There are countless options for online professions depending on your skills, needs, and available time. Some people want stability and therefore look for full-time remote work that may or may not offer benefits like regular employment. Others prefer flexibility with time and pursue part-time or freelance work. Most of these occupations classify as either virtual assistant services or online freelancing.
This guide will provide an overview of virtual assistance and freelancing, as well as some suggestions on how to prepare for an online career.
Freelancer VS Virtual Assistant
I started as a full-time remote web developer in 2006. I am from the Philippines, while my employer operated in the USA. When Facebook Groups was released, online workers started to form organizations, and I joined one based locally. That’s when I was introduced to the term Virtual Assistant (VA).
Virtual Assistant (as I understood it back then) was an umbrella term for all kinds of remote online work, including part-time or full-time employment and freelancing. It meant anyone working online — from appointment setters to marketers to web developers.
These days, however, virtual assistants are generally viewed to be more focused on administrative tasks, offering a variety of skill sets to assist entrepreneurs directly and on an ongoing basis. This article gives a more detailed history of virtual assistants.
Freelancers, on the other hand, are independent contractors, meaning they are not bound to a single company and work with different clients simultaneously, typically on a per-project basis. This can be an advantage or a disadvantage — you will have more control of your time but need to find clients continuously or sustainably.
Freelancers tend to develop specialized skills and services and sometimes a niche. For example, if you accept web development projects from multiple businesses, you can be considered a freelance web developer. Then if you concentrate on local e-commerce websites, that becomes your niche.
Nevertheless, freelancing and virtual assistance are not mutually exclusive. These terms are generally used interchangeably as both types may be flexible in their services and how they work with clients.
Which skills do I need? Do I need to learn a skill first?
Having skills in areas such as communication, time management, and basic computer proficiency is essential to becoming a virtual assistant.
As for specialized skills, you don’t necessarily need to have a specific degree or certification. Start with what you already know, a skill you acquired from work experience, studies, or even hobbies. For example, educators have a background in building lesson plans, which is a skill online coaches might look for.
If you lack the required skills, you can consider taking courses or self-study to develop them. There are many resources available online for different types of learners: videos, blogs, books, including free ones, which we are also collating at Digitalaan.
Maximize the use of these free resources. For example, if you need to learn a web application, sign up and familiarize yourself with the software. Most apps offer free plans. If not, there might be a free trial period you can take advantage of. While on a free trial, look through official documentation, tutorials, or help pages that can guide you throughout the app.
The best way to learn is still by doing. Gain hands-on experience as soon as you can. Do not wait until you’re hired to apply what you have learned or are trying to learn. You can start a personal project, volunteer, or take on small projects for friends and family. This is also one way to build your portfolio.
Additionally, treat your online career as a business. Provide value to your potential clients or employer by understanding their problems, then offer solutions.
Having a basic understanding of digital marketing and data analysis will give you an edge in this regard. It will help not only your clients but also your business in the long run.
What do I need to prepare?
Before applying for an online job, you will need to prepare several things, apart from the standard requirements, to be able to work remotely.
- Resume or Curriculum Vitae (CV): Create a resume that highlights your skills, experience, and achievements. Tailor it to the job you’re applying for. Make it simple, easy to read, and presentable. To save time, you can use the Canva app and choose from their ready-made resume templates. Type in your information on your template of choice, then download it as a PDF.
- Portfolio: If you have relevant work samples, create a portfolio that showcases your work. Your portfolio could be a website, a gallery, or a collection of links to published work. There are several free websites where you can build your portfolio, such as Behance, Cargo, Carrd, etc. Let’s say you have experience with social media management. You can include links to social media profiles you’ve managed or samples of social media posts you’ve created. (Tip: If your portfolio is a collection of links, you can add this list to your resume and make the texts clickable. That way, it would be easier for employers to visit your sites.)
- Computer, Internet, and Communication Tools: Aside from a computer or laptop, ensure a reliable internet access and the necessary communication tools such as email, phone, and video conferencing software (i.e. Zoom, Google Meet, Viber, etc.).
- Cover Letter: Research the company, its culture, and the job. Write a compelling cover letter that explains why you are interested in the job, how your skills match the requirements, why you’re the perfect candidate for the position, and why you are a good fit for the company.
- Availability: If this is personally important, determine your availability for the job, including the number of hours you are willing to work and your preferred working schedule.
- Salary Expectations: Be clear about your salary expectations and be prepared to negotiate your rate with potential employers. We’ve also outlined below some factors to consider when pricing your services.
- Payment Options: The most common way clients pay is still through PayPal, so if you can, create a verified PayPal account. You will need to link a bank account to get your PayPal verified. Other notable online payment services that employers might use are Wise and Payoneer. (Tip: You can process this while applying for a job because it won’t be needed until your first payment.)
Already have these items? Then you’re all set to send out your applications!
Where do I find online work?
There are several avenues to find work as a virtual assistant or freelancer. You can check out this Reddit post for a list of sources of online work (intended for Filipinos, but can benefit anyone), or go through the list below:
- Freelance Marketplaces: Websites such as Upwork, Fiverr, and Onlinejobs.ph (exclusive for Filipinos) are popular platforms for finding freelance work. Users can create a profile, browse available jobs, and submit proposals or applications to clients. Keep in mind, though, that competition is fierce in these places, so it is encouraged to have an optimized profile.
- Social Media: You can also find virtual assistant job opportunities on social media platforms, such as LinkedIn and Facebook. Join groups and networks related to virtual assistant work, and search for job postings. Specifically, join groups based on your expertise or line of work and location (e.g., WordPress Philippines).
- Job Boards: Websites like Indeed, JobStreet, and Glassdoor have job listings for remote and virtual assistant positions. You can search for jobs by keywords, location, or job type. But in most cases, you need to include the keywords “remote” or “work from home” in your search.
- Virtual Assistant Agencies: These firms recruit, manage, and maintain a pool of talents to provide VA services to clients. VA agencies work like staffing companies and match you up with a client based on your skills and the client’s needs. VA agencies are a good stepping stone for those who are just starting.
- Referrals: Reach out to your network of contacts and let them know you’re looking for virtual assistant work. They may be able to refer you to potential clients or employers.
- Cold Pitching: Cold pitching is when you email or message businesses directly to offer your services. This is when your research skill gets handy. Use Google, social media, or directories to search for companies or individuals who may need virtual assistance and pitch your services to them. You can find contact information on their websites or social media profiles.
Of course, this list is not exhaustive. There are probably more we have not yet encountered, so always be creative in your job hunt.
Pricing your services
Just as there are various ways to be employed online (part-time, full-time, by project), there are also several ways to set your price. Some freelancers offer hourly rates, while others recommend fixed pricing. There are VAs who get paid every one or two weeks and some who have a monthly salary.
Whichever you prefer, pricing your services as an online freelancer can be challenging, as you want to make sure you’re earning a fair rate while also remaining competitive.
And because as self-employed individuals, VAs and freelancers have to also take care of their social services, health insurance, utilities and taxes on their own, you need to factor these in your pricing, even if it means charging more than the average.
It is worth noting that hourly rates for part-time and project-based work tend to be higher than a full-time job as it is more unstable and unpredictable. Moreover, most experienced freelancers recommend offering a fixed price rather than an hourly rate.
Here are some factors to consider when determining your pricing:
- Experience and Skills: If you have a lot of experience and specialized skills, you may be able to charge a higher rate.
- Type of Service: Different services have varying rates, and some are more in demand than others. For example, search engine optimization or email marketing may command higher rates than data entry or email management.
- Time Commitment: Consider the amount of time you’ll be spending on each project or task. Also factor in the time it takes to communicate with the client, including meetings.
- Industry Rates: Research what other freelancers are charging for similar services in your industry and location. This can give you a better idea of reasonable and competitive rates. You can compare salaries on Glassdoor or check out forums on Reddit, which we find very helpful.
- Your Target Clients or Market: Consider the type of clients you want to work with and what they can afford to pay. If you’re targeting small businesses or startups, they may have a smaller budget than larger corporations.
Once you’ve considered these factors, you can determine your hourly rate or project fee. You may also want to consider offering different pricing packages, such as a basic package with limited services and a higher-priced package with more offers or additional perks. Be sure to communicate your rates clearly to potential clients, and be willing to negotiate and adjust your pricing as needed.
There are several legal documents that you may need to have to protect your rights and establish clear terms with clients or employers. While the specific requirements can vary depending on your location and the nature of your work, here are some common legal documents for virtual assistants and online freelancers:
- Independent Contractor Agreement: This document outlines the terms and conditions of your services, including the scope of work, payment details, project timelines, intellectual property rights, confidentiality provisions, and dispute resolution procedures. It helps establish a clear understanding between you and your clients and protects both parties’ interests.
- Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA): An NDA is a legal contract that ensures the confidentiality of sensitive information shared between you and your clients. It prevents the unauthorized disclosure of confidential or proprietary information and is particularly important when working on projects that involve sensitive data or trade secrets.
- Invoice/Receipt Template: A professional invoice or receipt template helps you accurately document your services, fees, and payment details for each client. It helps maintain clear records and can be valuable for tax purposes.
- Business Registration Documents: Depending on your jurisdiction, you may need to register your freelance business with the appropriate authorities.
- Tax Documents: You may also be subject to your country’s tax laws, which require filing income taxes. In addition, international clients may ask you to fill out forms from their respective countries. One such example is the U.S. tax form W-8BEN, which is used to verify a foreign freelancer’s country of residence, exempting them from withholding taxes.
Please bear in mind that we are not legal experts. So if you have any more questions regarding these documents, it is best to consult with a legal professional or attorney who specializes in your local laws and regulations.
Health care for remote workers
We all need to take good care of our health and maintain a healthy work-life balance. But being a remote worker, it is easy to take them for granted. So aside from eating a healthy diet, drinking plenty of water, and getting enough sleep, here are some tips to take care of your health as a remote worker:
- Set up a comfortable workspace: Make sure you have a comfortable and ergonomic workspace with good lighting, a supportive chair, and a desk at the appropriate height. If possible, position your table by the window.
- Take regular breaks: Have frequent breaks throughout the day to stretch, move your body, and rest your eyes. Try the 20-20-20 rule: every 20 minutes, look away from your screen for 20 seconds at something 20 feet away. If you have some greenery, rest your eyes on them.
- Stay active: Incorporate physical activity into your day, such as walking or exercising. This can help the body produce endorphins, which improve your ability to sleep and help reduce stress.
- Get enough sunshine: Especially for those who love staying in, you could spend the whole day without ever stepping outside. So go out and get your dose of early morning sunshine. It can help boost your mood, improve sleep, and more.
- Manage stress: Remote work can come with its own stresses, so it’s important to find ways to manage stress, such as practicing meditation, deep breathing exercises, and going outdoors. Make time for activities that help you relax and recharge, like reading a book or listening to music.
- Stay social: Remote work can be isolating, so stay connected with family, friends, and colleagues.
- Get health insurance: Virtual assistants and online freelancers are generally not granted health care subsidies by employers. So if you can, purchase your own health insurance.
By prioritizing your health and well-being, you can help prevent burnout and stay productive and engaged as a remote worker.
So there you have it, what we have learned from being online freelancers in one post. We hope this has given you motivation for your online journey. If you have any further questions or recommendations, feel free to send us a message.