We’re not promising it will be easy- the hard truth is that you have to work quite a bit harder when you have less to invest in startup costs. But it can definitely be done. Here’s how:
The cost of setting up a virtual assistant business varies quite widely. Many tools that streamline and automate business operations for VAs and digital entrepreneurs can add up in cost quickly. If you are ready to become your own boss but don’t have a lot of capital to invest we want to walk you through the process of starting a Virtual Assistant business with no budget. That’s right, you can start an online business for free. We’ve published this guide to set you up for success without a big budget.
Here is our blueprint for launching a virtual assistant business for free, or close to it. We do recommend some paid tools that you should consider, if not during your start-up phase, then definitely when you plan to start scaling your business.
Your first step should be to familiarize yourself with what needs to be done to begin operating your virtual assistant business. Conduct some market research, see what services other VAs are providing and to whom. Answer the following questions for yourself and organize the answers in a document. Refer to this document as your Business Plan.
- What is your niche?
- To which industries would you like to provide your services?
- What services will you offer?
- What tools will you need to provide your services?
- Will you need to contract any outside help?
- How much will those tools/contracts cost?
- How much money do you need to make each month for the business to break even?
- How much profit do you need to make after breaking even to pay your personal bills and living expenses?
- How much money do you want to make each month?
- What is the market price for your services, at your skill level?
- How many hours do you want to work?
- Do you want to price your services? A la carte or in monthly or weekly packages?
- How much do you need to charge for your services to break even + reach your desired income?
File For LLC Status
Ok, filing the paperwork to form an LLC will never be free. Luckily, you don’t technically need to file for an LLC. We recommend filing for an LLC as soon as you can, as it will protect your personal assets in the event you are sued over business dealings. You are not legally required (in the US) to file for an LLC, however. You can start your virtual assistant business as a Sole Proprietorship and conduct the business based on your social security number instead of the Federal Tax ID Number assigned to businesses. In the unfortunate event that your business sees legal trouble, you are personally liable for any damages as a sole proprietor. If you can’t form an LLC right away, that’s ok. Just prioritize it in your business growth plan.
Open A Business Bank Account
It is highly advisable, whether you are a sole proprietor or operate under an LLC, that you open a separate bank account for your business. It is best to open a business bank account, although some banks don’t offer business accounts without incorporation paperwork, meaning if you don’t have an LLC you can’t open a business bank account. If you find yourself in this situation try opening a brand new checking account under your personal name and be sure to run all of your business transactions, and only your business transactions, through it.
Set Up Your Accounting System
Will you be doing your own accounting? It’s best to set up your accounting system now so that you can utilize the bank account you just set up to pay for the upcoming startup costs. It is also important to record what you have already spent this tax year on anything pertaining to starting up your business, like the cost and fees associated with forming your LLC, for example. Freshbooks and Honeybook are fantastic options for accounting software with powerful features for the self-employed. We highly recommend using one of these tools when you can afford the monthly subscription fees. If you are on a super tight budget, you can set up a spreadsheet in Google Sheets to account for your expenses and payments. Wave financial software also has a free tier that will help you keep track of your finances.
Branding (Part One)
We recommend beginning the branding process early on. You don’t necessarily need to have your logo or colors picked out, but you need to brainstorm on the voice and mission of your brand. Why are you providing these services, and how do you do it differently than everyone else? Let the answers to these questions guide you in how you develop your onboarding process, communications, and other systems in addition to your copy voice and style guide.
Branding (Part Two)
The aesthetic aspects of branding, logo, color palette, fonts, photo filter, etc., are important, but not as important as your products and services themselves. For this reason, we don’t prioritize it as the next thing to do when getting started as a virtual assistant. Frankly, this can be done at any point before launch. If you’re hiring out the branding process this would be a great time to initiate with your designer. This way you have time to allow for edits and communicate feedback while you are working on developing your systems. If you are creating your own logo there are many great options for creating free logos. Some of our favorites are Looka Logo Maker and Canva. Canva has a good variety of free logo templates you can customize to represent your brand. Looka isn’t free, but you can create a basic logo for $20 or an entire branding package for $80. It’s a more budget-friendly alternative to hiring a designer. Creative Market is another great source for finding affordable yet professional virtual assistant logo templates and custom-designed logos.
Onboarding (Part One)
For a successful onboarding process, your systems must be customized to specifically fit your virtual assistant services. At this point, you should define every service you want to offer in great detail. Answer the following questions for each service you intend to market. It will save you time later and you can change it any time.
- What service are you providing?
- How often will you provide this service? Is it a one-off project? Daily? Weekly? Monthly? As needed?
- How much time will it take you to complete this service each time?
- What tools do you need to provide this services?
- What do you need from your client to perform this service? For example, passwords and login credentials, images, copy, a questionnaire, inspiration, schedules, etc.
- How will you acquire the tools needed from the client?
- How will you communicate with the client
- What will you charge for this service?
- Do you have a contract written for this service?
Now, look at all of the services you want to offer. Think about how many services you will have time for each week or month. This should help you get an idea of how many clients you will need to be fully booked. Decide on the tool or tools you will use to manage your workflow, like determining how you are going to have your clients sign contracts, organizing client information (proposals, contracts, assets, etc.), and client communication. We cover some free and affordable options in the next section.
Onboarding (Part Two)
This section lays out how you can set up your systems for free, or close to it. We also suggest tools that will streamline the process that you can add to your workflow as your business grows.
Develop a questionnaire to send to your clients where they can share their vision, their expectations, and can give you any specifics needed for their project. This questionnaire will vary depending on your service offerings but should include all of the information you need to provide the service to the best of your ability. Even if you’ve had a successful discovery call with your client you should always send out a questionnaire. A good questionnaire will bring up points your client has not yet considered. It’s also incredibly helpful to have a written record to refer back to whenever necessary. Google Forms is a great place to create and share forms if you don’t yet have access to premium CRM software like Dubsado. We are also happy to build custom onboarding questionnaires for Business Collective members to use directly from their websites.
Contracts, whether social or civil, are the backbone of society. You should start viewing contracts as the backbone of your virtual assistant business. They are in place to protect you and to protect your clients. The closest to a free option would be to customize a free contact template, print out the contract, sign it, and snail-mail it to your client. While shipping will likely only cost you a few dollars, it is no longer the most professional delivery method and slow shipping could cost you a delay in getting started. These days most contracts are signed digitally. If you’re a member of our Business Collective we can set up a contract system through your website. If you can’t yet afford a lawyer to draft your business contracts there are a number of good sources online to purchase contract templates drafted by lawyers. We love working with Artful Contracts when members need contracts more specific than our templates without having to hire a lawyer. You can even get 10% off your contract investments with the coupon code VIRTUALCOPIA. While our collective members can send and receive signed contracts through their websites, we recommend those of you who are not premium members use a legally binding service like DocuSign or HelloSign as an eSignature capturing service. Both platforms have a free tier. Honeybooks also has contract templates and will send them over their servers, assuring that they are legally binding. Honeybooks also offers a whole suite of tools that would improve your onboarding workflow and project management if you are ready to pay $9 per month. Get 20% off a year’s subscription by signing up through my link.
Outline Your Workflow Of The Project
Outline your process and timeline for the project. Choose milestones and commit dates to those milestones if possible. If the dates for the milestones are dependent upon your client or outside influences, write down a loose goal date to help you keep your project on track. If you need assets, input, or edits from your client, jot down dates in the project timeline. ClickUp is a powerful project management tool that is free to use until you reach 100MB of storage, at which point you can upgrade for $5/month or find another tool to fit your needs. With ClickUp you can organize projects and break them down into manageable goals. It also integrates with Google, Dropbox, and more to streamline asset handoffs between you and your client.
Send Your Client a Welcome Kit
Now that you’ve drafted your contract and planned out the project, it’s time to send it all over to the client. We’re sharing the breakdown of our Welcome Kit, but you can really customize your welcome kit as much as you’d like. The Virtualcopia Welcome Kit includes:
Working With Me Guide
This is a great place to establish some client boundaries by clearly communicating when and how you work and should be the same for all of your clients. You will include your office hours and preferred method(s) of communication. This is a great place to introduce your clients to any tools that you may utilize, be it Dubsado, Calendly, ClickUp, Dropbox, or Google Drive. If you serve clients who may not be familiar with your particular tech stack, we recommend including links to documentation or YouTube videos that walk you through the platform.
Client Onboarding Questionnaire
This may differ a bit from client to client or project to project. We recommend building out a master questionnaire that you can copy and paste from depending on your specific needs.
Project Plan or Roadmap
Here is where you will specifically outline the tasks you will do and when you will do them. This document should clearly communicate your expectations of your client and what they should expect from you. Whether you are developing a long-term working retainer to manage social media accounts or performing a one-time business audit, be clear about the deliverables you will provide, the timeline, and the fees you are charging your client for your work. You may choose to wait to provide this, the contract, and the invoice to your client until you have received the Onboarding Questionnaire from them.
You should have already developed your contract for the project. Now it’s time to get it signed. We recommend using a secure and legally binding service like DocuSign, HelloSign, Honeybooks, Dubsado, or the eSignature functionality through Virtualcopia websites.
Organize Your Project And Paperwork
Whether or not you are using a dedicated CRM (Customer Relationship Management tool), or you’re receiving all of the onboarding info through your virtual assistant website, you should keep all paperwork and project information in a folder assigned to each client. If you don’t yet have access to premium tools start by creating a folder in Dropbox or Google Drive. Keep a copy of the contract, invoice, project roadmap, and client questionnaire, along with any content or assets sent over from the client. These platforms have free tiers that should cover your needs until your business grows enough to invest in more efficient tools.
Build Your Website or Online Presence
While a website might not be a total necessity, we highly recommend having one to establish a professional presence in the industry. There are many options for affordable virtual assistant websites, from premium themes and templates you can customize and host yourself, to services like Wix, Squarespace, and Virtualcopia’s own websites.
Virtual Assistant websites are the crux of our business and we’re dedicated to providing modern professional sites with basic SEO optimization in place. We have ready-made sites you can customize, you can hire us to customize for you, or we can custom design a unique website for your virtual assistant business. Our sites have zero Virtualcopia branding and therefore look more professional than many alternatives. They are also fully hosted and maintained so you never have to think about your site if you don’t want to.
If you are ready to start your VA business but you aren’t ready to invest in a website just yet make sure your social media game is strong with accounts for your business on Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, LinkedIn, and any other platform where you may connect with potential clients.
If you can’t yet afford to subscribe to a customer management system like Dubsado or 17Hats, you can still set up effective systems that will work for you. Though they will take a little more time and effort to set up, options like Dropbox or Google Drive can be very efficient ways to organize your business. On either platform, you can create a folder for each client and keep all relevant documents in their files. Both platforms are ideal for sharing content, making it easy for your client to provide you with what you need to get started. We do not recommend sharing passwords and login information through dropbox, google drive, nor email, as none of these methods are secure enough for such sensitive information. If you’re not ready to invest in a password sharing program it is best for passwords to be exchanged during phone calls.
It’s our mission to make self-employment accessible to everyone
Once you have completed the steps above you have effectively started a virtual assistant business of your very own. If you followed our guide closely you may have even started an online business for free. You are poised for success with a well-thought-out business plan and strong systems in place. You, like every other VA, now need to find clients to fill your hours.
Members of our Business Collective have access to many tools to simplify these systems. We share spreadsheet templates that are pre-formulated to calculate your gross earnings or losses and estimated tax responsibility, and contract templates customized to a number of different service specialties. Members can connect Calendly to their websites so that their clients can book discovery calls or consultation calls directly through their virtual assistant homepage. We provide basic invoicing and contract signing capabilities in our Business Breakthrough plan. All of our memberships include a professional virtual assistant website, hosting, and maintenance in addition to countless templates and freebies.
It is our mission to provide the tools and products that make business-owning accessible for everyone. If you have the time and motivation to follow our guides and do the work yourself, you can single-handedly build your own business. If you don’t have the time or feel overwhelmed by the process we can handle the whole process of starting your virtual assistant business. Or we can meet somewhere in between. Let’s empower each other.
I am the founder of VIRTUALCOPIA Business Collective and a self-employment enthusiast. I hope to inspire others to take a leap into their own entrepreneurial journeys while providing resources and support, and facilitating a community.