"What on earth is a VA?" is a question I get a lot. Good ol' Wikipedia sums it up nicely:
"A virtual assistant (typically abbreviated to VA) is generally self-employed and provides professional administrative, technical, or creative (social) assistance to clients remotely from a home office".
Virtual Assistants have been around for quite a while overseas, but it's only in recent years they have become common place here in New Zealand. There are a handful, who like me, are based in the Waikato. But the joy of being a VA (or hiring one) is the support provided is virtual so geography is never an issue. Although my office is situated in Hamilton, my current clientele are located all over the show ... Hamilton, Palmerston North, Cambridge, Te Awamutu, Thames, Auckland, Australia and the USA. My client list is like a great big melting pot of professions and cultures which I LOVE!
So let's get down to the nitty gritty of what being a Virtual Assistant really means ...
What tasks do you carry out?
When it comes to specific services that Virtual Assistants offer, it really does depend on the VA you are looking to hire.
Some (like me) choose not to specialise in a specific skill set so their lists of services are pretty extensive. Others may prefer to offer just accounting services or focus solely on providing support to a particular industry.
No matter the differences in services we offer, the one thing all VAs have in common is that we work virtually. Answering telephones, replying to emails, sending out newsletters ... anything you can do online, a Virtual Assistant can assist you with. Gone are the days where your admin support needs to sit with you in your office.
What doesn't a VA do?
This totally depends on the VA in question. Personally, I avoid accounting like the plague (numbers simply aren't my thing), and I dead-set refuse to carry out cold calls. Other than that, so long as it's legally and morally on the up-and-up I'll pretty much give most things a go!
A fabulous VA will be flexible, accommodating and will be regularly up-skilling in order to keep on top of what's what in the world of administration. But most importantly REALLY great VAs will be honest and transparent when it comes to their capabilities. I'm personally not a fan of the "fake it till you make it" mentality as know-it-alls are often self-proclaimed and this attitude will only get them so far. I prefer Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella's advice ... "Don't be a know-it-all, be a learn-it all".
What hours do you work?
Once again this varies depending on the VA. I currently have a pre-schooler at home with me so my working hours are limited to nap times and evenings. In order to maintain a great work/life balance I have a limited number of clients I support at any given time. It totally blows my mind to think that I have a waiting list of future clients happy to sit tight until either a space opens up or until I increase my hours.
Although many Virtual Assistants offer various support and/or retainer packages, I choose to stick to a more flexible standard hourly rate. My clients are not locked into utilising my services for a set number of hours per week or month. We play it by ear. We go with the flow. If you've got a project coming up requiring additional support then I simply adjust my availability to suit. Communication is key. We make it work!
Who hires you?
Small businesses and consultants generally start looking to hire a Virtual Assistant when they realise they're feeling bogged down by all the admin. They often come to me frustrated or overwhelmed - or both. They have reached a turning point in their business where they can no longer do it all by themselves and they know it's time to outsource.
How do I pick a VA?
Not all Virtual Assistants are created equal. Do your homework. Find out their background and experience. Do they have experience in what you need? Ask for references. Request a trial run to see if they are going to be a good fit for you personally and your business.
I've had a couple of clients come to me who haven't had much success with other VAs they've used both within NZ and overseas. It's crucial that you choose a Virtual Assistant that you get on with, who you know you can rely on, who understands your business ... and who speaks your language.
How much do Virtual Assistants cost?
Ahhhhh, the awkward money conversation! It's important to note that what's affordable for one person may seem REALLY expensive to another.
I have a standard hourly rate which I charge my time out at. But often VAs also have various support/retainer packages for you to choose from. Keep in mind these rates/packages won't include GST (if applicable) or disbursements such as mileage, postage, printing, hardware and stationery etc.
Do your research. There are VAs available at all price points, but you'll soon find their rates are directly related to their levels of skill and experience. Remember ... you get what you pay for.
When is the right time to hire a VA?
Haha! There will never be a perfect time to start outsourcing. And for some of you reading this you'll be wondering if you'll ever be able to afford to. My advice ... just give it a go. Do your due diligence, start off slow and you'll be amazed at the results.
Outsourcing is an investment and hiring a Virtual Assistant frees up time and allows you to concentrate on growing your business.
I'm ready to hire a VA. What's next?
Fantastic! Congratulations! This is quite the milestone for your business.
It may be tough to initially let go of some of that control you've got a tight hold of. And that's completely natural. I'm a control freak, so I feel your pain! But trust me when I say it will be totally worth it in the end.
Here are some tips to help you move forward:
Write down a list of jobs that you either don't have time to do or simply hate doing. These will be the things you'll want to outsource.
Research some VAs. Most will have an online presence of some sort. Explore their websites, read their blog and social media posts. Do you get a good feel about them? Don't let geography hold you back. Your perfect VA fit could live down the road ... or across the globe.
Contact the top 2 or 3 from your list of potential VAs. Most will offer a free consultations. If it's not possible to meet in person then conduct your interview over the phone or Skype. If you're going to be hiring a Virtual Assistant, you may as well get used to doing things virtually.
Request a trial period or trial project. Start with something small. This is going to be the only way to find out if he or she is a good fit. Confirm their rates, terms of service and whether you'll be locked into a contract.
Expect there to be a teething period of sorts while you get to know each other. Be patient. Soon enough you'll be working together like a well oiled machine (or an old married couple that can practically read each others mind).
Hey there! Thanks for reading this all the way to the end! I’m Sam - the author of this blog post.
I’m a virtual assistant, a Jack (or Jill!) of all trades … a Girl Friday who loves nothing more than to help small business owners and freelancers with their website, social media, SEO, branding and administration worries.
Click the button below if you’d like to get in touch.
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