August 11, 2022

What is a Virtual Assistant?

As an entrepreneur, you likely began your journey managing all functions in your business. You completely controlled your operations, and you know exactly what makes your business tick because you've managed it solo.

But now that your business grows, you struggle to keep up with the day-to-day activities, as well as the strategic aspects of your growth. This is when you add a virtual assistant, or VA, to your team to save time.

But you might be asking, “What is a virtual assistant exactly?" Or, “What can a virtual assistant do for me?”

Let us break down for you what a virtual assistant is, what they do, and what they don't do. We'll also provide insight into who hires virtual assistants and how they can benefit you and your business!

Everything You Need to Know About Virtual Assistants

What Is a Virtual Assistant?

In the simplest terms, a virtual assistant performs administrative work and other support services for your business from a remote location. VAs work part-time, full-time, or on a temporary basis. Many virtual assistants work as an independent contractor, whereas others work through virtual assistant companies, like The Virtual Hub.

Entrepreneurs hire virtual assistants to perform all manner of tasks that can be done online (or via phone calls). However, no single virtual assistant could cover all those possibilities. VAs are not one-size-fits-all. Naturally, virtual assistant skills and experience vary.

At the broadest level, virtual assistants can be generalists or specialists. Whereas generalist VAs perform a range of basic, administrative tasks, specialist virtual assistants specialize in one or more specific business functions, such as social media management or systems automation.

what is a virtual assistant

Although this list does not cover all of the possibilities, at The Virtual Hub, we break virtual assistants into five, broad segments. They are:

  • generalist
  • social media
  • content management
  • digital marketing
  • systems

We describe each of these virtual assistant segments, as well as what they do, later in this post.

what is a virtual assistant

What Can a Virtual Assistant Do for Me?

As mentioned above, a virtual assistant supports your business remotely by completing administrative tasks you delegate to them.

Most often, VAs handle routine, repeatable, and systemized tasks for your business. The key word here is "tasks." That is, virtual assistants execute tasks you assign to them, based upon a step-by-step process you created.

What to outsource to a virtual assistant must be determined by you, the business owner. By and large, VAs neither decide what needs to be done nor how the tasks are to be performed. Therefore, virtual assistants may work within a project, but they don't manage the project itself. You (or another member of your team) manage your projects and processes, and the virtual assistant carries out the steps within those systems.

You will want to share "the big picture" with your VA as you integrate them into your business. However, you remain solely responsible for the vision, mission, and overall operations of the business. You determine which tasks to delegate, assign those tasks to the virtual assistant, and provide training and instruction to perform them to your standards.

What Is a Generalist Virtual Assistant?

Generalist VAs are often similar to administrative professionals we encounter in brick-and-mortar business settings.

what is a virtual assistant

For example, both may support multiple business functions and carry out a variety of administrative services, such as data entry, document creation, calendar management, and email management.

The obvious distinction is that in-office assistants deal with more face-to-face interactions and activities, whereas virtual assistants handle similar functions in a digital environment.

Furthermore, as a digital worker, the virtual assistant is likely to be familiar with a wider variety of virtual tools than an office admin.

What Can a Generalist Virtual Assistant Do?

As a generalist, this type of virtual assistance doesn't own an entire function of your business. Instead, generalists tend to perform tasks across functions, such as marketing, bookkeeping, and customer service.

As generalist VAs have a broader range of administrative skills than specialist VAs, business owners are often surprised to realize that generalists need more training than specialists!

Why is this the case? Although they're agile and well-versed in a variety of areas, the only way for them to learn the way you do things is for you to teach it to them.

Generalist VAs assist small business owners in myriad ways. This list provides but a few examples:

  • Answering emails
  • Research business topics
  • Scheduling appointments
  • Formatting reports
  • Creating documents
  • Transcribing audio/video
  • Doing graphic design in an application such as Canva
  • Formatting blog posts
  • Scheduling social media
  • Following up late payments
what is a virtual assistant

What Is a Social Media Virtual Assistant?

Social media basics, such as scheduling posts and creating simple graphics, are appropriate for a generalist virtual assistant. But more involved tasks require a specialist virtual assistant.

Social media virtual assistants typically have a solid grasp on all the major social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, and LinkedIn). 

Some may also possess expert knowledge in one platform. Social media VAs not only schedule the posts, but they also implement and monitor all aspects of your social media initiatives.

Although the social media virtual assistant executes the entire social media function, the business owner remains responsible for the strategy behind it. Entrepreneurs select social platforms, set goals, and identify themes and key messages, and the social media virtual assistant carries out the tactics to bring the strategy to life.

what is a virtual assistant

Social media is vital for nearly all businesses, but it's particularly important for small businesses without huge advertising budgets. But it can take up a ton of valuable time--time a business owner could be spending on existing and prospective clients. Therefore, many savvy business owners effectively delegate to a virtual assistant who specializes in social media management.

What Can a Social Media Virtual Assistant Do?

Here are a few of the things that business owners delegate to social media VAs:

  • Setting up social media profiles
  • Creating content calendars
  • Managing content database
  • Tracking and reporting metrics
  • Employing a variety of scheduling tools such as Buffer and (our favorite) Hootsuite
  • Managing Facebook group engagement
  • Researching and implementing Facebook contests
  • Summarizing and providing feedback on audience engagement

What Is a Content Management Virtual Assistant?

Hiring a content management VA allows business owners to hand off the bulk of the tactics around their content marketing efforts. It bears repeating: The entrepreneur owns the strategy. He or she develops the content plan and creates the content. The content management VA implements the strategy through the certain tasks assigned.

To clarify, content creation requires only 20% of content marketing efforts. Generating ideas, publishing, repurposing, and promoting content comprise the other 80%. The content management virtual assistant researches and provides the owner with traffic-generating ideas. The owner creates the content, based on those ideas. Then the VA steps in again and handles publishing, promoting, and repurposing.

what is a virtual assistant

Content management, like social media, is a critical but  highly time-consuming activity, particularly for small businesses. In fact, 51% of marketing professionals cite content creation and management as their #1 business challenge! Consistent, relevant content is essential for optimizing SEO and converting more visitors into leads and buyers.

For entrepreneurs who struggle to keep up with and remain consistent in their content creation efforts, hiring a content management virtual assistant can be game-changing.

What Can a Content Management Virtual Assistant Do?

Exactly what can be delegated to a content management VA will depend upon his or her individual strengths and weaknesses and how much you are willing to train them. Here are a few of the possibilities:

  • Researching trending topics in the industry
  • Reviewing competitor websites to generate ideas
  • Monitoring blog traffic
  • Researching hashtags
  • Creating infographics to include in blog posts
  • Editing, proofreading, and formatting blog posts
  • Repurposing existing content
what is a virtual assistant

What Is a Digital Marketing Virtual Assistant?

Whereas social media and content management VAs focus on visibility and marketing content, digital marketing virtual assistants implement tactics related to business sales content and strategy. Though they, too, may have their hands in content management, digital marketing VAs possess additional expertise in the back-end tasks for digital sales efforts. Delegating these activities allows the business owner to focus on the digital marketing strategy and on creating and optimizing their sales messages.

Digital marketing tactics require a lot of technical steps, behind the scenes. Rather than spend time creating the perfect webinar slide deck, smart entrepreneurs work at scripting and rehearsing the presentation and delegate the slide show design to a digital marketing VA.

Similarly, digital marketing VAs know the tools for setting up webinar tech and email marketing funnels.

For entrepreneurs who prefer to spend their time optimizing their sales copy and education-based marketing content (e.g., for webinars) than on setting up the delivery of their sales processes, a digital marketing virtual assistant is the way to go.

What Does a Digital Marketing Virtual Assistant Do?

Common tasks to assign to a digital marketing VA may include the following.

  • Setting up an automated email sequence (from email content developed by the business owner)
  • Researching and summarizing webinar platform options
  • Doing web design for a landing page (owner provides copy)
  • Creating a webinar slide deck
  • Setting up an evergreen webinar
  • Converting blog posts into ebooks and other PDF downloads for lead generation

What Is a Systems Virtual Assistant?

Our final segment of specialist VAs is the systems virtual assistant, who's focused on helping the owner manage the systems and operations of the business.

Like the digital marketing VA, the systems VA is highly tech-savvy. They're skilled in technological areas such as basic website maintenance, connecting apps to eliminate manual steps with tools like Zapier, and creating repeatable workflows for routine client interactions with software such as Dubsado.

For example, at The Virtual Hub we manage our business with Ontraport, a sales and marketing automation system (and so much more!). Because we're huge fans of this tool and recognize its utility for other entrepreneurs, we've conducted virtual assistant training on Ontraport. As it's an all-in-one tool, leveraging Ontraport for your business and having a VA who knows how to use it can really streamline your business processes.

What Can a Systems Virtual Assistant Do?

These tasks are among the capabilities of a systems virtual assistant.

  • Adding and managing a Live Chat feature to a website
  • Researching and installing useful website plugins and widgets
  • Procuring and setting up audio and video equipment for podcasting and video recording
  • Setting up an automated client onboarding workflow
  • Researching and learning a new software automation--and teaching it to the business owner
  • Project manage website redesigning with the web developer
  • Creating a pop-up box for the website
what is a virtual assistant

What Is a VA Not Able to Do?

To reiterate, a virtual assistant is a remote employee who executes tasks. Business owners tell them specifically what to do and how to do it, step-by-step. Anything beyond tasks, such as project management, operations management, overseeing other team members, or developing strategy, falls to the business owner or another type of virtual team member.

A virtual assistant can’t do it all. Some entrepreneurs seem to think that any single VA can take on tasks across all business functions. And no matter how highly trained a VA is, one cannot figure out how to apply their skills to your business. You must provide the specific tasks lists and instructions.

Additionally, remember that a virtual assistant is not interchangeable with:

  • An executive assistant (EA): Executive assistants typically have an office space, providing direct support to one or more executives. They may be responsible for managing schedules, making travel arrangements, handling correspondence, and performing other executive-level tasks.

  • An administrative assistant (AA): Administrative assistants are typically employed by a single individual or organization and do on-site work. They typically focus on providing traditional administrative support, such as preparing reports and organizing office supplies.

  • A personal assistant (PA): Personal assistants are individuals who work in close proximity to their employer. They provide more hands-on support with tasks like errands, grocery shopping, and housekeeping.

  • An office manager (OM): Office managers are usually employed by a specific company and work on-site. They are typically responsible for overseeing the day-to-day operations of an office or business.

How Much Is the Average Virtual Assistant Pay?

The average virtual assistant salary in the United States is $16 per hour. However, in the Philippines, the average salary of a general virtual assistant is just $6 per hour.

Meanwhile, highly skilled virtual assistants, such as those with experience in systems administration, can earn up to $14 per hour.

Keep in mind that these are just averages. Some VAs may earn more or less depending on their skillset and experience. And of course, salaries will also vary based on the type of work being performed.

what is a virtual assistant

Who Can Benefit from Virtual Assistant Services?

Any online entrepreneur whose business has grown to the point where they can no longer manage all aspects of their operation with the working hours available can reap huge benefits from hiring a virtual assistant. Needing to turn down client work, working longer and longer hours each week just to keep up, and missing deadlines are clear signals that a business owner needs some help.

Even brick-and-mortar business owners can benefit from hiring a VA! Just because the business operates from a specific location doesn't mean that their assistant has to. Local businesses like chiropractors, boutiques, and restaurants would be smart to outsource administrative tasks to a virtual assistant.

When to Hire a Virtual Assistant?

To accelerate their growth, business owners should hire a VA when they begin struggling to focus on strategy, clients, sales, and content creation. The likely cause of their struggle is too much time tied up in routine administrative, marketing, and financial tasks. 

Hiring a VA to manage those recurring tasks frees the owner up to work on revenue-generating business activities.

Ideally, a business owner recognizes they're approaching capacity before they're buried in their business. This allows them to take time to track where they spend their time, document how they perform routine tasks, and determine which they are willing and able to delegate.

Therefore, the right time to hire a VA is before becoming completely overwhelmed but after documenting tasks and identifying those to be delegated.

Why Hire a Virtual Assistant?

In addition to saving time and frustration, hiring a virtual assistant is both cost-effective and efficient. A virtual assistant's pay rate will cost far less than that of a part- or full-time assistant. Plus, VAs operate with their own tools and out of their own space or through the virtual assistant agency they work for. Business owners don't have to provide them. Additional cost savings result because benefits need not be offered.

In addition, rather than hiring a single, highly-skilled assistant to manage multiple business functions, entrepreneurs can invest in two (or more!) VAs, each with the specific skill set necessary.

For example, say a business owner wants to outsource both social media and content management tasks. Hiring one, part-time social media VA and one, part-time content management VA will cost far less than investing in a content marketing strategist.

Final Thoughts

A virtual assistant can be a business owner's best friend, providing relief from the daily grind of running their business. VAs allow entrepreneurs to focus on revenue-generating activities and leave the mundane tasks to someone else.

When deciding whether or not to hire a virtual assistant, consider both the cost of not hiring one and the benefits of having an extra set of hands on deck. Then document your current routine tasks, and those you're willing to delegate. Doing so will help ensure you're prepared to bring a VA onboard and get the most out of their services.

If you liked this blog post, make sure to also check our Ultimate Guide to Virtual Assistants. This guide is a MASSIVE piece that details all the steps necessary in order to effectively have a virtual assistant that can get your business out of overwhelm like how you can hire a virtual assistant to how you can manage one successfully.

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