‘Side Gig’, ‘Side Hustle’… I’m sure many of you have seen articles proclaiming how quick and easy it is to set up as a VA and start earning good money. Tabloid and magazine headlines don’t help – “I gave up my full time job and am now earning £30,000 a year!” Of course, there are odd occasions when something like this can happen, but generally there are a lot of bits in-between quitting an employed role and suddenly finding yourself earning £30K a year that aren’t necessarily mentioned as they detract from the drama and excitement of the article!
Firstly, you don’t always become an overnight success. Some people do start their VA business whilst still employed, choosing only to relinquish the security of their regular, employed income once they have signed contracts in place with customers. However, many others find that it takes time to build up their customers (and as a result, their income) and that the process of setting up a business and investing in equipment, software, training, insurance and legal contracts can take a little time. In our 2020 VA survey, 19.6% of respondents advised that they were currently taking home between £1 and £400 per month from their VA business, and around 13.5% advised that they didn’t have any income at all from their business, highlighting the fact that VA businesses can take a little while to build up and are also subject to both peaks and troughs in income.
The next issue to consider is that one of the benefits of VA work is flexibility (rather than income); many choose self-employment because it fits in more appropriately with their family, external obligations and/or health. 73.7% of VA Survey respondents this year cited ‘flexibility in working hours’ as one of their inspirations for starting a business, with 41.4% advising that they moved into self-employed roles after having children. For many, flexibility seems to be more important than high financial reward (as long as they are remunerated fairly for the work they do). Flexibility allows VAs to work around caring for family members and other commitments, without being tied to a desk solidly between 9AM and 5PM every day, unless they want to!
There are some VAs who do work 35+ hours per week – 17.1% of survey respondents this year advised that they work full time in their VA business, and 6.8% of total respondents advised that the billable client hours they work are over 35 hours per week. There were also some high-earning VA businesses within our sample, with 24.6% advising that they had a business turnover of more than £2500 per month, 6.8% of total respondents having a business turnover of more than £5000 per month, and 13.6% of respondents advising that they take home more than £2500 per month.
However, one issue that’s common for VAs is the likelihood that they work non-traditional hours, with 90% of respondents advising that they work in the evenings and at weekends, sometimes, often or all the time! This isn’t always made clear in the ‘side hustle’ type articles that make VA work sound like a simple way to earn money in uncertain economic times – for some reason, the image of a harassed and exhausted VA working long into the night to complete client work, or working from bed if they are unwell (as no statutory sick pay for self-employed individuals!) or checking their emails whilst they are on holiday (as no holiday pay either!) isn’t often used as a selling point!
Life as a VA can be incredibly rewarding – just not necessarily financially! For me, it’s the flexibility of the role that is the biggest plus. And whilst it is possible to earn a full time wage from a VA business you need to either be working full time to do this or have grown your business and taken on additional staff (or associates) so that you can complete more client work on a weekly basis, both of which bring with them their own unique challenges that need to be carefully considered before you take on more customers.
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