How to Make $40 an Hour as a Virtual Assistant: 7 In-Demand Services

work from home
David Mulder under Creative Commons

Before I started working online, I thought the only freelance services business owners were willing to pay for were writing, web development and graphic design. Everyone I knew who was working from home and earning a good, solid income on their own terms seemed to fit into one of those three areas of specialization.

I didn’t have any of those skill sets, so when my husband and I decided to move to Costa Rica in 2011, my plan was to earn just enough to cover our living expenses by providing freelance administrative services. In other words, becoming a virtual assistant.

But along the way, I discovered a “middle ground” between the highly specialized copywriting, coding and design work done by professionals in those areas, and the lower rate administrative services typically provided by virtual assistants, like data entry, scheduling and inbox management. These were important services businesses owners needed, but they weren’t so specialized I’d need to go back to college or spend a ton of time studying.

Taking advantage of this middle ground helped me increase my freelance rate up from $20 to $40 per hour, while at the same time getting more and more client requests for ongoing work.

So what are these services in the middle ground? Here are seven crucial business support services you can offer as a freelancer, along with an idea of potential rates for each one.

1. Proofread Blog Posts

Business owners know that they need to be attracting visitors to their websites, and one great way to do this is through blogging. However, running a blog generally means working with a lot of content.

Draft blog posts will be coming in from all angles: paid writers, the business owner, guest contributors, company staff, interns and even customers. Someone needs to carefully proofread and edit each post before it’s published online. Why not you?

Estimated hourly rate: $15 to $25

2. Format Posts in WordPress

Once a blog post is polished and error-free, the next step is to publish it inside the business owner’s website content management system. Nine times out of 10, this is going to be the ever popular WordPress, and the great news is, WordPress is easy to learn.

If you’re new to freelancing, and you’re starting out like I did with no coding skills, know you’ll be just fine: You don’t need to know how to code to format and optimize blog posts. You can master the process in one week or less using resources on Udemy or WordPress 101.

Estimated hourly rate: $20 to $40

3. Manage a Blog Editorial Calendar and Brainstorm Headlines

What is a blog editorial calendar? It’s simply a plan and schedule of all of the upcoming blog posts that will be published on a business owner’s site. Brainstorm topic ideas and headlines that will appeal to the business’ target audience and help boost the site’s search engine rankings, and then space them out in a logical way on an online calendar or spreadsheet.

Estimated hourly rate: $30 to $50

4. Curate Content for Social Media

Anyone can research interesting article links, images and quote graphics, but not just anyone demonstrates the care or attention to detail to provide value to a business owner’s audience.

Do you think you could manage it? Could you put yourself in the shoes of someone who frequents your client’s blog, and figure out what headlines and images they’d find most helpful, entertaining or inspiring? If you can, get ready to write your own PayPal paycheck.

Estimated hourly rate: $15 to $40

5. Create Landing Pages

To build an audience and sell products or services, business owners have an ongoing need for special action-focused web pages, called “landing pages.” A landing page might encourage people to subscribe to an email list, register for a webinar, sell a product or announce an upcoming launch.

If you can create great landing pages, you’re guaranteeing yourself a freelance income, because the impact on your client’s business growth is immediate and obvious. Rest assured, there’s still no code to learn. Using WordPress page templates or user-friendly software tools like LeadPages and Unbounce, you can lay out your client’s marketing message perfectly.

Estimated hourly rate: $40 to $60

6. Format Email Newsletters

Take that same raw text you’ve been using for social media updates or in blog posts, and this time load it up inside email marketing software such as MailChimp, Infusionsoft or Get Response.

Use an existing template or create a new layout, put the right fonts in the right places, arrange the images where they look best, and double-check all the hyperlinks. Schedule the newsletter to send at a specific day and time, and you’ve just performed one of the most in-demand freelance services in the online business world.

Imagine how your weekly income could start to build if you were supporting just five individual business owners with their email marketing, for one hour’s pay each, every single week.

Estimated hourly rate: $25 to $40

7. Provide Customer Support

Business owners often receive a ton of audience feedback, questions and enquiries. To respond to all this incoming correspondence, they need help from detail-oriented, available freelancers.

In fact, my very first online job involved responding to customer support emails and formatting (not writing) blog posts for approximately 20 billable hours each and every week. It was a great way to get my foot in the door — and I’ve built my business from there.

Estimated hourly rate: $15 to $30

How to Find Freelance Jobs in Online Marketing Support

Now that you know what you’re going to do to help business owners, the next step is to find clients. To do this, you can try either the reactive approach or the proactive approach.

The first option is to respond reactively to job posts you see listed on freelancer platforms like Upwork and Elance. Search in the categories related to marketing, sales and administration, and focus in on keywords like blog management, social media and email marketing.

When I started working online, I found four of my first five clients on Elance with rates between $17 and $25 per hour. One of those jobs expanded into full-time work in online marketing support after a couple of months.

To weed out the good opportunities, I read each and every new job posting in a given category once per day, narrowing them down to a shortlist of saved jobs. I considered how the tasks were described, what kind of tone the business owner used in their writing and how I could make a personal connection in my pitch.

I knew it was a numbers game — even if only one out of 50 opportunities was relevant for my limited experience at the time and paid a reasonable rate, being consistent in checking those new listings every day meant I would find it.

The second option is to reach out proactively to business owners via email and social media, introduce yourself and ask if they need support in a specific area of their business. Be clear, be confident and be brief, and you’ll be surprised by the number of times you’ll receive a “please tell me more” in response. LinkedIn is the perfect place to get started with this type of proactive networking with potential clients.

In addition, get yourself a new email address and sign up for newsletters from all the businesses you’d love to work with someday. By taking some time to scan those newsletters each week, even if it’s just their subject lines, you’ll start to get familiar with their voices, strategies and plans. This knowledge puts you in the perfect position to know when they might be expanding or changing, so you can jump in with a timely offer of your skills and support.

(Don’t want to get another email address? You can also create a filter in Gmail so these messages skip your inbox and go straight to a folder called “newsletters,” where they’ll be out of your way until you want to review them.)

Don’t be afraid to use a mix of both the reactive and proactive approaches. But in my experience, the reactive approach usually helps you get work more quickly, while the proactive approach helps you earn a comparatively higher rate. Once you try a bit of both, decide which one or what combination works best for you.

Start with one of the services on the list, decide on the resource you’ll use to learn it, then find your first paying client and you’re underway. Begin it as a side hustle for extra cash, or commit to rounding out your knowledge in each of the skills to make it a full-time, scalable income you can take with you anywhere in the world.

Your Turn: Have you earned money offering any of the services above? How did you find clients?

Danielle Greason, founder of Greason Media, quit her job and moved to Costa Rica with her family to start a new freedom lifestyle working online. Through her blog at VA Lifestyle Design, she helps aspiring freelancers to get the skills they need to earn money anywhere in the world there’s a WiFi connection.