If I had £1 for every time I’ve been asked that question… I’d be writing this from my yacht, moored somewhere around the Cornish coast. As it is, I’m writing this from my home office but that doesn’t mean I don’t have the answer.

As I see it, you’ve really got 4 choices of how to set yourself up as a VA and I’ll explain each of them in just a moment but here’s what they are…

1. Become an Associate VA, working for someone else in their VA business.

2. Set up your own VA business with the professional 1:1 support of a mentor.

3. Set up your own VA business following an online course.

4. Set up on your own.

Each of the options above have advantages and disadvantages. So how do you choose? Ok so let me give you a potted breakdown of each…

1. Become an Associate VA 

An Associate VA is likely to do the exact same work as any other VA. The difference is Associate VAs work for another Virtual Assistant business as and when required. You bill the VA business you’re working with for your time at an agreed rate.

As an Associate VA, you’ll normally need to set yourself up as self-employed and keep records as any self-employed person does.


Not expected to source your own clients.

Some of your insurances may be covered under the business you work for.


Less control of the work you do and the clients you work for.

Lower income – The VA business will normally take around 40% of the charged hourly rate.

Hard to predict your monthly income.

Less flexibility.

2. Set up your own VA business with professional support

Setting up any business takes hard work, dedication and commitment. You need to know exactly what to do – and how – to make it a successful business, attracting and retaining paying clients.

With the right support, a step-by-step guide, navigating you through every stage, and 1:1 mentoring with a trusted industry professional… you can actually save yourself money, time and hassle in the long term.


Full step by step guide to getting your business off the ground.

Dedicated support.


Cost of training.

Acceptance criteria in some cases.

Some training providers don’t meet industry standards.

3. Set up with an Online VA Business Course

If you’re looking for a good halfway house between going it alone and having full mentored support, then this could be the perfect solution for you.

There are a few things to look out for when deciding which online VA business course to go for. Firstly make sure the content has been created by a respected VA industry professional because like many businesses, it’s easy for anyone to set up an on online course and sell it without being suitably qualified or experienced. The Society of Virtual Assistants is a great indicator of whether your chosen trainer has met their exacting standards.

So who’s an online course good for?

It can be the perfect solution for many prospective VAs, wanting to set up their VA business flexibly around other commitments or their existing job.

You’ll need to be focused and determined to make sure you follow your online course through to completion but the right course with the right person can build a very successful VA business this way.

I’ve often found with online courses that I need a bit of extra support to get through some of the more challenging elements so in my FAB-VA online course I have recorded dedicated module support videos to help you though these and the feedback received has been amazing.

The learning resources are likely to be delivered on a cloud-based platform, making them super convenient to pick up when and wherever you have spare time.


Low cost training.

Fully flexible.

Can build your business around existing job.

Full step by step guide. 


1:1 support not included.

Some courses do not cover UK regulations such as GDPR, watch out for this.

4. Set up on your own – unsupported

Because of the small amount of equipment and the fact that you can work from home in your VA business, some VAs decide to give it a go on their own.

There are articles, blog posts and mini training sessions on some elements but it’s a devil of a job pulling it all together and deciding which of the conflicting bits of advice to take. Then there’s the uncertainty of wondering if you’ve complied with GDPR, HMRC, etc.

In fact, I’ve only seen this work well when the person is already experienced in running a business, has connections or clients requesting their services already and can network like nobody’s business to build and sustain their income.

Unfortunately, this is definitely the minority of people who try to go it alone.

I took this route myself over 14 years ago because back then there weren’t mentors like me around.

I made all the mistakes in the book, which at that time wasn’t even written! It cost me time, money and countless nights with no sleep.

It’s not a route I would recommend because it ends up costing you more and it takes longer to build your business… and that’s if you even make it that far.

In my experience most give up because they hit so many stumbling blocks and they don’t earn what they need to, because they don’t know how. Most end up back in the corporate world wondering why it didn’t work.


No training costs.


Everything else.


So there you have it.

I’m a firm believer that it’s not just a case of having the right mix of skills to be a great VA because I know of many superb PAs, EAs and Administrators that haven’t made it in their own VA business. It definitely wasn’t a lack of skills, ability or determination… it was simply a case of they didn’t know what they didn’t know. And that cost them greatly.

You see without support, without a complete roadmap to guide you through the whole process you’re likely to encounter all the costly bumps in the road that I hit when I set up my own VA business Vi-VA over 14 years ago. Expensive mistakes. Time consuming mistakes. Confidence shattering mistakes.

Now in the interest of complete transparency, if you know anything about me and my business, you’ll understand why I’m a big fan of doing it with support. I’ve been mentoring people to start their own successful VA businesses informally for well over a decade and formally via My VA Business since 2016.

If you’re thinking of setting up via a cost effective online course, check out my FAB-VA programme and if you’d like full 1:1 mentoring support with me, check out my FastTrack programme.

I’m pleased to say I am a Society of Virtual Assistants Approved Trainer but whoever you decide to go with, please do your research and make an informed choice to get your VA business up, running and successful. And preferably minimise your risk by going with a provider who offers a money back guarantee.

Sarah Rugg x