Virtual assistants, or VAs, have proven to be valuable assets to any business enterprise, even if they do not in work in a typical office environment. As the term suggests, virtual assistants are workers who perform specific tasks virtually or remotely. That means they have their own office and can work effectively with even minimal supervision. That being said, virtual assistants provide a wide range of professional assistance services, including but not limited to creative, social, technical, and administrative.
Virtual assistants communicate their clients through fax, phone, and the Internet, with more instances of the latter. The advent of the internet and its becoming an integral part of any business strategy has bolstered the demand for virtual assistants all over the world. In most cases, virtual assistants work for small and starting businesses. Usually, the tasks assigned to online assistants are comprised of answering phone calls, setting up appointments, and communicating with clients. However, it not uncommon for top corporate executives to delegate more complex work to online assistants, such as bookkeeping, billing, online research, and other specific and confidential tasks.
Because of the unique nature of the profession, Virtual assistants are considered as private contractors rather than full-time employees. But that said, the number of online assistants steadily increases due to many factors apart from their expertise. For one, virtual assistants are like executives secretaries but are more cost-effective in terms of salaries. Two, virtual assistants work remotely in their own office and using their own equipment. In contrast, office-based assistants take up office space and require office equipment in order to perform their jobs.
Do you feel the need for a virtual assistant? Here are some expert tips you could use in choosing the right pick among a wide selection of talented online workers all over the world:
- Determine your needs. Before you scour the internet database and search for the right virtual assistant, you need to distinguish first which jobs require delegating. This is important because like all other people, online assistants cannot wear all hats and know all trades and you need to find one that will provide expertise in areas where you greatly need help, because if you require help with communications and customer service, it is best that you find someone who is well versed in such area. Or if you require expert assistance in bookkeeping and billing, you can go for a virtual assistant who has knowledge in accounting. When choosing a virtual assistant, always look at their skill set and make sure they have the experience and expertise to meet your needs.
- Aside from skill set, it is important that a virtual assistant can be reached any time and respond timely as well. Communication is a fundamental ingredient in this type of working arrangement. The right online assistant must answer phone calls and emails in a timely manner and can converse with you without a hitch. If he or she performs great while talking to you, it’s also likely that he or she will communicate in the same manner when engaged with your clients, colleagues, and prospective customers.
- Reputation and image are also huge considerations when choosing a virtual assistant. It is best that you look over their portfolio, check their websites, and look at their social media accounts like Facebook and LinkedIn. The latter is very important if you want to know how they are outside their professional boundaries. Never underestimate the power of references as they can provide information on your potential VA’s performance and productivity as well as their rating of approval and recommendation.
- Budget is an important factor in picking the right VA. But never go beyond what your funds can afford to. Inexperienced and fresh virtual assistants may cost less but lack the skills you need to help you with your work. Experienced online assistants may be pricey but carry the tools you require to get the job done. As a simple rule, it is always best to go for the best your money can afford.
In essence, virtual assistants are really just contractors working in virtual space. But many of them have become too valuable for the organizations they work for. As put by Jaleh Bisharat, vice president of marketing at oDesk.com,
they become a team member who just happens to work remotely.
Pick the right one and you will have someone who is bound to become a very important part of your roster and essential to the success of your business.
More Useful Tips You Need To Know
When hiring a virtual assistant, it is best that you assign them with easier tasks at first, and then gradually provide them with complex assignments as time progresses. This is very helpful especially if you hire virtual assistants for general services.
Such action will help you test the capabilities of your VA and see if he or she has what it takes to become a good fit to your organization. Constantly challenge them with more complicated tasks but never delegate difficult assignments right away. You might end up with poor output and end up wasting good amount of money.
If you need to hire someone to help you with really complicated tasks, then you better hire someone with the experience and the skills right away. Do make sure that your hire someone who can validate their expertise by providing portfolios of previous work, references, and certifications from reputable organizations.
Before you hire someone, always understand that you are going to employ someone who is probably hundreds of miles and several time zones away. That said, you need to clarify your position especially if you are assigning work that involves intellectual and business property concerns. You do not want figure in an IP-related issues with someone so far from you.
Work Often Delegated To Virtual Assistants
Virtual assistants can provide general assistance services for menial tasks such as answering phone calls, responding to emails, and setting up appointments. But many entrepreneurs and small to medium size businesses tap virtual assistants who specialized in certain fields of expertise. There are several fields of business that a good virtual assistant can help you with. The following areas are some of the common yet particular jobs often given to virtual assistants.
Perhaps the most common, farmed out work assigned even to the most experienced virtual assistants is research. Employers often give the research work to virtual assistants, which include but not limited to corporate information, seeking data on new products or innovation, and exploring the web for potential business contacts and employees. Many companies also send out their virtual assistants to check on relevant social media information on websites like Facebook and Twitter for trending topics, demographic analysis, and potential subjects for blogs.
Social obligations and tasks
Small to medium sized business owners as well as top executives are sometimes obligated to perform social chores such as writing thank you notes, ordering holiday deliveries, and sending holiday cards. Admittedly, these tasks can be quite time-consuming and are often given to virtual assistants as part of their roles so executives can channel their time and effort on other important priorities.
Events planning and appointments
With a myriad of planning tools available online, planning has become an integrated part of virtual assistant’s job description. This means scheduling appointments, interviews, and conferences in their clients’ calendar. Sue Kramer Harrawood, president of Peace of Mind Virtual Assistance, a VA firm based in Orland Park, Ill., says it helps clients to “comfortable and letting go of that calendar.”
Virtual assistants are also tapped to help clients with their travel plans such as making hotel reservations, setting up an itinerary, and purchasing plane tickets. The internet is now filled with travel tools that help VAs to carefully and meticulously design the travel programs of their employers.
Database entry work
Another common assignment delegated to virtual assistants is to keep the database current and updated. This means entering new information provided by the clients such as business cards gathered from a seminar or updating existing information. Harrawood advises that it is best that employers pick VAs who have an extensive experience in database entry and provide clear instructions to minimize, if not eliminate, errors. An updated database is essential in any business organization, as current information helps them in following up with existing clients or chase and convert potential contacts.
Presenting information in a very appealing and convincing PowerPoint demonstration or turning raw information into readable and understandable documents have fallen to the realm of the virtual assistants. Preparing such presentations can be a taxing and time-consuming activity and assigning such tasks to virtual assistants save clients a lot of time.
Keeping up with the industry is important for people who want to drive their businesses forward. However, not everyone has the luxury of time to spare on reading the latest news, recent innovations, and technology updates among others. Virtual assistants can be of great help in keeping their clients in the loop by keeping tabs on the most important and significant news within the industry. In many cases, virtual assistants initiate and engage in Twitter conversations with their companies’ clients and prospects, making it appear that their “executives” appear to be updated with current news.
Of Being A Virtual Assistant
When the Internet came and become a huge factor in the daily routine of people, it also became a pivotal tool that permanently changed the way people live. Buying and selling can now be done right at the comforts of one’s own home. Long distance communication no longer means sending letters via the postal service and telegram. News now spread faster than wildfire thanks for social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter.
In a nutshell, the entry of internet has changed a lot of things in this world. And that includes how people now work and earn their keep. While many are still hooked to the 9 to 5 daily office grind, many individuals are now becoming to something that do not gobble office space and require office equipment yet can effectively perform tasks like a normal executive secretary would. What they often need is a functional computer or laptop, a reliable internet connection, and a very nice room to serve as their private office.
They are what many refer to as virtual assistants. And you can become one of them if you have all three mentioned above and more.
The virtual assistant position has become a ground for women who are displaced from their previous work or have faced extreme difficulties because of certain limitations, such as lack of education as well as few employment opportunities. Other came to be because they require supplement their income. That said, there are male virtual assistants too.
It is an appealing and very attractive industry, as evidenced by the growing number of professional virtual assistants worldwide. The startup costs are very low and the potential for income is huge. As mentioned already, the essential tools of the trade include a computer, a good internet connection, and your own private office, which could be your spare room in the attic or a nice spot in your living room. With such elements almost readily available to just about anyone, it is no wonder why many are indeed attracted to this particular line of work. There are also quite a few who have claimed that such work has afforded them to enjoy a perfect balance between professional and personal aspects of their existence.
But this work is nowhere near a walk in the park, says Sharon B. Williams of The 24-Hour Secretary. Williams advises novices to take caution when treading the path of a virtual assistant.
To become successful, you need a good marketing strategy in addition to that phone, PC and Internet connection,
she says. In many instances, starting virtual assistants have to spend 15 to 18 hours of work on a daily basis and sometimes, they have to work during weekends and on holidays to deliver the goods.
Williams also points out the importance of having a wide range of abilities prior to becoming one. More than just the tools, it is also fundamental that aspiring virtual assistants must include in the equation their experience, business plans, and training. The competition is very stiff for those who are still starting out and have no specialized skill sets. Competition is also tight for experienced VAs but they often given priority by many clients.
Anyone can become a virtual assistant. But to evolve into a successful practitioner of the trade is quite a challenge, according to experienced VAs. Angela Allen-Parker, owner of Wicked Wordcraft, said that when she decided to become a virtual assistant back in 1999, the shift did not only affect her career. It also had huge impacts on her lifestyle. The same thing happened to Pamela Braue, a former paralegal who entered the virtual assistant industry in 2003.
Allen-Parker and Braue did not settle on becoming virtual assistants providing general services. They both leaned on their individual tools and skill set to excel. Allen-Parker is a highly experienced marketing specialist and worked as a VA who specializes in business marketing approaches. Adding to her knowledge in legal matters, Braue enrolled in real estate courses and become a very successful virtual assistant who caters to clients working within the real estate industry.
Susan Totman, founder of Elite Office Support, actually agrees with the actions of both Allen-Parker and Braue. She often recommends to novice VAs to really dig deep within themselves, analyze their background, and determine what kind of services they want to offer.
Totman also advises to people who want to become VAs to enrol in VA seminars and training workshops to get a good look of the VA’s work life. These classes are helpful in preparing VA aspirants to become acquainted with the VA’s routine. Advanced workshops in the future also helps in instilling best practices and habits that VAs need to perform well.
It is important to understand that the virtual assistant position is ushered by the Internet, an ever evolving and changing tool. With that said, a good virtual assistant must change and evolve to keep up with the innovations introduced by the internet and other technologies that birthed such occupation.
Getting the Most Out Of Your Virtual Assistant
As someone who wants to ascend the corporate ladder or excel in the business world, you want to direct your efforts on important things and not waste your time on something like answering phone calls and writing emails. Truth be told, tasks can be so mundane and repetitive that it practically dulls the mind. In the business and corporate landscape, you need sharp mind to succeed.
These days, with all the progress technology has made, the contemporary entrepreneur and business executive no longer need to hire a full-time or even a part-time secretary to help you with the office chores. Now, you can leverage office work to someone with the skills and qualifications for a fraction of the cost you will shell out if you set to employ an office worker.
Virtual assistants are now becoming an essential part of the corporate and business fabric of the modern era. Even if they are time zones away from you and mountains and oceans literally separate your office space from theirs, virtual assistants have proven to be instrumental in helping many companies achieve their corporate goals.
Here are some of the reasons why so many entrepreneurs hire and form their own virtual staff:
- They require help with office work yet cannot provide office equipment and space for new employees;
- Effective communication with colleagues, clients, and potential customers becomes a tad difficult if not delegated to someone else;
- Scheduling appointments, making hotel reservations, and placing online orders can be quite taxing if someone is not around to help.
And there are quite a few more very good reasons why hiring a virtual assistant is a sensible move these days. But say you already hired a VA to help you with some of the tasks you need to delegate. The challenge here becomes quite obvious – how do you get the most out of your VA?
According to Sheila Penton, a businesswoman who has extensively worked with VAs for quite a long time, the key is to let the VAs know their roles, how they are going to contribute to team, and what to expect. Helping them settle in their roles and understand their responsibilities will allow them to digest why they were hired in the first place.
Once they have a good understanding of the reasons why they were selected, there is a high probability of better performance and high quality output, as well as low probability of clarifications and errors.
It also helps that you present tasks as clearly as you can. Providing a clear set of instructions will greatly diminish the possibility of mistakes and bad production from your virtual assistant.
But perhaps the best way to get the most out of your VA is communication. Communication is a two-way street so it does not just entail you giving out orders and demanding perfection. Allowing your VA to give recommendations and incorporate inputs from time to time. Such action will make your VA feel appreciated and valued and that feeling has a ton of positive effects that reflects on performance.
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