Virtual assistants are hired to do anything from answering the phones and data entry to creating web content and keeping the books. For that reason, becoming a virtual assistant is one of the easiest ways to transition into working from home and building your skillset, especially if you don’t have a lot of work experience.
- What Exactly Is a Virtual Assistant?
- Is There a Future for VAs?
- So, What Does a Virtual Assistant Do?
- Can You Make Money As a Virtual Assistant?
- The 3 Types of Clients That Commonly Use VAs
- Launching Your VA Business from Upwork
- How Should You Price Your VA Services If You’re Just Starting Out?
- 4 Smart and Easy Ways to Market a New Virtual Assistant Service
- Is Becoming a Virtual Assistant Right for You?
What Exactly Is a Virtual Assistant?
I like Wikipedia’s definition of a Virtual Assistant: A Virtual Assistant (VA) is usually a self-employed administrative professional who provides off-site administrative, technical and creative support for individuals, businesses and various organizations.
That is absolutely true. As a VA, you will provide administrative support across a wide range of industries and perform a varied list of duties, depending on the needs of your client. And client needs are ever-evolving. Your menu of services will always depend on two things:
- Your ability to get the work done
- Your target customer
In fact, when I combed Upwork to see what kinds of skills employers sought when hiring VAs it really was a mixed bag, and there were just as many positions for inexperienced, entry-level VAs as there were for experts. More, actually. The only caveat – entry-level VAs get paid entry-level rates. But the good thing about freelancing is you don’t have to wait for an annual performance review where you’re hoping your employer raises your pay by 3%. You can boost your rate as you expand your skillset.
Is There a Future for VAs?
We all went home last year, didn’t we? Not only that, but the kids came home too, which meant that many of us were either looking for work after being laid off, or we were suddenly trying to manage additional daily responsibilities (that people like me legitimately wanted to be rescued from). In the wake of COVID-19, remote work spiked. I’m sure you noticed that, too. So, what’s going to happen when we get a handle on the pandemic? Will remote work disappear?
A Gartney, Inc. survey reported that 82% of the business leaders and HR execs surveyed said they intend to permit employees to continue working remotely some of the time, and 47% will allow employees to work from home full-time. That means when it’s time to hire new talent to fill vacancies that used to be on-site positions, remote candidates can be in the talent pool.
In the next four years, 22% of Americans will work remotely, an increase of 87% above pre-pandemic levels, according to Upwork. Before the pandemic, hiring managers were already staring down the barrel of a talent shortage. Now, with limited resources and in-person restrictions, hiring managers are relying even more on VAs, freelancers, and other independent professionals to help fill the gaps. Check out these stats I pulled from Businesswire:
- 48% of hiring managers are working with independent talent today
- 73% of managers who see the value in remote work are engaging independent professionals
So, What Does a Virtual Assistant Do?
I combed a few sites on the Internet to see which skills employers are looking for in a virtual assistant. These are some of the most commonly requested services employers/clients want VAs to perform:
Project management, Google Workspaces, Adobe Creative Suite, email management, email list management, WordPress, Squarespace, social media management, Salesforce proficiency, resume writing, LinkedIn Recruiter, bookkeeping, accounting, proposal writing, database management, internet research, Shopify, creating content for social media, presentations.
All of that may sound horrifying if you’re going back to work after being a stay-at-home mom or you don’t have much work experience. But you can learn most of those skills for free on YouTube if you’re willing to invest a little time. Fears aside, compare the above list of the skills employers want in their virtual assistant to the below list of skills virtual assistants are most likely to advertise:
Calendar management, follow-ups, email management, research on any topic or individual, real estate services, payroll and bookkeeping, customer relations management, dictation, transcription, event organization, internet marketing, telemarketing, reports and presentations, social media management, business plans and proposals, home services, startup business services, purchases and bill payments, blog management, newsletters, writing and editing, list-building, email marketing, project management.
I checked out VAs from the first page of Google to select services offered by your competitors. I skipped over a few of the more obvious services like typing and data entry and answering calls just so you can get a better idea of the scope of services offered by VAs online. Did you notice that there are gaps between what your competitors offer and what clients are requesting?
There are tens of thousands of projects listed in the Admin and Customer Support category on Upwork.com. At this moment, 5,286 of the job postings on Upwork.com are categorized as Virtual Assistant jobs, and almost all of them are being marketed to the virtual workforce.
Can You Make Money As a Virtual Assistant?
Absolutely. But I get why you may be skeptical.
With global competitors charging pennies to do the work you’d bill clients dollars to do, you may be wondering if becoming a virtual assistant is a good choice. And you’re smart to wonder.
I do believe the biggest challenge new VAs face is resisting the urge to reduce your rates just to compete with VAs in other countries. The talent market for virtual assistants is competitive, and it’s global. That means there may be another VA on the other side of the globe whose skills match yours and who’ll charge a fraction of the price for the same services you offer. (The last two VAs I hired charged $4 and $7 an hour. So…)
But your advantage is that you can level-up your skill set at your own pace and carve out a niche market for yourself. That’s a good thing because different clients will have different needs.
I once worked for a career consultant who needed me to help her put together Job Futures Reports and resumes, so my resume writing skills were what won me the job.
I also worked for a security company and a big part of my job was collecting on accounts and keeping the books because that’s where the biggest need was because the owners had nearly $90K out in unpaid invoices.
I worked for a real estate investor who already had an accountant handling his books, but he needed someone to help him keep his websites and membership courses running and funneling in new members.
All three were VA jobs, but all three clients had different priorities and different needs.
The 3 Types of Clients That Commonly Use VAs
You’d be surprised who ends up hiring a virtual assistant. I’ve personally hired in VAs for the past two years. Why? Well, between agency life and freelancing on the side (when I have time), I need help creating content for the blog and social media. So, let’s talk about who else hires VAs.
This includes businesses run from offices and warehouses in commercial and industrial locations. Think in terms of small companies that have a staff of at least 20 people. Many businesses have found it necessary to switch to leaner business models that trim away excess personnel.
The impact of that could mean more responsibilities for the organization’s core staff without additional pay (I’ve been there). Virtual assistants can help to relieve some of that pressure, boost team morale and improve productivity by offering needed support.
Most businesses have peak seasons and slow seasons. So, if you offer VA services that can help the core team to expedite processes, particularly during busy seasons, you’re likely to get a call every year around the same time. You can step in and handle the overflow so that the business can remain profitable without adding significantly to the cost of operations.
#2 Micro Businesses
Micro businesses are often prime targets for the VA, in part because micro businesses often need people than they can afford to hire. While founders and key employees are working to drive sales and increase brand awareness, many of the seemingly smaller tasks – like sifting through the mountain of emails to see which truly are qualified leads and growing the company’s social media following – are overlooked.
Instead of having one person work in that space to fill the administrative void, very often key employees “pick up the slack” and all chip in. You can likely convince them that you’re a far better option.
#3 Solopreneurs and Service Providers
These are my favorites. I have worked with some brilliantly innovative visionaries who are just doing way too much.
My experience has been that it’s easier to get in with solopreneurs. They need the technical assistance, and many of them ache for the emotional support. The one problem I have consistently found with many solopreneurs is that they tend to have limited financial resources. But you can avoid getting the short end of the stick by pre-qualifying your clients and setting up payment rules ahead of time.
When you think of solopreneurs, also include licensed professionals such as attorneys, real estate agents, real estate investors, property appraisers and inspectors, medical professionals, counselors, authors, other Creatives and construction professionals (not construction firms, but rather carpenters, painters, flooring specialists and the like who operate their own small businesses). Target these professionals because they are perpetually working to build their businesses and have to divide their time between actively delivering their goods and services and growing their businesses.
Launching Your VA Business from Upwork
I am a huge fan of Upwork for launching a virtual assistant business. Upwork won’t always be the most lucrative spot for an expert virtual assistant, but it’s a great place to go if you’re just starting out OR building your business and you want an opportunity to make money while you’re upskilling. And I’m all about getting paid to learn new skills.
Another reason I like Upwork is because you don’t have to be a salesperson who’s always pitching. If you can create a couple of great proposal templates, you can get yourself shortlisted for just about any job.
A Piece of Advice: Be Selective About the Freelance VA Gigs You Select
I learned pretty early on in my freelance career that I needed to be more selective about the types of jobs and projects I took on, and especially the types of clients I worked with. I understand if your instinct is to rack up as many jobs as you can, but that’s a really easy way to burn yourself out and spend time on tasks that will literally make you question your life choices. I remember doing that while struggling to write an article about weed brownies – is this really what God had in mind for me when He created me?
Yeah, the work can get that lame if you don’t have a strategy for which types of freelance VA gigs you bid on.
Nailing the Upwork Proposal
When I first started freelancing, I pretty much lived on Upwork (back when it was Elance). I’m still on the platform quite a bit both hiring and checking out jobs. So, I can tell you from experience both as a freelancer and as a recruiter that next to your job completion rate and client feedback, your proposal is the most important part of the bid process.
I spent quite a bit of time tweaking my job proposals in the early days. Before I decided to specialize in writing ebooks and taking on academic writing projects, I created a proposal for every type of job I intended to bid on – bookkeeping, ebooks, reports, resume writing, research projects, admin support… everything. And that method worked for me.
My win rate on Upwork was about 25 – 30% with a 30-40% retention/repeat client rate. I was able to move more than a third of my clients off the Upwork platform (because the 20% fees are insane when you’re first starting out – INSANE!!).
Was I more qualified than my competitors? Probably not. Afterall, I was pretty much a newbie. But I knew how to create a proposal that would get the client to take the next step. I knew how to get myself shortlisted for projects. And there were very few projects that I really wanted that I didn’t ultimately get.
Now that that’s out of the way, let’s look at a template that’s worked for me when it comes to submitting winning proposals
I have one primary template that I use to submit proposals. I change the content of the template depending on the type of job I’m aiming to win. So while there’s one template, there are several variations of that one template.
Why would you need multiple versions of the same proposal? Well, the same reason you need multiple versions of your freelancer resume. The proposal you submit for any freelance job should be a direct response to the client’s job posting. So, if you’re bidding on a resume writing job, you would have a proposal for resume writing. If you’re bidding on a VA job, your proposal and resume should be tailored to address what the client wants a VA to handle.
Take a look at this super-short project description that I answered on Upwork.
The Winning Bid
Hi, Ben – This sounds like a very cool project. Tell me more about the criteria for the rituals to be researched. Am I to assume no culture is excluded and that time is no factor? Also, let me know how you want the information sourced /documented. Do you already have some rituals recorded or are we constructing this database from scratch? Can I read what you already have?
The geek in me is really excited about this!
PROJECT: Assembly of Ritual Database
With regard to the above-referenced project, I would like to offer my services.
Based on the information you provided, the following 3 items are what I can deliver to your project:
* 1,000 short, descriptive summaries of rituals from all over the world that date from modern times back to antiquity
* Engaging facts that clearly communicate historic information in a way to which your audience can relate
* A collaborative relationship with a dependable writer who can thoroughly research (and source) rituals and produce accurate, compelling content
I am a versatile writer and award-winning author. I specialize in researching and ghost writing content for clients who have ideas, outlines, even the core of their books prepared, but who could use assistance in completing the project. I work both cooperatively and independently, producing content from conception to completion.
Most of my work is heavily focused on personal and professional development. Much of the rest is research-intensive academic writing. I do write for my audience with an understanding of the influence language can have on readers. I am resourceful, analytical, thoughtful, ethical and creative. I recognize that in order for me to be successful, I have to be an exceptional communicator.
* Award-winning creative writer (Agnes Bruenton Award)
* Research projects
* SEO Content Provider
* Social Media Networking
* Editor at STEMPcp.com
* Business book on listening techniques (ghost work)
* Writer, JTCina.com (Career coaching)
* Small business guide to government contracting (Ghost work)
My rate for this project will be $20/hr, which includes my Upwork fee. I can commit to upwards of 30 hours per week, less if you prefer.
I have attached my resume and writing portfolio for your review. I also encourage you to review my profile and find me online as I am easily searchable. Please refer to the following recommendations for statements about my character, artistry, and work ethic. I am excited about the prospect of working together and I do look forward to hearing from you soon. Be well. -Sorilbran
WRITING – “Sorilbran has truly brought her A-game to The Upstart Pundit Blog. [She] brings sound advice, quality insight, and practical ideas that can be worth gold to small and medium-sized businesses… Sorilbran’s honesty, forthrightness, and humor are refreshing… I am thrilled to recommend her as someone to watch. Great things so far. Greater things to come!” – William Powell, Leadership Coach, Author
WORK ETHIC – “Sorilbran (Rib) was the best assistant I ever had. She was dedicated, proactive, smart and fun to work with… Her work and more importantly her behaviors are top notch.”- CM, Former AVP Handleman Company
EXCELLENCE – “I have met and played with some really talented… musicians. [Sorilbran] is by far one of the most talented singer/songwriters I have ever met… [Sorilbran] is not one to be complacent with anything she does and her drive to “make it better” is infectious…you cannot replace [her].” – Paul, Saints of Soul
Okay, so let’s look at why this proposal won, and I’ll use some of my insights as a recruiter to help with this.
The Deliverables section performs double-duty – it echoes the needs the client listed in the job description and tells the client HOW I plan to meet those needs.
The Introduction provides 2 quick paragraphs about my background to let the client know I’m a real person with real experience.
Skill Set lists the skills I’ve gained from my experience.
Recent Projects offers insight into the kind of work I’ve been hired to do lately.
Offer sets my price and delivery expectations.
The Conclusion is the wrap-up where I tell the client I have nothing to hide by encouraging him to search my work online. The ability to be transparent is a good quality to have.
Finally, the Relevant Recommendations are a handful of my glowing reviews, which you can pull from your own feedback, from LinkedIn recommendations, from your website, or wherever it is you collect feedback on your work (which you totally should).
Now, you don’t have to be this detailed with your proposals, but there are elements of this proposal – even though it’s super long – that are really crucial. The first is echoing back what the client has told you (s)he needs. Second is being really clear about how you can help the client solve specific problems. And finally, telling prospective clients who you are and what they can expect from you.
Use Your Pristine Social Media Presence to Boost Your Chances of Winning Jobs
Your online presence matters. Let’s think about this from the perspective of the recruiter before you get all huffy. Recruiters are bringing total strangers in to help them run their businesses. Being able to find out as much as possible about their partners and team members will help them make better hiring decisions.
So, you can understand why your clients may want you to find you on Instagram or check out your LinkedIn profile. Let them. They’re going to look anyway, so even if it means cleaning up your Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, and Twitter feeds, that’s a move you must make in order to build your VA business or any online venture where you’re the face of the business, for that matter.
How Should You Price Your VA Services If You’re Just Starting Out?
There are some steps to follow for pricing your freelance services that include figuring out how much you need to make, factoring in the cost of living and the cost of doing business, etc. But when you’re first starting out, I think it’s smart to think more in terms of understanding that as a novice with a limited skillset, you’ll basically be working just so you can start building your reputation and maybe earn a little money while you grow enough skills to hit your target hourly rate.
My bottom number when I started out as a VA was about $10 an hour. My rate was flexible when I had the opportunity to take a position that taught me something new (like when I worked with the career coach to put together job packages for Mexican execs migrating to Canada, I dropped my rate to $9 an hour just so I could get that experience and add that skillset to my resume). But I was able to double my freelancer rate pretty quickly as I gained new skills.
Create Service Packages
The one thing I don’t love about any hourly situation is that when employers hire you hourly, they like to claim dibs on certain hours. If you need time freedom for your kids or because you’re taking care of an aging relative or for whatever reason, I would totally recommend creating service packages.
Service packages allow you to offer clients flat rates to perform a bundle of certain types of tasks on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis.
So, you may have an administrative package that includes:
- Daily email management (where you sign on an hour before you client starts their workday to sort important emails from everything else)
- Weekly bookkeeping, invoicing and collections
- Weekly reporting where you provide a list of goals Monday morning and a status report Thursday afternoon
- Weekday monitoring social media and certain email inboxes to answer any customers questions
- Daily calendar management and setting up meetings
- Creating presentations and meeting notes
- Sending meeting recordings out for transcription
- Proofreading emails and sending out emails
You could also have a more marketing-focused package that includes:
- Weekly email newsletters
- Building email opt-in funnels
- Daily social media content creation and posting
- Outreach – contacting publications to see if your employer can submit an article or pitching press releases to journalists
- PR – checking HARO and Clubhouse for different PR opportunities
- Press releases – writing and submitting press releases to free archives
You could make as many of these little packages as you can think of BASED on the skills you see employers looking for in virtual assistants. I would sell these VA packages as a situation where clients don’t have to track hours or waste time and energy micro-managing a VA who should be making their lives easier.
4 Smart and Easy Ways to Market a New Virtual Assistant Service
Okay, so aside from gig platforms like Upwork and Freelancer.com and PeoplePerHour, there are plenty of ways you can market a new virtual assistant service that will be relatively simple.
#1 Put Your Virtual Assistant Self on Instagram
Create a separate Instagram account for your VA service where you do nothing but focus on things related to your freelancing life. This can include the typical Instagram business fodder like quotes and stats and celebrating hashtag holidays.
The purpose of this account isn’t really to get business (although, it’ll do that), it’s to make sure your social media presence lines up with the proposals and resumes you’re submitting to win different projects. Even if you have a smaller audience, Instagram is a good way to establish and build your brand (with all the brand-y things like color palettes, fonts, visuals, and other fun stuff). But Instagram’s a great way to embody the identity of a mom who also runs a home-based business.
#2 Launch Your Own VA Website
You can launch a website in one day with tools like Wix or Squarespace. Wix and Squarespace are drag-and-drop platforms for building and launching websites. You pay a monthly fee to the platform for hosting your site (usually around $15) and you can literally build everything in a couple of hours (plus whatever amount of time it takes you to write out the content you’re going to put on your site.
Dude, I’m just starting out. Why would I want a big, fancy website? The purpose of your own website is to have a place online where you can post things that matter to your business and your customers. This can be things like your service packages, your fees, articles and videos about topics you know really well, information about you, your services, and your company.
Having a standalone website helps add credibility to your business. It really does.
#3 Claim Your Google Business Listing
For a long-term play, set your VA business up with a Google Business listing. You can grab a bit of visibility with local businesses by being searchable on Google. If you have the money, you can even pay for Google to stick your company at the top of the Google search listings. If you don’t have the money, there are ways to help get your site found by creating the content on your site in a way that helps search engines find and understand it (this technique is called SEO).
Also consider… getting a Google Voice phone number for free that will forward business-related calls to your regular phone, and you’ll be notified that you’re getting a business-related call before you answer the phone (so you can change into your Professional You voice).
Facebook is a great place for connecting with small businesses that may want to take advantage of your packages. You may already know that groups are big on Facebook, particularly entrepreneur groups. So, you may join a group of women business owners and in your introduction tell people that you run a VA service and that you have a la carte services that can be perfect for female solopreneurs.
You could also go live on Facebook to talk about your journey starting a VA business, or provide consultants with tips on how they can do certain things more efficiently.
There are also groups on Facebook that are specifically for creative VAs. I’ve mentioned these groups before, but you can create content and sell it in content/VA groups or market your services in these groups. Different groups have different rules so just make sure whatever activities you do in groups are within the group guidelines.
Is Becoming a Virtual Assistant Right for You?
I hope in the last 20 minutes I’ve provided you with some helpful insights on what it would actually look like to start a virtual assistant business when you have no experience. It’s doable. For you, it will be a matter of making sure you have the core skills to successfully run the business and trying to figure out what you want to specialize in.
I’m interested to know what you thought, or if I missed any important stuff. Let me know.