Virtual assistants, or VAs as they’re commonly now known, are a relatively new service personnel concept; born through the advent of businesses becoming more digital and working more online. As more companies embrace flexible working, adaptive workforces and modern solutions to their skills and resources gaps, VAs are becoming a more popular hire than ever before. But if you’ve never worked with a VA before, you’ll undoubtedly have some questions. Here, I cover off all of the most frequently asked questions around my profession, its perks and just how a VA could work with and for businesses to offer their services.
What Exactly Is A VA?
A VA is a Virtual Assistant – a PA (Personal Assistant) for the 21st century. As businesses move more toward working online, they’re often finding that having an Assistant available virtually to work on what they need when they need is more suitable than having a staff member sitting on a desk in the office. It’s cheaper, more flexible and less resource-heavy on a business to hire a VA than hiring an additional full-time staff member.
Most businesses now no longer only communicate with their staff face-to-face when they see them on the company’s premises, but instead do so via email, phone, instant messengers and videoconferencing – practices amplified by the coronavirus pandemic and resulting lockdown, as so many people started to work from home. There’s really no need for businesses to have people in the office unless for something really specific that requires hands-on attention.
Instead of taking up desk space and using office resources, businesses can communicate with VAs whenever they have work that needs completing. This may be through email, phone or messengers – whatever communication method works best for you. Most of the work VAs undertake can be done online anyway: through email inboxes, search engines and on Microsoft Office or GSuite, and the finished product can then be delivered digitally too.
Not being in the office has its benefits. The VA can get on, uninterrupted, and properly focus on the task at hand, ensuring their work is of the highest possible quality. All without using up any of your office lighting, space, electricity or coffee provisions!
A VA can help with a myriad of tasks – from email and diary management to online research, email marketing and proof reading, presentation creation and social media scheduling. Anything else? Just name it, and a VA is likely to be able to help you with it (or if not, will certainly know someone who can). Some VA’s also have specialisms, which I explore later on in this article.
VAs come in all shapes, sizes and types, through agencies, self-employed, and through their own businesses – so of course, their costs and expenses vary. Most VA’s will work on an hourly basis, some will have package offerings. Businesses are able to stipulate the amount of hours they need per week or month, and this works out the cost of hiring them. How much you spend is determined by the amount of work you want completing.
With a VA, you only pay the basic hourly rate (or package rate) along with any (pre-agreed) expenses. There’s none of the hidden costs you fork out for when you hire an office-based PA; no computer, no equipment, no tax or NI, no holiday allowances or sickness.
The Legal Bits
A question that a VA gets asked a lot: do we need a contract?
The answer: for your protection and theirs, yes.
A VA may not be an employed member of staff so you don’t need to have a full employment contract, but you do need a working agreement in place.
A VA will generally supply these, so there’s no legal resource required for the businesses they are working with to draw up their own. The contract is essentially an ongoing freelance contract to stipulate acceptable working practices, a set financial agreement and the scope for terms of service. After all, a VA is running a business too.
Many businesses will also ask about the minimum contract period they are locked into when working with a VA. In summary – each VA is different, and so each has different minimum contract periods for work. Most VA’s will offer two different contract types:
- Ad-hoc – where the business purchases a minimum of 1-hours work a month, then can purchase more on an ad-hoc basis as and when they need it. This works really well for companies who have a fluctuating workload and don’t always necessarily know exactly how much work they’ll have on any given month.
- Retainer packages – a set amount of hours purchased by the business each month. This ensures that the VA available as much as the business needs them, and this can be reviewed on a month-by-month basis. This is ideal for those who have a baseline requirement for work but may like to add on extras as they go.
The Right VA
When you hire a PA, you ensure that the person you choose fits in with your work requirements and skillsets as well as the business culture – and the same must be said for a VA too. It’s important that you get to know your VA and pick someone who’s a good fit for you. Most VA’s will offer a free discovery call and will then discuss via email a business’ wants and needs for their work before they commit to anything, because it’s just as beneficial for a VA to have clear goals as it is for them.
So… VAs Don’t Just Do Admin Work?
I can’t speak for the whole industry, and of course everyone has their own boundaries and their own strengths. Some Virtual Assistants are jack-of-all-trades and admin gurus, but some have other specialisms which can help really benefit the businesses they work with and for. Some are social media specialists, some are health and safety buffs and me? I’m an expert in HR – working alongside HR consultants completing specialist HR tasks as well as general business administration.
The point is – you must really assess what your business needs before choosing your VA.
The Difference Between Working With A VA And Hiring A Part-Time PA
Hiring a new staff member, no matter their weekly contracted hours, is a big job – and rarely a cheap one. Part time members of staff are entitled to full HR protection and rights as much as full-timers are, and so the cost of hiring and retaining such staff is considerably more than just their salary. A VA, however, is just like hiring a freelancer. You have a contract, yes, but you’re hiring someone on a considerably more flexible basis without the additional costs or resources required to retain them.
Even if cost isn’t a factor – and I know that for some clients, it isn’t – sometimes having someone working for you that’s a little removed from the organisation can help generate new ideas and give fresh perspectives on things. It’s this that many find beneficial; like adding in some fresh blood to the place, but without the stress and risks of doing so… and hopefully without any actual blood.
As VAs aren’t contracted to sit in your office from 9-5, their working practices can be considerably more flexible. Working times and SLA’s will generally be discussed and agreed in the discovery call in advance of signing a contract to work with a business – some VA’s even work to different timezones or out of hours such as weekends.
The main thing to remember – a VA isn’t a traditional PA and therefore don’t stick to traditional working practices.
Grow Your Business
When you’re absorbed in managing a business it can be hard to see the wood for the trees – the small admin jobs and everyday ‘business as usual’ often being the trees. Getting bogged down and spending time on sweating the small stuff hinders progress and can make everyday work too cumbersome to indulge in blue sky thinking, expansion into new markets or business improvements. Handing over to a VA allows you to get on with bigger and better things, so finding someone you trust to take care of the basics is really key.
What’s more, the flexible approach of using a VA demonstrates your business’ modern working practices and adaptability to new tech. It allows you to save money and use less VA resource on months where you need the cash for other stuff, as well as to use more VA time when you need to spend your precious hours on other things. This could be time spent growing your business, spending time with your kids or simply improving your golf handicap. A VA truly can create you more time.
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