What is a Virtual Assistant?
A Virtual Assistant (VA) is a self-employed business owner, not an employee. They specialise in undertaking administrative tasks for their clients, such as a small business owner or entrepreneur. As the title Virtual Assistant implies, they work remotely (often from home), not their client’s offices.
In fact, the Cambridge Dictionary defines the term ‘virtual’ in this way:
“used to describe something that can be done or seen using computers or the internet instead of going to a place, meeting people in person, etc.”
A Virtual Assistant, also known as a Virtual PA, is hired by the hour. This means you’re only paying for the hours they work for you, at an agreed rate. So if they work 5 hours for you in a week, you only pay for those 5 hours. There are no other costs or contributions made, your VA is responsible for their own tax, pension etc.
What’s more, there is no long-term commitment. So if you find the workload fluctuates between busy and quiet, or cash-flow is tight, you’re not paying someone unnecessarily or having to worry about making redundancies.
A VA is usually someone who has already had a career as a Personal Assistant (PA) or Executive Assistant (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 many VAs, this 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.
Why hire virtual assistant?
Entrepreneurs and small business owners very often have to handle most, if not all, of the necessary tasks and actions in the early days of their business. This can include:
Designing products or services
Manufacturing products and/or delivering services
Sales and marketing
Responding to emails
Updating your diary
Preparing and sending quotes
We’re just scratching the surface here, and it’s accepted as part of what being an entrepreneur is all about. But as the business grows, the workload also grows, and work hours stretch into the evenings and then the weekends.
A business owner will naturally want to focus on their core business activities, the ones that will grow the business. Every company though, no matter the size of the business, has its admin and repetitive tasks, some of which we’ve just mentioned. The majority of these are necessary to keep the business 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, founder, 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, which 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.
So if you find yourself in any of these scenarios, how can you focus 100% on business growth, while keeping the admin running smoothly in the background?
This is where a Virtual Assistant comes in!
What does a virtual assistant do?
Minutes - On site or remote
Invoicing Clients (and nudging late payments)
Drafting and formatting correspondence
Create, edit and format documents
Typing up notes
Travel, accommodation and overseas visas
Ad-hoc Administrative Tasks
Social Media Management
When looking for help with your admin, hiring a Virtual Assistant gives you flexibility, which is a strength for 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.
You’re also 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.
A VA working just 4 or 5 hours a week can make a real difference to you.
In fact we only handle 2 or 3 tasks for many of our clients. These tasks are typically the biggest time stealers, i.e. keeping the email inbox under control or 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, then a VA really can be the answer you’re looking for.
If someone could handle these tasks in just 2 or 3 hours each week, would that allow you to focus on the much bigger things in your business?
But are you worried hiring someone to work remotely from you, who you may never meet in person, will take longer to complete your tasks because they’re out of sight? Well…
A Stanford University team carried out a 9-month study with CTrip, a NASDAQ listed Chinese travel agency, “Does working from home work? Evidence from a Chinese experiment.”
Among the results, they found:
- Performance of those working from home increased by 13% This included the increased number of minutes worked, reduced breaks and sick-days and increased number of calls made.
- Attrition rate fell by 50% for those working from home against the control group in the office
The only downside appeared to be that the rates of promotion reduced by about 50% for those working from home in the experiment, against the control group working from the office.
As the majority of Virtual Assistants are running their own business, promotion prospects are not going to be an issue for someone hiring a VA.
On the other hand, increased performance and the confidence that someone is less likely to leave you is a quality most people would want from people they are hiring.
In conclusion, the following points sum up what a Virtual Assistant is, and how they can help a business:
- Firstly, a Virtual Assistant is an independent business owner, who specialises in undertaking administrative tasks for their clients, such as small business owners and entrepreneurs.
- Secondly, they allow you to focus 100% on business growth, while keeping the admin running smoothly in the background.
- Thirdly, a VA can help with as many, or as few tasks as required, providing flexibility to a small business.
- And finally, a Virtual Assistant provides increased performance and loyalty to their clients.
We’re always happy to answer your questions about hiring a Virtual Assistant, so please do not hesitate to get in touch if you’d like to discuss any aspect of this article.