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 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 8 years and I’m here to share what I know so that you can get started quickly. I didn’t know about this opportunity 8 years ago, I was dabbling in the freelancer world with a couple 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.
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 slue 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 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 virtual assistant or a digital marketing assistant.
Let’s set the record straight. You absolutely DO NOT need a VA course to teach you to be a VA. I did it without one, you could too. Google and YouTube are your new best friends. Everything is out there.
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. Generally speaking 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 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 online business manager. (Click here to read a blog about the difference of VAs, PMs, OBMs and DOOs.)
VAs can also be doing WAYYYYY more than admin tasks.
In the online world, VAs 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 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 seeking 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 have hired a business coach and need a trustworthy, dependable teammate to help him/her 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 the Digital Media VA Crash Course. I’ve worked for 12 years doing the digital marketing tasks back stage 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 my 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 comparing to traditional admin services.
Ultimately I see being a “digital marketing virtual assistant” as just your gateway to work. 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’s 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’s also plenty of brick and mortar businesses who 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 drop shipping 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 seletion 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 Alert: How to get Started from Nothing in your Freelance Virtual Assistant Business
You can absolutely start from scratch and build up your freelance business. You don’t need a lot. I am not about overcomplicating it. In this episode, I will walk you through the quick and dirty business and how to find those first PAYING clients. Click here to listen on Apple.
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. You don’t need to take a course in this stuff. It’s all out there on the YouTube and the tech platforms
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.
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 about $2,000 dollars on the latest bigwig’s marketing course that doesn’t always teach the hows and doesn’t cover everything linearly.
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 VA Program here.
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. They only want to hire you if you can implement it and get it. They expect you to understand digital marketing, they want to hand you the strategy and have you run with it. They want to give you the tour of their business and have you bring your digital marketing and admin skills to the table. They don’t want you learning on their dime. They don’t want someone who is brand new with no knowledge.
It’s getting competitive out there and digital marketing skills make you stand out.
My Unicorn VA program 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 saying “yes” and allowing clients to keep services in-house with me rather than hire more contractors. Here’s more of 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, tasks, strategies and best practices 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 providers 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.
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’re organized, have SOPs, communicate ideas well or picky and you’ll need extra, extra time for revisions, 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 Digital Media VA Crash Course. 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 clients’ needs, scope of the project and your skill level. You’ll also want padding 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 + Contracts
My least favorite part. I am not your legal or tax advisor here. You should hire your own. (?That’s my liability release) But I will tell you the quick way: 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 this 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 that covers the 3 big things to have in a contract, you can listen to here.
Afraid you’re forgetting something? You can also download my contract checklist here.
And give yourself grace here, with each client, project, mistake, your client contract will get better and better, tighter and tighter. It’s evolving. And good news: so will your client boundaries!
Step 6: Start a Facebook Page + Instagram Business Account
I get a lot of push-back from this because as backstage task masters and doers, we don’t want to be seen. But to get clients, to network, and to 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 Unicorn VA Workgroup. Here’s the bottomline: have a strong call to action 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 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, optimizing their website with SEO, making updates, or come up with content marketing, help them start an email list. Get active in your community, 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 VAs working looking for work.
I also have job leads for you. The beautiful thing about The Unicorn VA Program and The Unicorn VA Workgroup (our exclusive membership) is I post job opportunities to my students from business owners who are looking for virtual digital marketing assistants. Up to four candidates apply, so it’s not a fierce and ugly competition where the business owner is overwhelmed. It’s safe place for starting new, apples to apples.
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. #notsorry
SIDE NOTE: If you’re thinking you’re not quite ready for paying work, volunteer for a friend who has a business, or with a local business, or your beloved nonprofit. One of my favorite places to start is with Pinterest because most business owners don’t have the capacity to learn it and are NOT utilizing the power of Pinterest.
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 … sometimes they ghost. All about that here.
- 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. You are a business owner and 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.
Onboarding is 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 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 you. I could go on and on about this which I do in this podcast episode – Click here to listen about when it’s time to quit. The thing to remember here is you are a business owner. You get to quit the 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!
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. You will run into awful clients. You will 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 who 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 who 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 so we don’t have to do some of the work we don’t love or don’t have time for.
I’d love for you to join my free community: the Digital Marketing Specialist & Virtual Assistant Lab. It’s a starting place.
And my community has advice for you
⚡️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.
Free Resources for 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. Take my Free Digital Marketing Traing Series here. Find out if you’re a good fit for this type of work and look smart when you already know cool techie tools and tricks. Each training video is dropped over 15 days so you can learn at your leisure.
3. 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!
4. 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.
Sign up for my Masterclass: How to Work Online
Right now I have a free masterclass that will teach you everything you need to know about working online and what you need to do to get yourself suited up and hired in the online space.
In this free 1-hour webinar-style training, you’ll learn:
- How to have an in-demand skill
- Learn the progression of skill levels
- Things you need to know to be a pro
- Knowledge & lingo to make yourself marketable
- What you need to know to make this happen from your kitchen table
$0 cost to you! 🎉
Just pick the day + time that’s most convenient. Sign up here.
How to Become a Virtual Assistant 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.
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. I would love to hear from you!!! Let’s connect.
– Emily Reagan
Do me a favor? Would you tell one friend about this type of remote work. Think of the friend who is creative and always posting funny memes on FB. Think of 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 all of those people could find work online. Give them this blog link, it may change their life.❤️