Remember those 1,971 working hours you had ‘in the bank’ at the start of 2019…
Hands up if you’ve maximised every moment of your time and still calculate that you’ve signed up for more hours working in your business than you have available? (And NO, sleep is not optional!)
It’s a good sign if your business is in ‘growth mode’ but if you’ve tipped over into the ‘not waving, but drowning’ zone, then it might be time to consider what you could accomplish with an extra pair of hands.
VAs have changed the game
Traditionally, hiring an assistant seemed like an extravagance reserved for ‘big-shot-boss’ types (ie those who don’t want to get their own coffee). However, since the ‘Virtual Assistant’ (or VA) has arrived on the scene, admin support services are far more accessible – even for tiny start-ups and smaller operations.
The virtual assistant industry is booming – and for good reason. It’s the perfect solution for overwhelmed and overworked small business owners who need greater flexibility, lower costs and more specialised skills than a permanent hire can offer.
When you consider that you could literally ‘buy back’ your time at a cost quite likely far less than your own ‘hourly rate’, an assistant is looking less like a luxury and far more like a necessity.
What, exactly, is a VA?
A Virtual Assistant is someone who can provide admin support for your business on a contract basis, usually from a remote location. The use of modern communication technology such as mobile devices, email, Skype and project management apps means that people can work effectively from a home office, co-working space or even in another country.
How do I know I need a virtual assistant?
Our Tenfold business coaches mentor clients to outsource tasks to a virtual assistant when:
You’re regularly pulling 60+ hour working weeks
Your to-do list is longer than both arms (and legs) and it’s not getting any shorter. Marketing, finances, customer service, admin… everything is ‘on you’ and you just can’t do it alone anymore.
More of your time is spent on admin than on growth activities
The time you spend invoicing clients and managing phone and email enquiries is taking your attention away from high-value core business and ‘big picture’ strategic planning.
Things are ‘slipping through the cracks’
You’ve got an inbox full of unanswered emails (all urgent), you’ve had important paperwork ‘go missing’ and – worst of all – you are starting to get complaints (or bad reviews) because you can’t deliver the same level of customer service.
There are gaps in you (and/or your team’s) knowledge and experience
When it comes to your core business you are the expert, but once you’re trying to wear all those other ‘hats’ – bookkeeper, marketer, systems and processes ninja – you just don’t know where to begin.
What role can a VA play in my business?
Many business owners hire a VA to take care of administrative or secretarial services such as:
- Responding to and/or managing emails
- Responding to customers enquiries (phone/email)
- Making follow-up calls to sales prospects
- Appointment setting and diary management
- Data entry for customer orders
- Database management
- Taking minutes at meetings (over phone or Skype)
- Travel planning
- Debt collection
Virtual assistants have an industry culture of up-skilling and many have previously built skills in other areas prior to starting their VA business. This is great for small business owners, since your VA can often ‘package’ their offering to meet your exact support needs. Some of the more specialised skills may a VA may offer include:
- Creating PowerPoint presentations for sales pitches
- Running reports
- Researching, writing and scheduling blog posts
- Social media management
- Creating, scheduling and maintaining digital marketing assets (newsletters and email lists)
- Creating and updating your website
- Proofreading and/or editing documents
- Event planning
PA vs VA: the advantage of ‘virtual’ over a ‘real life’ assistant
Employing a personal assistant (or PA) on a permanent basis is a big commitment. You’ll need to take on managing payroll, taxes, superannuation, sick days and holiday pay. However, if the tasks you need performed are tied to your workplace (physical filing, client reception, meeting room preparation etc) then you’re best off hiring someone to work on-site.
Hiring a VA might be the better solution for your business if:
- you don’t have a permanent physical location or office space
- your budget can’t stretch to cover the additional costs that come with a permanent hire
- your business needs the flexibility to increase or decrease support in line with peak times or low seasons
- your business is going through a period of sudden growth
- you have projects that require a specialised skill set
What to look for in a VA
A good rapport
You’ll need someone that ‘gets’ you and your business. Even though a VA won’t be working in the same physical location, they will still need to operate as part of your team. You may have to try out a couple of VAs until you find one that ‘clicks’.
Tip: start small; begin with a couple of hours a week or a one-off task. This allows you both to test the waters and see how you work together before making a bigger commitment.
Good communication skills
Look for someone who can offer solutions around how you’ll stay ‘in touch’. How will they deliver their projects? Do they make good use of apps and technology to give you regular updates on their work?
Tip: Be open with your VA about how you prefer to communicate. Are you more comfortable with email, phone or project management apps? Would a weekly update work for you or are daily check-ins more your speed? (At first, you may need more reassurance that things are ticking along. Once the trust and rapport are built, you will likely feel you can let go of the reigns.)
Someone who fills the ‘gaps’ in your knowledge
Make a list of the tasks in your business that aren’t profitable, enjoyable or possible for you to do yourself and use this list as a basis for your ‘position description’.
Tip: If you can’t find one VA with the right mix of skills to cover all those tasks, think about hiring two (or more) assistants with complementary skill sets. Since VAs typically charge an hourly rate, you probably won’t even need to increase your budget to achieve this.
By the time you take action and hire a VA, its likely you’ve reached a point where you need everything done ‘yesterday’. You need someone who can step in and get things ‘off your desk’ ASAP.
Tip: use a video app like Loom to train your VA in any routine tasks you currently perform yourself. This technology allows you to capture what you are doing on-screen, as well as a ‘talking head’ shot of yourself narrating instructions. It’s almost as good as in-person training – plus, you can access a basic version for free!
Since you may be paying by the hour, you’ll want to know that your VA is working efficiently. While you won’t know for sure until you begin working together, it’s a good sign if they make use of apps, systems and controls that help them manage their time. Bonus: these same processes can also be rolled out across your business if required.
Tip: If it suits your needs better, consider asking if your VA would prefer a pricing model based on an agreed scope of work, rather than the hours performed – it ‘splits the risk’ as it removes any incentive for them to work ‘slowly’ to clock more hours. It also ensures that your VA gets paid fairly based on the value they bring to your business.
How can I find a VA?
There are several ways you can recruit for a VA including:
- Word of mouth – this offers a level of reassurance, since the VA in question has already been ‘vetted’ by someone you know. Try putting the feelers out among your personal and professional networks.
- Business-related Facebook groups – these are another rich source of recommendations, plus VAs are often members of these groups themselves. Post with a list of your requirements and you’ll likely be inundated with responses!
- LinkedIn: simply type “Virtual Assistant” plus your location into the search bar and scope out each profile to see which VA’s offering best suits your business. Since a CV is also listed, you may be alerted to any other professional experience they bring to the table.
- E-lancing sites like Airtasker, Fiverr, Upwork and Freelance.com – this is a lower cost option but be warned: you often get what you pay for. Focus on value for money as opposed to the cheapest rate.
- Google – many VAs have their own website which will often give you an overview of their skill set, how they work, the clients and industries they specialise in as well as testimonials.
- Virtual Assistant companies – these operate as agencies with teams of VAs on their books. Often, you don’t form a working relationship with one assistant but rather have access to a ‘talent pool’. Quality of service is likely to be more consistent, but you should expect to pay slightly more (agency fees are often built into the hourly rate).
How much should I expect to pay?
How long is a piece of string? While it’s true that you can hire a VA on a freelancing site for as low as $7 per hour, investing more will mean a bigger ROI in terms of quality, reliability, professionalism, initiative and specialist skills.
As a rough guide expect to pay
- Min $30 per hour for pure admin tasks
- Min $40-$50 per hour for specialised tasks eg marketing or finance
The rise of the virtual assistant has changed the ‘face’ of admin support, putting it squarely in reach of stressed out small business owners everywhere. With unprecedented flexibility and accessibility, a VA service combines benefits such as time to work ‘on’ your business (not just ‘in’ it), capacity to scale and an expanded skill set with an ability to keep operations ‘lean’. You’re sure to be asking yourself, “how on earth did I get by without one?”.