I’ve heard from some of my lovely readers (mostly through the Facebook group, if you haven’t joined, it’s an awesome place to hang out and discuss things with other entrepreneurs!) and some of you didn’t know what being a virtual assistant even is, or anything about what being a virtual assistant looks like.
What a virtual assistant is and what they do
A virtual assistant, also called a VA for short, is someone who works online and provides digital assistance to their clients. Most virtual assistants personalize the services they offer to their clients based on what they’re good at. So, for example, when I worked as a VA, I did graphic design, website design and WordPress website maintenance. Obviously, that won’t work for everyone, but I have VA friends that specialize in just about anything you can think of:
- blog post photography
- printable creation
- managing emails
- social media marketing
- document creation and prep
- data entry and database management
- making recipes and photographing them for food bloggers
Those are just the ones I could think of off the top of my head. Literally as a virtual assistant, you can do whatever you’re good at, as long as you can find someone to pay you to do it for them. Heck, I know a couple where the lady was a professional scrapbooker – people paid her $200 a page to make scrapbooks for their special events, or for personal use. Her product was physical, so obviously her entire business wasn’t digital, but her marketing was entirely online and through word of mouth.
Virtual assistants can also call themselves other titles, if it suits them. They might go by:
- consultant (social media consultant, etc)
- freelancer (freelance writer, freelance photographer, etc)
- manager (marketing manager, etc)
Although each of these titles can imply a slightly different role, basically they all exist to meet the needs of their clients. Consultants typically do more one-time work and are usually paid on a project by project basis. Freelancers can either take on regular jobs or can work on an ongoing basis, but primarily consider themselves self-employed, so aren’t likely to work full-time for one client. Basically, a virtual assistant exists to serve the needs of their clients with their unique skillsets.
How much can you make as a virtual assistant?
I loved being a virtual assistant, because it meant I got to set my own prices. I’ve worked with assistants who charged anything from $5 an hour to $100 a hour. The people I know who charge so little usually live in areas like the Philippines, VA’s from most other areas I know of charge more. It’s unusual to see someone in wealthier countries who charges less than $25 an hour, because much less than that just isn’t sustainable as a business.
One of the biggest things I learned is that clients who are experienced in their businesses don’t value your fancy website or your credentials and certifications (in most areas, obviously sometimes those are required if you’re in some fields!). Most clients care about two things: your prices and your ability to get the job done in the most painless way possible. Most new assistants figure the price part out quickly, so they automatically start charging really low prices – really it’s often too low, which is why they end up burning out.
Who would be a good virtual assistant?
Ultimately, not every business will work for everyone. There are some people who aren’t the best for for serving others online and that’s okay! I want to go over what makes a great virtual assistant, at the core of their personality and character.
You really have to have the basic skills to function online if you want to work online. If you struggle to open applications on your phone, or don’t know how to find your email if you close the tab, working to help others online probably isn’t the best fit. While every virtual assistant does things in their own skill set, so you can tailor your offering to your areas of strength, you should generally be comfortable with:
- social media (at least using it!)
- project management
I wanted to make a note about project management – this will look different based on what you’re offering. For example, a book editor would need a completely different process than a graphic designer or a copywriter. Someone who manages social media would have a different process than someone who was doing data entry. There isn’t one process you need to be good at, but whatever your process is, you have to be totally able to manage it and do it with excellence.
A graphic designer needs to be able to use Photoshop and Illustrator, and send files to clients in multiple formats. A blog content writer needs to be able to work in WordPress, or whatever platform their clients are working on. You get the point, right? Basically, you have to be able to do your job.
If you have deadlines for your client, you’ve got to be able to reasonably meet them. I know this is an area where my personality really struggles, because I’m something of a free spirit. I learned (through trial and error) that the best types of jobs for me were ones that didn’t require me to keep a consistent schedule. With two kids at home, and with my personality, I just don’t do the same thing each day, day in and day out. It’s not who I am. So any clients I took on when I realized that had to allow me to keep my own schedule, or find someone else. I could meet deadlines, but if you wanted me to text you every afternoon at 2pm, it wasn’t gonna happen.
Being dependable is more than about more than just setting up your business to work with your personality, although that’s important! A dependable assistant does these things:
- meet deadlines
- minimize delays as much as possible
- always give clear and honest expectations from the start
Your purpose as a virtual assistant is to make it as easy as possible for your clients to get things done. The easier you can make the process for them, the more likely they’ll be to hire you again, or keep you on retainer depending on the services you provide, and their needs. Being efficient saves them money by not costing them valuable time, and it’s also much more pleasant to work with someone who has their act together. An efficient assistant looks does things like this:
- ask at the beginning of a project for anything you’ll need
- communicate about problems early
- be reachable, but focus on tasks
Who isn’t the best fit to become a virtual assistant?
There are people who just. aren’t the best fit for being a virtual assistant. I had a client of mine who gave me files once on a floppy drive, and who didn’t know how to login to her email if someone closed it. She was a nice lady, but definitely wasn’t virtual assistant material. So, beside having the basic skills to do your job, what kind of personality and characteristics should a good VA have?
First, you have to be able to take orders. Sometimes, your client will have a way they want things done, and even if it’s the most backwards way to approach something, you just have to go along with what the client wants. They’re the boss, and they’re paying you, so within reason they get to call the shots.
This was something I really struggled with because of my free spirit, but personalities who can accept with more grace are definitely ideal. Sometimes, you have to be a soldier and simply say, “Yes, sir!” and march on, and if you can’t do that, you might need to go into business for yourself.
Some people are just flakey. Ian and I sometimes laugh, because when we make plans with people like that, we will make the comment, “if it happens,” after we share the details of our plans. There are some people who are just plain unreliable and inconsistent. If you’re someone who struggles with following through and is a real procrastinator, something else might be a better fit.
Nothing will run a client off faster than being unreliable with their projects. I’ve let go of more than one person for being inconsistent and flakey – half-doing their job or always running late after deadlines and always having an excuse why their work wasn’t done with excellence. So, if you want something with less deadlines and less accountability, try something like working as a content creator.
Ultimately, there are a ton of people who can work as a virtual assistant, whether it’s part time or full time… whatever you want to do for your income goals!