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A virtual assistant (VA) provides remote services to busy professionals who need someone to support their business, cause, or special event. The duties of a VA can include anything from answering emails to performing web development for a new website. VAs usually establish a specialty to help distinguish themselves in a somewhat flooded market.
Who is this business right for?
People who are organized, attentive, and responsible will do well in this position. VAs need to do more than just take directions, they’ll also need to be proactive without stepping on their client’s toes.
What happens during a typical day at a virtual assistant business?
The day for a VA will be highly dependent on their clients and niche. However, a typical day can include any or all of the following:
- Managing emails
- Scheduling appointments
- Researching information
- Posting/campaigning on social media
- Tracking/shipping packages
- Coordinating travel plans
What is the target market?
There are plenty of professionals who want an assistant without having to pay a full-time employee (with benefits). The target market for VAs generally includes people in the blogging, real estate, and ecommerce industries. However, special event coordinators, entertainment professionals, or nonprofit leaders may also use a VA on a temporary basis. VAs may also assist general marketers in a variety of businesses with social media needs.
How does a virtual assistant business make money?
VAs may charge clients money for their time. They may do so either per hour or per task, depending on the scope of work.
What is the growth potential for a virtual assistant business?
This is a growing niche as businesses look for ways to cut their staff to just the bare essentials. In fact, some put total industry estimates at close to $8 billion by the early 2020s. However, because the job can be done remotely, clients are often looking for VAs in other countries who may be willing to do the same tasks for mere pennies. For VAs looking to make this their full-time profession, they’ll need to look for every potential opportunity to prove their worth. For a VA to stand out, they need to provide services that can’t easily be found elsewhere.
What are some skills and experiences that will help you build a successful virtual assistant business?
People who have some type of personal assistant experience will likely be able to slip into this role fairly easily. Executive or personal assistants will usually have the shortest learning curve. However, owners don't necessarily need to have formal experience, as there are plenty of ways to learn organizational skills at home or in social situations. Owners need to be honest, discrete, personable, and punctual at the bare minimum. Additional skills that could help you stand out are graphic design, writing/editing experience, a marketing or business degree, or past positions in your chosen niche.
What are the costs involved in opening a virtual assistant business?
Costs to get started are typically low, and may only include only a Wi-Fi connection and computer. A laptop in particular can be a huge advantage because virtual assistants may need to work from different places based on their to-do list. If you're planning to do any type of graphic design, you may want to invest in better equipment to meet client expectations.
What are the steps to start a virtual assistant business?
Once you're ready to start your virtual assistant business, follow these steps to ensure that your business is legally compliant and avoid wasting time and money as your business grows:
- Plan your business. A clear plan is essential for success as an entrepreneur. A few important topics to consider are your initial costs, your target market, and how long it will take you to break even.
- Form a legal entity. Establishing a legal business entity prevents you from being personally liable if your virtual assistant business is sued.
- Register for taxes. You will need to register for a variety of state and federal taxes before you can open for business.
- Open a business bank account. A dedicated checking account for your virtual assistant business keeps your finances organized and makes your business appear more professional to your customers.
- Set up business accounting. Recording your various expenses and sources of income is critical to understanding the financial performance of your business. Keeping accurate and detailed accounts also greatly simplifies your annual tax filing.
- Obtain necessary permits and licenses. Failure to acquire necessary permits and licenses can result in hefty fines, or even cause your business to be shut down.
- Get business insurance. Insurance is highly recommended for all business owners. If you hire employees, workers compensation insurance may be a legal requirement in your state.
- Define your brand. Your brand is what your company stands for, as well as how your business is perceived by the public. A strong brand will help your business stand out from competitors.
- Establish a web presence. A business website allows customers to learn more about your company and the products or services you offer. You can also use social media to attract new clients or customers.
Select your state below for an in-depth guide on completing each of these steps in your home state.
Where can I find a business mentor?
One of the greatest resources an entrepreneur can have is quality mentorship. As you start planning your business, connect with a free business resource near you to get the help you need.
Having a support network in place to turn to during tough times is a major factor of success for new business owners.
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What are some insider tips for jump starting a virtual assistant business?
Successful VAs will tell new professionals to choose a niche as quickly as possible. Doing so streamlines your brand and gets the word out about your services. For example, if you start off assisting one real estate agent, they can easily recommend you to other real estate agents. New owners should place heavy attention on their references and reviews at the very beginning.
VAs may need to start at extremely low rates to offset their lack of experience. Most companies prefer to hire a VA with an established reputation, so it can be difficult to get started. Because virtual assistants vary in terms of talent and expertise, owners may want to grant themselves a generous amount of lead time before they can count on their business to support their lifestyle.
How to promote & market a virtual assistant business
Owners will need to create a website for their services from the very beginning, but this may not be enough to promote yourself. Instead, VAs may want to start with community websites to attract new clients. There are plenty of choices for virtual assistants, such as Taskrabbit, Upwork, and Fancy Hands. These sites tend to be competitive and they also will take a certain percentage of the fees you charge. However, they’re also a good way to build up your reputation within a very big community.
You may also want to consider visiting local businesses looking for a part-time assistant. Developing relationships with local business owners can make it easier to convince a decision maker to use your services. Once you have a rapport with them, let them know they’re better off hiring a virtual assistant at a higher rate who is flexible enough to work with their needs.
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How to keep customers coming back
Clients will be looking for someone irreplaceable, so it’s crucial for virtual assistants to take their duties extremely seriously. Lower paying clients may not always stay that way as they start to rely on your skills more and more. VAs can not only make organizations more organized, they can increase compliance, accuracy, and even profits. Even if a client doesn't recognize this though, virtual assistants can build upon their experience to segue into better paying jobs.
How and when to build a team
Virtual assistants typically work on their own, though they may at some point need to hire someone for excess work. For owners who would eventually like to build a team of VAs that can be deployed for any number of jobs, look for people with different types of skills (e.g., artist, planner, travel coordinator, etc.) to get the best cross-section of employees.
State & Local Business Licensing Requirements
Certain state permits and licenses may be needed to operate a virtual assistant business. Learn more about licensing requirements in your state by visiting SBA’s reference to state licenses and permits.
Most businesses are required to collect sales tax on the goods or services they provide. To learn more about how sales tax will affect your business, check out our informative guide, Sales Tax for Small Businesses.
For information about local licenses and permits:
- Check with your town, city or county clerk’s office
- Get assistance from one of the local associations listed in US Small Business Associations directory of local business resources.
Virtual assistant businesses should consider requiring clients to sign a services agreement before starting a new project. This agreement should clarify client expectations and minimize risk of legal disputes by setting out payment terms and conditions, service level expectations, and so on.
How much can you charge customers?
It’s not unusual for established VAs with high-profile clients to charge $100 an hour. However, new professionals will typically earn money per task, with the average being about $3 for a 10-minute task. Average general rates may range anywhere from $20 – $40 an hour.
What are the ongoing expenses for a virtual assistant business?
Expenses for VAs tend to be low, and may include standard utility bills and equipment maintenance/replacement. Depending on your clients, you may be able to ask them to pay for specific materials based on their needs (e.g., special software, etc.)
How much profit can a virtual assistant business make?
Because expenses are so low, most of a VA's take-home pay is profit. At the upper end of the spectrum (assuming you charge $100+), this can easily be $200,000 or more. However, realistically, profits may be closer to $30,000 – $50,000 a year.
How can you make your business more profitable?
VAs may want to offer additional services, such as advertising or blogging services. Because most VAs will be familiar with standard office equipment and web-based promotion, they may be able to parlay those skills into additional profits for their business.