If you’re contemplating starting a virtual assistant business, you’re likely equipped with an array of technical skills and a can-do attitude. Starting a virtual assistant business is an excellent opportunity to leverage your administrative skills while enjoying the flexibility of working from anywhere. However, breaking into the industry involves more than just having the right skills.
Are you interested in starting your own virtual assistant business but don’t know where to begin? This guide will provide you with an overview of the virtual assistant industry, the steps to get started, and answers to common questions.
A virtual assistant (VA) offers remote administrative services to clients from different sectors. This can range from managing emails and scheduling appointments to handling social media accounts and providing customer service. As a VA, you will need to decide what services you’re going to offer based on your skills and interests.
Virtual assistants usually help businesses with either specialized knowledge, such as marketing and communication, or payroll. They might also assist a business to stay organized or deal with seasonal increased volumes of work. Especially for small businesses, a VA makes administrative help accessible and affordable.
Virtual assistants are the ultimate entrepreneurs in an industry that is rapidly expanding. It’s not just the incentive of making more money than an employee. It’s the freedom and flexibility this kind of virtual work allows. For many, running your own virtual assistant business started as a side hustle and has turned into a full-blown career.
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The virtual assistant industry has seen significant growth over the past few years. Businesses, especially small ones and startups, are increasingly outsourcing tasks to VAs to save time and resources. This trend is expected to continue, given the shift towards remote work and the growing acceptance of the gig economy.
Virtual platforms like Fiverr and Upwork have become prime marketplaces for recruiting virtual assistants. In addition, the advances in technology and a rise in online communication platforms have helped make remote, virtual VA work, as well as teamwork and discussions accessible.
The virtual assistant sector is booming, notably because the pandemic accelerated the transition to remote work. But this growth also means increased competition, often on a global scale, so understanding industry trends is essential for staying competitive. Here are a few to watch for:
- Remote work: The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the shift towards remote work, leading to increased opportunities for VAs.
- Specialization: VAs who specialize in specific areas, such as digital marketing or graphic design, are in high demand. Specializing allows VAs to charge higher rates and differentiate themselves in the market.
- Automation and AI: Many routine tasks are being automated with AI. However, this doesn’t replace VAs but rather frees them up to focus on more complex and valuable tasks.
Steps To Start A Virtual Assistant Business
Launching your VA business involves several key steps, including deciding on your services, writing a business plan, understanding your legal obligations, and setting your rates. Let’s break down the steps.
Step 1: Research the Market
The virtual assistant sector is booming, notably because the pandemic accelerated the transition to remote work. But this growth also means increased competition, often on a global scale. To succeed, you must be adaptable and current with industry standards. Your aim should not only be to offer quality services but also services that are highly sought after. Thorough market research and a well-defined business strategy can set you on the path to long-term success.
The first step is to research your target niche thoroughly. Who is your ideal client? What services do they need? What are their challenges? Your research will guide you in creating services that solve your clients’ problems, setting your pricing, and creating your marketing strategy. The market is flooded with generalist virtual assistants, so you don’t want to be lost in the crowd. Targeting a specific industry or skill set not only makes your service more appealing but also allows you to command higher rates. Think of it this way: there are plenty of family doctors out there, but specialists always stand out (and earn more). For example, if you have experience in real estate, you might specialize in providing virtual assistance to real estate agents. If you have a background in digital marketing, you could focus on offering social media management services.
Next, studying your competition will give you insight into what services they offer, their pricing, client base, and marketing strategies that work. Check their website and social media platforms, noting their value proposition, testimonials, and website design. Furthermore, understand the differences between their services and yours, allowing you to set your prices competitively. You can take their strengths and weaknesses and learn to improve your services.
Step 2: Create a Business Plan
You’ve decided to be your own boss and have an idea of the services to offer. The next step should be to write a business plan.
You might think a plan is not that important because starting a VA business doesn’t require a large sum of capital to get started. The first and perhaps most crucial role of a business plan is that it serves as a reality check. While market research might have shown a demand for your services, a business plan goes deeper. It challenges you to answer questions like: How will you reach your customers? What sets you apart from competitors? And perhaps, most importantly, is your business actually sustainable in the long run? By forcing you to confront these questions head-on, a business plan helps you assess whether your venture stands on solid ground or is just a house of cards waiting to collapse.
Another benefit of a business plan lies in financial projections. This is where you lay out your expected income and compare it against your projected expenses. By clearly mapping out your revenue streams and costs, you get a more precise idea of the feasibility of your business. You may discover that you need to adjust your pricing strategy or even reconsider the types of services you’ll offer to ensure profitability.
Related: How to write a business plan
Step 3: Register the Business
Starting a virtual assistant business can be exciting, but we don’t want to overlook the process of making sure it’s legal to operate. This involves choosing the right business structure, registering your business name, obtaining necessary licenses and permits, and more.
Choosing a business structure: There are four main types of business structures: sole proprietorship, partnership, corporation, and Limited Liability Company (LLC). The choice depends on your specific needs and circumstances.
- Sole proprietorship: This is the simplest structure that involves just one individual who owns and operates the business. It’s easy to set up and has lower startup costs, making it a common choice for many new virtual assistant businesses.
- Partnership: This is when two or more people share ownership. Each partner contributes to all aspects of the business, including money, labor, or skill.
- Corporation: A corporation is a legal entity separate from its owners, protecting its owners from personal liability. However, it is more costly to start and has more administrative requirements.
- Limited Liability Company (LLC): An LLC is a hybrid type of legal structure that provides the limited liability features of a corporation and the tax efficiencies and operational flexibility of a sole proprietorship and partnership.
While corporations and LLCs offer more liability protection, they are more complex and costly to set up than a sole proprietorship or partnership.
Related: Comparison of business structures
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Business name registration: After registering the business structure, you may need to register your business name. This process will vary depending on what business structure you pick. Sole proprietors and partnerships will often be required to register a “Doing Business As” (DBA), while corporations and LLCs register with the state during the formation process.
During this time, it’s also a good idea to check if the name you want is available as a web domain, even if you’re not ready to set up a website yet.
Obtain business licenses and permits: Before starting a virtual assistant business, there will be a variety of licenses and permits that are needed. These will vary based on the state and town where the business is located. Some common requirements include a local business license, business tax number, and Employer Identification Number.
Step 4: Set up your Workspace
Most VA businesses are owner-operated and run from home. The great advantage here is that your VA service will, in most cases, be able to ‘travel’ with you should you decide to move states or countries.
Setting up a workspace is an important step, as this area is essentially your command center. The first thing you’ll need is a dedicated area free from distractions, allowing you to focus solely on your tasks. This could be a spare room in your home or even just a quiet corner fitted with a desk and a comfortable chair. Equip your workspace with a reliable computer, strong internet connection, and any software you’ll need to provide your services efficiently. Essential office supplies like a printer, scanner, and stationery should be within arm’s reach.
Step 5: Develop your Skills
Before you jump headfirst into the world of virtual assistance, take some time to hone the skills you’ll need to excel. Knowing your ideal customer and the specific problem you aim to solve can guide you in identifying the skills that are most relevant to your business.
Start by conducting an honest inventory of your current abilities. Are you already skilled in data entry, customer service, or social media management? Great, that’s a solid foundation. But what about areas where you lack expertise? If you need to address any skills, there are numerous free and low-cost online courses available that can bring you up to speed. Websites like Skillshare, Udemy, and even YouTube tutorials can be invaluable.
Also, don’t overlook soft skills like effective communication, time management, and problem-solving, which are just as important as technical know-how. These skills often make the difference between a good virtual assistant and a great one. For instance, your clients won’t just appreciate your ability to schedule their week flawlessly; they’ll also value your knack for managing urgent situations without breaking a sweat.
Step 6: Determine Pricing
Figuring out how much to charge for your services is a crucial step, and it can feel like a balancing act. Price too high, and you risk scaring off potential clients; price too low, and you might undervalue your time.
The first step is to calculate the operational costs of running your virtual assistant business. Factor in expenses like software subscriptions, electricity, and internet. Divide these costs by the number of hours you plan to work each month. This gives you a baseline for what you need to earn per hour to break even.
You’ll also want to survey the landscape to understand what other virtual assistants are charging for similar services. If you specialize in a niche like social media management or email marketing, your rates might differ from general administrative virtual assistants.
Some VAs charge clients by the hour, but retainer packages are also popular. A retainer is a pre-paid set number of hours per month and can provide more predictable income. Be cautious about offering too many hours at a discounted rate, as this can limit your availability for other, higher-paying projects.
Step 7: Market your Services
Once you have your virtual assistant business set up and ready to go, it’s time to start marketing your services. A few ways VA businesses marketed their services to attract those first crucial clients:
Build an Online Presence
Creating a professional website is a must. Your site should showcase your services, skills, and testimonials. Make it easy for potential clients to contact you, whether it’s through a contact form or by providing direct email and phone details.
Platforms like LinkedIn, Facebook, and Instagram can be effective tools to market your services. Regularly update your profiles to reflect what you do, and don’t hesitate to share valuable tips or articles that position you as an expert in your field.
Word of mouth can be powerful. Leverage your personal and professional network to let people know what you’re up to. You never know, a friend of a friend might be your first client.
Marketplaces like Fiverr and Upwork
These platforms are especially good for beginners. They provide a ready-made audience actively looking for virtual assistant services. While competition is fierce and fees can be high, these sites can help you build a portfolio and gather testimonials, which you can leverage to attract higher-paying clients later on.
While the various job platforms are a low-cost way to market yourself, those platforms take a percentage of the work a VA performs. This is fine starting out, but a VA should build their personal brand and set themselves apart from everyone competing for the same work on the platform.
Don’t overlook the power of local connections. Some businesses prefer to work with local freelancers, even if the job is entirely remote. Make a list of local businesses that might need your services and reach out. Also, look out for expos and events in your area to advertise your business and extend your reach to new customers.
Step 8: Prepare to Launch!
Starting a virtual assistant business involves many moving parts, and while you’ve already covered a lot of ground, there are still some important steps to consider for a successful launch. Each business will have unique needs, but here are some common areas to address:
Business insurance: Consider getting business insurance to protect your business from potential liabilities. Professional liability insurance, also known as errors and omissions (E&O) insurance, can protect you if a client claims that your services caused them harm.
Setting Up bookkeeping: Implement a bookkeeping system to manage your finances. This could be as simple as using a spreadsheet or investing in software like Wave Accounting (FREE) or Quickbooks. It’s crucial to track income, expenses, and taxes right from the start.
Contracts: Create contracts to outline the terms of your services. These should include details about payment terms, scope of work, confidentiality, and what happens in case of contract termination. RocketLawyer and Law Depot have free and inexpensive templates that may be helpful.
Business bank account: Open a separate bank account for your business. This helps keep your personal and business finances separate, which is essential for accurate bookkeeping and tax reporting.
Common Questions When Starting A Virtual Assistant Business
How much does it cost to start a virtual assistant business?
The initial cost to start a virtual assistant business can vary widely depending on several factors, but generally, you might be looking at an investment of around $2,000 to $3,000. Let’s break down some of the key expenditures you should prepare for:
Equipment: You’ll need a reliable computer, which could cost around $800 for a decent machine. Add in additional tech like a second monitor, quality headphones, or a webcam, and you might be looking at an extra $200 to $400.
Software: You’ll likely need software licenses for things like Microsoft Office, project management tools, or design software. Initial setup might run you about $300 to $500, depending on what your services require.
Website and domain: A website can be your virtual storefront. The cost for domain registration and web hosting can be as low as $50 to $100 for the initial setup.
Business registration and licenses: Registering your business name and obtaining necessary licenses can vary from state to state but generally can be around $100 to $500 initially.
Marketing: For marketing materials like business cards, initial website SEO, and perhaps some online ads to get you started, allocate around $300 to $500.
How profitable is a virtual assistant business?
Determining how much profit you can make as a virtual assistant business owner involves taking into account a range of variables, such as your service offerings, client base, and overall operating expenses.
According to industry statistics, virtual assistants can charge anywhere from $20 to $100 per hour, depending on the skillset, experience, and services offered. For example, let’s say you charge $40 per hour and work 30 billable hours a week. This would give you a weekly revenue of $1,200 (30 hours x $40/hour) and a monthly revenue of $4,800.
On the expense side, you need to consider software subscriptions, marketing costs, rent if you have an office, and other overhead expenses. Let’s assume your monthly operating expenses add up to $1,200. To calculate the monthly profit, you’d subtract these expenses from your revenue: $4,800 (Revenue) – $1,200 (Expenses) = $3,600 (Profit).
Annually, this would equate to a potential profit of $43,200 ($3,600 x 12 months), not accounting for any growth in client base or increase in rates.
It’s essential to note that this is a simplified example. Real-world factors like seasonal fluctuations in work, sick days, and other unforeseen circumstances could affect your actual earnings.
What skills are needed to run a VA business?
Computer skills and competence: You don’t necessarily need a qualification to become a VA, but you will have to back up your competence. That might be through certification, a portfolio, years of experience, or positive client feedback. Seeing that VA tasks are all done using a computer, proficiency in using one is a must. This should include excellent word processing and data entry skills, literacy in using spreadsheets, the capability to use calendar and teamwork tools, and online researching skills. Advanced skills may also be needed if your client seeks assistance maintaining a business website or database system.
Self-motivation and organizational skills: A positive can-do attitude and discipline are vital across all virtual assistant tasks. You must organize your time well to ensure you meet your client’s deadlines and can juggle sometimes competing projects and requirements. Good time management also means you assign dedicated ‘office times’ during which your clients can reach you and you are not distracted. And don’t forget to set aside time to look after your business administration, meet with potential clients, develop your marketing, and keep on top of invoicing.
Stay up to date and on top of trends: The technology supporting remote work and VA tasks is fast-moving and ever-evolving. Make use of professional networks and make sure you keep up with innovative new platforms and programs relating to your area of expertise. It’s also a good idea to keep an eye on trends relating to running your own VA business.
Excellent communication skills: To manage your own virtual assistant service, you must write concisely and engagingly. You must be comfortable pitching to new clients and be a good listener to understand your client’s needs. The ability to provide progress reports and communicate professionally and positively with your clients and co-workers will help ensure your business’ success.
What is the NAICS code for a virtual assistant business?
The NAICS code for a virtual assistant business is 541611, which is categorized as Administrative Management and General Management Consulting Services. Other types of businesses under this NAICS code include; business management consulting, financial management consulting, medical office management consulting, strategic planning consulting, and more.
The NAICS code (North American Industry Classification System) is a federal system to classify different types of businesses for the collection and reporting of statistical data.