I first learned about the virtual assistant industry in the strangest of locations – a national park on the east coast of Australia. I started chatting with a fellow traveler who was living in her van and working as a virtual assistant while driving around the country. Alex woke up to a new scene each morning – beaches, bushland, campgrounds, festival sites, the odd driveway here and there when she missed city life.
Though this girl definitely represents the extreme end of the virtual assistant lifestyle, and I’m yet to meet another virtual assistant like her, the level of freedom she created from the career path is proof of what’s possible.
If your dream is more along the lines of getting to work in your pajamas, being able to spend more time with your family, not having to waste time commuting to an office, or perhaps one day working and traveling in a less extreme fashion than Alex, then the life of a virtual assistant may well be for you.
To help you get a feel for the industry and whether you think the benefits outweigh the challenges, I’ve gathered together all the good things my virtual assistant friends love to gush about and all the drawbacks they bring up when they’re having a tough day.
What are the benefits of being a virtual assistant?
From my experience, the people drawn to the virtual assistant field tend to be optimistic, cheerful types who love connecting with people. For this reason, I hear far more about the positives of being a virtual assistant than the negatives.
1. Freedom, sweet freedom
This is always the first thing that comes up. As a virtual assistant, you’re not tied to an office or even a country. There may be time zone restrictions with some clients (if they need to be able to contact you immediately, it won’t work if you’re in Mexico and they’re in Australia). However, you also have the ability to choose who you work with and the types of services you offer, meaning it is possible to set yourself up for ultimate freedom.
Here are some of the main things you can look forward to:
- Fashion freedom – no need for high heels or a whole section of your wardrobe dedicated to clothes you only ever wear to work.
- Schedule control – you decide when to start and finish, how many hours you want to work each week, and when your vacations should be.
- A free-range lifestyle – you can work from the couch, by the pool, in your favorite coffee shop, or wherever else takes your fancy.
- A traffic-free lifestyle – you no longer have to be anywhere work-related during peak-hour traffic, saving you time, money, and all that energy you might’ve spent on road rage.
- Freedom from rushing – you can set your days up to ensure you never have to rush anywhere for anything. Master the art of scheduling and you can even ditch your alarm clock and allow yourself to wake up naturally every day (a blissful experience your mind and body will thank you for).
2. There’s a niche to suit every personality and skillset
Though most of the virtual assistants I know handle things like admin, scheduling, online customer service, and social media, there are many other needs a virtual assistant can fulfil.
For example, you could edit pictures and videos for a social media influencer, you could do graphic design work and coding for a website developer, or you could handle online chat support for a training facility.
Whether you’re a bubbly extrovert or conscientious introvert, there are plenty of virtual assistant niches to suit. The same goes for the skill-set you’re entering the field with. To learn more about the wealth of possibilities available to you, check out our complete guide to getting started as a virtual assistant.
3. You get to choose your clients
If you’re coming from an office environment, you’re probably already on board with me here. Imagine walking into your workplace, deciding you don’t want to work with your manager anymore, and instead of quitting, you just get to pick a new one? If you’ve worked in customer service, imagine being able to simply “fire” that one customer who does nothing but complain?
As a virtual assistant, you have this power.
Of course, you don’t want to go around starting business relationships with people and then ditching them a few weeks in. That’s the quickest way to get a bad reputation in the industry. Instead, take some time before you start a working relationship with someone to be clear about their goals and yours.
Though it’s tempting in the beginning to accept any clients you can get, it’s essential for your longevity in this industry that you only take onboard people you know you can get along with and who are offering a workload you can handle.
4. You can set your own rates
Though it’s worth using the industry average pay rate for virtual assistants as a guide, you still have a lot of freedom in determining how much you’ll get paid.
Most virtual assistants in the US are operating within this range:
Of course, your level of experience, your niche, and your negotiation skills will all play a part in determining how much you get paid by each client you work with.
5. The startup costs are super low
You’ll likely find that most of the tools you need to get started as a virtual assistant are things you already have. In fact, there’s plenty of work out there that requires nothing more than a laptop and reliable wi-fi.
Over time, you may find that you want to invest in products or services that will make your work easier or allow you to expand into new areas. For example, you may find that an Adobe Creative Cloud subscription allows you to do more creative work and charge more per hour. Or perhaps Grammarly allows you to cut down on your proofreading time so much that it’s worth the premium subscription.
However, when you’re just starting out, you can be as frugal as you need to be and still find plenty of work.
6. There’s room to move and flow with the work you love
Building from the last point, if you get bored with the niche you started in, there’s scope within the virtual assistant realm for you to up-skill and change the work you’re doing.
You might start out managing social media accounts while learning graphic design on the side. You can then either offer this additional service to your existing clients or find new ones who have a need for what you’re offering.
What are the challenges of being a virtual assistant?
Though there’s a lot to love about working as a virtual assistant, the industry isn’t frustration-free.
1. You’ll soon realize the office had its advantages
Though working from home is a dream for many people, once you’re a few weeks in, you’ll realize it comes with its own set of challenges.
When you work in an office, there’s a clear border between your spaces of work, rest, and play. When you throw them all together in your home, it’s easy to get distracted when you should be working. On the flip side, having your workplace in your living space can result in you sacrificing work-life balance in favor of getting one (or five) more tasks done.
If you struggle with this, it’s worth treating yourself like one of your clients – schedule your day and stick to the structure to ensure you fit everything in. Depending on your lifestyle and your clients’ needs, this could mean dedicating your mornings, afternoons, or evenings to work; or it could mean alternating between work and leisure activities all throughout the day.
While you’re in work mode, be sure to log out of your personal social media accounts, turn off non-work-related notifications, and ensure your family or housemates know not to disturb you.
2. You can’t always rely on your schedule
Even if you successfully navigate scheduling your days and working from home without distraction, there are going to be times when your clients throw one of those annoying proverbial spanners in the works. In fact, some weeks it can feel like it’s raining spanners.
Urgent deadlines, last-minute changes, travel delays, and a whole host of other issues can crop up at any time, meaning that leisurely afternoon you were looking forward to gets eaten up by work.
Though you have to be careful about letting clients demand too much, it is important to be flexible and prepared to jump in and save the day for them. This will help you build the kind of experience and reputation that will allow you to push your rates to the higher end of the scale pictured above.
3. You won’t get benefits or paid vacations
Unless you’re hired as a remote-working employee, you’ll be operating your own business as a virtual assistant, meaning you won’t get healthcare, annual leave, sick days, paid vacations, or any of the other perks you might’ve grown accustomed to while working in an office environment.
4. You have to manage your own business as well as your clients’
As a freelance virtual assistant, you will need to handle your own invoicing, bookkeeping, taxes, and all other aspects of running a business. Over time, this admin work will become second-nature, and though it can be tedious, it will also give you an added set of skills you can offer to clients. So, it may be boring and time-consuming, but it’s not all bad!
Freelancing as a virtual assistant: final thoughts
The beauty of the virtual assistant industry lies in the fact that it allows for so much versatility. No two virtual assistants are exactly alike, with each one specializing in their own niches. This means that, no matter what your starting skill-set is, there’s likely to be someone willing to pay for your assistance. And once you’re up and running, there’s plenty of room for you to grow.
If you have any questions about the life of a virtual assistant, please feel free to comment below as we’d be happy to help you out.