Virtual assistants are a relatively new phenomenon ushered in by the internet, and becoming a VA can be a great full-time job that allows people to work from home.
Just a few years ago, almost anyone could land a VA job — it was such a new field that there was little competition. But today, dozens of candidates apply for every VA job posting, so it helps to know exactly what the job requires and to train yourself in those skills.
In this post, we’ll explain a few of the most typical VA duties and show you where to find virtual assistant training in the tools of the trade so you can stand out, win jobs and make more money for your time.
At the end of the post, you’ll also find a short Q&A with Giney Horkey, a successful VA who launched one of the training resources recommended below.
Top Virtual Assistant Skills to Master
Bookkeeping is vital for any small business, but it’s often not something that requires a full-time, dedicated employee.
Bookkeeping means tracking receipts, documenting accounts payable and receivable, making sure banking transactions are complete and accurate, logging employee reimbursements, and preparing the documentation to give to the business’s accountant to handle quarterly taxes.
Training Resource: Bookkeeper Business Launch offers free courses to teach you what a bookkeeper does, how to use the tools of the trade, and how to find clients. The courses are great for those with no prior bookkeeping experience.
2. Scheduling and Correspondence
Schedule management is often among a VA’s most important responsibilities, because the process of setting up calls and meetings — which sometimes require multiple rounds of correspondence in order to lock in each appointment — can easily consume many hours of a workday.
From a client’s perspective, that time is better spent focusing on other parts of their business, so they turn to VAs to handle this administrative work.
It’s not as simple as it might seem, though. To be an effective scheduler, you have to understand your client’s priorities, preferences and workflow, and you need to be skilled at balancing a wide array of competing demands — which occasionally means telling people “no.”
Correspondence is a key aspect of scheduling. You’ll be writing and responding to emails and letters; drafting memos to prepare your boss for meetings; and making, answering and returning phone calls and texts. In many cases, this work is conducted in Microsoft Outlook, an email application with a deeply-integrated calendar and appointment tool.
Tool to Master: Microsoft Outlook.
Training Resource: Creative Live is an online learning platform that offers video courses in a number of skills and applications, including Outlook. If you’re already somewhat familiar with the app, you can pick and choose the specific lessons you need in order to bolster your proficiency. Just visit the site using this link and search for “Outlook” to see the available options.
3. Lead Generation
All businesses need an influx of new customers. When you’re selling a physical product, one of the best ways to acquire them is through advertising. But when you’re selling a service — such as consulting — you need to identify potential clients as a first step to marketing your business.
Clients often hire VAs to identify these potential clients (aka “leads”) based on a specific set of criteria. For example, a web designer might tell their VA to conduct research on companies within a particular niche that haven’t updated their website in the past two years.
The designer may then have the VA reach out to the leads, pass them off to a salesperson, or contact them directly. In any case, this process is usually managed through a CRM platform — an acronym that stands for “Customer Relationship Management.”
A CRM platform serves as a repository for clients and leads, contains a record of every contact made with those people, and facilitates cross-team information sharing and collaboration. Salesforce is by far the most popular CRM.
Tool to Master: Salesforce.
Training Resource: Trailhead is a certification program for the various functions of Salesforce, from Administrator to CPQ Specialist to Developer. The online courses “gameify” learning the platform. After completing the course, users can take the proctored certification exam at a local testing site or online.
4. Content Management
Content management entails the scheduling, publication and maintenance of a business’s blog posts, website pages, videos, and so forth. As with scheduling meetings, the process of getting an article ready to post online can be laborious and time consuming — sometimes taking longer than writing the article itself.
In many cases, the content needs to be edited, proofread and formatted; it needs to have graphics and links added; it needs to be physically ported over the business’s content management system (CMS); and it needs to be scheduled and checked for quality control after publication.
Tool to Master: WordPress, which is by far the most widely-used content management system. (Nearly 40% of the web runs on the platform.)
Training Resource: Learning how to use content management systems is fairly straightforward, so if you want to bring more value to the table than other VAs, mastering Google Analytics should be on your agenda.
Google Analytics tracks a website’s user metrics, and understanding how to access, analyze and report on the data it provides can give clients incredible insights into who is viewing their content, what’s working, and what needs to be improved. Google’s Analytics Academy takes users from the basics of the tool through its more advanced features.
5. Social Media Management
Social media management involves creating and scheduling online content, engaging with customers and potential customers, and analyzing the success of individual posts and full campaigns across various platforms including Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
Tool to Master: Hootsuite, a widely-used tool that allows you to manage multiple social media profiles from a single dashboard.
Training Resource: Facebook is still the largest social media platform out there, with more than 2 billion members, making it the best choice to find and engage customers. Facebook offers certification courses in areas including digital marketing, media planning, and advertising products.
6. E-Commerce Support
E-commerce tools are becoming increasingly sophisticated, but for those who aren’t especially tech-savvy, setting up and running an online shopping site can be frustrating. On top of that, even small e-commerce sites require near-constant attention: there are customer inquiries to respond to, orders to fulfill, returns to process, and inventory to manage.
Tool to Master: Shopify, which is a hosted e-commerce platform that makes it relatively easy for businesses to get a good-looking and functional online shop up and running.
A VA who specializes in writing — or who at least has better-than-average writing skills — can handle things like the creation of blog articles, newsletters, and social media posts. As freelance writers often charge between 25 and 50 cents per word, the ability to produce publishable content can dramatically increase your value to clients.
Tool to Master: Google Docs. It’s a simple word processing tool, but understanding every aspect of the app will improve your workflow and enable you to better serve your clients. Unlike Microsoft Word, Google Docs makes sharing and collaborating quick and easy, and there are a wide array of add-ons you can use to extend its functionality.
Training Resource: There’s no shortage of freelance writers available, so having some training will help you stand out. The Earn More Writing School is a course that can not only sharpen your skills as a writer but help you grow it into a full-time career. You can also learn more about what clients look for in a freelance writer in this guide to getting started in the field.
As a VA, you’ll often be responsible for handling the business’s correspondence, social media posts and writing. As such, you may be the last person to see written material before it goes out to its intended recipients, and it will be your responsibility to make sure everything is free from errors and presented in a way that’s both straightforward and effective.
Tool to Master: You should always conduct a manual proofread before you hit “publish” or “send,” but tools like Grammarly and Hemingway can serve as a second set of eyes. Both offer more advanced spell-checking capability than provided by Word and Google Docs, and can help you catch things those applications miss.
Training Resource: Proofreading isn’t easy, in part because your mind has a way of glossing over small mistakes. That’s largely a result of how we process written language; we don’t read syllable-by-syllable by default, but rather by full word and even by sentence. And while doing so, we subconsciously anticipate what’s going to be said, leading us to completely miss errors that are on the page.
But there are some tips, tricks and approaches you can use to catch those mistakes. Proofread Anywhere is a service that offers online courses to help you master the process.
9. Project Management
The phrase “project management” encompasses an entire professional discipline, and getting hired as a project manager usually requires the completion of one or more certification programs.
But all businesses have projects, and a VA who understands the basics of project management can help bring those projects to completion smoothly and effectively — which can have a big impact on the client’s bottom line.
And it’s not as complicated as it sounds. In many cases, it may only entail creating and maintaining a simple workflow that makes sense for your client and helps keep everyone working on the project both on-task and on-deadline.
Tool to Master: My favorite project management tool for small business is Trello, a simple and flexible application that makes it easy to assign tasks and track progress. Asana is a similar but more feature-rich platform that’s better suited for complex projects with many members.
Training Resource: Coursera offers a variety of project management courses, ranging from general courses for beginners to courses in specific industries, including engineering and construction.
10. Data Entry
Data entry jobs can simply involve transferring data from one place to another, such as from paper to digital and vice versa. But it can also involve research, scouring the web for information and inputting that into a tracker, spreadsheet or database — often by translating what you find into a specific code or format.
Tool to Master: Most clients who request data entry work use Excel, Microsoft’s feature-heavy spreadsheet program. The application can be tricky for beginners to learn and can take years to master, but understanding what it can do (and how to do it) can make you incredibly valuable, as you may be able to sort and analyze data in ways your clients don’t even know is possible.
Training Resource: Udemy is an online training platform that offers Excel courses, starting as low as $9.99.
Get Trained in High-Demand VA Niches
While there are plenty of general VA jobs available, those who cultivate skills in more niche areas of the field can make more money and wear fewer hats.
Why It’s Hot: Pinterest has a huge audience and businesses want to capture some of it. The site has added more U.S. users in recent years than Facebook and Twitter combined, and Pinterest drives 33% more traffic to shopping sites than Facebook does.
The Skills You’ll Need: VAs need to be able to create compelling pins and descriptions, know the best time to schedule pins, track and understand analytics, and seek out new audiences for the business.
Training Resource: Pinterestva offers online courses that can help you become a full-time, freelance Pinterest VA. You’ll learn the skills that are in demand, how much to charge clients, how to find clients, and grow your client relationships.
2. Real Estate
Why It’s Hot: Real estate agents would prefer to spend their time cultivating new clients and servicing existing ones, rather than dealing with the dozens of administrative tasks required to buy and sell homes. This makes the field ripe for specialized VAs.
The Skills You’ll Need: A real estate VA’s duties can include photographing new listings, sourcing and organizing staging materials, scheduling appointments, and handling customer questions and problems.
Training Resource: The Horkey Handbook is an online course that teaches users how the real estate business works, how transactions are conducted, how to handle the needs of both your client and the agent’s clients, and how to find real estate agents in need of a VA.
Why It’s Hot: All businesses are selling something — whether it’s tangible like a book, or a service like construction. More and more, they’re turning online to find people who can help generate sales.
The Skills You’ll Need: VAs must be able to identify and capture potential customers, successfully pitch to those customers, and handle customer issues that may arise.
Training Resource: Hubspot Academy offers a variety of online sales training courses including inbound sales, software sales, and sales techniques.
Frequently Asked Questions about VA Training
There are all sorts of VA training programs, but not all of them are legitimate. If you’re required to sign a non-disclosure agreement before embarking upon a class, that’s almost certainly a sign that the entity offering the classes is not legitimate (think: why don’t they want you to share your experience with the course?).
Read online reviews before handing over money for any class, but take them (as well as the “testimonials” you see on the company’s website) with a grain of salt — there’s no reason to believe they’re real.
Rather, focus on programs that offer a free introductory course so you can get a sense of the program before signing up and parting with your money.
You don’t need any kind of training to work in the medical field as a VA, although there may be some specialized terms to learn.
The Horkey Handbook is a great place to take VA training classes. The site offers a variety of courses including email management, project management, real estate, and more.
Interview With Gina Horkey, Founder of the Horkey Handbook
One misconception about starting a work-from-home career is that it requires a completely different skill set from what one acquires in a traditional job. While the skills listed above are all important and can help you earn more money, having a strong work ethic, having the ability to solve problems creatively, and knowing how to relate to others are still the foundation of success — even when you’re working remotely.
So when you ask many work-at-home freelancers how they got started, they’ll tell you it wasn’t some new tech skill such as Facebook advertising that got their foot in the door. Instead, it was the basic skills they learned in their offline career that paved the way for their online success.
One such freelancer is Gina Horkey. In 2014, she launched her freelance career and within six months was earning over $4,000 a month. What’s more impressive was that she did so while working full-time and raising two toddlers.
Horkey didn’t go out and acquire a completely different set of skills to launch her freelance career. Instead, with over 10-years of experience working in the financial services industry, she went out and started freelance writing for personal finance websites.
Today, Horkey is thriving as a freelancer and has expanded the services she offers, becoming one of the top experts who provide virtual assistant training. In my opinion, where she really shines is in putting together a step-by-step blueprint for how to move from zero to having a thriving VA business.
I had the chance to ask Gina about how she got started, how to find work as a beginner, what you need to get started and more.
What exactly is a virtual assistant?
Horkey: We define a virtual assistant as someone that trades skills, time or services in return for pay from afar. In other words, a VA is really just anyone that is able to help a client accomplish their goals in a specific capacity (think social media management, bookkeeping, customer service, etc.) from the comfort of their own home, the beach or anywhere they’re able to logon online!
How did you first get started as a virtual assistant?
Horkey: My first foray was as a freelance writer, writing blog posts and articles for online publications back in May of 2014. In September of that same year, I spotted a need while following an online entrepreneur, brought it to his attention and asked to be hired. He said “yes,” which started me down the email management/customer service path. Writing, email management and customer service have been my three main offerings over the last few years.
What sort of experience is required or helps in landing your first virtual assistant client?
Horkey: It depends on what type of services you’re looking to offer and what type of clients you’d like to work with. The best way to start is by taking an inventory of your current skill set. Everyone has hard skills – whether from working in corporate America, the hospitality industry, or even as a stay-at-home parent. Take five minutes to brainstorm what skills you currently have, ask friends and/or family members, or check out this list of 150+ services you can offer as a VA.
Where can you find virtual assistant work as a beginner?
Horkey: The most effective way to find the right clients long-term is by building and nurturing relationships; people like to help people they like. We cover numerous prospecting methods in 30 Days or Less to Virtual Assistant Success (our flagship course on the topic), but in addition to professional networking, one could use social media, online marketplaces (think Upwork or Fiverr), VA agencies, cold pitching and more!
What sort of startup costs are involved?
Horkey: If you have hard skills, (regular) access to a working computer, a decent internet connection and are business savvy, none. If you’re not sure how to go about positioning yourself (what services to offer, to whom, how much to charge, how to market your new biz, etc.) in the marketplace, an online course like ours might help. Most people end up opting to start their own website/blog and invest in things like online tools and courses to continue to hone their craft or learn new skills.
What are some of the best niches or services to offer for those getting started as a VA?
Horkey: Great question. While our list covers more than 150, here’s a good “short list” to hone in on from what we’ve seen clients looking for regularly:
- Content writing
- Blog and/or website management (two different things!)
- Email management and/or customer service (technically different, but they go hand-in-hand)
- Social media marketing, setup and management
- Setting up/integrating technology platforms
- Sales funnels and ad generation/management
Virtual Assistant Training — Summary
Starting your own virtual assistant business can be a great choice when you’re looking for legit online work, whether you’re a stay at home mom or dad in search of part-time money making opportunities or someone looking to hop off the corporate ladder and take control of your life and schedule.
Chances are that you already have plenty of skills that will help you become a successful virtual assistant, because as noted above, almost everything you’ve honed in an offline workplace will translate to an online business.
With that said, taking one or more virtual assistant courses is far from a bad idea. If you’re a new VA, it can make you more competitive when applying for gigs. And if you’ve already been working as a VA, buffing up your skills in certain areas can help you bring more value to the table and, in turn, earn more money.