Back when I started up I’d never actually met anyone who was a real virtual assistant. I had a vague idea that they existed, mostly in the USA, but I’d never actually seen someone earning a living from it. Emma in our office once tried to describe it and they replied “So you sit in your pjs wearing a headset and pretending to be in Bolton?” – there’s still a lot of confusion about whether or not it’s a real job.
Then at a networking event I met a lady who was working as a VA and was, if anything, having trouble with having too much work rather than there not being a market. She inspired me to take the plunge and I flung myself straight into finding clients and starting the business.
Six years later, I still get asked by aspiring virtual assistants “But can you really make a living from it?” Undoubtedly yes. I have a brand new car and a very nice house to show for it. But there are some golden rules you need to understand:
- Clear all debt before you start. You’ll get credit checked when opening bank accounts or asking for credit for equipment, it makes it a lot easier to have a clean slate. You also don’t want to devalue yourself by taking any and all jobs. You want the time to find good clients who appreciate what you do and pay a reasonable fee.
- Save at least three months living costs before you start. Your first five clients are the hardest to get, and you need to concentrate on finding them without the distraction of wondering where the next bill is coming from.
- Find childcare. You’ll need it. Whilst you might want to work kooky hours, your clients will probably work 9am-5pm Monday to Friday and they will expect to be able to get hold of you during those hours.
- Make sure you are in tip-top health. Self-employment doesn’t have sick days!
- Expect to have “more time” – you will undoubtedly have zero family time for the first two years. That includes no holidays.
- Expect it to be easy. If it was easy, everyone would do it.
- Make excuses about why you couldn’t complete a project. Do not take on anything unless you know you can complete it, even if it means you lose money or spend much more time than planned getting it right.
- Give up the day job – try to negotiate part-time hours or flexitime whilst you get the business up and running. Several VAs have also converted their former employers into fantastic VA clients too.
- Waste time – time is money. Switch off mobile phones and social networking, ban family during working hours, and whatever you do don’t let people take advantage of you “being at home doing nothing” (yes, Mum that means you too – I’m not making you cups of tea or waiting in for your Amazon order!!)
The amount you will earn as a virtual assistant will vary hugely depending on how many hours you are prepared to work and how good you are at getting new clients. Many VAs don’t want to work full time and therefore pull down the industry average to give a rather distorted picture of how much it is possible to earn.
So what happens if it all goes wrong?
Traditionally when you think of a “business failure” you see repossessed cars, houses foreclosed upon, bankruptcy… It’s not a pretty picture. But when you speak to VAs who have given up, you realise their stories simply aren’t that dire.
Some people are just not suited to being a VA – that’s okay, it really isn’t for everyone. They find it very isolating, they miss office gossip and dressing up to go into work. Other people just aren’t self-motivating, they want someone to tell them what to do next – that doesn’t happen when you are your own boss.
Perhaps they hate selling themselves and would rather die than pitch to new clients. That’s an easier thing to deal with as there are lots of ways to circumvent this… (Keep an eye on our Marketing section for top tips!).
But unless you are running up massive debts, it really needn’t be a disaster. For many VAs going back into employment was a really positive thing, and they took with them the experience and knowledge they gained whilst working as a VA.
What have you got to lose?