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What Is a Virtual Assistant? (Definition and Skills)

July 29, 2021

If you're looking for a remote opportunity, consider working as a virtual assistant. Virtual administration is a growing field that offers job flexibility and allows you to work from a remote location. Working virtually opens opportunities in several industries and provides opportunities for personal and professional growth. In this article, we define the role, discuss job duties and explain what it takes to work in virtual administration.

Related: Preparing For the Future of Work

What is a virtual assistant?

A virtual assistant provides administrative and organisational support by remotely connecting to a business. Their work varies based on the particular skills of the assistant, as well as the support the client needs. A company may choose to hire an assistant virtually when it needs extra help but doesn't want to add someone in the office. For this reason, many people with this role operate as freelancers or contract workers. Someone providing virtual assistance may work for several companies at one time since they're responsible for their own schedule.

Virtual administration can benefit several sectors with a wide range of tasks. An assistant working virtually may have a specialty, while others possess general administrative knowledge and skills. Specific industries that use virtual assistance may include:

  • Accounting or bookkeeping
  • Website design
  • Graphic design
  • Advanced data entry
  • Project management
  • Content creation
  • Consulting
  • Law firms
  • Entrepreneurship
  • Client relations

What do virtual assistants do?

Each company needs support in different areas, which dictates what job duties the assistant takes on. While some assistants work in niche industries, many tasks are universal. Virtual assistant job duties may include:

  • Scheduling appointments or meetings
  • Completing paperwork and documentation
  • Editing and organising important documents
  • Filing documents online
  • Managing inboxes and sending emails
  • Taking phone calls and directing them to the appropriate person
  • Entering basic data
  • Conducting research
  • Providing customer support
  • Creating engaging content for online platforms such as a website or social media platforms
  • Video editing or retouching photos
  • Writing copy for long-form content, social media posts and newsletters

What skills do you need to become a virtual assistant?

Virtual administration requires basic administrative skills, and working in a particular industry may require expertise with a certain skill. However, several skills apply to the position, including:

Social media management

Creating brand engagement, coordinating social media marketing campaigns or creating content for a brand are a few examples of social media management. Much of this work doesn't require in-person efforts. Social media has increased in importance for businesses, so marketing these skills to employers makes you an attractive candidate in several industries.

Email marketing

Similar to social media, email marketing is a burgeoning asset for promotions, brand awareness and driving sales. It comprises writing copy, creating images and assessing analytical trends or patterns. Hiring someone with this skill equips the company to begin an email campaign and determine if this marketing strategy works for them.

Project management

While some projects benefit from in-person management, managing others online allows team members to connect from various locations and time zones. This benefits international companies and organisations with numerous remote employees. An employer might choose to hire an assistant virtually to manage a select number of projects or hire them full time as a virtual project manager.

Organisation

Organisation is necessary for virtual workflow, as it helps the assistant manage every project or task that's assigned to them. This skill helps a freelance assistant schedule work with many companies, ensuring high-quality work for each one. Develop this skill by implementing different organisation methods, such as making lists or keeping a content calendar, to see what works best for you.

Related: Self-Management Skills: Definition and Examples

Adaptability

While organisation helps keep each task and client separate, adaptability helps you to move between work smoothly. Switching styles or methods of completing tasks based on which company you work for is a challenge, but adaptability allows you to make adjustments quickly and effectively. For example, you might manage an email inbox for two different companies. Each company developed its own template for responding to emails. Adaptability makes it easier for you to switch between the two templates during the workday to accomplish tasks for both of your clients.

Related: How To Practise Adaptability in the Workplace

How much do virtual assistants make?

According to Indeed Salaries, the average base salary for virtual assistants is $21.11 per hour. People working in virtual administration have the ability to choose part-time or full-time work. Since many operate as freelancers or independent contractors, they may set their price point for the hiring body. You can set your rate based on years of experience, qualifications and quality of work. The details of the employment contract dictate what the employer provides as compensation and if they provide any benefits to the employee.

Related: What Is a Contract of Employment? (Your Ultimate Guide)

Qualifications to become a virtual assistant

There are no specific qualifications required to work virtually as a freelance assistant. However, professional development sets you apart from other people in the field. As the demand for this work increases, companies may require highly qualified individuals. Some qualifications may include:

Education

Remote assistants may find work if they've earned a secondary school certificate of education. However, some employers may look for people who have an undergraduate degree, especially if the assistant performs particular tasks. Depending on the work, you can pursue a bachelor's degree in a variety of fields such as business, marketing, public relations or communication.

Training

There are many training courses available for virtual employees. Topics include data entry, business and management. You may choose to take a technical course that covers data entry, website editing or graphic design. Some courses are free, but others may charge a fee. A local community centre, college or library might have course offerings that interest you.

If you are new to administrative work, some training courses teach basic administrative, computer and organisational skills. It's beneficial to have a foundation before entering a new field. Vocational training develops transferrable skills that equip you to start at an entry level.

Related: Vocational Training: Definition and Different Types

Certifications

There are no required certifications to work virtually as an assistant. However, similar to training courses, certifications set you apart from other applicants. Pursuing a certification shows dedication to the field and to your own professional development. Gaining certification in a particular area qualifies you for highly specialised work.

How to become a virtual assistant

Follow these steps to become a virtual assistant:

1. Do research to prepare for the role

Before beginning any job, it's important to conduct preliminary research. Read articles or blogs from others in the position, or listen to podcasts about the industry that interests you. Research specific companies that hire people virtually to see if your qualifications match the industry expectations.

2. Develop necessary skills

Once you've done your research, you may find that you need to develop the necessary skills to accomplish the role. These may include hard skills, such as proficiency in a particular database, or soft skills, like problem-solving. Develop these skills through training programs, books or practising them frequently.

3. Prepare a home office

With the ability to work remotely, it's important to prepare a home office. Create a space dedicated to work by minimising distractions and making sure you have all the necessary equipment, including a computer, a stable internet connection and a comfortable desk and chair. A company may provide the equipment needed for the job, but it's helpful to have your own when working as a freelancer.

4. Set up your personal business finances

If you're starting as a freelance assistant, it's crucial to set up your personal business finances so there aren't any problems with the hiring process. It can cost upwards of $3,000 to start a business in Australia, so make sure you have the funds you need. Before you start work, register for an Australian Business Number (ABN) from the Australian government, which identifies your business on a national level.

5. Develop a pricing structure

Develop a pricing structure for potential clients to be transparent about your salary expectations from the start. While the company may have a set amount to offer, a pricing structure shows what your expertise and skills are worth. Use this structure when creating an employment contract with a new client. You may choose to charge an hourly rate, or suggest a flat-fee per project.

6. Network with clients

To receive work, network with potential clients who may need virtual administrative assistance. Once you've worked with a client, maintain your relationship with them. This builds your network while keeping future work opportunities open.

Salary figures reflect data listed on Indeed Salaries at time of writing. Salaries may vary depending on the hiring organisation and a candidate's experience, academic background and location.

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