So…What Exactly Is a Virtual Assistant?

posted by Andrea | 08/28/2014
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snuggles with Nora at my desk

This is a post I’ve been meaning to write for almost 2 years — and to be perfectly honest, I could have saved myself countless emails and comment responses if I HAD written this post 2 years ago 🙂

Better late than never though… right?

Oh, and before I get too far into this post, I want to mention the reasons I chose the photos above for this post…

1. I’m working at my desk — which is where I do almost all my VA work.

2. I LOVE that even though I’m working, my lap is the first place Nora visits when she wakes up (yes, she always eats cheese first thing in the morning.)

3. I have a new shirt!

4. Proof that Nora get’s her crazy morning hair from her mom 🙂

Anyway… back to the post.

Every time I write a blog post about my Virtual Assistant (VA) work, or even casually mention what I do, the emails and questions start coming in:

What is a Virtual Assistant?

What does a VA do?

How did you get started working as a VA?

Who do you work for and what do you do?

How did you find your VA jobs?

What skills to you need to work as a VA?

How much can you make/charge as a VA?

How do you work the VA jobs around everything else you do?

Any other tips or resources for those interested in VA work?

I completely understand all the questions (and they don’t bother me at all). After all, I had never even heard of a “Virtual Assistant” before I started working as one almost 4 years ago.

I’m definitely not an expert VA by any means, and I often can not answer all the reader questions that come my way. However, I CAN share my own personal experiences with you… and that’s what I’m doing today!

virtual assistant

What is a Virtual Assistant?

Well, it’s basically just like it sounds — an assistant who works virtually (or remotely from their home via the computer and/or phone).

So just think of it like any administrative assistant or secretarial position — except I don’t work in an office, I don’t have set office hours, and I usually have never met my “boss” (honestly, I’ve only met ONE of my bosses in real life).

Here’s the Wikipedia definition: A virtual assistant is generally self-employed and provides professional administrative, technical, or creative (social) assistance to clients remotely from a home office.

What does a VA do?

Well, that totally depends on what type of VA job you’re hired for. In my experience working as a VA and with online friends who are (or have hired) VA’s, the job possibilities are pretty much endless.

Everything from editing, proofreading, and writing, to email management, social media promotion, marketing, data entry, and more. I’ve even been hired to print, fold, stamp, and address envelopes!

How did you get started working as a VA?

This is a crazy story — partially because I had no idea what a VA was until I got my first VA job, but also because it was such a busy time in my life and I definitely was not looking for another job (of course, that’s always when good opportunities seem to pop up!)

I can still vividly remember what I was doing when Mandi from Life Your Way emailed me and asked if I would consider working 10 hours per week as her “virtual assistant”.

It was November of 2010. I had just started my blog a few months earlier, we had just sold our first house, we were in the process of packing and moving to our farmhouse, and Dave and I had JUST started talking about how we might be open to the idea of having kids sometime within the next 2 years.

At the time, I was still working part-time at my “day job”, I was still organizing for many different clients each week, and I was tirelessly working to get my blog up and running.

I didn’t have a lot of room in my schedule for something new; however, when Mandi contacted me, I just couldn’t resist. I had admired her blog for over a year already and was eager for the opportunity to learn from her — and boy did I learn a lot! It was a fabulous experience for me, and although I don’t work for her anymore, it opened the door to a variety of new VA jobs down the road.

Who do you work for and what do you do?

Right now, I’m working for 4 different companies on a regular weekly and monthly basis.

Deal Seeking Mom: I’ve work for Tara for several years now and I’ve done a variety of tasks over those years. However, right now, I manage and oversee her coupon database to make sure everything is working properly for her clients, trouble-shoot any issues that might arise, and help new clients with the activation and installation of their coupon databases. I obviously didn’t know anything about this when I first started, but I was already working for her site and this position became available so I decided to transition into this role.  It’s been a pretty big learning curve for me, but I’ve enjoyed it a lot.

Money Saving Mom: Ironically, about a year after I started working for Tara, Crystal from MoneySavingMom.com contacted me as she needed some help with massive amounts of guest post submissions she receives on a daily and weekly basis. I jumped at the opportunity to be part of the MoneySavingMom.com team, and I’ve really enjoyed my VA duties here. I format, edit, and create graphics for most of the guest post on her blog. I also help her with some social media promotion and various other odds and ends when she’s busy doing other things only she can do.

Clean Mama: I’ve done some smaller projects for Becky from CleanMama.net, over the years — however, just before Simon was born, she contacted me to see if I’d be interested in a more long-term VA role. I was a tiny bit apprehensive just because of the upcoming baby, but she assured me it wouldn’t be a huge deal if I had to take off for a few weeks… so I accepted her offer 🙂 I help Becky with all sorts of Facebook stuff and have had fun helping her grow her Facebook page by thousands and thousands of fans over the past few months.

Reformed Church in America: This is a local non-profit organization that I’ve worked for since college. I had an internship there, then I worked full time after Dave and I got married. I switched to part time after I started my business, and now I just do some simple VA stuff from home. I have a few regular monthly duties I help them with, but it’s mainly on an “as-needed” basis as obligations arise throughout the month.

I also do some shorter projects for random companies and blogs, but usually just a couple hours here and there — no regular weekly hours.

How did you find your VA jobs?

Honestly, most of them have just found me by way of a blogging friend, someone I know, a personal connection, etc. You know the saying: “it’s WHO you know, not WHAT you know.” Yeah, that’s how this job has worked for me 🙂

As you probably read earlier in this post, Mandi from Life Your Way reached out to me for VA help. Well, at the time, Mandi was working for Tara at Deal Seeking Mom, and when another position with Deal Seeking Mom became available, she told Tara about me. So Tara hired me way back in 2011 — and my work with her has continued to grow and morph over the years as she has offered more responsibility to me (if I’m willing to take it).

Crystal also contacted me totally out of the blue. Her job proposal was right up my alley and I knew I would love working for her (I was right!)

I’m not exactly sure how Becky heard of me — probably because we write about similar topics so we’re in the same “blogging circle”. She is awesome and I love working for her too!

The VA work at the non-profit is simply because I’ve been working for them since college — and they are a great company so I don’t mind keeping my foot in the door right now!

As for all the other VA work I’ve done over the years, much of is from other bloggers who either know me from my local blogging groups, from online blog interaction, or simply because they follow one of the other blogs I do VA work for.

I have never actually gone out and searched for a VA job — which unfortunately makes it really difficult for me to help others who are looking to break into the VA world. I’d love to offer a whole bunch of amazing tips and resources, but I just don’t have many.

What skills to you need to work as a VA?

Well, this obviously depends on the type of VA work you do — but for me, I definitely need to know my way around a computer and have very reliable internet access.

I need to know what I’m doing “on the back end” of blogs, I need to understand how social media works, I need to check my email on a very regular basis (and be able to respond relatively quickly).

I need to be VERY detail oriented, punctual, efficient (they pay me by the hour), and professional since I’m often dealing with their clients, customers, and readers.

Since my “bosses” are essentially out of the picture, I need to be very self-motivated, set self-imposed deadlines, and be able to break larger projects down into bite-size pieces without getting overwhelmed. I also need to be able to juggle a bunch of different tasks at the same time.

NOTE: if any of this sounds overwhelming, just remember, I starting doing this before I had kids and each job came to me at a different time. So I didn’t just dive in head first to ALL of these commitments. They were added little by little, and thankfully, I’ve been able to adapt over time.

How much can you make/charge as a VA?

Again, this is going to depend on the type of work you’re doing, how much experience you have, how big the company you’re working for is. etc.

Also, the more difficult or specialized work you do, the more you’ll make. I know of a few friends who have very time-sensitive VA work that requires them to literally drop everything to finish it on time. They get paid really well — but that type of work would not work well with 2 small kids!

When I started out, I was paid $15 per hour — which was totally worth my time for the types of tasks I was doing.

However, as more and more jobs started to pile up and as more and more people requested my services, I increased my rates (like any good business person!)

I now charge right around $25 per hour for VA work — sometimes a little more if it’s a “rush job” or if it’s more technical.

Another thing I wanted to mention is that sometimes you can get a few added bonuses along with your pay if you’re working for a larger company or blog. For example, some of the blogs I work for offer to put my ad button in their sidebar — this is great for driving traffic to my blog, which ultimately creates additional income for me.

How do you work the VA jobs around everything else you do?

Since publishing this post this (about 2 hours ago) I’ve already gotten 4 emails and a comment asking this question — so I figured I should quickly update the post to reflect this very common question.

First of all, read this post from last week to get a better idea of what I’m all doing right now.

Since we currently don’t have any outside childcare, my prime working hours are when Dave is home and/or when kids are sleeping.

I usually get an hour of work in before they wake up in the morning, and another hour in while Simon is sleeping and I let Nora watch a couple shows on Netflix. When Dave gets home (usually around 3:30) I often spend 30 minutes or so responding to emails and tying up any lose ends. Then we have ‘family time’ from about 4-7pm. We play, go for a walk, eat dinner, get kids ready for bed, read books, etc.

Right now, I put Simon to bed and Dave puts Nora to bed (I got off easy!) Simon goes to bed around 7:00 (sometimes earlier) so I can easily get a good 3-4 hours of work in once he’s sleeping.

Also, I usually do work on Saturday at some point — there are always windows of time to fit an hour or so in.

I think the key for me is know EXACTLY what I need to do and how long those tasks will take me. This way, if I have 30 minutes free, I can work on a quick project. If I have 3 hours free, I can work on a longer project.

Make sense?

Any other tips or resources for those interested in VA work?

One resource I wanted to share is The Bootstrap VA ebook. It has TONS of information for anyone interested in becoming a VA.

Also, if you’re interested in becoming a VA but don’t have any blogging experience, I would suggest starting up a free WordPress blog. Almost every single VA job I’ve gotten has been because I know my way around a WordPress blog — so that might be a good skill to have.

Finally, look for any business/blogging groups in your area (or on Facebook). That has been a great way for me to network and I’ve gotten a few VA clients that way.

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Whew… that’s everything I can think of right now!

Do you have more questions? Ask them in the comments or shoot me an email and I’ll do my best to answer them ASAP!

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29 comments

  1. Chris

    09/21/2017

    What would be some of the most basic beginner’s things to learn, in order to be a virtual assistant? I am good at proof reading and a fast and accurate typist. I have done “real life” assistance/secretary in real life but I am not up to date on computer things. I do not know how to use Excel, etc.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Chris, I’d (unfortunately) say that one of the most basic beginner things to know before becoming a virtual assistant is to be VERY savvy with the computer, the internet, website/blogs, etc. That’s what you’d be doing for your entire job, so being “up to date” and quite proficient with computers and technology would be a big MUST.

    [Reply]

    Chris Reply:

    Thank you. I guess I didn’t word my question properly. I know that I must learn all those things. I just don’t know what specific things to learn first. I am almost 50 so the computer things I learned in high school and college are outdated. In fact, we learned programming back then, believe it or not. If I take some classes at college or online, I don’t even know where to start. Thank you so much for your help.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Chris, I really don’t do anything with helping people become a VA — so I honestly don’t have any great tips or resources to share. That said, Crystal Paine from MoneySavingMom.com has lots of resources.
    She hosted a free webinar today (all on how to become a VA) and it looks like you might still be able to sign up to get the information emailed to you. You can check it out here.

    [Reply]

    Chris Reply:

    Thank you so much!

    [Reply]

  2. Vicki

    06/01/2017

    Hi Andrea,

    I have just stumbled upon your blog! And I must say I am thankful that our paths have crossed!! I found this blog entry to be especially timely in my life right now. I really would like to talk to you more in depth about becoming a VA. I have often thought of becoming a VA, maybe even write a blog, but just don’t know where to start! Can you give me some insight on this?! I would so greatly appreciate your input on knowing where to begin!! I really would like to have a step-by-step guide to help me get started!! 🙂

    Thank you!!
    Vicki

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Hi Vicki,
    Thanks for your kind words. I’d be happy to set up a coaching call or two with you. You can find more information about that process here, and contact me with any questions.
    Thanks again!

    [Reply]

  3. serra

    03/30/2016

    I am looking to hire a virtual assistant. Do you have any recommendations of reputable companies?

    [Reply]

  4. Tabby

    07/15/2015

    Have a good skill set. This was what I learned from years and years of being a virtual assistant. The more skills you have, the more jobs you can pull off. especially the technical ones.

    [Reply]

  5. Jenny

    03/20/2015

    Hi Andrea. I would like to start off by saying I hope the day finds you well. I have been reading your blog post and have to say I am truly inspired to learn more. I’m not looking for a “get rich quick” solution…I am looking for a lifestyle change that will afford me more time to do what I love best of all (being a mom and a wife)…while still making a good living…eventually one that can sustain us and give us all the extra comforts in life…trips…life experiences etc. I’m going to put this simply…and maybe a little bluntly lol I would like you to walk me through the process step by step so that I might have my best chance at being successful…does that sound like something that might interest you? Please take a moment to answer me either way… 🙂

    Sincerely,
    JennyG

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Hi Jenny,
    Yes, if you’d like to talk with me in detail about everything I do, how I got started, etc. etc. we can schedule a coaching call (or more than one) whenever you’re ready. You can find more information about my coaching services here — or just email me directly.
    Thanks!

    [Reply]

  6. Jen

    09/12/2014

    Thanks for providing this great resource. Would you be willing to share what local blogging groups / facebook groups you belong to?

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Hi Jen, I’m just a member of a “West MI Bloggers Group” that meets regularly in person and hangs out on Facebook together. It’s not a secret — but it wouldn’t be extremely helpful to you unless you live exactly in my area. 🙂

    [Reply]

  7. Mrs.M in MI

    09/08/2014

    It’s funny – as I’m reading your description I’m realizing that this is mostly what I do for my second job – but it’s all administrative and communications work for my church and we call it the “church administrator”!

    [Reply]

  8. Miranda

    09/01/2014

    Interesting stuff! I’m wondering – what do you think about offering 5-10 hours of work for free to see if it’s a good match? I have never done VA work before, so I’m wondering whether that might be a good way to get my foot in the door, risk free for the client. Thanks!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Yes, this could be a great idea. It would probably take more than 5-10 hours of work to make sure you really liked the position and to make sure it was all a good fit — but this would be a fabulous way to get your foot in the door.

    [Reply]

  9. Chris

    08/29/2014

    Would I be able to discuss something with you via email? Thank you

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Sure that’s fine Chris 🙂

    [Reply]

  10. Amanda

    08/28/2014

    While I’m not a VA – I work PT from home for a small local business. I can do all part off my job as long as I have my cell phone and an internet connection! I manage a few of our clients and help with some employee related things, plus I run regular reports, and some other odds and ends. The great thing is, I work during naptime (Andrea – I know you don’t get that luxury, but thankfully, my little guy is still napping!) and then I do whatever is left after my toddler is in bed for the night. It is perfect for our family right now! I get all the benefits of being a SAHM with the benefits of being able to work (How awesome is this – the amount this job pays is about what I would’ve made if I had gone back to my FT job and was paying for daycare. Seriously, God is good!)

    I’m due to have another baby in Dec. My boss praised my ability to hit our slowest season (luck, lol), so I’ll be taking several weeks off to recover and get used to managing 2, but the great thing is that even if something urgent comes up, I can still help out, as it doesn’t require me to leave my house, and no one will care if I have a newborn in my arms while doing it 🙂

    [Reply]

  11. Emily

    08/28/2014

    This is a wonderful resource – thank you! It’s perfect timing as I’ve recently been looking for VA positions as a recent college grad. Andrea, do you know of any reliable sites for VA job listings? I’ve seen a fair amount of listings, but aren’t sure about the liability of each site within the industry.

    [Reply]

  12. Dena

    08/28/2014

    Love the cute new shirt 🙂

    [Reply]

  13. Shambray

    08/28/2014

    Thanks for answering all these questions! VA work is so foreign to me. I think you are absolutely amazing with everything you have on your plate.

    [Reply]

  14. (Honestly) Kate

    08/28/2014

    Yay, thanks for posting this! I’m looking into becoming a VA – my “real” job has a crazy schedule which makes it hard to take on another “normal” job. Any information I can get is invaluable!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    HI Kate. I love my job as a VA, so I’d obviously highly recommend it. However, as I mentioned in the post, I honestly have no great tips or advice for how to find VA jobs. I’d suggest taking a look at the eBook I recommended at the end of the post — that has tons of information in it.

    [Reply]

  15. lydia @ five4fivemeals

    08/28/2014

    This is great, Andrea! I have been working as a VA for three years… I prefer to call myself a marketing assistant, because that’s the type of work I do. But I get to do it all at home, I work around my kids, not wrapping my kids around work and for the most part it all works out great!

    I would love to read a post about how you schedule your work time around other things.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Hi Lydia,
    I just got a few emails asking the same question — so I have officially updated the post to reflect my answer to your question. It’s towards the bottom 🙂

    [Reply]

    lydia @ five4fivemeals Reply:

    Thanks for adding that! I know you’re busy. I’ve learned that getting up before my kids (now that I can) is invaluable to getting work done.

    [Reply]

  16. Jen T

    08/28/2014

    I have the best of both worlds on my end…my assistant is here two days/week and works remotely the other three. I needed someone at my house part time b/c of the nature of my business (direct sales party plan) but did NOT want someone here all the time. She loves it b/c she gets to stay home with her daughter but still gets out a couple days a week 🙂

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    wow — sounds like that’s working out well for you and your assistant! I had to laugh because that arrangement would be so stressful for me. But obviously, the type of work you do is MUCH different than what I do — so it’s a good thing there are all different types of VA’s out there 🙂

    [Reply]