How to get started as a virtual assistant

In 2008, I was 22 years old. I was a recent college graduate and I couldn’t get a job in my field, so I settled for working as an Administrative Assistant (a boring position with a terrible commute and a boatload of stress that wasn’t worth the pennies I was paid).

I was a newlywed living in a city far away from family and friends, with the burden of being the provider while my husband was furthering his education. I was unhappy, I wasn’t being challenged at work, and every month I just prayed we’d be able to pay our bills.

So in an effort to stimulate my brain, I sunk my teeth into all the blogging, Internet marketing, and online business information I could find. I started up projects on the side, taught myself new skills, and experimented with everything I was learning.

When I stumbled upon an opportunity to work with a well-known blogger, I jumped in full throttle. A few months later, I had more clients coming my way than I had time for, so I quit my job to become a virtual assistant (VA) full-time – and I’ve never looked back.

If there’s one thing I’m sure of, it’s that there has never been a better time to create a work-at-home business as a VA. So why aren’t more people taking the plunge? I’ve learned (from the ton of emails I’ve received from people over the years) that it’s not a lack of passion or marketable skills. It’s not knowing where to start!

I totally get that. When faced with a huge goal, I get lost if there isn’t a step-by-step plan to reach it. So that’s what we’re going to tackle right now (and I’ve covered this in a lot more detail in my eBook, The Bootstrap VA). If you’re looking to work from home as a virtual assistant, here’s a five-step plan to get you on the right track.

Photo by dmachiavello

1. Familiarize yourself with what web working and being a VA is and entails.

It’s important that you move forward with your eyes open. There are definitely pros to being a virtual assistant (creating your own schedule, for example), and there are definitely cons (like needing to be plugged in constantly). Is this the right career move for you?

Do your research and connect with and interview VAs (the Virtual Assistant Forums is a good place to get in touch with virtual assistants and research the industry).

2. Create your business plan.

What you’re really doing is creating a roadmap and organizing your thoughts. Some things to include in your plan are:

• Your ideal client. Who (specifically) are you going to be catering your business to?
• Your target market. For what segment of the population are your services best suited?
• Your brand. What do you want people to think of you? How do you want to make them feel about you and your business?
• Your services. What services are you going to offer? How much are you going to charge?
• Your marketing plan. How are you going to market your services?
• Your business goals. Make them S.M.A.R.T. What do you want to achieve and how?
• Your business policies. What rules will you and your clients follow?
• Your schedule. How will you manage your time?

Don’t get stuck on this step! You’re not committing to forever here. Your business will change as you change, so just focus on where you’d like to start.

3. Acquire the tools you need and get set up offline and online.

Figure out what tools you need to get started and make sure you have them. Things like a reliable Internet connection, a computer, and an email account are must-haves. But maybe you also need Skype, a way to share and store files (like Dropbox), PayPal, project management software, etc.

Once you have the tools you need, get set up offline by doing things like looking into creating a business entity, getting a business bank account, and getting a PO box. Then set yourself up online by creating your website, blog, and social networking profiles.

4. Focus on getting your first client, and make a plan for how you’re going to get, keep, and work with clients going forward.

What offline methods can you use to get new clients? What about online methods? How will you encourage referrals? How can you go above and beyond for clients and keep them happy?

Think about how you can grow your business in the future. Are there other income streams you can explore? Will you bring on contractors in order to take on more work?

I know you have skills that you could turn into VA services. Improving clients’ lives, while owning more of your time and security and enjoying your work, is a wonderful feeling. If you’re interested in working from home as a virtual assistant, I encourage you to work the plan above. I just know you’ll be successful.

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What services could you (or do you) provide from home as a VA? If you’re an experienced VA, what’s your best advice for those who are just starting out? If you’ve worked with a VA, what did and didn’t you like about the relationship?

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  1. Great advice for anyone starting an online business, thanks Lisa! I hope to one day hire a VA – hold a spot for me? 🙂

  2. I am so happy that you posted this and shared the information. I am looking into your book now. Being a VA is such a great idea! I have all the tools necessary and I love being plugged in..I am going to look further into this career field!

  3. This is so great! I realize that I’m already doing this for someone currently but never considered myself a VA. I would love to transition to turning this part time work for just 1 person into more of a business that I can offer to others. Marketing is probably my weakest skill, do you have any advice for someone who doesn’t love “selling” themselves? What do you think is the best way to get more clients? Also, did you narrow down your skill set before hand or did you accept “work” that was a bit out of your wheelhouse? Thanks!

    • The very best way to “sell” yourself is todo such amazing work that your clients can’t help but share you with others. Referrals are a VA’s best friend. 🙂

      Aside from that, be active online. Everything you do online is marketing in some way, shape, or form.

      Right off the bat, I knew I wanted to work with bloggers and Internet entrepreneurs – so I’ve never offered typical administrative tasks (scheduling, data entry, etc) because they never interested me. So in that sense, I was narrowed down beforehand. But my business has changed over the years (because I’VE changed over the years) – and any business you create can be redefined by you too. I wouldn’t suggest taking on work you’re not experienced in or don’t enjoy – it becomes a sore spot for everyone involved. 🙂

    • The best way to “sell” yourself and get more clients is to treat the ones you have (if you have any) like gold – because they’ll naturally want to spread the word about you! Second to that is just being active online. Everything you do online is marketing for your business. 🙂

      I knew beforehand that I wanted to work with bloggers, online business owners, etc – because those are the people I knew I could help best with my interests and skills. But, my business and services have changed over time (because I’VE changed!). That’s the nice thing about owning your own business – it’s what you need it to be and what you make of it. That said, I wouldn’t recommend offering services you aren’t thrilled about (who wants to dread their job?) or that you have no experience in (the client is paying for results, not necessarily for you to learn a brand new skill on their dime). 🙂

  4. The best way to “sell” yourself is to just provide excellent services (consistently). That’ll make your clients so happy with you that they’ll want to share who you are with others (and it’ll result in referrals – VAs love referrals!). Aside from that, be online. Everything you do online is a way of marketing yourself. 🙂

    I’ve known for a while what I do (technology, Internet, blogging, social media, online business, and the ins and outs of all of the above) and don’t (typical administrative work) like to do, so I’ve always offered services along those lines. That said, my services have changed over the past 4 years (because I’VE changed!). That’s what’s great about having your own business – you control the path. I wouldn’t ever suggest offering services you don’t like to do (who wants to work a job they hate?) or don’t know how to do (I wouldn’t want to waste a client’s time), though.

  5. I’m interested in a virtual assistant position. Thanks, Shannon

  6. I’ve often wondered about this and would be interested in learning more.

  7. Sounds like a good book with an unfortunate title. I’m going to go out on a limb to guess that you probably got a decent education and a safe place to live as a child and a college education paid for in part by someone else (like grants from the federal government or loans at a low interest rate or maybe help from your parents), so you’re not really pulling yourself up from your proverbial bootstraps. The reason I “pick” at something so small is that the “bootstrap” idea is so prevalent in our society, and yet virtually no successful businessperson started without some advantage he or she was given. It really discourages people who feel they have no advantages, but everyone in this country should feel empowered to start something even if they feel they have nothing.

    • Hi Lydia – I’m sorry the title rubs you the wrong way. I understand your point-of-view. I’ve never claimed to be an island (in my life or in my business – I strive to give praise and thanks where due, something I very much do in the eBook as well), but I certainly wouldn’t say my life or my business has been handed to me either. I’d welcome the opportunity to share more about my life and my business journey (and get to know you!). Feel free to send me an email if that’s up your alley – lisa -at- 🙂

      But the title is meant to convey simply this – you can do it (with a go-getter attitude and determination), here’s how (resources and a roadmap to do it yourself vs. hiring a huge team of people at startup), and let’s circle around each other and encourage each other along the way (the Facebook group).

      Thanks for chiming in. I recognize you can’t speak to everyone (no product can, or should, be everything to everyone!), but I appreciate the response regardless. 🙂

      • Hi Lisa,
        Just wanted to acknowledge how thoughtfully and kindly you replied to this negative comment. While I can’t relate to Lydia’s complaint, I understand how I feel when a blogger or online columnist says something or uses language that riles me. I try to comment constructively but I’m sure that the recipient often finds criticism difficult to swallow. It can be hard to be gracious and not take comments too personally. Well done.

    • Also, this is so right on: “…but everyone in this country should feel empowered to start something even if they feel they have nothing.”

      We’re on different sides of a word, but our feelings are 100% the same here – this is why I wrote the eBook (born out of emails from folks in exactly those circumstances!) and it’s a huge part of this project. Just wanted to share that I nodded and gave a silent “Amen!” when I read that. 🙂

  8. You know I am going to post this to my son’s Pepperdine class. It is such a let down to be so good at your business classes and graduate into a market with nearly zero jobs.


  9. Thank you for this post! This has definitely peaked my interest. I am stay at home mom but recently have been wondering how I can contribute financially to our family without having to go to a out of home job. I left an accounting clerk position to stay home with our kids and my husband pick up a second job to make it work financially, but as I watch him work so hard I wish I could do more to help out in that way. This is something that I could use my Business and Office Administration Diplomas for and still be able to stay at home with our kids. I guess I just have to figure out where to start and how to go about doing this where I live. Thanks so much for this post. I love reading all your posts and have been following your blog for a few months now. Thanks!!

    • Hi Brada! I’m sure you have *tons* of skills you could use as a VA! You’re right – it’s just about getting started and set up. Wishing you the very best on your journey. 🙂

  10. Hi,
    Thanks for sharing these great tips! I am sure many start ups who are planning to start online business will get useful information from your post. I personally want to start online business so that i can support my family financially, your tips will indeed be very helpful

  11. Amanda H. says:

    Great info. I am currently attending school for Administrative Professional. After being a stay at home mom for 6 years I am struggling with the idea of working full time outside of the home after I graduate. This may be a wonderful solution. Any suggestions on how to get my name out there when I’m ready? Thanks!

    • Start with the people you already know – friends, family, former classmates, acquaintances, etc. Start with the people that are already in your social circles. You’d be surprised what opportunities will present themselves just by tapping the people you already know (and friends of friends, etc).

      The next phase is to focus on being wherever your ideal clients are – the groups they’re in, the forums they frequent, the social media sites they’re on, etc. When you’re starting out, you need to go and grab those first clients – setting up a website and waiting for them to come to you just won’t work.

      Good luck! 🙂

  12. Detra Haight says:

    In fact your creative writing abilities has inspired me to start my own BlogEngine blog now.

  13. Thank you for this! I am actually looking to hire an assistant (or two) and I appreciate the resources you’ve given. I am indebted.

  14. Aishwarya Vohra says:

    I recently started working as a VA and just like you I enjoy working with bloggers. I love all things Internet marketing and but it is such a vast topic, its hard to know be an expert at everything. I haven’t had too many big clients yet but I’m hoping my luck would change soon:P

  15. Hi Lisa!
    Thanks for this wonderful article. I’ve been planning to leave my current eight to fiver work and working online is really really interesting. I have high hopes that I would fit into this industry. I have all the necessary tools in becoming a VA or a freelancer, the problem is I don’t know how to start. Somehow your post has enlightened me on what to do.

  16. Anne Marie says:

    Thank you, Lisa,

    I have been looking into starting a VA business for quite sometime and couldn’t bring myself to pay $5000 in tuition fees to a college, to relearn what I already know from twenty five years of experience! Please, dont get me wrong, I totally believe in education, but where are the koodos for living and learning the old fashioned way? I loved your article because you were straight forward, to the point and provided good references to follow. I so appreciate the knowledge you have shared here. Thank you. I hope to emulate you in the near future! All the best.

  17. This was a great post, as a Virtual Assistant, I am so much impressed with your knowledge regarding with this. I had fun reading this and I learned a lot. By the way, thank you for sharing this. This will help others especially for the person who don’t have a job. Well done!

  18. Hi Lisa! It’s amazing how similar our stories are. I also started my career as a VA working for a well-know blogger here in the Philippines. I was looking for work-from-home jobs and stumbled upon her post. It was a pivotal moment — if I haven’t been browsing then I would probably be working in a call center now.

    To add to your discussion, I would also recommend subscribing/reading blogs by VAs about the industry. Those really helped me form an “entrepreneurial mindset” towards my new career.

  19. I decided that I would try to become a part time virtual assistant, and see where it leads me. I’m very organized, detail oriented, and a hard worker, so I think I would be an ideal VA. What are your thoughts on temp agencies that hire VA’s? I registered with one, but it seems that they don’t really want me to succeed, and it’s more for established VAs rather than people trying to break into the business. What is your opinion?

    • I have zero experience working with temp agencies as a VA. But my initial thought is this – it’s not the route you go if you want to start a business. It’s the route you go if you want to continue to be an employee (they’re totally different mindsets). There’s nothing wrong with having an employee mindset. They’re just two different roads to take, and they’ll lead you to make very different decisions. 🙂

  20. I’m investigating the thought of beginning my own particular VA business in Maine and am attempting to research the flow market demand/outlook for my business arrangement. I wish I could discover an article comparative to this however composed all the more as of late. Anybody have inferences of where I could find redesigned facts on the VA business sector?

  21. Mrs. Patrick says:

    Hi Lisa Morosky 🙂 If its okay with you, May I have your email address please? I have a few questions. Thank you so much, in advance.

  22. Hi Lisa,

    Am so glad I came across your website! I have been looking for someone to talk to about starting a VA business. I registered on oDesk and Elance as a freelancer but I am still not getting any job offers. Like you, I love writing even though I do not have any particular training in writing and recruitment. I worked as an executive assistant and office manager for years and I know there are transferable skills. I interview with clients but their greatest challenge is always my not having experience in the field. I know being a newbie is a big challenge. After reading your article, I feel empowered not to give up. Right now am trying to create a website and I want to do it myself to add a personal feeling to it.

    • Keep at it, Mary! Your perseverance (and willingness to learn new things, like creating your own website!) says a lot to me about how successful you’ll be. I think a year from now will look very different for you. Blessings!

    • Hi Mary,

      I noticed your post and was wondering how things are going for you. I am also a newbie that registered with oDesk and Elance and have yet to get any offers.

  23. Trade Virtual Services has always been within my approaching, and I simply hand them my tasks and instructions, and they are taken care of. I have used VA services and they delivered quality results. I highly recommend Them

  24. Thanks for great head start tips! I’m sure new virtual assistants will have a smooth start because of these. Thanks!

  25. This is a great article and you provide tones of great tips for something looking to start up their own VA service! There are tons of VA like me out there looking for work and will not let you down. If you are looking for work or maybe you are looking for a VA yoursefl consider looking on twitter!

    Laura Rike

  26. Virtual Assistant can really helps us. I also using virtual assistant on some of my projects. I also do outsourcing in Philippines. If you want to try hiring or looking a virtual assistant. You can check Thank you for sharing this!

  27. Jamela C says:

    Hi Lisa!
    I am new at this but I have been an administrative assistant most of my life. One thing I have to ask how do you create a business plan about yourself. I consider myself to be quite an intelligent person but I’ve never thought about marketing myself. Can you give me some pointers on how can start this business plan??

  28. Tony Nair says:

    I am interested to start my profile as a Virtual Assistant. Have 12 Excellent years in Technical customer service. Kindly let me know if I can be hired for rendering my services.

  29. Thank you for this! And how awesome that 4 years later this post is still offering excellent help and support. I’ve been an admin in the legal field since 2005 and lately the seed of being a VA has been starting to sprout. I’m in the R&D phase but after reading this post, and some written by others, I’m feeling very encouraged to keep researching and making this a viable business for myself.

  30. Peter Crispin says:

    Hi,I’m a newbie been in administration for 16 out of 32 years .My expertise is route planning, at the moment I’m semi retired age 60 yrs with experience in administration management. Is there anyone who could advise me how to get started. I’m awaiting a knee operation but it won’t interfere with working. I live in the UK any advice welcome

  31. “Great advice, Lisa. Thank you for giving ideas on what people should focus to before they start to work as a virtual assistant. I recommend that they should also enhance the skills I enumerated below to ensure an excellent performance towards work. After all, we all want to impress our employers! This can be done by getting yourself some crash course, watch Youtube videos, explore Google and go to forums. The primary skills required for a newbie are:

    1. Communication Skills
    2. Typing
    3. Writing
    4. Computer Knowledge (Word doc, Excel Spreadsheet, PowerPoint Presentation, etc..)

    You may also check this link below to train yourself

  32. Goodeffort keep it up.

  33. It’s very helpful thank you for the information.

  34. Thank you for sharing this. This is such a great help for me.

  35. wow, greatly written.

  36. I am a Graduated student .I have a job but my earning from the job is not enough to live a charming life.So I have decided to start working as a Virtual Assistant for part time.As I was going to the internet to collect the info about Virtual Assistant, this blog helped me the most.Thanks a lot for sharing your experience with us.

  37. Hi.
    I was just hired off as an artists’Assistant. I am working on a business name, starting paypal acct. What would be a good free crm and free website maker?

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