What is a Virtual Assistant (VA)?
In short(ish), a Virtual Assistantis generally an experienced self-employed administrative professional. A VA is a replacement for an in-office assistant/permanent executive administrator. A VA works off site from your premises as an independent contractor, usually working remotely from a home based office. They generally provide technical, creative and of course administrative support and solutions. Our services do not stop at just the traditional secretarial provisions but some of us can go beyond and even assist with marketing, maintaining websites and client development. We help to free up our clients’ time to allow them to focus on more pressing matters, or to network and generate new business, or just giving them back time to spend with loved ones.
VAs are that special someone you can delegate your less important (but still very necessary) business needs to – from drafting letters, returning telephone calls on your behalf, designing presentations, typing up manuscripts, proof-reading, transcriptions, answering emails, booking travel & accommodation and managing your diary. They can do even the personal odds and ends such as deal with your post, sort your receipts, book your doctor/dentist appointment, remind you of your spouse’s birthday in advance of sending them a surprise bunch of flowers, reserving a table at their favourite restaurant and even go as far as sourcing the perfect gift!
Projects or assignments are commonly exchanged and communicated via email, telephone, post and/or web-based tools.
In summary a VA deals with the tasks that clients simply do not have the time nor, occasionally the tools, knowledge or even interest in doing. So not only do we save our clients’ time to enable them to focus on being the super spearheads that they are, but we save them oodles of cash too. So leaders, stop burying your heads in the menial tasks and quit getting involved in the administrative detail and remember that the key to effective leadership is delegation! So find your VA and delegate away!
An idea of client types can be anyone and include Household Managers, Entrepreneurs; New Starter Businesses; Small/Medium/Large and Corporate Businesses; Authors; Executives & Non-Executives; Solicitors; and even Medical Practices/Experts.
For a sample list of what you can delegate to your VA, visit http://www.yourprivatepa.com/
VA -vs- Full-time PA
Simply put – in comparison to a full-time PA, hiring a Virtual Assistant (one who is reliable, dedicated and takes pride in their work) is the most cost-effective option. Currently, the average salary for a full-time Personal Assistant per year in the UK is around £24,372. And that’s before benefits, bonuses and increases. Quite a blow to the budget for someone you don’t necessarily need around all the time. And don’t forget the workspace, equipment, training, insurance, sick and holiday pay, to name a few more outgoings.
VA services allow clients to enjoy the benefits and freedom of picking and choosing when and if they need our help. We can work on either a rolling month contract, or just an ad-hoc basis for a couple of hours handling a few projects whether big or small, or just once a year if that’s all they need. Most VAs tailor-make their clients’ packages to meet their specific needs and most charge by the hour which means clients only pay for the time they choose to use. And if for some reason clients need to cut HR overhead – especially in the case of households or small start-up businesses, and of course depending on the contract type in place with their VA – they can choose to discontinue our services until the budget becomes available again. You most certainly cannot do that with a permanent employee, unless you’re happy to find yourself in a Tribunal.
- NO Agency Fees
- NO Staff Overheads (Holidays, Sick, Maternity, etc)
- NO Recruitment or Training Costs
- NO Need for Costly Equipment
- NO National Insurance or HR Headaches/Costs
- NO Taxes
- NO Generous benefits packages/Salary increases
- Minimal/NO invasion of privacy and personal space
- UTMOST Confidentiality & Discretion
- AVAILABILITY Outside of Hours
- COMPLETE Flexibility
- CONTINUOUS Professionalism & Efficiency
- We are quite the magnificently efficient, admin-loving, multi-tasking machines;
- Clients don’t need to share or set up extra work space as a VA uses their own equipment based in their own home;
- We can more than likely complete a task in half the time that our clients’ own time and commitments allow. And us even more talented ones can do it with our eyes closed, whilst chopping onions with one hand, stirring a pot of sauce with the other, opening the oven door with one foot and singing and jiggling our behinds to a tune in the background – all whilst reading and researching the Internet from our laptop on the kitchen counter!
- Sorting, planning, arranging and organizing are what we do – like breathing and blinking really!
- We generally have experience in a vast number of industries which means we’ve seen, tried and tested a variety of procedures and systems, as well as gained experience on numerous software programmes. That way, we can introduce a wealth of experience, skills and suggestions to your business;
- Working with one VA (that you’re happy with of course) allows the client you to form that bond; that long-lasting and trusting relationship. From this, you will benefit from someone you can count on; someone who eventually learns and appreciates what the client wants and how they prefer it to be done;
- VAs own and run their businesses which means they are dependent on referrals and steady business, which in turn means that clients are more likely to receive the utmost dedication, value and care for their business needs.
I cannot vouch for every VA, but I personally offer not only the above but am also pleased to include the following assurances in my professional services:
- utmost CONFIDENTIALITY & DISCRETION
- CUSTOMER focused devotion & loyalty
- highest degree of INTEGRITY & PROFESSIONALISM
- complete FLEXIBILITY
- CONTINUOUS professionalism and efficiency
- exceptional DRIVE and determination
- second-to-none ACCURACY & motivation
- absolute PASSION to plan and organise in ever changing environments
- top QUALITY support with an aim to always EXCEED expectations
Your very own Lucky Bag of Tricks
Think of a bag of Scrabble letters. Imagine that every one of those lettered tiles is in fact one of our long list of administrative talents (some of which I have listed further below as a taster of how we can help ease your business burdens).
Now, juggle the bag about, enjoying the sound of the little plastic pieces clicking together. Don’t you just love that sound? Now stop. Open the bag and pick a tile – any tile. No peeking!
Whatever it is that you pull out, whichever skill you require or dilemma you need sorting, generally a confident and proficient VA will be able to meet those needs. And if not, at the very least, we will quickly find a way to do just that!
We’re like a Lucky Packet full of wonderful surprises, skill-sets and resourceful solutions.
Most of us have a niche, but the highly dexterous PAs discover throughout our experience that we need to learn to do just about anything – to fix nearly any problem and resourcefully overcome many an obstacle. With our countless array of hats, a bit of ingenuity, tenacity and creativity we rather innovative professionals will frequently work out a suitable resolution to most of your needs. And actually, yes I do actually have one heck of a hat collection – my sparkly sequined trilby and cowboy hats being my favourites! Yeehaaaa!
Let me share just a few niggling/laborious tasks you could outsource to a VA:
- Diary Management
- Email Management (replying, forwarding, flagging, clearing junk, etc)
- Return Calls, listen to voicemails, reminders (texts and calls)
- Travel and accommodation requirements (hotels, flights, cars, chartering, etc)
- Events planning
- PowerPoint presentation design
- Draft letters/documents
- Planning and arranging conferences and meetings of any kind
- Agendas, minutes, itineraries, reports
- Speech preparation
- Transcriptions (dictation)
- Proofreading and editing
- Data entry/CRM management
- Be your professional liaison/first point of contact for senior management, colleagues, teams, prospective and existing clients, partners, vendors, contractors, etc
- Social media administration (Blogs/Postings, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube)
- Sourcing of products/services/contractors
- Appealing parking tickets
- Complaints letters
- Even all those little personal needs such as: Dentist/doctor/beauty appointments, restaurant/show reservations, holidays, pet care/sitting, buying/sourcing gifts, sending flowers, thank you cards, home move arrangements, etc
Of course, this list could go on and on so when you’re on the hunt for a suitable VA to help you become more organised and time-free, always check with us as to the requirements you have as you’d be surprised as to what or just how much we can do.
And a tip: Don’t be blinded by our useful bag of talents. Just like a new employee – permanent/temporary or virtual, we still may very well require initial training time on your specific business systems in order to be fully productive in your requirements.
How to Choose Your VA
To help with the pre-VA-contact, make sure you carefully analyze and list all the tasks you need to delegate, along with approximate time that each one may take and then clearly list all the necessary instructions and deadlines for each. This helps you not only to be prepared and save time babbling but helps to ensure that all expectations are clearly set out in advance of any work taking place. Therefore clear rates and availability can be confirmed by the VA. All of which, helps to avoid any miscommunication and issues later on.
Apart from their experience and skills-set, the most important part of finding the right VA for you, is personality! Not rates! Not location! If you don’t click with them, it more than likely won’t work or last.
It’s not always (and hardly ever is) about how low their rates are. VAs know their self-worth and generally base their rates on exactly that. Remember, you get what you pay for. So pay the money and hire yourself a highly-skilled and experienced VA. Either way, you’re still saving. Of course, this isn’t always the case, but it’s the less risky way to go as opposed to paying cheaper rates only to end up with more work than you initially delegated. Whilst low rates may look appealing – because let’s face it, everyone’s looking for a bargain these days – there’s more risk of opening yourself up to disappointment and further costs in the long-run. Of course, this is not always the case as some VAs just have low rates for their own reasons and they just turn out to be good, but it does depend on the services they’re offering, their limited experience and/skills and the types of projects they’re doing.
How you choose your VA is mostly down to personality and how well you click! So start by reading through their website. Is it consistently neat, clear and minus inaccuracies? Have they taken pride and shown attention to detail in the window to their business? If their website has errors or lacks any care then in many cases, this will reflect in the work they produce for you. Speak with them, even for a few minutes to gage what they’re like as a person and of course, how they speak on the phone. Are they professional, as well as friendly, helpful and respectful? Are they easy to speak to? Do they listen or just talk at you? Use their contact facility and send them an email to decipher whether they respond efficiently and know how to communicate effectively in writing. If they proficiently meet all of these vital requirements of a VA, then you can trust that they will generally deliver work and treat your clients in the same way.
Once you’ve picked the right VA for you, then the next steps are to ensure discussions on work requirements, time allocation, deadlines and rates are communicated very clearly. Do they have T&Cs and more importantly, a Confidentiality Agreement? Do they have compatible software to allow for sharing of documents/diaries, etc? If the VA needs training on the clients’ systems, then be sure to clarify whose cost that will be.
Next up is delegation of your work requirements. During this time, you need to gage how efficient your VA is. How well do they stay in touch and keep you updated? How well do they multi-task? How calm do they remain or at least appear to be (the last thing you need is the added strain of a stressed VA as it can just defeat the purpose of hiring them)? Do they stick to their promises? Do they prioritise well and meet the required deadlines? Have they taken pride in the work they have produced for you and is it consistently accurate? One of the best ways to test their reliability and work results is to take them up on their offer of a free hour’s trial.
To assess if I’m the VA for you, by all means, please do drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or call me on 07799 688 611.
Does The Thought Of Hiring A Virtual Assistant Scare You?
Are you intrigued yet skeptical when it comes to hiring a VA? Are you tempted but fearful of what to expect?
Like most things, it’s the fear of the “unknown”. You’ve never worked with a VA so you don’t know anything about them or how they work or if you can trust them. But if you think about it, it’s the same with every new employee you hire too so what’s different? At least with a VA you can try out several of them and if you’re not satisfied, even discontinue their services (within their specific cancellation policies of course). You certainly cannot do that with a permanent employee!
Perhaps it’s the not knowing if they’re really actually working? That’s understandable but again, it can be the same with an in-house employee. Thankfully, there are ways around that. You can establish a set of deliverables; request daily progress reports and schedule brief daily calls (or even Skype) outlining a full update and status of their work. Some VAs log their time and provide their time sheet to the client. Another way of ensuring they’re keeping up with their work requirements is to be sure to set cut-off times for every project – no matter how big or small. If they don’t manage to meet their deadlines (for good reason), then you can generally gage whether they’re fully committed or not.
Then once you’ve seen the fruits of their VA labour and you’ve reached an acceptable level of trust, you won’t necessarily need to continue ‘checking up on them’.
But do remember, that it’s not about the amount of time they spend at their desk, it’s about the overall outcome and of course, the consistency of those end results.
Or is it down to not liking or trusting the idea of a VA having such sensitive and personal information such as log-ins, bank account information and credit cards? Completely understandable! But it’s pretty much the same with any new permanent PA. Although they’re in your presence, can you still fully trust them with all that confidential information?
Simply, screen the heck out of your future VA. And give it time. You need to take the time to build the trust. Once that’s in place, then share that information as you need. However, take into consideration that the work you delegate to them may very well be dependent on having those details in order to function efficiently. So before you start handing out your classified information, why not test the VA waters and start by delegating work that doesn’t require sharing them right from the outset. Build the trust first.
If it’s any consolation, you could take assurance in the understanding that the expansion and ongoing success of any VAs’ business (most businesses for that matter) is ordinarily based upon recommendations. Apart from the VAs that are just simply respectful individuals who live by the rule that confidentiality is absolutely paramount in this business, they are also extremely dependent on referrals and steady work to meet their overall business and income needs. So most, if not all VAs very much appreciate that jeopardising their clients’ confidence in any way is oh so not worth any risk at all!
There are many positive aspects to hiring a VA – one of them being the advantageous ability of ‘testing the waters’ before committing to one VA. Something you most certainly cannot do with a permanent employee! Whilst it’s not generally the ‘done’ thing – because we all need to show a little common courtesy towards one another – but clients can potentially try a few different VAs before ‘settling down’ with their preferred choice. The exciting part is that you get to trial a variety of VAs across the globe and whilst they may not turn out to be suitably matched to you/your business requirements/personality needs, at least you get to build upon your international contacts (and pretty darn useful ones too!).
One of the other fears or concerns about bringing on board a VA is that you’re possibly used to having someone there – face-to-face, or the worry of being too disconnected. But think about how much you might travel/spend time in meetings/visit clients/attend events or conferences, etc. Where’s your PA then? So when you think about it, it’s pretty much a virtual relationship by phone/iPhone/Blackberry already. It’s your choice. You can involve your VA as much as you want or don’t want.
Certainly, once you’ve built that vital element of trust, you’ll worry less about whether or not she’s working every second of the time you’re paying her because by then, you’ll know that she probably is.