What is a Virtual Assistant?
A virtual assistant (VA) is an independent contractor who provides services to individuals and small and medium sized businesses via the internet. As virtual assistants only charge for the hours they work, more and more self-employed individuals, entrepreneurs, and small business owners across all industries are reaping huge savings and benefits by hiring them. These benefits include increased productivity, savings in office real estate space, employee benefits, training and more.
According to the International Virtual Assistants Association (IVAA) www.ivaa.org, the definition of virtual assistants is:
“Virtual assistants are independent contractors who (from a remote location, usually their home or office) support multiple clients in a variety of industries by providing administrative, creative, and technical services.“
Many people often confuse telecommuters with virtual assistants, but this couldn’t be farther from the truth. Telecommuters, while they work at home like the VA, are employees of a company who have a boss and a receive a steady paycheck. It’s really important to distinguish that a Virtual Assistant is not an employee but rather one who runs their own business who performs ongoing services and support, often for many companies. Virtual assistants are paid per hour, per project or on an hourly or monthly package/retainer basis.
What a Virtual Assistant Does
The field of virtual assistance is extremely broad and can involve skills ranging from basic office skills to more specialized skills like email and calendar management and social media specialist. Those who possess specialized skills can make much more money than those who possess basic office skills such as word processing and typing. Virtual assistants are often classified as generalists or specialists. Generalist VAs perform a broad range of basic, administrative tasks whereas specialist VAs possess higher-level expertise in one or more areas, such as social media, graphic design or web design. As a virtual assistant, you can choose exactly what kind of work you want to do and who you want to work with. Currently, all types of virtual assistance is in demand and growing.
What Does It Take to become a Virtual Assistant?
The Work from Home industry is rapidly growing and more businesses are hiring virtual assistants as a cost effective way to get many tasks done and expand their productivity. This means more and more people are making their a dream of working at home a reality. While there is no formal education requirements to become a VA. In order to be a successful entrepreneur, you will need more than just the hard (technical) skills to handle the services you will be offering your clients.
While we all have our own unique hard and soft skills that we possess, there are some basic skills that you absolutely must possess to be able to function efficiently as a Virtual Assistant. These skills are:
- Professionalism – You should know how conduct business with professionalism. Professionalism is aspiring to meet the highest possible standards of your profession rather than a set of minimum requirements. Professionalism and soft skills go hand in hand. Professionalism is also the ability to conduct yourself with responsibility, integrity, accountability and excellence. Some examples of exhibiting professionalism is having great communication skills like good phone etiquette, being a good listener and having a positive attitude. Exhibiting self management by being able to solve problems, take initiative and being adaptable when needed It’s also being able to professionally manage your clients and your business by taking ownership and being able to keep your cool. Professionalism is something that a virtual assistant can’t do without and it is what will set you apart from other VAs.
- Problem Solving – Problem solving is recognizing a problem exists and devising and implementing a plan of action to resolve it. There will inevitably be a time when something may go wrong and your client will expect you to come up with a solution to resolve it. Problem solving is a critical soft skill for success as a Virtual Assistant.
- Know Desktop Office Software, whether that’s Microsoft Office, LibreOffice, Open Office or any of the other free open source software programs available on the marketplace. Get familiar with Word templates such as templates for letters and spreadsheets to save you time. Free Microsoft 365 Tutorials are Microsoft Office Tutorials are all freely available online.
- Know web Applications – A web app is any application that runs on a server in the cloud and is not installed on your desktop. Today, there are so many web apps it’s hard to list them all but some of the most common ones you you should get comfortable with are web based applications like Microsoft Office, subscriptions Apps like Office 365, Cloud Storage Services for backing up data such as DropBox, OneDrive, Google Drive or Box, Google Apps such as Gmail and Google Docs and online sharing services of documents and calendars.
- Organizational Skills – It’s quite impossible to organize your clients data, calendars, meetings, conference calls and events if you are not organized yourself. Keep all your productivity tools at your fingertips and use a cloud service like DropBox that requires a password and allows you to keep your client information secure and accessible. Outsource work if you get too busy or don’t take on more work than you can do in your designated time.
- Initiative – Good VAs don’t make up excuses like “but that’s the way I’ve always done it or ”I’ve never used G Suite before” Be prepared to learn new tools and make anything work if you have to. It’s important to take initiative and know how to implement it. Initiative comes into play in a lot when running your own business as it’s important that you can work independently.
How to Become a Virtual Assistant
1. Decide on What Services you can offer
While it may not be immediately apparent, start out by thinking about what you already know and enjoy doing. The best way to get started is to focus on a realistic job in which you can succeed based on the skills you possess today. Make a list of all your hard and soft skills and decide on at least one job that you can justify on paper, that you can convince clients that you can do and a job in which you can succeed. Depending on your years of experience, there may be more than one job that you can do to earn money as a VA. Virtual assistants have skills and knowledge in many different areas and often choose a specific skill that they are good at to specialize in.
2. Determine your Rates
Setting your rates is probably one of the most challenging aspects of running your virtual assistant business. One of the reasons is that the amount VAs charge can vary significantly depending on your geographical location, the services you are offering and your level of experience that you bring to the table. Generally speaking, VAs who just possess basic office support like word processing and typing will make less than a VA who is offering a very specialized skill such as graphic design or web design. What you get paid will definitely depend on your level of virtual assistance you provide. If you are working for yourself directly through your website or your own direct advertising, you will most likely be able to make more than if you are working through an online agency like Upwork as these firms take a cut of what you made for themselves. To get an idea of what you may be able to charge, view virtual assistant salaries on Indeed.com.
3. Establish an Online Presence
It’s practically impossible these days to run any kind of business without having some kind of an online presence. This is where your clients will find you and where they can learn about you and the services you have to offer. Two of the best ways to establish yourself online is by establishing a social media presence and getting a simple WordPress website up and running. As setting up a website right away isn’t always possible, many VAs start out using the free social media sites. As social media tends to be a time consuming venture, it’s usually best to start out exploring just two or three different platforms to find out what works for you then start engaging with people, creating original content and posting on a regular basis. Many virtual assistants have had immense success by using Facebook and LinkedIn.
4. Find Work
- Starting your Own VA Business – If you’re planning on starting your own VA business, it’s a good idea to start with a Business Plan. It actually doesn’t take that long to put a business plan together and it will provide you will a blueprint of everything that’s involved in running your own VA business such as your business description, your marketing plan, the services you plan to offer and the rates you’ll charge. You will also be required to add your financial plan which covers your start-up costs and monthly operating expenses. While a VA business can be started very cost effectively and a lot of start up costs are not necessary, you still need to think about what money is needed to open the business and what items you already have and what items you need to purchase. You will also need to have a networking plan in place on how to find clients and be familiar with client consultations and contracts. A good way to get started would be to download and modify the simple business plan from the US Small Business Administration.
- Working as a VA Consultant – While many virtual assistants choose to run their own business as independent contractors, many prefer to work as subcontractors for one or several of the many virtual assistant staffing agencies. This is often a good solution for those just starting out in the virtual assistant business as they can essentially hit the road running without all the overhead involved in starting a brand new business. Even if a virtual assistant is starting their own business, working for a virtual staffing agency is a good way to gain some experience working with clients and getting a feel for what it is like to work at home. These jobs typically pay by the hour at a significantly lower rate than if one started their own business but it does alleviate the need to spend money on marketing, website creation and other expenses involved in building a client base. Just a few of the agencies available to you are listed below.
How to Get a Virtual Assistant Job?
The following companies offer online virtual assistant services and hire virtual assistants for a variety of tasks. Hourly pay for virtual assistant jobs varies depending on skills, experience and seniority. While you’ll find your office skills are in demand at most of these companies, there are also a variety of other skills in demand from managing Zoom meetings to digital marketing and social media jobs. They each operate a little differently from just advertising freelance jobs to allowing you to bid on a certain project that suits your skills.
- Zirtual – This is US based company that is seeking only US-based applicants and only accepting applications for the positions and locations posted under their careers section. They only accept college-educated virtual assistants who live in the United States and their hiring process tends to be tough but if you meet the qualifications, it could be worth a try.
- upwork – Upwork is unique in that it lets you run your own business and choose your own clients and projects. All you need to do is complete your profile, search for projects, and respond to client invitations. Upwork recommends that individuals create a great profile and submit a compelling job proposal for any work they’re interested in. Upwork does charge a service fee, taken as a percentage of your earnings.
- Belay Solutions – Postions with Belay are posted on their website, Indeed, Glassdoor, LinkUp, ZipRecruiter, Monster, Facebook, Flexjobs, Remote.co, and Virtual Vocations. Hours are flexible but they do like their VAs to be available regular business hours Monday through Friday.
Virtual Assistant Training – Online Course
If you want to learn more about how to become a virtual assistant, the introductory online Virtual Assistant Training Course offered on officeskills.org, will teach you important principles and practical step-by-step techniques for providing virtual assistant services and getting started setting up a Virtual Assistant Business. The course covers what a virtual assistant does, what skills are in demand today and how to discover your own niche offering. This Virtual Assistant Training course will also teach you how to provide virtual assistant services including how to get and keep clients. Topics covered include how to find your niche service offering, set your rates, how to create a business plan and how to network and find clients.
The Virtual Assistant Online Course is just $95.00 and is taught in the Office Skills Collaborative Online Classroom. The Office Skills Collaborative Online Classroom is a fun and interactive way to learn Soft Skills. Get the benefit of learning online while being in a classroom environment with an instructor, other students, discussion forums, chat rooms, lectures, presentations and video demonstrations.