How I Accidentally Created My Own Side-Hustle as a Virtual Assistant

Note: This blog post was originally posted on July 16, 2018 and updated on November 4, 2022 to include important information for those interested in learning about building their own side-hustle as a virtual assistant or social media consultant.

Although I have tried to keep my professional life separate from my blog, I guess it’s time to explain what I actually do for a living.

My professional background is both fashion retail management and digital marketing.

I started working for small contemporary boutiques, eventually moving up to a full-time management position at a corporate brand. Working in the fashion industry has always been my dream career path—I don’t feel the need to be an Anna Wintour, but a retail executive with the spirit of Grace Coddington-meets-Derek Blasberg would be my personal ideal.

On the side, I am a virtual assistant and social media consultant for digital media marketing professionals and entrepreneurs.

  1. What is a virtual assistant?
  2. What are the benefits of hiring a virtual assistant?
    1. Example: The Digital Marketer
  3. What’s the difference between a virtual assistant and a social media consultant?
  4. How I Got Started as a Virtual Assistant and Social Media Consultant
  5. Why I Keep Up the Side-Hustle
  6. Key Takeaways for How You Can Build Your Side-Hustle
Mia Lupo by Donna Cheung Photography
Photo Credit: Donna Cheung Photography

What is a virtual assistant?

The role of a virtual assistant is to help complete organizational tasks and project management.

The basic responsibilities of a virtual assistant include research, creating lists, scheduling, writing, and submitting emails and newsletters.

Since I am a virtual assistant who serves a niche of digital marketing professionals, my main objective is to help digital marketing professionals manage their client workload. Digital marketing professionals and entrepreneurs manage multiple clients who also have multiple social media platforms.

In addition, I also help digital marketing professionals manage their own social media platforms to maintain their digital presence (not dissimilar from community management).

What’s the main trick to being a successful virtual assistant? Taking the time to understand your client’s needs in order to efficiently communicate, execute, and anticipate throughout the entire process.

In my opinion, these are the minimum requirements of a virtual assistant. If you have more advanced digital skills and knowledge, then you’re able to better position yourself within a professional niche.

  • Strong communication skills, both written and verbal
  • Understands the importance of spelling, grammar, and tone (read: download Grammarly on your browser)
  • Expert level experience using Microsoft Office Suite (Outlook, Teams, Word, Excel, Powerpoint)
  • Expert level experience using Google Business Suite (Google Drive, Docs, Sheets)
  • Demonstrates general knowledge of social media landscape in a professional capacity
  • Moderate/Expert level experience using social media platforms in a professional capacity
    • Facebook Business Suite*
    • Instagram (Business or Creator accounts)
    • LinkedIn
    • Twitter
    • TikTok
    • Pinterest
  • High willingness to learn other digital tools as needed

There’s no reason to be intimidated by this list—if anything, you’re probably familiar with most of these tools working at your current job.

If you’re looking to learn more about how to use social media platforms in a professional capacity, there are so many free videos and training on YouTube and tips on LinkedIn from certain entrepreneurship influencers.

What are the benefits of hiring a virtual assistant?

Virtual assistants are valuable to any entrepreneur or organization looking to outsource digital tasks.

Hiring a virtual assistant is a more affordable alternative than hiring a part-time, internal office assistant. Depending on an organization’s business needs, a virtual assistant can be hired for shorter or longer periods of time. Virtual assistants may be able to provide more flexible contracts based on the workload and timeliness.

The most valuable thing about virtual assistants is that they free up valuable time. As we all know, time is the most invaluable resource. Professionals who hire a virtual assistant are making an investment to better allocate their time during the workday.


Example: The Digital Marketer

For example, let’s say a digital marketer has 10 clients, then each client has 2 social media platforms and 1 email newsletter software.

That’s 20 social media platforms and 10 email newsletters.

That’s a lot for an individual who has no staff.

Digital marketing professionals have their own tools to manage all of the accounts in one place, but it takes a lot of work for digital marketers to partner with their clients to plan the right content for the month, quarter, and year. Managing 10 calendars requires effort and attention!

By hiring a well-trained virtual assistant who can execute the smaller tasks—scheduling social media postings, creating email newsletters from an existing template, etc.—the digital marketer can focus more on higher-level business activities such as ideating social media campaigns and projects for their clients, strategic planning to build new services, and business development to reach new clients and increase brand awareness.

What’s the difference between a virtual assistant and a social media consultant?

As I explained earlier, a virtual assistant is more focused on the execution of smaller, more universal digital tasks.

A social media consultant provides specialized, strategic advice on how to build a consistent brand across all social media platforms for an organization or individual.

A social media consultant’s credibility is drawn from hands-on, industry experience and knowledge of best practices.

A social media consultant is highly desirable for companies that are committed to being on social media but need to build a roadmap of how to make a lasting strategy.

The services that a social media consultant offers can be one-time sessions or multiple sessions over a period of time.

Like virtual assistants, social media consultants can charge by project or by hour. Expect the hourly rate for a social media consultant to be higher than a virtual assistant.

Here some examples of the services that a social media consultant may offer:

  • Social media platform audit, SWOT analysis of social media presence and recommendations
  • Social media training sessions on best practices (Example: How to Use LinkedIn to Build Your Authority as an Industry Thought Leader)
  • Building social media calendar and content strategy
  • Update social media bios with industry keywords and highlight successful professional experiences
  • Personal branding session (individual or team)
  • Developing copywriting templates for social media platforms
  • Content Development using relevant keywords and SEO
  • Developing a branding style guide for social media platforms (and ideally to be used across all sales and marketing initiatives)
Mia Lupo by Donna Cheung Photography
Photo Credit: Donna Cheung Photography

How I Got Started as a Virtual Assistant and Social Media Consultant

I began my side hustle by accident.

One day, I walked into my favorite store in Narragansett, Crosswynds Traders, and the owner—who has known my family forever—asked what I knew about social media marketing for business.

At the time, I was studying business and communications at Salve Regina University, so I had a growing knowledge base in the field.

We decided to give a partnership a go—I would help the owner with social media posts in exchange for store credit to shop. I loved having the opportunity to creatively combine fashion and social media marketing, not to mention being one of the best-dressed girls on campus.

A few months later, I started going to Newport Interactive Marketers networking events in Newport. I live-tweeted one of the events and had gotten the attention of the founder. We met the following month for coffee and she hired me as a summer intern to help manage the event PR-marketing.

By that summer, I had a part-time summer retail job and a part-time job at my university (both based in Newport) and the social media marketing gig at the boutique in Narragansett.

I was saving for my short-term study abroad trip to Paris, France for the following January—I wasn’t going to fight opportunity to grow my skill set and my bank account.

Fast forward, I achieved my financial goal, saved enough to go to Paris and had an incredible trip that made strong ripples that would come to affect my future. Who knew that I would end up living in Paris?

In the end, it was worth juggling it all.

The Tour Guy Paris tour of Versailles Palace in France

Spoiler Alert: I’ve continued my side-hustle as a freelance social media consultant and virtual assistant ever since.

Fast forward to the present day—I have several clients for my virtual assistant business alongside my full-time position in fashion retail management.

I made the decision to hone down being a virtual assistant for digital marketers who needed help managing their own clients vs. a freelance social media consultant who directly manages entrepreneurs because of the time and commitment.

Most of my clients have been with me from the start and I am proud to continue supporting their businesses, as well as connecting with new clients who share an interest in French culture and lifestyle.

Why I Keep Up the Side-Hustle

While I was working the summer before my senior year of college, I thought I would be able to walk away from my side hustle after graduation and settle on having only *one* job…

Taking on more work and responsibilities alongside a normal day job made me realize that I would never be satisfied doing only *one* thing.

I know that I have a habit of stretching myself too thin at times, but I love meeting the challenge. I’ve gotten better at preventing burnout and communicating with clients about my timeline.

Having the extra money was never the main incentive for my side-hustle. If anything, staying knowledgeable about my industry and building real connections with people were more meaningful motivators. It’s what still drives me today.

Interestingly enough, my side-hustle as a virtual assistant has been a constant that has helped me through my personal and professional life since 2013—from Rhode Island to Connecticut to Paris and back.

At the end of the day, I love being involved with women-owned businesses and entrepreneurs who want to take their digital presence to the next level. Yes, I do teach my clients the ins and outs of social marketing, but I have learned so much from my clients’ expertise and success stories.

I may not have intended to launch a side-hustle, but it’s hard to imagine what it would be like if I didn’t take the chance on myself to pursue this opportunity.

Part-time hours. Full-time heart…and then some.

Photo Credit: Jonathan Aomar Weiss

Key Takeaways for How You Can Build Your Side-Hustle

  • Decide how much time you want to dedicate to your side-hustle. I only took on clients that I was able to manage alongside my full-time job and other obligations.
  • Your side-hustle is a job, so treat it like one! It’s possible to grow your side-hustle into a full-time hustle, quit your job, and live your dream, but make sure that you take this self-made opportunity seriously. When you’re not doing client work, read up on industry trends, listen to podcasts, watch trending videos—invest your energy in building your business and leveraging knowledge.
  • Deliver value to your clients by delivering results. If you’re looking to establish credibility, do the work. Complete the tasks that you had agreed upon in your contract. Make suggestions that will add value to your client’s business and be ready to explain why the outcomes would be valuable. By building a relationship on delivering value, your clients will be more than happy to recommend you and provide testimonials for your work.
  • Build a dedicated platform for your side-hustle. Although it’s possible to start your business page on an Instagram account, plan on building a website. Why? It not only establishes credibility, but a website allows you to build SEO ranking and measure the traffic of potential leads.
  • Network! My side-hustle wouldn’t exist if I didn’t get out and network with the community. It may be intimidating to go to events where you may not know anyone, but remember that the whole point of networking is to meet new people and build new connections—you never know who will be your next client or referral! Check your area for local networking events and virtual networking opportunities through LinkedIn.
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A Francophile based in coastal New England

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