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Is being a virtual assistant a real job?

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!
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  • 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.

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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?


  1. Victoria Murray on 17 September, 2010 at 4:34 pm

    Brilliant. Loved that Caroline! Especially the car bit!

  2. Caroline on 20 September, 2010 at 11:18 am

    It’s not a Ferrari, mind! But what I wanted to get across is that it’s entirely possible to make a good living out of being a virtual assistant!

  3. Joslyn on 21 September, 2010 at 9:25 pm

    Good article, I’ve had my own VA for quite some time now and she’s just great! I tried a couple of services like AskSunday or GetFriday and having a VA from a big company is NOT the same, I’m with http://www.uassist.me now. I get to talk to her, she stays in touch all the time and we’ve actually become so close that she’s told me sometimes some of the things you mention in your article. It really isn’t from everyone!

  4. Caroline on 22 September, 2010 at 9:15 am

    Fantastic to hear you’ve had such a positive experience Joslyn!

  5. Alex on 30 September, 2010 at 12:06 pm

    Hi Caroline and my fellow VA’s

    I had a little chuckle to myself reading Caroline’s piece, sat as I was, eating my brekkie in my joggers at my desk, before settling down to today’s work. (Can’t quite allow myself to sit around in my underpants as per Brad Burton’s past).

    When I first set out as a VA I used to get quite ruffled when folk made ‘those’ faces that clearly said “what’s a Virtual Assistant?” – don’t get me wrong, lots still do, but rather than feeling offended by it and by comments (even from family members) on whether you can actually make a living being a VA and discussions and comments around whether its a ‘real’ job, what I say that really leaves them speechless is that I now support my husband via my income, as he’s now given up the rat race and is starting to run his own Business full-time, but of course until he’s really got going, it’s my income that supports us both, 4 cats, 3 chickens and the local bird and wildlife population.

    Yes folks, I AM THE BREADWINNER – perhaps they’d like to put that in their pipe and smoke it (or whatever takes their fancy). I, like many of my excellent fellow VA’s am a very busy bee and as Caroline so rightly mentioned in one of her other articles this month, I took on only the clients that I wanted to work with – those who had (and still do) work ethics and values that closely matched my own. Get that balance wrong and you’re in for a potentially bumpy ride methinks.

    So what I say is “Power to all you VA’s out there” – you’re filling a vital role – maybe what you do and the contribution you make to Industry isn’t celebrated as much as it should or could be, but the hours YOU work and the results YOU turn out speak for themselves.

    Rock on everyone 😀


  6. Caroline on 30 September, 2010 at 12:27 pm

    Congrats on your fantastic “real” job Alex – it’s so great to see so many VAs being able to tell positive stories. Mostly the forums and message boards are full of newbie VAs just starting out who need information – it’s rare to see an established VA on there who is running a successful business because – hey – we’re BUSY! But I sometimes think it gives the impression that it’s not a thriving industry… How wrong that assumption would be!

    • Becs on 30 September, 2010 at 1:06 pm

      Even though there are more and more flexible ways of working, and real business is never a 9-5 game, people are still a bit dumbfounded by us of the virtual persuasion.

      I often have to explain that I am freelance, a contractor, or consultant to even convince people that what I am doing is legitimate, but since starting off on my own (in Feb this year) I have managed to break even on my start up costs and pay for our childcare – my husband is now starting to take me seriously and wants to know when I’ll be taking us on holiday!!

      Although its early days, I’m quite proud of what I have acheived so far and would highly recommend taking the plunge.

      • Emmanouela Maniou on 2 October, 2012 at 10:59 pm

        Oh,I really need you guys to guide me.I haven’t understand what a VA is yet!Please SOS!

  7. Brent Constant on 10 January, 2013 at 2:47 pm

    Im currently 29 and really want to try this, What would you say was my best starting position? Many Thanks.

    • Caroline on 10 January, 2013 at 2:52 pm

      Hi Brent

      Have a look at the START UP VAs section (right hand menu) and browse through all the subjects!

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