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How not to get work as a newbie virtual assistant

An awkward email was received in my inbox today – awkward for a few reasons:

  1. It wasn’t addressed to me but to another VA
  2. It was clearly a mass mailout untailored to my business and touting for work with a skill which I don’t offer to my clients and wouldn’t be interested in offering
  3. It had spelling mistakes in it
  4. It was from a home email address

What does this tell me about the VA? Firstly that she has no concept of the Data Protection Act or how to use BCC properly.  Secondly that she hadn’t done any research on me or my business.  She can’t spell and therefore I can’t have her working for me.  She doesn’t value her own business enough to spend a few quid on setting up a professional and secure email address.  It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that I will not be working with her.

But as irritatingly crap as this email was, I do sympathise with her predicament – she’s new, she doesn’t have any clients and she’s desperate for work.  She may well have tried all her own contacts and not had any success, which doesn’t necessarily mean that she’s not any good, it’s just been bad timing… But meanwhile there are bills to pay!

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So what gives me a really GOOD impression of a VA?  And why would I hire them?  Now granted, I’m a multi-VA so perhaps this differs slightly from a solo VA who would outsource work, but feel free to disagree with me below…

  • Look on the website, get a feel for the business and look to see if there’s any information about how you can apply for jobs – 9/10 if they are hiring, you’ll see how they want your application submitted.  Follow the instructions.  Part of being a great VA is following instructions properly – show your skills here.
  • If they don’t have a recruitment page, and you still want to send in a speculative application, introduce yourself and explain why you are getting in touch.  Most VAs are really very helpful to newbies – it’s a quirk of the industry.  They may not have any work for you, but if you are honest about why you are getting in touch, most will at least try to give you some helpful hints.  Pretending to be a prospective client will annoy them and ensure you NEVER get hired by them.
  • Do a spell check.  I know it’s nerve wracking (and exciting!) to be setting up, but honestly a spell check takes two minutes but saves your reputation.  Whilst you are doing that, double check that you’ve attached any documents which you want to send (CV, test results, etc).
  • If you must send a mass email, use the BCC function properly and send it to yourself rather than using one of the recipients’ addresses.  This disguises the fact that it’s a mass email and also makes sure that you keep all the addresses confidential.
  • If the VA takes the time to read through your application and can’t offer you work based on your skillset or test results, don’t get aggressive or tell them how many years’ experience you’ve had as a secretary… Believe me, they do not care because you still can’t perform the tasks expected of a VA in their business if you haven’t passed the test.  Most VAs will forward you a copy of the results and point out where you’ve gone wrong.  Take it as constructive criticism and appreciate that clients won’t tell you that you’ve screwed up, they just won’t use you again.
  • Set up a proper email address – it only costs a few quid but it demonstrates a commitment to your business and a degree of forward planning.  You’re asking the VA to pay you as a professional, so be professional!
  • If they don’t have work for you, ask them if they can recommend anyone else to speak to.  They might know of some other sources of work.
  • Be prepared to work for low rates at first – I’m not saying pitch yourself at £5 an hour, far from it!  But appreciate that if you’re a newbie they will effectively be teaching you on the job so you’re getting paid whilst you learn.  Ask for feedback, take note of their recommendations.
  • You might also want to look at doing a few Peopleperhour.com / www.elance.com / www.fiverr.com jobs to get you started… It’ll give you an idea of the sorts of tasks clients want to outsource and how you would work with a real client.
  • Be persistent… Okay don’t plague them with emails and phonecalls… But if a VA says she doesn’t have any work for you right now, check back in 6 months time.   I have one VA I send loads of work to simply because she sends me a reminder about her availability when she’s got free time – she is therefore in the front of my mind when I get a new piece of work in that afternoon (cracking job Vicks!!!)


  1. Heather Greig on 17 July, 2014 at 5:34 pm

    I must agree with you Caroline that from the moment the email is opened you can see if the approach has been made in a professional manner or not. But unfortunately this is not only limited to emails. I recently received a phone call from a girl claiming to be seeking information for her boss who needed to outsource some work, business was slow and he was in the difficult position of letting the girl go as there wasn’t enough work for her to do. Now this all sounds very plausible, except that she rang me from her personal mobile (not a business line), she could only talk to me over her lunch-break and she became very vague when I asked for some more detail about the company. I still provided her with the information that she was looking for, but deep down I guess that what she really wanted was advice on being a VA and what she should charge for carrying out a particular job. I guess what I really would have appreciated was a bit more honesty!

  2. Yasmjn on 2 April, 2019 at 1:56 pm

    I’m really interested in becoming a VA I’m only 23 but I’m determined to work for myself and being a VA seems perfect for me. I’ve spent hours reading your blog posts and they’re so helpful! I just noticed you mentioned in this post ‘test results’ is there a VA test that all VAs should complete in order to be one? I wasn’t aware of any formal qualifications that’s all so not really sure what it is! Also do you have any advice on how you could start a VA business while working full time, I’m unsure about things like tax from working two jobs but then I might not be eating much at first? And also I’m not allowed to have any sort of side business at work so being part time isn’t an option for me but I need a stable income whilst I get started. I hope you can help! Thank you

    • Caroline on 2 April, 2019 at 2:09 pm

      Hi Yasmjn… I mention tests only because most VAs recruiting subcontractors will expect you to do a test – might be a spelling test, something in Microsoft Word, audio typing, a piece of research etc. In terms of universally acknowledged training for VAs – there is none. But watch this space on something which might help you later in the month. Are you signed up as a member? (We send email alerts)

      If work says no side business, you need to stick to your contract with them. However lots of employers don’t have this clause and therefore VAs don’t have to tell them about extra curricular businesses which they run – it is possible to work full-time and have your VA business if you are smart about setting up contact details, making sure you set expectations about turnaround times etc.

      Hope that helps!

  3. Yasmin on 2 April, 2019 at 8:54 pm

    Thank you so much Caroline you’re really helpful. And a great start me spelling my name wrong, the joys of typing on a small phone screen! I was going to become a member but I noticed you require a website so I assumed it was for established VAs already and I’ve not even started yet! How long would you say it takes to get everything set up so you’re ready to jump into client work? Hopefully I can get things going on the side of my full time job as I’m not in a financial position to quit work and won’t be for a long time but would like to get the ball rolling.

    Thank you!


    • Caroline on 2 April, 2019 at 8:58 pm

      Everyone is welcome to join – whatever stage they are at. However we only list VAs on the FIND A VA page if they are able to comply with the rules (including having a website). TBH how long it takes massively depends on how driven you are… A weekend? 2 years? Who knows! Definitely sensible to get stuff set up before making the leap though, it always takes longer than you think.

  4. Yasmin on 2 April, 2019 at 9:02 pm

    Oh that’s great I’ll try again I think I may be thinking of the listing page! That’s very true it’s all down to me then really but hopefully after reading so much of your blog it won’t be too long! Thank you so much for your advice I really appreciate it

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