With the rise of a global workforce, it’s never been easier to start a virtual assistant business. With low start-up costs, no qualifications needed, and the ability to work from anywhere, many people have turned to virtual assistant work.
While there is a lot of work available, virtual assistants from all over are competing for good clients. That said, if you’re willing to put in the time and effort, you can grow a successful business.
I’ve got years of experience navigating the wild west of online work and understand what it takes to get properly established and make yourself stand out amongst the competition. I’ve laid out 8 steps to help you get started and become a successful virtual assistant.
8 Steps to Start a Virtual Assistant Business
1. Decide on Your Services
Virtual assistant, sometimes known as VA, can often be a catch-all term for someone who provides a number of different administrative services to a business or individual. Before you start your business, it’s important to define exactly which services you’ll offer and which ones you won’t.
Here are some examples of common virtual assistant duties:
- Email and calendar management
- Customer service
- Data entry and research
- Billing, pay invoices, and other bookkeeping duties
- Book travel and accommodation
- Website upkeep and content management
- Social media and press releases
- Editing, reviewing, and transcribing work
Most virtual assistants start with general administrative duties and begin to specialize later on, but it all depends on your skills and interests. Some VAs choose only to work in specific industries, whereas others may offer more specialized services such as email marketing or online business management to differentiate themselves from the competition.
2. Write a Business Plan
As with any new business, a written plan is a must. You can think of your business plan as a living document which you can adjust as needed. Unless you’re looking to get outside investment to get started, your business plan doesn’t need to be very formal. It should still answer a few key questions about your business, including:
- What is your mission statement?
- What are your services and offerings?
- Who is your ideal client?
- How will you market yourself?
- What are your short-term and long-term goals?
- What business expenses will you have?
The amount of detail is up to you, but having a general sense of what your company is – before you start selling your services – will be a key to long-term success. There are plenty of templates online to get started, or you can create one yourself (it might be good practice for VA work).
3. Know Your Legal Obligations
Deciding to operate your own business – even at home – has legal and tax obligations that accompany it. You’ll need to register your business and decide if you want to operate as a sole proprietor, an LLC (limited liability corporation), or a corporation.
Most virtual assistants stick with being a sole proprietorship, but an LLC can help protect your personal assets if anything goes wrong. It can also be useful if you ever want to expand your business or hire additional staff. The specific rules around starting an LLC will vary depending on your location, so be sure to consult a small business advisor or lawyer if you’re unsure.
Additionally, you’ll want to read up on your tax filing obligations and options. In some places, like the US, self-employed individuals are required to pay estimated taxes quarterly. You will often have separate rules than regular employees, so understand what these are in advance to stay tax compliant.
4. Create an Online Portfolio
Since all the work you do as a virtual assistant will be remote, having an online presence is crucial. You can set up a profile on sites like Upwork or Fiverr to boost your client base, especially in the beginning when you have no previous experience.
However, if you truly want to grow your business, having your own website will be most beneficial. Third-party platforms take up to 20% of your earnings, which can really cut into your revenue. Hosting your own site is a bit more work, but can pay off, especially once you’ve established a positive reputation for yourself.
Once you have a site set up, you can link to your website in places where potential clients might find you, such as on LinkedIn or other social media platforms. This adds a level of professionalism and can help you showcase your skills and services in a personal way.
5. Determine Your Prices
Since virtual assistants do a variety of types of work, you might want to offer several different pricing models and services to accommodate different clients. Being flexible with the type of work you take on and how you charge for it can be beneficial to you, adding value for your clients. You’ll also want to offer your clients flexibility in how they can pay you.
Some clients may only need one-off tasks, while others may hire you for ongoing work. Offering pricing for both can keep you competitive in the market. The most common way for virtual assistants to charge is per-hour, but it’s not the only pricing model that works. You have three main options:
- Hourly: Charging hourly is the most versatile way to get paid and can be applicable to most VA tasks. Plus, this pricing model is great for newbies, as it allows you to be paid fairly when you’re not sure how long tasks or projects might take you. Just be sure to properly track your hours and bill accordingly.
- Retainers (monthly/weekly): Retainers are upfront payments, usually monthly or weekly, that set out either a specific number of hours or tasks you’ll do for the client in that period. It’s great for building long-term relationships with clients and gives you more predictable and steady income.
- Task/project-based flat fees: For one-off projects, both small and big, charging a flat fee can be a good option. This is a fee that you get regardless of how long the task takes. It can be beneficial particularly for shorter tasks in which hourly tracking isn’t worth it. It also makes it easier to negotiate rates for different project types.
Regardless of how you price your services, be sure to set the expectations on how and when you’ll bill upfront, preferably in a signed contract with you and your clients. This will help avoid any confusion and set a clear professional relationship from the start.
6. Set Up a Payment System
After you’ve determined the ways you’ll charge your clients, you’ll need to implement a system to accept and track your payments. As a small business owner, it’s crucial you stay on top of your finances and understand where your money is going, to increase profits and decrease your tax burdens.
Pay.com provides an easy way to accept a variety of payment methods. You can easily send invoice requests directly to your clients through the Pay Checkout feature.
Plus, with the simple, user-friendly Pay Dashboard, you can track your payments as they come in, so nothing gets lost in the shuffle. Whether you’re accepting credit cards, ACH transfers, or even digital wallet payments, Pay.com makes it convenient and hassle-free. Click here to get started now!
7. Find Your First Clients
In the beginning, it can be hard to get someone to take a chance on you if you have no experience, but understanding where and how to market yourself can help tremendously. Specifically look for individual entrepreneurs or start ups that may not have big budgets to hire in-house, but need some general administrative work.
As mentioned above, you can use third-party freelancer sites to find work, especially when getting started, but relying on them too much may hurt your growth potential. A better way is to use social media – especially Facebook groups and LinkedIn – to find potential clients that may need virtual assistant work.
Another option is to leverage your personal network. Ask friends and family if they know people looking for help, post flyers in community centers, and build out your own marketing strategy with SEO, content creation, and paid ads.
8. Get Working and Adjust as Needed
Now that you’ve found clients, it’s essential to provide high-quality work and service to build a reputation for yourself and hopefully leverage further work. Ask clients for referrals or testimonials you can add to your website to increase your reputation.
Once you’ve started getting some work and finding a rhythm, you may discover that you are better suited for certain tasks over others. You can always adjust or niche down your services as you grow, which can help you raise your rates and work with more specialized clients.
The Pros and Cons of Starting a Virtual Assistant Business
- It’s cheap to get started
- You don’t need any qualifications to start
- You can work when and where you want
- You can choose which tasks or industries you specialize in
- You’ll be competing with VAs from around the world
- It can be hard to get your first clients
- Balancing several clients at once can be stressful
- You may have to continually adjust to different tech systems
The Bottom Line: Is Starting a Virtual Assistant Business Right for You?
Starting a virtual assistant business can be a great opportunity if you’re looking for something that requires no formal certifications, little upfront cost, and can be done from the comfort of your own home.
If you’re organized, a great communicator, and able to keep track of several clients’ work at once, virtual assistant work may be perfect for you. You can choose your hours and work as much or as little as you’d like. Once you’ve established your business, there are many tools to make it easy to streamline your processes.
Pay.com can help you easily stay on top of your finances and accept payments from your clients. With a transparent fee structure and simple onboarding, you can start requesting payments in no time. Click here to find out how you can get started.