Virtual Assistants: The Basics

What is a Virtual Assistant?
Types of Virtual Assistants
What a Virtual Assistant is not

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When you first started your business, you wore all (or most of) the hats. If you were a one-person show, you filled every functional role in the company from sales and marketing, to accounting, to admin and more. Even if your business started with a partner or as a small group, and you wore fewer hats, new business owners fill in the gaps to cover functions beyond their own specific areas of expertise.
As a new business owner, you completely controlled your operations, so you have your finger on the pulse of every aspect of your company because you’ve managed it so much of it on your own. But now that your business is established and growing, you struggle to keep up with the day-to-day activities, as well as the strategic aspects of your growth. You’ve heard that this is when entrepreneurs add a virtual assistant, or VA, to their team to save time. But you might be asking, “What is a virtual assistant exactly?” Or, “Can a virtual assistant really help me?”

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.

In this guide, we’ll break down everything you need to know about virtual assistants and how to leverage VAs to grow your business – and get you out of overwhelm!

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.

Types of Virtual Assistants

Generalist Virtual Assistant

Generalist VAs are typically like administrative professionals we encounter in brick and mortar business settings. Think of a generalist VA as being a “virtual secretary” or “virtual personal assistant.” For example, both may support two or more business functions and carry out a variety of administrative tasks, such as data entry, creating documents, managing calendars and appointments, and responding to emails.

 

Obviously, in-office assistants will deal with more face-to-face interactions and activities, and virtual assistants manage their activities in a digital environment. On the other hand, due to the nature of their work, virtual assistants are likely to be familiar with, and more highly skilled in, a wider variety of software programs and virtual tools than an office admin.

Generalist VAs typically don’t “own” all tasks within a specific “department” or function of your business. Instead, generalists tend to perform tasks across functions, such as marketing, basic bookkeeping, and customer service. Although generalist VAs have a broader range of administrative skills than specialist VAs, they often need more training than specialists do, which often surprises business owners. 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.

What Can Generalist VAs Do?

Generalist VAs can help business owners in a ton of ways. This list provides but a few examples of the virtual assistant services a generalist VA can perform.

  • Create invoices
  • Create documents
  • Transcribe audio/video
  • Format reports
  • Design simple graphics in an application such as Canva
  • Format blog posts
  • Follow up on late payments
  • Manage your email inbox
  • Schedule social media
  • Research business topics
  • Schedule appointments

Systems Virtual Assistant

The first specialist virtual assistant we’ll describe is the systems virtual assistant, who’s focused on helping the owner manage the systems and operations of the business. Systems VAs are very tech-savvy. They’re skilled in technological areas such as basic website maintenance, creating automations with tools such as Zapier, and developing repeatable workflows for routine client interactions within your email manager or 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 trained many of our systems virtual assistants in 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 Systems VAs Do?

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

  • Project manage website redesign with the web developer
  • Add and manage a Live Chat feature to a website
  • Research, install, and update useful website plugins and widgets
  • Create a pop-up form for the website
  • Procure and set up audio and video equipment for podcasting and video recording
  • Set up an automated client onboarding workflow
  • Research and learn a new software automation – and teach it to the business owner

Content Management Virtual Assistant

Hiring a virtual assistant for content management allows business owners to hand off the bulk of the tactics around their content marketing efforts. It bears repeating: The entrepreneur owns the strategy, developing content plan and creating the content. The content management VA implements the strategy by carrying out the assigned tasks.

 

And keep this best practice in mind: content creation should take up only 20% of your content marketing efforts. It’s coming up with ideas, publishing, repurposing, and promoting the content that should make up the other 80%. The content management virtual assistant can research and provide the traffic-generating ideas to the owner, who then the content, based on those ideas. The VA can step back in again and take care of publishing, promoting, and repurposing.

 

Like social media, content management is an essential yet highly time-consuming activity, particularly for small businesses. In fact, 51% of marketing professionals cite content creation and management as their #1 business challenge! If you want to optimize SEO and convert more visitors to leads and buyers, consistent, relevant content is a must!

Speaking of SEO, content management virtual assistants can handle tasks that will help you make your content more SEO-friendly. For example, researching long-tail keywords and editing blog posts to include an optimal number can be outsourced to a virtual assistant. Link-building is yet another way a VA can assist you in your SEO efforts. Task them with reviewing your blog content for opportunities to link to others’ websites, as well as to link concepts back to other posts within your own site.

Finally, you can task your content management VA with organizing your written content for optimal readability and SEO by properly creating the structure of blog posts. The Yoast plugin for WordPress is a simple tool VAs can use to assess both keyword density and heading/subheading structure. If you who struggle to keep up with and remain consistent in your content creation efforts, hiring a content management virtual assistant could be game-changing for you.

What Can Content Management VAs 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! You can hire a virtual assistant for content management and task them with some or all of the following:

  • Research hashtags and keywords
  • Create infographics to include in blog posts
  • Research trending topics in the industry
  • Review competitor websites to generate ideas
  • Monitor blog traffic
  • Edit, proofread, and format blog posts
  • Add images with SEO-friendly file names and alt-text to blog posts
  • Assess readability and SEO with the Yoast WordPress plugin
  • Repurpose existing content

Digital Marketing Virtual Assistant

Whereas social media (described below) and content management VAs focus on visibility and marketing content, digital marketing virtual assistants implement tactics around business sales content and strategy. Digital marketing VAs possess additional expertise in the back-end tasks for digital sales efforts, although they may also have their hands in some content management tasks. When these tasks are delegated to the VA, it allows the business owner to focus on the digital marketing strategy and on creating and optimizing their sales messages.

The tactics of digital marketing require behind-the-scenes technical steps. For example, savvy entrepreneurs will leverage their time to script and rehearse a presentation they need to give – instead of wasting time creating the perfect webinar slide deck – and outsource slide show design to a virtual assistant. Similarly, digital marketing VAs know the tools for setting up webinar tech and automated email sequences.

 

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, hiring a virtual assistant for digital marketing is the way to go.

What Can Digital Marketing VAs Do?

Tasks to assign to a digital marketing VA may include the following:

  • Convert blog posts into ebooks and other PDF downloads for lead generation
  • Research and summarize webinar platform options
  • Design a webinar landing page (owner provides copy)
  • Create a webinar slide deck
  • Automate a series of emails the business owner wrote/created
  • Set up an evergreen webinar

Social Media Virtual Assistant

A generalist VA can handle social media basics, such as scheduling posts and creating simple graphics. But if you need help with higher-level social media tasks, you’ll want to hire a virtual assistant who specializes in social media.

 

Typically, social media virtual assistants are highly proficient in all (or most of) the major social media platforms (Facebook, twitter, Instagram, YouTube and LinkedIn). Plus, some are experts in one platform. Social media VAs not only schedule the posts, but they also implement and monitor all aspects of your social media initiatives.

With a social media VA, the business owner always remains responsible for the strategy behind it, but has the VA execute the entire media function. Key decisions the entrepreneur needs to make include selecting the social platforms, setting goals, and identifying themes and key messages. The social media VA carries out the tactics to bring the owner’s strategy to life.

Although social media is important for nearly all businesses, it can be downright vital for small businesses without huge advertising budgets. However, it tends to take up a boatload of time – time that would be better spent focused on clients and prospects. Therefore, many savvy business owners effectively delegate to a virtual assistant who specializes in social media.

What Can Social Media VAs Do?

Here’s a few of the things that business owners outsource to virtual assistants who specialize in social media:

  • Set up social media profiles
  • Create content calendars
  • Automate posts with scheduling tools such as Buffer and (our favorite) Hootsuite
  • Manage Facebook group engagement
  • Manage content database
  • Track and report metrics
  • Research and implement Facebook contests
  • Summarize and provide feedback on audience engagement

What A Virtual Assistant Is Not

Let’s review! 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.

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!

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