May 27, 2019

What is a Virtual Assistant?



As an entrepreneur, you likely began your journey managing all functions in your businesses. 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 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 know 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, “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 VAs and how they can benefit you and your business.


What is a virtual assistant?

In the simplest terms, 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, like The Virtual Hub.


But VAs are not one-size-fits-all! Naturally, VAs vary in skills and experience. Entrepreneurs hire virtual assistants to perform all manner of tasks that can be done online (or via telephone). However, no single VA could cover all those possibilities. At the broadest level, virtual assistants can be generalists or specialists. Whereas generalist VAs perform a range of basic, administrative tasks, specialist VAs possess higher-level expertise in one or more specific business functions, such as social media or systems automation.


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, and systems. We describe each of these VA segments, as well as what they do, later in this post.


What can a VA 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 VA 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 VA, and provide training and instruction to perform them to your standards.


VAs handle routine, repeatable, and systemized tasks for your business. Click To Tweet

What Is a Generalist Virtual Assistant?

Generalist VAs are often similar to administrative professionals we encounter in brick and mortar business settings. For example, both may support multiple business functions and carry out a variety of administrative tasks, such as data entry, creating documents, managing calendars and appointments, and responding to emails.


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.

As a generalist, this type of VA 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.



What Can Generalist VAs Do?

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

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



What is a Social Media Virtual Assistant?

Social media basics, such as scheduling posts and creating simple graphics, are appropriate for a generalist VA. 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 VA 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 VA carries out the tactics to bring the strategy to life.


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 time – time a business owner could be spending focused on clients and prospects. Therefore, many savvy business owners effectively delegate to a virtual assistant who specializes in social media.

What Can a Social Media VA Do?

Here’s a few of the things that business owners delegate to social media VAs.

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


Social media is vital for nearly all businesses, but it’s particularly important for small businesses without huge advertising budgets. Click To Tweet

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 specific 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.

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 VA 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.

  • Research trending topics in the industry
  • Review competitor websites to generate ideas
  • Monitor blog traffic
  • Research hashtags
  • Create infographics to include in blog posts
  • Edit, proofread, and format blog posts
  • Repurpose existing content



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 VA do?

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

  • Set up an automated email sequence (from email content developed by the business owner)
  • Research and summarize webinar platform options
  • Design a webinar landing page (owner provides copy)
  • Create a webinar slide deck
  • Set up an evergreen webinar
  • Convert blog posts into ebooks and other PDF downloads for lead generation


Digital marketing virtual assistants implement tactics related to business sales content and strategy.Click To Tweet

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 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 a Systems VA Do?

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

  • Add and manage a Live Chat feature to a website
  • Research and install useful website plugins and widgets
  • 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
  • Project manage website redesign with the web developer
  • Create a pop-up box for the website


If you’d like more ideas about what virtual assistants can do, click here to download a list of 101 tasks you can outsource.


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.


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 often manage multiple projects simultaneously. Plus, they manage the operations, ensuring there are systems and workflows across business functions, as well as track business metrics. 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.


A 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, VAs also can’t tell you what you need help with! Often, entrepreneurs wait until they’re totally overwhelmed before they consider hiring a VA. They rush to hire help in desperation, and they fail to plan. Without documenting their process tasks and clearly identifying what to delegate, they expect the VA to know what to do. 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!



Who Can Benefit from a Virtual Assistant?

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 day-to-day 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 employee. Plus, VAs operate with their own tools and out of their own space or through the 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.


Finally, 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 produce more than their office-dwelling counterparts. Getting more work done for you at a lower cost, while allowing you to focus on business growth is a surefire win!


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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