How virtual assistants boost productivity levels

With the continuing trend towards more and more remote working, it seems that there’s a virtual something for virtually anything. But one virtual something that could add cost-effective value to almost any kind of business is the jack-of-all-admin – the virtual assistant.

Usually self-employed and working from a home office, these remote equivalents of a personal assistant can be a handy way to fill the gaps in an overwhelming workload – without committing to the costs and hassle of a full-time employee. We took a look at a few of the benefits of hiring virtual assistants: what they can do, how they can improve your business, and how best to go about choosing one.

A virtual assistant should be no less competent than a physical one

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that a part-time, home-working assistant is inexperienced or lacking in skill. In fact, many virtual assistants (VAs) out there have years of experience working as employees for large companies, and you could stand to gain from their experience and talents.

So why would they quit a steady job for the life of a freelancer? It could be that they started a family, and needed their work to fit around their home life. Or perhaps they need to pay the bills while they work on their next great literary masterpiece. It could just be that they grew tired of the commute and the office politics, or that they prefer to spread their full-time work across a number of different clients or industries. In the end, it doesn’t really matter – what matters is that you can find the competent help you need to improve the running of your business.

They’re also cost-effective and low-commitment

Because VAs are usually freelance, you only have to pay them when you have extra work to hand out. So if you’ve just attended a one-off trade show and have hundreds of new business contacts to add to your database, they can do the repetitive task of data-entry while you focus on the next step forward for your business. And after the work is done, so is your commitment. If they did a great job, you can hire them for another project next time. And if they didn’t, you can just find someone else for the next one.

Since they’re not an employee, you won’t have to worry about PAYE, holiday entitlements, pensions or National Insurance contributions either, which is perfect for sole traders who need extra help but don’t want the extra paperwork of becoming an employer.

There’s a huge range of things they can do to free up your time

The truth is that the vast majority of the tasks you’d delegate to an employed assistant can easily be done remotely – except perhaps making the coffee! Of course, before entrusting any of these jobs to a VA, you’ll need to be clear about your boundaries. For example, you wouldn’t want them changing the wording on your marketing materials. You could hire a virtual assistant to:

• do online research, such as vetting candidates, or scoping out new competition or potential clients
• pay the business’s bills, and send and chase its invoices. Just make sure you’ve established a good relationship and a certain amount of trust first
manage your e-mails. After you set out some clear guidance, your assistant can respond to the everyday messages on your behalf, while picking out the most critical ones to send over to you directly
• plan and book your business travel trips
• compose and send your e-mail newsletters or marketing campaigns
• deal with any customer complaints or queries
• carry out all the social chores – such as sending holiday greeting cards, thank-you notes to clients, and so on.

There are only so many hours in a week that you can pour into your business before having a breakdown. And with many of the smaller, more repetitive tasks taken care of, you can channel your energy and time into working on growing your business and making the big decisions. But if you just need someone who can manage your phone calls and handle your mail from an impressive address, it might be even more cost-effective to get a Virtual Office.

Choosing a virtual assistant

Remember: while a VA might not be an employee, they’re still likely to be representing you and your business on a regular basis. So choose wisely. Here are a few of the most important things to look for in a VA:

Customer service skills. They may just be ‘virtual’ but they could be the ones responding to your clients and suppliers over e-mail or the phone. First impressions are important, so pay attention when you first get in touch. How did they come across on the phone? How was their spelling and grammar when they e-mailed you back?
Reliability and efficiency. How long did it take them to respond to your enquiries? That’s how long it might take them to respond to an important client or an urgent request.
Relevant skills and experience. You should expect just the same evidence that they’re the right fit for the job as you would when hiring a physical assistant – project management, IT skills, experience with crucial software, and so on. Ideally, they’d also offer some references for you to investigate.
Their home-office set up. Do they have the ability to keep people on hold and answer more than one call from their home phone? Do they have all the software that you’ll require – book-keeping, payroll, or desktop publishing? Will they be able to take a call from one of your customers without the VA’s child screaming in the background?
Their availability. Many VAs will have other commitments to keep them busy and that’s probably why they chose to work remotely in the first place. So be honest from the outset about what you expect from them. And if they’re good at their job, do your best to be flexible with them – their commitment to you is just as low as yours is to them.

Hiring a virtual assistant is often touted as a great way to free up an entrepreneur’s time with minimal additional cost. Have you found a virtual assistant who’s changed the way you manage your business? Or would you never give up on your trusted employee assistant?