“Yeah, yeah, yeah, Yuwanda,” you may be thinking. “That’s all fine and well, but what the heck does it have to do with the title of this post?”
Hold your horses, I’m getting there! I promise. 🙂 But first, a bit of business.
Disclosure: I am an affiliate for the product(s) mentioned in this post, which means I receive commissions for purchases made through links listed. I’ve made my living completely online since 2007 and would never recommend anything that I don’t personally use, haven’t independently verified and/or know comes from a trusted source. Now, on to today’s post …
There’s More Than One Road to Freelance Writing Success
When I ran across freelance writer Gina Horkey, I thought, “She’s a mirror image of me!” As I’ve discussed tons of times right here on this blog, I have several income streams as a freelance writer, ie:
- Writing and self-publishing my own line of fiction and non-fiction ebooks;
- Developing and teaching online courses;
- Internet marketing; and
- Writing for clients.
All of these are discussed in the free ebook you get when you subscribe, by the way.
Here’s how Gina’s income worked out one month. Pretty much puts the bed the myth of the “starving writer” and “barely making it freelancer,” doesn’t it?
About her freelance writing income, Gina wrote:
[[It] isn’t a huge income stream for me anymore and one reason is because I do SO MUCH writing for myself. I.e. for [my] site, via course creation, newsletters, etc.
One of the reasons that I diversified to virtual assistant services not long after I launched my freelance writing business was because I knew I didn’t want to write for 40 hours per week. Writing is a wonderful and creative experience, but if I did it 24/7 I knew I’d be forcing it more than enjoying it.
I feel the exact same way. I’ve said it before — I’m not exactly in love with writing. What I love about it is that it allows me to make a living on my own terms, so diversifying my freelance income came naturally and instinctively to me — just like Gina. And not for nothing, but …
See how profitable it can be when you put your writing skills to use for yourself?!
Since 2010, over half my income has come from products I develop and create (ebooks and e-courses). These days, it’s in the 80 to 90 percent range.
It’s the one thing that allowed me to raise my freelance writing rates earlier this year; for some services, more than quadrupling them – because I don’t have to take on every writing job that comes my way. Income diversification … it’s a beautiful thing.
One Way to Easily Increase Your Freelance Writing Income
One of the reasons I’m able to do so much, eg, self-publish ebooks, do internet marketing, guest blog, scout new affiliate products, develop ecourses, etc., is because I outsource a lot of things – and there are plenty of solopreneurs like me who depend on virtual assistants (VAs) to get stuff done.
I’m just one person and some months, I can spend upwards of $1,000 (and that’s growing as my business grows) on VA services. Gina has developed a kick-a** program that shows you how to get up and going as a VA in 30 days flat!
Train to Become a Virtual Assistant: Get Started for Free
And get this, Gina’s program even allows you to get started for free. The program has helped hundreds of other freelancers start this type of business (or add the service to an existing business). And in my opinion, it’s an easy add-on service for freelance writers because we’re so used to multi-tasking anyway.
As Gina’s income shows, it can account for a good chunk of your earnings – which means you can weather freelance writing dry spells better; raise your rates (if they’re not already where you want them to be); and pick and choose the projects you want to work on as time goes on.
Below is some detailed insight into what offering virtual assistant services entails. But before that, here’s some insight from Gina herself.
Gina’s Insight on Starting a Virtual Assistant Biz with No Experience
How did you get started as a virtual assistant?
I didn’t set out to become one, but I’ve always had an open mind towards different opportunities and one kind of fell into my lap.
I was emailing back and forth with another successful online entrepreneur and sensed he had trouble staying on top of his inbox. I told him he should hire me to manage it – half joking, half pitching – and he said yes.
You’re a freelance writer as well. How much time would you say you spend on your VA duties compared to writing for clients?
Honestly, it ebbs and flows. For most of 2016, I did a lot more VA work than writing, but lately the writing has ramped up more.
I work with my VA clients on a retainer basis, so the work each month is fairly consistent, but my time for other services can vary because I create so much content for myself.
What are the top 2-3 skills you’d say was needed to succeed as a VA?
One of the great things about becoming a VA is that you can take advantage of whatever skills you already have. You learn a lot on the job as well. For example, assisting a successful webpreneur taught me a lot about building my own business as well as how to better run his.
- I’d say you need to be willing to put yourself out there and pitch, since that will always be one of your most profitable activities;
- Organization is also a must, since it’s your job to help organize your client’s business with whatever services you’re offering;
- You need to be able to juggle multiple clients and projects; and
- Lastly, communication skills are really important for building relationships with clients and peers.
How much should you charge as a VA?
This varies a lot since there are so many things a VA can do. When pricing your services, think about what would make it worth your time, since you’re trading time for money.
Start with a rate that makes you excited and motivated, that you’ll feel rewarded for. Then go a little above that, since we always tend to undervalue our own work, especially when first getting started!
More about Gina
Gina Horkey is a married, millennial mama to two precocious toddlers from Minnesota. She’s also a professional writer and online business marketing consultant with a decade of experience in the financial services industry. Gina enjoys helping other freelancers gear up to quit their day jobs and take their side hustles full-time via her website, Horkey HandBook.
Frequently Asked Questions about Becoming a Virtual Assistant
If this easy, add-on service interests you, read on for answers to some commonly asked questions regarding this business.
1. How much do VAs earn?
The annual salary of relatively inexperienced VAs fall in the neighborhood of $31K. According to some statistics, VAs who work exclusively for upscale clients charge as much as $100 an hour. Most earn in the $15 and $30 per hour range according to the research I did.
The larger portion of Virtual Assistants in the United States are women. Median pay in this female-dominated area goes for around $15.86 per hour. Location is the biggest factor affecting pay for this group, followed by career length. Job satisfaction is reported as high by the vast majority of workers. [Source: PayScale.com]
As Gina said, when pricing your VA services, be sure to keep in mind that you’re trading time for dollars. So be sure it’s worth your while. The #1 mistake many freelancers make is undercharging. Don’t fall in that trap.
Trust me as someone who hires VAs, smart business owners realize the value of having someone handle something. So make it worth your while.
2. What skills are required to become a VA?
Besides the soft skills Gina listed above, I’d also add:
- Web savvy: eg, knowing how to research stuff, make online reservations, etc.;
- Good typing;
- General computer skills: MS Office Suite at a minimum, eg, Word, Excel;
- Desktop publishing: eg, knowing how to create a brochure, use scheduling calendars, create simple graphics, etc.;
- Excellent writing; and
- Data Entry.
In-depth knowledge of these are not absolutely necessary. For example, I know how to use Excel, but it may take me a minute to figure out some of the advanced features. The one good thing about being a freelance writer though is that you probably already have all or most of these skills anyway.
3. What services should you offer (common services VAs perform)?
This will largely depend on the clientele you decide to target. Some of the most common duties of a VA are:
- Manage contact lists and customer spreadsheets
- Maintain a calendar and set up meetings
- Take transcription and handle correspondence
- Make travel arrangements
- Handle billing and accounting
- Prepare and send out e-mail newsletters
- Prepare, collate and ship proposals and meeting materials
- Send out requested information to customers
- Handle client inquiries by phone or e-mail
I’ve hired VAs to perform rote duties like writing and placing ads for my products on free classified ads sites and social media account management; and project-specific duties like creating ebook covers and finding new contacts to market my freelance writing services to.
4. How much should you charge?
As Gina said, this will largely depend on your duties. Some duties may lend themselves to a project-based fee (eg, updating social media accounts); while others may lend themselves more to an hourly rate (eg, conducting research).
How to Determine What to Charge as a Virtual Assistant
All of the VAs I’ve hired over the years have been paid on a project basis. As a client, I like this because I know up front how much it’s going to cost. Following are a few insights into how to price your VA services.
Charge what you need to make a living: I’ve always advised freelance writers to charge what works for them, because nobody has to pay your bills but you when they come due. So fall back on the strategy you used to set your freelance writing rates.
It may work for our VA services or it may need to be tweaked, but it is a starting point.
Conduct Research: The best way to get an idea of what people are willing to pay is to do some research to see what other VAs are charging. Now, rates will be all over the place – as rates for most freelance services tend to be, but after reviewing 10, 15 or 20 sites, you’ll start to see some patterns and a gauge for what you can charge.
Think Futuristically: And what I mean by this is, how much of a part of your freelance writing biz do you want your VA services to be? As you can see from Gina’s income statement, her VA income outpaces her freelance writing income by almost four times.
FYI, anytime you add a new service to your freelance writing business, think about it like this. It’ll set the tone for not only how much to charge, but how you market overall.
5. How to juggle being a virtual assistant with your freelance writing duties.
Time block, time block, time block – whatever you do, time block your days.
The dirty little secret about time-blocking is that 90 percent of the time, it’s not going to go the way you map it out. So, why do it?
Because when you do get thrown off track, it gives you a heads up as to how to get back on track quickly. Also, when you take the time to time block your days, what you’re really doing is mapping out goals – daily, weekly, annually, etc. Looked at this way, it all leads back to your life plan (you do have one, don’t you?).
Learn more about the concrete steps I take to “do it all.” Never fear – you can do it all, but you must have a plan for how you’re going to do it all.
6. How to find clients.
You can start with your existing freelance writing clients. After you decide on your service offerings, let them know about it. And be sure to ask them to refer others to you who may be able to use your services if they can’t.
These are your warm contacts; they already know your work ethic via your freelance writing. So it’s a good place to pitch your virtual assistant services. And trust me, if you just stick a link on your website announcing this new service, most clients won’t notice. How do I know?
I’ve been a business owner since 1993, and one thing I’ve learned is that people pigeon-hole you. For example, when I first started writing SEO content, I wrote mostly web articles (400-600 words). Do you know I had clients ask me if I wrote shorter content like 250-300 word blog posts?
It would seem that this would be common sense, no? But it wasn’t! They hired me to write “SEO web articles,” but weren’t sure if I wrote “SEO blog posts.” So you have to educate your clients on the services you provide. Let them know specifically about your VA services: send them a link “announcing” the service; create a downloadable pdf; do a press release; etc.
The point is to make sure that they know, “Yes, I’m a freelance writer, but I can also handle this for you via my Virtual Assistant service offerings.”
After you work your warm contacts like existing clients, then create a marketing plan and work it, much like you’d do for any other service you offered, eg, there’s social media, networking at Chambers of Commerce, cold calling, emailing, etc.
VA Marketing Tip: Bundle your freelance writing services with your VA services. Clients love bundles!
FYI, Gina has a VA matchmaking/referral service, and it’s only for certified VAs who’ve completed her course. So this gives you a leg up in possibly landing those first clients.
7. Should you specialize as a VA?
Again, this will depend on a variety of factors, eg:
- What niche you’re already in;
- How big of a part of your freelance writing business you want this service to become;
- What your service offerings are; and
- How much you want/need to charge.
As with most things in business, you tend to earn more if you work in a defined niche, but again, that’s up to you.
6 Things Most Clients Look for in a Virtual Assistant
As I’ve hired a number of VAs over the years, I thought I’d share from an employer’s perspective what’s wanted.
I once had someone I gave my login to my AWeber account sabotage my account. They deleted all of my subscribers, put foul language in the welcome message subscribers received, put links to adults sites in the subject line of outgoing messages, etc.
It was a hot mess!
You see, when you hire a VA, many times, you’re trusting them with sensitive parts of your business, eg, the control panel of your blog/website, access to your list management provider (eg, AWeber), login info to your email account, etc.
So trustworthiness is HUGE! It’s the first thing I look for. Some things that proove trustworthiness to me is how long you’ve been around, testimonials, referrals I can speak with, etc. FYI, this is why something like Gina’s referral program works so well; the VAs have been “vetted” to a certain degree. I trust her, so I’d trust whomever she recommended.
Note: AWeber was awesome and restored my subscriber lists, but it took a couple of hours of cleanup to undo what was done.
As in, will you be doing the work, or farming it out to other freelancers? This piggybacks on the first concern here.
Unless it’s sensitive information, I don’t really care if you do the work or hire others to do it for you. But if I’m giving you access to my website, my email, my credit card info, etc., then I want to know if this information is going to be in the hands of others.
I may still hire you, but it will depend on what your business practices are, how long you’ve been in business, what your referrals say about you, etc.
As in, can you do what I need you to do? As a VA, you’re not going to be a perfect fit for every client. So take care when deciding on the services you do provide.
FYI, many times, I’ve hired a VA to do one or two jobs, but because I trusted them, I hired them to do other stuff too. So just because you don’t have a particular skill set, if a client trusts you, they may be more willing to train you to do something rather than risk hiring someone else who already has said skill set.
The reason I outsource stuff is because I want it done without having to worry about it. I rely on that VA to get the job done – when promised.
If you miss deadlines or drop the ball on a project, it will worry your client. And even if they continue to use you (most won’t), eventually, you’ll lose them because the reason they hired you was so they don’t have to worry.
So just like with your freelance writing clients, do what you say when you say you’re going to do it. Don’t miss a deadline. If you’re reliable, not only will your current client keep coming back to you, they won’t hesitate to refer you either (FYI, be proactive about asking for referrals).
Reliability Tip: Have some type of tracking/reporting system that you send to clients to prove to them that the work was done. This not only makes you look more professional, it cements for clients that you’re reliable. They worry less. And when they worry less, they depend on you more.
Once they depend on you, you become a viable part of their business – which means ongoing income for you.
5. Easy Way to Pay
I have a preferred payment method (PayPal). If you want to be paid via check, I won’t use you. Why? Simply because it adds one more thing to my to-do list.
The reason I hire a VA is to cut down on this list, not add to it. So be clear about your payment/invoicing methods up front.
Notice how this is last on this list of concerns? I intentionally put it last because rate is truly my last concern. All the stuff that came before is way more important. And the reason is, as far as rate goes, either I can afford you or I can’t.
So when setting your rates as a virtual assistant, don’t set them too low hoping to woo clients. Truly, we care about the other stuff more (ie, trustworthiness), and will dig deep to pay for it if it means we don’t have to worry.
If you’re already a freelance writer, then you know what it takes to start and grow a business. If you’re looking for a pretty straightforward way to get started as a virtual assistant, Gina’s course can get you up and going quickly. Next month, you could have a whole other stream of freelance income – one that could surpass your freelance writing income if you want, or pad the dry spells nicely.
Again, you can get started for free and if you have questions, Gina’s there for you (and me too, with insight from the “Hiring a VA” side). 🙂
P.S.: See all of Gina’s income reports.
They’re quite impressive, believe me. Solid proof that virtual assistant service offerings can pay off handsomely for freelance writers.
P.P.S.: Learn How to Earn on the Go! GetaMobileCareer.com is Now Live.
It’s my new internet marketing site, which will bring opportunities like this — and so much more — right to your Inbox. The site won’t officially launch for another couple of weeks, but if you’re interested in work-from-home and/or earn-on-the-go online opportunities, be sure to subscribe because not all of the ideas presented there will be relevant (hence, discussed) here. So subscribe there, ok?