How Your Small Business Can Effectively Use a Virtual Assistant

I came across a very interesting article recently from The Harford and thought this is worth sharing.

One of the first things to tackle when you want to improve productivity as a small business owner involves effectively delegating duties you don’t need to do yourself. And with so many tasks required to run (and hopefully grow) a business, getting good help is critical. Not all business owners, however, want or need the cost and commitment of a full-time staff. For many productive small business owners, virtual assistants (VAs) can shoulder the burden of regularly required tasks, freeing up time to work on activities that grow their businesses.

If you’re looking to get more done right away but don’t have the budget or desire to take on new employees, consider hiring one—or more—virtual assistants. Here’s the lowdown on why you should get a VA, what they can do for you, where to find one, how much they may charge, as well as what to watch out for.


What is a Virtual Assistant? VA Basics

A VA works in a different location from your own business, usually in either their own home or office, and may even live in a different country. Thus, your working relationship is “virtual,” meaning you communicate via phone and/or computer.


A VA most often works as a freelancer or independent contractor, and often operates as a small business owner or solopreneur themselves. Many of these assistants provide administrative or secretarial-type services.


Types of Tasks a Virtual Assistant Can Perform For You

VAs perform a variety of tasks for small businesses of all sizes, ranging from daily, repetitive tasks to more specialized activities and projects, such as creating and maintaining websites and carrying out online marketing campaigns. Of course, the types of tasks you plan on having your VA cover will determine the skill level needed—and affect how much you pay them.


A VA could help with any of the following tasks:


  • Scheduling appointments
  • Making travel plans
  • Completing event planning tasks
  • Responding to and/or managing email
  • Entering data for customer orders
  • Updating databases
  • Proofreading and/or editing documents
  • Responding to customers via phone or email
  • Making follow-up calls to sales prospects
  • Bookkeeping/accounting/invoicing
  • Creating and scheduling social media postings
  • Creating and scheduling blog posts, including research and internal linking
  • Finding and editing images for social media posts and blog posts
  • Creating, scheduling and maintaining digital marketing assets like newsletters and email lists
  • Creating and updating your website


How a Virtual Assistant Can Help A Small Business

Virtual assistants help businesses in several ways. Using a VA offers three main benefits to business owners: more time, expanded skill sets and bandwidth to grow.


Virtual Assistants Save Time

Hiring a VA helps small businesses save time, because an assistant can complete repetitive, time-consuming tasks that don’t require a business owner’s personal attention.


Virtual Assistants Provide Expanded Skills and Experience

VAs may also offer businesses access to skill sets that they or their current permanent staff don’t personally have. One business owner says VAs add marketing experience to her business, carrying out ongoing online marketing campaigns and helping with new product launches.


“With the help of VAs, my email list tripled last year from 3,500 to 10,000,” explains. “And I launched two online courses for autism professionals and gung-ho parents, which have already been sold to participants from 40 different countries.”


Virtual Assistants Help Businesses Grow Without Additional Full-Time Staff

VAs are especially useful when you’re growing but aren’t quite ready to hire an employee, says Diane Diresta, author, founder and CEO of DiResta Communications, Inc., a New York City-based consultancy serving business leaders who deliver high stakes presentations.


“A VA allows you to grow at your own pace,” Diresta, who hired her VA 10 years ago, explains. “[My VA] has helped me tremendously.”


Another big benefit to working with a virtual assistant is that many operate as independent contractors, so you don’t pay for the insurance, payroll taxes or retirement benefits that normally go along with hiring a part-time or full-time employee. Make sure you clearly document this arrangement and don’t pay for anything other than hourly wages, preferably on a per-project basis instead of a long-term contract. Why? Doing so could point to an employer-employee arrangement, which could lead to a nasty IRS penalty at tax time.


Just remember to issue a 1099 tax form by January 31 if you’ve paid your VA more than $600 in the previous calendar year.


A final bonus is that Vas don’t take up costly office space.


How a Virtual Assistant Could Fit Into Your Business

Hiring a VA should help your business, not hinder it.


One of the secrets of being a good business owner is to focus on the work that only you can do and to farm the rest out to other employees, whether in-person or virtual,” says Catania. “Use VAs to open up your schedule, so you can do just that.”


It helps to have some idea of how an assistant would fit into your business, what tasks they could do and how you would manage them. Before taking the VA plunge, ask yourself these questions:


What tasks am I currently responsible for that anyone could do?

What tasks/projects need to be done for my business that none of my current team members know how to do?

What is the most immediate task/project a VA could take on as soon as they’re hired?

What could I do to grow the business if a VA was handling some of this work?

How do I want to manage my VA (e.g., via Skype, email or phone)?


How to Onboard and Train Your Virtual Assistant

Once you’ve selected a VA, it’s time to introduce him or her to your company, including training for the tasks that he or she will perform. Depending on your VA’s previous experience, training could take several hours or even just one short Skype, phone or teleconference session.


Think carefully about the tasks you plan for your VA to handle so you can determine the best way to train them. Possibilities include:


  • Using a web conference with shared screen access
  • Video conferencing
  • Creating and sharing slide decks with guideline documents
  • Preparing and sending a checklist of tasks along with their frequency


Virtual Assistant rates vary, expected due to the wide range of experience, professional accreditations, locations and quality of work.