A virtual assistant is a contractor who performs administrative tasks on behalf of a company or client, usually they do this remotely from a home office or other location.
Over the past few years the role of virtual assistant (VA) has become increasingly popular both for VAs and for hirers. Hirers tend to be small businesses, where this kind of ad hoc freelancer fits perfectly with any outstanding administrative tasks they need doing. Likewise a VA can be the perfect role for someone looking to manage their own time, and even set up a freelance business. With the rise of remote working over the past few years, this job has become a mainstay of freelance sites like Fiverr and Upwork, where VAs can help businesses with admin from anywhere in the world.
Here we look at how you can become a virtual assistant, how you can grow your skills and business, and how you get paid (+tax).
Virtual assistants help with a variety of tasks depending on the employer. It could be a small online business or a physical one, and they can be in any industry from ecommerce to a florist, or restaurant. Some examples of different industries are:
The work itself also varies from straight up admin to marketing and project management support. Some examples of what a virtual assistant might do:
Given the broad range of tasks and sectors that a virtual assistant might work in, it’s worth honing in on some general administrative skills to start out. There’s no set qualifications to start down the VA path but you would want to have a strong proficiency in English and maths, as well as solid IT experience. You can expect to be working a lot with spreadsheets and docs as well as a range of other software that your client might use.
For getting experience you could:
Get experience in office management IRL - Given the administrative nature of VA work, it’s good to have had some experience in managing office supplies and company finances as well as the people skills needed to manage healthy client relationships. Temping is a great way to get a few jobs and build experience in administrative roles.
Take on ad hoc admin tasks on freelance sites - There are many one-off admin jobs on Fiverr, Upwork and Craigslist that can help get your work off the ground. Bear in mind that you’ll be competing with VAs around the world so it can be a bit of a race to the bottom when offering the most competitive fees, but this can be a great place to build experience and grow your network.
Check out The Society of Virtual Assistants - The most established network of VAs, this offers tips, guides and a forum of VAs you can get help and potentially work from. Generally building out a network will be the most helpful long-term method to finding jobs and learning from.
Work your existing network - Chances are someone you know will need some administrative support. If you know any small business owners, or if a friend knows someone you could get ad hoc jobs for which is good for the CV and your skills.
With a bit of experience under your belt you’d want to think about how you market yourself. Finding a niche that you can become expert in is a popular method for standing out, whether it’s specialising in a particular industry or service. Types of VA out there include:
It’s worth making sure you have a strong online presence as well, so setting up a website that shows your skills and experience works as an important calling card when talking to prospective clients.
As you grow your network you’ll need to be active in your outreach to new business. LinkedIn is a great place to get your name out there and create a funnel for future business. Be active in reaching out to business owners and posting publicly (not everyone feels comfortable doing this second part, but it does mean you’ll stay on your networks radar).
Scaling your business can be tricky, it’s a person intensive type of work with few opportunities to automate your work. As a contractor, you’re within your right to sub-contract work out to other VAs and take a cut for yourself - these are known as associates. Building a network of sub-contractors could help you grow your business into something bigger.
The average fee charged by virtual assistants in the UK is £25 per hour. As with any self-run business you’ll want to scope out how much other VAs are charging for their business and where you fit into that.
Starting out anew with less experience or visibility means you should probably start with a cheaper rate and after a few months of working with clients you could look to increase it.
It’s also worth considering that with platforms like Upwork, you’ll be competing against VAs worldwide who will be able to charge much less for their assistance. So starting locally or with your existing network might be a financially healthier place to start.
As a virtual assistant you’ll most likely start out registered as self-employed. This means you need to inform HMRC that you will be taking on clients of your own (even if this is only part-time).
Alternatively you could register as a limited company which can be beneficial if you’re earning over around £75,000 per year, but with the introduction of IR35 last year it’s possible you could pay more in tax on your earnings. Here we’ll go through the ins and outs of how you might pay tax.
Each year you need to fill out a self-assessment tax return. What you pay is your tax bill minus the expenses of running your business. You can read more on how to complete your self-assessment tax return in this Earnr article.
The usual cut off date to complete your self-assessment is the 31st of January if you’re doing it online, and 31st of October if you’re completing the form by post.
In terms of how much you pay, you can read about tax bands and how your income affects them in this Earnr article. But basically they work like this:
Contractor / Limited business
Your employer should put aside part of your income towards income tax with each payment as part of IR35. IR35 is legislation brought in to stop companies and individuals avoiding tax by paying contractors through their limited company and the contractor receiving the money in dividends without paying tax on it.
If you’re a limited company, corporation tax is 19% of profits. Do keep in mind that you will likely need to pay income tax through IR35 as it works to the same brackets as self-employed and PAYE tax.
Earnr allows you to track your ingoings and outgoings over the course of the year, and automate your tax return. You mark each payment you receive and each expense to your income so that by the time you get to doing your tax return, we’ll have everything we need to process it for you.
We also give you real time projections for your income as the year progresses so you know how much tax you’ll need to pay. You can say goodbye to manual bookkeeping!
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