By Kelly Benton
The first time I heard the term “virtual assistant” (VA), I was casually scrolling Facebook. An acquaintance of mine was looking to hire one and asked for recommendations. He listed out the tasks his VA would need to handle, and with every task on the list, I thought, I can do that!
Writing blogs? Check. Posting on social media? Check. Tracking leads and creating workflows? Check. Answering emails? Check.
In an instant, I knew – this was the perfect job for me! What wasn’t so clear, however, was all the other stuff. I didn’t know where to start. I didn’t know how much to charge. And I didn’t know if this business would even be successful (spoiler alert: it was!).
If you’re standing at the starting line, deciding if you should jump in the virtual assistant rat race, I’m here to give you 7 quick tips that will give you a headstart. These are all things it took me months to learn (and some of them I learned the hard way!), so I’m passing them along to you to give you a leg up.
- Set It Up Right the First Time
Being a virtual assistant is being a business owner. This means you have to think about things like taxes, leads, marketing, expenses, and keeping things legal. The first thing I would do is set up a CRM (client relationship management) platform where you can track your leads and clients. I strongly recommend getting one that can handle contracts and invoicing too. You’ll need it all eventually, and it’s easier if it works together natively!
Every single client needs to sign a contract (yes, seriously). When my very first client was ready to book, I didn’t have a contract in place and had to drop everything after our call and scramble to purchase a contract template and send it over. Phew! Don’t be like me. Get your ducks in a row before they hire you.
- No One But You Determines Your Prices
This one may sound a little odd, but you wouldn’t believe how many times I see people posting a job listing for a virtual assistant. It includes the hours they must work and the amount they will be paid. Wait one darn second! One of the fabulous perks about being an independent contractor is you are the one to determine where and how you work, along with how much you charge. This is not a job application. Personally, I consider posts like those a red flag.
- Know Your Worth & How You’ll Charge
There are three basic ways you can charge your clients. You can charge them an hourly rate, where you track your hours and get paid based on how many you work. This is simple to calculate, simple for them to understand, but you may feel like you’re constantly racing the clock, and may be a lack of consistency month-to-month.
Another option is to charge them a retainer rate, which is similar to an hourly rate but promises a certain number of hours. This is good because it guarantees a set paycheck every month. The downside is if you ever want a pay raise, you’ll have to increase your hourly rate, which may be a hard pill for your client to swallow.
You can also charge per project. This is where you quote a project for a flat rate, no matter how many hours it takes. This is good because as you get more efficient at a task, your hourly rate essentially decreases. You have to watch out for scope creep though, where the client requests things that weren’t originally included in the project, and may chip away at your hourly rate.
It’s okay to start out with one way of charging and change your mind as time goes on. You can also set up a business that uses multiple different methods. You can charge more for tasks you’re really good at, charge more for tasks you hate, or charge more for tasks that require specialty training. You make the rules!
- Work Hours are Different from Billable Hour
If you ever worked an office job, you were probably expected to log 40 hours per week. Being a virtual assistant is different. There are a lot of tasks that you have to take care of that aren’t directly billable to your clients. I may have 8 free work hours each day, but I can usually only work between 4-5 billable hours in that time. The rest is spent working on my own business (or enjoying the perks of being an entrepreneur like going for a mid-day walk).
You need to keep this in mind while you’re figuring out how many clients you can realistically take on. You also need to keep this in mind while you’re deciding how much to charge. Don’t underestimate yourself because you plan to bill 40 hours per week. That’s just not sustainable and you’ll find yourself with a one-way ticket to burnout.
- Don’t Be Afraid to Change Direction
Running your own business is all about learning and growing. You can’t be afraid to change your mind if it serves you better or increases your happiness. If a client is constantly stressing you out by asking for things you didn’t agree to, contacting you outside your working hours, or dropping the ball on communication, it’s okay to let them go.
You can also change your niche if your current one doesn’t suit you. You can change your prices if you find yourself overworked with a waitlist of potential clients. You can change your business policies at any time if you realize something’s wrong or missing. As long as you communicate well and give your clients plenty of notice, change can be your friend.
- Create an Online Presence
Let me be clear here: when I say online presence, I don’t mean an Instagram account. Social media is great, but it’s not professional, and it’s not great for SEO (search engine optimization). What you need is a website, even if it’s just one page – something that tells prospective clients what you do and how to contact you, along with a link to a scheduler so they can hop on a call with you.
- It’s Okay to Outsource
This may seem crazy to imagine when you’re first getting started, but there may come a time where you yourself hire a virtual assistant. For myself, this day came just a few months into my business. I was completely overworked but kept getting inquiry after inquiry. I knew my business had the potential to grow, but I needed some help. It was then that I brought on my VA, Mara. She helps me run my business so I can focus on my clients. She helps with social media management, graphic design, and more. The nice part is, you can hire someone for whatever tasks you don’t want to do, or whatever will free up the most time!
You Can Do This!
I know starting a new business can feel a lot like butterflies and banging your head against a wall. But just remember – nothing is permanent. Take it one step at a time, do your research, set up your systems now, and go get those clients. Being a virtual assistant is a truly wonderful career for anyone who wants to work from home (or someplace tropical!), set their own hours, and finally feel like a real boss. You’ve got this!
Update: Kelly has since pivoted her Virtual Assistant business to work specifically with clients using the Kajabi platform to offer website design, funnel creation and management.
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