This article originally appeared on Business Insider.
This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Hannah Dixon, a 35-year-old founder of the virtual assistant training resource , from Guanajuato, Mexico about her advice for becoming a six-figure virtual assistant. It’s been edited for length and clarity.
Becoming a successful virtual assistant — or VA — requires more than a laptop and a dream. In fact, I don’t think this career is for just anyone. It’s a career that calls into question the traditional way of working.
In my years as a VA myself, I juggled a multitude of admin, tech, and creative tasks for clients all over the globe. It wasn’t always easy, but it got easier in time with mentorship and unwavering motivation to achieve a lifestyle that afforded me flexibility and freedom.
After living and working in 58 countries and creating six-figure income years, members of an online community I led started asking me how they too could see success as virtual assistants. Through this, I was not only able to create a sustainable and rewarding career for myself but found a passion for helping others navigate the same path.
Here are five steps I recommend every aspiring VA take to pave the way to six-figure success:
1. Overcome imposter syndrome to develop an entrepreneurial mindset
As a virtual assistant, you’re not an employee, you’re a business owner — and it’s essential to embrace this shift in perspective.
This can stir up feelings of imposter syndrome, but this is a call to strengthen your self-trust. Develop confidence in your abilities through learning, applying what you learn, and remembering that you’re offering valuable services.
Take time to understand your working style, strengths, and weaknesses, and not letting fears — like a fear of failure, or even fear of success — hold you back from doing. Moving forward with “imperfect action” is better than standing still.
Someone recently told me they’d applied for over 50 traditional jobs and had no responses, then said that they wanted a job for “security.” Being a VA is no less secure than a traditional job, and you have so much more space in terms of who you work with, how you work with them, and what types of tasks you do.
2. Specialize and design your service stack to command higher rates
When breaking into this space, many people try to be everything to everyone, which often leads to engaging no one. The scope of what a VA can offer is broad, and it can be beneficial to specialize — if not right out the gate, then over time.
I’ve seen VAs go from doing okay to creating six-figure incomes once they committed to a niche, and this was my experience as well. There’s nothing wrong with having a range of proficiencies in your back pocket, but how you market yourself in terms of your core niche plays a big role in the rates that you can command.
If a client wants to grow their email list and run an email marketing campaign, would they hire a general VA or one who specializes in email marketing and is proficient in email marketing software? Clients will pay a premium for that peace of mind and not needing to give you lessons in speaking their language.
When figuring out how to specialize your services, I recommend having a go-to “service stack.” These are the few (up to five) complementary services you’re well-versed in and can lead with. You’ll likely offer more services once you start working with clients, but having a small handful of areas identified from the get-go will keep you at the top of potential clients’ minds for these particular strengths.
You can also choose to niche by the types of people and organizations you work with, such as by industry and/or values; for example, choosing to work with health and wellness professionals, or with people who are passionate about elevating voices of oppressed groups, regardless of industry.
3. Create a strong first impression with a killer online portfolio
Your online presence is your first impression as a VA, and it’s something your potential clients are going to heavily take into account. While you can’t shake hands, you can showcase your skills and professionalism in unique and fun ways.
In the VA space it’s unusual to be asked for a resume, or even formal education. Often a compelling online portfolio and a robust online presence can speak much louder. This low barrier to entry makes it an ideal pathway to working online.
The easiest way to build an online portfolio as a new VA when you have little to no previous experience is to be the portfolio. For example, want to offer writing services as part of your service stack? Building a portfolio of writing examples can be as simple as starting your own blog or newsletter. Your social media posts and captions are equally relevant with the added bonus that potential clients can easily see that you’re producing quality writing on a consistent basis. If it gets good engagement, that’s a cherry on top.
You can get creative with how you showcase your skills and be authentic in how you represent yourself and your work in your portfolio. People work with people, and your creative approaches to your overall online presence will be a feather in your cap as a soft skill that clients will appreciate.
As you grow your VA business, use your journey as evidence of your abilities. Every step you take in building your business can become part of your portfolio.
4. Do VA-specific networking
It’s not enough to set up a profile on gig sites and wait for clients to come to you. In my VA training programs, I actively advocate against these as a go-to due to their reputation for steeply undervaluing the skilled work of VAs. successful VAs understand the power of networking, as building strong relationships within your industry can lead to valuable opportunities and referrals.
Join online communities, attend relevant events (which can be virtual), seek mentorship, and don’t underestimate the power of connecting with other VAs. In the VA world, your peers aren’t your competition; they’re a supportive network of individuals who understand your journey. If you’re not willing to support others, you can’t reasonably expect a big turnout for your own efforts.
In fact, testament to the power of networking over the years: in my training program, I’m still sharing exclusive jobs from clients, who to this day come to me for VA services. My reputation has expanded over the years through the meaningful networking I’ve nurtured since day one. Another advantage is sharing high-paying job opportunities.
5. Be an “innovator” VA, not just an “executor” VA
The difference between a hobbyist VA and a six-figure earning VA often comes down to the client experience they provide. I always say there are the “executor” VAs who simply complete tasks, and there are “innovator” VAs who set themselves apart by becoming an integral part of their client’s business. The latter are the ones who become high earners.
The number-one thing that contributed to my, and my learners’, six-figure success was providing a quality client experience. You want your clients coming back for more, signing longer agreements, upping your pay, and referring you out. This virtuous cycle starts with how you make them feel.
Delivering a VIP client experience comes down to the small details, such as investing time to understand your clients’ businesses, goals, challenges, and unique personalities; communicating effectively; and always striving to exceed their expectations.
You can boost client experience by making things easier for them. Simplify your interactions and requests from clients at every opportunity, for example, by making it easy for clients to pay you and ensuring they don’t have to jump through hoops.
Look for opportunities to dazzle and delight! I had a client who loved Shakespeare, so I used a translation website to turn my end of the week reports into Shakespearean English and she was over the moon. Taking a moment to do something special in celebration of a victory or significant date can go a long way too. It doesn’t have to be an expensive gift, but bonus points if it’s something they need or something that reflects their personality and makes them say, “They really get me.“
Strive to exceed expectations doesn’t mean working overtime — it does mean using a high level of awareness to start anticipating a client’s needs. Be the VA that when asked for something, you’re able to say “already done!” because you just knew it was going to be a thing.
It’s this level of commitment and service that can elevate you to becoming an indispensable asset to your clients and allow you to not only grow your income independently, but also raise your rates in your longer-term contracts too. Even if it’s your first client on a small project, treat them exceptionally well.