The term “virtual assistant” sounds like something created by a science fiction author, but this position has become not only a growing career segment, but also a staple for small business owners or entrepreneurs who need to increase their productivity. In fact, ‘virtual assistant’ as a career path has grown exponentially in the last ten years.
What is a virtual assistant?
Not to be confused by the in-device assistants like Siri and Alexa, virtual assistants (VAs) are real people who can assist with real projects for busy professionals. According to the International Virtual Assistants Association, virtual assistant services are offered by independent contractors “who (from a remote location, usually their home or office) support multiple clients in a variety of industries by providing administrative, creative, and technical services.”
Companies across the US employ millions of secretaries, administrative assistants, and support specialists who help handle everything from scheduling meetings to creating filing systems and process documents to designing presentations to serving as a client liaison. The overall trend for this career path is on the decline, however, due to everything from AI to customer self-service portals. But business leaders and owners still need help; everyone from entrepreneurs to experienced C-suite executives can benefit from outsourcing some of their tasks or responsibilities to help free up their time, focus and energy for other parts of the business. This is why virtual assistants continue to be a needed and valuable business resource.
Why would you become a virtual assistant?
People chose a career in virtual assistant services for a number of reasons.
Flexibility: Being a freelance or contract virtual assistant gives you a better work-life balance and better flexibility. They can take on as many – or as few – projects as they want and schedule their vacations, appointments, and other things around their work schedule. While people who hire VAs will often want them to have availability during a standard workday, many virtual assistants are able to create flexible work schedules that don’t require them to be at their desk from 9 – 5 every day.
Location: Nearly 90% of remote employees reported they wanted to work that way for the rest of their lives. Remote employees often cite the freedom to work from any location as their primary motivation for wanting to continue working remotely. The remote capabilities offered virtual assistant work is a huge benefit for many people.
Payment: Like many freelance or contract positions, VAs often have the ability to set their own rates. Whether they charge by the hour or the project, successful freelance virtual assistants can earn more than in-office, full-time assistants because businesses and owners don’t need to pay extra for benefits like health insurance, 401k match, and other costs typically associated with full-time employees.
Less stress: Working from home or working remote results in less stress – up to 20% less than those who work in an office full-time.
While virtual assistant positions were once touted as a way for students or retirees to engage in part-time work or make extra money, many professional virtual assistants work full work weeks as an assistant to one or more businesses.
What do virtual assistants do?
Virtual assistants can assist in just about any area or industry. Many serve as a jack-of-all-trades and assist with the day to day operations of a business while others serve in specialized roles or projects. Some of the most common VA roles include:
- Research assistant
- Event planner
- Travel assistant
- Coding and web design
How to become a virtual assistant
If you’re looking to get into the virtual assistant business, here are some ways to start.
Consider your skills: If you have previous experience as an administrative assistant or secretary, use that to your advantage. Basic office skills are a must, so phone etiquette, communication skills, and organization are a crucial foundation.
Look at industries: Many VAs work as generalists and help business owners with anything from meeting planning to basic accounting. Some people might feel like their skills and experience match better with a certain industry like legal and medical assistants. For some of these roles, additional training and industry-specific terminology is necessary. Consider the investment you want to make to create your VA career.
Why would you hire a virtual assistant?
Flexibility: No office? No problem. Virtual assistants offer you the flexibility of working with someone remotely and communicating by phone, email, instant message, and video chat. This is particularly helpful for entrepreneurs and startup companies who are looking to stay on the lean side of the budget by not occupying a space and working in distributed teams while still benefitting from outsourcing daily tasks to help free up time and energy of big-picture pursuits.
Productivity: Having an assistant helps to significantly free up time that can be used to shape strategy, network, or grow the business. In addition to leaders, business owners, and entrepreneurs using virtual assistant services as“productivity hack”, remote workers are themselves reported to be 13% more productive than in-office employees.
How to hire a virtual assistant
If you’re looking for how to find virtual assistant to help you get organized or more efficient, here are some good starting points.
Figure out the scope of work: What do you need help with? In what areas do you struggle to complete tasks or make progress? What things stay on your to do list longer than you’d like? Deciding the areas, you can benefit most from delegating in can help you decide what kind of skills and experience you need from a virtual assistant.
Write a job ad: Like hiring for anything, you’ll need to create a comprehensive description about the job or project including what skills and experience you’re looking for and what the bulk of the work will look like on a day to day basis.
Set up interviews and reviews: Set up time to chat with candidates over the phone or through a video call. This is also a good time to ask for references to get other professionals’ opinions on the quality of work and service from that VA.
Consider a trial period: For long-term professional relationships, some people choose to contract with a VA for a several week trial period before entering into longer term contracts. This helps both parties see if it’s a good fit.
Deciding on the best fit for your virtual assistant will depend on a number of factors, including a personality fit, but it can also be beneficial to call references who’ve worked with the VA before to find out more about their work style and ask about their history. The best virtual assistants are usually:
Consistent and reliable: Was the virtual assistant available when needed? Did they have consistent access to the internet to be able to communicate in a timely and efficient way?
Tech savvy: VAs should be knowledgeable enough in the role they’re hired to assist with. Ask references for the skill level of the VA you’re considering in areas like Dropbox, Trello, social media platforms, coding and more.
Responsive: Virtual assistants need to be accessible and responsive in order to be effective. Ask about communication levels and frequency to get an idea for if their history of availability will meet your needs.
Independent: Working with a virtual assistant will require some direction, but once they’re up to speed, they should be able to work independently and ask appropriate questions.
Finding (and listing) virtual assistant jobs
There are a few ways to find work as a virtual assistant or to find virtual assistant services for hire.
Platform profiles: Companies like Upwork, Guru, Freelancer, and PeoplePerHour are all vetted platforms that allow individuals to build a user profile and go into detail about their skills, experience, and services offered. It also gives professionals looking to hire a place to start their search and compare candidates.
VA-specific sites: Some companies are built to specifically support not just for freelance or contract work but for virtual assistants specifically. Companies like BELAY and UAssistMe specialize in helping find and place virtual assistants by matching them with the right opportunity.
Professional associations: Organizations like the International Virtual Assistants Associations and the Virtual Assistant Networking Forum can give virtual assistants a place to share and search for job opportunities. It also can be a source for busy professionals to search for help.
Private websites: As the role of virtual assistant becomes more popular, experienced assistants have started creating their own websites and domains to share with potential clients including their skills, experience, rates, services offered, client testimonials, and contact information. Setting up digital ads once the website is up is an effective way to find business.
VAs provide a win-win for freelancers and businesses alike. Virtual assistant roles give people an opportunity to work flexibly and take control of your day and your career. Virtual assistants can also change the way small businesses work, giving business owners and entrepreneurs time back to invest in their company both affordably and efficiently.
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