How to Become a Virtual Assistant

Are you considering pursuing a career as a virtual assistant? Here’s everything you need to know about this increasingly popular profession!

Illustration of a woman sitting at a small round table, in front of her laptop and having a virtual meeting with a man

Virtual assistants have risen to prominence in recent years as companies take the leap towards remote and online formats.  As such, the opportunities to become self-employed or a contracted virtual assistant are steadily growing.

Virtual assistants can be indispensable support to individuals and companies. It can be an attractive job for many people because of the independent and flexible nature of the role.  At the same time, virtual assistants are valued by employers because of their agility and broad suite of skills.

Below, we will walk you through the steps of becoming a virtual assistant and provide you with key information including the job requirements, salary prospects, and what to do if you think this career is for you.

What virtual assistants do

Virtual assistants, or online assistants, support individuals or organizations with a wide variety of administrative tasks, some of which might be routine (such as handling correspondence or emails, filing documents or managing diaries), and some more technical tasks like financial processes and HR duties.

The role can vary significantly depending on who you are working for so, like any other administrative or executive assistant, virtual assistants will need to work with stakeholders to understand exactly what is expected of them. Virtual assistants are typically self-employed. 

Despite no two virtual assistants being alike in terms of their scope and job description, the following list offers a run-through of some of the main duties of this role:

  • Filing and updating of documents on file-sharing applications such as SharePoint
  • Diary and travel management
  • Handling incoming and outgoing correspondence, typically over email or chat applications
  • Typing minutes of calls and meetings
  • Managing social media accounts and writing for blogs
  • Undertaking basic accountancy, marketing, or HR tasks
  • Managing communication between people working in an organisation, or contractors/vendors
  • Supporting sales activities such as calling clients, processing invoices, and handling customer queries or complaints
  • Researching and reporting data regarding specific topics
  • Take on personal assistant tasks such as booking reservations and flights and buying gifts.

What the job is like

Because of the nature of the role, virtual assistants can work on their own terms, having control over their hours and working pattern. By working on a freelance basis, virtual assistants can tell prospective clients when they are not available, or what kind of tasks they are able to assist with. 

Work environment

Virtual assistants will predominantly work from home, although there might be some face-to-face appointments or working days needed, depending on what the person or organisation requires. This means that as a virtual assistants you will have control over your work environment – this could mean, however, that you will need a good home office set up that will enable them to be productive and avoid distractions

Some clients and organizations will expect more from their virtual assistants, and therefore in some cases the role might be demanding in terms of workload and deadlines. This a role meant to provide administrative support and sometimes you might get stuck with chores that someone else in the office doesn’t want to do. Being able to deal with these situations in a professional and positive manner is essential.

Work hours

Virtual Assistants will typically work office hours but might be expected to start a little earlier and finish a little later in order to get a head-start on organisational tasks or tie up loose ends towards the end of the day.  All in all, a typical working week – assuming this is a full-time role – would average around 35 to 40 hours.

Having said this, self-employed virtual assistants can define their own hours and fit their work schedule around personal commitments or a second job. That said, you might come across some demanding clients who will expect  you to abide by their own hours, and while this might not be an issue for you, it could be intolerable for others.

Job satisfaction

Like many virtual or freelance roles, virtual assistants are considered to be content in what they do thanks to the gig-based nature of the role. 

According to research, 82% of freelancers were proud of their career. According to data compiled by Indeed from Upwork, virtual assistants on the platform rated work-life balance with 4.1/5 stars and pay and benefits with 3.6/5. Overall, the rating for this role scored 4/5.

Whilst certain elements of a virtual assistant’s role can be stressful, the ability to choose your working hours and benefit from a varied workload enables energy to be channeled into handling these stressors effectively.

Job market

Whereas in-house employment opportunities for virtual assistants remain few and far between, the freelance market for this role is burgeoning. Thanks to the shift in work habits brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, the demand for virtual support of very nature is skyrocketing. 

According to 2019 research, the unemployment rate for virtual assistants has been decreasing steadily for the last ten years, and the role is seeing growth in many different sectors, especially technology, retail and larger companies. Overall, the demand for virtual assistants is expected to grow in the upcoming years as companies continue to outsource administrative roles.

Salary

Due to the agile nature of the job, virtual assistant salaries can vary substantially.  For this reason, there is only average wage satisfaction – Indeed reports that 53% of virtual assistants feel their salaries are enough for the cost of living in their area.

Mean wage

The average salary for virtual assistants is slightly higher than the average US salary:

Mean annual wage

Mean hourly wage

$59,403

$19.72

Median wage by experience

Virtual assistants can have many different skillsets, and this is reflected in the wide range of average salaries between entry level workers and top-level virtual assistants:

Experience

Median annual wage

Entry level

$15,000

Mid level

$37,023

Senior level

$67,115

Top level

$130,500

Mean wage by state

The following tables shows the US states which have the highest average salaries for virtual assistants:

State

Mean annual wage

Arizona

$67,476

California

$65,217

Washington

$64,825

Illinois

$64,162

New York

$62,716

Median wage around the world

Virtual assistant salaries in the following five countries are a little lower than the average virtual assistant salary in the US, but still competitive according to each country’s average salary:

Country

Median annual wage

Australia

AU$52,204 ($37,417)

Canada

C$62,325 ($49,100)

Ireland

€33,000 ($37,512)

New Zealand

NZ$52,104 ($34,691)

UK

£27,709 ($37,620)

Steps to become a virtual assistant

Becoming a virtual assistant doesn’t take as much time and commitment as some other professions, but it does require thought and planning to ensure that you can hit the ground running.

If you take the freelance route, it’s important that you are prepared so you can swiftly attract clients and make a great first impression, right from the start. Here’s how you can kickstart your career:

Step 1: Determine if it’s the right job for you

Take some time to weigh up your skills and determine if being a virtual assistant is aligned with what you are best at, as well as what you enjoy. 

This can sometimes be a harder task than it seems, so if you are not certain about your interests and what career would suit them, taking a career assessment, such as the CareerHunter test, can help you understand which professions are a good match for you.  

CareerHunter’s assessments, are designed by psychologists and industry experts. Once you have completed all stages of the test, you will be able to generate career matches and training pathways designed to get you into the right job. 

Another good way to determine whether this is the job for you is to determine if you have the right skills. Virtual assistants typically possess the following attributes, many of which are similar to those of an administrative assistant; if you feel these resonate with who you are then maybe it’s worth exploring the career in more detail:

  • Self-management
  • Organisational skills
  • Time management
  • Typing skills
  • IT knowledge
  • Communication skills
  • Agility and change management skills
  • Dependability and reliability
  • Numeracy skills
  • Networking skills

Step 2: Focus on the right subjects at school

Unlike many roles, becoming a virtual assistant doesn’t necessarily require a set portfolio of subjects at school.

However, some subjects align better to the role than others. English and other languages would be a good start, as would business studies. Given the desk-based nature of the role and  that most tasks need to be completed virtually, IT and computing courses would be useful to focus on as well. 

Step 3: Consider supplementary courses

Virtual assistants need to be able to effectively manage diaries and complex workloads, as well as type up correspondence quickly and accurately. They might need to have basic accounting and HR knowledge, as well as be able to use virtual office tools such as G Suite, SharePoint and Zoom to a highly competent or ‘expert user’ standard.  Even typing minutes and managing emails takes some learning.

If you are serious in becoming a virtual assistant, it would be a good investment to take a few courses and become accredited in various elements of the role. If you go freelance and begin to compete for clients, having these credentials and abilities will allow you to stand out from other virtual assistants and ensure that you will not only attract and retain clients, but also enable you to command a fair price for your services.

Step 4: Gain related work experience

Although becoming a virtual assistant requires little to no experience, a good place to start when gearing up to become one is to take jobs or work experience in related fields, such as administration, accounting, HR, or secretarial work.

Standard ‘office work’ might offer more of a support network than starting from scratch as a virtual assistant, and this will give you an indication as to whether being a virtual assistant is the right role for you. In addition to this, you will learn administration and other related skills, and build up your network to prepare for when you are going to go virtual.

Step 5: Set up your website or gig

A large part of becoming a freelance virtual assistant is marketing yourself effectively and knowing how to attract clients. You might be able to apply for virtual assistant roles online, but it would be beneficial to have your own online presence and personal brand. 

It’s important, then, to set up your own website and advertise what you do, your credentials and experience, and your rates. 

Some virtual assistants get started via freelancing websites such as Fiverr or Upwork. This is a simpler way of marketing yourself, gaining clients and leveraging your reputation. Keep in mind that these sites often mandate that you work exclusively through them, and they will take a portion of your revenue as commission.

Step 6: Start small

There might be plenty of opportunities for virtual assistants to make their start, but the market is well and truly saturated so you will need to market yourself effectively to be noticed and begin to put together a client roster.

The best way of doing this, as a beginner, is to start small; you can offer discounted rates, or even free services for a period, asking only for reviews and recommendations. Gradually increase your prices until you reach the right asking point.

Offer a simplified service and lean into your skills while you learn the ropes. Never promise clients the world and under-deliver, as this will harm your reputation in the long run. Focus on developing your skills, find out what you enjoy about this role, and mature into it by developing and expanding your offering accordingly. Your next step will be to find a ‘niche’ or a unique selling point that will differentiate you from others.

Final thoughts

Being a virtual assistant is an extremely rewarding role that offers unparalleled flexibility – that’s why it’s great for freelancers and organizations looking for either regular or ad-hoc support. 

It comes as no surprise that the virtual assistant job market is growing rapidly, as more and more people want to have flexibility and control over their working lives. 

Becoming one can be a straightforward process that doesn’t require much in the way of mandated education or experience, but you do want to ensure you are developing yourself to attract clients. It’s crucial to learn new skills and offer the best to your clients so you can increase your earning potential and opportunities. Good luck!

Start a discussion! Are you thinking of pursuing this career path? What do you like the most about it? Let us know in the comments section below!