As an expat English teacher or military spouse, your options for making a little extra money on the side can be limited due to your visa agreement. That being said, it’s not impossible to start a successful side hustle while living abroad.
One of the easiest ways to get started with your own online business is to become a virtual assistant. There are myriad ways you can help other entrepreneurs handle tasks for their businesses without taking on a full-time job or even leaving the comfort of your own home. It’s all completely remote and completely up to you on what kind of specialties or services you provide.
What is a virtual assistant?
A virtual assistant (also called a “VA”) is a person who remotely provides specific services to other businesses without being an actual employee of that business.
These services can range from creative help – like making images to writing content – to technical assistance – like writing special code for websites or troubleshooting issues with online store software – to administrative and/or management roles.
There are literally dozens of ways VAs help business owners. There are general VAs, specialist VAs, and VAs that fall somewhere in the middle of those two groups.
Where you fall on the virtual assistant spectrum is totally up to you! Below, I’ve listed several things VAs are known to do but this is by no means an exhaustive list. The possibilities are practically endless!
Here are 11 things you can do to get started as a virtual assistant.
1. Social Media Management
The term “social media manager” gets thrown around a lot in the online entrepreneurial world and, understandably, it can mean a few different things to different people.
Basically, though, it means an individual (the “manager”) handles a company’s or brand’s entire presence on social media. According to Sprout Social, one of the best social media management platforms on the web, “[S]ocial media managers grow [a] business through social networks.”
Often, a social media manager handles all the social profiles for a single entity across multiple platforms – Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, and possibly others.
While you might take on the title “social media manager,” you could decide to specialize in something specific (which is a great idea for a number of reasons), such as Facebook group management, Instagram management, or Pinterest management (more on this below).
Making yourself super-well informed and an expert on one or two platforms is the best way to separate yourself from other general social media managers and ultimately make more money. 😉
2. Email Marketing
You know when you sign up to receive emails from a blogger you like, a company you enjoy buying from, or to receive updates from a brand you follow? Somebody has to put together all those emails that drop into your inbox.
Yes, I’m telling you that one person is responsible for all of those annoying Bath & Body Works emails you get 80 times a week! 😆
You could be the person to actually write the copy (the words) that goes into those emails or you simply set up and execute the design – sourcing and placing images, deciding where the copy should go in conjunction to those images, and choosing the size of the text and possibly which fonts to use.
Then, those emails have to be scheduled to go out via an email management platform like MailChimp, Mailerlite, ConvertKit, or others.
Designing these email campaigns, deciding on special emails that should go out to subscribers, and sending them out can be super bankable, even if you’re not the one writing the content in the emails.
3. Customer Service
Smaller companies that offer products or services to their customers often don’t have the resources to hire a staff of customer service reps to work for their business full-time. Instead, they outsource to VAs who handle answering customer questions, emails, and even phone calls.
Customer service is a big task for any business and as a customer service VA, you’re helping solve a major need. This often doesn’t take a lot of training other than learning the ropes of how your new client runs their customer service process. In special cases, you may even be hired on in the beginning stages of a client’s development and play a role in helping them create a system.
Either way, it’s an easy gateway to get started as a virtual assistant and possibly even learn a few things on how to handle clients as your VA business grows.
4. Copywriting or Freelance Writing
Copywriting is often not thought of as a virtual assistant-specific job, but if you’re a strong writer, this is a great VA service to offer.
There’s a lot of opportunities out there for freelance copywriters! Blogging consistently for businesses is highly lucrative, especially because it typically means recurring work. Copywriting, though typically a one-off opportunity, is still a great way to build your portfolio and work your way up to higher- and higher-paying jobs.
5. Online Store Management
From shops on Etsy to actual shop setups on individual websites, online store management is a big job. Whether you’re listing new products, helping with customer service (see above!), or handling returns and refunds, there’s a lot that goes into managing an online store.
If you’re close to a “brick and mortar” business location and they sell actual products, and if you can help physically with shipping or returns, this could be an even bigger opportunity for you (that is, should you want to be involved at that level).
Additionally, virtual stores may use a number of different systems to operate their enterprises, including WooCommerce, Shopify, or other platforms. Knowing the ins and outs of these systems and how to keep them running smoothly is a big job and always in high demand.
6. Email Management
This is different than the email marketing we talked about above because it doesn’t involve designing email campaigns but instead, it means helping a business owner manage an email inbox.
Business owners and entrepreneurs get dozens of emails every day, potentially hundreds every week. Some people hate keeping tabs on their inboxes (understandably, right?!) and want someone to handle weeding through all the stuff that gets sent their way.
As an email manager, you might handle a business owner’s main inbox or a special inbox set up for specific email campaigns. For example, every email management system, like MailChimp, Mailerlite, and others, requires the sender to provide an email address to serve as the “from” email. Often, businesses set up separate accounts and invite subscribers to reply to or send emails to that special “from” email address. Therefore, someone has to open, read, and reply to or pass on the important messages.
Believe it or not, depending on the size of the business, a VA could devote a few hours a week solely to email management.
7. Online Advertisements
This should come as a no-brainer: Creating, setting up, and running online ad campaigns is a great way to make money.
Whether you specialize in Facebook or Instagram advertising, Google Ad Words, Pinterest ads, or other online ad campaigns, there’s a lot of money to be made – both for your client and for yourself.
The more practice you get and the more you learn about the different types of ad campaigns and what works and what doesn’t work, the more money you can charge clients to help them advertise their products or services.
8. Pinterest Management
I separated Pinterest from the social media management section because it’s a horse of a different color. Pinterest is, first and foremost, a search engine. While it does have some social media-like qualities, including “likes” and messaging, its main function is to help people searching for specific information find what they’re looking for via keywords and images.
At its core, Pinterest helps online bloggers and businesses direct more traffic to their websites, build brand awareness, and gain additional fans and followers.
Like specializing in advertising, specializing in Pinterest management is a great way to separate yourself from other “manager” VAs who may not be as well-versed in running Pinterest campaigns.
9. Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
“SEO” – also known by its full name, “search engine optimization” – is a big online buzzword. It’s an important part of running a website and a successful blog: If a site is properly optimized, it increases the site’s visibility and ranking on search engines like Google.
Think about when you go to Google and search for something. You might type in a few words or even a full sentence into the search box. Once you hit “submit,” the search engine presents you with a page of results. Usually, the ones at the top of the page will be your best bet. It’s probably rare that you look past the first page of results, but there are actually hundreds of pages of results you could weed through if you really wanted to.
So how do websites end up on that first page of search results? By using SEO best practices.
SEO specifically deals with using keywords in the content on a webpage – in the copy itself, in image alt text, in a page’s meta description, and in article sections, called headings. SEO beginners and experts alike start by making lists of main keywords that their ideal audience might be searching for or find interesting. The trick is to use those keywords to develop blog posts and/or informational pages that will ultimately get picked up by Google and, hopefully, pushed to the first page of search results. The closer to the top of the page, the better.
Business owners are always looking for help with SEO and if you’re a freelance writer, this is another great way to increase your perceived value to your prospective clients.
10. Business Organization / Online Business Manager (OBM)
Plenty of business owners need help keeping their business organized – it’s not everyone’s strong suit! Some biz owners may also want to hand off management roles to someone else so they can focus their efforts on other things. As a business organizer or online business manager (OBM), you can help do either or both.
You might excel in helping businesses organize files or systems; you could create systems for them, such as standard operating procedures (SOPs) on how to handle tasks in their business; or you might help manage other assistants that work in various areas of the business.
These kinds of opportunities often require more experience. However, depending on what kind of professional work experience you have before starting your virtual assistance business, you might fit the bill even without extensive VA experience.
11. Content Editor
There are plenty of folks who want to handle the bulk of a writing project on their own but loathe the idea of running back through the work and looking for mistakes. If they’re wise, they’ll seek out an editor before publishing or printing any materials.
If you’re a strong writer, you’re probably also a strong editor. Other writers and professionals of various industries seek out freelance editors for publications like white papers, professional articles, professional journal publications, ebooks, and more. These jobs tend to be one-off opportunities or, for those that are ongoing, there may be significant amounts of time between editing projects.
Editing is a great addition to offer clients if you’re marketing yourself as a freelance writer or any kind of content management VA.
There are so many ways to get started as a virtual assistant – these are just a few ideas. While it may be tempting to try and offer as many services as you can, you’ll be more valuable to business owners and have the ability to make more money by narrowing down your offerings.
Look at the list above and consider what things interest you most. Start by researching those services to see what skills you already have and what you need to learn to jump-start a VA business.
How to Start a Freelance Writing Hustle This Weekend
Have lofty, wanderlust-y or romanticized dreams of sipping hot drinks from mugs in cafes while sitting in front of a shiny, new MacBook? I can't help you with all of that, but I can help you get a jumpstart on your own freelance writing hustle. Download my ebook for a step-by-step playbook and get started this weekend!