There have been a number of articles written about this topic on the web over the years, and often by people who have been using a VA. However I feel it’s time to add more information from someone inside the industry, rather than from outside the industry.
What is a VA?
First, please let me explain that a Virtual Assistant or VA is someone who works in their own office (usually at home), providing computer based or office based support to a number of clients. In other words their support or assistance is ‘virtual’.
They are not employees and should not be confused with ‘temps’ or ‘staff’. They are usually independent business owner/operators and not employees of large outsourcing groups. Nor are they the employees of individual clients. They may, however, belong to Virtual Assistant networks or directories, which might give the appearance of being an employer group to the ‘outsider’. Please be assured that VAs listing with VA networks or directories are not employees of those groups. They are members or associates.
What can a VA do for me?
One myth I need to put a stop to is that a VA can do any and everything. That is not true. Some VAs are generalists and can do a number of things but not everything. Just as in a corporate office you have people looking after the finance in one department, the website in another, and personnel (human relations) in another, the same goes for engaging VAs. Rather than engage one to do all, it’s best to engage a different one for each function of your business to ensure you get the quality work you deserve. Once you have established a working relationship with a VA and know what they’re capable of, it’s possible you could ask them to research something they’ve never done before and do it for you – I certainly have for clients, but I would not presume to advertise a service I could not provide myself. And I’m certainly happy to assist clients to find the right VA to provide support in a certain area if I’m not able to do it myself. I know most VAs feel the same way.
There is a long list of things they can do these days. VAs began as home based secretaries from the corporate world but the industry has evolved considerably over the past 10-12 years or more. Today, as well as word-processing, they can create complex documents and set up macros, prepare PowerPoint presentations, create and manage databases, data entry into databases or spreadsheets, create and maintain websites, look after your social media needs such as Linkedin, Facebook, Twitter, etc. They can monitor your email, send out broadcast emails and ezines, maintain your shopping cart. handle registrations for events, take your phone calls, and act as a receptionist. And this is just a small list of what they can do for you.
Are you starting to get the picture that a VA can help you considerably?
Can I afford a VA?
The important thing for any business owner/operator or private individual engaging a VA to think about is what the cost is worth to them? I know that many will see it as an expense but I beg to differ. It really is an investment in your business.
Assume that the VA is typing a document for you. How fast and accurate are you at typing? What is your time worth to you? How well do you know the word processing program you are using? Chances are the VA types faster, more accurately and knows the program well so is able to set up systems and automate things like headings, table of contents, page numbering and any of the other things you may need.
Let’s assume you charge $50 an hour for whatever you do. And that the job you want done takes you 4 hours to complete. That’s $200 of time you cannot charge out to someone else.
Let’s assume the VA can do the job in less than half the time, say 1.5 hours. And that their rate is $35 an hour (this will differ greatly depending on the skill, experience, currency, country and cost of living but for this exercise we are saying $35). You will be paying them $52.50 for the completed job. And you’ve got the 4 hours to do whatever it is you do best for your business. If you are able to charge out for that time you are ahead by around 70%.
This is just a simple scenario but perhaps you can apply it to whatever your situation is. Bear in mind that word processing may be a cheaper service offering than many of the other services that VAs supply but the time difference between what you can do and what a VA can do, could be considerably greater unless you really are quite adept at whatever that item is.
When you engage a VA to support you in your business the only expenses you’ll be incurring are their hourly rate (or however they charge for the job) and utilise on your behalf.
If you were engaging an employee, you would have additional expenses including taxation and insurances, sick and holiday pay, or higher casual rates. If they were on your premises, space for them to work in, hardware, software, furniture, tea and lunch breaks and the list goes on.
Engaging an independent Virtual Assistant means you only pay for the work they do – you don’t pay for downtime when they’re waiting for the next job (although I have offered that option to clients when they wondered why I didn’t answer the phone at a particular time).
How do I know if I should take this step?
If you find you’re spending far too much time in your business (admin, paperwork, etc) rather than working on your business (marketing, promotions, sales), then you definitely need to get some help. Why not try a VA with one thing at a time? Don’t expect massive changes straight away but start with a VA and get them to do just one or two of the regular activities you are spending time on. Be prepared for a ‘honeymoon’ period where you are both learning about one another and how you both operate. Your VA will need to understand what your business is about and how you like to operate and how you think. You will need to understand how much information you have to give and how much notice to get work completed. It’s a learning phase for both of you but one that can be both productive and worthwhile.
Where can I find a VA?
There are quite a number of Virtual Assistant directories out there. Or you can simply contact a VA direct from their website. You’ll need to read up on their abilities and service offerings. But if you go through a VA directory you’ll find, in most cases, that the VA members have already been assessed to ensure they meet the criteria for membership. You can peruse through their lists, do a search for a certain skill set, or simply place a request at the relevant form so you get a number of responses coming back to you direct. You’ll get choices and can select the VA you feel you would work the best with. And the best part is you haven’t had to spend hours searching online to find the right one.
Just to get you started, some directories I recommend are:
A Clayton’s Secretary (naturally, because I run it and it also happens to be one of the longest running networks globally)
Each of the directories above have international lists of VAs but the first has its head office in Australia, the second in the US and the third in Canada. There are a number of other directories based in the UK, South Africa and other countries. You’ll find a list here.