What is a virtual assistant and when should I hire one?

Virtual assistants are affordable, and they can add serious value to your business. Find out what to look for when hiring a virtual assistant
7 minute read
Adam Smith @HomebrandAdam
Technical Co-pilot
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A virtual assistant can take on a broad range of tasks to help grow your business

Hiring a personal assistant used to be reserved for the upper echelons of the C-suite. And it's no wonder. Executive assistants are highly skilled, highly paid professionals who have a broad set of talents and work across a wide range of projects.

But the rise of remote work means that hiring an assistant has become more affordable. Even if you're just starting your business, hiring a remote virtual assistant is affordable. In fact, given the range of tasks virtual assistants can take on, the value your business could get out of a virtual assistant could far outweigh the investment.

What is a virtual assistant?

So what is a virtual assistant and what do they do?

Put simply, a virtual assistant is a personal or executive assistant who works remotely. They may even be based overseas. They provide administrative assistance to clients while operating outside of their clients' offices.

Virtual assistants have been around since the 1990s, but demand for the skill is growing. And some of the stats around virtual assistants may surprise you.

Some virtual assistant statistics

The demand for virtual assistants is definitely on the rise. In fact, in the latest Freelancer Fast 50 report, virtual assistants were the second-fastest growing skill category on the platform. Demand for virtual assistants jumped 55.57% in the 3rd quarter of 2019, from 7,925 projects to 12,329.

This demand is only set to grow, with demand for other jobs related to virtual assistants also rising. Administrative skills like transcription, data entry, bookkeeping and email handling are also in hot demand. A good virtual assistant can handle all this and more.

Why should you hire a virtual assistant?

A personal assistant might seem like a luxury, but considering the sheer scope of what a virtual assistant can do, the benefits far outweigh the costs.

You can save a significant amount of money

If you've considered hiring a personal assistant, a virtual assistant can save you around 80% of the cost. Moreover, virtual assistants generally work on an hourly basis. This means you only use their services when you need them. Studies show that the average full-time employee is only productive for around two hours and 53 minutes out of an eight-hour day. Instead of paying for those eight hours, hiring a virtual assistant allows you to pay only for productive hours.

Increase your productivity

In addition to only paying for productive work, the flow-on effect of hiring a virtual assistant is that you'll become more productive. With less time spent on administrative tasks and distractions, you can focus on core business functions. Imagine what you could accomplish if you could delegate the tasks that pull you away from the main game.

Get your business organized

A business, however large or small, has a lot of moving parts. It can be hard to keep everything in order and avoid important tasks falling through the cracks. A virtual assistant can help you get your business running like a well-oiled machine.

Fill your skill gaps

No matter how skilled a professional you are, there are some important tasks that just aren't in your wheelhouse. Maybe social media seems like a foreign landscape to you. Maybe your inbox is perpetually full of unread messages. Maybe blog posting feels like a painful trip to the dentist to you. Whatever skills you lack, you can fill those gaps with a virtual assistant.

Achieve a work-life balance

This is the dream, isn't it? The best benefit of hiring a virtual assistant back is getting more of your precious time back. You can be more productive while working less.

What jobs can a virtual assistant do?

So what jobs can you actually delegate to a virtual assistant? Of course, this depends on the individual and their skill set, but the range of tasks commonly handled by virtual assistants is incredibly broad.

1. Data entry

The amount of data you have to deal with as a business owner can be overwhelming. Virtual assistants can efficiently and accurately collate all that data into a useful format, providing you with an overview of your business at a glance.

2. Meeting scheduling

Any busy professional knows how difficult it can be to keep their calendar organized. Not only can a virtual assistant help keep all your meetings in order, they can serve as the gatekeeper of your valuable time to ensure you don't lose productivity to meaningless meetings.

3. Transcription

Even important meetings can yield unproductive results if no one remembers the important points of action decided upon. A virtual assistant can transcribe meeting notes and translate them into action items to make sure the time you spend in meetings actually leads to tangible results.

4. Email handling

According to McKinsey, the average professional spends 28% of their day reading and answering emails. How would you like to claw some of that time back?

The sheer volume of emails you receive can see incredibly important messages slip through the cracks. A virtual assistant can stop this from happening. They can filter out messages that don't require your response, prioritize the ones that do and answer for you where appropriate.

5. Call handling

According to ZDNet, in 2016, professionals spent 163 billion minutes on conference calls in the US and UK alone. This doesn't even take into account the calls you may receive throughout the day from stakeholders, clients, salespeople and coworkers. A virtual assistant can help screen through these calls so you only take the ones that truly matter.

6. Bookkeeping

Proper bookkeeping takes time, accuracy and know-how. Get it right and you could identify areas for cost savings, free up capital for growth opportunities and give your business a healthy buffer to make it through lean periods. Get it wrong and you could destroy your bottom line and end up in serious trouble with the tax man. Bookkeeping is too vital a business function to ignore, and it's worth hiring a skilled virtual assistant to keep your finances in order.

7. Online research

From researching flights and accommodation for travel to preparing you for important meetings, a virtual assistant can compile any kind of research you need. They can even conduct market research to help you understand your customers and competitors better.

8. Customer support

If your organization is large enough, it's likely you'll need an entire team dedicated to customer support. But if you're just starting out, you can delegate this task to a virtual assistant. Because most virtual assistants work on an hourly basis and only work when needed, this means they can be available for customer support at times you wouldn't be.

All the examples so far are fairly straightforward administrative tasks, and having a virtual assistant to manage them will definitely help free up your time and organize your business. But many virtual assistants are capable of other highly skilled tasks that you'd usually have to hire a variety of specialists for.

9. Presentation design

If you've got a big presentation coming up, either for employees, clients or stakeholders, many virtual assistants are skilled in graphic design and PowerPoint, and can help you put together a visually stunning and memorable presentation.

10. Social media marketing

With nearly 3.5 billion active social media users in the world, it's a platform your business can't afford to ignore. Even if you're adept at social media engagement, using it as a marketing channel is extremely time consuming. And, if you're just starting out in business, you may not have the resources to hire a dedicated social media manager. Fortunately, social media marketing is actually one of the most common tasks delegated to virtual assistants.

11. SEO marketing

If your business isn't visible on Google, it might as well not exist. Getting your website to the first page of search results takes a lot of work and a lot of expertise. Many virtual assistants have this expertise, and can coordinate your SEO efforts. This includes everything from backlink building and guest blog outreach to actual content creation.

12. Web development

Some virtual assistants may even be skilled in web development, and can help you build a responsive website for your business, or maintain the one you have.

How much should you pay a virtual assistant?

The cost of a virtual assistant will vary depending on the tasks you choose to delegate to them and the skill set you're looking for, but let's compare it to your other options.

Personal assistant

According to Payscale, the average salary of a personal assistant in the United States is $43,068 USD per year.

Executive assistant

For a more skilled level of administrative assistance, you could hire an executive assistant. Payscale puts the average salary of an executive assistant in the United States at $54,570 USD per year.

Virtual assistant

The average virtual assistant project on Freelancer is completed for $177 USD. As we mentioned before, the hourly rate charged by virtual assistants can vary depending on the skills you're looking for, but the median hourly rate charged by virtual assistants on Freelancer is around $7 USD per hour.

What should you look for when hiring a virtual assistant?

If you've decided to hire a virtual assistant, there are a few steps to take to find the right person for the job.

Decide what tasks you want completed

First, you should make a list of the tasks you want to delegate. Be thorough and specific. Try to estimate how many hours per week you spend on these tasks and then add them up to determine how many hours per week you might need the help of a virtual assistant.

Decide how much you can spend

Next you'll want to decide on your budget. How much are you comfortable spending hourly? Per week? Per month? When you post a project to find a virtual assistant, you'll want to be clear about the budget you're working with.

Write a clear proposal

After you've done this, click the orange "Post a Project" button either at the top or bottom of the page. Write out exactly what you need done, how many hours per week you're expecting it to take and your budget. Be clear about deliverables. What will success look like for the tasks you're assigning? While you don't have to be exhaustive (you'll have a chance to discuss your project in more detail by direct messaging with freelancers), the more detailed you are, the better bids you're likely to get.

Look for the freelance virtual assistant who matches your needs

After you've posted your project, you should start receiving bids within minutes. Look through the bids and find the freelance virtual assistant whose skills and proposal best suit your needs. If you have a shortlist of candidates, you can chat with them directly to find the one who works best. Once you've found the virtual assistant you want to work with, just push the green "Award" button.

A virtual assistant can add incredible value to your business. It's little wonder more and more professionals are looking to fill this crucial role.

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