What Is a Virtual Assistant?

Definition and Examples of a Virtual Assistant

Woman drinking coffee at a laptop in an office
Photo: PeopleImages / Getty Images

A virtual assistant is a person who provides support services to a business from a remote location. Administrative tasks are most common for virtual assistants, but they may also assist with any other elements required by the business.

Here, you'll learn more about what virtual assistants do, how to become one, and how to hire one.

What Is a Virtual Assistant?

A virtual assistant is simply an assistant who works remotely. As technological advancements in the 1990s brought reliable internet to more homes, businesses realized they didn't have to bring an employee into the office to get work done, and this led to the first virtual assistants.

Virtual assistants are especially in demand by entrepreneurs and online businesses that need help but don't want to spend the money on an office space for staff. However, many small and mid-size businesses use virtual support, especially for specific tasks, such as social media management.

Theoretically, a virtual assistant can do anything that another support staff might do. There are limitations, but technology is increasingly offering ways to work around those limitations. For example, they may not be able to physically bring you coffee in the morning, but they can place a coffee or lunch order through a food delivery service.

Virtual support duties are not limited to clerical work. They may provide assistance with marketing, web design, bookkeeping, and many other services. Some virtual assistants specialize in a specific skill set, and they only perform duties related to those skills. Other virtual assistants specialize in an industry, such as a virtual assistant whose niche is assisting realtors.

How Does a Virtual Assistant Work?

Though it isn't a defining aspect of virtual assistants, many of them work as contractors. They may run their own home-based virtual assistant business. Clients hire a virtual assistant by signing a contract with that assistant's business.

Virtual assistants may also simply work as employees for a company. Other virtual assistants will jump from company to company with short-term contracts found through freelance sites.

How to Start a Virtual Assistant Business

If you decide you want to create a business for your virtual assistant work, the first step is to determine the type of service you want to offer and to whom. Will you specialize in a specific task, such as graphic design or bookkeeping? Will you focus on a niche market, such as online entrepreneurs or realtors? Once you know what you're offering, you can set up your price for services. You may choose to charge by the hour, or you can sell service packages.


Starting a virtual assistant business is fast, affordable, and easy to do. There is a growing need for virtual help, and if you already have the skills and equipment to get started, you can quickly find your first client and be on your way.

Check with your city or county regarding a business license. If you're already fully equipped to provide virtual support services, the fees associated with obtaining your license could be your only start-up expense.

Once you're all set up, you can begin finding clients by contacting your network and searching through online job boards for freelance and telecommuting jobs. Consider setting up a LinkedIn page and building a website to make it easy for people to learn about and hire you.

How to Hire a Virtual Assistant

While virtual support is a great home business idea for assistants, getting virtual help can also be crucial for home business owners seeking to maximize income and facilitate growth. As a home business owner, there may come a time at which it's impossible to do everything by yourself. And if you're still able to do everything yourself, you may lose the ability to do it all as efficiently and effectively as possible.

Hiring a virtual assistant frees up your time so you can focus on the work that will make money and grow your business. Plus, many virtual assistants are better than you at certain tasks. It's always more efficient and less expensive in the long run to hire out duties you're not skilled at.

The first step in hiring a virtual assistant is to make a list of the tasks you want to outsource. Make a complete list that prioritizes the activities you want to delegate. For example, if you find it overly time-consuming and tedious to manage your email's inbox, put that at the top of your list. Or, maybe tech issues are taking too much time, so you can outsource website management.

The next step is determining who to hire. You can use a virtual assistant service that hires and trains assistants. These services will draw from their talent pool to assign an assistant that fits your needs.

You can also search for an assistant through an online freelance service like Upwork. The final option is to engage your network for a referral. Finding an assistant that is already vetted by someone you trust will save you time (and possibly the headache that comes with a bad hiring decision).

Key Takeaways

  • A virtual assistant is a person who provides support services to a business from a remote location.
  • Administrative tasks are most common for virtual assistants, but a virtual assistant could perform any form of remote assistance.
  • Virtual assistants often (but don't always) start their own business or work as independent contractors.
  • Businesses often hire virtual assistants for low-cost help with administrative tasks.
Was this page helpful?
Related Articles