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“COVID-19 has honestly helped my business,” said 43-year-old Amanda Holly, who has been a virtual assistant (VA) since 2017.
Amid the devastation of the coronavirus pandemic, VAs — people who were already working from home before the pandemic, doing the back-room work for companies forced to shift online to survive — have thrived.
In its most recent report, the US Association of Virtual Assistants surveyed North America and Europe and found the industry was “booming”, with people citing the job’s flexibility, as well as the ability to make an average of $2,000 to $5,000 a month for 30 hours of work a week, as reasons to become VAs.
The UK’s Society of Virtual Assistants told Insider its membership applications tripled in 2020. It welcomed 1,350 new members during the pandemic, giving it a total of 4,166, the most in its 15-year history.
Holly became a VA in 2017 after years in admin temping jobs, including for Britain’s National Health Service, energy companies, car hire companies, and banks — between summers working as a club PR on the Spanish holiday island of Ibiza.
She wanted to be a VA because she was sick of commuting and wanted “flexibility in my life … I wanted to be in control of what I earned and how and where I worked.”
She chiefly works with coaching and training businesses, which suddenly found themselves unable to work face-to-face and reliant on video calls.
When the UK first went into lockdown last March, Holly, from Bristol, England, was making a steady £1,500 ($2,078) a month. By the time the first lockdown eased in late June, her monthly income had jumped to £3,000 ($4,156), working four-day weeks.
“I was earning OK money, but since COVID-19 I have had a particular client who took on a lot of extra hours because she wanted to move everything online,” Holly told Insider.
“Then another coach came onboard because he was moving online too. He works in the mental health industry, so they were running a lot more courses, particularly because of COVID-19.”
“There is a lot more admin involved with setting it up, sending instructions to delegates, setting up meetings and creating any online content,” she said of her clients’ needs in lockdown.
Holly’s income has remained steady since its lockdown surge. She currently works 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. and 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. Monday to Thursday.
Her outgoings specifically for the business are around £100 ($138) a month, which includes insurance and software licenses for Canva and Adobe Pro.
Her working day often begins with checking emails for three clients and chasing their invoice payments. On Mondays, she phones one client to go through their diary for the week ahead and runs through another’s client list, checking appointments have been booked and sending out any reminders.
On the day she spoke to Insider, she was arranging an online webinar, while creating promotional posts and banners for clients’ social media. She was also collating feedback on another course, putting it together with graphs and charts for distribution.
The rest of her day was taken up with building newsletters, sending out instructions to course delegates, scheduling a week of social media posts, packaging and sending promotional material and ordering books and materials for another client’s new course.
She said: “When people buy retainer packages, they buy blocks of my time, so I block out on each day and any new or old tasks get done in this time.”
Women make up 97% of the Society of Virtual Assistants’ membership. According to the society, 85% are aged at least 35, reflecting the fact the industry is more attractive to people with more work experience and transferable skills.
Holly initially used freelance platform Upwork in a bid to find clients, before turning to Facebook groups.
“The good advice I received was to go where your ideal clients hang out … I started by being very relaxed, commenting on people’s posts, offering tips but not offering services. People start chatting and you build a relationship so when they needed a VA, they came to me.”
In 2020, Holly was “finally” able to drop associate work for other VAs, as work for her own clients boomed.
She added that all her clients were retainer long-term packages. Her next move is to take someone else on, possibly to help clients with branding.
“I still have enquiries coming in but don’t have the capacity myself,” she said.