Updated February 1, 2018

Several years ago I wanted to increase our family’s income, but I didn’t want a regular job. I had responsibilities I couldn’t immediately drop or hand off to someone else so flexibility, making my own hours and working from home were key. Also, I didn’t have a huge budget for new equipment or elaborate training. I became a virtual assistant. It turned out to be the perfect runway for a full-time online career.

How to become a virtual assistant.

Disclosure: Some links below are my affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I may earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase. Read my full disclosure policy here.

What is a virtual assistant?

A virtual assistant (VA) provides services to individuals, organizations or companies, but they work online instead of going into an office.

It’s an excellent work-at-home opportunity and one of the most cost-effective ways of making money online because it’s simply a matter of charging others for a skill you already have.

Being a VA (virtual assistant) is great because you simply charge for a skill you already have.Click To Tweet

What do virtual assistants do?

The internet has made it possible to do a wide variety of things remotely, or, “virtually.”

A lot of people hear “virtual assistance” and think only of administrative tasks like typing and answering emails. But the range of tasks VAs do is much more broad.

There are countless services you can provide virtually. Here is a partial list:

  • Email management
  • Calendar management
  • Travel arrangement
  • Writing
  • Ghostwriting
  • Graphic design / creation
  • Web design / development
  • Researching
  • Editing
  • Tutoring
  • Audio / video / photo editing
  • Consulting / counseling / coaching
  • Bookkeeping
  • Copywriting
  • Marketing / Promotion
  • Social media management
  • Project management
  • Customer service
  • Transcription
  • Programming
  • App development
  • Data entry
  • Visioneering (people send you photos of their room/house/yard and you offer suggestions for improvement)
  • Anything else you can do without having to be in the same physical location as your client

How much do virtual assistants make?

It depends on your skill level and the type of service you provide.

Tasks like data entry might fetch $10-$15 an hour, but if you have a specialized skill or expertise, you could make $100 dollars an hour or more.

Most VAs set their own rates, so you are in control. This is another reason many people are making the leap into virtual assistance.

How do I become a virtual assistant?

I worked as a virtual assistant and I have employed my own virtual assistants as well. Here are my recommendations to get started.

1. Decide if you will operate as an independent contractor or an employee

Independent contractors are self-employed and run their own businesses. On the other hand, some VAs prefer to work for an established company that matches VAs and clients.

Independent contractor vs. employee

Not sure whether you want to work for yourself or a company? Here are the pros and cons for each:

Pros of being an independent contractor

  • You work for yourself, so you call all the shots. You set your own pricing, you choose your own clients, you are your own boss.
  • Your work hours are set completely by you.
  • Any money you make goes directly to you, instead of being funneled through your employer who keeps a percentage.

Cons of being an independent contractor

  • Running and being responsible for your own business. Like building any business, this option takes a lot of time, energy and hustle. The responsibility rests fully on your shoulders.
  • Finding your own clients. This can be difficult, especially at the beginning before you have happy clients who can recommend your services.
  • Here in the U.S., you are responsible to withhold and pay your own income taxes, like Social Security, Medicare, etc.

Pros of being an employee

  • You are only responsible for your work at the agreed upon times. It’s a great situation for those who prefer to clock in and clock out without having to worry about the business otherwise.
  • Clients are typically matched with you by your employer, or, provide a platform where it’s easy to connect with new clients. No need to find all your clients yourself.
  • You have a built-in support system. Many companies provide resources, tools, community and support for their VAs.

Cons of being an employee

  • You must answer to an employer. This may mean you have guidelines to follow.
  • You may have less flexible hours depending on the clients your employer matches you with.
  • Your pay is typically determined for you.

You might prefer being an independent contractor if:

  • You like networking and hustle.
  • You’re an entrepreneur at heart.
  • You like having full control.
  • You dislike being an employee.
  • You don’t need a lot of income right away (in the event it takes a while to build up your client list).

You might prefer being an employee if:

  • You prefer being able to clock in and clock out.
  • You’d rather someone else find clients and tell you when and where to show up.
  • You like clear boundaries so work doesn’t spill over into other parts of your life.
  • You need income right away and don’t have or energy to “pound the pavement” or building a business.

What about starting at a VA company then moving out on my own?
This is possible, but it can be tricky. There are legal and ethical issues to consider.

Most VA companies include clauses in their legal contracts prohibiting you from taking their clients with you if you decide to leave. For example, you will have to agree to not contact any of their clients for a specified period of time. In other words, if you work for a VA company and are matched with a client, you can’t leave that company and encourage your client to hire you on your own.

However, if you decide to leave a company and start your own VA business as an independent contractor, and find your own clients, this may be an option.

2. Get a website

This is essential for independent contractors. People need to be able to find you, so a presence on the web is crucial. It gives you a more professional appearance, a chance to highlight some of your skills and an opportunity to explain your process.

Use my step-by-step guide to set up a website, or a blog if you want to regularly add articles. (Note that the post title is “How to Start a Blog” but the same steps work to start a website with this one small tweak).

  • Independent contractors: a must-have
  • An employed VA: optional (but not a bad idea in case you want to venture out on your own later)

3. Read this ebook

the bootstrap vaI get a lot of requests to promote ebooks, but I rarely do so. However, I bought The Bootstrap VA and it is absolutely one I recommend. I even share a bit of my experience in the book.

The finished product is packed with actionable tips. It’s like taking a college course. Lisa has worked as a virtual assistant for many years and after reading half of her ebook, I was so impressed, I hired her to be my own virtual assistant. She knows her stuff.

  • Independent contractors: a must-have
  • An employed VA: recommended

4. Get involved in social media

Possible social media platforms to pursue include Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube, LinkedIn or one of many others. It will be impossible to devote enough time to all of them, so, where to start? Focus your social media efforts wherever your potential clients hang out.

Relationships are key. Being involved in social media is one of the best ways to find clients and vice versa, especially until you are established and can rely on word of mouth.

  • Independent contractors: a must-have
  • An employed VA: recommended

5. Network with other VAs to learn the ropes & exchange tips

A perfect place to do this is the free Facebook Group that comes with The Bootstrap VA. Among my VA friends, this is the group they say is the most helpful.

You can also ask around, read great articles, do some googling and find people who are already VAs. Check out their websites, see what they offer and get an idea of how it might work for you.

  • Independent contractors: a must-have
  • An employed VA: highly recommended although it’s likely this will be built in at the company you work for

6. Be helpful

As you interact on social media and network with other VAs, be very careful not to come across as spammy. Mass emails or “cold” emails to people that don’t know you are rarely successful.

I understand the need to make an income, but take the time to offer useful information first. This might come in the form of really useful articles written on your blog, or it might come in the form of genuinely helpful (and respectful) advice to someone you meet online.

In my case, I casually offered some ideas to a friend on Twitter and it turned out to be the start of a working relationship that lasted quite a while.

  • Independent contractors: a must-have
  • An employed VA: a must-have

7. Hustle & create content

The nice thing about working online is that the barrier to entry is low and the cost to start is very reasonable. This allows you to make it a side hustle until you pick up enough steam to go full time.

But one of the most common misconceptions about working online is that it picks up quickly. This is usually not the case. This is a business. Just like any other business online or offline, it will require hustle. You can’t just build a website and watch the money roll in. Be proactive, enthusiastic and keep at it!

I can’t stress enough the importance of getting involved in communities online where your potential clients hang out. Be present. Be authentic. These relationships often lead to work down the road.

In the meantime, to speed up the process of being found, consider creating your own content. Your website/blog is a great place to do this. Write articles or produce videos related to the services you provide. For example, if you will provide calendar management as a VA, talk about time management and productivity. “But will people still hire me if I share my tips with them?” Yes! Sure, some might, but others will see you as an authority and trust you to do the tasks they don’t want to do themselves. This is exactly how I found work as a VA.

  • Independent contractors: a must-have
  • An employed VA: a must-have

Where can I work as a VA?

If working as an independent contractor and finding your own clients is not your thing, consider working for a company that matches VAs with clients. For some VAs, the help in finding clients is worth sharing the profits.

Companies to consider are Belay Solutions (formerly eaHelp) and Upwork. I’ve personally hired VAs from both. Belay is a more elite service with very thorough hiring and matching processes. Upwork is a larger platform and easier to join, but you’ll be competing with more VAs for the same jobs.

Some other companies to consider are Priority VA or Fancy Hands. I don’t have personal experience with either, but have heard good things about them.

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