I’ve been working as a Virtual Assistant or VA on and off for the past Ten years now, working remotely suits me and my family because it means I can pick my own hours, set my own rate and work from home meaning I don’t have to rely on full time childcare. There are of course downsides to this way of working, I don’t get paid for holidays, I don’t get paid for breaks, If I’m ill or my children are poorly I can’t call in sick and it can get quite lonely when you’re the only person in the company.
This post is aimed at people who are thinking about dipping their toes into the world of being a freelancer or VA but don’t know where to start. There are hundreds of posts like this on the internet and tons of websites and facebook pages offering VA training courses but this post is drawing from my own experience and what worked for me.
Before you start it’s always good to sit down and work out how much time you can dedicate to clients, do you have enough savings for those times when you may be in between clients or just starting out? When I first started my business I already had a client who wanted me to work 20 hours a week so there was never a period of time when I didn’t have an income, I know of a few VAs who have waited 6 months for their first paying client so you need to work out if you can afford to be without work for that length of time.
Do you want to work for yourself as a VA or do you want to be an associate? Running your own business can be daunting especially if you have never been self employed before, not only do you need to have a solid background in the services but you also need to have the skills needed to run your own business. The most important skill a VA needs to possess is the ability to attract and maintain clients. It’s very rare that a client will seek you out so you need to be aware that a big portion of your time will be spent marketing your services and attending networking events.
Fear not as there is a solution if marketing is not your forte, Virtual Assistant Associates work in the same way as a Virtual Assistant, you’re still self employed and responsible for your own tax, national insurance, business running costs, etc but your clients are virtual assistants themselves who pass on some or all of their work to Associates. One thing you need to remember when working as an Associate is that the clients are not yours, try to poach them and you will find yourself in court.
Anyone who works from a computer or a desk can be a Virtual Assistant, one big misconception people seem to have is that VAs only offer admin assistance. I know VAs who are designers, seamstresses, voice over artists and writers, if you can offer your services virtually you can be a VA.
Know your worth. Most VAs charge between £20-£35 per hour, Sarah Banks from Banks Business Solutions recently wrote an article about knowing your worth and why we charge what we charge for our services. One quote that stood out for me in this article is when Sarah quite rightly states “If someone is cheaper – Why? Is it because they are new and unsure what to charge or are they cutting back on things like insurance?”
Sites like People Per Hour, Freelancer, elance, Fiverr all have their place but should you really price yourself at an hourly rate like £4/5 just to get a contract? When you use a site like these you will never be able to compete with foreign workers who can charge a low rate even if they are offering substandard work, most people are not bothered about that and just want a quick turnaround.
So what are the next steps?
- Research – Look at other VA sites, decide what services you want to offer, find out which networking events are taking place in your area, work out if you can afford to go freelance.
- Work on your branding – You will need a name, logo, website, social media sites, business cards.
- Legal Stuff – Register with HMRC and register for NI contributions. are you going to be a sole trader or limited company? Do you need a business bank account? Which accounting package will you use? Who are you going to use as your insurance company?
- Niche – What is your niche area? Are you going to specialise in one particular type of work or industry?
- Rates – Are you going to charge by the hour or offer retainer rates?
Further help and information is available on the multiple VA facebook groups and websites. Like I said at the beginning everyone has a different story and will give you different information, it’s always best to do as much research as you can, take what you find useful and ignore the rest. I’m more than happy to help answer any questions where I can so please don’t hesitate to get in touch if you would like any advice.