FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
Virtual Assistant FAQs
Every industry has its frequently asked questions, and the Virtual Assistant industry is no different. In our Virtual Assistant FAQs section, we answer as many questions as we can possibly think of. And if we’ve missed your question, please let us know and we’ll put that right!
A Virtual Assistant (VA) is a business owner, not an employee, who specialises in undertaking admin tasks for their clients, who might be a small business or an independent contractor. As the title Virtual Assistant implies, they work remotely, not at their client’s offices.
A VA is often someone who has already had a career as a PA or EA, often working at a senior level e.g. for C-suite executives or senior management and has an immense amount of experience at providing high-level, professional admin support.
They have now taken the decision to work for themselves, happily giving up the commute to the office, and use their experience to support a number of small businesses, organisations and individuals. While this gives a VA greater flexibility to work around their own family and personal life, it would be wrong to think they are now only working with a part-time attitude.
For most VAs, VA services is their full-time business, and they are committed to providing professional support to each of their clients, in the same way they did when working 1:1 for their employers.
In a nutshell, a Virtual Assistant (VA) provides admin services to businesses, remote from their office (virtually), handling specific admin tasks as agreed with their client.
This allows their client to focus 100% on doing the things that will help grow their business, e.g. working with clients, developing products and services, without the distractions of recurring admin tasks.
An analogy to this could be a VA is like a golf caddy!
A golf caddy carries the bag of clubs for the golfer, they advise the layout of the hole they’re playing, they recommend which club to use. All of this allows their golfer to focus 100% on the next shot, without any other distractions.
A business owner will naturally want to focus on their core activities, the ones that will grow the business. Every company though, no matter it’s size, has its admin and repetitive tasks. The majority of these are necessary to keep everything running smoothly on a day-to-day basis.
However many small businesses, particularly in the early stages of growth don’t have the luxury of staff to cover every position. The upshot is the business owner, entrepreneur, Managing Director or any other senior member of the company ends up doing the admin themselves.
The consequences are usually one of the following:
- Admin takes over and becomes the priority. This stifles business growth; you have less time for activities that generate income and less energy for clients.
- You focus on the service to your clients and growing your business but much of the admin doesn’t get done (causing problems later). Emails, enquiries and deadlines are missed. The diary isn’t up to date, meaning meetings are forgotten or double booked. Or, you spend your evenings and weekends catching up, which is not much fun.
- You try to do both, which results in compromises all round. Neither your business nor the admin gets the full attention needed.
A Virtual Assistant provides a whole range of VA services, handling as much or as little of the admin as you want, allowing you to focus on the service to your clients and business growth.
Your VA can bring emails and enquiries to your attention, keep on top of any deadlines and your diary up to date.
There are no compromises, both your business and admin get the necessary attention.
The range of VA services a Virtual Assistant can help with can be extensive. Some will cover a broad range of admin tasks while others specialise in specific areas.
The following is a list of the typical tasks a VA could handle but of course this is not exhaustive:
Of course we’re going to say the benefits of working with a Virtual Assistant are endless but let’s look at a few reasons that you may be able to relate to:
If you were to employ a PA or admin assistant, not only would you be paying their salary, but you will also be paying additional employment costs, e.g. employers National Insurance and pension contributions, along with holiday and sick pay.
Hiring a Virtual Assistant, you are only paying for the hours they work for you; the National Insurance and pension costs are their responsibility, and you don’t pay them if they are on holiday or off sick.
Time and Productivity
By working with a VA for the more routine admin tasks, you are freeing up more quality time to focus on what you do best, the core activities to grow your business.
Admin and repetitive tasks are huge time stealers for entrepreneurs and small business owners. For some clients, just having the time for some clear head space makes all the difference.
You choose the VA services you want your Virtual Assistant to work on, how many tasks or how few, depending on both your workload and budget. Some clients want their VAs to work on specific tasks only, while others set a maximum number of hours per week.
It’s also a flexible way to grow your team without the risk, commitment and legal obligations that come with employing people full-time.
Adding a professional image to your clients
This is a by-product of working with a VA, it enhances your professional image to your clients, e.g.
- Your VA can be the point of contact for your clients
- Your clients see your business as responsive, efficient and professional
- They respect your time more
- Receiving emails from your VA signed as ‘EA to John Smith’ adds to your status
Having a VA take tasks off your hands helps reduce stress, creates a clearer ‘head space’ and provides more family and leisure time.
Yes, we know hiring anyone is a challenge which takes time, and hiring a VA is no different. And if you’re already drowning in work, it’s tempting to put off looking for a VA.
This is where you have to look at your medium and long-term business goals. Do you want to grow, or do you want to always be battling with the admin, often working evenings and weekends to keep on top of things?
To grow your business, rather than running the risk of finding yourself with just another job, you’re going to need help one way or another. To find the right person and make the process as painless as possible for you, here are 4 steps to hiring the perfect VA and some further ideas to help.
4 Steps to Hiring Your Perfect VA
- The first step is to identify what tasks you want to delegate
- Determine the skills, expertise and experience required to carry out these tasks
- Create a job description. Be clear about what you are asking a VA to do.
- Include ‘must have’ and nice-to-have’ skills
- List all tasks your VA will be responsible for
- Detail all expectations
- Book a call with us and let’s talk
When we have an initial conversation with a new client, we want to identify:
- How much work / time is needed (estimated) to complete the task, or tasks
- An outline of clear instructions and expectations
- Whether the requirement is an ongoing or one-off task and agree the timescale
With this information, we can then provide a quotation for the agreed tasks.
Ultimately, working with a VA is the same as employing a Personal / Executive Assistant. You have to be able to work together and so it’s vitally important you get on together on a personal level.
For this reason when you have your initial discussions, use Zoom, Teams or similar software. It’s a lot easier to get to know someone than on a phone call.
Don’t overlook this aspect, it’s absolutely key to the success, or otherwise, of working with your VA.
Some clients know immediately what they need assistance with. Perhaps it’s to look after their emails, diary management, organising meetings or events.
For others, they may feel they are drowning in admin and have no idea how to get this routine work done and still focus on their business. Or maybe they just want to claim back some time to spend with their family.
So how can you decide what to outsource first?
List out your background activities and re-arrange them into 3 lists:
- The tasks only you can do
- Tasks you like to do (but could delegate later)
- Everything else
From your ‘everything else’ list, pick one or two tasks that take up the most time or energy and can be outsourced easily. Outsource these first and get comfortable with the process.
Enjoy the benefits of having more time to focus on your key activities, or more time for your family before anything else. Only then look at what else could be outsourced.
You may not enjoy doing some things in your business but that doesn’t mean you should automatically outsource this work.
Anything that is a core part of your business is really part of your business’s DNA, ie what separates you from your competitors.
An example is product design, which is integral to a company’s product. While the actual manufacturing may be outsourced, the design reflects the ideas, philosophy and values of the business.
Another example is sales. Many people don’t like sales but, for a small business, the personality of the company comes from the owner or founders. They are the creative force behind the company, which will come through to customers.
An outsourced sales person/team will not have the same effect. Learn about sales until the business is big enough to employ your own sales people, who will buy into the company ethos.
Think about your core expertise and don’t outsource it.
On the other hand, outsourcing anything that saves time, allows you to focus more on your core areas of expertise, without detracting from your DNA is what many small and growing businesses are doing.
Communication is everything.
Although Virtual Assistants enjoy working independently, they also need confirmation that they are on the right track and feel they can talk to you whenever they have a question.
While the reason for hiring a VA is to free up your time to do the revenue generating stuff, make time in your diary to have at least a weekly catch up call. In the early days it will probably need to be more than this, but it will quickly settle down into a routine that suits everyone.
Also let them know your preferred ways of communication if they need to ask you something quickly.
Good communication helps a VA understand you value their help and in return, means they’ll go out of their way to do a better job for you.
Our E-book “The Small Business Owners Guide To Streamlining Their Admin” includes the chapter “7 Mistakes to Avoid When Hiring A Virtual Assistant.” Avoiding these mistakes and following the advice will go a long way to helping streamline your admin, reduce stress and enable you to focus on your business. Download your copy here.
When looking for someone to help you with your admin, the flexibility hiring a Virtual Assistant (VA) provides is a great strength to many small businesses. Why is this?
Well, a VA doesn’t have to be hired as a full-time PA.
There is no need to ‘find things for them to do’ in the way that you would for an employee, where you have to justify their salary. In contrast, you’re only paying a VA for the hours they work for you.
Working with a VA enables you to scale up or down the hours worked to match the ebb and flow of your business.
The short answer is yes!
The slightly longer answer is you’re free to do as much of the admin as you want to yourself. For many business owners, it’s one of the ways they know what’s really happening in their business.
The flexibility a VA gives is they only need to do 2 or 3 hours a week to make a real difference to you. In fact, for the majority of our clients we handle between 1 and 3 tasks for them.
These tasks are typically the biggest time stealers, i.e. keeping the email inbox under control, arranging meetings and keeping the diary up to date.
If you have just one or two tasks that really get in your way, but thought it’s not enough to employ someone for, book a call and let’s have a chat.
If we could handle a single task in just 2 or 3 hours each week, would that allow you to focus on the much bigger things in your business?
Hiring a Virtual Assistant (VA) doesn’t have to be for the medium or long-term.
The flexibility a VA provides also enables a business to hire admin support for a specific, short-term period of time, such as when your Personal / Executive Assistant (PA/EA) is taking their holiday or on maternity leave.
A VA is happy to help with a single task, if that’s what you need while your PA/EA is away, e.g.
- Looking after your email inbox
- Keeping your diary up to date
- Arranging meetings
- Minute taking
Alternatively, a VA can work for a specific (or maximum) number of hours each week, so that you can budget accurately.
And if you’re worried about them picking up any of these tasks for such a short time-frame, don’t be. A VA is experienced in providing a whole range of VA services, responding to any situation and getting the job done.
Hiring a VA for holiday cover gives you continuity, you get the same person who knows your business. Hiring through a temp agency, the chances are you’ll get a different person every time.
If your PA/EA is going to be away for a week or two on holiday, or longer, and you don’t want to get dragged into handling all of the admin yourself, book a call and let’s have chat to see if this could work for you.
Of course you can. A Virtual Assistant (VA) doesn’t just do a clients business admin!
You’re hiring a VA to make your life easier, both at work and home. If that means helping with some of your personal admin, no worries.
One of our recent tasks for a client was to organise to have a car he wanted to sell professionally cleaned, from outside to inside, including the engine. Then get it listed for sale.
While this doesn’t directly help his business, it saves him from having to:
- Find a good valet company
- Arrange the date and time for the car to be cleaned
- Pay the invoice
- Get the photos ready for the listing
- List the car for sale
Doing all of this himself would have taken valuable time away from his business.
Click here to see some further ideas on our Lifestyle Management page.
A great Virtual Assistant will have many qualities. Their skills, attention to detail, accuracy and completion of tasks in a timely fashion are obvious qualities. However, the ability to build a strong 1:1 working relationship is the difference between a good VA and a great VA.
It all starts with good communication and should be both ways.
A great VA is not simply someone who just does the tasks you ask them to do, but is always on the front foot, taking the initiative and making valid suggestions. They are adept at seeing what needs to be done, doing it and are confident in taking ownership of their decisions.
And if they can do this while bringing a sense of calm control, you’ll have a great asset for your business.
You have to start somewhere and letting go of things that you’ve always done from day one is easier said than done.
An obvious concern about working with a VA is one of trust. You are trusting someone you have probably never met in person with key aspects of your business. Of course it’s a concern!
To start with, ensure the contract between you and your VA has a robust confidentiality clause, which stipulates they must not share any confidential information without written consent from you.
A good way of building trust is to start slowly.
At first ask your VA to handle just one or two smaller tasks. Starting this way allows you to get to know them better, how quickly they work and how much initiative they take.
Business relationships are all about good communication. Talk regularly and be clear in what you are asking your VA to do. In return, allow them to ask questions, raise any concerns and encourage them to make suggestions if they think there’s a better way of doing things.
Communication (and trust) is a two-way street!
Be transparent at all times. Project management software such as Asana, Trello or ClickUp allows you to see how they are progressing on specific tasks at any given time.
Security is obviously a big issue, particularly with regard to business data. Trust is vital in successful business relationships and collaborations but of course you should still safeguard your business.
Trusting a Virtual Assistant (someone you’ve possibly never met face-to-face), with your login passwords is definitely a legitimate concern. After all, they could:
- Change your passwords without telling you, and then…
- Leave you and disappear so you can’t get into your accounts!
To be fair, most Virtual Assistants are professional and trustworthy but there’s always a rotten egg somewhere.
Fortunately there a simple solution, which is a Password Manager.
This is a secure and convenient piece of software that generates unique and complex passwords, storing them in an encrypted database, to access online services.
If you do become suspicious of your Virtual Assistant for any reason, or they leave you, you can stop them logging into your accounts simply by withdrawing their access at any time.
There are many Password Managers available. Research them thoroughly though because not all of them allow you to share passwords. Just ask the question.
Of course it’s easy to delegate everything, only to get the shock of your life at the end of the month with a massive bill!
In truth, that’s not good for a client or a Virtual Assistant if you’re both looking for stability and a long-term working relationship.
To ensure full transparency, we offer various options:
- Pay as you go
- This is based on a fixed hourly rate and is useful in the early days of working together, to give a benchmark for how much time you actually use.
- You can advise the maximum amount you want to spend, per week or month, and we will keep a close eye on the hours worked and advise if we are getting close to your limit.
- Monthly retainer
- This is usually agreed when we have been working together for at least 3 months, and we have a better idea of how much time you require. We agree a set number of hours (minimum of 10) each month and review it every 6 months.
- This option allows you to manage your cashflow, safe in the knowledge that we have put the time aside for you.
- Prices are agreed on a case-by-case basis, around pre-specified parameters. This is useful if you have a one-off project, eg an event, meeting minutes, specific research etc., or if you are outsourcing a project for one of your clients.
- It works equally well if you require a VA for a one-off project or have a large project outside your VAs regular duties, which needs accounting for separately.
- Again, this helps with cashflow, and you will not need to worry about running out of hours.
We have been asked by people in the financial services industry, concerning confidentiality “do we have to tell our clients we are working with a Virtual Assistant?”
I think that’s a personal decision on whether you feel you need to tell your clients who is working for you.
However, speaking for ourselves, we have a stringent confidentiality clause in our contract and, if required, we will sign a Confidentiality Agreement. Having said that, once clients have seen our contract, we haven’t been asked to sign a Confidentiality Agreement, but the offer is there. For the record, we are also ICO registered, GDPR compliant and have relevant PI and PL insurance.
When speaking to potential Virtual Assistant’s, you would need to check whether they have suitable confidentiality clauses in their contract, do they offer a Confidentiality Agreement, are they ICO registered, and do they have PI/PL insurance?
Whilst it isn’t possible to absolutely guarantee nothing will go wrong (a bad apple is a bad apple!), by ensuring the paperwork is as tight as can be, you minimise the risk.