Do you actually need virtual assistant training to succeed in the business?

Becoming a virtual assistant is an increasingly popular option with those looking to make some money from home, but due to the low barrier to entry and lack of a requirement for virtual assistant training there is a great deal of frustration when it comes to actually making a virtual assistant business a success.

While there is no formal requirement for you to undergo virtual assistant training there are certain things you need to know. A lack of these essentials means your business is more likely to fail, and you're more likely to go back to working full-time (nobody wants that!) so it's worth being honest about any gaps in your knowledge before you make anything official.

Most new virtual assistants enter the field because of one or more of these reasons:

  • They have an admin or secretarial background
  • They want to work part time from home
  • They're stay at home mothers (or fathers) who want an online job that will fit around the kids
  • It sounds easy

That last point is critical. A number of failed virtual assistants I've spoken to expressed surprise at the amount of work needed to get a new virtual assistant business off the ground, and at how they were sure they wouldn't need any virtual assistant training right up until the point they got their first job.

What technical skills does a virtual assistant need?

The beauty of hiring a virtual assistant is that you can usually find someone who can deal with your specific type of task, whatever it may be. Therefore, there are many different types of skill a virtual assistant will find useful.

If you plan to market yourself to a niche industry, for example offering virtual assistance to lawyers, you'll have various industry-specific skills to learn (in the lawyer example, this would include a load of confusing legal jargon for those times you're expected to write official letters).

There are a number of general tasks that every VA will end up doing at one point or another, though, so make sure you at least have a grasp of the following.

Regular client communication - you should have a dedicated email address, Skype account and potentially mobile phone number (old cheap mobile + free SIM = joy) for client communications. It helps to keep work and real life separate.

Writing / spellchecking correspondence - you'll need excellent spelling and grammar skills.

Making / taking telephone calls - a professional, polite telephone manner is essential.

Organizing travel, accomodation and meetings - using online booking tools and (if you're assisting local clients) a familiarity with meeting venues etc is very useful.

Calendar management - be prepared to use whatever system your client currently has going on, but you should also have your own system in place to keep track of your own tasks since missing deadlines is a death sentence for a VA.

Website updates - most industries are online nowadays, that is after all how they work with a virtual assistant, so be prepared to make changes and updates using various website management systems.

What business skills does a virtual assistant need?

The technical side of running a virtual assistant business is important, but is all too often the only side considered by those looking to break into the industry. Unfortunately, as a new business owner, there is a lot more you're going to need to come to terms with.

Setting up your virtual assistant business - The specifics of this vary depending on your country (in the UK it can be as simple as filling in an online form on the HMRC website) but there are usually penalties/fines for failing to register your business within a certain amount of time so be sure to research this thoroughly before you do anything that could come back to bite you.

Look into whether you're actually allowed to run a business from your home (many tenancy agreements forbid it but some landlords can be talked round to a business that involves no customers coming to visit).

Getting a business bank account - This is very much advisable as is helps to keep your personal and business records separate for when tax time rolls around. You may also want to open a business savings account, and store a certain percentage of your income there for tax purposes.

Marketing yourself - This is something many first-time business owners have little to no concept of. Setting up a website and expecting clients to come to you is not a great tactic, especially in the virtual assistant industry you're better off relying on networking than regular advertising.

Getting referrals - The key to being successful as a virtual assistant is doing a great job, and then encouraging existing clients to recommend you to their friends. This industry is one where a prospective client will often just ask people they know have hired a VA in the past, if you can get your name passed along you immediately gain authority in the prospect's mind.

Pricing and payments - You'll need to not only decide on a pricing model, you'll also need to create, issue and follow up on invoices. You may also be asked to use some sort of time tracking software for hourly jobs.

Can I get official virtual assistant qualifications

You can become a certified virtual assistant by working towards a qualification, Certified Professional Virtual Assistant (CPVA) and Certified Master Virtual Assistant (CMVA) being the highest levels available. Whether this is worth it is up to you, since many clients looking for virtual assistance put personality and experience far above qualifications in terms of importance.

If you're expecting to do a lot of typing work, you could look into getting a specific typing qualification instead. This all depends on the type of  virtual assistant you want to become.

Where can I find more about virtual assistant training?

The duties of a VA are so different from one industry to another that one qualification couldn't possibly cover everything you'll need to know. 

There are however a number of easily available online virtual assistant training courses and informative sites that cover the points I've described above, some run by successful virtual assistants themselves, to teach you the essentials and give you the best possible start.