How do I Become a Virtual Assistant? - The 1 Year Comprehensive Guide

How to start a career as a virtual assistant. The one year comprehensive guide.

“How do I also become a virtual assistant?” new friends usually ask. 
“Well,” I’d say “Do you have any experience working online?”
“Um… not really.”
“Do you have any technical skills or anything like that?”
“I don’t know.”
Then let’s start from the very beginning. It’s a very good place to start. 

What is a virtual assistant?

Good question! A virtual assistant, also known as a “VA” is someone who is working with another business, remotely (through the internet).
No pants required.
I’m gonna leave it at that.

You can completely skip this portion of the post if you’ve worked from home before and you have a good idea of how the work-from-home industry operates. But, if you’re completely brand new to the world of working from home, you’re going to want to hold onto your pants and read this next part-

What working from home actually means

This is where I tell you how rewarding working from home is, because I have the freedom to work on my own schedule and bury myself under a mass of blankets when I’m not feeling well. I have minimal face-to-face human interaction and I work with the best people, all over the world.
This is dangerous for me to type out, because it sets the expectation that if you follow this post and start your journey, this is what your life will look like.
I’ve been working from home since 2012… let me be upfront with that.

This is in no way an overnight, life changing event, that happened in a few weeks or even a few months.
Here’s the part that no one ever really talks about… when you work from home, you have to keep yourself accountable. You’re the boss, the manager, the worker, the bookkeeper, the decision maker, you’re everything. It can get overwhelming and pretty stressful, especially in the beginning.
I’m giving you this heads up because I don’t want you to fall into the glory trap of “Oh wow, working from home is so nice… and this is the fast track to getting rich.”.
Starting an online business or working from home as a virtual assistant takes a while to build. It will take you months of working hour after hour in order to build your business. 
Sipping wine at noon and paying all your bills with enough money leftover to buy a vacation home? That comes much later.
And I want to be honest and upfront with you about that now so you don’t get blinded by the fancy promises that some virtual assistance courses and mentors are going to put in front of you.
It’s not easy.
It’s long, difficult hours.
A lot of people quit in less than a few weeks of trying to work from home, in any industry.
If it was easy, everyone would be doing it.
But, your expectations are realistic, right? You’re a hard worker and you know that if you scrape your hands and knees for a few months, it’s going to get easier down the road. You know that in a year, you’re going to be glad that you started right now. You know that nothing comes easy, but things can get easier with work.
Now, the not-so-sexy stuff that we do have to talk about when it comes to working from home:

  • You need to put aside at least 30% for your taxes. So, when you see someone that is making $50/hour as a virtual assistant, they are not pocketing $50/hour. They are putting some of that aside as taxes AND overhead.
  • You may need to register your business.
  • You need to make sure that you have health insurance, business insurance, life insurance, and a savings account taken care of.
  • You need to set up a business bank account.

For more, check out your local laws on starting a business.
For some resources on working from home and making sure your business is legal, check out LegalZoom.

Getting started as a virtual assistant

Now that the not-so-sexy stuff is out of the way, let's move on to the meat of getting started as a virtual assistant-

Where you get started depends on your skill set. 
Do you know basic HTML and coding because you used to view source codes on people’s Neopets profiles and Angelfire websites? (eh hem… I may or may not fall into this category)
Are you an illustrator and know the basics of creating beautiful, hand-drawn graphics for people’s websites?
Is there a Facebook group or two that you’ve been asked to admin because you’re always online and you’re great at keeping the peace?
Maybe you’re all of the above or none of the above, but if you can pinpoint one of your skill sets, that’s a great place to start. 
If your brain is a little fried right now because you found this post during chaos hour (anytime after lunch) then you might hold off on figuring out what your skill set is until another day.

Photo by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash

Photo by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash

Administrative tasks are super easy so if you’re lost right now, this could be a place to start.
That being said, because it’s easy, most beginners are going to be gunning for the basic administrative jobs. Don’t be put off by this. The competition is stiff but remember, you got what it takes to make it and a lot of your competitors will quit or lose interest.
You just have to keep going.
Some basic administrative tasks that you may consider doing are:

  • Managing Facebook groups
  • E-mail customer support and management
  • Sourcing stock photos
  • Sourcing blog post round-ups for bloggers (meaning they give you a topic and go on the internet and find X amount of blog posts related to that topic)
  • Managing social media inboxes
  • Scheduler management
  • Dunning payment follow-up (meaning if someone owes your client money, you send them a “hey… you owe them money,” type of e-mail and keep track of how that’s going.)
  • Data entry (here’s a million e-mail addresses. Put them in Excel, please and thank you)
  • Sending welcome gifts to new clients
  • Uploading items, prices, and descriptions for Etsy or Amazon
  • Cold calling or cold pitching potential clients
  • Sitting in a chatroom and answering questions for visitors or potential clients

You’re not really going to have a concrete grasp of what you’re capable of doing until you start taking on some jobs. You’ll then start to realize what you absolutely love and what you don’t care for.

You’ll be surprised.
I know for me, I thought I wanted to manage people’s social media accounts and then I ended up disliking it so much that I barely even use my own social media anymore. I’m more of a tech person that you can put in a box until you need something done lightning fast or you want to hear a funny joke (think Penelope Garcia from Criminal Minds, minus the floofy pens.)

Your first client

A lot of people underestimate the power of Upwork. I definitely got my start as a freelancer by working on Upwork (when it was previously known as Odesk and Elance) and while I got a lot of cheap clients on there, I also got a gold mine of experience.
It’s how I got my hands dirty learning Facebook Ads.
I learned several different types of newsletter systems like Infusionsoft and Coach’s Ally.
I designed a Squarespace website for a new business owner.
I also got paid to do ghostwriting for maternity blogs, fitness blogs, food blogs, and more.
And this was with ZERO prior experience. 

Become a virtual assistant on Upwork

The secret to Upwork is that there are so many different clients there. Some clients are so busy that they will only hire the experts. A lot of clients are on a budget, just trying to piece things together, and are looking for someone that isn’t an expert but are willing to be patient and learn with them.
There are other websites where you can get work, too, such as People Per Hour or Freelancer, but in my opinion, Upwork has been the one that has been the easiest to work on.
They’re also super beginner friendly.
I recommend using a freelancer website to get your first jobs because you’re probably working on a lean budget. You might not have the means to set up a website, professional e-mail address, buy a logo, learn digital marketing, etc. With Upwork, you have a pool of potential clients waiting to be matched up with you. It’s safer and less costly.
So, once you sign up with an account on Upwork, you’re going to want to deck out your profile.
This means writing in a way that highlights your expertise.
A mistake I see a lot of Upwork freelancers make is that they try to get super professional about it, like they’re writing a resume. 
You don’t wanna be all… “Hello. My name is Fiona. I have 20 years of experience in the management industry. My skills are in Xero, Excel, and administrative duties. I have a master’s degree in Biochemistry. I look forward to speaking with you.”
That's stuffy. Impersonal.
You can be casual on Upwork. 
Like… “Hey! If you’re looking for help in [your area of expertise], I’m your [guy/gal!] I am currently taking on new clients for immediate hire that need help in:

My turnaround time is [time] and I answer all your messages within [hours] hours.
If you’re interested in chatting about how I can help, send me an invite to your job.”
Sweet, simple, and to the point. If you want to see my Upwork profile from my Upwork days, click here to grab my Swipe file bundle.

Coming up with an hourly rate

  • To do that, multiply how much you want to make per hour by .30.
  • Then take that answer and add it to how much you want to make per hour.
  • Then take that answer and multiple it by .20 (Upwork’s fee.)
  • Add that to your previous total and that is your hourly rate.

What you want to make X .30 = Answer 1
What you want to make + Answer 1 = Answer 2
Answer 2 X .20 = Answer 3
Answer 2 + Answer 3 = Your Hourly Rate
Kinda simple, right? 30% is put aside for taxes and 20% is put aside for Upwork.
I’m gonna get really real with you though. A lot of brand new virtual assistants on Upwork are charging roughly $6.00-$10.00 per hour, and that’s before they factor in taxes and the Upwork fee.
I know.
It’s low.
Honestly, I used to be the same way. My first job on Upwork was $5/hour and my first Upwork virtual assistance job was $12/hour. 
A year later, I charge roughly $50-$75/hour now, outside of Upwork.
So, don’t sweat it, if the money isn’t big now. It will get there. The starting point is pretty rough when you’re brand new.
Look at it this way- your very first clients may not pay you a lot, but you are getting something valuable in return:

  • A testimonial you can use in the future when you leave Upwork.
  • Experience! It’s so much easier to go independent when you’ve gotten hands-on experience and know what to expect.
  • Learning new techniques and software.
  • Paid for your first work-from-home gig! Yay! (Listen, I was ecstatic when I used to work on Fiverr and got my first $4 in my Paypal account.) 
How to get started as a virtual assistant working from home - the comprehensive 1 year guide

I do recommend having an alternative source of income, when you first start trying to start a virtual assistance business. This might mean cutting a bunch of your costs and living off of your spouse’s income or getting a crappy part time job, but don’t bank on making a full-time income immediately.
Note: I definitely don’t mean to be a negative nancy about the money thing, but when working from home, people have a tendency to glorify this fancy lifestyle that you can build for yourself. That comes after years and years of experience, hard work, a lot of failure, even more tears, and trial-and-error. People who are successful immediately tend to burn out and fizzle away. This guide is meant to help you build something sustainable and long-term, not something where you make a bunch of money one time and then it doesn’t work the second time around.
Now that your profile and hourly rate is set, let’s start looking for jobs.
You can search up ‘virtual assistant’ but you should get a little more specific than that. You might search up things you are interested in like, ‘spirituality’ or ‘yoga.’ I know that I had a background in fortune telling so I looked up psychics that needed a virtual assistant.
I’m also super passionate about pizza and saw that Papa John’s was hiring a social media person!
Don’t be scared to be creative. 

The next part of this blog post jumps a few months into the future, after you've landed your first few clients and got your hands dirty. Definitely bookmark or Pin this post for later.

After getting your first dozen clients

After you’ve been working as a virtual assistant consistently for a few months, you’re going to have a bit of a crisis.
I just went through this crisis a few months ago.
You’re gonna feel like you hit a ceiling and you’re not going to know what to do next. You’ll find a bunch of blog posts and courses on how to build a six figure virtual assistant business and truthfully, you probably don’t need all that.
Yes, you want to make money and work from home, you just didn’t anticipate how many hours it was going to take you.
Question: In the last few months, which clients were your absolute favorite? What did they do? 
Were they bloggers?
Etsy sellers?
Log down who your clients were, what you liked and disliked about them, and what you liked and disliked about the tasks that you were asked to do.
This is going to give you something concrete to work with when you think about where you want to go next.
Reflection periods are important. I know with my Type-A personality, I want to be GO GO GO GO GO, GOALS GOALS GOALS GOALS GOALS, SMASH SMASH SMASH SMASH SMASH *cue Incredible Hulk scene* all the time, but I get much more done when I hit pause, take a step back, and try to see the whole picture.
You’re going to want to implement big changes, especially when you start realizing that your potential for making money as a virtual assistant, is endless. There is no ceiling and the possibilities are crazy.
Take a step back.
Think about what you want to do long term. Below are three options.

Option 1: Going Independent

This means that you are setting up your own website, creating your own virtual assistance services, leaving Upwork, and venturing out on your own. You’ll be in charge of marketing yourself and building a list of potential clients.
I feel like this is the most “freeing” route to take (and I most definitely chose this route) but the most difficult because now you have to figure out where you have to go next, on your own.
You’ll feel tempted to hang on to Upwork, tightly, as a safety net and that’s fine.
You should make a goal for the next three months:
Month 1: 75% Upwork clients, 25% Independent clients
Month 2: 50% Upwork clients, 50% Independent clients
Month 3: 25% Upwork clients, 75% Independent clients
By Month 4, you want to let your Upwork clients know that you’re leaving Upwork and where your website is, should they want to continue working with you. 
You should have your website fleshed out, especially with a sales page that includes your testimonial. If you’re curious as to what a sales page should look like, definitely grab the swipe file that includes my virtual assistance sales pages and packages by clicking here.

Option 2: Joining an agency

If the whole building your own website and marketing thing isn’t for you (I don’t blame you!) then you could consider joining a virtual assistance agency.
This is nice because it’s stable income and you don’t have to do any legwork to get clients.
The business owner generally finds all of the clients and then delegates the task out to you. And if the agency is in high demand? You’ll never run out of work.
There’s also low overhead for this path because you don’t have to pay for a website or anything like that.
The downside is that agencies will ask that you don’t get any of your own independent clients and you normally have to sign a contract stating you won’t work as a virtual assistant for X amount of time if the contract terminates (so they can protect themselves from you competing against them, though I’m not sure how well that actually holds up in court). 
To find agencies, you can Google virtual assistance agencies and look for a link that says “Work with us” or “Careers.”
You can also be a subcontractor for individual virtual assistants. They will generally post an ad up on Upwork or through Facebook, asking for subcontractors.
If you’ve found your unique specialization (like social media, or design), you may end up working for an agency with the same specialization.
Keep your eyes peeled and put some posts up saying that you’re looking for an agency to work for. Ask if anyone is subcontracting long-term.
If you choose this route though, you can totally ignore the rest of this post since you won’t need to be looking for your own clients. 

Option 3: Specializing

Not everyone wants to stay a ‘virtual assistant’ long term. Maybe you realized that there’s something you’re really good at and you want to solely do that.
For example, I know I fell in love with e-mail marketing and automations and ended up learning everything I could about fancy e-mail software.
I had an intern who thought she wanted to do general virtual assistance work but ended up loving graphic design, so now she aligns more with graphic designer.
You might decide you want to be a copywriter.
Website developer.
Business strategist.
You could branch off independently, and you might shed the title of ‘Virtual Assistant’ for something else. 
And that’s totally fine.
A lot of well-known business coaches and designers got their start being virtual assistants. It’s important to know what you want to be in the long term, and if virtual assistant doesn’t jive with you, that’s okay. 

Getting independent clients

“Yes, Fiona… leaving Upwork and going independent is great and all… in theory… but how the heck do I get clients?”
Excellent. This is my favorite part because it’s really super easy, if you follow this post chronologically.
Now that you know how the industry works, put together a questionnaire and a scheduling system, while you work on putting together a website.
A questionnaire, or an intake form, is a great way to break the ice with potential new customers without having to hop on a call with everyone, immediately.
You’re going to want to ask questions like:

  • What’s your name?
  • What’s a good e-mail address to contact you through?
  • Of these skills [name skills], check the ones you’d like to hire me for.
  • My price is [rate] Is this agreeable?

 You don’t want to go overboard with the questions, but it’s good to have the answers as a talking point. If you’d like my exact questionnaire for my virtual assistance clients, click here.
Now you want to link it to a scheduling system or manually send an e-mail with an invitation to hop on a discovery call with you. 
For a scheduler, I recommend using AcuityScheduling, Calendly, or SatoriApp. (Personally I use Acuity.)
The discovery call will help decide whether you two are a good fit for each other. 
If they say yes, after the call, send them their initial invoice and your virtual assistance contract.
You’re probably wondering where you should put your intake form. Well, EVERYWHERE!
Put it on your Facebook profile.
Put it on your Twitter.
Your Pinterest.
Your Instagram.
Don’t just link your generic website homepage that says, “Coming soon!” You want them to go directly to the intake form and fill it out.

Sales page template for a virtual assistant

 Note: Do this until you have your sales page put together. When you have your sales page finalized, put your sales page on your social media and link people to your sales page when they ask for a virtual assistant. Here is the template I used for my sales page.

We want people to know that you exist and that you’re serious.
Having a .com website shows that you know what you’re doing and you’re ready for more.

Mindset Check!

This was the point when I first started feeling like, “Oh my gosh, can I really do this?” I was inspired by virtual assistants like Indigo Colton, Lucinda Burgess-Farwell, and Miranda Niahmas, and they looked like they had their shit together.
Like, their websites were pristine and they had followings on every social media.
While I’m not a total introvert, I’m the type of person that doesn’t enjoy social media much. I also didn’t have a following already and I am awkward as hell. I didn’t know how I would measure up.
What really helped me get over this hump was that I allowed myself to have my own journey.
Like, if I woke up one day and had a beautiful, curated Instagram, people would be like, “Wtf Fiona? What happened?” It would feel so forced and so fake.
Instead, I allowed my website, blog, and social media to organically grow into themselves. I tackled each platform as I was ready and when I felt like it was too much, I took a step back.
Growing is not linear. Some days you’ll feel like you’re on top of the world and other days, you’ll feel small and intimidated by people around you.
Let them inspire you, but don’t idolize their journey. Give yourself permission to have your own.
Okay, we good?
Just wanted to do a quick mindset check and make sure we’re on the same page. :)

making your virtual assistant Business plan

So, let’s come up with a marketing strategy for you and a business plan.
The good good.
First, before we get any more clients coming to you, we have to think about where your sources of income are coming from (in terms of your business.)
You might be working a part-time job or depending on a roommate (sometimes I call hubby my roommate) on a secondary income, but we want to transition you to full time virtual assistant. 
You need to have more than one source of income.
Which means, not worrying solely about just bringing clients into your business.
You need other ways of making money, as well.
For me, it’s through blogging and selling small products. You’ll see a few affiliate links sprinkled through my blog and if someone makes a purchase through my affiliate links, I normally get a small % as commission. 
Some ways you can make passive income as a virtual assistant:

  • Affiliate marketing (through social media)
  • Blogging (affiliate income or selling ad space)
  • Side Note: Great places to start with affiliate income are pay per click websites such as Awin (Etsy!) - yes, this means you get paid PER CLICK, instead of per sale.
    You can also get affiliate income from software you use, courses you’ve taken, books you read, or ask your clients if they have any affiliate/referral programs! 
  • Packaging a DIY version of your specialization and selling it as a large scale course
  • Selling pieces of a DIY version (think- a la carte) and selling it as a small product
  • Print mugs, shirts, or other physical products to sell online
  • Write and sell a book
  • Write blog post round-ups and sell them to bloggers
I became an Etsy affiliate through Awin.

I became an Etsy affiliate through Awin.

Note: Nothing is really going to be 110% passive… There’s going to either be maintenance or customer service that goes along with it, but it takes a lot less time than taking on clients, for sure.
Are you really good at taking photographs? You can sell those photos on Creative Market. Create a stock photo membership. Sell them on your website.
Web designer? You can sell pre-made layouts and templates.
Social media manager? Create an online course on how to schedule and manage your own social media. (Hint: this makes your life sooo much easier when your client already knows your style of management).
Techie VA like me? Create a systems audit. 
Again, endless possibilities.
The idea is that while you’re working hard, getting and retaining clients, you want to have passive income there as a cushion.
Clients have a tendency to be unpredictable. If they don’t get paid, you don’t get paid and they will cut a VA as an expense before they cut their software (in my experience, at least.) Some clients realize that they were in way over their head when they hired you and they didn’t actually need a virtual assistant yet. Some clients will decide to go with another, usually cheaper, virtual assistant.
You can even put in your contract that a client needs to let you know, X days before the contract renews, that you need a heads up if they aren’t renewing- and they still won’t do it.
And it’s a headache chasing them down for payment (they never pay it) and even more of a headache taking them to collections. 
It’s easier and more predictable to have passive income streams in place.
So, have secondary passive income just in case a bunch of clients drop all at once (which is very common in the virtual assistance world, especially when the clients aren’t as established as they might like to think) you have cushion and don’t go into panic mode.
Passive income is the sole reason I am able to work with only one client right now and still make more than when I was working with a dozen clients. On top of that, I can give my one client 110% of my attention during office hours. It improved my quality of work and her customer satisfaction.

Knowing where your money is coming from

This part is completely up to you.
Decide where you want your money to come from.
Did you want 75% of your income to come from clients and 25% to come from passive income streams?
Maybe you like 50% and 50%.
Now you have to break it down as a plan and make that happen. 
Write down all of your sources of income and then write down how much money you plan on bringing in from each one.
Then break it down one step further and write down what you need to do each month in order to make that happen.
Then another step further and what you need to do each week to make that happen.
If you’re the type of person that has trouble breaking down big goals into much smaller goals, I recommend grabbing the book The 12 Week Year. This book is how I stopped feeling so overwhelmed by big projects and learned how to break it down to manageable steps (which helps me reach the goals faster and in a more concrete way). 

It’s most definitely important to get an idea of how many clients you want to work with each month. I know for me, 12 was a looootttt. I was working evenings and weekends. I never had time for my family. While the money was great, this wasn’t the type of life I envisioned for myself. 
Who wakes up one day and dreams about working 24/7 and never having downtime? 
So I decided I only wanted 3 clients for a while. The rest was passive income. 
Six months later, I decided I only wanted 1 client, so I could spend more time with my kids. I want more presence in my family life. 
You have to define what your “booked out” number is, when it comes to individual clients.
Then when you reach that number, it’s time to create a waitlist.
Something I see virtual assistants fail to do is create a waitlist (or a newsletter) for themselves because they feel like they don’t need one or the idea is overwhelming. 
You don’t need anything fancy, really. You can e-mail your waitlist once a week to check in, say hi tell them about your week, and post a few links to your favorite blogs or books. You really don’t need an intricate funnel or a million automations.

Keep it simple.
MailChimp has everything you need.
You’re not there, face-to-face, handing them a business card, so you need to find a way to stay connected with them.
Asking them to sign-up for your e-mail newsletter is a great way to do that.
Give them something really simple to download, in exchange for their e-mail address. For me, I dork out over productivity so I created a Trello board template that they could duplicate over and over. If you’re a social media manager, you can give them a downloadable hashtag cheat sheet. If you’re a graphic designer that takes your own photos, you can give them a free photo pack.
You don’t need to write some intricate, long e-mail sequence or give them a whole book. In fact, that’s going to overwhelm someone who is already feeling like there’s too much on their plate. You want to give them a gift, not a burden.
So, once they download your free gift, they’re now on your newsletter on the waitlist.
Now, if any of your clients ever decide to let you go (their loss!) all you have to do is send an e-mail to your waitlist and say, “Hey! I have an opening! Click here to schedule a call with me.”
Link it to your AcuityScheduling.
And tada!
That’s really all there is to it.

So, to recap:

New to working from home: Freelance for a few months til you get your feet wet and have some testimonials -> Transition to independent/agency/specialization -> Build client list + find source of stable, passive income -> Repeat
Seasoned to working from home: Create sales page with intake form -> Build client list + find source of stable, passive income -> Repeat
Good luck and happy virtual assisting!

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