What Is A Virtual Assistant (VA)?

Your Virtual Office Assistant is that indispensable element of your office staff that you just cannot do without.  A VA is an independent contractor who can handle your non-core support needs from a distance via email, fax, instant messaging, telephone, diskette transfer, cassette tape, overnight courier, or whatever you specify. 

VAs, like many of their clients, are the Entrepreneurs of their own companies. Often, they become the long-term "growth partners" of their clients, handling such tasks as administrative support, market research, bookkeeping, confidentiality, scheduling and client contact, or other more specialized areas such as Web site design and maintenance.

A VA is not an employee of your company but in fact is a small business owner and as such define their success by customer satisfaction. They are not someone you only want to type a single project. VAs become an integral part of your business or executive success. VAs pride themselves on becoming a part of your company and as such are highly interested in helping your small business, or you personally, to succeed. They get to know you so as to interpret your needs and assist you in attaining your goals. They work to know your customers and aide you in maintaining close contact with your customer base all the while freeing up your valuable time to focus on the more essential parts of your business.

What Cost Savings Can I Expect With A VA?

The Virtual Assistant is not paid for lunch or breaks, sick leave, vacation, training, etc. These calculations are based on a 25 hour work week which is equivalent to the 40 hour work week of a salaried employee. 

Cost Savings Comparison

 

Compensation

Virtual Assistant

Salaried Employee

Base Salary of an Administrative Assistant (according to Salary.com)

$36,000 per year average

$38,400 per year average

$30 per hour

$20 per hour

25 hours per week

40 hours per week

Bonuses

$0

$557

Social Security

$0

$2,783

401k/403b

$0

$1,669

Disability

$0

$1,113

Healthcare

$0

$5,565

Pension

$0

$1,113

Vacation/Sick Leave

$0

$4,452

 

 

 

Total

$36,000 annually

$55,652 annually

 

What Are The Added Benefits Of Hiring A Virtual Assistant As Opposed To An On-Site Employee?

The benefits are numerous, ranging from the obvious -- no employee taxes, benefits, insurance, OSHA issues, or jeopardy of lawsuits, to the less obvious -- instant marketing support across time zones and countries, fewer management issues, and more.

OBLIGATION / BENEFIT

EMPLOYEE

V. A.

You pay only for time spent on tasks or as arranged per project and you never have to pay overtime

-

A sounding board if needed

-

Assists you in staying on track and on schedule

-

Handles seasonal or periodic projects, whatever is needed

-

No need to buy additional computer equipment or purchase and configure expensive office furniture to OSHA standards

-

No computer or software training needed

-

Convenience when your current staff gets overloaded

-

No time wasted on breaks or personal issues

-

Available specifically for you only when you need services

-

No extra office space is required.  No extra rent and/or loss of privacy

-

No need to buy an extra desk, chair, phone or supplies

-

You must pay employer social security taxes

-

You must collect and pay FICA taxes

-

You must pay worker's compensation insurance

-

You must pay federal and state unemployment taxes

-

You must comply with OSHA

-

You must comply with the Federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FFLSA) including minimum wage and overtime payment

-

You must comply with Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA).

-

You may be required to pay medical benefits, dental benefits, and vision care benefits

-

You may be required to pay vacation time, sick time and holiday time

-

You may have to pay for other employee benefits such as 401K, retirement plans, etc.

-

You need to pay someone to administer the above three

-

You have legal responsibilities that include employee policies on working hours, sexual harassment, vacation time, sick time, leave of absence, holidays, benefits, performance reviews, grievances, terminations, substance abuse and training

-

If you hire someone and lay them off, your unemployment rate may increase for years to come

-

If you face the unpleasant experience of having to fire an employee, make sure you have solid legal grounds or you may face a lawsuit

-

 

How Can Small Business Owners And Upper Level Executives Use VAs?

Advances in technology and changes in corporate policy are enabling a growing number of employees to take their work home. There are approximately 15.7 million telecommuters or teleworkers today in the US
alone, according to the International Telework Association and Council in Washington -- this increasingly popular arrangement allows employees the freedom to better balance their careers and home life as well as provide a priceless service for the small business owner to the upper level executive.  Every small business owner and executive can be just as unique as the VA they choose to work with.  The challenge is to find a good match and build a relationship of trust thru experience and professionalism. 

The Virtual Assistant is not a temp, not an employee, but a self-employed professional Administrative Assistant who can cater to the needs of the individual client and tailor his/her services on case-by-case basis.  Most VAs are top-notch administrative support that quickly learn the core of your business, understands your goals and can anticipate your needs as well as meet them.  A professional VA can also serve as a sounding board that can prove to be invaluable to the small business owner.

How Do VAs Process Work Flow?

VAs can handle workflow via email, instant messaging services (such as Windows Messenger, ICQ or AIM), fax, telephone, diskette transfer, cassette tape, overnight courier, postal service or whatever you specify.  You will usually find that -- though the VA may be at any physical distance from your office, he/she is just as accessible as the person "down the hall" and often even more familiar with how your business runs.

Why Should I Outsource To A VA?

Outsourcing is a way that all businesses can remain competitive.  Rather than keeping a team of experts on the payroll, outsourcing work enables the small business owner or executive to utilize the skills and experience of a VA without having to pay full-time salaries, health and sickness benefits, etc.  Some advantages would be that it enables the development of successful, long-term partnerships between the VA and client(s). The experienced VA can take responsibility for some of the non-core functions of the business, thus freeing the client to concentrate on other areas of expertise, such as Research and Development or marketing, which are of more direct benefit to the business and the bottom line.  Outsourcing also saves you time by tapping into capabilities that may not be available to you internally.  It also increases scheduling flexibility and resource availability, which usually results in reduced time to market.

The key to success of outsourcing is a well-managed relationship between the Virtual Assistant and end-user. Commitment to a true partnership and the development of a shared vision will ultimately create the greatest sustainable value for both businesses. The more you work with your chosen VA, the more understanding of your needs and the better the service he/she can provide. Joining forces with a highly focused and skilled Virtual Assistant allows the client time to boost revenue growth and market share while implementing improvements in customer service. Combined, these benefits translate into increased competitive power.

What Do I Need To Start Working With A VA?

To work with a VA, all you need is the office equipment you probably already have -- phone, fax, computer, and Internet connection. If possible, make sure your hardware is compatible with your VA's. For example, if one of you uses a Mac and the other a PC, it may take a bit more work and a few compromises to get yourselves in sync.  It particularly helps if you both use the same software. For example, if you both use the same email program, it will be easier for her to check your in box when you're away.

Most VAs have prewritten work agreements that they will ask you to review and sign. These outline their policies and work style (for example, some VAs don't work Fridays or ask you not to call after 7 p.m.). These agreements also outline their fees.

When Would A VA Not Fit For You?

With all the wonderful things said about a VA, one just may not be right for you if you need someone on call every working hour.  While technically you're the boss, your VA is in charge of her own schedule just like you. For example, some VAs do all their work at night; their clients find piles of finished tasks in their email in boxes every morning. If you need immediate turnaround at all hours of the day and night, in most cases a VA would not be able to provide you with that service.  A VA usually handles several clients and at times may not be available right away.  If you have a habit of procrastinating and most of your projects are "RUSH" jobs most VA's would not be a good fit for you.

While a VA could help improve your paper flow, she can't clean your desk for you.  Some clients choose to have all of their business bills and bank statements sent directly to their VA's office instead of their own.  The VA can reconcile them, pay them, and file them in her own space, which can dramatically cut paper load.  If you have a difficult time "letting go" of control then again a VA would not be a good fit.

Keep in mind that VAs are freelancers, they have the ability to take care of work when and how they wish, as long as they hit your deadline. "You have to learn to let go," says Stacy Brice, founder of AssistU, a VA training agency. "Sometimes we see controlling clients try to delegate tasks to their VAs, but they end up making more work for themselves because they just can't let go."