Guest Post: How to Start a Business (And Get Paid!) as a Virtual Assistant

A Virtual Assistant business is one of the easiest, quickest, and low-cost businesses to start.

If you are interested in starting your own business from home, but aren’t sure where to start or what to do, becoming a Virtual Assistant (VA) is a fantastic introduction to the online business world.

A VA business is easy to set up because it draws from administrative and creative skills you likely already have from other job experiences, your career, or your university.

A VA business is also quick to start, because you basically offer a list of services in exchange for a set rate. In terms of cost, you often don’t need to purchase a single thing to get your VA business up and running. You can probably capitalize on the technology and equipment you have in your house already!

Even if you’ve never heard of virtual assistance before, I will take you step-by-step through setting up your very own Virtual Assistant business, and show you how FreshBooks can accelerate your growth so that you see success sooner.

What Is a Virtual Assistant?

We aren’t talking Alexa or Siri here. The term Virtual Assistant can cover a wide range of services, niches, and specialties – from administrative, to creative, to management, and more! If there is a need, there is a way for you to make money as a VA.

Simply put, a Virtual Assistant offers services that businesses need. You can offer any service you like for any business you choose. Anything that you could do virtually for a small business, could technically fall under the “virtual assistant” umbrella.

Generally, we know more and more business tasks — appointment management, billing, email communication, document preparation, project management – are happening on the cloud. There is simply no longer a need to be strapped to an office or desk.

Most assistants typically work with executives who are constantly on the go. Virtual communication has always been a reality for assistant-type positions. Why not make the entire role virtual? It’s pretty much a no-brainer!

Many virtual assistants start out as generalists, offering administrative skills like answering customer service emails or assisting with data entry projects.

If you already have a specialized skill, you could also start an online service-based business with that skill. Beyond the usual administrative services, you could:

  • Handle invoicing and follow up on payments
  • Run social media campaigns like Facebook Ads
  • Manage social channels like Pinterest or Instagram
  • Create images and infographics for use in content, presentations, or social media
  • Help small business owners with their Search Engine Optimization
  • Write, edit, and package posts for business blogs …

Basically, think of what unique skill you have, what value you can add, and then market yourself!

A VA doesn’t necessarily have to have prior experience as an assistant or in an administrative role. For example, a real estate agent may start a Virtual Assistant business helping other real estate agents with their listings.

How Do I Get Started as a VA?

If you know you’re ready to jump in and start your own virtual assistant business, here are the main steps you’ll need to take to do so:

  1. Choose a name for your business
  2. Decide what services you are going to offer
  3. Package and price your services
  4. Get a contract in place to cover you
  5. Set up your invoicing system
  6. Brand your business
  7. Market yourself as a VA
  8. Start working for clients and accepting payments

What Services Should I Offer as a VA?

I recommend starting as a general administrative VA, especially if you don’t consider yourself knowledgeable and well-versed in the online space quite yet. A general administrative VA can handle email, calendar, customer service, data entry, filing, organization, basic social media, etc.

From there, you can start to specialize as you find out what tasks you do and don’t like doing. You may find out you really enjoy certain tasks and are great at them. You can niche down and become an expert along the way as your VA journey evolves into a growing and thriving business.

There are generally three levels of services you can offer as a VA:

  • General administration,
  • Advanced administration and services, and
  • Specialized services.

Don’t be nervous if you don’t know any advanced or specialized skills – you can learn those as you work general admin for other clients and as you grow your business. You also don’t need to know everything – pick one thing you enjoy doing and learn the heck out of it. Become the expert at it!

A Virtual Assistant may also take tech training programs to further expand his or her knowledge.

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Here is a list of the 30 most common services offered by virtual assistants:

  1. Email Management
  2. Calendar Management
  3. Customer Service (email or phone)
  4. Content Creation (blog posts)
  5. Email Newsletters
  6. Video Editing
  7. Sales Funnels
  8. Facebook Ads
  9. Graphic Design
  10. Web Design
  11. Custom Sales Page Creation
  12. Social Media Management
  13. Community Management
  14. SEO Services
  15. Webinar Setup and Assistance
  16. Proofreading
  17. Editing
  18. Transcription
  19. Data Entry
  20. Billing and/or Processes
  21. Internet Research
  22. Responding to Blog Comments
  23. Maintaining an Editorial Calendar
  24. Ghostwriting
  25. Social Media Graphics
  26. Ebook Content and Design
  27. Accounting and/or Bookkeeping
  28. Affiliate Management
  29. Branding Services
  30. PR / Press Releases

How Should I Package and Price My Services?

One of the top concerns new Virtual Assistants ask when they are getting started is deciding how much to charge. I recommend most Virtual Assistants who are just getting started in the online world to begin with an hourly rate (or package their services by the hour). The reason for this is that most VA’s don’t know how long certain tasks will take, and the hourly rate protects both parties from spending too much time or too much money on individual tasks. This also helps you, as a VA, have more control over which services you offer and to which clients.

You may simply charge per hour, but the easier route is to create packages. Alternatively,  create different types of packages. Or, choose to package your hours, package a specific service and deliver value-based results, charge a monthly retainer or one-time fee, or charge per project.

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Here are examples of each:

  • Per hour ($25/hour)
  • Hourly packages (10 hours/month for $250, 20 hours/month for $500, etc.)
  • Package a Service (Pinterest Setup for $500)
  • Monthly Retainer (Social Media Management for $500/month)
  • One-Time Fee (Event Planning for $1,000)
  • Per Project (1 Website for $1,000)

I recommend all Virtual Assistants to start their hourly rate at $25/hour at least. Remember, Virtual Assistants are self-employed, which means almost 30% of your income will go to taxes. After covering your own health insurance and vacation time, that $25/hour starts to break down very quickly (hence my reasoning for the minimum $25/hour base).

Your actual starting rate will vary widely depending on your actual experience, confidence in your services, and location. It also depends on who your clients are. A six-figure entrepreneur will most likely have a higher budget for your services than the mom-and-pop shop down the street.

How Much Does it Cost to Start a VA Business?

A Virtual Assistant (VA) business has basically no overhead related to business startup costs. Since there is such a high demand for VA services, this is actually one of the most attractive businesses to start right now. If you market yourself as a VA and land a client today, you can literally start making money immediately from selling your services.

The only 2 things you absolutely need to start a Virtual Assistant business are:

  1. A computer (laptop or desktop)
  2. A reliable wi-fi connection

Chances are high that you already have access to these two things as a normal part of your daily life. You can leverage your administrative or creative skills and current network of contacts (family, friends, acquaintances, coworkers, social media following, etc.) to market your services.

Once you have landed your first client and have a little bit of money coming in, I highly recommend re-investing that money back into your business for a short time. Some optional, down-the-road business expenses might look like:

  • Business cards
  • Website
  • Computer or Internet upgrade
  • A VA Business or Tech Training education program
  • An accounting system for sending and receiving invoices (hello… FreshBooks!)

Another great thing about the low costs of starting a VA business (compared to a traditional business), is that you have more margin to invest in tools that will help automate your VA business and make it run more smoothly.

What Tools Do I Need to Start a VA Business?

As a VA starting out with an hourly rate, I highly recommend the following essential tools:

  • Time Tracking tool to track your time
  • Invoicing tool to invoice your clients
  • Project Management tool
  • Business Expense tracking tool
  • Client CRM

You can piece all of these aspects together by using a variety of free tools (is there a tool to keep track of all of my tools?!), or you can invest in FreshBooks, which is the number one tool I personally recommend to all the Virtual Assistants who I coach.

With FreshBooks, all of the tools outlined above are included in your plan, which means you save time keeping track of your clients, projects, and books. There is a lot to be said for keeping all of your information in one safe, secure place. Not only that, but time spent tracking down things for your own business is less time you can be tracking billable hours for clients. Time is literally money with a Virtual Assistant business.

Starting a virtual assistant business is one of the most low-cost businesses to start online. If you already have administrative or marketing skills that you could offer to small business owners, consider starting your own path as a virtual assistant.

about the author

CEO, The Virtual Savvy Abbey Ashley is a speaker, blogger, and CEO of The Virtual Savvy. Her signature program, The VA Bootcamp, is an online training program that helps virtual assistants start and grow their own business from scratch. It's her passion to make freelancing fun. That means more freedom, more flexibility, and more time to spend with family. She helps turn the confusion of starting a business into a step-by-step process.