Would a Virtual Assistant (VA) Help Your Small Business?

Face it: dreams of business ownership do not match up with the reality. You envision a life spent pushing your industry knowledge and skills to create products or services that are unmatched anywhere in the world. In fact, you spend a large portion of every day handling phone calls, paperwork and other administrative tasks.

If you don’t have the funds to justify hiring a full-time employee, a VA might be a viable way to get many everyday jobs off of your plate. This will not eradicate every unpleasant chore, but it can definitely provide more time for the work that you love.

So, Exactly What is a VA?

Imagine a workplace that focuses on your business’ primary purpose. The inevitable mountains of necessary paperwork exist in a magical remote location, where an unseen angel takes care of them. That angel is a VA.

The actual services performed by VAs vary based on their abilities and your needs, but the following are examples of common types of things that they can take off your plate:

  • Filtering and handling email communications
  • Paying the bills
  • Keeping control over your calendar
  • Communicating with customers and vendors
  • Handling the administrative tasks for your website and social media accounts
  • And yes, possibly running the occasional personal errand for you

Don’t be fooled by this list, though. The right agency can find a person or a team to handle anything imaginable. They might even be able to do it all in multiple languages, if that’s what you need.

What are the Benefits of Retaining VA Services?

We’ve already discussed the most obvious benefits: they lessen the administrative burden at a reasonable cost. Here are more benefits:

  • Greater efficiency: VAs are well-organized by nature, but they also force you to proceduralize the handling of administrative work. If you’re not a highly procedural person by nature, don’t worry; a good VA will help guide you.
  • More productivity: Administrative support allows you to create more output every day.
  • A reduced knowledge gap: You can’t avoid the need to understand everything from basic accounting to website maintenance. But, VAs that have the right knowledge can do the work even as you learn.
  • Increased hours of operation: Do you buy from vendors across the globe, or need to provide real-time support for some highly-valued customers in the United Kingdom? You can hire VA support from anywhere in the U.S. or the world to handle all matters even while you catch a few hours of much-needed sleep each night.

Sounds Great; Are There Any Downsides?

Naturally, hiring an outside individual to help with your workload is not always perfect. Before taking the plunge, be aware of some cautions:

  • You’re not the only customer: A typical VA has at least a few customers, so don’t always expect your VA to be available beyond the normal schedule without advanced notice. Also, while a good VA always appears to be an employee to the outside world, a full-time employee might be more dedicated and loyal to your business.
  • You can’t precisely supervise them: You probably have a good idea of how much work your VA can produce in the allotted time, but they’re not in-house. You can’t just walk up to make sure they’re working, but that’s OK, as long as they get the job done.
  • Haphazard procedures won’t work: Small businesses are flexible and fluid, which allows them to meet sudden customer needs. While sudden changes in processes may work fine for your in-house employees, many VAs need set procedures to get your work done effectively. If you need excessive flexibility from your VA, then this might not be the right time to bring one onboard.
  • You can face security issues: Can you be sure that your trade secrets are safe — or that access to your confidential data does not represent a huge security risk? Of course, in-house employees can represent similar risks. Make sure that the VA you hire does not also work for competing companies, and that they sign all appropriate non-disclosure agreements. Then, just as you would do for employees, avoid providing access to more data than is needed, establish a good level of trust before providing that access. Check out our article, Staying Secure Online for some helpful tips.

Are There Tricks to Getting it Right?

If VA services sound like a good fit for your business, then you have two basic options. You might choose to retain a VA through a contract company, or you might hire a self-employed VA. In either case, it is important to understand the ins and outs of hiring to make sure that you get the taxes and other legal issues correct.

Whatever you decide, be sure to follow these tips to get it right:

  • Think before you leap: First, get a good idea of the type of work that you will need. Before you sign a contract, get references — and use them, (reliable online reviews are a bit hard to find.. Don’t forget to check general freelance sites, as well. Upwork is one such site, and it lets you target your search based on your specific work requirements.
  • Try to get a freebie first: Free trial periods are often available. Trying before buying makes sense.
  • Look into a variety of sources: You might find self-employed VAs on an individual basis (LinkedIn is one source), but you might prefer to work through an agency. To get you started, this Virtual Assistant Reviews & Ratings page lists many highly-rated agencies. Agencies offer the advantage of pre-screening, which can help avoid some of the downsides. They might also offer a team of VAs who can work together to handle any combination of specific needs.
  • Talk directly with potential VAs: Whether you need one VA or a team, interview anyone who will be working for you to check for compatible traits. Make sure that you communicate well to ensure you will have stellar two-way understanding. You also want a good personality fit; a person who doesn’t get your jokes could present future discomfort.

A Good Way to Make Your Job Fun Again

You started your business with a vision of doing the work that excites you. If you wake up each day facing non-stop drudgery, then hiring a VA is worth consideration. You can’t avoid all unpleasant tasks (it’s called work for a reason), but you can strike a better balance that includes fun in every day.

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