Your questions answered…
Please take a look at the questions and answers below to give you definitions, guidance and explanations on a range of topics. If you have any additional questions please do not hesitate to get in touch.
A Virtual Assistant (VA) is a self employed professional who provides remote administrative support to their clients on either an hourly, project specific or ongoing basis. A VA should be called upon when you need a skilled and highly professional person to provide top class administrative support and advice in the same way as you would call a solicitor for legal advice or an accountant for financial support.
One of the many fantastic things about a VA is that you are getting a higher calibre of administrative knowledge, expertise and service than you would generally find in a temp, or even an employee in many cases. Experienced VAs have spent many years working at a very high level before making the decision to go into business for themselves.
Virtual Assistants are the best fit for clients who don’t have the time, space, budget or large enough workload for employees, but still want and need someone to be at their right-hand; someone who can get to know them and their business, and can proactively contribute to getting things done beyond simply performing tasks. This is their chosen profession and they run legitimate, fully committed businesses.
In the same way you might want an employee to have certain skills, experience and qualifications, you will want your VA to tick certain boxes to ensure that she will fit in with your company, provides the services and skills that she promises and has the ability to grow with your business and add value at every level.
It is important to carry out thorough research to ensure that any potential VA has the expertise, qualifications and experience to meets the needs of your business.
The Website: online presence - crucial ‘first impression’. A website can yield critical clues about the competence and professionalism of a VA and you might even find that it will end up being the first and last contact that you have with that particular VA.
The Initial Contact: Talking directly with a VA will give you a much better idea of whether their personality and style is compatible with yours and whether they will fit in with your business culture. It will also give you the opportunity to gain further insight into the skills and expertise that they are offering.
The Consultation: Your VA will be helping you in your business and it is therefore critical that they demonstrate excellent business sense. Don’t forget that a VA is a business owner and as such should demonstrate good business sense. It is important to remember that you are not interviewing her in the same way that you would interview a prospective employee. You are both trying to find a ‘good fit’ for your respective work ethics, values and personalities, as well as common ground with regard to the type of work involved.
The Level of Experience: The single most important qualification of a VA is extensive high level PA and Office Management experience. Only from this level and standard of experience can a VA expect to draw the necessary skills, training and knowledge necessary to provide a first class service to multiple clients simultaneously.
Associates: If your VA is using Associates, what is their recruitment procedure? How can you be sure that the service levels and the values of the company will also be matched with the Associate? This is a really important consideration and it is critical that you are given the opportunity to talk to the VA that you will actually be working with before you make a final decision.
One of the greatest challenges VAs face involves changing the perception of what a VA is out there in the market place and what they are not: they are not an employee!!
As a business owner you are probably just wanting to quickly get someone (anyone) to do the work you need doing quickly and professionally. But as a business owner looking to work with a VA understanding the nature of your relationship is crucial to successfully working together and ensuring that your expectations are in line with each other.
If what you want is someone who is solely dedicated to you, your business and your objectives then an employee would be the better option. If what you want is someone whose schedule you can control and who you can continually check up on then an employee would be the better option. You might also prefer an employee if you have so much work that you really do require full time support.
If what you want and need is the most basic secretarial support, then you might just want to work with a local temping agency. If, on the other hand, you want the benefit of working with someone who really wants to know you, your business, your customers, and who wants to be deeply involved in your success, you’ll want to work with a Virtual Assistant.
VAs are not employees! They are independent professionals running their own businesses. If you decide to use the services of a VA then you must understand right from the start that they are not going to be available to you eight hours a day, five days a week like an employee would be. A VA will plan their working week around all of their clients (of which you are just one). The relationship you have with your VA will be that of client and professional rather than employer and employee.
On the whole people work with VAs because:
- They don’t have the workload for a full time person
- There isn’t the space in the office for another person
- They enjoy working by themselves and don’t want the company
- They don’t have to provide equipment
- They don’t have the costs associated with an employee i.e. PAYE and NI, holidays, sick pay
- They don’t ever have the cost or stress of having to fire an employee including tribunal costs, administration of grievance procedures etc.
If any of the above apply to you then working with a VA will certainly offer you the very best and most cost effective alternative in meeting your administrative support needs.
Virtual Assistants work from their own premises, often based at home. This is one of the main benefits of using a VA as they provide their own equipment, furniture and software – in fact you don’t need to provide anything except the tasks you want completed!
More and more organisations are starting to appreciate the value that remote workers can add to their business. Even employees are starting to make use of modern technological innovations and working from home rather than dragging themselves into the office day after day. The key to remote working is communication. Most of your work together won’t require anything more complicated than simply emailing or phoning each other. When necessary, however, there is a huge amount of new technology available that makes working virtually (not virtually working!) straightforward and uncomplicated.
Hiring the services of a Virtual Assistant will solve the problems of most business owners. It makes perfect sense on every level: The benefits far outweigh the cost; resources that were previously unavailable will suddenly be available; employment law will not be a consideration; no space or equipment will be required.
At some point you will discover that you simply can’t continue to do it all yourself and have a great life. Something has to give! When you give work to a Virtual Assistant and allow them to proactively support you in reaching your goals, you free up time and energy for an abundance of other things. Those things might include:
- Growing your business
- More time with your family
- Responding to other opportunities (professional and personal)
- Balancing home and work responsibilities
Additionally, consider how valuable your time is – bring it down to the nearest pound. Whatever that number is for you, that’s how much it costs you to do your administrative work and I am certain that you do it far less effectively and efficiently than a Virtual Assistant would. There’s no financial model on the planet in which doing that makes sense.
When choosing your VA you should always consider price as secondary. What you want is someone you can work well with, who offers great customer service, prides themselves on the standard of work they produce for you and is able and willing to take on more and more tasks as the relationship progresses. What you don’t want in a VA is cheap and cheerful!
You only have to use your own business as an example. I am sure you are not the cheapest on the market and I am equally sure that you wouldn’t want to be. You know that delivering real expertise and quality comes at a price and you also know that delivery of that calibre of service comes at a price to your customers – what would you do if they only considered price in their negotiations?
It is important to remember that the relationship you have with your VA will be much more strategic and the hours they work will be far less than that of a full time employee. It will feel to you as though there are far more minutes in a VA’s hour than you ever remember getting in an employee’s hour. That is because the time you will be paying for is 100% productive with no time out for lunch breaks or gossiping with other staff members!
Business owners also need to remember that paying for the services of a VA will not only save you time and energy, it will also save you money! You only have to consider the possible cost implications of hiring an employee:
- Time interviewing
- Office space, furniture and IT equipment
- PAYE and National Insurance
- Administration costs
- Holiday pay
- Sick pay
- Lunch breaks and afternoon tea!
- Redundancy costs
- Time dealing with grievance and disciplinary procedures
- Legal costs
- Advertising and employing replacement staff
In summary, Virtual Assistants represent a hugely convenient and cost-effective alternative to employees, and give clients access to a higher calibre skill level and knowledge than they might ever be able to afford in an employee.
Absolutely! No Virtual Assistant, however skilled and experienced they might be, will be an expert in everything. What you need to remember is that it doesn’t matter what your VA can do. What matters is what she can get done and what she can make happen for you. They can make the phone calls that find out the information you need, they can source suppliers of services they cannot perform (even if that means possibly using an alternative VA for certain tasks – often this is done through your regular VA rather than under a separate contract).
In addition, VAs cannot perform tasks such as reception duties, running errands and making cups of tea for visitors - technology will have to move on in leaps and bounds before any of these tasks can be performed remotely! If you do need a receptionist and you can’t afford to hire an employee or you don’t have the space then you need to consider a call answering service.
It is also important to remember that you shouldn’t ask your Virtual Assistant to perform duties that you really need a different sort of professional to do. For instance, your VA might be handling your day to day marketing activities but wouldn’t be qualified to develop your long term marketing strategy. For that you would need a professional marketing consultant. If you expect your VA to perform at the same level as a marketing professional your expectations are totally unrealistic and you will be very disappointed.
How much work and what type of work you delegate will depend on the nature of your business and the level of support already available to you. Most Virtual Assistants will happily take on some or all of the day to day tasks that take your time, attention and energy away from building your business and increasing revenue. As business owners themselves your VA will have their own systems and processes for getting things started and helping you determine what can be delegated.
It is worth remembering that the true value of a Virtual Assistant lies in the ongoing collaborative relationship itself and you should consider getting a VA that offers a package of diverse services on an ongoing basis rather than just on a project specific basis. This will result in your administration being dealt with in a systematic way rather than on a transactional one off basis. That is how business owners achieve the kind of long term results and stronger business foundations that working with a VA can bring them.
There are two main things you need to consider when deciding what your Virtual Assistant can do for you. These are:
The tasks of today
These are things that must be done if your business is to operate successfully. These might include appointment making, business correspondence, credit control and paying bills.
The goals of tomorrow.
These might include the likes of subscribing to and reading email newsletters that your competitors send out to assist you with your longer term marketing goals; providing a regular update of all the business news you need to know but don’t have the time to seek out for yourself; or developing new systems and processes for your business that will mean better control and increased financial awareness in the future.
Personal and family support
In addition to the above, which are predominantly business biased, your Virtual Assistant can help you with your family and household administration. Researching summer schools for your children, liaising with estate agents, reserving tables at highly sought after restaurants, ensuring your vehicle insurance is renewed on time, the list is endless. Any tasks that involve making your life easier and saving you time are all part and parcel of a good Virtual Assistants day to day activities.
You may decide to just delegate the tasks of today in the first instance but when you are looking for a Virtual Assistant it is always worth seeking out one that is more savvy and on the ball than you initially need her to be as it will serve you well in the long run.
Administrative tasks happen again and again and again. They are not one off occurrences but an ongoing activity that needs to be fully understood and dealt with in order to ensure your business runs smoothly and grows profitably. It is important therefore to build an ongoing collaborative relationship with your Virtual Assistant. This kind of long term collaboration will ensure that your VA develops a clear knowledge and understanding of you, your business, your objectives and your clients and can subsequently provide you with the best possible service.
There are Personal Assistants in the corporate world who have worked with the same person for many years and this sort of long term relationship is equally possible with a Virtual Assistant. The longer you work together the more the synergy between you develops. There will be a spark and an ease of working with your VA which turns days into weeks, weeks into months, months into years, all before you know it.