If you want to live your life as a digital nomad, there are many different kinds of jobs you can do from anywhere in the world. One of the most popular choices is doing virtual assistance work. My main source of income over the last couple of years was in that career field. If you are thinking about becoming a virtual assistant, too, you should read the following guide.
It tells you what this job role is about, what skills, experience and training you need, where and how to find jobs, the downsides you will have to face and it also gives you additional tips for your new career.
What is a Virtual Assistant?
A virtual assistant, short VA, provides support to businesses, business owners or private persons on a remote basis. The aim is to free up time for clients by doing tasks these clients don’t want to do or cannot do.
What skills are needed?
If you are planning on becoming a virtual assistant, you should have some office and clerical skills. You don’t necessarily need to be a genius when it comes to IT questions. But since your laptop will be your main working tool, you should definitely be computer literate.
You also need to have a willingness to learn and to adapt. Every client and every task can be totally different. You might need to use new tools and programs, there are different time zones and teams.
Often enough your tasks will be challenging. Things, you have never done before and you have no idea how to do it. You need to be a problem-solver and have a can-do attitude to be able to get these kind of tasks done without bothering your client all the time.
As with all digital nomad freelance jobs, a high level of self-motivation is needed. You are likely to be allowed to set your own schedule and working environment. It’s easy to get distracted when you sit in a lovely beach café somewhere in Thailand. But your client expects you to get your work done, so make sure you can stay productive.
Reliability and a strong work ethic are also essential. Often clients trust you with very urgent and important tasks. Don’t let them down, but do your best to get the job done.
Excellent written and verbal communication skills are important, too, as you might have to communicate with your clients’ customers.
Especially, when you have several clients you need to be able to structure and prioritise your workload, so you can deliver a high standard of quality to everyone.
Working with clients is not always easy. Sometimes you need to have lots of patience. Either because you have to wait for them forever to get back to you, they don’t understand that you are no magician and cannot do wonders, or simply because they have some sorts of quirks (as we all have).
To have some knowledge of the business world would also help, although you learn a lot as you go.
What training and experience is needed?
Since the tasks of a virtual assistant are very diversified, yet no rocket science, there usually is no formal training needed. I’ve never had a potential client asking for a specific education for VAs.
If you still want to learn more about this digital nomad job, you can check out short-term courses on learning platforms like Udemy or check out Hannah and Val’s 5-day online training challenge on becoming a virtual assistant.
Apart from that, any kind of office or administrative experience will be helpful. Or maybe you did many research tasks in your former job or had to organise events or manage a small team. Any experience similar to that can be useful.
But what’s more important than training and experience is personality. You will usually work very close together with your clients so you should get along on a personal level, too. Without the right chemistry it’s going to be very hard and demotivating on a long run. Many clients will choose their VAs according to personal preference, which makes much sense.
What equipment will you need?
One of the reasons why becoming a virtual assistant is such a great choice for digital nomads: The equipment you need is fairly manageable. All you need is:
- A reliable and fast laptop
- If not built in your laptop, you might need a webcam.
- A headset / microphone with a good sound quality
- A reliable smartphone
- A strong internet connection.
- Software: Strongly depends on your tasks and clients, but here are some suggestions:
- Accessories if needed, e.g. mouse, portable power bank, dongle, or external hard disk drive
What are the tasks?
Now it’s getting interesting. Before you are becoming a virtual assistant you probably want to know exactly, what your tasks will be. I’m sorry to say but I can only give you a rough idea. The tasks are very diversified and strongly depend on your expertise and your agreement with your clients.
However, we can group the general position of a virtual assistant in:
- Private or Personal Virtual Assistant and
- Business or Executive Virtual Assistant
As you can tell from the terms, your tasks are either connected to the private life of a person or business owner, or have more to do with his or her business life. Often you do a combination of both. Whatever needs to be done, you’ll get to do it.
In general, VAs will be doing lots of administration work, such as: diary management, typing or transcribing, data entry, accounting tasks like invoicing and bookkeeping, booking of travel or events, taking minutes, handling emails or phone calls, dealing with customer requests, or producing reports.
You can also agree on doing more specific work, that could be things like: writing blog posts, crafting marketing campaigns, doing SEO copywriting, managing social media, doing web design, preparing presentations, or running Facebook ads.
As you can see, there are plenty of tasks for all-rounders, as well as for specialists. You can find virtual assistants who only do Pinterest work, like creating and scheduling pins. Or focus on all types of designs and graphics for a client’s online appearance. Whatever your field of expertise is, it could be a great niche and makes you stand out.
And don’t be surprised by what kinds of jobs clients come up with. I’ve heard anything from finding the perfect lunch spot, to enchant an important secretary, to managing the clients’ Tinder profile and score some dates. Be flexible, creative and have some sense of humour.
Where do you find clients?
The most important part of becoming a virtual assistant: Where to find jobs. Again, it might help if you look at your different options first. Do you want to work
- For an agency?
- For a company in a permanent position?
- As a freelancer?
Virtual Assistant Agencies:
There are many staffing and recruiting firms out there which only work with virtual assistants. You apply directly to the agency and they place you with a client.
The benefits are usually a few days paid holiday and the fact that you don’t have to look for clients actively yourself. On the downside you don’t have much freedom in terms of what clients you work for or your working hours.
Check out agencies like Zirtual or Virtual Office Temps for more information.
A virtual assistant can also be a normal employee of a company. You would do the same tasks as a freelancer, but have a permanent contract. Along with that come all the usual advantages and disadvantages, like a steady income but also less flexibility.
If you are thinking about becoming a virtual assistant on a permanent contract basis, check with companies directly. Introduce yourself and convince them that they need you to improve their processes. You could also look up job postings on websites like Indeed.
Networking is always a great way to find a new employer. Maybe the company you’ve worked for a few years ago is in need of a remote assistant? Or you start working as a freelancer. As soon as the business owner can’t live without you anymore, you can ask for your chances of a permanent position.
Learn more strategies how to find a permanent position in a company on a remote basis.
Most virtual assistants are probably freelancer. You get to choose the clients and workload yourself, but also have no guaranteed income (in case you can’t find clients).
There are freelancer platforms out there, on which you can find plenty of virtual assistant positions, such as Upwork or Freelancer.com. Please bear in mind, that these websites usually charge you a percentage of what you earn and there is a massive competition of freelancers.
Tip: When you search for jobs on websites or freelancer platforms, don’t only use the term “virtual assistant”. Go for anything else that sounds familiar, e.g. personal assistant, executive assistant, remote help, admin support, project help, social media support or words that are connected with your specific skills.
Find out more tips and tricks how you can score your first job on freelance platforms.
A better option could be, again, finding clients yourself. You could build a small website which displays your portfolio, be active on social media and market your skills. Again networking does wonder. Have a look on LinkedIn, chat with former business communities or check out Facebook groups. Approach potential clients and offer your help.
How to score jobs?
I don’t want to go too much into detail now, as this would be an entire blog post itself. But since I employ freelancers too, I think it might help to give you insights into the clients’ point of view.
I hate it when potential freelancers answer to job postings with a short 2 sentences note: “Hey, I’m interested and think I can help you. Have a look at my profile and contact me.” The heck I will do! I delete these applicants immediately.
Instead, show that you have read the ad. How can your experience help your potential client? What communication do you prefer? How would you approach the issue? What are your working hours? How do you usually work?
You don’t need to write 3 pages. But include some individual details, as well, and no standard phrases. Remember: Clients want to get along well on a personal level with their virtual assistant because they work together closely. So provide some information about yourself, too.
What payment can you expect?
Ah yes, very important. And again the annoying answer: It depends. On freelancer platforms like Upwork you often see people from India or the Philippines charging as little as 3-5 USD an hour. Specialist virtual assistants, let’s say backend experts or graphic designer, can have an hourly rate of 60-120 USD.
So it really depends on skills, experience (and reviews of past clients) and how well you sell your support. I personally started with 20 USD an hour with no experience as a virtual assistant, but quite a bit of admin and project management experience.
Fixed prices are possible too. But given the nature of VA tasks being very flexible, it is hard to measure what exactly you should do for e.g. 200 USD.
What are the downsides?
Becoming a virtual assistant has basically the same disadvantages as being a remote worker in general.
You are often in different time zones than your clients, which can cause confusion and makes communication harder.
As a virtual assistant you usually have to make quite a few phone calls, which can be expensive when being overseas and the quality of the connection is sometimes terrible.
Many clients would like you to handle their physical mail, print out documents and send them around. Although there are some very good online postal services out there today, e.g. Earth Class Mail, even their features are limited.
Some additional tips
Upon becoming a virtual assistant, you should make sure that your laptop and smartphone are secured. Try to avoid using public internet connections and use a VPN. Your clients often trust you with very sensitive data and access to several business accounts. Make sure to protect all the important information.
Since you work with confidential information and are responsible for important business tasks, it is also worth getting a professional liability insurance to cover the risk.
You should make sure to be up to date. The digital landscape is changing all the time. There are new tools and apps coming out on a daily basis and there are always new things to learn. Join Facebook groups and exchange experiences with other VAs. It makes your life easier and your clients will love you for bringing in new ideas and improvements.
Becoming a virtual assistant: Career boost
As you can see, there are quite a few things you need to know before becoming a virtual assistant. To me personally it was one of the best career decisions I’ve made so far. I got to choose my own clients and made my own schedule.
Every day was different and every task was new and challenging. I got a great insight into how my clients, mostly entrepreneurs and start-ups, run their businesses, which was super interesting. The insights and opportunities I got with this job brought my digital nomad career to the next level.
I hope this post gave you an overview of this popular remote job and helped you a bit in case you are thinking about a becoming a virtual assistant, too.
In case you have figured out that this is not the right job for you, check out this post about other great digital nomad job ideas and get some inspirations.