What Is a Virtual Assistant, and What Does One Do? (2023)

What Is a Virtual Assistant?

A virtual assistant is an independent contractor who provides administrative services to clients while operating outside of the client's office. A virtual assistant typically operates from a home office but can access the necessary planning documents, such as shared calendars, remotely.

People employed as virtual assistants often have several years of experience as an administrative assistant or office manager. New opportunities are opening up for virtual assistants who are skilled in social media, content management, blog post writing, graphic design, and internet marketing. As working from home has become more accepted for both workers and employers, particularly in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, the demand for skilled virtual assistants is expected to grow.

Key Takeaways

  • A virtual assistant is a self-employed worker who specializes in offering administrative services to clients from a remote location, usually a home office.
  • Typical tasks a virtual assistant might perform include scheduling appointments, making phone calls, making travel arrangements, and managing email accounts.
  • Some virtual assistants specialize in offering graphic design, blog writing, bookkeeping, social media, and marketing services.
  • For an employer, one advantage of hiring a virtual assistant is the flexibility to contract for just the services they need.

How a Virtual Assistant Works

Virtual assistants have become more prominent as small businesses and startups rely on virtual offices to keep costs down and businesses of all sizes increase their use of the internet for daily operations. Because a virtual assistant is an independent contractor, a business does not have to provide the same benefits or pay the same taxes that it would for a full-time employee. A virtual assistant is different from a salaried administrative assistant who works from home and would have the same compensation and same tax structure as any other full-time employee.

Also, since the virtual assistant works offsite, there is no need for a desk or other workspace at the company's office. A virtual assistant is expected to pay for and provide their own computer equipment, commonly used software programs, and high-speed Internet service.

In a study of over 50 career categories, FlexJobs found virtual administration was one of the top 10 fastest-growing remote career categories.

Virtual Assistant Duties

The specific duties of a virtual assistant vary according to the needs of the client and the terms of the contract. Some virtual assistants handle clerical and bookkeeping tasks, while others may post regular updates to social media or write articles for a blog. A well-rounded virtual assistant may also handle travel arrangements, appointment scheduling, data entry, and online file storage.

Virtual Assistant Qualifications

While there are no hard-and-fast educational requirements to become a virtual assistant, many clients will look for virtual assistants who have some higher-level education or specialized training. A few online companies and community colleges offer courses and certification for virtual assistant skills.

A virtual assistant should be tech-savvy, having a wide range of computer skills and a high level of proficiency with commonly used software and business programs. A virtual assistant who specializes in bookkeeping should be adept at basic accounting tasks, such as account reconciliations and double-entry bookkeeping.

Benefits of a Virtual Assistant

For the client, one advantage of hiring a virtual assistant is the flexibility to contract for just the services they need. Depending on the terms of the agreement, some virtual assistants may be paid by the task rather than by the hour. In contrast, employees in a traditional office setting usually must be paid for a fixed number of hours per day.

For small business owners, hiring a virtual assistant can help them free up valuable hours to focus on growing the business and generating revenue. It can be easier and more cost-effective to outsource tasks that are tedious and time-consuming, to someone who is skilled at them.

How to Hire a Virtual Assistant

With the increasing number of freelance contractors who work from home, the employment market has seen a proliferation of Web-based companies that serve as intermediaries between prospective employers and contractors. Some freelancer sites have enormous work pools made up of individuals across the globe with a wide range of experience and expertise.

On these sites, clients can post details about the type of tasks they need the virtual assistant to perform and the maximum rate they are willing to pay. Freelance workers may then bid on the job and give the client samples of their work for review. In some cases, the client can set up a video conference to interview the applicants and to more thoroughly assess their qualifications.

Special Considerations

Before hiring a virtual assistant, the client can ensure a smoother working relationship by creating detailed instructions about tasks they need to have performed. A written manual reduces the risk of misunderstandings that can occur in a remote working relationship.

How Can You Become a Virtual Assistant?

Having previous experience as an administrative assistant or support staff member is helpful, but not necessary. Even individuals without past experience can take training courses to learn needed skills, such as the Microsoft Office Suite or other administrative software. Freelance networks such as Upwork and Fiverr provide marketplaces where contractors can seek out positions. Contractors can also seek out work on more traditional job boards or through networking sites such as LinkedIn.

How Hard Is It to Be a Virtual Assistant?

A virtual assistant has some of the same challenges as an in-person assistant, including working with a variety of programs, managing and prioritizing competing tasks and answering to an employer. What's different is that the virtual assistant is doing all of this remotely, without frequent in-person interaction, in a different location than their employer. This may be a less stressful environment for many employees. However, it's also an environment without any technical support staff on hand if there are any technological problems.

How Much Can You Earn As a Virtual Assistant?

The compensation varies depending on what the assignment is and who you're working for. According to job search site Indeed, the national average for virtual assistants is just over $25 per hour, particularly for more basic administrative assistant jobs. Jobs with a higher value skill set, such as design, can command a higher price. Some of these jobs are advertised on standard job sites, such as Robert Half, Monster, and Indeed and have established hourly rates. For contractors who advertise their services on sites such as Upwork or Fiverr set their own rates and therefore can charge more. Facebook and other social media platforms also advertise for virtual assistants.

The Bottom Line

A virtual assistant is a remote administrative assistant who works for a company or individual on a self-employed, or contract basis. A virtual assistant helps with office management work but can also tackle a variety of writing, editing, design, marketing and social media-related activities. A virtual assistant works remotely, using technology to complete assignments, despite not being in a physical office alongside their co-workers or employers. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, many employees worked virtually, not only as assistants, but in a variety of capacities.

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