I was just recently asked about this (again), so it seems like a timely post to write! I started my virtual assistant business in August of 2015, after my online acquaintance Meg Bateman commented on my post in a Facebook group I was in (for food bloggers) and told me to consider it. I grew my business part-time on the side while I worked a full-time job, and then, in September of 2016, I made the leap and started working from home full-time with my VA business as my main source of income. I’ve been fortunate enough to be doing that ever since!
NOTE: One of the links below is an Amazon Affiliate link for your convenience, and I may receive compensation if you click through and purchase of the product. *
But, what I know you want to know more about is how I ended up here: How did I become a virtual assistant in the first place?
Well, like I said, I was in a Facebook group for real food bloggers (because I used to have a real food and healthy lifestyle blog), and I posted in there asking if anyone had insight as to whether the hourly rate I’d been offered to be a content editor for a popular website was fair. As I mentioned above, that’s when Meg commented on my post and suggested the idea of being a virtual assistant. She recommended The Bootstrap VA by Lisa Morosky*, which is an excellent resource when you have absolutely no idea how to start this kind of business. I bought the e-book and read it, and then I spent about five weeks going through the steps it outlined to start my business. Then, I’d decided that I’d officially be “open for business” on August 10, 2015 – and I signed my very first client that day!
You can do as I did and read Lisa’s e-book and use that to help you start up your business – it’s a really helpful tool, and she updates it regularly (it’s currently on its third edition). But, to give kind of a general outline of what needs to happen (without getting into buying anything first), keep reading!
My first recommendation is to start changing your mindset: You need to start thinking about your future VA business as an actual business, and you need to think of yourself as a business owner. Because, like it or not, you will soon be a business owner and your own boss – woo! And you can be a friendly, competent person while also maintaining boundaries with clients as a business owner, which is super important. As we all know, not everyone is an intrinsically good person, and some people, unfortunately, may try to take advantage of you in various ways. So, start shifting that mindset and start mentally preparing to represent yourself as a business owner!
The next thing you’ll want to think through is who your ideal client is. This means the type of person that you’ll truly find it a pleasure to work with, whose personality meshes with yours, and with whom you can happily co-exist in a VA-client relationship. The reality is that not every potential client is going to be a good fit for you. Some people will come along, and they will definitely throw up some red flags for you. You do not have to work with those people. I’ve had a few people cause red flags for me, and I’ve found a way to politely decline working with them. This is why identifying your ideal client is so important – not only does it help you realize who you want to work with, but it also helps you realize who you don’t want to work with.
Probably the most intimidating thing about this whole process is taking the steps to actually set up your business: deciding what type of business entity you want to be, opening business bank accounts, and so on. There are four types of business entities: sole proprietorship, limited liability corporation, S-corporation, and C-corporation. Just starting out, it should be totally fine to be a sole proprietor. You should check with your county about filing something called an assumed name certificate, which means you’ll officially put it on record that you’re a business. It will be something like Jane Smith doing business as Jane Smith Assisting. When it comes time to file taxes, you’ll do your normal Form 1040 like you would anyway, but you’ll do something called a Schedule C to file your business taxes. Speaking of taxes, you’ll need to make quarterly estimated tax payments, too. Eventually, when your business starts to make more money, it would probably be a good idea to register your business as an LLC. Personally, I didn’t do this until a couple of months after I started working from home full-time. You might also consider finding an accountant or a CPA (they’re not the same thing!) to at least consult with.
This speaks for itself, but just to clarify, you should have goals for your business. How many clients do you want to sign in the next three or six months? How much income are you hoping to earn from your business? How are you going to keep up with learning what you need to know to complete services for your clients? You get the idea.
I’m a stickler for branding, in case you can’t tell. When I re-branded my business after making the transition to working from home full-time, I very intentionally chose which fonts I wanted to use for my website and business, as well as the colors. I also carefully designed my own logos. These things are so important for brand recognition, and it helps your business seem more polished and professional to potential clients. Don’t skip this step!
Of course, you have to decide which services you’re going to offer. It all depends on your ideal client (what does your ideal client need help with?) and what niche you decide to serve. Some services don’t make any sense in certain niches. Think about your strengths, think about what you actually like to do, and think about things you’re confident you can learn pretty quickly. There’s no point going into business for yourself if you decide to offer services that you hate or that you find boring and tedious. Choose things you enjoy doing!
Rates and Pricing Structures
Oooooh, we’re in for it now: money. Yep, you have to decide how much you want to charge for your services. It would be a good idea to try to do some research in your niche and get an idea of how much other VAs are charging, because it really does vary from niche to niche. In my niche, most VAs charge in the range of $20-40 per hour, depending on their experience and what the service is. But in other niches, it wouldn’t be unheard of to charge more. The same can be said for certain services that require really specific and extensive knowledge and experience, such as audio editing podcasts or helping clients set up and run webinars. You’ll also want to think through how you want to charge: hourly or packages? I offer what I call straight hourly, where clients can buy as many hours as they want/need (with a minimum of five hours per invoice) and use them up within six months, or else they expire. Then, I offer a different hourly option called retainer packages. Here, clients agree to buy the same number of hours every single month on a billing cycle of either the 1st-1st or the 15th-15th. I like this because it’s guaranteed income for me every single month, and I charge a little bit less for it to entice clients to choose that option (pro tip!). Then, you can do packages, where you do x amount of the service for a lump sum, no matter how long it takes you to complete it.
There are a tooooonnnnnn of online tools out there these days to help you run your business. You’ll want to think through some kind of task management and/or to-do list tool, an accounting tool, a schedule management tool (I just use a Google Sheet plus Toggl to track time), an online storage/file sharing tool (I use both Google Drive and Dropbox), and so on. I use G Suite** for my email, which also gives me all of the Google Apps. My favorites are Calendar, Sheets, Docs, and Keep. I use QuickBooks for my accounting, but I started out with FreshBooks. You’ll want to do some free trials, play around, and figure out what feels like the best fit for you.
The last thing you’ll need to come up with is your contract agreement. You should never work with a new client without having a contract signed, because it protects both of you if something should go wrong. Your contract should outline all of your business policies and any systems your clients need to know about. Mine includes things like which national holidays I take off, how I’ll notify clients about vacation, what my “business hours” are, how the contract can be terminated, how and when clients will make payments, how confidentiality will be maintained, and more. I also include a questionnaire at the end of my contract to help me learn a little more about my clients.
Phew! That was a lot of info! 🙂 There’s one more thing I didn’t mention that you might be wondering about, which is getting clients. However, I’ve already written about that in this blog post, so head over there to find out what I have to say about that!
Like I said at the beginning, this is all just a general overview of how you can become a virtual assistant. If you’re interested in becoming a VA for my niche – Teachers Pay Teachers sellers – then I’m delighted to share that I do offer a couple of coaching services for people interested in investing the time to working with me to start their businesses. I done one-on-one coaching with two people, and then I created my Teacher-Seller Virtual Assistant School, which goes over everything outlined above in much more detail (please be sure to thoroughly read the description, as well as the Preview). I originally created it as a group coaching program, but due to constraints on my time because of all the other aspects of my business, I turned it into a self-paced online course. I’d love to hear from you if you have questions, so don’t hesitate to fill out the Contact form on my website’s home page!
Good luck in starting your business!
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* Leslie Auman is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon properties including, but not limited to, amazon.com, endless.com, myhabit.com, smallparts.com, or amazonwireless.com.
** Leslie Auman is a participant in Google’s referral program.