Do I need to do a training course to be a VA?

I’m asked this question a LOT by new VAs or those thinking of becoming a VA. And the short answer is no.

I might follow that up with an “it depends”.

I didn’t do any formal training at all when I started. I did some Googling. However, I was supremely lucky in that I knew two very well-established VAs who were able to answer many many questions and generously allowed me to pick their brains about all things freelance. Not everyone has that luxury. And it is a luxury. And (I don’t think!) I abused it. If you have a mate that is a VA already don’t expect them to train you for free – their time is expensive. Their experience is also expensive and hard won. A quick chat every now and then or a brain dump over a gin is one thing - but don’t expect them to give you weekly slots for 3 months, that’s taking the piss.

Another thing that I do think helped me along was that I’ve spent a good chunk of my career in small businesses. Very small, one person and me, in one case. And that is very educational on the basics of what can be described as “the way shit works”. That’s everything from marketing, IT issues, panic-filled quiet times when no one is buying, client invoicing to managing the workload when you are it in terms of resources. Had I only ever worked in companies of thousands of people I think I might have been in a trickier position.

Assuming that you have great experience in whatever you are freelancing in (be that as a Personal Assistant, a Marketeer or a Social Media manager or whatever*) then the gap that you might decide you need to fill is the how to run a virtual business side of things. Because it should be straight forward, but it isn’t because you don’t know what you don’t know. The other thing that training can provide (depending on which you pick) is a group of peers. People who are at a similar stage that you can celebrate, commiserate and generally hang out with. Don’t underestimate this if you are new to working on your own at home!

*If you don’t have this then you might need to consider training in this skill first. Or offer things that you are experienced in. The kind of training I’m taking about here isn’t the how to do the job, but how to do whatever it is you do already in a freelance way.

So, assuming you do want to get some training, where the heck do you start? It is a minefield out there right?

For starters, if you want to be a VA, get used to researching and asking questions. No one will give you the right answer to this or hand you the answer on a plate! What’s right for your mate, may not be the answer for you.

There’s a lot of competition out there amongst VA trainers and there is no such thing as a neutral assessment or a roundup of all that’s available. You need to do the due diligence to make sure you pick the right thing.

Think of this as job one of freelance life.

There are no shortcuts, do the research, do it properly and in full.

Firstly, I’d work through this list of things to think about to pick the right training for you. Everyone will be different.

  • I would suggest that you buy a course in the country that you are going to work in. A course from the USA may be cheap as chips but do they know anything about our laws or working culture?

  • What does it cover? You may not want or need all of these so pick your key areas before you narrow down courses. A quick and dirty list of the many things that could be included:

  • Set up

  • Business set up: sole trader, limited

  • Tax info: self-assessments, VAT etc

  • Due diligence around insurance, ICO registration, GDPR best practice, AML

  • Mindset

  • Moving away from employee mindset

  • Working from home

  • Finding clients

  • Branding

  • Marketing

  • Networking

  • Finding your niche

  • Associate work

  • Managing your money

  • Pricing

  • Budgeting

  • Accounting systems

  • Recording

  • Systems and software

  • Time recording

  • File sharing

  • Conference calls, Zoom etc

  • How much support do you get and what does that look like? All courses are different, but I’ve heard of those offering some or all of these:

  • 1:1 time with a coach / trainer

  • Group calls with trainer / coach (check the times. If you’re in fulltime work you need to check you can make these or have access to a recording)

  • Facebook / Slack / WhatsApp groups with other students for support

  • An existing experienced VA as a mentor

  • None – the cheapest courses will be DIY and you just get materials to work through at your own pace.

  • If it’s an online course, do you have to complete it in a certain time? Can you do it at your own pace? Is anyone pushing you, checking your work or are you left to it? Is there a test to make sure you’ve understood what you’ve learnt?

  • What format does the course take? Online, in person, a mixture? Written, video?

  • Is the trainer experienced? Have they been a VA for a decent length of time before setting up as a trainer? How long have they been training? How many people have they trained? Do they have any training, teaching or coaching qualifications?

  • What is the cost and are there extras?

  • Is there a certificate or accreditation? Do you get something that you can add on your website to say you’ve passed?

  • Do they offer discounts with other providers of things you might need: insurance, contracts etc?

  • Is there any progression afterwards – some courses have follow up courses you can do as your business builds. Trust me, every day is a school day and having been at it a while there are still about a million things a day other people know that I don’t. You never stop learning and although you may not immediately want more training, is there a higher level available in the future?

  • And most importantly: how do you learn best and how does that match what’s available?

Secondly, I’d shortlist my top two or three courses that hit all the criteria I want from the suggestions above. I would then speak to the trainer or team of each. Do you gel with them? Can they answer your questions if you have any? I would then ask to speak to someone who had done their course. Talk to them about the experience. If you can’t find someone yourself, most decent trainers won’t hesitate to set that up because it can help you make the right decision. No one wants unhappy clients, so it is in everyone’s interest to make sure that you pick the right course for you.

Thirdly, once you have signed up to your course, enjoy! Use and abuse all the resources that you’ve paid for and really make the most of it.