s time. Some entrepreneurs get hundreds of emails a day.
A virtual assistant doing email management, or inbox management, might organize emails into folders by urgency. This is one of the first things Liz did when she came on board, and it was a massive help to Bobby.
Virtual assistants might respond to simple inquiries or requests. You can even do really simple tasks like confirm appointments and renew subscriptions.
If you want to specialize in something related to email management, email marketing is pretty lucrative. You’ll want to learn copywriting skills and how to build a sales funnel to work in this niche.
4. Customer service
Big companies like Apple and Amazon outsourcing customer service support means this is a growing and in-demand field for anyone who wants to become a virtual assistant. But small business owners need VA customer service support too.
This job is pretty broad, but it includes tasks like responding to comments, processing orders, managing payments, troubleshooting, etc.
Virtual assistants can take care of basic bookkeeping tasks, ones that don’t necessarily be turned over to an account. You send and receive payments, record transactions, create invoices, manage payroll.
Having a solid understanding of bookkeeping software like QuickBooks, Wave, or FreshBooks will be helpful here.
6. Content production
This service can mean a lot of different things depending on the business you’re working for. You could be taking or sourcing photos to use in blog posts, social media posts, or for a website. You might write copy, create videos, research products, and more.
How to become a virtual assistant: 6 steps to start your VA business
Alright, let’s get down to business and put some action behind everything you just read. Starting a virtual assistant business can be empowering – you’re in control of the services you offer, your prices, who you work with, and more.
It will take some time to establish yourself – just like any other business – but you can get started at your own pace and grow from there.
Here are 6 steps to starting your virtual assistant business
Step #1: Decide what services to offer
Whether you realize it or not, you probably already have some in-demand virtual assistant skills.
- Maybe you’re trying to start your own blog. If so, you can offer blog management services because you already know your way around WordPress.
- We all have experience managing an email inbox.
- If you’ve ever moderated a FB group or any other kind of online forum, this experience can help with social media management services and customer service.
Also, consider what you enjoy doing. Some people nerd out on organization – use that enthusiasm. Do you think you’d have a lot of fun creating images for Instagram or Pinterest? Try out Canva (it’s free graphic design software), and see if you can develop those skills.
After you start your virtual assistant business, you’ll discover there are some tasks you’re drawn to over others. I once heard a VA talk about being surprised about how much she loved data entry. She wasn’t offering the service until one of her clients asked about it, and now she seeks out that kind of work.
You can always change your offerings, adapt to your clients’ needs, and ditch the services you don’t enjoy doing.
Step #2: Determine your pricing
There aren’t any hard and fast rules about how much you charge for your virtual assistant services. This kind of freedom is both liberating and stress-inducing. Speaking as a freelancer myself, this is something I struggle with.
You want to strike a balance between competitive pricing but also earning enough to make it worth your time.
Virtual assistants who run their own businesses (which means you’re not working for a VA agency like Fancy Hands) can set their rates anywhere from $15-$25/hour.
That range depends a lot on the kind of services you offer. Helping a business owner manage their social media marketing strategy is a higher value than inbox management, for example.
More considerations are how to structure your rates, and here are the three most common methods:
- Hourly: This is the most common way for VAs to charge, and it’s good because you get paid for every hour you put in. The downside is that you have to track all of that time. One suggestion is to offer clients blocks of time, like $40 for a 2-hour block.
- Retainer: This is when you and your clients have agreed upon what you’ll do during a week or month and a set dollar value for that time. It improves cashflow – they typically pay upfront for your services. The downside is that the amount of work you’re doing can creep up (this is called scope creep). Make sure you do regular check-ins with your clients so everyone stays happy with the arrangement.
- Product-based: Because different services are valued differently in the eyes of some clients, you can have set rates or packages for different services. For example: charging $500/month to manage their Pinterest account. Or, $160/month to create two social media posts per week.
If you’re struggling with setting your rates, start doing some research online to see what other VAs are charging. Look at their experience, services, and how they charge.
Step #3: Get your business in order
There are a few fine details about the foundation of your virtual assistant business that you’ll need to hammer out before getting to work. It might feel a little overwhelming at first, but don’t put this stuff off!
Here’s what you need to:
- Decide on a formal structure for your business, like LLC or Sole Proprietorship
- Open a dedicated bank account
- See if there are any permits or licenses you need to operate your business
- Put together a client contract
Talking with a lawyer or accountant can help you figure out exactly how to do all of this, and this may vary state by state. There are also sites like LegalZoom that will help you get everything in order.
Step #4: Build an online presence
A lot of this job is about building relationships – trust, communication, and personal touches.
You’re not going to have a brick-and-mortar business for customers to walk in and meet you, but you can have a website and social media presence that makes it easy for potential clients to get to know you.
Your website can be super simple too. Here are the most important factors:
- An “About” page that tells people who you are. This is where you can get a little personal. Do you live and breathe ice hockey, crochet in your spare time, have 4 dogs, travel a ton, or want to learn how to speak Portuguese? Those are random examples, but details like this will make it easier for people to connect with you.
- An easy way for clients to contact you. There should be no barriers here. Make it stupid-simple. You can have a “Work With Me” page, but also attach a contact form on another one of your web pages.
- Professional looking website. This is easier than you think, especially if you decide to set up a WordPress site hosted on Bluehost. You can learn how to start a WordPress site here.
Come up with a simple value proposition that will be on your site’s main page. This is basically a statement that explains how you can help, why you.
It shouldn’t be lengthy, something straightforward like, “Hi, I’m Kate. I help bloggers with content creation and social media management.”
The next part of developing your online presence is social media. Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, Twitter – choose one or two and start networking with business owners in whatever niche you want to work.
Following industry leaders will show you what hashtags, channels, groups, and forums are unique to that industry. Overt self-promotion is off-putting, especially when you’re first starting your virtual assistant business.
Focus on being helpful, genuine, and getting to know others. This is how you build lasting relationships that can turn into leads down the line.
Step #5: Land your first clients
Most brand new virtual assistants won’t get clients directly from their website or social media. They do it through networking and reaching out to potential clients directly. This is true for lots of different freelancers.
I’ve landed new writing and editing clients by contacting bloggers directly and saying, “Here’s how I can help you do X better,” and then presenting a couple of ideas. Liz, one of M$M’s badass VAs, got her job through a networking Slack channel.
The first couple of clients are always the hardest to land. It’s a combination of having enough confidence to put yourself out there, experience, and putting enough time into finding clients.
But all it takes is one. One client and you’ve got a real virtual assistant business up and running.
I recommend thinking about who your ideal clients are. Do you want to work with bloggers? Become a podcast virtual assistant? Is e-commerce your thing? The market you work with can be based on interests or experience.
Next, identify some business owners in that market that could use your services. Because you’ve just learned how to become a virtual assistant, the people at the very top of the industry might be a little out of your reach. Focus on businesses that are small but growing.
Don’t forget to look at your inner circle. These are your friends, family, people you went to school with. Send them emails and see if they know anyone who could use your services. You’ll go in with a solid reference, which has a lot of value in and of itself.
Then start pitching potential clients. Spend time on this every day – sending emails out to business owners, the leads your inner circle passed along, etc. Keep your emails short and to the point. Focus less on who you are, and more on how you can help that particular business.
Your pitches should include your social handles, website, and be personalized to each person you contact. Around 3 days after you send the email, send a follow-up asking if they had any more questions.
The majority of your pitches will land flat – that’s the reality. But as soon as you get over the fear of hearing “no” it gets easier to put yourself out there.
You will eventually get a response back, and that’s all it takes.
Step #6: Keep making your clients happy
Yay, you’ve got some clients! You’re making money! Life is good!
To keep things going in that direction, you’ll have to make sure your clients are happy. Check in with them regularly. Ask if there’s anything else you can do to help them. Make sure they’re happy with your work and communication.
The more work you can take off a business owner’s plate, the more invaluable you’ll become. They’re used to working crazy hours and trying to do everything on their own. Make their life easier and you’ll wind up with some awesome long-term clients.
Courses and virtual assistant training programs
Virtual assistant courses are an investment that can help you fast-track your business plan. All of the resources are organized for you by experienced VAs who really know what they’re talking about.
Here are two virtual assistant courses that are worth checking out:
- 30 Days or Less to Virtual Assistant Success: This course is from Gina Horkey of the Horkey Handbook and teaches social media management, email management, project management, content production, bookkeeping, and much more.
- Pinterest VA Course: Kirsten Larsen teaches you Pinterest specific VA skills. Spoiler: It’s way more than just pinning!
The final word on how to become a virtual assistant
Working as a virtual assistant is an incredibly rewarding job for many. There are lots of stay-at-home moms working as VAs. Some people side hustle as virtual assistants in addition to their full-time jobs.
And learning how to start a VA business opens a door to earning money in a flexible position that you can grow over time.
The specific skills you need to start a virtual assistant business are tied to what kind of services you want to offer and the kind of clients you want to work with.
Don’t forget that above there is a comprehensive list of the most in-demand VA services and what skills are associated with each.
Honestly, it's more about the qualities you need to become a virtual assistant. Being highly organized, having strong time management skills, and being an effective communicator are all musts.
Being a fast learner will definitely be a plus. And because each of your clients will have slightly different personalities and needs, adaptability and flexibility are key too.
You might have a very creative client who struggles with routine and structure – they might need a little more managing to stay on track. You can have another client who struggles to give up control, and for them, it will be imperative that you communicate about everything you’re doing.
Virtual assistants who start their own business can make $15-$25/hour, and as you gain more experience you can begin raising your rates and taking on more responsibilities.
There are VAs who charge upwards of $50-$100/hour. That’s the high end, and these are people with years of experience who handle a lot of high-level tasks. And you better believe that they’ve made themselves irreplaceable to their clients.
Yep! This article is all about learning how to start a virtual assistant business because it’s the most flexible and highest paying option for VAs. It comes with more responsibility, but I think the positives outweigh any additional stress.
However, if you aren’t interested in starting your own business, read How to Find Virtual Assistant Jobs for Beginners. You’ll learn which companies hire VAs without any experience and how to highlight your related work experience when you’re applying.