The term ‘Virtual Assistant’ has been around for quite a few years now. Although I do regularly come across people who have only just heard of us, through a book, a newspaper article, or because they had an idea about working from home, started researching and discovered a whole ‘new’ industry they didn’t know about.
What is a ‘Virtual Assistant’ (VA)? It is some one who works on a virtual/remote basis who can assist you in your daily operations of running your business. If you were in the corporate world you would see this person as an Admin Assistant, or a Personal Assistant, Executive Assistant, Personal Secretary or similar. Hopefully you get the idea.
Who would use a VA? Almost anyone in business who has need for admin support, or perhaps has a number of items they’re spending too much time on, instead of working for clients. This could include phone answering and email responding, maintaining the database (do you have a collection of business cards wrapped in a rubber band?), maintaining the website, updating your bookkeeping, setting up a shopping cart, typing or reformatting documents or Powerpoint presentations, transcribing an interview and the list goes on.
If you don’t have the skills for doing those things it makes sense to outsource them and engage someone else to do it for you, so you can concentrate on earning your income, instead of spending your time doing all the catch up stuff – that won’t earn you money, although it’s important to keep it all up to date.
So, what are the steps you need to take to engage a Virtual Assistant?
- First, determine what it is you want the VA to do for you, and if possible approximately how many hours per day, week or month. Not all VAs provide the same services, many specialise in different service offerings and it’s possible you may need more than one, depending on what kind of support you need.
- Work out a budget that you can manage at this stage. That will increase over time as you find more time to do what your business is about, rather than the general maintenance of your business. Consider that if it takes you 3-4 hours to type something, or enter business cards into a database, chances are the VA could do this in just one hour. What’s that worth to you? Consider that some jobs may work out to an hourly rate and others a project rate.
- Where will you find a Virtual Assistant? The best sources are Virtual Assistant Networks or Directories. There are quite a few on the web and easily found via Google. Alternatively just key in what you want done and see what comes up, i.e. ‘data-entry’ or ‘wordprocessing’. You would be wise to check out the VAs you come across. If they’re listed with a VA directory they are usually screened and have to meet criteria to be a member. All the same, still wise to ask about their experience in what you want done, if they haven’t offered that information. Have a look at their website and bio but don’t ask for a resume. They are not looking to become your employee, but rather your business support.
- How much will it cost? Each and every Virtual Assistant has their own set of experiences and skills. And their ages vary too, plus where they live and their cost of living. So it’s reasonable to assume that someone who lives in the US, UK, or Australia who has 20+ years in the admin field is going to charge more than someone who has far less experience, say 5 years, or perhaps lives in a country that has a lower cost of living such as many Asian countries that have now entered the VA industry as well. So, you may need to determine whether their location and cultural understandings might have a bearing on the work you want done. From there you can look at their rates. It is reasonable to expect that in Australia and the US that rates will often start around $30 upwards and often will be closer to the $40 mark per hour. Project rates will be different, depending on the project. Many VAs also work on retainer agreements, i.e. a set number of hours per month for a set fee.
You might note that in searching for a Virtual Assistant you will come across agencies advertising VAs as well. There is a considerable difference between the agency VAs and those listed with directories or their own websites. One is self-employed and bills the client direct. They are independent contractors and do not work for one client only, but for several. Which is a good thing because you don’t want to be their only source of income – otherwise that can have tax implications for you and them. Independent contracting VAs are keen to develop long-term client relationships and get to know their clients’ businesses well. My longest-term client has a 12 year history, others have been with me for 5, 7 or more years. Some only 1 or 2 years.
Those that are with agencies are generally employed by the agencies and it’s the agency that bills you, and then they pay the VA. If engaging a VA through these services you need to ask if you get to have the VA long-term or if you’ll be working with several VAs, i.e. if whoever supports you will change from time to time as the agency moves their staff from one job to another.
So, in engaging a VA it would appear there is some research and thinking to be done – but you will find it worthwhile. If you know others who use a VA successfully why not ask them to refer you on to that VA? And chances are, if that VA is busy and unable to assist, he/she may well be connected to a VA network where they can refer you to any number of efficient and available VAs to support you. Any questions?