Remember the TV show The Jetsons? The futuristic family had a robot that could handle all of the tasks they didn't have time for. While our technology may not have gotten that advanced yet (I'm still waiting for my flying car!), many individuals and small businesses have their own Virtual Assistants (or VAs for short) that they only interact with via the computer. These VAs take care of all the tasks that the business does not have the time (or the skills) for.
I've been a Virtual Assistant myself off and on for many years now, doing all sorts of tasks for bloggers and businesses. It's like most any other job--you're simply charging others for skills that you already possess. It's a great work-at-home opportunity (a second stream of income) because while most of the tasks you perform will have a deadline, they don't require you being in a seat from 9 to 5, and require very little direct contact and supervision with the client (employer).
The salary for a virtual assistant varies depending on the tasks being performed, but is typically anywhere from $15 to $60 per hour.
What Type Of Work Can You Do As A Virtual Assistant?
The tasks that a virtual assistant can do are almost limitless--basically any job that can be packaged up, handed off to a single person and not require constant supervision can be done remotely by a VA. Some of these jobs include:
Writing--This could be anything from writing a blog post to turning someone's notes into a complete book.
eBook Formatting--If you're familiar with the software, you can format an author's plain text into Apple iBook or Amazon Kindle format.
Graphic Design--You could create infographics, develop new company logos, or even crop and format photos for bloggers.
Researching--If you're good with Google and can tell what information is reputable and what is not, many people can use you to compile facts and figures for them.
Editing--Good with grammar and spelling? Try proofreading books and blog posts for others.
Tutoring--This could be a little more difficult, since you would likely need to schedule frequent 1-on-1 consultations at a time convenient to the client. But tutoring for both adults and kids is always in demand.
Desktop Publishing--Can you lay out fliers, business cards, or even PowerPoint presentations?
Audio / Video / Photo Editing--You could piece together podcasts and YouTube videos from raw footage if you're skilled in software like Audacity or Adobe Premiere.
Bookkeeping--If you're proficient in at least one of the major bookkeeping software packages, this is a good opportunity for a long ongoing relationship with a client.
Copywriting--Not to be confused with writing (above)--this is writing ad copy, usually for blogs or social media, that will entice people to view some content or buy a product.
Social Media Management--Bloggers post links on multiple social media sites many times per day --you can take this task over and free them up for more blogging.
Transcription--Conference calls, podcasts, or anything else with spoken word may need to be transcribed for reference.
Programming--I don't mean contract programming jobs, but rather a relationship with a company or website owner who may need a few hours of work here and there but can't keep a programmer on staff full time.
Data Entry--Companies need people to fill databases with names and addresses, columns of numbers, or just about any other kind of data.
Search Engine Optimization--Do you know what it takes for a website to show up on the first page of Google's search results? You can do this for hundreds of small businesses and bloggers on a one-time or ongoing basis.
Managing Email--Some Virtual Assistants are hired to filter a company's most important emails and respond to the rest on their behalf.
Travel Research--Virtual assistants are a great resource for finding hotels, booking airfares and mapping out trip itineraries both for business and pleasure.
How Do You Get Started As A Virtual Assistant?
1. Set up a website
People need to be able to find you to hire you. Even if they're not finding you via a search in Google, you need a site that you can give to people who are considering hiring you. It should highlight your skills, have a portfolio of your work, and explain you process (and possibly rates). If you're not experienced with setting up a website, most web hosting companies have packages that will quickly build a small site. You can also use a free service like Blogger.com or WordPress.com.
2. Get involved in social media
Where are your potential clients most likely to be--Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn? Look in groups for people with problems that you can solve--maybe someone is commenting that they're swamped because they have 500 photos they need to edit.
3. Blog to advertise
Is your VA niche Search Engine Optimization? Or maybe you're an Adobe Premiere pro. Offer some basic tutorials on a blog, and comment on other blogs; you'll build a reputation as an expert in the field.
This is a serious business, and takes work just like any other business. You can't just publish a website and wait for clients to beat down your door, you have to go out and find them!
5. Network with other VAs
Once you've met some other VAs online, see if they will refer work that they choose not to take. They all had to start brand new at some point, and can appreciate the effort it takes to land those first few clients (especially if your skills are not in direct competition with theirs).
Some Hints & Tips
Should you work for individuals a company? Both, if possible! It's much easier to find an individual or small business needing a Virtual Assistant, but working for a company could offer more long-term security.
The more skills you can offer your clients, the more money you will be able to charge. Also, the more specialized your skills are, the more you can charge. For example, a VA doing all of a company's bookkeeping should command a higher rate than someone proofreading blog posts.
Adding additional skills will allow you to increase your rate. If you're already doing editing and proofreading, then learn how to format and publish eBooks and offer that service as well. Or learn search engine optimization and offer that service as you edit a blogger's posts.
Re-evaluate your rates and services every six months. If you've got loads of video editing work paying $25 per hour, then maybe it's time to start passing on the $15 per hour proofreading jobs. Pay it forward and give that work to a newbie VA! It's also ok to raise your rates as time goes by. Keep your rates low for the clients that have stuck with you from the beginning, but new clients can pay the higher hourly rate.
If the client wants, offer to discuss projects with them using a video conference service like Skype. Many times you'll be able to understand their needs quicker "face to face" than you would through back and forth emails, and putting a face to your business will encourage repeat gigs.
In most cases, it's better to have multiple smaller clients than a few larger clients. You don't know if suddenly they'll need to cut back on the number of hours they are engaging you each month (which in turn cuts into your salary), so don't keep all of your eggs in one basket!
Be sure to ask for word of mouth referrals! The majority of the work I've done as a VA has come not from any advertising I've done, but from a satisfied client telling a friend. It may only be a few hours of work at a time, but all those referrals add up.
Be wary of websites advertising VA jobs--many are just outright scammy, trying to sell you a "Learn to be a Virtual Assistant" training package, while on others you're competing with hundreds of overseas workers who will to work for just a fraction of your desired hourly rate. Your best ways to find clients are the steps mentioned above.
To get the best possible hourly rate, try to begin your VA business with as many skills as possible under your belt. The more you know the faster and further the business will go. Like the rest of our Second Stream of Income posts, this is NOT a "get rich quick" scheme--you'll probably never get rich, but you CAN make a good paying, steady income doing VA work.