The coronavirus pandemic triggered massive changes in the working landscape. Not only are more jobs being carried out remotely now, but more work is being outsourced as well. For many businesses, hiring freelancers and independent contractors for specific jobs, rather than keeping a larger number of employees on the payroll is more effective and cost-efficient. In particular, this has lead to an increasing demand for virtual assistants.
what is a virtual assistant?
Virtual assistants (VA) are essentially freelancers who work in an administrative role for a company or client remotely. They hire out their administrative or creative assistance to various clients and businesses and assist with their needs from home. It’s a win-win situation for both employer and employee. From a business perspective, outsourcing work to virtual assistants means they don’t have to provide a VA with office space, utilities and tools, or contribute any other additional benefits. While some of the key benefits for virtual assistants include the freedom to choose who they work with, the ability to work more flexible hours, and the potential to earn over £200 a day. Plus, you can do it all from home without the commute. What’s not to like?
Working as a virtual assistant can involve a wide range of tasks. It’ll largely depend on who you’re working for and what they need, but it can involve anything from simply answering phones and sending emails, to book-keeping, business planning and desktop publishing. Got any niche skills? Great. The more specialised your skills are, the more you’ll be able to charge. For example, if you’ve had five years’ experience working in the marketing industry and have extensive knowledge of Microsoft Publisher, you can advertise yourself as a virtual assistant specialising in marketing and desktop publishing.
do i need qualifications?
Although technically no formal training or qualifications are necessary to be a virtual assistant, most clients will look for a background or relevant experience in secretarial or administration work. If you don’t have this though, don’t panic! For one thing, you’ll have plenty of transferrable skills from other roles such as problem solving, team work, and written communication skills. As well as this though, the increasing demand for virtual assistants means they’re needed in additional roles such as social media, content management, writing blogs, and internet marketing. In these instances, experience in the specific role is more relevant than general administrational experience.
what do i need to get set up?
To get started as a virtual assistant you can actually keep costs incredibly low. Although there are a few things you’ll need, it’s likely that you already have them. At a minimum you’ll need a broadband internet connection, a separate phone line, a computer with all the necessary software, and office stationery. Plus, while you’ll already be paying utility bills you can claim some tax back on them if you’re working from home.
Steps to become a virtual assistant
STEP 1: SORT YOUR SKILLS
Virtual assistants are hired for a range of skills and expertise. Before you get started, decide what your unique selling points are and how you’ll market yourself.
Here’s a few pointers to get your brainstorming started:
- Do you have any niche skills?
- Do you have any professional training or qualifications in a particular area?
- Is there an area of work that you’d like to learn, or focus more on?
Bear in mind that this is an industry that’s continuously moving forward and developing so you need to keep your skills and knowledge up to date as software and programmes change.
STEP 2: get started
register your business
The first thing to do to get started is to register your business with your company name. Think carefully about what name you choose, as it’s the first impression a potential client will have of you. One popular option is to just operate under your own name.
Once you’ve chosen a name for your virtual assistant business, you should check it’s not yet used by somebody else. You can check this with the National Business Register. Plus, you also need to check your business name isn’t trademarked. If it is it can cause you serious legal trouble down the line, so best to find out before!
Finally, you’ll need to register yourself as self-employed with HM Revenue & Customs which is free, but if you don’t get it done within three months of working for yourself you could be caught with a fine. Once you’ve registered, they’ll send you all the relevant information you’ll need about national insurance and tax.
BUSINESS INSURANCE AND TAX
As a virtual assistant you’ll need to consider an upgrading your insurance policy, as working from home may affect your cover. The Society of Virtual Assistants has a very useful article here on what type of insurance cover you need and why you need it.
When you first start up as a virtual assistant, you probably won’t have to pay VAT as you’re allowed a £85,000 turnover before you have to pay it. However, if your taxable turnover is over £85,000 then you’ll have to contact HMRC to register for VAT. This’ll also mean you’ll have to comply with the governments recent changes to Making Tax Digital.
FINANCING AND START-UP COSTS
Initial financing and start-up costs usually prevent you from making a profit immediately. Be prepared for this, and check out Should You Go Into Debt to Start a Business for more information.
STEP 3: finding WORK AS A VIRTUAL ASSISTANT
SIGN UP TO A VIRTUAL ASSISTANT AGENCY
Signing up to an agency can be a good starting point to get work and find clients. However, be wary and avoid agencies that will charge you to work for them. Once you’ve paid them it’ll be doubtful if you ever hear from them again. Similarly, avoid anything advertising ‘get rich quick’ or ‘make up to £1000 a day’. Anything too good to be true on the job market always is.
One of the best websites to check out is the Society of Virtual Assistants. It’s a free service and they have loads of useful information for virtual assistants. You can choose from two different types of membership: approved and standard.
- The standard membership is designed to support those looking into becoming a virtual assistant. It includes some useful tools. You’ll get access to the forum where you can post your queries, the society blog and other resources.
- The approved membership is for businesses. You’ll have to agree to a code of conduct, and have professional quality website and email, which will be checked. Once you’ve been verified, you’ll be added to the searchable database. They’ll also provide you with access to the ‘jobs available’ part of the forum, which will then hopefully lead on to paid work.
ADVERTISING YOUR VA BUSINESS
When you first set up any business it’s hard work making your services known and sourcing clients. Our article Finding Freelance Clients has some useful hints on how to advertise and find yourself clients.
To get your initial clients, you need to know what kind of people you want to offer your VA services to. Make a list of your key skills, what you’re accomplished in, and what you enjoy. Then think about what type of companies would need your services. What kind of companies might need you to sort out their emails or phone lines? What companies might need virtual help with their customer service?
Consider what you can offer to improve their productivity, what the benefits of your service will be to the company and what makes you stand out from the crowd.
Your advertising medium will depend on your target audience. Ask yourself:
- What literature do these companies read/use?
- Where do these companies network?
- What form of media is this company likely to come into contact with most often?
Also, creating your own website is a good way to sell yourself as a virtual assistant. A website is a useful place for you to build an online CV, showcase experience and endorsements, and use it to promote your services. There are plenty of free tools that make it easy enough. How to Set Up a Website For Your Freelance Business is full of all the information you need to get started.
step 4: Increase your skills, increase your pay
Virtual assistants can make more money by increasing the skills they offer. Things like book-keeping, web-management and copy-editing are popular ways to increase your attractiveness to prospective clients. Essentially, the more you can do, the more you’re able to offer a prospective client and this boosts your chances of getting work. A variety of work is the beauty of being a virtual assistant and the more things you can do, the more you can charge.
how much does a virtual assistant make?
According to Glassdoor, the average annual salary of a virtual assistant is just under £30,000. Plus, an annual survey conducted by Society of Virtual Assistant, found that the average hourly rate for a VA in the UK is £27. These figures may help you with a rough idea, but obviously it largely depends on what skills and experience you can bring to a role.
There are a few important things you need to take into account when setting your rates. Firstly, you want to decide whether you’re going to charge based on a day-rate, or by the hour. Be wary about charging by the hour though, as you can end up working a lot of un-billable hours when researching and carrying out your own admin tasks, that essentially leave you earning less than you could with a day-rate.
However, as a self-employed person you also need to take into account a lack of:
- Holiday pay
- Sick pay
- Maternity leave
- Guaranteed hours
- Pension contributions
- Job security; and
- Provided office stationery and utilities
You’ll need to calculate the fact that you’re missing out on these benefits into your pricing. Realistically, an additional minimum of 25% should be added on to your price to ensure your expenses and tax are covered. For example, if you were thinking of charging £20 an hour, then this should change to £25.
more useful reading
If you’re looking for more help on setting up as a freelancer then check out the articles below:
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