A few years ago, I worked a corporate job doing accounting and I was, to put it mildly, miserable.
My son was in kindergarten and I desperately wanted to be closer to home so I could volunteer in his classroom and pick him up from school.
I decided that I HAD to find another way to make a living.
Once I made that decision and put the wheels in motion for a new plan, I was able to give my notice within a few weeks.
What exactly did I do to replace my income and quit my job so quickly?
I became a virtual assistant.
To quit my job, have a flexible schedule, yet still bring in an income, I committed myself to using my existing skills and finding clients that could use my help.
I had heard of virtual assistants before and already had a virtual bookkeeping client on the side of my full-time job. I just needed a few more clients to make it a full-time income.
I just needed to bring in roughly $4,000 a month. I already had $500 of it covered with my one virtual bookkeeping client. I needed another $3,500 in income.
That may seem like a lot to have to cover in a few weeks. Sometimes it is. Sometimes it’s not.
I had a career coach tell me that it would take me roughly two years to make $50,000 as a virtual assistant. I didn’t have that kind of time. I needed it now.
So, I took massive action. I put together a simple website over the course of a weekend and started emailing everyone I knew about my services.
Within two weeks, I had four new clients. This sounds impossible, but truly it took a little luck and little courage to make it happen.
The clients came from a different coach I had worked with a year earlier. I emailed her and told her about my new business helping online entrepreneurs with everything from working content to customer service.
She immediately referred me to several of her clients (who were all coaches and needed online help) and that’s all it took for me to see the income potential.
Apparently good virtual assistants are hard to find.
This all may seem a bit too simplistic, and trust me, I thought it was too.
How could I possibly have enough client work in a matter of weeks to quit my full-time job, especially when I was told it was take two years. Two years!
But the reality was, I was offering the right thing to the right group of people at the right time. That’s all it takes.
Can you do the same thing? Of course you can.
I created this guide to help you get on the path to working from home if that is what you want. And you can do it.
Let’s dive into the steps to get you on your way.
Step 1 | Make the Decision
First, you need to get some clarity around what you want to do. If working from home is what you truly want, and you know you have some mad skills (or are willing to learn some), then decide right now that you are ready to do what it takes.
Make the decision and get aligned with it. If you are unsure, or you’re just doing it for money but hate working with people (even remotely), or hate sitting at the computer, or hate working from home but feel like you should, then this won’t work.
Your energy will suck, and you won’t be happy.
Align to your true desires.
This is the hardest step in the process. Once you get this down, the rest is gravy.
I’m assuming you know this is what you want to do, so let’s dive into the action plan.
Step 2 | Take Inventory of Your Skills
This step is kind of fun in my opinion. Sit down with a lovely notebook and a pen and make a list of your skills and interests.
Don’t limit yourself here. The term virtual assistant, or VA for short, is broad and covers a lot of ground. It’s not just for administrative tasks.
Think about jobs you’ve had in the past and how your skills can be transferred into a virtual world.
Here are some skill set ideas to help you get the creative juices flowing:
- customer service
- project management
- executive assistant
- administrative assistant
- human resource manager or coordinator
- coordinator of any type
- graphic designer
- website designer
- blog writer
- marketing assistant or manager
- strategic thinker
- super organized
- planner superstar
This is a pretty short list, but you get the idea. You can take almost any skill and turn it into an in-demand service for online entrepreneurs.
Make your list of skills and cross off any that you really don’t like to do. After all, you want to be happy in your new career.
Circle the skills that you enjoy. If you would like to do graphic design, but haven’t done any, then make it a goal to take some courses and learn the skill. Don’t limit yourself.
General vs Specialized
If you have a wide variety of administrative skills and want to offer them all up to your clients, you could consider yourself a General Virtual Assistant.
A generalist can take on a multitude of tasks such as:
In other words, you are a jack of all trades. There is no shame in that – don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
But, here are a few words of caution about being a generalist:
- Don’t say yes to everything and everyone
When you’re starting out, you’ll be tempted to say yes to every request, especially if you are someone who can do a lot of things. I was one of those VA’s myself. I took on too much in too many different directions and it flustered (and frustrated) me.
Be selective about who you work with and what tasks you’re willing to do.
- Don’t undervalue yourself
We’ll get into the meat of pricing in a bit, but don’t undervalue your time and expertise, even if you are doing general administrative work.
Typically, a generalist is paid a lower rate than a specialized VA simply because there’s more competition for general tasks and more ability to outsource to places like the Philippines, where wages are low.
This is where mindset comes in. You may not be able to command a high rate in the beginning for general administrative tasks but trust me when I say that good help is hard to find. Once you get a client or two and show your clients the value you provide, then charging a healthy rate for your services won't be a problem.
A Specialized Virtual Assistant is someone who has specialization in a particular area.
Here are some examples of a specialized virtual assistant:
-Affiliate Manager (someone who manages and grows affiliate relationships)
-A Tech VA with a focus on Infusionsoft
-Graphic Designer (can specialize even further into book covers, logos, etc.)
-Website Manager (more technical in nature)
The list goes on. In these fields, the term “virtual assistant” may not even be used. As I mentioned before, that is a broad term encompassing many areas. But these all fall under the virtual assistant umbrella. You are helping someone do something virtually.
As a specialist, you have a skill that not a ton of other people have. You have mastered one particular area of interest and are rocking it. That means you can charge higher rates.
You can also specialize in a particular industry. There are VA's that specialize in working for real estate agents, or authors, or online shops. This is a great way to specialize because you will get great referrals from people inside the industry.
If you can specialize, I think it’s a great way to go. You’ll have less competition and have an opportunity to make more money.
That’s not to say you can’t be a generalist and do well. I did, and many others do as well.
It goes back to aligning with your true self.
Also remember that the skill set you start your virtual assistant business with will change and evolve. You may get a client that loves you and wants you to take on more and more, giving you an opportunity to broaden your skills and maybe even specialize.
That’s the beauty of this business. There are so many directions you can take it.
Step 3 | Determine Your Ideal Client
Let’s be real, you may not know who your ideal client is until you have some experience working with different clients.
What you really should be asking yourself is this:
“Who could benefit most from what I’m offering?”
Remember, you want to offer the right thing to the right people at the right time.
Are online e-commerce entrepreneurs making over $150,000 a year in their business going to outsource their bookkeeping on a monthly, recurring basis?
Are insurance agents going to need a graphic designer on a regular basis?
Are busy online coaches going to need someone to handle their emails and client scheduling? Many will.
When I started my virtual assistant business years ago my former business coach sent me a bunch of clients that were all coaches, so that industry became my niche. I didn’t necessary go find them, they found me. There was a need there and I was able to fulfill it for those particular clients.
I also did scheduling for a tax accountant during tax season and provided bookkeeping services for an e-commerce business that sold diaper bags.
Not all of my clients were coaches.
You don’t have to paint yourself into a box with clients, but it will help your marketing efforts if you can specialize in a particular industry or type of business (e-commerce for example). Then see where the work takes you!
Step 4 | Determine Your Services and Prices
Once you have identified the skills you’d like to use, then it’s time to start designing your service offerings and putting a price on them.
At this point, it’s important to be really, really clear on these three things:
- Your offerings
- How your offerings will benefit clients
- Your prices
If you’re fuzzy or vague on what you do and how you can help your potential clients save time, money, etc., then it will be hard to sell yourself.
But you got this.
Ah pricing. It’s so simple yet so hard.
There are many ways to price VA services. A lot will depend on your services and your industry. You may have to do a little research and you might have some trial and error before landing on your ideal pricing.
When I became a virtual bookkeeper in 2009 I charged my first client $500 a month. That is still a pretty darn good rate for a small e-commerce business.
(If becoming a bookkeeper interests you, visit my new site just for aspiring bookkeepers, The Bookkeeper's Corner!)
When I started doing more general virtual assistant work in 2012, I charged $45 per hour. From the research I did online, I could tell that was a good rate for my skill set.
I had a few consultations that didn’t go anywhere because of the rate, but most of my clients didn’t bat an eye at it. They knew that was the going rate for good help.
I’ve seen rates from $25 an hour for general VA’s all the way up to $100 an hour for technical VA’s.
Note: Don’t set your pricing based on what you see VA’s in other countries charging. You’re not competing with the $5 an hour workforce.
There are several ways to price your services, including:
- Monthly retainer
Hourly is typically the best way to go initially, because until you get to know a client, you never know how much time you’re really going to be working on their stuff.
If you have a new client that wants to do a monthly retainer, suggest an hourly model for the first month or two and then move to a monthly retainer once you know how many hours are involved.
The problem with a monthly retainer is what I call scope creep. Scope creep is when the scope of the work you are doing for a client slowly starts to increase, but your rate hasn't increased.
If you have a retainer client, make sure you detail out the scope of the work to be done for that rate and have your client sign it.
This is one of the many things I’ll cover later when talking about boundaries, but it’s worth mentioning here too.
However, you decide to price your services, please remember this:
You own your business. You dictate your prices.
You are an entrepreneur and as such, you control the conversation around what you offer and what you charge.
If you are stuck in an employee-mindset, you will let your clients tell you what they will pay you. Resist the temptation.
As an entrepreneur, you tell your clients what you charge and how you work.
That’s not to say there won’t be times of negotiation over scope of work and rates. You can be flexible if it feels right, but don’t give in and cut your rate just because someone asks.
The one time I cut my rate for a client, she ended up being my most high-maintenance, time-intensive client. I had to cut her loose after a few months.
The people who respect your time, your skills and your rate will be the ones worth having as clients.
Step 5 | Start Spreading the Word
Start with a Website
If you can quickly and affordably put up a four-or-five-page website, then do it. A website is a great way to let people get to know you before you get them on the phone for a consultation.
You can use Squarespace (crazy easy) or WordPress to create a professional site. You’ll want a professional looking website that has the following:
- Homepage that explicitly states how you help people
- About page (with your picture)
- Services page (you can include rates if you want)
- Contact page (how they can reach you for a consult)
You can add other pages later if you want, but these are the only ones you really need right off the bat.
Here is a snapshot of my homepage when I had my VA business:
On your homepage, I would suggest you include:
- What you do
- Who you do it for
- Easy navigation to learn more
- Easy navigation to contact you
- Picture of you
Network Like Crazy
Now it’s time to start telling the world what you do.
Send an email to your friends, family, former business coaches and anyone else that could potentially refer clients to you.
That is exactly how I got my first handful of clients, which was enough for me to quit my corporate job.
Here is the actual email I sent to my former business coach when I launched my VA business:
I hope you had a great weekend camping!
I wanted to send you my new website. I still plan to blog at SBAB but have decided to pursue a VA business while I grow my readership at SBAB. It feels like a natural fit for me and is a model that will I think could help me grow my income a little quicker, so I can replace the day job with something much more fulfilling. My bookkeeping client keeps wanting to send referrals my way, so it finally dawned on me that perhaps I should be looking at this as a real business!
Anyhoo, here's my new site...www.remotelyready.com. If you get a chance to check it out, I'd love your feedback. And if you know of anyone needing a VA ...:).
Thanks so much and I appreciate you keeping tabs on me!
I don’t have this business anymore, so the website isn’t there now, but this one email got me four clients.
If you don’t have a website yet, don’t let that stop you from sending out your emails asking for referrals.
You can still put your email and phone number in there and ask for the referral. You can always say your website is still in development. It’s MUCH easier to get clients through people who know you, as opposed to cold emails, so a website isn’t always necessary to get the ball rolling.
Step 6 | Have Boundaries
This step is SUPER important. You must set boundaries in your business.
Oh boundaries, how I’ve come to love you.
When I started my VA business in 2012, I took on a bunch of clients quickly. While that may sound like a dream - and it was in terms of income – I damn near lost my sanity in the process.
I didn’t have a lot of time to think through boundaries and business process. I just started drinking out of a firehose. My clients were excited to have the help, and I was excited to help them.
I worked day and night, answered text messages on Sundays from clients, jumped through hoops, and pretty much created hell for myself.
I started dreaming of a 9-to-5 job. That’s how miserable things got.
I hit a level of burnout so bad, I closed my business a year later and got a job. I’m not proud of admitting that, but it’s the truth.
For the love of Pete, please don’t do this. It really didn’t need to unfold that way, and it won’t for you if you follow a few rules.
- Create set working hours for yourself and your clients.
- Don’t be “on call” for your clients unless it’s a special event or launch and you agree to work a bit more for a limited amount of time.
- Set clear expectations for turnaround times on projects. (I had a client text me on a Sunday that she needed a sales page up on Monday. I missed the whole day with my son getting that darn page done and she didn’t end up using it. I learned this lesson the hard way).
- Get good at saying no. If you receive an unreasonable request, you can say no.
- Don’t work for free.
I don’t want to scare you away from virtual assistant work. Most clients are going to be amazing, wonderful people.
But you have to train them on how to properly work with you.
Clients need to respect your time and your boundaries, or they are not worth having as clients. I don’t care how much they pay you. It isn’t worth your happiness.
Period. Done. Drop the mic.
I’m very passionate about this because my business would have grown to well over six figures had I managed my clients and my time better. Instead, I completely burned out.
The good news is, this isn’t going to be your situation, because you know to do this ahead of time.
Ready to Get Started with Your Own Virtual Assistant Business?
Start with step one and start doing a little research online to see if you can find other people doing what you would love to be doing.
Being a virtual assistant is an amazing way to make a good income, work from home with a flexible schedule, be there for your family and pets, and live life on your terms.
If someone tells you it will take two years to build up a virtual assistant business to a full-time income, well just don't listen. Maybe it will, but maybe it won’t.
Everyone’s path is different. Everyone’s contact list is different. Everyone’s mindset is different.
I can’t promise it will take you two weeks, or even two months to bring in a full-time income as a virtual assistant, but I can tell you that anything is possible.
Start making your dream career as a virtual assistant happen!