Top 10 ESSENTIAL Skills For Virtual Assistants – How To Be An Amazing VA

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Top 10 ESSENTIAL Skills For Virtual Assistants
Graphic © Background photo – Unsplash (PD)

If you want to land that great VA job, or go further with the one you already have, study this list. I have hired a lot of VAs and these are the most important skills that have been required over the years.

How to use this tutorial: Definitely work on the first 5. These are the “core essentials”. Then pick one or more of the final 5 and learn as much about it as you can. There are some bonus tips at the end. Ok, let’s get straight into it:

1. Correct Written English

I would say this is the most important skill of all. If your English is perfect it opens doors. Sorry to say it but your English is probably not as perfect as you think it is. This is because, unless you are in one of the main English-speaking countries, you are surrounded by others for whom English is a second language. I am English and I can immediately tell when someone is not a native English writer. That’s not disrespect, it is a fact. You were not taught good English in school, you were taught a very poor standard compared to those who have it as a first language. Just the same way that a foreigner trying to speak your native language would be immediately obvious to you, because it’s just all wrong.

The quality of your English skills opens up the world of online work for companies in the “English speaking world” – USA, UK, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Ireland, South Africa. That’s a lot of opportunity – and those countries tend to pay better too. Study this tutorial every day until you no longer make these mistakes: Top 15 English Grammar Errors That Most Non-Native Writers Make (Fix These ASAP!)

2. Typing Speed

The pace of your entire output, including the time it takes to exchange messages with your team, is ruled by your typing speed. If you are still searching around the keys to find the right letter, and “one finger typing” then it follows that any online work you do will be of a lower standard than someone who is a blazing fast typist – because there is no way you will be able to produce as much as them. There are tutorials online and you should always be seeking to increase your ability. Learning to “touch type” is a massive advantage. Study it.

3. Manage Your Life So That You Can Readily Work From Home

A lot of people don’t think about this enough, but it is a huge factor that will affect your work.

The first thing you have to remember is that working from home is still a real job. Just because you can wake up, walk across the room in your pajamas and then start work, and your boss is a long way away, that should not change the fact that you have to take it seriously.

Just because you are working from home, does not mean you have absolute freedom to do as you please. This is in some ways harder because you don’t have someone looking over you. So there are two things to note here.

a) Maintaining your internet and computer setup. As an online worker, you are responsible for your equipment. If it stops working, then you are out of the game until you fix it! I would recommend to work towards the point where you can have a spare computer (maybe a cheaper one just for an emergency) and a backup internet (pocket wifi). That way, if your computer goes down or the internet goes down, you can still carry on. Experienced VAs do this. You should also make sure your computer is secure. Always have your laptop password protected – because if (god forbid) it was stolen, the thief might then gain access not only to your files but all those of the company you are working for, which then becomes a real serious matter. The last step here – always have a backup of important files. This needs to become a strict habit, like brushing your teeth daily.

b) Eliminate distraction. Now if your phone is going off every 2 mins, your friends are chatting you, you have a baby on one knee and a laptop on the other, how well do you really think you will be able to concentrate? Not very. And if your boss sees you are signed in, but not doing anything, then they will know what is going on.

One of the important aspects for most VAs is managing the kids so that you can get on with your work.

The good news is that you have an opportunity for profit here. 😉 How much of every day do you spend doing chores and housework? Probably quite a few hours, and it is typical for a lot of Filipinas to be taking care of everything and everyone! But think about this – you can hire a maid / nanny to take care of the house and kids while you work on the computer – and you can earn more. Let’s say you have to pay the maid P500 per day, well on an online job you should be able to earn P1200 per day or more. So you end up doing the same amount of work but keep some money in your pocket – and that means you can work more hours on the computer, with better focus and get ahead. It is called efficient delegation and is an awesome skill. In life, it is good to work hard but advisable not to try to do everything yourself. So if you find yourself caught up in a lot of other chores, delegate. As a boss I push my VAs who have children to get a nanny / maid so that they can concentrate…. and make more money too!

4. Learn Google Docs and Google Sheets

These apps are at the core of most businesses these days. If you have high proficiency in using them, you will be at an advantage. Can you write up a document in Google Docs so that it looks neat, contains links, and has good line spacing etc? Can you add functions, dates and currencies to Google Sheets? Take courses and study materials on the use of these two – there is plenty of free material available online.

5. Research

The ability to learn for yourself, through searching online, is a vital skill. Through the use of the major search portals (google, Youtube, wikipedia) you can dive into any topic and learn a lot. There has never, ever been a better time for learning than right now.

Learn to recognize quality sources of information and be aware that the barrier of entry is low. Anyone can put up a web page. And so there is a lot of stupid stuff out there. Learn to recognize the difference between good and bad, and to separate useful information from manipulative, false or useless information. A good article will generally contain numbered references to their research sources. Wikipedia is the classic example. Learn to follow the research sources and read the original source.


These first five are essentials. After this, the next 5 are not absolutely essential but highly desirable and will put you ahead. Choose one (or more, but not too many) of the following and go super deep into it. They are all platforms that can enable you to launch a career.

6. WordPress

An astonishing 75,000,000 websites use WordPress, that is almost half of the 172,000,000 websites online!! So it is obvious that if you have WordPress skills, you have a great opportunity. A good place to start is to learn to create your own blog hosted on – and start learning how to use it. Learn how to install themes and plugins, learn how to upload images, embed Youtube videos, and write simple blog posts. Use your own WordPress blog as a “science lab” and experiment a bit. If you have readers already, create a new WordPress account that you can use to try things out, that nobody sees. The more you can learn about WordPress, the better – it is a great skill to have. Lots of free tutorials online – simply Google “free WordPress tutorials”.

7. Learn To Code

Code languages are what the web is built on. If you know HTML, CSS and Javascript, you have the ability to put great websites together from the ground up. If you learn PHP, MySQL and other languages, you can then go on into app development. There are unlimited opportunities for people with great coding skills.
Yes there is a lot to learn but don’t be daunted. Even learning a little bit of HTML and just getting your head around how it works, will be a good thing. And there are loads of free tutorials online. Start here:

Note that you will need a code editor. Here is a free one that a lot of people use. Notepad++
If you are on Mac then check out BBEdit (which is amazing).

8. Graphics

Adobe Photoshop is an amazing platform for graphics and professionals use it the world over. If you have an interest in graphics, studying this app is an essential. It is the “Industry Standard”. There are countless free tutorials on Youtube and you can learn everything you need to know for free. Some of the basic skills are learning to resize images and “save for web” and learning to add text to an image and make a meme. Photoshop is not free, it is around $20 per month. There are free apps but these are nowhere near as deep.

Learn about image licensing / use. You can’t just take content that you find on the web and use it professionally, you could get into legal trouble. Understand how the Public Domain, Creative Commons (used by Wikipedia) and other forms of licensing work. There ARE websites that allow you to use their content for free, but they have specific “Public Domain” licenses that permit that. For example If there is no license, assume that you cannot just take the content.

9. Social Media Management

Now of course, social media is the most distracting thing in the universe. It is designed to be just that. But almost all businesses use it, so if you have skills in it, you will be in a good position to help. The most important ones to learn are Youtube, Facebook, Instagram, and I would argue Pinterest because it sends amazing traffic. Full list here

Be aware that there is a big difference between using these sites as a professional and using them as a consumer. Facebook has an entire business platform, with fan pages, Facebook Ads, etc. Learn to create your own Youtube channel and figure out how everything works.

10. Video Creation

If you can learn to put videos together, this also is an extraordinary skill that will always have value. It’s not an essential for a VA but the more skills you have, the better. More advanced (paid) apps include Adobe Premiere and Final Cut Pro. There may be some free apps out there but you would have to research that.

More tips: What Bosses Like

Bosses like:

a) Work done accurately and instructions followed well. If you don’t understand the instructions, by all means try to learn using Google, but if you are stuck, admit it and ask for help. Get into the habit of always checking your work. It only takes a few minutes at the end to just look over what you did. And you will nearly always catch some mistake when you do that. It happens to everyone.

b) Quick response to messages. Nothing worse for a boss than when you write to a VA and there is a day (or more!) of “radio silence” before they even check their messages. That working relationship is not going to last very long.

c) Eagerness for more work. As a boss, you don’t want to always feel like you are dragging everyone along. You want to feel that the team is dragging you along sometimes also! I look for eagerness, ambition and drive. This is what makes a good attitude. With those things and with a great attitude, everything else can be learned. Without those things, one is dealing with a person who is frustrating… and it won’t last long.

d) Hunger for learning. One of the important maxims of the internet is “Always Be Learning”. I would even go so far as to say that hunger to learn might be the single most important asset that someone could possibly have.

e) Honesty. When someone is working largely unsupervised, there is opportunity for dishonesty. There is the temptation to cheat. But that situation will not last long. Even if the boss does not catch you cheating, they can sense that something is not right. You claimed 8 hours but not much output. Or suddenly you jumped up to 100 hours per week. Generally speaking, bosses have seen all the tricks. I know when someone is outsourcing their work to their sister or cousin or whoever. Because it leaves trails. It also opens the company up to risk – one person did that working for me once and just passed on all the passwords to a person I had never communicated with, and no control whatsoever over what happened in that situation. I fired the person immediately upon finding out. Mistakes happen to everyone and can always be corrected, but dishonesty is a choice. A habitually dishonest person is a danger to any business, online or not.

f) Advanced skills. Anyone can make a basic post on Facebook or Instagram. But learning the advanced side of it – for example Facebook Ads, fan page management, Youtube channel management, – most people do not do that. Many people know a little web code, but you really get ahead when you develop some serious skills, so choose something you find interesting and aim to go deep into it and master it. The good news is that once again, the information on how to do these things is generally all out there for free.

g) Understand the “Value Equation”. Most people in the world are focused on what they want out of life. But the real secret of success is to figure out how to provide value to other people.

h) Reliability. Sounds obvious… but it is a skill. Do what you say you are going to do, keep people informed when something happens, and be online when you said you are going to be online. Don’t be a flake, because as they say “showing up is half the battle”.

Final Note

The internet is the biggest gold mine of the modern era. There is so much opportunity, it is ridiculous. More than you could ever possibly need – and it is still growing. Study hard and position yourself for success in the future.

That’s it! If you can think of other vital skills, please add them in the comments!