If you are thinking about starting your side hustle as a freelance project management virtual assistant or transitioning from a corporate 9 to 5 project manager to be your own boss, this post is for you.
Not only are we going to cover the basics of Project Management Virtual Assistant (PMVA) jobs, we will also take a deep dive with Hailey Thomas – a Project Management Virtual Assistant turned Entrepreneur on what it takes to transition from corporate to freelance PMVA.
So before I introduce Hailey and get to the interview, let me cover a few basics on the Project Management Virtual Assistant job.
What is a project management virtual assistant?
A project manager virtual assistant (PMVA or Virtual Project Manager) is someone who specialises in providing project management (PM) service virtually. Typically a PM virtual assistant works as a freelancer and he/she can have multiple projects running at the same time for different clients.
A virtual project manager is often brought to the business to scope out the project before it starts. Then manages the project to ensure it runs smoothly and to complete it on time within a set budget.
What does a project manager virtual assistant do?
Typically a project management virtual assistant’s job involves scoping the project at the start, by setting deliverables, creating a timeline, and sometimes defining the budget and resources required.
Once the project scope is set, then the PMVA leads a team to execute the project to ensure it runs smoothly and completes on time, within budget.
Throughout the project, the virtual project manager works closely with the client to understand the goals and provide updates on how the project progresses. He/she also works closely with the project team members to make sure everyone is heading towards a common goal.
How much does a virtual project manager make?
In the US a Project Management VA makes between £30-60/hr depending on experience. In the UK (based on a VA FaceBook survey), the average is around £27/hr.
What’s the difference between a general virtual assistant and a project management virtual assistant?
The general virtual assistant operates on individual tasks, whereas a virtual project manager oversees the entire project from start to finish.
Typically there’s also a pay difference too. A general VA is typically at the low end of the hourly rate, whereas a project management VA can charge at a higher rate as it requires more specialized skills.
Do I need any certifications to be a Project Management Virtual Assistant?
If you want to work for larger corporate companies, a certification may be beneficial as a proof of hours of experience and an understanding of the PM principles.
However, if you want to work for entrepreneurs or small businesses, a piece of paper may not be as essential as your ability to move their projects forward.
As a seasoned PM working for a multi-billion corporate for the last 10 years, I personally don’t think having a certification is what makes a good Project Manager.
What separates a great PM from the rest are some essential skills, which are transferable whether you work for a multi-billion corporation or a forward-thinking startup.
What skills do I need to become a project management virtual assistant?
In general, a good project management VA is well organised, a great communicator and stays clear-headed during the chaos. He/she knows how to prioritise tasks, and is a motivator for the team.
Now that we got the basics covered, let’s get to the interview with Hailey Thomas.
Who is Hailey Thomas?
Hailey Thomas is a corporate employee turned entrepreneur.
She started her entrepreneur journey in 2015, to escape the corporate 9 to 5 job and have more time to be a new mum. After some early stumbles, she started her freelance virtual assistant business in 2017.
Eventually, she niched from being a General VA to a Project Management VA which she found to be more exciting and profitable.
She is the creator of the Project Management for Virtual Assistant course as part of the Fully Booked VA training.
Today, Hailey is a business mindset coach that specializes in helping first-generation entrepreneurs craft a clear vision for their lives and then creates it. Hailey hosts “One Year from Now”, a podcast that captures candid conversations and lessons learned from entrepreneurs moving towards their own visions.
At home, Hailey is a wife and mom, spending the majority of her free time reading fiction, watching terrible 80s horror movies and learning to code.
What are some key skills to transition from a corporate project manager to a virtual project manager?
When you’re transitioning from corporate PM to a virtual, freelance project manager, much of the skill set stays the same. The added skills you need will be that of a business owner. On top of managing client work, you’ll need to grow your skills in marketing, sales and CEO-decision making.
Don’t let this part scare you! Marketing and sales are as simple as meeting people, being genuinely interested in what they do, and offering to help when appropriate. In the beginning, you don’t need a fancy website or a stellar social media presence. Most of my first clients came from meeting people for coffee (or virtual coffee!) and offering to help them or asking for them to connect me with folks they knew. Not a single person asked to follow me online. 😀
Pro tip: There’s an entire section in the Project Management course about landing clients!
Other than those two, you need to develop your CEO-mind. That means spending some time thinking about your long-term goals and connecting what you do on a daily basis to them. For instance, it was always my goal to work with tech and Saas companies so I connected, networked and asked to be introduced to those types of companies regularly. I knew I only needed 2-3 long term clients to reach my financial goals so I kept my longer-term vision at the forefront in that way.
How do I find clients as a freelance virtual project manager?
Before we get into the list, there are a few things that I want to mention:
Start sooner than later:
Since we’re unable to predict our clients’ every thought, you never know when things will change and you’ll have availability for a new project. Even if your roster is full, priming these relationships now goes a long way in getting projects down the road.
The magic of finding clients as a virtual project manager relies heavily on focusing on a few contacts and warming them quickly. Tactics that rely on quantity (job boards for example), are all freezing cold – there’s no connection there! So the client is adding additional steps to get to know you before they start liking or trusting you. Leads that are warm still need time to warm up to you and to put trust in you, but you get to leapfrog the initial steps.
Now that we have that down, here are the three things I’d do to find my first Virtual Project Management clients:
The very first thing I do when I’m ready to add a new client is to reach out to people I’ve worked within the past. They are already warm leads since they’ve worked with me before. The uncertainty for them is quite low compared to someone who doesn’t know me. They also make excellent referral sources.
Pro tip: When asking for a referral, ask them to think about the problems they were having when they first came to you and choose contacts to refer that have similar needs. The more specific they can get, the better the referral will be for you.
2. Coffee Chats
This method is what got me my very first client, and it’s still my favourite one to use. The fastest way to get someone to warm to you is to learn what they are working towards and then give them something to help get them there more quickly.
For example, when I meet someone for coffee or hop on a video call with someone new, my only objective is to get them to tell me their current goals and for me to give them something useful. These are the questions I ask to get there:
- What are you working towards this quarter?
- What’s your role in that?
- How is it going? (They’ll likely say, “Eh, it’s going ok.” Or shrug and go, “It’s going pretty good.”)
- Look for discomfort (shrugging of the shoulders, head tilt, hesitation) and follow up with, “I noticed you shrugged when you said XYZ. Would you like to share the reason why?”
- Do you mind if we speak about [challenge] a little bit?
Don’t be afraid to drop some knowledge. No matter how small or large the nugget you share is, people don’t often get a chance to reflect on their own work and where they could use support.
It’s usually a welcome opportunity, even though it might feel uncomfortable to push a little bit. I love that this is really helpful for both parties, regardless of the outcome. You can rest assured you give value when focusing on helping them first.
3. Connect with Industry Peers
This step is simple but very effective. Usually, when looking for new projects or clients, we try to connect with whoever is in charge of the division we’re interested in – the head of marketing, the operations manager, or the business owner. A really useful alternative is to look for peers that are the corporate equivalent of what you do and connect with them.
In my case, I connect with a lot of project managers, project coordinators, and executive assistants in companies that fit my working style (mainly remote, technology-focused companies). I focus on making them experts instead of trying to show off my skills; I ask lots of questions and learn what I can from them.
Secondly, I share any helpful industry tips I know too! Because they are usually the doers, they are the ones to first recognize when their company needs to bring a virtual project manager on board. As your relationship grows, you’ll be top of mind for projects and needs they see and hear about.
What additional training do I need to go from a corporate project manager to a freelance virtual project manager?
I would get caught up on virtual project management tools like Asana, Basecamp, Trello or Monday. These are all tools that online business owners and small teams use more often than enterprise/ corporate-level tools. Most of these options have a free trial period and lots of tutorials, so getting a base understanding shouldn’t be too hard.
You don’t need mastery to be able to help someone. Clients aren’t going to be impressed by tools or training certificates. They want to know if you can help them meet their goals and deliver on projects. That’s what matters the most!
Thank you Hailey!
To summarize the interview, here are some take away points:
- Learn how to run your own business and market yourself, are the key additional skills to be successful as a freelance project management virtual assistant
- Quality over quantity, when it comes to approaching potential clients. Build up heat quickly.
- Focus on how you can solve the problem for the client during the initial call
- Word of month speaks volumes
- Surround yourself with industry peers
What’s next? How can YOU become a freelance project management virtual assistant (like Hailey)?
A freelance project management virtual assistant is a great flexible work from home job that is in demand. If what you have learned so far excites you, you have 2 options to get started.
Option 1: Slow but Free
- Draft your C.V. / resume
- Set your rate
- Brainstorm who you can approach to offer your service
- Find a network of VAs for support and advise
- Draft your client contract
I know it can be overwhelming especially if you are brandnew to all these, but you will be able to find free information on above for free online with time.
Option 2: Fast tracked but invested
If you find opinion 1 to be too overwhelming and time-consuming, you can invest in a program that will take you step-by-step from start to getting fully booked. You will be coached by experts including Hailey Thomas.
From the program, you will learn:
- The foundation of being a virtual assistant
- How to be a Project management virtual assistant
- Ways to market yourself as a PMVA
- How to set the rate, and contract etc.
- How to find clients
- On-going business management
As part of the program, you will also have access to a VA community for on-going support and advice. You can find my review on this program HERE.
Whichever options you choose, I encourage you to just get started. You are only a decision away from something amazing.