My goal with this blog is to teach anyone who’s *digitally* curious how to become a virtual assistant.
You’re probably here because you keep hearing about this remote work possibility but it sounds confusing and vague.
Maybe you see friends working online and you’re thinking, “How did she do that?!”
Or maybe you already know that this VA work is a lucrative side hustle and you just need help getting started and finding clients.
For all those reasons, you’re in the right place. I’ve been working as a “VA” for more than 12 years and I’m here to share what I know so that you can get started quickly.
I didn’t know about this opportunity 12 years ago.
I was dabbling in the freelancer world with a couple of clients and I did NOT know what I was doing or why my clients kept calling me a military acronym VA. LOL.
You are ahead of the game because you are here, open-minded, and willing to learn. You can fast-track with your mindset and save yourself years of figuring it out the hard way.
This blog may contain affiliate links for programs, tools, and courses that I recommend. If you purchase these programs, I could receive a small commission. Thank you! I only recommend vetted programs and tools I use myself! Please check out my tool & resources guide here.
I’m here to help you learn everything you need to get started.
I’ve been freelancing for a while, (I’ve worked with some top names) shared over 1000 jobs with my community, and know this space well – what clients are looking for when they hire teammates and contractors.
First of all, this is a legit work-from-home job. It’s not an MLM, call center, or survey job. You really can take what you used to do in an office and do it virtually for paying clients from the comfort of your kitchen table … or sofa … or beach house. (I wish!)
Being a virtual assistant was the perfect fit for me. I had a college degree and a slew of great jobs, but as a military spouse, I moved too much to keep up with a career. I had to keep starting over with low pay, no vacation time, and not a lot of job openings/options.
And to be really truthful, once I had kids everything changed for my own career.
I needed flexible work so I could be with my family, take them to doctor’s appointments, and playdates. I wanted a balance of challenging work with present mom time. But I also wanted my own money for my dreams and needed extra income to pay for these kids! (PS I have four!)
So this blog post will help you get started as a unicorn digital marketing assistant.
Let’s set the record straight. You DO NOT have to take a course to teach you how to be a VA. I did it without one, and you could too.
But I’ll be honest. The market is getting more saturated. People that have been working online during the pandemic are eager to make it a permanent lifestyle.
It’s important that you find a way to get the upper edge and stand out from the crowd.
Paid courses can help you fast track, fill in holes, help you specialize, put you in the right communities to get work and be referred work, and help you narrow in on the services that are highly sought-after by online business owners.
So let’s dive in …
What is a Virtual Assistant?
A virtual assistant is an umbrella term in the online world meaning a teammate who works on the back-end of a business. As much as I don’t love the term, VA is a widely used industry term and a catch-all that means different things to different people.
Generally speaking a virtual assistant or “VA” is an administrative assistant who works remotely, performing normal office administrative tasks. Often it’s someone who has a list of reoccurring and/or one-time tasks and responsibilities they perform so the business owner can focus on income-producing, managerial and visibility efforts. VAs can do secretarial work, calendar management, inbox management, data entry and other admin support.
But lately online business owners have been using the term virtual assistant to mean teammates who are much more than just admin support. These “VAs” are involved in digital marketing, bookkeeping, customer experience and technical support.
Basically, if the job can be done by someone else in another location, everyone is calling that role a VA.
I don’t love it, but it is what it is.
Quite often a VA is implementing tasks AND managing and coordinating: deadlines, projects, launches, affiliate programs, other contractors. At some levels and situations, a VA can be a project manager or an online business manager. (Click here to read a blog about the difference of VAs, PMs, OBMs and DOOs.)
VAs can (and should) be doing WAY more than admin tasks.
Because virtual assistants can help with digital marketing and everything under the sun that’s related.
I wrote an article about social media VAs (click here to read) and how they specialize in social media management: graphic design, copywriting, scheduling and engagement. This VA may even help with social media strategy! This Social Media VA role is a prime example of work that is specialized and NOT entry-level, run-of-the-mill admin work.
I’m going to be honest with you, the online business owners who come to me to hire my VAs want someone on their team who can wear many different hats.
They want a mix of admin support and digital marketing assistance.
Quite often these business owners already have a strategy. They’ve usually taken a course from a big wig like Amy Porterfield, Stu McClaren, James Wedmore, Jeff Walker, Marie Forleo, to name a few.
Or they have hired a business coach and need a trustworthy, dependable teammate to help implement the strategy.
There’s not enough time in the day to do it all. They need a VA to help get it all done and executed.
It’s easy for online business owners to hand repetitive admin tasks overseas to a VA who charges a fraction of our U.S. minimum wage. I don’t agree with taking advantage of labor this way, but it happens.
How can you stand out and be competitive as a new VA?
Answer: You offer more than just admin services AND you position yourself to be a long-term TEAMMATE who is invested in the client’s business and dreams. In my own words: be a Unicorn VA.
(Need convincing for this whole absurd, sparkly unicorn thing?? Here’s a blog that explains it all.)
The Virtual Digital Marketing Assistant
This is the niche I’ve carved out for myself and my students who take my Unicorn Digital Marketing Assistant Course. I’ve worked for 13 years doing digital marketing tasks backstage for my clients. I love this work. It’s creative, challenging, and very much in demand with online business owners. My clients called me their VA, and I rarely did admin work. (Here’s a list of the services that I did offer.)
The need for these online marketing services is going NOWHERE. It’s here to stay.
More importantly, this type of virtual work lends itself value-based pricing, meaning when you get experience and get really, really, really good at it clients will pay more for these marketing services, especially when compared to traditional admin services.
Ultimately I see being a “unicorn digital marketing assistant” as your gateway to working online. Once you start gaining confidence, rack up the experience, and build your reputation, YOU WILL want to specialize or “niche down” and you’ll be able to charge more.
You will be able to narrow down on the tasks you really enjoy and excel at and create your own unique offering.
Virtual Digital Marketing Services to Offer
- Email Marketing
- Content Marketing
- Social Media Management: Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn
- Pinterest Marketing
- Website Updates & WordPress Maintenance
- Copywriting: Sales Pages, Funnels, Social Media, Emails, Blogs
- Editing and Proofreading
- Community Management
- Graphic Design
- Video Editing, especially for YouTube, Instagram, TikTok and Pinterest
- Pinterest Marketing
- Launch and Webinar Support & Management
- Affiliate Program Management
- Facebook and Google Ads
- Marketing Funnel Tech Building
- Website Design
There are a lot of options here, don’t be overwhelmed! Listen to this podcast to learn about the first 3 tasks I recommend a business owner hand off to their digital marketing assistant.
What kind of industries can VAs work in?
This is the really cool thing, in almost any industry!!! That leaves the door wide open for you to show up with your past work experience, education, talents, passions, and hobbies and service almost any kind of business owner.
Yeah, you could do the work you actually love and make an impact in the world with your skills!
Most of my earlier clients were creative entrepreneurs and bloggers who were doing 1:1 services and trying to get online to build a brand to monetize their talent with digital products like courses, workshops, ebooks, memberships, etc.
There are also plenty of brick-and-mortar businesses that need help with social media and getting found online via all the searches and getting foot traffic. The global pandemic has made this even more paramount!
There are so many opportunities for helping other local service providers like real estate agents (I’ve got a podcast about this), bakeries, boutiques, service stores, beauty salons, etc.
Many business owners are trying to establish e-commerce stores and social shopping outlets to sell their products, their referral products (like the Amazon affiliate program), or even dropshipping products.
The current digital economy lends itself to helping so many business owners. There’s so much freedom for you to pick an industry (or not) and focus on a selection of services, especially if you have experience in that space.
Are you thinking “YAAAASSSS! This is so me. I know I want to do this for a living!”
Then you are in the right space. And I’m more than excited to nerd out with you about this stuff!
⚡️Podcast: 10 Tips for Starting Out as a New Virtual Assistant or Digital Service Provider
This podcast has tips from my community for anyone starting new.
Now…Let’s talk about how to transition to the online space as a freelancer.
8 Steps for How to Become a Virtual Assistant
Step 1: Brush Up on your Online Admin Services
I really encourage you to get up to speed with how things are done online. If you haven’t worked in a decade because you’ve been having babies (you go, momma!), or you’re new to this industry and this type of work, it’s not hard.
Here are the admin platforms to learn to become a virtual assistant:
- Calendar Management. Start with Acuity or Calendly.
- Google Workspace (also known as Google Drive) – It’s a must.
- Inbox Management – Learn how to use filters to sort out emails. Start a FAQ index in a Google Sheet so you can respond to clients. Check out Streak for inbox management
- Get familiar with how businesses organize their systems and processes with Standard Operating Procedures or SOPs. (This podcast will give you a better idea about what I’m talking about.)
- Be aware of Customer Relationship Management (CRM) platforms – Most businesses will track their leads, current clients, sales through CRM tools. In the online space this could be a simple email marketing platform like Mailchimp, or a database on a Google sheet or in a complex software like Pipedrive or Infusionsoft.
- Get familiar with Project Management Tools. Asana, Trello*, AirTable, Monday, ClickUp, etc. Gosh, there’s so many.
- Get a list of all my fave tools here
You don’t need to learn each one of these, just know they exist and that each client may use a different one. Learn the lingo. So if you are familiar with the top tools, you can adapt to your clients’ ways of doing things and find the platform’s tech trainings and library to learn the in-depth tasks and minutiae.
*I use Trello in my business, it’s FREE, but this is an affiliate link. If you end up upgrading your account I could earn a small commission.
Step 2: Learn Digital Marketing Strategies and Tech Skills
You’ve gotta be familiar and savvy with online marketing strategies and tech tactics to be able to help your business owners online. It’s required.
The problem is it can take years and thousands of dollars to learn everything you need to know to be a desirable hire as a new virtual assistant.
You can YouTube and Google your learning. You can spend $3,000+ dollars on the latest bigwig’s marketing course that doesn’t always teach the hows and doesn’t cover everything linearly.
And then add in all the micro courses that can take HOURS AND HOURS and even more moola to piece it all together.
This is why I created my program to get you up to speed quickly on what business owners expect their VAs to know and implement… and learn it linearly so it all makes sense. You can learn more about my Unicorn Digital Marketing Assistant School here.
If you don’t have a year or two to spend taking all of the little courses and tutorials, this is a way to get in and out and have someone who has been doing the work streamline it with the need-to-knows.
There are other VA programs, in all different price ranges, that will teach you how to set up your business but these real-world clients don’t care about that.
Clients only want to hire you if you can implement their marketing strategy and really get it.
And they’ll expect you to understand digital marketing, because they want to hand you the strategy and have you run with it.
They want to give you a tour of their business and have you bring your digital marketing and admin skills to the table. No, they don’t want you learning on their dime. They don’t want someone who is brand new with no real skills or knowledge.
It’s getting competitive out there and solid digital marketing skills make you stand out.
My course is designed to fill in the digital marketing holes and accelerate your marketability. Yes, we cover setting up your business; however, my emphasis is on giving you NEW HARD SKILLS to get you hired. You bring your amazing soft skills and it’ll be the perfect match! (DM me on Instagram @emilyreaganpr if you have questions)
Step 3: Decide on Your Digital Services
Deciding on the services can really hold new service providers back from moving forward in their business and taking on clients.
This is one of the main reasons I advise new service providers to go all in with being a Unicorn Virtual Assistant.
This way you’ll learn firsthand what services you love, what you don’t love, what you’re good at and what realistically your clients need.
I built my business by saying “yes” and allowing clients to keep services in-house with me rather than hire more contractors. Here’s my starting out story here. I learned so much on the fly and on the job.
You do not have to figure it all out at the beginning.
So much of this online world is fluid and dynamic, with tasks, strategies, and best practices that are changing EVERY DAY.
If you don’t know what to offer, start by taking this 2-minute quiz here. It’s based on your DISC personality and will help you lean on your personality strengths. The quiz provides digital roles for you based on your results.
Eventually, you may grow to have packages and services, but at the beginning, it’s ok to offer lumped digital marketing + admin services.
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Step 4: Structure Your Pricing
My favorite part is getting paid! Starting out I always advise you to charge hourly so you get a feel for how long projects and tasks take you.
I want you to protect yourself. You don’t always know what you’re stepping into with a new client. Like: are they organized, have good SOPs, and communicate ideas well? Or they’re super picky and disorganized so you’ll need extra time for revisions, feedback, etc.
I want you to charge monthly retainers with hourly rates. That way your clients are committed to working with you and you can predict your workload and client balance for the month.
The hardest part is estimating tasks when you’ve never done it before. I share services, rates and estimations with my students in the Unicorn Digital Marketing Assistant School. But ask around, join Facebook groups and referral networks to do your homework and compare.
You will get faster, streamlined and better very quickly and those hourly rates will go up.
Once you have a system down for executing your work, you’ll move toward packages and custom projects.
It’s a different ball game because you’re estimating based on the client’s needs, the scope of the project and your skill level. You’ll also want to pad for profit!
Social media lends itself quickly to packages because you’ll be able to estimate the time you need to create X number of posts a week.
You don’t need to post your prices for the world to see, but have them ready so you can send your prices in a proposal or email reply.
Step 5: Legal Stuff: Taxes + Contracts
My least favorite part.
Note: I am not your legal or tax professional here. You should hire your own. (That’s my liability release.)
But I will tell you what I’ve learned: you are automatically a sole proprietor and will report your taxes on a Schedule C with your own annual taxes.
Look into LegalZoom if you want to LLC or become an S-corp, which gives tax benefits and legal protections. My tax attorney business bestie Braden Drake talks more legal stuff on this podcast.
As an independent contractor, if you make more than $600 a year, your client will issue a 1099-NEC tax form for you to report your earnings and count as their expense
(You will be doing the same in your own business should you outsource!).
Not all clients will send 1099s, so keep track of your income and expenses.
It’s also professional and standard that YOU as the virtual assistant/ freelancer/ independent contractor provide the contract.
The only time you sign something from a client is an NDA (non-disclosure agreement) or copyright usage agreement.
In your contract, you’ll want to be crystal clear with the scope of the project, end results, deadlines and terms of payment. Of course, I have a podcast that covers the 3 big things to have in a contract – listen to it here. And you can get access to Braden’s Contract Club for only $30 here.
Afraid you’re forgetting something? You can also download my contract checklist here.
And give yourself grace here, with each client, project, and mistake, your client contract will get better and better, tighter and tighter. It’s evolving.
And good news: so will your client boundaries!
Learn how to get your freelance hustle going and land your first clients quickly so you can generate new income in less time than it takes to set up your Christmas decorations.
Don’t spend $1,500 on a generic VA biz set-up course that takes a gazillion weeks to implement. This course is for the quick-starters who want to get in and out and get their business going.
Step 6: Start a Facebook Page + Instagram Business Account
I get a lot of push-back from this because as the backstage magic makers, we don’t want to be seen.
But to get clients, network, and showcase your work, you have to start with social media. It hurts starting at zero followers, but we all started there. Facebook pages are free and cheaper than designing and hosting a website. Start there.
Business owners hire VAs they trust. Show up with pictures of yourself. Stay away from seatbelt selfies and too many stock photos. Put some effort into showing up for yourself to build your trust factor.
I dive more into marketing yourself as a freelancer inside my programs, especially The Digital Marketing Workgroup.
But here’s the bottom line: have a strong call to action for HOW to book you, disclose your process of HOW clients work with you, and share your tips and stories that show you as an expert in your field.
Step 7: Get your First Client
If you have solid digital marketing skills, this will not be hard at all.
All you have to do is tell your inner circle about what you’re doing and learning.
Always use digital marketing jargon, let your passion show … everyone knows a business owner who needs help. You’ll be surprised!
But you do have to get over yourself and start talking about yourself. It’s a big fear, I get it. But magical words like: SEO, email marketing, WordPress, social media, will perk ears around you!
If that doesn’t work right away, network with your local businesses. You can help them with their social media, optimize their website with SEO, make updates, or come up with content marketing, and help them start an email list. Get active in your community with the chamber of commerce and with other biz owners.
Then join Facebook groups where these local and online business owners hang out. Show up in these groups and add value to the groups. Don’t act desperate. SERVE SERVE SERVE.
And the clients will come. Look for smaller FB groups that are not already infested with other VAs looking for work.
I also have job leads that I share.
One of the best things about my live Unicorn Digital Marketing Assistant School and The Digital Marketing Workgroup (our exclusive membership) is that I post job opportunities to my students from business owners who are looking for virtual digital marketing assistants.
It’s not a fierce and ugly competition where the business owner is overwhelmed and hundreds have applied. It’s a safe place for building that new career.
If you are looking at other VA programs, ask about how they help you get that first client. You do NOT need to pay a VA coach 6k to be matched with clients. #sorrynotsorry
SIDE NOTE: If you’re not quite ready for paying clients, then volunteer for a friend who has a business, a local business, or your beloved nonprofit. One of my favorite places to start is blogging and email marketing.
Step 8: Start the Client Work & Live Happily Ever After (JK)
Your process for working with new clients usually looks like this:
- Submit Application
- Email back and forth
- Book a Discovery Call
- Submit a Proposal
- Sign a Contract
- Kick-Off Call to Onboard Your New Client
There’s a lot to cover here and I’ll do my best. Your Discovery Call is your chance to listen to the client and see if you’ll be a good match.
Remember: You are a business owner and are CHOOSING who you want to do business with.
Make sure it’s a good fit for both of you.
After your conversation, you’ll submit a proposal with your project terms, pay rates and other info to help the client choose you.
Once they’ve said yes, send them the contract we discussed earlier. Make sure it’s modified for this client.
There are awesome programs out there to help you run your business and take care of these tasks automatically. Look into Dubsado, HoneyBook or FreshBooks.
Next: onboarding. And it’s hard. It takes time to develop a working relationship and get into a good workflow. You’ll want clear communication, start slow and have patience. Meet regularly for feedback. Ask your questions at the right times, and do so smartly.
Word of the wise, sometimes it’s just not a good fit.
We all kiss toad clients. Pay attention to what’s working and what isn’t.
You’ll just get smarter and clearer on the types of clients you work well with. It’s ok to move on to clients who pay better, treat you better, are more fun to work with and have missions more aligned with yours.
I could go on and on about this.
The thing to remember here is you are a business owner. You get to quit work when you want. Just pay attention to your contact’s quitting terms.
You do have to put yourself first and this is hard for those of us who are people-pleasers and Enneagram 2s who love to help people!
Now You’re Getting the Idea
Working as a VA is not going to be a get-rich-quick, overnight-success story. It takes time to develop your skills, narrow your services, build your reputation, and book out.
You will make mistakes. And you will run into awful clients.
But you will also have big wins. (Make sure you document those!)
Technology will change. You will keep investing in your business.
My best advice is to find a community that supports and encourages you. When you hit those lows and want to quit, it’ll be so important to have a shoulder to cry on and an understanding group to lean on.
When you hit the highest of highs, it’ll be so important to share those moments with a group that gets it. My mom, my best friend, and my husband just don’t fully get it.
It’s also important to have a community to ask questions for “what-would-you-do?” scenarios and get advice for dealing with clients. Sometimes we just want to pass off our favorite clients or give referrals when we’ve reached our own capacity.
That’s one reason I’d love for you to join my community: The Digital Marketing Workgroup. It’s a starting place for incubating your new digital service business, finding out how to charge more and uplevel your services.
Curious about starting your own service-based business from home?
This list is for you!
Grab my list of digital marketing-related tasks and services that online business owners are outsourcing and always need help with.
This is a goldmine of services you could be offering to your clients in your digital marketing VA business.
The Takeaway: Don’t be intimidated when you think about how to start working online as a Virtual Assistant!
Because I’ve got all the resources and insider tips that you need for how to become a virtual assistant. Not just to get started, but to jump right up the ladder to those premium clients and top skill sets that are in demand.
I’ve given you a lot, but I didn’t teach you HOW to do the work and what clients expect you to do and know. That you learn in the Unicorn Digital Marketing Assistant School.
I hope you learned a ton today. It’s been my honor to educate you and share what I’ve learned over the course of 12 years as a freelancer, 1099 independent contractor, Unicorn VA.
You’ve got this – and I’m ready to help! I would love to hear from you and help you on your business journey. Let’s connect!
-Emily, Digital Marketing Consultant and Implementer
“I help smart women learn the in-demand digital marketing strategies and profitable tech skills to get hired as a unicorn digital marketing assistant.“
3 ways we can work together:
1. Do you need to acquire digital marketing implementation skills and build your workflows so you can solidly put yourself out there for work? Check out the Unicorn Digital Marketing Assistant School. (It opens twice a year so jump on the waitlist now!… I also share job leads with my students so it’s a gateway for anyone who wants to build a freelance business that gives them flexibility and meaningful work). You can also choose to go through the self-study program now. Enroll here.
2. Already doing the work and have clients? But need more clients and a better referral network? Apply for my Digital Marketer’s Workgroup. This is a tight-knit community of freelancers like you, supporting each other. Plus I’ve shared 1,600+ job opportunities with this community.
3. Need to hire a Unicorn Digital Marketing Assistant? Submit your job opportunity here. I’ll share with my workgroups totally free.
More Resources for New Virtual Assistants:
1. Download my 10 digital service task list that I build my VA business with and that business owners ask me for help with. This is a great starting point for you to know what services are in demand.
2. Join my Facebook community. I’ve said it a lot, but it’s really the place to be. Every week I do an LIVE interview with a fellow service provider and you’ll learn so much networking with others!
3. Subscribe to my podcast Unicorns Unite. Every week I drop a new episode covering freelancer services, marketing tips and other advice and personal insight to owning your own business.
How to Become a Virtual Assistant – Podcast Playlist
I realize I gave you a lot of material via podcasts in this blog. So here’s a customized playlist of everything I mentioned just for you. Plus a few bonus episodes that will help you on your journey. Click here to add it to your Spotify account.
Do me a favor? Would you tell one friend about this type of remote work? Think of a friend who is creative and always posting funny memes on FB. The friend who could use life-changing work from home. Think of the friend who is super organized (You’ve seen her pantry) and really good at getting things done. ALL of those people could find work online. Give them this blog link, it may change their life.❤️
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