Virtual Assistants: The Basics
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Well, we’re here to answer those questions and many more! We are breaking down everything you need to know about virtual assistants – what they do (and don’t do), who hires them, and where and how to hire one. But we don’t want to stop there!
At The Virtual Hub, we’ve learned from experience – our own and our clients’ – exactly how powerfully virtual assistants can change your business. We’ve also seen the challenges and problems that can occur when working virtual assistants. But most of the time, issues only arise when business owners don’t know how to effectively work with VAs. We believe that nearly all of the struggles can be eliminated if you know not just how to find and hire a qualified VA, but also how to onboard, train, communicate with, and manage your VA. So, we want to help you not only find the right VA for you and your business, but to help you get it right the first time so that you and your VA can experience success together!
Our mission is to eradicate small business overwhelm by simplifying the offshore outsourcing process and facilitating cost-effective business scalability. We are also committed to creating dynamic, next level careers for smart and enthusiastic people from The Philippines who want to excel with international clients.
VIRTUAL ASSISTANTS: THE BASICS
What is a Virtual Assistant?
Basically, a virtual assistant performs administrative and other support tasks for your business from a remote location. VAs work part-time, full-time, or on a temporary basis. Many VAs work as independent contractors, whereas others work through virtual assistant companies. The Virtual Hub is one type of VA company, but there are several models of VA companies and agencies. But we’ll explain that later!
“Virtual assistant” is used broadly to describe virtual workers who do admin tasks, yet VAs are not one-size-fits-all! Entrepreneurs hire virtual assistants to perform all manner of tasks that can be done online (or via telephone), but VAs vary in experience and skillset. No single VA could cover all those possibilities. Virtual assistants can be classified into two broad categories: generalists or specialists. Generalist VAs perform a range of basic, administrative tasks, and specialist VAs possess higher-level expertise in one or more specific business functions, such as social media or systems automation. There’s no one standard for classifying specialist VAs – they could specialize in any number of business functions of specific software processes.
At The Virtual Hub, we group virtual assistants into five, broad categories. They are generalist, social media, content management, digital marketing, and systems, and we describe each of these VA segments, as well as what they do, later in this post. Keep in mind that these are five “buckets” we’ve created and find that they cover most business’s VA needs. However, VAs aren’t necessarily limited to those categories. You can find VAs niched by other skills and/or experience (e.g., lead generation, customer support), as some may describe themselves by the industry they serve (e.g., real estate, health care).
What Can a Virtual Assistant Do for Me?
Virtual assistants support your business remotely by completing administrative tasks you assign to them. Most often, these tasks are repeatable and systemized tasks that must be done but are not necessarily key drivers of the business. This might seem silly, but we want to emphasize the word “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.
For example, virtual assistants may do tasks 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 VA carries out the steps within those systems. At the same time, you’ll want to share “the big picture” with your VA as you bring 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 VA, and provide training and instruction to perform them to your standards.
Later, we’ll dive into how to select tasks to assign to a VA, how to map out processes and instructions for your VA, and how to train and manage them. Right now, let’s take a look at the benefits of hiring a virtual assistant.
Who Can Benefit from a Virtual Assistant?
Any online entrepreneur who can no longer manage all aspects of their operation 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.
The “virtual” in virtual assistant brings to mind someone who works with an online – or virtual – business. But virtual businesses aren’t the only one who can benefit. Even brick-and-mortar business owners, local service-based businesses, and larger corporations 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.
Furthermore, more and more larger companies – we’re talking businesses with thousands of employees, including America’s Fortune 500 companies – are leveraging the services of virtual assistants. Adding VAs to any size company can boost productivity, increase employee engagement, and save on employee expenses. In short, leveraging virtual assistant services can create a competitive advantage for any business!
Why Hire a Virtual Assistant?
Adding a virtual assistant to your team reduces your workload, saving you time and frustration. Plus, it allows you more time to focus your attention on the business functions that drive your business, rather than wasting your time on routine tasks. Plus, hiring a virtual assistant is both cost-effective and efficient. Virtual assistant services will cost far less than hiring part- or full-time employee. Among other things (e.g., insurance, payroll), VAs operate with their own tools and out of their own space or with the resources provided by the virtual assistant companies they work for. You don’t have to buy more equipment or provide office space.
Further, working with VAs can involve some flexibility, agility, and creativity. For example, instead of 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. Say you wanted to delegate tasks in both social media and content management tasks. You could hire one, part-time social media VA and one, part-time content management VA, which will cost you far less than investing in a content marketing strategist to cover both sets of skills.
Also, as the world moves towards more and more remote working conditions, we’re finding that remote workers are highly efficient. Several recent studies indicate that remote workers can produce just as much work, and sometimes more, than their office-dwelling counterparts. Plus, virtual conditions allow you to tap into a much wider talent pool. Since you’re not limited to candidates who are near you geographically, you can literally search the world over to find the virtual assistant that’s right for your business!
Now that we have the gist of what virtual assistants and why they’re becoming so popular, let’s dig deeper into their world and take a look at some of the specific things they can do for you.
What A Virtual Assistant Is Not
That is, a virtual assistant is not interchangeable with:
- A Project Manager (PM): Virtual project managers take digital projects, such as developing websites, setting up webinars, and launching products and services, from start to finish. They manage the budget and resources, create the plan, delegate tasks, track progress, and measure results.
- An Online Business Manager (OBM): Online business managers are virtual professionals who oversee online operations for the business owner. Project management also falls within the realm of OBMs, but they’re usually managing multiple projects at the same time. Plus, they track metrics and manage the operations, ensuring there are systems and workflows across business functions. Finally, they oversee other people working in the business, including contractors (e.g., bookkeeper, graphic designer), as well as other team members (e.g., one or more VAs).
- An Integrator: Gino Wickman and Mark C. Winters introduced the concept of integrators to the business world in their book Rocket Fuel: The One Essential Combination that Will Get You More of What You Want from Your Business. Integrators are OBMs with additional strategic skills and abilities. When an entrepreneur hires a VA, a PM, or an OBM, they remain the owners of the strategy. On the other hand, integrators become true, strategic partners with the business owner. Integrators benefit entrepreneurs who excel in generating ideas and developing the vision but who struggle with execution. In this relationship, the entrepreneur owns the vision, but he or she hands the strategy off to the integrator who aligns the team and the systems with the vision.
Final Notes on What VAs Cannot Do
For one, 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. It’s called the ‘Myth of the Super VA,’ and it’s thoroughly debunked by Chris Ducker.
Finally, you can’t invite a VA to join your team and expect them to tell you what you need help with! Often, entrepreneurs wait until they’re totally overwhelmed before they consider hiring a VA. They quickly and desperately hire someone but fail to plan. For some reason, they have the idea that the VA is just going to know what to do, without being trained on specific, clearly defined and documented tasks from the business owner. 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!