How to Break into the Virtual Assistant MarketWritten by Bernard on June 29, 2016
According to Virtalent, the online working industry, including virtual assistant services, will be worth $5 billion by 2018. In North America alone, the Virtual Assistant market size was worth $572.2 million for 2014, and is expected to grow globally by almost 32% by 2022.
The Virtual Assistant industry is expected to grow at such breakneck pace because the services offered are perfectly suitable for the modern trends of SMEs, freelancing, and the sharing economy.
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Virtual Assistants (VAs) are perfect for doing tasks that most businesspeople just don’t seem to have the time for.
Anything from getting a wedding gift, managing and filtering emails, or handling health insurance claims, to doing wake-up calls or researching the best and cheapest hotel for a week-long vacation.
As a VA, you can get as involved in your client’s business and life as you’d like, from the personal (getting a birthday gift for the client’s mother) to the strictly professional (website maintenance or data management).
So the obvious question is: how can I get a piece of this pie?
There are many important things to consider when you’re trying to break into the Virtual Assistant market. These include:
- How do I get started?
- How do I find my clients and how much should I charge them?
- How often should I invoice them?
- What tools do I need to use?
- How can I grow my business?
In this guide on how to become a Virtual Assistant and maintain and grow your business, we’ll answer all of these questions.
But first, let’s look at some of the advantages and disadvantages associated with the industry.
There are many advantages to being a VA.
Of course, if you’re looking into becoming one, you’ve already concluded that the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages.
But just to be sure, let’s review what’s so great about it.
Work how you want
First of all, like all other freelance work, being a VA means that you get to work when you want, where you want.
You’ll be able to set your own hours and work only based on the project, rather than a sometimes arbitrary 9-to-5 schedule.
This means also that you can take nice breaks in the middle of the day when you want, or move to completing a project later and do something leisurely in the morning.
Also, you’ll be able to do this all from the comfort of your own home, or in the coffee shop around the corner, or in the park—wherever there’s wi-fi and a good connection, you’ll be able to do your work.
Lots of room for growth
Because you’re your own boss, you also have virtually unlimited room for growth.
I don’t mean just in income—which is limited only by how much you want to sleep. I’m talking about the wealth of knowledge that you’ll be accessing each time a client requests a new task.
You may have had some idea about a specific task, but once you do it professionally and someone is depending on you to do it perfectly, you learn an amazingly large amount in a short time.
The more you get involved in your work, and the more clients you get, the more specifically you’ll be able to focus on those areas that you prefer to do.
If you don’t have much love for data entry or proofreading client blogs, you can focus only on organizing their vacations or sorting out their social media marketing.
Strong connections with your clients
And lastly, you’ll be working a lot with people, helping them with their professional tasks, as well as sometimes their personal ones.
Either way, you’ll have to interact with them on a regular basis, so if you’re more extrovert on the social spectrum (and as a VA, you’ll have to be), you’ll find your relationships with your clients will grow and this will be satisfying in its own sense.
It’s possible to have very long-term clients and they will become like close friends, and you’ll see the positive effects you have in their lives.
Now, to the bads, which include more than just the predictable repetitive tasks.
You’ll have to shoulder everything
The first point I mentioned above—anywhere, anytime—has a flipside as well.
You don’t have a boss, so all the discipline has to come from the inside.
That means that you’re not required to be at the office at 9am sharp, so sometimes you sleep longer, and sometimes finish sooner, and take more breaks than is necessary, and it can get out of hand to where you’re not doing much and lacking motivation.
Also, you’ll have the responsibility of creating your income and finding all the clients. This is great, but it can increase your amount of stress, especially when you have people dependent on you and your new work.
Speaking of which, your family and friends may not have that much discipline either, especially when they know that you’re working from home now.
There’s an increased chance of having interruptions on a regular basis, either from having to take the kids to the park, or helping your friend shop for a wedding party dress, or any of the other million tiny interruptions that will dot your day.
It’s easy to get lost in these things, so if you don’t set borders for yourself and those closest to you, you’ll end up being unsuccessful.
Your pay will be unstable
Additionally, pay can be quite unreliable, and it’s harder for you to plan anything on a long-term basis.
You can get a relatively regular income for a few months, and then suddenly one thing or another happens and your client won’t want to continue or will politely take a break and surely come back to you after a few months, they promise.
These are to be expected, but there are many highs and lows in any freelance work, and it can be tough to get used to.
Your clients will own you
Beyond that, seeing as you’re a Virtual Assistant, you’ll be at the beck and call of your clients, sometimes 24/7 depending on your service.
They may call you a bit later or earlier than is professionally allowed (before 8am or after 9pm).
You may also encounter, from time to time, an attitude towards you and your work that isn’t particularly respectful (i.e., ‘he’s just a PA’), and you’ll have to grin and bear it because this work is your income.
OK, so how do I get started?
Well, first of all, you’d have to get the basics out of the way, such as researching the VA field and deciding what you want to focus on.
Then you need to see if you are financially able at the moment to start freelancing. Because, let’s face it, the first few weeks or months will probably be your lowest-income period, and you’ll need to be financially prepared for that.
After that, you’ll have to decide on the name for your business plus a logo, and then create a social presence for your company.
When it comes to such personal businesses, your clients will most probably be looking online for reviews or more information about you and your services, so be sure to also set some information as public so they can find you.
Then, if you’re in the UK, you’ll have to register yourself at HM Revenue & Customs when you make your first pound to let them know that you’re a sole trader. There is more detailed and necessary information here.
If you’re in the US, you’ll have some different requirements based on your state, so check out the useful information in this article.
Great! How about finding clients?
Now, if you’ve laid the groundwork then finding clients should be easier—but not easy.
Your social media presence is a passive presence, but you’ll need to get out there and market yourself. In fact, many VAs recommend focusing less on printing flyers and instead spending more time talking to people and advertising yourself—especially if you’ll be working in your local area.
You should be marketing yourself to your friends, family, their friends, and also think of all previous work contacts who may need your services.
A benefit of this is that you’ll probably be meeting other VAs and this can actually be a good thing.
Because VAs have a wide variety of possible tasks, it’s possible that the other VAs will pass on work to you—ones that are smaller, lower pay, or simply uninteresting. For a newbie like you, this is good because it gives you your first clients and will lead you to bigger tasks.
Another avenue, which many don’t like at first, is the cold-calling method in its various forms.
For the most part, it depends on what your area of focus will be, but you can start calling SMEs (especially those successful but small business owners that probably don’t have a dedicated PA) and market yourself.
No one likes to make sales calls or especially take them, but if you do it more often, you’ll learn to be more cheerful and human-sounding, which is good as personality is a big part of this job.
Also, if you’re working more on any field, such as website maintenance or proofreading, you can screenshot a potential client’s website and send it to them with corrections. They’ll get some free help (only a little) and you get to show off how good you are. If they ask for your web-fixing services, you can smoothly try to expand into other territory and get more tasks.
And of course, after that it’s word-of-mouth, at which point your work may become self-sustaining.
What should my rates be?
When you set your rates, you should take into account your experience, your knowledge, and your speed in doing certain tasks.
Additionally, if you think your work doesn’t only get the task done, but does it in a way that saves them money, you should factor that in.
Also consider whether there’s lots of competition in your area.
So it’s important not to sell yourself too lowly for a rate that will be attractive to potential clients, but not too high that someone at your level and experience wouldn’t logically be able to get.
There are generally three ways to set rates: by the hour, the by project, or with a retainer.
By the hour
There are many advantages to charging a certain rate for your hour of work, but you should also take into account that you won’t get certain things that other traditional PA’s get, such as: holiday pay, sick leave, guaranteed hours, etc.
Also, you only get paid for actual work done, not for writing emails to clients or organizing your work or anything else that might be paid for in traditional work.
So your rate should reflect the actual work and the non-billable hours as well.
PayScale figures the median pay rate for Virtual Assistants is $16.06 in the US. Reese Ben-Yaacov states she started at $20/hr for senior level virtual assistant services and eventually raised the rate to $50/hr after her years of experience.
By the project
Charging by the project is an attractive option as the client knows exactly how much it will take to complete a certain task, so that there’s no surprises or arguments when it’s time to send out the invoices.
When determining the price for the project, clearly state what is expected of you or what the specific projects tasks will be. This will help you to provide a good quote.
You may not have the best knowledge about the length of time and effort required to finish a particular task, so your quotes may be off, but after some time you’ll become a pro at it.
With a retainer
Another option is to use a retainer. This is the option favored by most VA agencies—look at this one here or here.
These work by having the customer purchase a set amount of hours for a price—say, for example, 10 hours this month for $200—and then the client can use those hours at his/her will.
It’s up to the client to use those hours, and you can make it known that if those hours weren’t used, the payment is still the same.
How often should I invoice my clients?
The invoicing part of a virtual assistant can be tricky but it’s very important to get it right.
The most important rule to remember is to always be honest about how much time you’ve spent performing a task for your client.
Most personal virtual assistants invoice clients once a month.
Some prefer to bill weekly to have a continuous cash flow. There are some clients who have special wishes; e.g. they want to pay twice a month, so then you’ll need to invoice them every 14 days.
Also, if you offer a specific package you should ask for all money in advance. However, every client and every situation is different so you can talk to your client and decide what’s the most convenient time of invoicing for you both.
You can do invoicing using invoice templates, but in order to look more professional, you should use online invoicing software such as InvoiceBerry.
Here are just some of the many advantages of using InvoiceBerry for virtual assistants:
- Easy invoicing. Invoices are highly customizable, terms & conditions can be added as default, payment terms can be specified, notes to customer can be added, clients are automatically saved, and so on.
- Export data. You can export (Excel or PDF) or print reports of clients, payments, expenses, tax summary & performance to view the company’s cash flow over a specified date range.
- Manage & track invoices easier. You’ll never lose an invoice again. If the invoice is paid you’ll see on the dashboard. For unpaid invoices you’ll be able to send invoice reminders.
These are just a few advantages of using InvoiceBerry. No matter whether you decide to use online invoicing software or send invoices using invoice templates, you should always make sure that you add the correct information onto your invoice.
To make sure that your client pays the invoice you could also add interest rates to overdue invoices; e.g. 1.5% extra if the invoice is 30 days overdue.
What tools do I need to use?
Personal virtual assistants have to have a large amount of forms, templates, agreements, proposals and so on in their cupboard in order to use them whenever needed by a client.
Have you ever wondered how long it takes to look for these documents?
In order to save you time, here are some links where most of the templates needed for personal virtual assistants can be found:
- Business plan templates are used to define goals, research the market, prepare marketing plans and evaluate the business overall
- Cash flow statement templates are used to keep track of the cash flow in a business
- Profit and loss account templates are used to show the revenue the company made in a given period of time
- Balance sheet templates are used to summarize the assets, liabilities and the shareholder equity of a company
- Invoice templates are used to send out invoices and quotes
- Official government forms & model business documents are used to manage everyday business
Besides the templates, there is a plethora of online tools available to help VAs become more productive in their day-to-day tasks and successful in their overall reputation.
These range from the obvious and necessary time management and scheduling tools, helpful reminders, and conference tools, to image editing software for your business logo and website. Here’s a great list to set you on the right path.
How do I grow my business?
At some point, when you get very good and busy in your VA work, you’ll consider whether you should expand or not.
If you find yourself swamped with too much work, and more clients than you can logically handle at any point, you should go for it.
One option is not to employ at all, but to refer the client to another VA, either for a commission share or referral fee.
The other option is to get some help and seriously start growing your business.
This of course boils down to the most important question:
Do you have enough work for you and your employee both?
There are a few different ways to expand your business. The simplest is to hire a dependable, trustworthy other person to work with you. When you expand further, you can then hire a second, and a third, and so on.
Another method advocated by VA Michelle Dale is to expand not vertically, but triangly. What you do is you hire not one, but two VA employees. You train them both (you must develop a good training system first) and give them enough work to get used to the system.
After a while, you can give them all the work and you’re then just focused on finding more clients.
Once they are reaching the overspill point, they each can have their own little triangle, and then there’ll be 7 of you.
You can repeat this at your leisure until you have a nice, successful business set up.
To sum up:
Being a Virtual Assistant can be a very rewarding career. There are many benefits to the job, including:
- ability to make your schedule
- huge potential for income
- close personal connections.
However, it’s also important to remember the disadvantages:
- increased responsibility, which means increased stress
- unreliable pay
- often demanding customers
In order to best succeed at the business, you need to:
- register your name and create a logo
- market yourself and network with other VAs
- set rates by the hour, project, or with a retainer
- determine how often to invoice clients
- use the correct documents and business templates
- expand your business using the triangle method
With these tips and your own passion and knowledge, you’ll be certain to have great successes in your career as a Virtual Assistant.
Any VAs out there with even better tips and tricks of the trade? Let us know in the comments below!