What do I need to do before launching my virtual assistance startup?


I've worked with VA's hired directly through Elance/Upwork, a Zirtual assistant for about a year, TaskRabbits on occasion, as well as FancyHands. FancyHands has become my go-to VA service, having delegated over 1000 tasks to them to-date.

The most important question in my mind is why would I use your new, unproven service when there are already established options to choose from in the market? The existing options cover a wide range of service models and price points.

Here's how I currently see the market -

eLance/Upwork - Very hit or miss. You'll spend a lot of time finding and testing VA's until you find the right one. Once you do, you'll be hoping he/she sticks around, so you don't have to go through the selection process again. The benefit here is that eLance/Upwork assumes a lot of the risk from you when it comes to paying for work completed. This transfer of risk is the benefit I see from platforms like eLance.

Zirtual - Great for semi-dedicated and consistent assistance, especially important if your tasks require some historical knowledge. For example, I worked with my Zirtual VA to invoice clients on a regular basis and keep track of payments. Premium price point and premium service.

FancyHands - Fantastic one-off task completion, can assign multiple tasks at once, to get them done simultaneously. While you don't work with the same VA all the time, FancyHands has done a nice job ensuring that the quality of results is consistent across their team of VA's. Various price points and a high level of service. To me the highest value/cost ratio out of all the options in the market.

TaskRabbit - For things that need to be done in person. Their recent pricing model updates have made me begin to question the value provided vs. price paid. At least for me, as the service has gotten more expensive, I've begun to use fewer TaskRabbits.

Happy to discuss further on a call, if you'd like some assistance differentiating your service or identifying gaps in the current market landscape.

Answered 9 years ago


Zirtual is one of our portfolio companies (Founder Institute) and I have had conversations with leaders from both FancyHands and TaskRabbit. Then there's a multitude of private providers on sights such as Upwork, which I've used often. It's a crowded space.

You need to know the competitive landscape inside out, and know where your story stands amid the noise. How will you differentiate? Why will people choose you over the others? Why will you do it better than anyone else?

Zirtual and FancyHands are just two of the quickly growing ones. Of course, there's companies like TaskRabbit that have morphed over the years. Then you have the AI driven projects like ClaraLabs and "Amy" ( The AI solutions are quite compelling.

Care to clarify your question a bit? Happy to discuss.

Answered 9 years ago

Ben has definitely hit the nail on the head with his reply.

As someone with two VAs in my team, I've been contacted by various VA agencies that couldn't explain their business model and what differentiates themselves from others.

Do your due diligence and figure out what makes you different and better. With Zirtual as an example - would you offer VAs in more countries in order to help other markets? Are your rates more affordable then theirs? Is your selection process more refined?

Based on your access to VAs, structure your brand message and define your perfect customer. Do some customer development and jump on a call (or email) with some prospects, and see what sort of help do they need and how can a startup like yours help them.

Shape your strategy in a way that corresponds to their needs, and align your pricing to your audience. Then all of your marketing can be focused on that group of people and your conversion rate would be much higher.

Happy to provide some feedback as someone who's hired VAs before.

Answered 9 years ago

Begin building a profitable business by cobbling together free or inexpensive services already in existence. Assemble a stackless stack.

Get some customers. Work closely with them to figure out whether what you think will differentiate your virtual assistance startup will truly have value for them—enough that you'll be able to shoulder into a crowded market.

The Mom Test is a great little read on extracting as many insights as possible from conversations with your customers:

I love this line from Gary Vaynerchuk: "Here’s a novel idea: why don’t you build a profitable business with real value and real customers that pay (in whatever form that means for you)? " (Source:

Anyway, let's discuss in more detail.


Answered 9 years ago

April 1, 2013 was the day that I signed a contract with a small company for my virtual assistance/bookkeeping services. It was a proud day! The way that it happened was quite unconventional.

The short of it: My relationship with this customer started out as my working part-time as an employee of a staffing agency. Yet inside I felt that if I provided great services, I would be able to make them my customer. At the end of my assignment, I signed them as my first customer and was able to become 100% self employed.

You don't have to do it as I did, but I do believe that it is key to make a major connection that demonstrates the quality of your services. Especially when you're a newbie. You may be offered employment, as I was, but if the customer really wants your services, they will have you on your terms.

Another key is to make sure to establish your startup as an LLC or corporation. I say this because IRS guidelines are more clear when it comes to differentiating between employees and subcontractors. And enforcement of those guidelines has become stricter. You have to make sure your i's are dotted and t's are crossed in this regard. Otherwise, it can be bad for you or any customer that utilizes your services.

I would love to talk with you about other things you can do. Contact me and let's talk further.

Answered 9 years ago

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