Having children can put a damper on your career in more ways than one.
Not only do women tend to lose out on career advancement opportunities each time they take maternity leave, but it can be difficult to focus on work when you’re juggling doctor’s appointments, lessons, and sports activities year-round.
For that reason and plenty of others, many professionals actively look for careers they can do from home.
And, in lieu of finding an employer that hires remote employees, they even seek out freelance and online work. One job that’s gaining steam in our increasingly technological world is that of the virtual assistant, or VA.
While the type of work virtual assistants handle can vary widely, these workers all have one thing in common — they get to work from home, managing their own time, omitting a commute, and often achieving a great balance between home life and professional lives — all while earning a high income.
What is a virtual assistant?
Virtual assistants are exactly what they sound like they would be — assistants that work virtually (online) instead of in a physical office.
While many virtual assistants are self-employed freelance workers, some virtual assistants work for an agency or for one employer.
Virtual assistants provide online support to a wide range of professionals who need help managing their online businesses.
People who employ VAs run the gamut from bloggers to online entrepreneurs, podcast hosts, online colleges, and pretty much any business owner who needs a support staff — but that support staff does not need to be in their physical office.
Why would someone hire a virtual assistant? In many cases, people who hire VAs work virtually as well so they don’t want to bring someone into a brick-and-mortar office.
If everyone on a team can work from home from wherever they live, businesses can save money on overhead by not paying for office space, and also get the benefit of happy, loyal employees.
What kinds of tasks do virtual assistants do?
At this point, you are probably wondering what VAs do. While the answer to this question varies widely, most VA duties are similar to those conducted in any traditional office.
A virtual assistant who works for a blog or major website may perform tasks such as reading and responding to emails, helping their employer add people to their mailing list, creating documents, and proofreading.
They may also create virtual images to be shared online, and they may even perform basic social media management.
Other tasks that are performed by VAs include:
- Updating documents with new data
- Creating spreadsheets to track performance
- Inputting or documenting payments
- Sending invoices to clients
- Setting up interviews
- Responding to media or informational requests
- Basic data entry
- Scheduling appointments
- Project management
- Customer service
This is not an all-inclusive list since VAs in a specific niche may perform additional tasks. However, it’s important to note that the bulk of your work will take place on your computer and online.
What skills do you need to be a VA?
Since your entire VA career will be spent in front of your computer, it’s natural to wonder if you have all the skills required for the job. Fortunately, you do not need a ton of technical skill to find work in this profession.
Kayla Sloan, a six-figure virtual assistant and the founder of $10K VA, even says that you don’t even need a formal education to get started. You mostly need a very basic set of online skills, attention to detail, an aptitude for excellence.
While the skills and knowledge you’ll need can vary depending on the specific type of VA work you do, basic skills you should have to get started include:
- Ability to use Microsoft Office products, specifically Microsoft Word and Excel
- Google Docs
- Software editing programs
- Organization and scheduling software such as Basecamp, Evernote, or Trello
- Excellent reading comprehension and writing skills
- The ability to proofread your own work
- Accounting and bookkeeping knowledge
- Experience with social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest
- Extreme attention to detail
If you haven’t mastered these skills yet or have never heard of some of these programs, don’t stress! There are many skills you can learn as you go, and there are even virtual assistant training programs that can get you started off on the right foot and with the knowledge you need.
None of the skills required to be a VA are overly complex or technical, and you will usually do some learning as you go. That’s totally normal.
In addition to the main skills you need, however, you also need excellent work ethic since you will be working from home. You need the drive to get up and do the work every day even if you don’t want to — and without a boss to motivate you. For many people, this is the hardest part about working as a virtual assistant or in any other work-at-home job.
Finally, you need to be a somewhat organized person with excellent time management skills. While most virtual assistants are paid by the hour, they need to be efficient with their time if they want to keep their employers happy. Remember that people who hire VAs are doing so to save both time and money. If you’re not efficient or you’re terrible at managing your time, you won’t be a “good deal” to anyone who might hire you.
How much do virtual assistants earn?
Now on to the question we’re all here for: How much do VAs earn? This is another topic that is up for debate because it really depends.
If you’re a self-employed freelance virtual assistant with multiple clients, you can typically charge a lot more than virtual assistants who work for agencies of a single employer. Some self-employed VAs who are highly trained and skilled charge upwards of $75 per hour and remain in demand, but the majority of freelance VAs earn in the $20 to $40 per hour range. Of course, there is a downside that comes with being a freelance VA — for the most part, you’ll in be charge of finding all your own work.
If you work for an agency or full-time for one employer, you’ll take a cut in pay in exchange for help finding clients. VAs that work for an agency or single employer typically make between $10 and $20 per hour.
While earning on the low end of the scale may not be ideal, it’s important to keep in mind that you can charge more as you learn new skills and become better at your job. If you start out as a VA with an agency and become proficient enough to run your own client base, you could even double or triple your starting income within a few years.
Pros and cons of being a VA
Working from home can be absolutely amazing, but the fact remains that no job is perfect. Virtual assistants face many of the same struggles as individuals in any regular job, and even a few more. Before you decide to become a virtual assistant, consider some of the pros and cons:
Advantages of being a virtual assistant:
- Work from home or anywhere with an internet connection
- You can usually work the hours you want with a flexible schedule
- You can earn fair wages for your work with the potential to earn more as you improve your skills
- You have the option to “be your own boss”
- You can often work as many hours as you want, including part-time
- You can plan your work around your family and personal schedules
Disadvantages of being a virtual assistant:
- It can be difficult to find new clients at first if you’re not employed with an agency
- You will need to learn new skills and perfect them to earn the highest VA rates
- If you are self-employed as a VA, you will need to spend some time on bookkeeping including sending and tracking your own invoices and payments
- You will likely need to pay quarterly taxes if you’re employed as a freelance VA and self-employed (a tax preparer can help)
- Since many VA jobs are for independent contractors, they typically do not come with vacation or other benefits like insurance
- You may face a learning curve when you first start out
How do you find virtual assistant jobs?
Virtual assistant work is in more demand than ever, but that doesn’t always mean the jobs are easy to find. For the most part, the *first* job you find as a VA is the most difficult to secure. From there, you can usually get more VA work via referrals. That’s why many virtual assistants start out with an agency at first.
Still, there are many, many ways for virtual assistants to find work on their own. Some of the most popular sources for finding work include:
- Online job boards such as FlexJobs.com Upwork.com, Fiverr.com, or ProBlogger.com
- Networking events and conferences
- Blogging conferences
- Contacting local businesses and entrepreneurs with an online presence
- Online business and entrepreneurship Facebook groups
These sources may sound really vague, but these are the best places to find VA work and VA jobs. You have to remember that, as a virtual assistant, part of your job really is finding and keeping clients. Fortunately, highly-skilled virtual assistants with plenty of knowledge and great communication skills tend to have no problem finding and retaining work. Happy clients will be thrilled to refer you to their colleagues and friends.
How to become a virtual assistant
If you’re curious about this career path, it’s important to know that you don’t have to do this alone. There are a handful of helpful virtual assistant courses out there, including the one we referenced before — $10K VA.
This course is taught by Kayla Sloan, a professional virtual assistant who earns more than $10,000 per month. There are a lot of VA courses on the market, but Kayla’s course is the only one we know of that is actually taught by an experienced VA who is in the trenches doing the work — and earning a LOT of money from it.
If you have basic computer knowledge and technical skill, that helps a lot. Still, a VA course can teach you how to broaden those skills as well as how to use them to attract clients that will pay for your expertise. Today more than ever, it is important to keep learning new skills, stay on top of new technology, and always continue to diversify your skill offerings.
Remember that business owners need people just like you to keep their businesses running smoothly and free up time they can spend on other goals. You can work as a virtual assistant and escape the daily grind of your 9-5, but you have to take that first step to get started on the path to the life you really want.
Some of the links in this and other posts generate a commission. I never recommend products that I don’t truly believe in. Seriously – I get asked to write about stuff all the time and turn down hard cash if I’m not feeling it.
Holly Johnson is a financial expert, award-winning writer, and Indiana mother of two who is obsessed with frugality, budgeting and travel. Her personal finance articles have been published in the U. S. News, Wall Street Journal, Fox Business, and Life Hacker. Holly is founder of of the family finance resource, ClubThrifty.com, and is the co-author of Zero Down Your Debt: Reclaim Your Income and Build a Life You’ll Love. Learn more about Holly here.