How to Start a Virtual Assistant Business
Moving right on from Personal Assistants, Executive Assistants, and navigating office politics, we’ve firmly arrived in the golden age of VAs – Virtual Assistants.
Virtual assistants are typically independent remote workers who will assist with business development, project management, administrative tasks, and customer service to social media management or HR processes.
If you are an organized person, have a background in administration or office management but prefer to set your schedule, place of work, and the variety of projects and clients, becoming a freelancing virtual assistant might be a fantastic career move for you. Please read on.
Virtual Assistants usually help businesses with either specialized knowledge such as marketing and communication or payroll. They might also assist a business to stay organized or deal with seasonal increased volumes of work. Especially for small businesses, a VA makes administrative help accessible and affordable.
A VA typically works from home and might even work in a different time zone altogether; the location becomes a secondary factor.
While there are no specific figures available in the US, VAs are part of the Administrative and Support Services industry. And that is a substantial market with over 2.6 million registered businesses and a workforce of well over 15 million, according to IBISWorld.
Covid saw the transformation of how people did business, and many people decided to strike out on their own and did consulting work and launching online businesses. Because of this trend, the need for VAs increased dramatically.
Virtual platforms such as Fiverr and Upwork have become the prime marketplace for recruiting virtual assistants. In addition, the advances in technology and a rise in online communication platforms have helped make remote, virtual VA work as well as teamwork and discussions accessible.
It’s worthwhile to research the office admin and temping industry in the US because the work of a VA is often more temporary. This is especially true if you plan to go a step further from freelancing and decide to start up a VA agency.
The biggest difference here is that a VA agency supplies businesses with workers. Although these workers will be supervised within that business, they remain employees of the agency. In the temping agency space, Kelly Services, Adecco Group, and Manpower Group are some of the larger players in the US. However, according to IBISWorld, no agency has a market share of greater than 5%.
Virtual assistants are the ultimate entrepreneurs in an industry that is rapidly expanding. It’s not just the incentive of making more money than an employee. It’s the freedom and flexibility this kind of virtual work allows. For many, running your own virtual assistant business started as a side-hustle and has turned into a full-blown career.
It is crucial to understand this market, especially the global aspect. It’s also essential to look at supply and demand and find your niche in the professional and expert services you can offer. Add to that excellent customer services skills, the ability to anticipate your customers’ needs, and the curiosity to learn new things, then operating your own virtual assistant business is definitely something you should consider.
Remote work has undergone a massive growth spurt in the last two years, and everything points towards continued growth. As a result, attitudes and perceptions towards working from home have changed. Employing virtual assistants is becoming increasingly popular in corporate strategies across the US due to the flexibility this offers employers. It allows them to hire specific expertise or extra staff to cope with an increased workload that may not require a full-time employee. For small businesses or companies in remote areas, a virtual assistant is increasingly used for part-time assistance to keep the back office running smoothly. According to a recent Gallup report, remote work rates exceed 80% in some white-collar occupations, and a respectable 37% of clerical office workers in the US work from home full time.
This means there is a real opportunity here to be a self-employed virtual assistant or explore the possibilities to open up your virtual assistant agency.
Your target market will be any business, institution, organization, or agency that needs professional administrative assistance.
What expertise you can offer depends on your background. Find your niche. Consider specializing in accounting, payroll, data entry, graphic design, email management, SEO, or marketing. According to the Association of Virtual Assistants (AVA), 35% of the industry works as general VAs and almost 30% as Executive VAs. Technology and marketing-related VA tasks make up the remainder of the workforce.
Some virtual assistant tasks, such as responding to inquiries or working on a team project, may mean you need to be available during office hours and have local knowledge. Going for VA jobs in your area might be an advantage. Remember, as a virtual assistant, you will likely compete with the rest of the world for jobs. In the global market, you will also be competing with different pay scales.
Checklist for Starting a Virtual Assistant Business
Starting a virtual assistant business can be an incredibly rewarding experience, but it’s important to make sure you’re prepared for the challenges ahead. Use this checklist to help get your business off on the right foot.
Step 1: Write your Business Plan
You’ve decided to be your boss. After coming up with the idea, the next step should be to write a business plan. You might think a plan is not that important because starting a VA business doesn’t require a large sum of capital upfront. But the business plan will make you focus on some critical aspects of your business, such as who your customers are, how you plan to reach them, projecting income and expenses, and much more. In this industry, it is essential to understand your competition and find your point of difference. Multiple studies have shown that a business plan helps increase the odds of starting a successful business and sustain it longer-term.
Related: How to write a business plan
Step 2: Name the Business
Finding the perfect name for your virtual assistant business can be challenging. Not only does the name have to resonate with your customers, but it also has to be available to use.
Step 3:Form a Business Structure
A business entity refers to how a business is legally organized to operate. There are four primary business entities to choose from, which include the sole proprietorship, partnership, corporation, and Limited Liability Company (LLC). Each type of entity has its own pros and cons, such as liability exposure, costs, and administrative requirements.
When deciding on which business entity is best for a virtual assistant business, it normally comes down to the sole proprietorship and Limited Liability Company.
A partnership opens the owners up to unnecessary personal liability because if a partner does something to get the business sued, or runs off with cash from the business, the other partners are personally liable to repay. The corporation can be a good choice because it separates the business assets from the owner’s assets. If the corporation is sued or certain business debts can’t be paid back, the owners aren’t personally responsible to repay them. The downside to the corporation is that it is more complicated than all the other entities and requires more administration than the LLC. If you plan on raising a lot of investment though, the corporation is usually the better choice.
That leaves the sole proprietorship and LLC.
The sole proprietorship is the least expensive and easiest entity to start which is appealing. The downside is the owner is personally liable should anything happen to the business, which is an important consideration. The LLC offers the ability to operate as a sole proprietorship with the liability protection of a corporation. Depending on the state, the cost to form an LLC runs from $40 – $500, which is pretty inexpensive for protecting the owners from business-related lawsuits and certain debts.
Related: 3 steps to forming your LLC
Forming an LLC sounds complicated and expensive, but using an entity formation service guides you through the process so you know it was done right.
Some popular LLC formation services include:
IncFile - $0 plus state fees & free registered agent for 1 year!
IncAuthority - $0 plus state fees & free registered agent the first year!
ZenBusiness - $49 plus state fees & free registered agent for 1 year!
Step 4: Select your Location
Most VA businesses are owner-operated and run from home. The great advantage here is that your VA service will, in most cases, be able to ‘travel’ with you, should you decide to move states or countries.
Make sure you understand the regulations – if any – for running your business from home; it might differ from state to state.
If you want to start a VA agency, rental costs may come into play, although virtual assistants typically work remotely and in distributed teams. Costs will depend on the office’s square footage, location, and amenities. The closer your space is to a commercial business area, the higher the costs will likely be.
Related: Choosing a business location
Step 5:Apply for Business Licenses and Permits
Small business owners will need to obtain certain business licenses and permits. These permits and licenses can vary based on the state and town where the business is located. Some common local, state, and federal registrations a web design business may need include a sales tax permit and Employer Identification Number.
Step 6: Find Financing
Coming up with a good business idea and having the skills to run it are one thing. Getting the funding to start your own business is another. Luckily, a virtual assistant business should typically not require a large amount of capital upfront and start small scale. However, should you need a loan, it is important to understand that the borrower(s) will need to have good credit and be able to invest 15-25% of their money towards the total start-up costs.
Step 7: Open a Business Bank Account
Keeping your business and personal finances in separate bank accounts is vital and makes good business sense. It will also make it easier to track the income and expenses of your business.
Step 8: Get your Marketing Plan in Place
While the various job platforms are a low-cost way to market yourself, those platforms take a percentage of the work a VA performs. This is fine starting out, but a VA should build their personal brand and set themselves apart from everyone competing for the same work on the platform.
Some ways to do this include developing a website, being active on social media platforms like LinkedIn, on Facebook groups, and if you are doing creative work, posting on Instagram and Pinterest.
In addition, look out for expos and events in your area to advertise your business and extend your reach to new customers. Marketing costs will depend on the activity performed and its volume.
Step 9: Get Business Insurance
Compared to other businesses, a web design business will not need an extensive range of insurances. But you should explore:
– General liability insurance protects the business from expenses like medical and legal bills that it could face if a customer is ever hurt while on the business’ property. It will also protect you from liability for accidentally causing damage to their property or you getting hurt.
– Professional liability insurance helps cover any damages owed if your professional VA services or advice result in a financial loss for your clients.
– Worker’s compensation insurance, if you have employees, covers expenses like medical bills and legal fees that a business might face if an employee were ever hurt while working.
Insurance policies will vary in cost depending on factors like the business’s location, the value of its inventory (if any), and the number of employees on staff (if any). To get the most accurate idea of what to budget for insurance, request quotes from multiple providers. When comparing the quotes, consider not only the premiums but also how the plan exclusions, coverage limitations, and deductibles compare.
Step 10: Hire Employees
Most virtual assistant businesses are owner-operated. But should you want to hire staff to expand the range of administration services you offer and set up a VA agency, understand that salaries can vary greatly depending on qualification and the country in which the employee is located. According to an AVA report, almost 60 % of salaries based on data from North America, Europe, and Australia lie within the range of $26-50 an hour.
In addition to salary costs, your budget will also need to include other employee-related expenses. For example, workman’s comp insurance, unemployment insurance, and paid time off are common expenses that a business will need to cover when hiring staff. It will also be useful to set aside both time and budget for training and development.
Related: Hiring your first employee
Step 11: Set up an Accounting System
Setting up an accounting system for a virtual assistant service is critical to its long-term success. A good system will allow you to stay on top of your billing and will track income and expenses. It will help you maximize profits, identify trends, and keep the business out of trouble with the government.
The thought of accounting can be intimidating for a lot of new entrepreneurs. There are a number of ways of handling bookkeeping, from DIY to hiring a bookkeeper. These include:
- Pen and paper - Low expense, but difficult to track.
- Spreadsheet - Low expense, but easy to make errors.
- Accounting software - Medium expense, but owner typically inputs expenses. Some great accounting software programs include Freshbooks or Wave Accounting.
- Hire a bookkeeper - Higher expense, though very affordable at $100-$200 per month in most cases. A dedicated bookkeeper will probably save money because, in addition to handling all of the bookkeeping (so you can focus on the business), they also provide personalized tax advice and ensure the business is in compliance.
Find bookkeepers in your local area or use a service like 800Accountant.
How much does it cost to start a virtual assistant business?
Starting your own VA business has very low barriers to entry. Your main cost will be investing in time developing your VA business profile. Work hard to create a professional portfolio and engage with potential customers. An excellent way to test the waters is to put your profile on platforms such as Upwork or Fiverr and get started with smaller projects to build up experience.
Even if you’ve been an office professional for some years, make sure you include an amount for upskilling and additional certification in your budget. According to an AVA survey, 75 % of respondents spend up to $1500 on professional development annually.
And lastly, invest in working with relevant computer programs, professional spell check programs, and team and video conferencing tools. Finally, if you don’t already have one, set yourself up with a powerful laptop or desktop computer, potentially multiple monitors, and an excellent internet connection.
Ensure you can rely on a quiet place to work, with the potential to lock confidential business information safely. 50% of surveyed VAs indicated that they work from home in a dedicated office
How profitable is a virtual assistant business?
Considering that your original outlay and especially your ongoing business costs are relatively low, VAs can be well paid. For example, AVA reports the top-ranking virtual assistants commanding a salary of up to $100/hour.
Depending on the job or the VA, pricing can be set by charging an hourly rate or by the job. For longer engagements, projects with upfront costs, or if the VA is unsure of the client a fixed retainer rate can be applied to get the project started.
That said, with your salary, you will have to cover your overheads such as computer services, program updates, and indeed your time you invest into the business.
Are there grants to start a virtual assistant business?
It’s extremely rare to find a grant to start a virtual assistant business. If you search for business grants, you will come across a lot of scams and misinformation. Occasionally an organization will offer grants to start a business, however, be skeptical and don’t provide any sensitive personal information or pay money to get more information.
Legitimate federal grants can be found at Grants.gov and you can check on your state’s economic development office to see if they have any grants available.
What skills are needed to run a VA business?
Computer skills and competence
You don’t necessarily need a qualification to become a VA, but you will have to back up your competence. That might be through certification, a portfolio, years of experience, or positive client feedback. Seeing that VA tasks are all done using a computer, proficiency in using one is a must. This should include excellent word processing and data entry skills, literacy in using spreadsheets, the capability to use calendar and teamwork tools, and online researching skills. Advance skills may also be needed if your client seeks assistance maintaining a business website or database system.
Self-motivation and organizational skills. A positive can-do attitude and discipline are vital across all virtual assistant tasks. You must organize your time well to ensure you meet your clients’ deadlines and can juggle sometimes competing projects and requirements. Good time management also means you assign dedicated ‘office times’ during which your clients can reach you, and you are not distracted. And don’t forget to set aside time to look after your business administration, meet with potential clients, develop your marketing and keep on top of invoicing.
Stay up to date and on top of trends. Especially the technology supporting remote work and VA tasks is fast-moving and ever-evolving. Make use of professional networks and make sure you keep up with innovative new platforms and programs relating to your area of expertise. It’s also a good idea to keep an eye on trends relating to running your own VA business.
Being a virtual assistant will provide you with daily new learning opportunities. Embrace them.
Excellent communication skills: To manage your own virtual assistant business, you must write concisely and engagingly. You must be comfortable pitching to new clients and be a good listener to understand your clients’ needs. The ability to provide progress reports and communicate professionally and positively with your clients and co-workers will help ensure your business’ success.
What is the NAICS code for a virtual assistant business?
The NAICS code for a virtual assistant business is 541611, which is categorized as Administrative Management and General Management Consulting Services. Other types of businesses under this NAICS code include; business management consulting, financial management consulting, medical office management consulting, strategic planning consulting, and more.
The NAICS code (North American Industry Classification System) is a federal system to classify different types of businesses for the collection and reporting of statistical data.