In the last couple of years, the role of virtual assistants has become a lot bigger.
So if you’re considering getting into this profile, you will need the tool setup a virtual assistant needs.
But what is a virtual assistant? A virtual assistant is someone who supports an individual or a business from a remote location.
You can see the host of possibilities this throws up for a virtual assistant. This support can be clerical like scheduling appointments, booking travel, answering emails and so on.
It could also be more specific help like VAs for realtors. Such VAs will support only realtors and will have experience in and do work specific to that domain.
It can also be technical and still work for a wide variety of employers. You could do things like social media management or running a business’s website.
From a business or entrepreneur’s point of view, this is a great option. You get work done without having to bring staff onboard, which presents logistical headaches.
The fact that VAs work remotely takes away one of the biggest headaches. The headache of finding good help locally.
It’s gaining popularity so fast that it the number of people using VAs will reach 1.8 billion by 2021!
Here's what we'll cover
- How do you set up a VA business?
- Tools to set up VA business website
- The best tools for every kind of VA
- Project management tool
- Best software deals for a VA
- Your takeaway
How do you set up a VA business?
Even if you have the skillset to be a VA, you will still need some way to let people know that you are available to help.
So that will be your first major task. A short summary of things you’ll want to get cleared before you start would be
- Pick a name. This might help let potential employers know the kind of service you provide, as compared to advertising yourself under your own name.
- Make a list of services you can provide.
- Make sure you have a business license if your state requires you to.
- Make a list of potential employers. It might help if you can pick a niche like realtors or solopreneurs. You can concentrate on getting work from people only in that niche.
- Set up a business email account.
- Outreach is the crucial part. Getting your first job will be a struggle if you don’t have a network to tap.
- Set up a website. This can bolster your prospects. You will need to decide on things like a website hosting service, building a website and a theme.
Tools to set up VA business website
You will have to set up a website if you’re planning to be a VA long-term. How else will prospective clients find you?
You can always tap into your social network. But setting up a website will ensure a much bigger reach.
There are a few things to consider when setting up your website. All of which I’ll cover briefly in this section.
I’ve had experience with WordPress hosting. I chose WordPress because I could handle the hosting, building the page and analytics.
Learned all this without learning how to code, which was a big deciding factor. So I’ll be sticking to options for WordPress sites only.
The first task is picking a hosting service. This is where your website will be uploaded and accessed from.
When it comes to affordability but still providing a good service, nothing beats BlueHost. It has low-priced, high-bandwidth options with good support to back it up.
This results in much faster loading websites and better support from their team.
Speed is an important factor in improving the user experience on your website. But since you might not have too much traffic, affordability is probably the bigger concern.
But if you’re planning to build content like blogs around your VA service, then speed might be a bigger concern.
WordPress Page Builder
Once you’ve picked a hosting service, comes the task of actually building the website.
Here too WordPress makes its advantage known. It is very simple to build WordPress sites with some of the page builders on offer.
My personal favorite is Elementor and I’ve used it a lot. It was a good experience building this site with the tool.
The support is also excellent. A friend of mine also suggested Divi as a good alternative.
A good page builder will make the task of designing and maintaining your site a breeze. It also makes sure you’re not spending too much time doing it.
Next up is the visual side of your website. This can be done with the help of ready-made themes.
The one I’ve used in the past is Suki. It’s the fastest theme that I know of. It’s ultra-light and loads super-fast even after loading your content.
Astra is another top theme that you can use. A good theme means you’ll have a polished website that loads fast.
They’re also easy to modify and get a unique look for the final product.
The best tools for every kind of VA
Now we get to the fun part of setting up your toolkit to work as a VA.
The basics like a computer, high-speed internet and a phone are a given. What I want to go into are the online tools you’ll be using to impart your services.
I’ll explain why you need a certain kind of tool like a project management system and the exact tool I recommend like Trello.
But if you’re familiar with or own another tool of the same kind, feel free to use that instead. We want to keep the startup costs of this venture as low as possible.
Now let me take you through 28 tools from across 13 categories.
Project management tool
This is an absolute must. Once you get your first client you will need to understand your role and the kind of work you’ll be doing.
It might be a one-off thing or a set of functions you need to perform week after week.
In either case, the first thing you do after that conversation is separate your work into distinct tasks.
This helps segment your work and also easy to track your progress. Then you’ll feed these tasks into a project management tool.
I would recommend Trello for a project management Trello. It gets the basics right and it can scale in use better than others.
It has an excellent drag-and-drop interface where you can track your tasks. There will be notifications on desktop, mail and mobile when you’re approaching the deadline.
Depending on the kind of work you do, you might have a load of stuff that you need to store and share.
Dropbox is the obvious choice to safely store all your files. The free plan lets you store 2Gb on your account.
You can always upgrade if your work does require storage of larger files like video. At $20 a month, you can store as much data as you want.
You can share any of these files to a particular account by passing a shareable link. Fiddle with the link settings to set permissions for the recipient.
But if you’d rather not use Dropbox for sharing your files, you can use file transfer services like WeTransfer.
It’s free to sign-up and you can simply send things off to their email account.
But if you need to send files amounting to more than 2Gb at a time, like if you’re working with HD video, you’ll need to upgrade your account.
Document storage and organization
Once work kicks off, you’ll likely be working with a lot of documents that can be lost in the shuffle as their numbers grow.
You can always use Google docs and sheets for your documents and spreadsheets.
But I like a bit more order in my documentation so I’ll recommend Evernote.
You can use the basic plan since you’re working alone. But if you work with others that you outsource work to, it would make sense to upgrade to Evernote Business.
Evernote Business has collaboration spaces where you can work together with your teammates.
I prefer Evernote over Google Docs because of its Notebooks feature. You can put everything neatly into its parent notebook and use tags to make sure nothing is lost or difficult to find.
You can have separate notebooks for different projects to make sure each one is filed properly.
Then use tags like ‘/contact’ to make sure all contact data notes can be found using that tag.
Once the initial system is set, storing and then finding the right file is easy and stress-free.
You will need an online calendar to track any meetings you have set up. So if you do get leads or been given a task like making a call, use Google Calendar.
This is different from the tasks you have posted in Trello. Those are things that need to be done by a certain date and time.
Your calendar entries will be stuff like events or calls that you need to attend.
You’ll need a tool to help others set up appointments with you.
You’ll need it when you’re trying to find clients and you need to set up a video or audio call.
It might be part of your responsibilities as a VA. In any case, this is a must and the best option is Calendly.
Signing up is free and once you do, your Google calendar is linked to the tool.
You’ll be given a unique Calendly link that you can put in your emails or send while chatting. They can click this link and book a time and date.
The default booking page looks like the one above. Any booking will be added to your Google Calendar.
Once an appointment is made for a chat, its best to make it a video call.
It is the next best thing to meeting face-to-face to discuss business. Here too you have tools that make it possible without much fuss.
The best tool to use for this is Zoom. It’s free to sign up and makes setting up or joining a video call very simple.
After signing up, you download a very lightweight client and start a session.
Once the session is open, you can send them an invite through email or send them a unique link for that meeting.
The free plan allows for unlimited 1-on-1 calls but only 40 minutes of group meetings.
There’s also a feature to host webinars if that becomes necessary.
Proofreading tools is also part of the solid foundation a VA should have. You’ll be crafting emails and messages while working your clients and their customers.
And as a professional you’re required to make it error-free. Proofreading could also be part of your VA work if you’re working with a content-maker or if you’re maintaining their website.
It takes care of the headaches of the grammatical kind when you’re crafting a last-minute email.
Everything so far are tools that any VA should have. They form a sturdy foundation to work as a virtual assistant.
But there are certain tools that may come in handy for VAs with specific responsibilities.
Many will be asked to do the accounts for their client. So the best accounting tools will come in handy.
Others may be asked to take care of their clients’ social media accounts or their email marketing.
Then you’ll need the right social media marketing tools and email automation tools respectively.
Accounting software will come in handy for a VA. You can use it to track your own expenses and income.
It definitely beats doing it on Excel. But it becomes necessary if this is one of your jobs as the VA. It is certainly likely that it’ll be part of a VA’s weekly tasks.
If that is the case, Quickbooks is your friend. It is an excellent tool to track your real-time cash flow.
A 360-degree view of the business is Quickbooks’ guarantee. You can sign-up and try it free for 30 days before you decide to purchase.
It is feature-rich and includes reporting too, which is something your client will definitely need.
Freshbooks is a good alternative for Quickbooks. It too is an all-in-one invoicing and accounting solution designed specifically for small businesses.
Wave is a similar tool that’s not as good, but it does invoicing, accounting and receipt scanning for free.
If you’re planning to get involved in the sales side of things, you’ll need a good CRM. Scratch that, a top notch one.
Thats could be the difference between a lukewarm client feedback and a very warm one.
You can’t make a better call than HubSpot when it comes to a CRM tool. It has a free plan, but it will start getting pricey once you start adding features to it.
But that is the price of elite-level features and efficiency. That is the reason why they offer the base version for free.
They’re so confident in the product that they’ve bet on you opting for their annual billing plans.
It also comes with the best learning resources, to help you get the best out of the tool.
Sticking with sales and lead generation, one of the newer developments has been the use of chat tools on a business website.
Your clients will certainly be impressed if that’s part of your tool arsenal.
Chatbots are currently one of the hottest ways to make sales for your business. Even when you’re unable to respond to a customer straight away, the bot will fill the gap.
Some chat tools have made themselves clear favorites. These let you respond to customer queries on your desktop and phone.
They’re also great to set up the website bot easily and without the need to code.
Tidio is one of the best I’ve come across. It has the obligatory live chat option boosted by the addition of bots to make sure a visitor doesn’t walk away with an empty cart.
There’s a free plan for you to start with. Premium features include live typing. That’s the ability to see what a visitor is typing even before they press enter.
This lets you prepare a response before the question is asked, improving your chances of making a sale.
Another premium feature is recovering an abandoned cart, making it simpler to make a sale.
If you’re working for a business, you’ll likely be asked to perform outreach for your client.
The most common mode will be through email. There are a variety of tools you can use for this.
One of the best is NinjaOutreach. It is a great resource for finding influencers for any niche.
You can find bloggers, influencers, companies, journalists, Instagram influencers, Twitter influencers and so on. And you will get the email ids for most of them too.
I had used it extensively for an earlier project and will use it for ActionableTools too.
I’d recommend using the Clearbit extension for email scraping. This is great if you have a website but not the contact info for the people that work there.
You can use install it for Gmail or Outlook.
Then use MailShake for the actual mailing part of the operation. It’s the best option for bulk email without losing the personal touch.
Social media management
Social media management is a common service asked of VAs and you can be better prepared than most with the right tools.
Buffer is the easily the best tool if you’re asked to manage accounts on all the major social platforms.
That’s Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest and LinkedIn.
They have an excellent dashboard from where you can manage all social accounts from one place. It’s been a top tool for quite some time and you’ll quickly find out why.
ContentStudio is another good option that you need to check out before making a call on which tool to invest in.
Best software deals for a VA
Some marketplaces have the best deals for tools that will interest and benefit you.
You should visit these sites regularly to see if there are any deals on offer for the tools you want. You’ll also get tool recommendations that I may have missed.
If you’re convinced that being a virtual assistant is the route for you, get these set up.
Most of these have great basic plans that are free. So they do not require an investment.
Others like the social media management tools need to be invested in, only if your role demands it.
In any case, these will give you a solid advantage heading into the increasing competitive VA space.
Let me know if you’ve used some of these tools already. Or if you felt I missed a good recommendation.