What is a virtual assistant?
Ah, the wonders of technology: A virtual assistant (VA) is someone who offers a variety of business services from a remote location—it's one of the ways people can make money working from home
. A VA can be useful to entrepreneurs, online businesses, bloggers, authors, or anyone that wants help without physically staffing an office. When you're a busy entrepreneur working solo—a solo-preneur—time management is essential for success.
Thomas Vargeletis, author of Your First Year in Real Estate
, and founder of LAER3D
, runs a real estate photography business and relies on two to three VAs on a regular basis. He partnered with an entire real estate brokerage with more than 400 agents and, in order to handle that load, he needed to enlist VAs. "I am leveraging my time with VA's working on video editing, adding audio, photo editing, processing my virtual tours, and website development," says Vargeletis. "Without the VA's, I would not have been able to work such a fast and competitive business model." The tasks a VA run the gamut from calendar management,
How much will a virtual assistant cost me?
"Per job, I typically pay between $10-$25 for video and photo editing, depending on the size and speed of delivery. Per hour ranges from $5 to $8.50 for more complicated tasks like web development and processing my virtual tours," says Vargeletis.
Sharon Garofalow, a life and style blogger at Cupcakes and Cutlery, found her VA by asking other bloggers. Her VA performs tasks specific to the blog. "I know that the tasks I ask her to do are around $5 each, so each week is different depending on how much content I'm putting out or Pinterest updates I'm doing. But there may come a time, shortly, where I pay her a monthly fee and she has a regular set of things that she does for me."
For a VA, the income isn't always dependable. It's feast or famine for some. "I've made as little as $15 an hour and as much as $50,000 a year," says Louise DiCarlo of Stony Brook, New York, who has been a virtual assistant since 2000, working for a handful of companies at one time, including mega ones like Oxygen Media. A VA with a specific skill set will fetch a higher hourly/per job rate.
Melissa St. Clair, owner of Paper Chaser, utilizes her degree in management to provide communications, Internet research, and project and event support for $45 an hour.
Where do I find a virtual assistant?
If you're an entrepreneur, you're always looking for ways to improve your business. Often, that means hiring people to grow with your business—though the trick is how do you find someone you can trust, especially someone you may never meet in person? "There are tons of people who call themselves VAs but I wanted someone who came from a recommendation and was trusted by people that I trust," says Garofalow.
Vargeletis took a different approach. "I use platforms like Upwork and Fiverr to hire VAs around the world and help me grow my business on a tight budget."
Marlyne Pierce, a Business and Leadership Consultant at modernmogulhq.com, hired two acquaintances that were eager to help with her podcast, but she also found one on a Facebook group page.
VAs offer a wide variety of services
What does a virtual assistant do? Perhaps the better question is: What don't they do? "Some of the tasks I do are database management, business reports, internet research, personal correspondence, gift sending, personnel training, email maintenance, editing, social media maintenance, press release newsletters, banking and travel arrangements," says DiCarlo. VAs also perform tasks that require specialized skill sets like audio and video programming, bookkeeping or website design. (Think you need a career change? Here's how to know
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VAs save you money
Whether your business is growing or you just want to cut your 70 hour work week back to 40, hiring a part-time employee can be a daunting task. Do you have the office space and equipment for their work area? (By the way, here's how to set up a super-productive workspace
.)Will you have to train them? Then there're the taxes, benefits, vacation and sick time to consider. A VA is responsible for all those expenses. You pay your employee an hourly rate whether they are productive or not, yet with a VA, you only pay for the time they actually worked. "I am able to keep total VA payroll hundreds of times cheaper than hiring full or part-time employees at my office," says Vargeletis.
They give you more time
There's only so much you can squeeze into a day
. Even if you have the time, you may not have all the skills you need to reach your business goals. A VA can free up precious time so you can network or spend more time with your family. "My VAs have been one of the best investment in my business," says Pierce. "They help me get key things accomplished without me having to learn new skills to do it all. These attributes and skills are necessary to keep things running smoothly, particularly in a launch," says Pierce.
Garofalow sings the praises of her VA. As a busy, blogger there are a minutiae of small yet important tasks that eat away at her day. "My VA helps me to get more engagement on the posts via 'chore threads' which are a way for bloggers to support each other, but is very time-consuming and I've never been able to fit it in to my day," says Garofalow. "She actually knows more about how to work efficiently than I do making it a really good use of my money."
They're your Mini-Me
In some situations, your VA will represent you and your company. It is essential your on the same page regarding your voice, brand and service. Pierce employs three VAs for her podcasts. "They are professional and responsive and they also communicate well—on top of being great at what they do. "These attributes and skills are necessary to things running smoothly, particularly in a launch," says Pierce.
They keep you on track
This Is Me/Shutterstock
So how do you effectively communicate with a VA to be productive
? Garofalow primarily uses e-mail when collaborating on her blog but occasionally a phone call is necessary. Also, knowing there's an established timeline with them helps to stay on track with getting tasks completed. Pierce keeps tabs on her VA productivity by phone, video conference, and e-mails. "Dropbox and Google Drive are our go-to for sharing large files and deliverables," says Pierce. "Also, knowing I have an established timeline with them helps me to stay on track with getting tasks completed." Vargeletis uses a more hands-off approach with a messaging and file transfer service provided by Upwork. "They also have an app that takes screenshots of the virtual assistant's screens and logs their time on a project, so I can check in on their work without needing to communicate verbally," notes Vargeletis.
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Virtual assistants can make you look good
Besides giving you more time to spend on developing or maintaining your business, a skilled VA will also help you look good. They can take on tasks that you're too busy to do or aren't in your wheelhouse, like professional presentations, newsletters or engaging social media posts. In fact, DiCarlo found work by finding errors in what social media leaders were posting. "On Twitter I would follow leaders of social media and if I found errors in what they put out I would private message them and tell them that I could help them," recalls DiCarlo. "My first client had an ebook loaded with errors that I sent back to him re-edited. He hired me on the spot." A VA with social media skills could help promote your business too—just remember not to post these 10 things that could sabotage your career
How to keep a good virtual assistant
Once you find the perfect VA, you'll wonder how you ever worked without one—until you lose them. A human touch is still essential in this virtual venue. Check out these eight ways to build trust with co-workers
. "Treat VAs like a partner," recommends Pierce. "It's important for me to know and trust their expertise so I'm not the only person doing all the thinking." Though there are cheaper outsourcing options for hiring VAs, it's more important for Pierce to have the interaction and collaboration she enjoys with her VAs.