How to become a freelance Virtual Assistant (VA)

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Many freelancers choose to specialise in an area based on their experience and qualifications. But what if your talents are more general? The good news is that you can still work for yourself full or part-time. And we can help by explaining how to become a freelance virtual assistant (VA).

As virtual assistants are hired for a diverse range of tasks, you may find you choose to focus on one particular area as you build your experience, reputation and client list. But many people also find it’s rewarding to have a wide range of work and new challenges to solve.

 

Contents:

 

What does a freelance Virtual Assistant do?

In the past, businesses often relied on office managers and executive assistants to handle a variety of administrative tasks. This often made them the most useful people in the building, organising schedules, invoicing, expense claims and more.

Solo entrepreneurs and small businesses can often benefit from having the same tasks solved for them. And hiring a remote virtual assistant for hours or days makes it more cost-effective than hiring a full-time member of staff.

But virtual assistants can be asked to do a lot more. As it’s such a broad job description, a virtual assistant essentially covers any services being provided remotely to business owners. Which means it quite often includes skills offered by specialist freelancers, including:

  • Content, and Copywriting research
  • Simple website design and maintenance
  • Social Media content and management
  • Community moderation and management
  • Email marketing
  • Transcription, proofreading and editing
  • Bookkeeping
  • Video editing
  • Project management
  • Customer service

That’s just scratching the surface, as businesses will look for virtual assistance across any tasks which can be done effectively by someone working remotely. It’s really up to you whether you choose to focus on any particular area, or decide to work more closely with a small number of clients across a more diverse range of tasks. Both can be profitable ways to earn a part or full-time freelance income.

 

Why become a Virtual Assistant

Working as a remote freelancer can have a lot of benefits, depending on your personal preferences and situation. You may want to be your own boss, or build something from the ground up, based on skills and experience from previous jobs.  Or it may be the attraction of choosing when and where to work, and choosing your own work/life balance.

For many virtual assistants, one attraction is the chance to work on a wide variety of challenges and problem solving for diverse businesses and entrepreneurs. If you tend to get bored of doing the same thing every day, then the opportunity to work across admin, project management, social media and scheduling in a typical week might be a big advantage over specialising in a single area.

If you have particular experience in office administration and support, then it’s a logical route into freelancing. And you’re likely to have an easier route to better clients and higher paid projects as a result. But the lack of entry requirements and diversity also means it’s an accessible freelance career for anyone just starting out.

 

What skills do you need to become a freelance Virtual Assistant

With no courses or qualifications required to become a virtual assistant, there’s no barrier to entry. The skills to build a successful career are similar to those needed for any other freelancer, including planning and strategy, prioritising, communication, and sales skills.

As a remote online worker, a good familiarity and knowledge of the internet is important. And a basic understanding of the more popular collaboration and project management tools will help. There are an endless range of systems out there, but some popular examples include Google Drive, Basecamp, Asana and Trello.

Given that you might be asked to take on new challenges, learning how to research and find relevant information will also be extremely useful. That could range from learning how to use Canva for social media graphics, or data entry into a Hubspot CRM. Or it could involve new skills with Excel or accounting software.

And it’s also a good idea to become familiar with online communications tools (Skype, Zoom, Microsoft Teams etc), and to invest in a reasonable quality headset and webcam.

One requirement for every freelancer and business owner is to understand the rules of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which is important both for you, and your clients. It covers how you handle personal data within your own business, and also when you’re working on behalf of someone else. And in some cases, you could be the individual liable for prosecution even if the tasks and data are for your client.

It’s also a good idea to check requirements and regulations for specific tasks, such as bookkeeping and accountancy, or event management, before you agree to take on an unfamiliar task.

But essentially all you need to become a virtual assistant is your first paying client. But to do that, you need to have an idea of what to realistically charge for your time.

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How much does a Virtual Assistant usually earn?

With any freelance career, the potential pay can vary wildly. From doing free projects for the promise of exposure or cut-price deals for friends when you’re starting out, to hopefully securing well-paying long-term contracts based on your growing skills and reputation.

It’s important to estimate what you need to earn to cover your cost of living, and then add around 25% to cover the cost of business taxes and overheads. And to compensate for the lack of employee benefits such as illness and holiday pay, pension contributions, etc.

You’re able to decide whether to charge an hourly rate or on a project basis. Billing based on your working hours is potentially easier when you’re planning your rates, but it means tracking your time accurately and providing detailed invoices. It also means potentially less flexibility in your working hours, and realising that time spent researching and learning new skills or solutions probably won’t be paid.

As a rough guide, a virtual assistant working in the UK would typically charge around £25 per hour, and Glassdoor estimate the average annual salary around £24,609.

Don’t forget that you may set your hourly rate at £25 or £30, but you won’t necessarily be working full time for clients every day. You’ll need to set aside some hours to administrate your own business and finances, and to promote your company and find new clients.

It’s always tempting to drop your prices to bring in work, especially with competition from virtual assistants based overseas, who have much lower costs of living to cover. But it’s easier to lower prices than raise them when you’re taking on a new client. So be careful of underselling yourself and what you can offer.

 

How do you find clients as a freelance Virtual Assistant?

Finding clients as a virtual assistant will be similar to any freelancer. It’s all about your network, and your reputation.

Whether you’re just starting out or working as an established freelance virtual assistant, it’s worth taking the time every so often to define your ideal client. That will help you focus on people you want to work with. And it can also flag up when potential work isn’t the right fit, which can be an early warning for a problem client.

Start with family, friends and former colleagues. You’ll be surprised how useful your existing connections might be when you’re starting out (or even once you’re well established). And you can also look for relevant business networking events or other local meetup groups which will help you get a larger offline network. Even in an online industry, building local relationships can lead to the best opportunities.

With so many VA services focused on digital marketing, social media and websites, it’s important to be present on all the main social networks. Make sure your profile and messages are suitably polished and professional, without simple errors such as typos and spelling mistakes.

Good ways to build your digital network include looking for relevant Twitter Chats, which offer moderated discussions around your industry, and Facebook Groups for freelancers (for example, Creative Freelancers UK), and virtual assistants. As a professional network, LinkedIn will also be useful, but it’s important in every case to try and build a relationship with potential clients. Offer value where you can, and try to avoid spamming people to drum up business.

You don’t necessarily need a website to become a successful virtual assistant. But if and when you decide to set one up, keep it simple and effective. It’s a great way to share your client testimonials, examples of previous work, and the services you offer. It’s also a page you can quickly share for an effective sales pitch, along with your contact details.

Finally, make sure you check out all relevant societies and groups. Organisations such as IPSE provide support and benefits for self-employed professionals, while the Society of Virtual Assistants has a range of specialist advice and connections with other VAs.

 

More resources and support for Virtual Assistants

  • Freelance Corner – our site filled with advice on all aspects of starting your freelance career and finding more success, along with resources, tools and practical benefits for members. Including a range of freelance guides including getting work and being paid, here.
  • IPSE – the UK’s only not-for-profit association dedicated to the self-employed.
  • The Society of Virtual Assistants – the largest organisation for UK based VAs with nearly 3,000 members.
  • Creative Freelancers UK – our Facebook group to network with other novice and experienced self-employed business people.

 

Researching other freelance careers? Why not check out our other guides:

And you can get support and help if you’re starting out with self-employment, or still in the early stages of building your career, with the IPSE Incubator. The 12-month programme is currently free with IPSE membership, and includes  advice, events, webinars, networking and more, tailored to anyone just beginning their freelance business.