How to Start a Virtual Assistant Business

Successful VAs share tips for starting a virtual assistant business

A woman fits on her couch, looking at a phone while working on two laptops running a virtual assistant business
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The virtual assistant industry continues to grow, due in part to the normalization of remote work over the past year, as well as the push for businesses to expand their online offerings. 

Experts in the field agree that the demand for virtual assistants will likely increase in the coming years. Many small business owners and entrepreneurs don’t take advantage of virtual assistant services simply because they aren’t aware of the option. As virtual assistants expand in popularity and become more well-known as a resource, the field will likely continue to see even more growth.  

What Is a Virtual Assistant?

Virtual assistants, or VAs, support businesses, teams, or individuals by performing administrative tasks remotely. As more businesses outsource more roles, virtual assistant services can find work across a wide span of industries. 

Common services provided by virtual assistants include taking phone calls, managing email and social media accounts, doing research, scheduling appointments, and paying invoices.

When you’re deciding what kinds of assistance to offer, start by identifying what skills you could use to help small business owners, Abbey Ashley, founder of The Virtual Savvy, told The Balance in an email. She added that the skills you choose to offer as a VA may be administrative, technical, or related to marketing.

The Rising Popularity of Virtual Assistants

“More physical, in-person businesses than ever are seeking to grow their online presence or take a portion of the in-person business online to diversify their income,” Kayla Sloan, a virtual assistant coach and founder of the $10K VA course, explained to The Balance in an email. 

She noted that another contributing factor to the increasing popularity of virtual assistant services is that many entrepreneurs have launched online businesses in the past year. As a result, VA businesses are seeing more interest from a wider variety of clients. 

Sloan has noted an increase in the demand for virtual assistants who specialize in a particular skill set and certain tools. While there is still a market for general, administrative, or “jack-of-all-trades” virtual assistants, Sloan noted that specialization can make VAs more sought-after and could potentially be more lucrative. Potential specializations include email marketing, project management, and online business management.

Pros and Cons of Starting a Virtual Assistant Business

Pros
  • Relatively simple to start

  • Flexible hours

  • Customizable

Cons
  • Can be hard to find initial clients

  • May have to justify your rates

  • Potentially high stress levels

Pros Explained

  • Relatively simple to start: A VA business requires little in the way of overhead, and you’ll typically require minimal experience. You don’t need any specific licenses or education.
  • Flexible hours: The ability to work from home and create your own schedule are two reasons a VA business is so appealing.
  • Customizable: You get to decide exactly what your business will look like, from what kinds of services you’ll offer to whether you’ll specialize in a particular niche. 

Cons Explained

  • Can be hard to find initial clients: Finding your first client can be tough, especially if you don’t have previous experience in your niche. It could take time to build your client base to a point where you’re making much money.
  • May have to justify your rates: Clients may also be considering VAs who charge much less, potentially because those assistants don’t live in the U.S. It could be a challenge to explain the value of your services.
  • Potentially high stress levels: Depending on your niche or focus, the work could be stressful, and some of your clients may be demanding or expect you to always be on. Establishing clear expectations up front can help.

What Do You Need to Start Your Own VA Business?

Starting a virtual assistant business is an enterprise with very low overhead. You’ll need general office supplies, fast internet, and technology such as a computer, basic software programs, a headset, and a printer. You’ll want your workspace to be located in a quiet area so that you can take client calls without distractions. 

While a course or training program can be helpful, formal education isn’t necessary to start your home-based business as a virtual assistant. As you look to expand your services or develop your expertise in a particular niche, it may be worth taking courses that can help you hone specific skills. 

To be a successful virtual assistant, it’s essential that you’re organized, self-motivated, and an excellent communicator. Proficient computer skills and good grammar are also crucial.

How to Start Your VA Business

Here are the steps to take as you launch a virtual assistant business:

Write a Business Plan

As with any business venture, the first step is to create a business plan, recommended Sharon Williams, president of The 24 Hour Secretary, in an email to The Balance. She noted that visualizing and mapping out your ideas gives you a chance to identify what could work, potential opportunities, and any pain points or deficiencies that need to be addressed.

Williams advised that new VAs should remember that this blueprint is a living, breathing framework. It’s flexible enough to be changed if your original plan isn’t working.

Decide what services you’ll offer and to whom, and calculate basic funding and financial costs. Next, develop a marketing strategy by conducting target market research and identifying your specialty and niche. Spend time thinking about your contract terms, and draft a contract to protect yourself and your business. 

Look at the Numbers

Financial decisions are an important part of your business plan, so spend a little extra time making sure the numbers all add up. Identify how much money you need to make, and what you should charge to reach your financial targets. Keep in mind that as a business owner you’ll need to pay operating expenses and taxes, and include those numbers in your rates.

Ashley of The Virtual Savvy recommended defining your pricing in terms of packages when you’re first starting out. For example, if your hourly rate is $30, you could sell a package of 20 hours a month for $600. 

Take Care of All Legal Obligations 

Once you decide on your business name and structure, you’ll need to obtain all necessary permits and licenses and register with all relevant legal entities. You may need a fictitious name statement or a zoning waiver to work from home. You’ll also want to consider other logistical details such as opening a business bank account, and you may need to check in with your home insurance company. You can find free assistance through the U.S. Small Business Administration

Identify Potential Clients

Figure out who your target client is, and where to find them. Relevant Facebook and LinkedIn groups can be helpful places to connect with potential clients, as can virtual networking events. 

Reach out to your current network, too. Tell your friends, family members, former colleagues, and others about your new business because they may know of someone who can use your services. 

Provide Great Service

Once you land clients, make sure you deliver on your agreements and deadlines. Being attentive to the needs of your customers is an important part of maintaining and growing your client base. As you get to know clients and keep them satisfied, ask for referrals—word of mouth can be an effective way to gain new business.