Is your business short on help? Good help, that is? Did the best administrative assistant you ever had leave because her husband was relocated to Timbuktu? Now what? You’ve been through countless resumes and none of the candidates seem to measure up. Maybe you need extra help once in a while, just to keep your regular assistant’s head above water. Are you a small business owner who can’t afford, or don’t have enough work, for a full-time secretary?
Why not hire a virtual assistant or VA? Gaining in popularity among large and small businesses alike, VA’s can help bail you out of a rough spot on a temporary basis or even work long-term just like a regular employee.
In today’s soft economy and world of corporate scandals, failures, and layoffs, many a good employee has been ousted from his or her job. The ambitious ones are out there daily trying to find a new position. Trouble for them is the help wanted section of most newspapers has become extremely thin. Most people can’t go very long without some sort of income. So, the most ambitious and resourceful are making their way back into the working world any way they can. For many, this means starting a business of their own.
What does a person do when what they know is secretarial? What do they do when they need to feed their family and pay the mortgage? Many create their own business and several are opting to become virtual assistants.
What does a virtual assistant do?
In short, a VA can do just about anything a regular employee can do. You just won’t see his or her face every day. Many virtual assistants are Jack’s or Jill’s of all trades, some are more specialized, but here’s a list of some of the things a virtual can do:
• Human resources
• Concierge services
• Travel arrangements
• Word processing
• Appointment setting
• Meeting arrangements
• Event planning
• Letter preparation
• Proof reading
• Data entry
• Data processing
• Document scanning
• E-mail processing
• Answering phone calls
• Procedure documentation
• Customer support
Virtual assistants are typically a very intelligent bunch as well. Many are college educated and even more have countless years of excellent business experience to draw upon. This comes in very handy when you’re looking for ideas.
How does a virtual assistant work?
Virtual assistants come in all shapes and sizes, just as any business does. Typically, however, VA’s work from home-based offices. They’re the savviest of the savvy when it comes to operating on a low budget and using technology to their advantage. Most are equipped with the latest software (and lots of it), multiple phone lines, Internet, e-mail, fax machine, cellular phone, copy machines, scanners, and a great attitude. Many even come with a cat or dog! He or she will use all of the latest technology to communicate with the client and get the work done as quickly as possible. And, possibly best of all, they only “clock in” when they’re on your project, not while they’re sitting at your desk, using your electricity, playing solitaire!
What’s all this going to cost?
All well and good, right? But aren’t virtual assistants more expensive than regular employees? Absolutely not! Actually, a virtual assistant is far more cost effective than a regular employee. You may pay more per hour than a regular employee, but leave out the FICA, state unemployment taxes, Social Security, health insurance, vacation time, sick time, 401(k), profit sharing, Christmas bonus, holiday pay, and other benefits you need to offer a regular employee, and a virtual assistant’s wage comes out far lower than that of a regular employee.
A virtual assistant can save money in other areas as well. How much does it cost you to maintain office footage, a computer, a phone line or two, a refrigerator, a microwave, a desk, electricity, heat, air conditioning, and parking for your regular employees? With a virtual, you don’t need any of those things either – he or she supplies his or her own.
The fee for a virtual assistant usually depends upon the area of the country where he or she is located and their area(s) of expertise. Virtual assistants charge between $15 and $75 per hour. But, you only pay for the time he or she actually spends working on your tasks. Some will ask that you pay for a “minimum guaranteed usage” each week or month. Many will also agree to work for varying hourly rates depending on the task. For example, if they’re to perform basic word processing, the fee might be $18 per hour, but if they’re expected to research the legalities of transforming your LLC into a Corporation, they may charge $45 per hour. Yet, others may agree to a flat fee based upon individual project requirements. Either way, you come out ahead.
Why should I trust someone I’ve never met?
VA’s are as concerned with your business success as they are with their own. In fact, their success depends on your success. So, a virtual assistant can become one of the best assistants and business partners you’ve ever had. Just like you, they are business owners and very interested in helping their clients.
Virtual versus temp or temp agency
Virtual assistants tend to work harder than the average person issued to you by a temporary agency. Keep in mind that the temp agency is charging you as much as 20% more than the worker is actually getting paid. This practice often leads to the use of unskilled or unacceptable laborers. Hiring a virtual assistant allows you to choose who works with you. You’ll also need to provide all of the temp’s supplies like paper, toner, pens, computer, electricity, etc, whereas, the VA comes with his or her own supplies.
How many times have you hired a temp who you spent time training, only to have her stick around for three weeks, then you had to train yet another temp? A virtual assistant, as we mentioned, is in this to succeed and help you succeed. You’ll have to train him or her too, but only once!
Oh, yes, and you still need to pay the temp while she sits there and waits for another assignment from you. Not with a virtual assistant. While she’s waiting for the next assignment from you, you can bet she’ll be working on something for another client.
Choosing a virtual assistant
Now that you’ve decided to hire a virtual assistant, how do you go about choosing one? There are several things you need to know before you start looking:
• What exactly do I need help with?
• What expertise does the VA need?
• How much do I have to spend?
• How quickly do I need this project done?
• How long will I need virtual assistance?
• How often will I need my VA to work?
• What hours should he or she be available?
• What days of the week?
• Is there any specific software he or she needs to have?
• Is what I need accomplished so specific that I’ll need to incorporate some training time?
• How will I pay him or her? Visa, MasterCard, Check, Paypal?
• How do I want to communicate with my VA? Phone, e-mail, snail mail, or a combination?
• Does my VA really need to be located in a particular time zone, country, part of the country, city?
• Any other particular qualities you’d like your virtual assistant to have?
Just as you would screen someone who would apply to work in your office, you’ll still need to spend a little time screening your virtual assistant. You’ll need to tell him or her what you need and want, and what is and isn’t acceptable. You’ll also need to negotiate pricing and terms with the virtual.
The best thing you can do to ensure you receive the help you need, is behave as though you’re choosing a new car. Push the buttons, turn on the stereo, kick the tires, and ask, ask, ask. Listen to what the potential VA has to offer you as well. He or she may even be able to do several other tasks, which you hadn’t counted on, or even offer some very sound business advice.
Who benefits by using a virtual assistant?
• Large corporations
• Small businesses
• Home based businesses
• Busy executives or managers
• Even individuals who just need a little extra help
What happens if I don’t like the VA I’ve hired, or s/he doesn’t work out?
Unless you’ve signed a contract guaranteeing a particular amount of time or pay, the answer is rather simple: you just don’t offer any more assignments.
If you do happen to have a bad experience with one virtual assistant, however, don’t let is sour you from finding another. Treat it as though you simply had a bad date. Bad dates do happen and some people just aren’t compatible. Get back out there and look for another VA that better suits your needs or personality.
A win-win for everyone
The use of virtual assistants truly is a win-win for everyone involved. For the employee-challenged business, VA’s dramatically increase your labor pool. And, for the cash-strapped entrepreneur, virtual assistants save money – lots of money. What’s more, it’s better for the environment to hire a virtual assistant. Just think of all the vehicle emissions you’ll be saving by having one or two workers telecommute. As for the VA, they typically enjoy a better quality of life, as they are also able to be home and raise their children in between working on your projects.