How to Start a Virtual Assistant Business

Expert VA Lyn Toomey offers her insight on what to expect and how to find help in the virtual world.

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In the past few years, the Virtual Assistant (VA) industry has increasingly been in the headlines: Good Morning America's Tory Johnson wrote on the flexibility of being a self-employed VA last September. The Today Show also featured the profession as a new way to work from home. The Wall Street JournalUS News & World Report and numerous other publications have made it clear that the virtual assistant business is trendy and growing.

More and more virtual assistants are starting their businesses by ditching their corporate cubicle-wall environments and setting up home based offices.

Successful VAs lead with their strengths to build a successful and growing client base. Some offer executive secretarial services; others are marketing managers, freelance writers, real estate assistants, web designers, author assistants—you name it, someone is doing it, and doing it virtually.

Getting Started

It's possible to start up with zero dollars if you already have a phone, an updated computer, a printer with scanner and internet access. But if you want to be taken seriously, you'll need a well-designed website. You can hire a web designer for about $600 to $1,200 for a small site, or you can use an inexpensive yet professional template design from a web host for as little as $6 per month.

Many VAs start with what they have and buy what they need as they acquire clients. Business cards and brochures are must-haves.  Expect to pay $40 to $60 for 500 business cards. Brochures can be self-designed, traded out with other VAs or professionally made for around $350.

Professional networking is essential as well.  Budget at least $100 to $300 to join associations and groups. You will generate most of your leads this way.

Some virtual assistants incur extra costs upfront to increase efficiency and professional appeal. Depending on your budget, you might opt to upgrade your equipment or software. The latest version of Microsoft or Mac software will ensure more efficiency, or at the very least establish a planned replacement schedule as you generate revenue.

Common Rates

There are no industry standards for pricing. VA rates vary widely depending on the individual and the services offered. Typical VA rates start around $35 per hour and range to $75 per hour or higher, depending on the service or skill level. As a general rule, common administrative tasks are on the lower end of the scale, and graphic or website design are at the higher end.

To establish an effective rate for your business, remember to factor in the following:

  • self-employment taxes
  • sick days, vacation days
  • slow business periods
  • business expenses such as printer ink, website hosting, business cards, telephone costs, internet costs, etc.
  • All of these are expenses against your earnings. The most fearsome to be aware of: self-employment taxes. As in any startup, always set aside a percentage of your earnings for self-employment taxes in a separate tax account so that you have the cash to pay the IRS at tax time.

    Making Your Hours

    One of the perks of being a VA is the ability to make your own hours and see the time spent directly impact your bottom line. Calculate your hourly rate multiplied by the number of hours per week you'd like to work. So, if you'd like to work 30 hours, your projected revenue would be your hourly rate times 30 hours, times 4 to get a monthly figure.

    Keep in mind that you will not start with 30 hours; it will take a while to build a client base. Many VAs take a part-time job while they establish their businesses. Sometimes this part-time job comes in the form of working for a well-established VA as a sub-contractor. This is done by joining a VA group, introducing yourself and offering your sub-contracting services. Be prepared to sign a terms of agreement, which often includes a "non-compete" clause that prevents you from marketing to their clients.

    This protects experienced VAs from losing their hard-won clients to their sub-contractors and at the same time gives you, the aspiring VA, a chance to learn how to be great.

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