This month we will tell you all about working as a Virtual Assistant. Digital Nomad Girls spoke to three girls who are successfully working as Virtual Assistants while travelling the world.
What exactly is a Virtual Assistant? What do Virtual Assistants do?
A virtual assistant is a professional who provides assistance to business owners on a virtual basis. They help to free up valuable time for their clients, for instance by supporting them with admin or online marketing tasks.
The scope of what a VA can help with is much more varied than the traditional office worker, which is perhaps one of the most beneficial and exciting aspects of this career. You can be flexible in the hours you work, the services you provide, where you work from and the clients you choose to work with. VAs can work for individuals, agencies, or other VAs (as associates), but are always self-employed or business owners. They can work from anywhere in the world, so long as there’s a stable Internet connection.
What kind of skills do I need to become a Virtual Assistant?
“There’s a huge misconception that VAs need to have extensive experience to get started. It’s true that training and tech skills would be beneficial in getting the higher paying jobs – but to start, I bet you that pretty much anyone reading this already has a skill that could be transferrable” says Hannah Dixon. “If you have some skills in any of these key areas, there are people who would pay you for those services online:”
General Administration…you could be doing: Email correspondence, producing reports, taking minutes, organizing digital assets (dropbox/google drive), data entry, invoicing, bookkeeping, diary management, travel booking
Writing…you could be doing: Blog posts, social media posts, correspondence, copywriting for sales pages, crafting recruitment ads, proofreading, ghostwriting, preparing presentations in Powerpoint, transcription, translation, copy for email marketing campaigns, press releases, SEO copywriting
Graphic Design…you could be doing: Social media graphics, logo design, web design, banners, marketing materials for print, flyers, business cards, signage for events, ebook & pdf design, preparing presentations, creating infographics
Social Media Management…you could be: Scheduling posts, running ads, community (group) engagement, strategy, creating Facebook groups/pages, managing scheduling platforms, curating and creating content, monitoring insights and stats
“Speaking a foreign language is definitely a bonus. Most of my work involves graphic design, translation, proofreading and social media management” adds Julia Neubauer from Austria, who is working as a nomadic VA in Tenerife.
To support a client’s online and cloud activity, a VA needs to have knowledge of “at least one application or platform for working with email, documents, file storage, calendar, and communications. A VA does not need to know everything, but rather know the areas they wish to work in, are good at, and enjoy” Elaine Rogers adds.
Do you need any qualifications or certificates to become a VA?
The VA industry is not regulated, so the short answer is no. However, some VAs feel more confident with a certification. Certifications in specific online tools can attract higher rates, but that is down to the individual.
“A good education, excellent language and written skills, attention to detail, and a responsive nature will go a long way” Elaine shared with us.
Julia thinks “It’s essential that you’re someone who loves to learn and can be self-sufficient in learning new skills if they are needed.”
Hannah added that “the online world is ever changing. Technology, tools and programs are always being tweaked to suit the times and needs of their users. It’s pretty much your duty to stay ahead of the game to be able to set yourself apart as a VA – you can learn the basics and get by, or you can be a pioneer in the cutting edge and offer your clients the newest, coolest strategies and tools for success. You want to be pretty passionate about learning as this career will require just that.”
Where do you find jobs as a Virtual Assistant?
All three VAs we spoke to agreed on this topic. While online freelancing platforms can be a way to get a foot in the door, they warn that “there is lots of competition and hourly rates tend to be low.” They can be great for building up a portfolio of work and a small client base. After you’re comfortable, it’s definitely best to source clients yourself” said Julia. Hannah emphasised that “sites like these will not provide you the clients you really want to work for, the ones that value you and want to build a lasting relationship.“
They all agreed that using your network is key to a successful career as a VA. Elaine said “Personally, I use my own professional networks both offline (business communities from a previous profession) and online (LinkedIn and FB groups are key for me).”
Hannah says she focuses on building her network organically. “I cannot stress enough how important building true relationships with your online community is. I spent hours, weeks, months…okaaaayyy…maybe 3 years building my network and I still am. I rarely look for clients anymore, I am so well connected that I get tagged on Facebook by people I don’t even know for VA opportunities and wake up with people requesting to work with me in my messages every morning. How would that feel? To not have to even market yourself anymore?”
“It can seem impossible to find your first client” Julia adds – “but once you have a couple under your belt, you start to trust in yourself and realise that it’s actually not as hard as you first thought.”
How much can you earn as a Virtual Assistant?
As usual, when it comes to rates, it depends on the specific skills you can offer and whether they are in demand.
“A general VA can earn up to $30/hour, more if they package certain services. A specialist VA (copywriter, SM strategist, graphic designer, backend expert) can charge $50-120/hour, because of their specialty” says Elaine.
Julia agrees and adds that “an average rate for new VA’s is around £20 per hour and professional clients are more than happy to pay for quality work. It’s important not to undersell yourself! Clients will value your work much more if they pay £25 for it than £5 per hour.
Elaine points out that “pricing your skills is very important, in order to ensure you can survive on the road, or wherever you are stationed. As a gal who’s been around the block a few times, I also put certain things in place for my future, so I take that into consideration when pricing my services. You also need to be very aware to include hidden costs (taxes, social charges if applicable, overheads) as well as putting 20-30% aside for when you do stop travelling, or stop working.
If you charge $8 as a nomad, you will need to work 250 hours a month to create a turnover of $2000.”
“There are three main ways VAs price things: hourly, retainers and value-based pricing – the latter being the kind of mecca of pricing models that you can achieve only over time with experience and a deep understanding of the value and ROI you bring your clients” adds Hannah.
Is it easy to work as a VA while travelling?
Absolutely! So long as you have good internet access, a good work horse (aka laptop), and good systems in place, you’re good to go. A general rule is: The less correspondence a specific task requires, the easier it is to complete while travelling
Hannah, who is currently in Hoi An, Vietnam, adds that “providing you don’t work with clients who require you to work on their time, it can be super easy. You get to make your schedule based on the deadlines you have. So long as you meet them and are meeting your client’s expectations, you can do whatever the hell you like in your spare time.
“If you’re managing social media accounts, the time changes can be difficult – luckily there’s so much you can schedule in advance” says Julia.
“It’s worth investing in a good laptop that can take the heat (in every sense!) and spare chargers, dongles, headphones and mic, and any other equipment that will make your life easier” Elaine shares.
What part of the job do you like most and which one least, and why?
All agree that they enjoy the freedom and flexibility this job offers them. “Becoming a VA has allowed me to travel and achieve what I call work-life integration. My work and play are happily intermingled, and I love it” says Elaine “I enjoy freedom of choice by being a VA – I choose my clients, how much I charge, and when I get paid. I don’t subscribe to industry standards or what is normal. I am not lucky, I have designed my work that way, and my clients respect me because I attracted them by marketing to the right types of clients.”
Of course, every job has some downsides. Ironically, Hannah dislikes the admin side of her career “doing my own paperwork sucks…I totally need a VA haha.”
This seems to be a common thread among freelancers and entrepreneurs. Elaine adds that she “does not enjoy the bureaucracy that comes with being self-employed.”
Julia warns that “clients can sometimes forget that you’re not just working for them, but also for others. Each client would like their own project to be finished as soon as possible”
Hannah, who now trains others to become Virtual Assistants, shared the top soft skills she thinks clients are looking for when hiring a VA
The soft skills are really where your success lies. Here are the three most important soft skills:
Adaptability: Able to change and adapt to clients’ needs, new software and tools, time zones and a multitude of tasks that you’ll often need to figure out on the go.
Confidence: Being a VA does NOT mean you are an employee. You are a fully-fledged business owner in your own right and that means you need the gusto and confidence to ensure your clients treat you as such.
Patience: for sooo many reasons. Working with clients who don’t know their copy from their paste can be frustrating, patience and understanding goes a long way. Tech issues: they will happen! You must be prepared to deal with issues calmly and efficiently.
We hope you now have a better understanding of what a career as a VA could look like and how you can get started yourself. A HUGE thanks to our three interviewees for sharing their experience, tips and tricks with us.
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To find out more about the girls you can find their author bios below:
Hannah Dixon from London is an adventurer extraordinaire with 8 consecutive years of travel experience. She funds her lifestyle through her ninja VA and OBM skills, serving those in the mind, body & soul industries. Her goal is to also empower other travel hungry folk, giving them the necessary skills to create their own thriving, location independent VA business.
If you feel that becoming a VA could be for you, why not join her VA Starter Kit Course where Hannah teaches you all the skills necessary to become a high-end VA! Hannah also runs her hugely popular 5-Day VA challenge, so make sure you sign up
p.s. this post contains affiliate links which means I get a small commission if you purchase a service through my links at no extra cost to you. I only recommend services I’ve tested myself and I know will be helpful for my readers.