What To Watch Out For When Starting A VA Business

What I call Bad Advice! Seems like I’ve been on my soapbox a lot lately… and I guess I have because I’ve seen such a change in the VA Industry in the last year.

First of all, if you’d rather listen to this than reading it please check out the podcast below.

I’ve seen so many pieces of what I call “bad advice” given to new Virtual Assistants; I wanted to write a blog post that covers them all!

And… I’ve just added a bit more to this list!

It’s the good, bad and ugly things you need to watch out for when you’re starting your VA business.

Oh… some of this stuff is actually taught by so-called experts in their training and coaching programs and used in their marketing.

This will be one of those posts that will grow – as I find more bad advice I’ll be sure to add it to the list. So… let’s dive in.

#1 The Fake It Until You Make It Strategy

I wrote an entire blog post on this one but I’m going to summarize it here.

I understand taking an opportunity to learn something new but you need to be honest with your clients. Let them know you’re willing to learn – don’t fake it.

Faking means you’re not really sure what you’re doing. Like saying you know Infusionsoft but you’ve never seen it before.

Lack of confidence means you have the skills and know what you’re doing, you’ve just not done it enough to be confident yet. For example, you’ve taken classes to learn WordPress but you’ve not offered it as a service yet. Do you really want to fake it with your clients? You’re working in their business – their baby.

They trust you can do what you say. Remember, it’s your business and reputation on the line.

Oh… and if you’re thinking about offering back-end type services such as social media marketing or techie tools, be sure you get the training you need. These are not the same as offering admin skills that you can learn OTJ.

The VA Industry is NOT Admin only!

#2 Work For Free

Why would you work for free? Your knowledge, skills and expertise are valuable and you should be paid for them. When you work for free you’re not valuing the work you do or yourself. Not to mention, people who want things for free can turn out to be nightmare clients.

I see lots of people saying work for free for a testimonial, but you’re still giving away your time and knowledge. And… they’re worth something, right? Yes, they are!

Instead of working for free, offer a discounted rate, a launch special, a flash sale but don’t work for FREE.

Once the work is done ask them for a testimonial.

They get a break on the rate and you get paid for your time, expertise and knowledge.

#3 It’s Easy, Anyone Can Do It (Be a Virtual Assistant)

Nope, not true. It’s not easy and not everyone is cut out to be a VA. Take the time to really understand what it takes to be successful.

Learn all you can about the day in the life of a Virtual Assistant so you can make the right decision for you. Just know that it’s a lot of work when starting out but it’s worth it for the freedom and flexibility you get.

Remember… it’s a Business NOT a JOB.

It’s a tremendous amount of work to set up a business and learn all you need to know about being a business owner and a Virtual Assistant.

If it’s not for you – that’s OK. Just realize it’s not easy.

#4 You Can Make $5k In Your First 30 Days

No one can guarantee how much you’ll make in any timeframe… period. There are so many factors that go into being successful as a VA. Is it possible? Sure but it’s the exception NOT the rule.

The potential to make this type of money is there but you have to do the work… this is NOT a get rich quick scheme.

This is a marketing ploy used to get your attention.

#5 Get A VA Certification

I wrote an entire blog post on this one too! I’ll summarize it here.

There are NO true “Virtual Assistant Certifications”. There is NO Industry-wide approved certification.

Now, I know there are a few organizations that offer certifications, just be aware of what they mean by certified.

Ask questions like “What do you need to do to obtain the certification and what do you get from it?“

There’s a big difference between completion and certification.

The bottom line is you don’t need to be certified to be a successful Virtual Assistant and be sure you understand what you’re getting for your investment of both time and money.

#6 Get Your First Client, Then Figure Out What To Do Next

Not a good way to start a successful business. A business is a system. You need to set up your business systems BEFORE you work with clients.

I’ve seen people who followed this advice and ended up posting for help on what to do next in a Facebook Group and guess what? The client that just hired them was in the group and saw the post. Not a good way to start a relationship.

If you’re looking to build a successful business and give your clients a first-class experience, do yourself and them a favor, don’t follow this bad piece of advice.

Take the time to have your business set up before you land your first client.

#7 How To Start Your VA Business With No Money

You can definitely bootstrap starting a Virtual Assistant business BUT you will need some money. I’m not talking about thousands of dollars here, you can probably get by for $500 – $1,000. I know that sounds like a ton of money – especially when you don’t have it, but you don’t have to lay it all out at once.

Create a budget for yourself – do the research to find out how much things cost. It all varies based on where you live and the type of services you are offering.

Remember… you’re building a business NOT a hobby. And… you want it to be successful right? Then you’re going to have to invest $$$ into it.

Just realize that there is an investment in starting any business – it’s not free.

#8 How To Start A VA Business With No Experience

I’m willing to bet that about 99% of all Virtual Assistants started with ZERO experience. I was never a VA before nor was I ever a business owner.

You don’t need experience as a Virtual Assistant to start a VA business. But… you need to have some experience working one-on-one with clients. If you don’t, it will be a much harder journey.

#9 “If You’re Confused Or Don’t Know What To Charge Start at $25 An Hour”

One of the worst things that I’ve seen in my opinion is advice around if you are confused or don’t know what to charge an hour, start at 25 bucks.

I’m sorry, I have a real problem with this and I may ruffle some feathers, but I really don’t care because this is bad advice.

How can anybody tell you that $25 is what you should charge if you don’t know? How do they know??

You don’t just pull a number out of a hat and say hey “charge this”. (If you do… you’ll probably be out of business quickly or realize you need to raise your rates to survive).

First of all, you should know your baseline rate because all of us have a different number that we need to earn to be successful. The last thing you want to do is start your business and then struggle for money.

There are clients that will pay you what you want or what you need. You just have to believe that!

My best analogy is there are business coaches that make $100 an hour and there are business coaches that make $50,000 an hour and they both have clients.

So… please don’t let somebody dictate what your rate is because if someone would’ve said, “Susan, you need to start at $25 an hour,” I’d have gone out of business because my hourly rate was $50 an hour minimum!

This is NOT a cookie-cutter industry. It is NOT one size fits all. Please don’t fall for this AWFUL piece of advice. If you don’t know what rates to charge, do your homework!

I’d hate to see you undercharging for your expertise and having a hard time paying your bills because you followed advice from someone saying if you’re confused or don’t know what to charge start at $25 an hour!

If you don’t how much you need to charge, please take a few minutes to watch my YouTube series on setting your rates and walking you through how to find your baseline rate. It’s FREE and includes a link to download my rate calculation sheet too!

Spend the time, do the exercise and find out how much you need to earn so you can stay in business because $25 might not be enough. You may need $50 or $75. Remember, believe in what you’re offering and believe in yourself, but please do not fall for that piece of very bad advice in my opinion.

I don’t want people to have to struggle to pay their bills based on bad advice.

Whew… ok that’s it for now. I hope you found these tips valuable.

As I find more, I’ll be sure to add them to the list.

If you’ve got one to share, please do! All comments and questions are welcome.

Thanks for reading – Susan

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Written by Susan Mershon

Susan Mershon started The Techie Mentor™ in 2013 to teach Virtual Assistants her no-fluff approach to the systems and skills they need to build and automate a successful business.

With a strong base in project management, Susan brings her love of systems and teaching to offer in-depth training and mentoring to new and experienced Virtual Assistants.

She’s taught over 5,000 students her unique systems and strategies that focus on offering high-end skills that give you the freedom to work when and where you want.

To learn more about The Techie Mentor™ and the systems and skills she teaches without all the fluff or hype go to The Techie Mentor website.

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24 Comments
  1. Sonja Stoces

    One thing I’ve learned, don’t let your clients treat you like an employee! They need to value you as a business owner. You are their equal, not their lackey. You also have to be able to show your value. So many people think they can just pick up a VA for $10/hr (or that’s all they want to pay) to do skilled work. If you can show your value and get away from the “by the hour” mentality, it’ll be so much better for you. I do still do some things by the hour, but most things I give a set “package” price for. If it takes me longer than I thought it would, the client gets a deal and I learn how to refine my process. If it takes less time, I’ve given myself a raise!

    • Susan Mershon

      Exactly, well said Sonja and thank you for commenting 😉

  2. Pamela Lynch

    I recently was in a free online seminar about becoming a VA. That person, and many others not in the seminar, was saying to start backwards by just getting a client, have them sign this contract, then do the work and get paid. The VA will be able to figure out the marketing and legal stuff later. They wanted more for the courses than I could afford because I was just laid off from my job. But as I was watching the free seminar, I started asking the BIG legal questions and could not get an answer.

    I started to become skeptical of what the speaker was saying because if someone was going to be able to figure this out, without getting too scared, they should be able to handle the legalities of having a business license, getting an on-call attorney/lawyer (if necessary), having insurance and much more. Though, I guess I had to pay for the course if I wanted an answer. To me that should be at the top of the seminar because it is a business, not a regular 9 to 5 job.

    Then they should go into how to get experience if the person has none and how to get clients. Though, at this moment, I partially believe that if your going into business for yourself and you don’t know how to do what you say your going to do, how can you offer services without scamming the client? You can’t.

    I have also been told over the years by friends and family to fake it till you make it. This doesn’t work. It has never worked. It will never work. The employers will always see straight through the employee trying to get a job. Thanks for this post. I really enjoyed reading it.

    • Susan Mershon

      Thank you Pamela for sharing your experience – it scares me to think that people are getting paid for bad advice that can actually ruin a business before it gets started. Plus they charge a hefty sum for the course too! In time they’ll be exposed for selling bad advice but not soon enough!

  3. Loretta

    I get a lot of emails and messages saying the same thing that Alicia and Yolanda were talking about, people wanting to pluck a virtual assistant “job” out of thin air like magic. If only it were that easy LOL

    I’m also not a fan of the fake it until you make it thing, and it seems that has been going around a lot more recently 🙁 Everyone has to start somewhere, but don’t get a client before you know how to handle that particular task. If you contract with someone for something you don’t even know how to do yet, that’s just going to be messy for everyone and can land you in some trouble.

    If an existing client asks you about a new thing and you want to learn it, that’s a different story, but be honest about not knowing how to do the thing yet and offer to learn it for them. That can work for new clients, too, but again being honest about the learning process and offering to learn it for them. In my experience that sort of thing is good for everyone and there’s no faking required.

    • Susan Mershon

      Thank you Loretta, great input and much appreciated!

  4. Lyn Prowse-Bishop

    Another great post Susan! The fake it till you make it mentality really is a problem for the industry as a whole I think and it’s a little terrifying seeing just how many are out there promoting just that!

    • Susan Mershon

      Thank you Lyn and I so agree. It tarnishes the whole industry!

  5. Alicia Jay

    Great post, Susan! Here’s another thing that I see often. I frequently have people who will message me or join my FB group and say, “I’m looking for a way to make a little easy money on the side working from home, so this person I know told me that I should look into being a virtual assistant. Can you tell me where to find a VA job?”

    As you said, this is an actual business that takes time and effort to create and market. Quite often, when I have conversations with people of this mindset, they tell me that sounds like way too much work, and what they were really looking for is a telecommute job or side gig. The more people that understand what we really do in this industry, the better, so I appreciate you writing posts like this!

    • Susan Mershon

      Thank you Alicia, ok if I add that the lists in the blog? And you’re so right I see so many people who just want a telecommute job and think the being a VA is the answer.

    • Yolanda Crowley (@CrowleyAsst)

      Exactly, Alicia.
      A lot of people don’t realize that it’s an actual business. I went through the process of (a ton of) research, registering my business, learning how to market myself (the right and wrong way), learning new skills, etc.

      The majority of people get into the VA groups and ask, “I want to be a VA. Where do I find clients?” (That’s not how it works!)

      Turns out, they don’t have a business. They just want to work from home and they have a laptop so how hard can it be? That’s NOT A VA! If one wants to be a VA, an actual business owner (not some freelancer on Upwork), one must be willing to do the research and be ready for A LOT OF WORK. And unfortunately, it’s rare to come across people who make an investment in themselves, put in the time and either research on their own, or sign up for a course.

      Whenever I see people in groups that ask, “I’m thinking of working with a VA and need advice. Where do I start?” I always tell them, “Work with someone who is a business owner themselves – someone who actually has a business. Someone who has insurance, has their own contract, has testimonials, etc.” I tell them that working with a business owner means they won’t disappear on you because they have a business to run and a good reputation they want to keep v. using an overseas freelancer on Upwork. Cheap doesn’t always mean better.

      Bottom line: starting a VA business is work. It’s not as simple as turning on your laptop.

      • Susan Mershon

        Yolanda, thank you this is awesome advice. Love your take on working with business owners vs freelancers. It’s so true that when you have a business you have a reputation to keep.

  6. joyn01

    Excellent advice. There are so many “experts”, “Trainers” out here it’s easy to be mislead.

    • Susan Mershon

      Thank you! Yes there are and new ones popping up every day trying to sell their courses teaching the wrong things.

  7. Catherine Sarantopoulou

    Thanks for this Susan! I really appreciate all the guidance, from you and the group, as I start my VA journey!

    • Susan Mershon

      Thank you Catherine! Glad you found it helpful.

  8. Clare

    Hit the nail on the head again Susan! I had over 15 years experience as a senior EA when I started my VA business, but it was still a learning curve and I had to (and still do) learn new skills. It makes me mad when people come along and say ‘anyone can do it’ and ‘it’s easy’. I’m proud of my business and reputation, if someone thinks they can achieve the same in a week, then good luck to them!

    • Susan Mershon

      Thanks Clare! Exactly… it takes work + time to be successful. You have to put in the time and effort to make it work for you.

  9. Dawn

    Great post Susan, and very relevant here in South Africa where the industry is in its infancy. Thank You!

  10. The Holistic VA

    Awesome advice Susan. There are many components to running a VA business and it ISN’T as simple as just having a laptop with some skills. We’re a part of a PROFESSIONAL industry and any less ruins any credibility. New VAs must do their homework or get some mentoring from those of us who have been around for a while (i.e. more than 5 years at least, even longer).

    • Susan Mershon

      Thank you – I agree that some people make it seem so easy, like all you need to know is how to use the internet. Or you can use your current skills and be successful without learning anything new. Both so wrong!

  11. Kathie Thomas

    As always, another great post, and definitely in agreement Susan.

    • Susan Mershon

      Thank you Kathie – I feel it’s important to educate as many people as we can!

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