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What is a virtual assistant?

So what does a virtual assistant do? A virtual assistant is an independent contractor that offers administrative services to a company remotely. The term “virtual assistant” emerged in the 90s to describe the burgeoning trend of virtual work— thanks to major technological innovations, workers could begin sharing documents and taking important business calls from outside their offices.

Virtual assistants have surged in popularity over the last few decades due to the evolving nature of business. Many companies are opting to save money on large office spaces and bloated teams, and instead are investing in flexible work arrangements and schedules. The result is a more agile and modern approach to team organization and project management.

 

Types of VAs

Virtual assistants come with different skills and specializations. Each one can help you with a specific function or department of your business. Below are just a few examples of the different types of virtual assistants available:

1. Bookkeeper – Great with accounting and tracking budgets for various projects.
2. Administrator – Schedules meetings, handles communication between executives and outside entities.
3. Scribe – Types notes during meetings or presentations.
4. Social media manager – Handles the company’s various social accounts.
5. Developer – Assists in the development of an app or website.
6. Designer – Designs infographics, logos, flyers, and other visual collateral.
7. Analyst – Researches, collects and analyzes valuable business data.

The role of a virtual assistant can also change depending on the business. Some companies may even hire virtual assistants that handle multiple responsibilities at once.

 

4 benefits of having a VA

 

Reduce operating costs

Virtual assistants can provide inexpensive yet invaluable services to your company, allowing your operations to reduce costs. For example, a company may choose to hire a data analyst to evaluate the performance of a recent billboard campaign. The analyst may provide vital insights that affect the success of future billboard campaigns, more than covering the initial costs of hiring a virtual assistant.

 

Save time on initiatives and projects

Many of the tasks undertaken by virtual assistants tend to be repetitive, such as taking notes or bookkeeping. These tasks can take away from more pressing issues, such as client meetings or lead generation. When leaders delegate time-consuming tasks to virtual assistants, they can focus on the more important tasks on their agenda.

 

Greater work efficiency

Leaders aren’t the only ones that benefit— other team members also have a lot on their plate and could always use help. Social media managers, for instance, are most effective when they can assign writing, research, or graphic design to virtual assistants, allowing them to focus on editing and delivery.

 

A healthier, more flexible work environment

Remote work has the potential to transform the culture of your company. Letting your team members work from wherever they are can have a tremendous impact on employee wellness. Consider a pregnant mother needing some time away from the office or a digital native that prefers working on the go. Both of these employees can accomplish their work like anyone else, but the ability to remote work means they can do so at their convenience.

 

5 ways to use a VA to grow your business

 

Data entry

Finance, accounting, and data firms rely on carefully organized information, whether it’s a balance sheet or the results of a large-scale study. While the act of data entry is relatively simple, it can be monotonous, particularly if your skills are better applied elsewhere. Having a dedicated virtual assistant to focus on data entry can free up your schedule while developing a more accurate means of data collection.

 

Customer service

According to Microsoft, 96% of consumers say customer service is an important factor in their choice of loyalty to a brand. Customer service, despite its necessity in modern business, continues to be an afterthought for many organizations. As a result, potential leads and loyal customers turn on a brand in a matter of seconds, after just one negative experience. Having a dedicated person or team to cater to these one-off incidents can significantly impact a brand’s lasting reputation.

 

Administrative tasks

Scheduling meetings, following up on email communications, maintaining records… these are tasks simple enough that they can be done by just about anyone. But to do them well, it’s best to hire someone that specializes in this type of work. When your team doesn’t have to worry about administrative work, they are free to focus on the work they specialize in.

 

Sales outreach

Sales are vital to the lifeblood of a business, but the actual sales outreach part can be a major time investment. Many virtual assistants are trained to handle cold calling, email campaigns, and other outreach efforts. Since much of the act of outreach can be done over the phone or on a laptop, it can be the perfect job for a virtual assistant.

 

Social media management

Despite the widespread use of social media in today’s society, many business leaders still fail to see its value in marketing. Partly because they do not want to invest their time or money into a practice they do not fully understand. A virtual assistant dedicated to social media can make all the difference—ensuring your company maintains an online presence while creating a two-way channel for loyal customers.

 

How much does a VA cost?

Virtual assistant fees can vary greatly depending on several factors, including type and frequency of work, level of professional experience, country of origin, and technical expertise needed. Below are example rates for different types of virtual assistants.

 

Administrative Professional, Data Entry

Description: Proofreading, data entry, clerical work, research, Excel, etc.
Average Hourly Rate: $12 – 20
Average Monthly Fee (20 hrs/wk): $960 – 1,600
Average Monthly Fee (40 hrs/wk): $1,920 – 3,200

 

Marketing VA, Customer Service, Accounting Support

Description: Copywriting, budgets/accounting, marketing support, customer support, CRM software experience, email marketing, social media marketing; software like PowerPoint, Quickbooks, Salesforce, WordPress, etc.
Average Hourly Rate: $20 – 35+
Average Monthly Fee (20 hrs/wk): $1,600 – 2,800
Average Monthly Fee (40 hrs/wk): $3,200 – 5,600

 

Advanced VA, Consultant, Executive Assistant

Description: Business consulting, content management, project management, advanced IT/site management, web development, and server management
Average Hourly Rate: $38 – 50
Average Monthly Fee (20 hrs/wk): $3,040 – 4,000
Average Monthly Fee (40 hrs/wk): $6,080 – 8,000

Source: Upwork, freelancers in North America with over 1,000 hours and 90% success rate.

 

Where can you find a VA?

Now that you know why to get a virtual assistant and how much it might cost, it’s time to find one. Just like searching for any other new hire, you have to look in several places.

 

Upwork

With over 12 million freelancers around the world, Upwork has built a reputation as the largest freelance marketplace in the world. With that status, however, comes a few challenges. For one, Upwork has a notorious support system that fails to assist both freelancers and companies in the event of a contract breach. Companies on Upwork will also have to deal with a tricky algorithm that prioritizes high paying jobs. Nevertheless, you won’t find a more substantial pool of talent to source your next virtual assistant. We recommend carefully reviewing their profile and work history before contracting a VA to work.

 

Fiverr

Based in Tel-Aviv, Fiverr is another freelance platform that has become a household name. Fiverr freelancers offer a host of services, including website design, translation, copywriting, SEO, data entry, and much more. The platform is frequently used by companies like Facebook, Google, MIT, Netflix, and PayPal. Unlike Upwork, Fiverr services are charged as flat fees, starting at $5 up to several thousand.

 

Social media

You’d be surprised how many assistants you can find on LinkedIn. LinkedIn’s Profinder works similarly to Upwork or Fiverr: list the service that you want, hash out the details (one-time project or ongoing, deadlines), and receive up to five free offers from on-demand professionals. Social media groups on Facebook and LinkedIn are also effective ways to find virtual assistants with specific talents.

 

VA agency

Working with an agency is one of the quickest, most efficient, and reliable means of connecting with a virtual assistant. Places like Zirtual and VA Networking offer easy access to countless skilled assistants and have even been featured on Entrepreneur, StartupNation, Inc., and Reader’s Digest. Many VA agencies also provide additional resources, training, and coaching for these freelancers, so they will likely be more prepared and better fits for the job than someone you may find elsewhere.

 

How to hire and manage a VA

 

Set expectations from the start

Always start with the scope of the project and the responsibilities expected of the virtual assistant. How much time should the project take? How will the VA be paid? What is considered in-scope, and what is a stretch goal? These are the types of questions you want to be asking yourself because it is very likely your virtual assistant will ask once hired. That’s why it’s crucial to provide clear guidelines and process documents such as an SOW (Scope of Work) to set the scope and responsibilities; this prevents any confusion and enhances the likelihood of success.

 

Define a daily schedule

Once all the contracts are signed, the next step is to define a consistent schedule for work or checking in. Because virtual assistants are not physically present in the office, it can be challenging to ensure they stay on task or communicate clearly. Speak with the virtual assistant about their availability, and find overlaps between your company schedule and their schedule. If they live overseas, you’ll also have to take the time difference into account.

 

Define a budget

One of the most compelling reasons to hire a virtual assistant is cost—virtual assistants are by far more affordable than full-time hires. But without a budget, you can easily spend more than you intend to. In setting up a project for a VA, create estimates for how long each task should take, and accordingly, how much each task will cost based on the VA’s rate. Be as upfront as possible about your budget, and you can avoid potential fallouts or disagreements regarding compensation.

 

Track time and tasks

Accountability is key when it comes to remote work. Nothing stops a virtual assistant from claiming to have worked on something when they haven’t, or conversely, spending hours on a project but not having it tracked. While self-tracking is based on a code of honor, it’s still an effective way to keep tabs on project completion and overall workload. Use project management apps like Mavenlink, Asana, or Basecamp to evaluate the overall progress and efficiency of your virtual assistants.

 

Provide useful performance feedback

To truly support and push your virtual assistants to improve, provide them with monthly or even quarterly reports; this can be as simple as a quick one-on-one conversation, but it is most important to address the greatest strengths and opportunities for improvement. Your virtual assistant will appreciate the honesty and repay the gesture through their efforts.

Want to learn more tips on managing remote workers? Visit our article on best practices.

Virtual Assistant Infographic

Source: OVA Virtual

Virtual assistants are more than just remote workers. They can form the backbone of your business even as you work on other tasks. Their work may not always impact the bottom line directly. Still, their presence can be felt by everyone on the team, particularly when they can shift their focus from more repetitive tasks (such as social media or data entry) to other priorities. Give them the proper goals and guidance, and virtual assistants can genuinely transform the way your team operates.