Whether you’ve actively been working as a VA for a while or you’re thinking about jumping into it as a new venture, the VA business is a hot market online.
There is always a need for talented, hard-working VAs and those who fit that description are able to do very well for themselves. However, one of the important factors for VA success is setting your business up well so that you are efficient, in-demand and legally compliant.
Many VAs seem to have gone into the business almost casually, perhaps because they were looking for some side-income or some kind of stop-gap while at college or between jobs. Often important systems and structures are missing and they end up struggling. Even if you’re a VA on the side, wouldn’t you like to have the best chance of success in your business?
It’s not too late to set things straight, so let’s take a look at some of the essentials.
#1. Name and Business Structure
It may seem obvious, but one of the first things prospects see in relation to your business is your business name. If it doesn’t make sense to them, they are often likely to move on.
How do you decide on an appropriate business name? Well, you could take a simple approach such as “(Your name) VA Services”, or, if you have chosen a particular specialty, make that clear in the title. As an example, “(Your Name) Real Estate Virtual Assistant.”
Take a look at what Kim Hughes does with her business name and website. She is a VA specializing in the real estate industry and ensures that she has this as part of her tagline. This is another great technique to clarify exactly what you do. Another advantage of using a tagline is that if you have started out with a generic “(Your Name)” type business name, you can always change your tagline later when you either choose or change specialties.
Here are some other considerations for your business name:
- Has it already been taken? Search online, check for domains and use a checking tool such as Legal Zoom’s entity checker.
- Is your chosen name in any way awkward? A business name using your difficult-to-spell surname for example, may not be a good idea.
- Can people easily tell what you do for a living? For example, using the term “VA” may not be understood (in the U.S. VA can mean other things, e.g. “Veteran’s Administration”). Consider using the full term “virtual assistant” or even interchanging with “personal assistant” as this is often better understood.
It is always a good idea to seek advice from a qualified lawyer or accountant with regard to setting up the right business structure. There are different legal implications which go with each so you need to ensure you’re set up in a way that is best for you.
While some people may be tempted to simply hang up their “open” sign, taking the time to set up business structure correctly can save you from headaches in the long run.
Here are the common small business types you will find in the U.S.:
- Sole proprietorship – Where the business is run by an individual and is not distinguished as a separate entity.
- Partnership – Used where there are between 2 and 20 others in a business partnership.
- Limited Liability Company (LLC) – This declares your business to be a separate entity and provides limited protection for your personal assets, particularly where creditors may want to pursue them.
#2. Website and Branding
Hey, you’re a “virtual” assistant; it certainly pays to own your own “virtual” real estate in the form of a website! While some choose to simply have a profile on a site such as Upwork, your own website adds a new level of “serious business” to your appearance.
A website tells anyone who is looking that you’re probably not just a hobbyist doing side-work, but a professional person making a living from something you are good at. The ideal situation is that you are able to use your business name as your domain name, but otherwise, even “yourname”.com can be a good choice. While people used to try to pick domain names with keywords, this does not play a heavy role in SEO (search engine optimization) anymore.
You don’t really need to go all-out in designing a brand, but you do need to think about the impression you wish to give your prospects. Have a clean, well-designed website, color scheme and have a simple logo created which you can use there, as well as in email signatures, on invoices or on anything else you may send out for the business.
As an example, check out how Virtual Miss Friday, Michelle Dale brands herself with a simple logo which is easy to use on anything she puts out.
#3. Contracts and Business Handbooks
It can be tempting to simply strike out and start working, and many people do with no “paperwork” behind them. The trouble with this is of course that you can end up without a leg to stand on if you run into trouble with the client down the track. On the other hand, from the client perspective, no paperwork can mean that they are unclear on what you are providing them.
A contract helps to spell out exactly what you will (or won’t) do for your clients. You may choose to prepare new contracts for each client or have a standard template which you fill in for each client. Here is a sample contract template from Virtual Assistant Assistant.
Business handbooks can also be a great idea for setting expectations with your clients. The advantage is that you can simply keep a Word or PDF doc updated with information and send to each new client.
Your business handbook might include items like:
- Your work hours and days.
- How (and when) to communicate with you.
- Whether or not you do urgent work, and what “urgent” means. (You may like to have a clause in your contract for this, particularly if you are going to charge extra).
- List of services.
It’s difficult to gain traction in your business if you’re not marketing it. Most VAs are sole practitioners and find that they are now marketing, accounting and various other functions all rolled into one.
What that looks like is going to be different for every VA, but the point is that you need to have something in place to effectively market your business and commit to a regular plan.
For example, do you set aside three hours on a Friday to send out emails to people who you’ve identified as potential client material? Do you post regular articles on a blog, LinkedIn or Medium? Do you use a tool such as Buffer to schedule out social media posts for the next week?
Successful VAs have a marketing plan.
Download our one-pager and create yours.
#5. Organizational Systems
Communication issues are common across any business which operates in a virtual environment. If you don’t have good systems in place, it’s easy for things to be missed.
What makes a “good” project management system? In short, one that you are comfortable with that supports your workflow and can help you quickly find information.
Many VAs are now using Project or Workflow Management apps which streamline their to-do lists and make communication with clients easy. Adminja has been created for VAs with ease of use in mind.
#6. Payments and Bookkeeping
You might be an excellent bookkeeper for clients, but VAs often seem to be like the carpenter who never fixes their own house. Their own books are often needing attention.
Again, it’s about having a good system. Ideally you should have a system of payment set up which will integrate with accounting software and make it very easy for you to keep your books up-to-date.
For example, Freshbooks is accounting software designed for small businesses and integrates with several payment providers, such as Paypal or Stripe, who you may already be using.
Look for a system which will also handle your invoices. If you’ve got invoices, payments and reconciliations all rolled into one system, you’re going to save yourself a lot of time.
#7. Time Management
A common trait of all successful VAs is that they tend to manage time extremely well. If that’s simply not you and you don’t feel it’s something you can develop, then the VA business is probably not a good place for you because you will limit your success.
There are a number of possible distractions involved with a regular office workday, let alone working in your own home. Find a technique that works for you and importantly, learn to manage your clients so that your time is maximized. As mentioned, setting clear expectations about when and how to communicate with you can help with that.
We wrote a piece recently covering other time management techniques which you can check out.
Successful VAs have a marketing plan.
Download our one-pager and create yours.
How many of these essentials do you need to work on? If none at all, great! You are in a good place to do well with your VA business.
Setting your business up correctly from the start can save all sorts of hassles which can crop up further down the line. Make sure you have considered how you present yourself and the legalities involved with setting up a business right. If needed, we would always recommend that you seek qualified advice.
Set expectations with your clients and have good systems in place to manage essential business functions, such as marketing, communications and bookkeeping. Give yourself a break! The hard work should be reserved for managing your clients, not trying to keep your own head above water.
See how easy it is to organize, streamline and automate your workflow, and say goodbye to "overwhelmed".