When you’re trying to grow a business, one thing you’ll never run out of is ideas. From marketing and sales to improving your customers’ experience, you’ll find yourself imagining a lot of possibilities for expansion.
Now if you only had enough time to implement and test all of these ideas. Alas, time is the one resource that you can never get more of.
Enter: a virtual assistant.
“What is a virtual assistant?” you ask.
A virtual assistant (sometimes shortened to VA) is a professional to whom you can delegate different aspects of your business. You will collaborate with this professional online, often through email, video calls, and task management platforms (such as Trello, Asana or Dubsado).
A virtual assistant can be located in your own country of origin, or they can be located overseas. That shouldn’t matter, as the work a VA does for you is often asynchronous (meaning you don’t have to be in the same office, working at the same time).
Who works with a virtual assistant?
Virtual assistants are usually working with small-business owners who delegate tasks or business processes that can be done via the internet.
However, it’s a common misconception that only online entrepreneurs can work with VAs. In reality, a lot of brick-and-mortar businesses can benefit from remote help.
A few examples that we’ve encountered include: real estate offices (LINK), advertising agencies, financial advisors, insurance agents, non-profits, religious institutions, and healthcare practitioners (such as therapists, dieticians, counselors, etc.).
What does a virtual assistant do?
In a nutshell, a virtual assistant can take care of all the tasks that can be done remotely: bookkeeping, maintaining a website, setting up and managing your social media presence, creating promotional materials (such as newsletters, brochures, posters), data entry, scheduling appointments, fundraising, operations, etc.
We’ve delved deeper into what services a VA can offer in this post.
3 Things You Need to Know about Virtual Assistants
Now that you’ve got the short answer to the question, “What is a virtual assistant?” here are three essential attributes of a VA that you need to keep in mind.
These are good details to know whether you’re on the market for a VA or thinking of becoming a VA yourself.
1. A VA is an independent contractor, not an employee
Virtual assistants are often small business owners themselves, operating as independent contractors with a roster of clients.
This has several implications. Most importantly, VAs are responsible for paying their own taxes and securing their own benefits (such as health insurance, retirement contributions and unemployment insurance). That responsibility is reflected in the rates that they charge their clients.
So if you’re thinking of subcontracting to a VA for minimum wage, maybe you should consider whether you’re financially ready for one.
Another implication is that virtual assistants usually set their own hours. A solid VA contract (link) will outline the services or deliverables that a virtual assistant will work on and an agreed-upon deadline. However, a client shouldn’t dictate a VA’s work hours, unless that’s specifically stipulated in the contract (for example, if the VA is hired to reply to emails between 8-10 AM).
In addition, a client cannot ask a VA to be on-call 24/7, or to drop everything and tend to their business needs.
One aspect we like to point out is that a 9-to-5 employee rarely works for the entire time they’re in the office. In fact, according to 2016 survey by Gallup, the work engagement of employees in the United States is at a staggering thirty-two percent. So oftentimes, the businesses ends up paying for unproductive hours and disengaged employees.
If you’re outsourcing to a VA on an hourly rate, you end up paying only for the actual productive hours.
So while you might end up paying more per hour (and you should!), you’re actually only paying for productive work hours. We see this as a win-win scenario for both clients and virtual assistants.
2. A VA is a skilled professional
Just because someone chooses to work from home, it doesn’t mean that their skills are not transferable to an office environment. Because they are business owners themselves, VAs often deal with the intricacies of different departments – VAs do their own marketing, sales, contracts, onboarding, as well as continuously learning new skills.
And one of the main reasons why business owners choose to bring a virtual assistant on board to to plug a knowledge gap – the VA has specific skills that nobody else in the business has.
Yes, it may seem that VA-ing is easy work, especially if you’re still thinking of it in terms of clerical work, such as data entry.
But keep in mind that the experience needed to run marketing and PR campaigns, do complex bookkeeping or organize events – all of which you can outsource to a professional VA – takes years of study and practice.
3. A VA is an valued team member (and should be treated accordingly)
We’ve heard of cases in which business owners have the wrong idea when they bring a VA on the team.
They expect the virtual assistant to jump in from day one. And they often have unrealistic expectations of what’s possible when they delegate tasks to a VA.
True, a pro VA will be able to get up to speed quickly, but there should always be an onboarding process, just as it would be with any employee on their first day. During this process, the client should clearly communicate their expectations, as well as their standard operating procedures, do’s and don’ts and general way of doing business.
One thing we always like to stress in our conversations with people hiring a VA, as well as with VAs themselves, is how important it is to communicate and behave like a professional at all times.
Due to the remote nature of this business relationship, there is a tendency – albeit, very rare – for business owners to be “less than nice” to a VA and to forget that there is another professional at the receiving end of their brusque emails or phone calls.
We admit, this doesn’t happen very often. But we believe it shouldn’t happen at all.
Before You Start Working AS a Virtual Assistant
I understand what is a virtual assistant now. How can I start working as a VA?
We get this question A LOT, so we’ve put together a mega-post to teach you how to start as a virtual assistant. Grab a cup of coffee and start reading, this way.
Before You Start Working WITH a Virtual Assistant
I’m a business owner, and I’d like to hire a VA. But can working with a VA be risky?
We get it, giving out passwords and control over you various accounts to someone you’ve never met face-to-face might not seem like a good idea.
In this post, we walk you through some strategies that can help you find a reliable and trustworthy VA.