If you run a business that’s growing beyond your capacity to keep up, the next step is to add staff in support of your growth. But what if you aren’t quite at the stage where you need an on-site assistant to step in and handle full-time duties? Enter the Virtual Assistant.
A virtual assistant (or VA) is an independent contractor who can work remotely, handling just about any task that can be handled online or on the phone. In many cases, a virtual assistant is a freelancer with a set of specific tasks based on their skill set—all of which are designed to make your life easier. For example, an virtual assistant could function as an executive assistant handling administrative tasks, while others may specialize in areas like social media management. Virtual assistants may work part-time or full-time and usually work from a home office.
The Benefits of Using a Virtual Assistant
Why bother hiring a virtual assistant when it costs you nothing to confirm your own meetings and reply to your own emails? In a word: time. Small business owners who manage growing companies will find that even as their available resources grow, the time demands of their business can start to encroach. A virtual assistant is a fail-safe that helps you manage your time as well as your money.
But what does it look like when you’ve plugged a virtual personal assistant into your business? Here are some of the key benefits:
- Outsourcing data entry. Need to import contacts into a new system or fill up an excel spreadsheet with a current list of leads? That’s exactly the kind of time-consuming work that you can outsource to a virtual assistant.
- Managing phone calls. Need to reschedule a phone call, but don’t want to get dragged into a 30-minute conversation with that customer who always seems to eat up your time? Just let your virtual assistant handle it while you’re busy at your desk.
- Handling potential clients. It’s one of the best problems a small business owner can have: you’re too busy with work to deal with new work. A virtual assistant can help direct your leads to the right information.
- Email management and social media. Having trouble getting to “inbox zero”? Tired of handling your social media accounts every hour of every day? Email and social management can feel like data entry, which is why it’s a task that a virtual assistant can easily handle, sorting your emails or social media alerts and marking which ones need to be looked at.
- Travel arrangements. The busier you are, the harder it is to plan out travel arrangements. Outsourcing these to a virtual assistant can mean that you can book hotels and conferences with ease, leaving you to focus on the work at hand.
- Content creation. If you are creating content on a blog as a growth engine for your business, a virtual assistant can help. A virtual assistant can create and optimize content for your site as a key driver for traffic and SEO.
How to Choose and Hire a Virtual Assistant
Sounds great, right? So why doesn’t everyone do it? Because it takes a little while to set up—especially if you’re going into this process cold. That’s why we’ve put together a few tips for how to hire the right virtual assistant:
- Start with a test. It’s usually bad form to ask someone for free work, so try hiring a promising virtual assistant on a trial basis—maybe start with five hours. Watch how productive they are during that time. Are they good problem-solvers? Do they ask the right questions? Do they seem to give the right amount of value for the time they’re working?
- Include communication skills in your test. If a virtual assistant is going to be representing your company in emails and phone calls, this is a critical skill to test. Include this during the trial period to make sure that you know who you’re hiring.
- Set clear expectations. Create a 1-2 page document with the basic instructions for everything you think you’ll need during the rest of the test. You might just include a few brief notes (such as the tone to strike during emails) that help the document serve as something like a training document. Try to choose the VA who pays the most attention to detail.
- Go to the right sources. It helps if you know where you can find virtual assistants with demonstrable experience. Sites like Upwork.com allow virtual assistants to set up profiles and reviews from previous clients, for example.
Remember: you don’t have to make the kinds of commitments you might make to a full-time employee just yet. Start off slow so you can give a virtual assistant a chance to demonstrate their learning abilities and skills, and then choose the one who best suits your business.
How to Start a Virtual Assistant Business
What if you’re on the other end, looking in? What if you have dreams of working from home as a virtual assistant? It can be difficult to crack into any new career—even one as in-demand as virtual assistant services. But there are a few ways you can get yourself off on the right foot and work from home.
The first step is to create a professional business appearance for yourself. Do you have a website? A business card? An email address of your own? If not, there are plenty of great ways for you to get started. You can browse custom-made themes at sites like ThemeForest.net expressly for virtual assistants. And using tools like Skype will make it possible to work and land your first client without getting off the couch.
You’ll also want to begin a work history of previous virtual assistant work. You may have to charge less than you might otherwise charge to get your foot in the door. Browse job listing sites like Indeed, LinkedIn.com, and Upwork to see where the virtual assistant jobs can be found. Build your profile and your work history by doing your best with each chance you have at virtual assistance, even if the process seems overwhelming at first.
From there, you can always look to expand your skills by taking online courses from places like KhanAcademy.com. Make sure you keep a record of these courses, in case anyone interviewing you for a position wants to know what kinds of qualifications you have with these specific skills.
From there, it doesn’t hurt to make yourself available via a business phone number—one that you can use and take with you easily. You can separate this from your personal number by using a service like Grasshopper. And whether you’re starting your own VA business or hiring one, Grasshopper makes it possible to set up a phone system with multiple forwarding lines so customers can reach the right person. This helps you to establish the workflow you need as your company grows and your business soars to new heights.