Becoming a Virtual Assistant: Here’s What You Should Know

Before we talk about becoming a virtual assistant, let’s have a quick rundown of what a VA actually is:

Often abbreviated to VA, a virtual (office) assistant is a professional who provides technical, administrative, creative or social assistance to other in a remote work environment. Essentially, a remote administrative job.

That’s my definition, anyway. Many VAs work as freelancers, often for one, two or more clients. But more and more companies are willing to hire many of their admin staff virtually. Simply because it saves on space.

Becoming a VA has a lot of perks: it’s a pretty flexible job, and it can be done from anywhere (which is the whole point). Additionally, many virtual assistants work as freelancers. Unlike copywriting however, you’ll usually have a chunk of hours each day where you work for a specific client. Which means that the gigs you land are usually long-term and have a certain amount of stability. Handy!

What you should know before becoming a virtual assistant

The job description “virtual assistant” actually encompasses a wide range of different skills. No two VAs have the exact same skillset: in fact, some may specialize in particular types of assistant (technical, administrative, emotional support… well okay, the last one was a joke but may be true in some cases. Watch out!).

Becoming a virtual assistant shouldn’t be viewed as a single, step-by-step process. Instead, you should consider yourself a sort of a “jack of all trades”. At the very essence of the job, you’re providing assistance to an individual. Basically, you have a set of skills and offer to use those skills to make another person’s job easier.

For example, a virtual assistant could…

  • Work as a content manager, uploading content to websites and various other platforms.
  • Set social media strategies.
  • Write content (if they’re good enough…)
  • Deal with technical issues on a website.
  • Do online research.
  • Book flights and holidays, schedule meetings, answer emails (very much in the realm of a “traditional” assistant).
  • And much, much more…

The tasks of a VA really depend on the needs of your client/company. Which is why when applying for a job or pimping yourself out, you should be aware of your strengths and weaknesses. And then focus on your strengths.

Equipping Yourself to Become a VA: The core skills needed

What I just gave was an overview of what VAs do. But there are “core” skills and traits that you need to have if you’re interested in becoming a virtual assistant. Many of these skills can be learned. You of course need to have some clerical office skills (at the base of it, a VA is simply an office clerk that doesn’t sit in the office). You should also be computer literate – you don’t have to be a tech wizard (very few in the “online” industry actually are), but you should know your way around a computer.

Being able to learn and adapt are also highly important. Technology changes rapidly, as do many online industries. You’ve got to be able to move with the times and learn new software fast. One client may require you to work with Excel, the other with some bizarre open source program. You as a VA must be able to adapt – quickly – to appease all your clients.

Conclusion

If you’re an experienced professional, you probably already have a significant number of skills that’ll help you work as a VA.

The best advice I could give you is to do your research. See what the most in-demand skills are for VAs and assess whether or not your skillset is good enough. If not – well, get learning!

Affiliate Marketing – A SIMPLE Introduction

The term “affiliate marketing” came about when people started selling things online. These days, you’ll hear it everywhere. It’s the most common model of selling things on the Internet. In spite of this, many people are still confused as to how it works. Which is understandable because there are a lot of factors and components, often depending on industry and product.

The simple explanation of affiliate marketing however is…

Promoting a product or service and receiving commission through it.

Even if you’re not planning on starting your own business, anyone working in the digital marketing realm should at least have a basic understand of affiliate marketing and what it is.

The Basics of Affiliate Marketing

When I was freelancing, I had a vague idea of what affiliate marketing was. When I started working for a company, I learned a good bit more. We promoted online dating sites – through affiliate marketing.

Essentially, the process ran like this:

  • You got a product you wanted to sell. For example, say you wanted to promote Match.com.
  • You then receive a special, tailored link to that product (called a “tracking link”).
  • You promote that link and persuade others to click on it and buy the service (in this case, a subscription to the dating site).
  • You then receive a commission.

That’s essentially all affiliate marketing is – at it’s most basic level.

Now of course, it’s much more complicated than that. But if you’ve never heard of it and want a basic understanding, that’s pretty much the crux of it.

Wait… There’s more!?

Of course! In the olden days, it was quite easy to just send the tracking link to someone who might be interested in your product. Since the internet has gotten a lot more sophisticated, we have to be a lot cleverer in how we promote our links. Some people put them on website and then do content marketing to drive traffic. Others use Adwords, others used paid advertising.

Promoting tracking links through organic search (SEO), for example, is playing the long game. You’re not going to make money straight away. In fact, you’ve got to build up your site. Build up your authority on Google. That takes time.

On the other hand, you could make money doing paid advertising campaigns. That’s a lot faster and is sometimes known as digital media buying… which of course requires a lot of skill and a good eye for numbers.

Don’t forget about affiliate networks!

Anyone can start off in affiliate marketing. The easiest way to do this is sign up to an affiliate network like Commission Junction and then peruse their products, seeing which one you would like to promote. It’s also possible to get affiliate links and deals straight from the source. However, that’s often where negotiations come into play.

We Work Remotely – A Jobseeker’s Review

We Work Remotely is a pretty well-curated list of remote and telecommute jobs. They were definitely on my list when looking for a remote position – and will be if I have to again.

They claim to be the largest online community for work at home job seekers (150,000 monthly, or so the site says).

And of course, you can get jobs of all kinds. Full-time freelance, subcontractor, full time and part-time positions.

First impression – We Work Remotely is quite professional

WeWorkRemotely.com is part of a new wave of telecommute job boards. They’re also linked to a few others like Unicorn Hunt (for start ups) and Fresh Gigs (for anyone interested in marketing). There’s also Future Jobs (AI, data science and machine learning). So, not a bad resource for any potential remote worker.

I definitely kept them on my watchlist and you should too. Especially if you’re into online marketing or software engineering (and let’s face it, currently the majority of remote jobs are in software).

What are the most common industries found on this platform?

Anything new and cutting edge. We’ve already mentioned software engineering (web dev positions are available here as well). I also saw a significant number of design jobs that were regularly posted. These included careers like product designer, marketing designer and jobs in the UI/UX field.

There’s also a boatload of customer support jobs. If you like customer service (or don’t mind it…) and want to work from home, then you’ve got a bunch to choose from. I was also happy to see the sales and marketing section, which was also quite large. These included telecommute jobs in the area of content marketing, project management and even public relations. Not bad.

When it came specifically to copywriting jobs… There were a few, but it was slim pickings. Unfortunately.

So are they worth it?

For me, anyway, they were. If you’re a techie, designer or a marketer then you should keep your eye on We Work Remotely. But like all remote job boards, it’s really important to expand your search and cast your net as wide as possible!

 

Content Writing… And Where It Can Lead

Probably one of the most common remote jobs out there, online content writing has been around since people realized it was necessary to make $$.

Much like customer service and IT, writing is one of those fields that has translated quite well into the digital world. In fact, a lot of content nowadays is primarily produced through the medium of the Internet. Other channels are often seen as “secondary”: radio, television, billboards (although, not in all cases).

With countless online shops, landing pages trying to push lead generation, social media managers trying to expand their reach… Online content writing is actually at the core of it. Some digital marketers will craft their own content – but for the most part, many will defer to someone who can actually write.

That’s where the job of the content writer/online copywriter comes into play.

Being hobby writer as a teenager, I soon fell into a career “writing for the Internet” (Note: I was desperate, needed money and this was the best way of making some quick cash). I actually really enjoyed it but back in those days, I wrote a lot.

A lot of the texts I wrote were simple, keyword-optimized pieces of content. In fact, I can actually still remember the very first SEO text I wrote. The only instructions I had to go by was the keyword itself: “steampunk buttons”. To this day, I still have no idea where that text ended up. Probably on an eCommerce sit. Or maybe a fetish site (you honestly never know…).

I continued that way for the next year or two. My client list grew, as did my assignments. I went beyond simple SEO texts to things like landing pages, ad copy, press releases and more. At the very beginning though, I earned mere pennies (my clients were too cheap even to pay me in steampunk buttons).

steampunk buttons
Glorious, intricate, shiny: All I ever wanted were those precious, steampunk buttons…

Naturally, I had to explain my job to people. How was I sitting at home most days, but still able to pay my rent? What sort of job title was I supposed to give myself? Admittedly I was quite young then and didn’t fully understand how a lot of things worked. I could’ve given myself any kind of title.

For a while, I stuck to “content writer”. The problem was, that particularly description didn’t fully express what I was doing.Why? Because the truth is…

’Content writing’ is an astoundingly broad and varied field.

Online Content Writers – Copywriting for the new age

The Internet is powered by content. Articles, videos, images, blog posts, product descriptions, forums, rude words, keyboard warriors, trolls… Much of that content is informative with an eye to either educating or selling (in many cases, both) or simply annoying people. Online content writers literally just do that: they can write on a wide range of different topics (YES, some people are literally paid to be annoying).

When talking about the “types” of content written, it can come in a range of styles. For example, here’s a list of the types of content I’ve written over the years:

  • In-depth reviews of products. Some of these were for ecommerce, others were for informative purposes with an eye to generating leads (reviews of online dating sites, for example).
  • Advertising copy across a wide range of paid advertising networks (Facebook, Gemini, Taboola, Outbrain).
  • Press releases for different companies.
  • Product descriptions
  • Blog posts like this one for others, of course (in these cases, I was essentially a ghostwriter).
  • Content for landing pages, the majority of which needed to be optimized with keywords. Interestingly, there are many cases where clients often don’t want keyword-optimized texts. These are often for paid landing pages.

As a content writer or a copywriter, you’re literally selling your skills. You may “specialize” in writing online content. It’s still possible to write more than just online content.

Simply being a “copywriter”

A copywriter in the truest sense of the word is someone who simply writes copy. Plenty of media is online now, so most writers are “online” copywriters in some form. BUT… even in the early stages of my writing career, I wrote print advertising copy for some place in Texas. Seriously. Just because a client of mine had them as tasks. I’ve never even been to Texas. Or the States, for that matter.

Copywriting, expertise and specialization

Any literate person can do basic online content writing jobs. From then on, you can simply build up your skill and branch out into different areas. The mark of a truly skilled copywriter is not just someone who can write. It is someone who can adapt and change their writing style depending on what the client wants. In this sense, it’s essentially what a commercial copywriter will do. They’ll want to sharpen their skills with an eye to improve their personal profitability.

But it’s also possible to specialize and become known as an expert writer in a specific niche. Journalists are of course a classic example: they also research and report, both online and in real life. Financial writers may be heavily involved in investment strategies or banking. The list goes on.

What does it lead to?

Online content writing isn’t a job you have to do forever. For many, it’s a foot in the door. When I originally began freelancing, writing was the only real “skill” I had in this field. I soon learned a lot about online marketing, from what my clients wanted to simply doing a lot of research myself. My freelancing led me to a job in online marketing which involved far more than writing.

These days, copywriting remains one of my core skills. But they’ve expanded beyond that: I’ve been a press manager, a content manager, a SEO and am now one of the main creatives brains working for a profitable online advertising agency.

So, if you’ve got ambition and are willing to learn, there is a whole host of different things it can lead to!

Working Nomads – A Jobseeker’s Review

Working Nomads only offers remote and telecommute jobs – with a focus on digital nomads. Of course it’s not restricted to digital nomads only – remote job seekers will find a wealth of different advertisements here as well.

Remember, though:

Like most remote-only job boards and sites, those applying through Working Nomads will face a lot of competition.

This platform is pretty simple. A lot of the jobs posted can also be found on other job sites. However, very occasionally you may find something here that’s no posted anywhere else.

What kind of jobs can I find on Working Nomads?

Like all remote job boards, you’ll definitely find plenty of open positions in the software/IT/tech industry. They’ve even got separate categories for Systems Administration, Design and Development.

Beyond that, you’ll find other categories like…

  • Consulting: Tech-related consulting at that. Which shouldn’t be a surprise.
  • Writing: Another broad field hard to pin down. Writing positions vary from journalism to content marketing and technical writing.
  • Finance jobs are sometimes posted here (tax advisors, bookkeepers, underwriters etc.)
  • Human resources although there weren’t quite a lot of them.
  • General administration such as case managers, online scheduling, broker assistant etc.
  • Heathcare jobs like medical coding and scheduling.
  • …and even a few legal jobs.

There’s also a few education jobs for online tutors and online teachers.

Sadly, like most of these platforms, the remote jobs available on Working Nomads lean heavily towards tech or maybe online marketing/general digital media. If you’re not looking for a job in these areas, then don’t rely solely on this board!

Overall, is it worth it or should I pass?

No matter what kind of remote job you’re looking for, I would highly recommend at least signing up for their job alerts. When looking for a new job, it’s important to pull out all the stops and keep your eyes open. You may have a very slim chance of getting something here – but you never know.

FlexJobs.com – A Jobseeker’s Review

When I looked at FlexJobs.com, I got excited.

There were tonnes of remote jobs advertised. Literally thousands. From all over the world. It also didn’t appear to be a scam: since this platform’s been around for a REALLY long time. So I decided to give FlexJobs a good, old-fashioned review from a jobseeker’s perspective.

When I put this site through the Wayback Machine, it told me they’ve been around since 2007. I remember them from when I started freelancing in 2011 (along with something called “All Stay At Home”… which doesn’t seem to exist anymore).

So…

It’s a good sign FlexJobs has lasted this long.

So let’s get down it, asking the most important questions first.

Is FlexJobs legit?

Lots of people are asking this. It’s understandable why you’d think they’re a scam. Especially since there are so many work from home scams at the moment. Of course, the telecommute job industry is a little savvier nowadays (though you still ought to be careful). But after reviewing them, I’ll say this: FlexJobs is definitely legit.

They’re no different to Indeed.com or Monster. In fact, if you do a quick search you’ll find many of the jobs posted elsewhere. That does take a bit of work, though.

So then, what’s on offer for remote job seekers?

Quite simply: job leads. However, applying for a work at home position through FlexJobs comes at a cost. Literally. The price is usually USD$15.00 per month. Jobs are divided into a rich range of different categories. Here you’ll likely find a remote position for almost every kind of job that you can do from home.

This is the stickler, though.

It’s often the cost that keeps people from using the platform. Which is totally understandable. There are a lot of pros to paying for and using their service, though. First and foremost, you have one, single place from which can apply to all relevant positions.

Seriously, it cuts out a lot of time from your job search. Secondly…

They filter out the work from home scammers.

In fairness, job boards like Remotive and Working Nomads do the same thing (for no subscription fee). But with this particular platform, you know you’re safe.

If you’re still humming and hawing about the cost, here’s a quick breakdown of the pros and cons of FlexJobs:

Pros:

  • Work at home scams are screened out!
  • The categories and number of telecommute positions here is… Amazing. Really, up until this point I haven’t seen a wider selection on any remote job board.
  • Links are posted to the original job advertisement: though, to be fair, a lot of job boards do that.
  • Accredited by the US Better Business Bureau (if that means anything to you… I’m not American so I have no experience of what it’s worth).

Cons

  • The cost! They’re not expensive, really. A lot of people don’t like having to pay for a job board, though. Myself included.
  • Most positions advertised are published elsewhere. Which means you just have to spare a little more time to find them yourself.

Should I use FlexJobs?

Truth be told… That’s completely up to you. If you’re willing to shell out around US$15.00 a month, then go for it. You could consider it an investment. However, more people are willing to pay with time rather than money. Since its free to search for open positions on Flex Jobs, all you have to do is go through their listing. Then, search online to see if there’s another platform you can apply through.

Freelance Job Boards: Why They Should NEVER Be Your Only Option

When I started freelancing, I knew early on that I had to branch out.

I began as a “freelance writer”, my first two “clients” being content mills. Work wasn’t always stable, but I managed to get by. During the slow times when I wasn’t fervently writing to clock up a survivable hourly wage, I would research more about freelancing. More specifically, online freelancing.

A little later down the line, I also began “in person” freelancing as a TEFL teacher. While better paid than content mills, TEFL also wasn’t the most stable job. Of course, now being a seasoned content mill writer my original thoughts of “Great, I can sit at home all day, sip wine and write for cash!” were now long gone. However, as much as I enjoyed TEFL I didn’t really see a future in it.

peanuts
That is unless I didn’t mind earning peanuts for the rest of my life.

So, I sipped a lot of wine. I wrote for (not so much) cash. And I did more research into freelance job boards.

Upwork, oDesk, eLance, Guru… whatever. There were almost too many. After a lot of fumbling around, I managed to find my feet and actually snag a few decent-paying clients. I even forged one or two long-term (business) relationships. Content mills remained my “slow time” fallback (when work was available). In general, I made an alright living for someone in a cheap city with few expenses.

Between working with freelancer platforms, my own clients, content mills and teaching English, it dawned on me just how much work freelancing really is. It was a good education, to say the least. The searching, the bidding, working on projects just to get an interview… I spent hours of work without even a guarantee of getting a job.

In many ways, it sucked.

Finding work as a self-employed person is just as tiring and as much work as finding a full-time job – actually, probably even more since you always have to be hustling alongside your own projects.

When it comes to freelancer sites, really try to remember:

They should never, ever be your only option.

Get out on social media and the real world and network – forge relationships, maybe do a bit of pro bono work here and there to build up your portfolio. At the same time, do pick at least two or three platforms you feel will work and put some time and effort into crafting a profile.

Why? Well, because…

At the very least, a freelance job site offers you free advertising.

This all comes down to personal branding and a bit of advertising. After all, the more your face and profile pops up on the internet in the right places, the more likely it is that the right people will see it. The same can be said for publishing a portfolio on these sites.

Freelance Job Boards: The “keys” to increasing your chances of success

I cannot give you a 100% guaranteed formula that will definitely land you a list of clients so large you almost can’t keep up with the work. If I could, I’d probably be selling ebooks and courses on it (it’s what all the cool kids are down now, apparently).

However, I can give you the methods I used in order to land clients. Sometimes they worked like a charm, sometimes results took longer to materialize. Either way, they are reflective of the business world. You have to get the right target audience, sell the right product and market yourself the right way. Additionally, there are slow times and times when you have nothing but work to do.

When it comes to freelance job boards, however, these points are non-negotiable. They’re important, even if you just want a basic smattering of visibility.

Define what you ARE and what you’re SELLING

DO NOT write “Online Freelancer” as your job title, followed by “various freelance services – online!”. Anything in the area of too vague and too general is either going a) get you a bunch of jobs no where near your field of expertise or more likely b) get you absolutely no response whatsoever.

Define what you ARE. Are you a copywriter? Are you a digital strategist with a focus on writing good copy? Are you a JavaScript engineer, with a focus on front end development? Write this down, make a bullet-point list. Let your clients know what your expertise is, what you are selling and exactly what kind of pain they have that you can solve.

Your profile(s) are important

No matter how many freelance job boards you sign up to, craft them with a whole lot of love. While the actual structure of your profile can vary from one platform to the other, in general you should…

  • …have a clean, professional profile photo. This doesn’t have to be a photo of your face although I would highly advise it for individual freelancers. You are the friendly face of the business you’re running. Alternatively, you may want to consider a logo.
  • A comprehensive tagline that defines what you ARE. Harking back to the previous paragraph, are you a digital strategist? A web developer? What’s your focus, what’s your specialty? Try to think of a creative but clear way to send the message, too.
  • Fill out your bio/profile description. It’s amazing how many freelancers neglect to do this. You don’t have to (and shouldn’t) detail every aspect of your job history but you should provide a comprehensive view of your professional background, your services, skills and the type of “pain” you can solve for your prospective clients. If possible, try including testimonials.

What I would advise is briefly forgetting about freelance platforms and simply crafting and online resume with at least the above points. Additionally, include a portfolio of your work and then create a website and publish it there.

You can then take this “core” professional profile and adapt it to whatever platform you’re using.

Beyond Freelancer Sites: Be your own “command central”

Ultimately, you should view each freelance platform you sign up to as one of many “channels” through which you can spread your message. People may either reach out to you on these platforms, or you may have to do a bit of job bidding to at least get your face out there (and who knows, you may end up scoring a client/gig or two).

Ultimately, this will ensure that you have a strong presence on these platforms and additionally can spread your personal brand.

However, you should maintain your “central” profile. Publish a blog posts every now and then (once a month at least). Share this post on social media (Instagram is great for photographers, LinkedIn is good for most professionals).

Join a few online communities, get involved in discussions and publish your opinion in different (relevant places). Get to know people and build relationships online – really make a name for yourself.

Ultimately, freelance job boards are really little more than a gimmick. It is possible to get a lot of clients through them, but they shouldn’t be central to your strategy (at least when you’re starting out).