Becoming a virtual assistant is no different than starting any other business.
You’ll need to have (or be willing to learn) a marketable skill—something you can offer your clients in exchange for a fee.
You can start with a single service and add others over time. Or, you might decide to stick with a single specialization and charge a premium for your unique expertise.
The choice is yours to make.
Regardless of how specialized your VA services are, you’ll still need to become somewhat of a generalist when it comes to running your business. Sales, check. Accounting, check. Customer service, check, WordPress knowledge, check. This is the life of a solopreneur—there is always something new to learn.
The truth is there are so many things to learn, it’s hard to know where you should start. To call it overwhelming might be an understatement.
It’s okay. I get it.
To be honest, the learning process never stops. I think that’s part of what attracts many people to the idea of becoming a virtual assistant. There is constant variety—every day is different and a new challenge is just around the corner.
But one question that seems to come up over and over again is “where do I start?”
Which business skills do I need to develop first and which are the most likely to benefit my business in the long run?”
This is the exact question we’re going to take a closer look at today. The answers I’ve come up with are a result of two things:
- My personal experience, garnered from working with dozens of small business clients over the last six years.
- My observations from watching other virtual assistants grow their businesses—both those who are successful and those who seem to struggle.
Before we jump into our list, I should address another question that pops up from time to time.
Do I need to learn these business skills or can I sub-contract them?”
Sure, you can contract out some of the skills required to run your business—accounting is a great example.
While it’s okay to hire a bookkeeper to help you with entries or an accountant to file your year-end reports, someone else doing that doesn’t negate the need for some general accounting knowledge on your part.
No matter the circumstances, you should understand the numbers behind your business.
The same thing applies to sales skills. You could hire a salesperson to send out pitches to prospective clients and follow up with phone calls.
But at some point, you’ll need to develop your own set of baseline sales skills.
I know. I know. I can almost hear you arguing with me. Why spend time learning a part of your business if you can contract it out and focus on doing what you do best?
First, nobody will ever have the same vested interest in your business as you do. Second, it’s difficult to know whether someone is on the right track if you don’t really understand what they are doing in the first place.
Let me share an example:
I hired a bookkeeper a few months ago. And one of the first tasks I assigned her was setting up my chart of accounts and sales taxes. Because I have some basic accounting knowledge, I knew relatively quickly that she was doing things incorrectly. I was able to rectify the situation before it turned into an accounting disaster.
Imagine if I had let her plug away for six months or a year before discovering that she was the wrong person for the job. Imagine how big of a mess I would be left to clean up and how expensive doing so might become.
If you’re not sure what services you can offer as a virtual assistant, you can have a look at our list. We’ve come up with about 150 services – you’re sure to find a few that match your skills and interests.
Be aware of what’s happening in your business. The last thing you ever want to do is be running on blind faith. Trust is good, but ignorance will bite you in the rear.
7 Business Skills for Virtual Assistants
This process of learning all of these new virtual assistant skills might seem overwhelming at first, especially if you’re a new VA. But consider your hard work to be the equivalent of building a strong foundation. It will support the growth of your business for years to come and keep you on the right trajectory.
1. The Ability to Plan and Strategize
If you have a driver’s license, you can probably think back to when you were first learning to drive. Do you remember being taught the importance of looking way out in the distance, not just 10 feet ahead of your front bumper?
It’s easier to see where you’re going if you look further ahead. You’ll be able to spot new opportunities and potential hazards well in advance.
The same concept applies to your VA business.
As a solopreneur, it’s way too easy to get caught up in the work that’s in front of you right now. What might happen tomorrow or next week can wait. I get that. When you’re feeling busy or overwhelmed, the easiest way to reduce stress is by putting things on the back-burner.
But here’s the thing: If your want to grow your virtual assistant business, you’ll need to developing the ability plan and strategize. It’s one of the crucial and prized virtual assistant skill you can develop.
That means looking three, six and 12 months down the road and anticipating challenges and opportunities that deserve your attention.
2. Prioritize Revenue-Generating Tasks
Take it from someone who learned this the hard way.
If you don’t place an emphasis on tasks that generate revenue, your bottom line will suffer immeasurably. You might even go out of business.
There will always be a million things on your to-do list as a virtual assistant and business owner. But not all of those items deserve the same level of attention.
Some are important to the growth of your business (both short- and long-term) and others can be classified as “make work” or “rainy day” projects.
Don’t get me wrong, things such as organizing, social media, re-designing your website and optimization are important. But they aren’t directly responsible for producing revenue.
Before you do anything else, focus on the work which is directly responsible for generating the cash flow you need to keep your business running.
3. Stop Multitasking and Start Batching
We’re all guilty of multitasking. Even me.
For a long time, I felt like it was important to get better at managing multiple tasks simultaneously. At one point, I became so bad at focusing on a single task that I was doing something different every 5-10 minutes — often going back and forth between the same 2-3 projects.
I felt busy—running around like a chicken with its head cut off. But I never got very much work done.
What I’ve learned through experience is that very little good comes from multitasking. In fact, it almost always results in lost productivity and more frequent mistakes.
Giving up multitasking is not easy. It takes hard work and determination.
Learning to focus on a one thing at a time is the bomb. In fact, it’s one of the most valuable virtual assistant skills you can develop.
I am now more committed than ever to improving my ability to project a singular focus and this is having a positive impact on my level of productivity.
Once you’ve mastered the art of focusing on a single task, you might decide it’s time to consider batching.
The first time I learned about batching, I was listening to Pat Flynn. The concept he talked about was relatively simple: Instead of switching between various tasks on a macro level, try to complete as many instances of the same task in one sitting.
For example, email management is a common task where batching can make a huge difference.
Most of us reply to email as it arrives in our inbox. Depending on how busy we are, that might mean opening up Gmail 10-20 times per day just to read and reply to a single email. It might also mean picking up and checking the phone 20+ times per day.
It’s insanely inefficient.
Instead, try setting aside 1-2 specific times each day where you check and reply to emails. Maybe once in the morning and once in the afternoon. You might even consider setting up an auto-reply so that people know they are unlikely to receive an instant response.
Here’s a comparison of how a typical day might look before and after batching:
- 7 AM – Check and respond to client email
- 7:45 – Organize your tasks in Trello
- 8:00 – Client work
- 9:00 – Check and respond to client emails
- 10:00 – Social media promotion
- 10:10 – Check and respond to client email
- 10:45 – Client work
- 11:30 – Client phone call
- 12:00 – Lunch
- 12:45 – Check and respond to client emails
- 1:15 – Client work
- 2:45 – Post to social media
- 3:00 – Prepare a proposal
- 4:00 – Check and respond to client emails
- 4:30 – Post to social media
- 7 AM – Client work
- 9:30 – Check and respond to client emails
- 10:00 – Post and schedule social media for the next two weeks
- 11:15 – Schedule two client calls
- 12:00 – Lunch
- 12:45 – Client work
- 4:00 – Check and respond to client emails
- 4:30 – Prioritize tasks for tomorrow
At first glance, it might seem like you’re doing the same volume of work—which you are.
What you’re doing differently, though, is reducing the number of times that you switch between tasks. This saves time while improves concentration and productivity.
For most VAs, batching should be a relatively easy strategy to implement. If you’re already working on a specific task, just get more of it done at the same time.
4. Learn to Communicate More Effectively
Let’s just cut right to the chase on this point. Communication is an essential skill for any virtual assistant.
Personally, I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve come to the realization that I need to improve this one particular skill-set.
You can never be “good enough” at communication. Whether you’re conveying your thoughts to a client or outlining payment terms, there is always room for improvement.
Perhaps the most important thing to remember about improving your ability to communicate is that 50% of communication involves listening. Listening makes you better at sales, better at conflict resolution and better at meeting the needs of your clients.
5. Develop Your Sales Skills
At the end of the day, no matter how you slice it, you’re in the business of sales. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a VA who specializes in real estate, WordPress or social media.
If you can convince your clients and prospective clients that you’re offering something—a product or service—that will make their life or business better in some way, you’re golden.
Look, the thought of being good at sales can seem like a scary proposition, especially if you hate sales the way I do. But don’t let this four-letter word scare you away.
We’re not talking about going door-to-door. Being good at sales is much easier than that.
In fact, becoming good at sales only requires two essential ingredients:
- Be yourself. Your personality and your individual traits will go a long way toward helping you attract your ideal clients. You might be flamboyant, reserved, caring, meticulous or just plain anal-retentive. Whatever you are, it’s your individuality that will attract clients. They’ll be drawn to that piece of your personality, because it’s something they value. Give up on the notion that you’ll be able to land every new prospect. Nobody is that good.
- Communicate your value. Maybe you’re a WordPress expert or a social media maven. Whatever it is that you’re great at, you need to be able to communicate it to your potential clients. Audio, video or written word are all fine. Just find a way that works well for you. And stick with it.
That’s not so complicated, is it?
Sales shouldn’t be scary, difficult or overwhelming. All you need to do in order to grow your freelance business is put yourself out there consistently and share your message. Tell people how you can help them and then do it. Under-promise and over-deliver!
6. Acquire Basic Accounting Knowledge
Ok, so I realize that accounting isn’t everyone’s favorite topic. However, sometimes we need to do the things which we enjoy the least.
Putting your dislike for numbers aside, there are several benefits to developing basic accounting knowledge and maintaining the books for your VA business.
For one thing, it will help you become more aware of what’s happening in your business. Instead of relying on hunches or memory, you’ll be able to:
- Determine which clients and projects are most profitable.
- Know which clients pay their bills late and which ones are reliable.
- Understand which parts of your VA business generate the most revenue and in which quarter most of that revenue arrive.
- See when your expenses are getting out of hand or impacting profitability.
- Figure out which clients are due for a rate increase.
I think you’ll agree that each one of those items is important by itself. The more insight you have into the numbers behind your business, the greater your odds of success.
Even if you’re not sure how to read a balance sheet or income statement, it’s a good idea to learn how to extract and understand the numbers that are most likely to contribute to the growth of your business.
7. Commit to Personal and Professional Development
As a virtual assistant, your business is either moving forward or backward.
There is no static. Time never stands still.
If you fail to make progress—even small but measurable progress—you’ve lost some of your most valuable asset.
There is a reason that I put this “skill” at the end of the list. It’s because a commitment to personal and professional development has the potential to impact your business more than anything else.
But what is personal and professional development and what does it look like?
It’s the never-ending pursuit of knowledge and the desire to continually improve.
It’s the desire to seek perfection of your craft, to become a better salesperson, a better communicator and to understand more about the numbers behind your business.
It’s figuring out how you can provide more value and solve problems more efficiently for your clients.
Commitment to personal and professional development means being a better virtual assistant and business owner today than you were yesterday.
Improving Your Virtual Assistant Skills Benefits You and Your Clients
For many people (myself included), our side-hustles started out as a hobby—a way to earn a few extra dollars or set aside some money for an annual vacation.
If your business is like mine, you may have started by doing some occasional work for friends and family. Things slowly progress and before you know it, you’re taking on projects for friends of friends and your great uncle, too.
Then the referrals start coming in. Slowly at first and then before you know it, you’ve landed a big project.
The realization hits you: This VA side-hustle has turned into a legitimate business that requires actual work. You need to create packages, figure out pricing, hire a bookkeeper and a build better-looking website. And overhead! Holy crap, your business now has recurring expenses. Sales are no longer an option.
It can be overwhelming how quickly a casual VA gig turns into a full-fledged business. But once it does, you’ve got to make a decision: Are you going to run with this business—turning it into something great and escaping your 9-5 in the process—or are you going to let it flounder and go back to the status quo?
The answer to that question lies in your commitment to becoming a better virtual assistant. Not just in terms of your chosen craft but also in your desire to become a more well-rounded business owner.