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Twenty years ago assistants were only available to senior executives, managers & hot shots! Today, the internet allows even the most modestly funded entrepreneur & employer to hire their own assistant for practically any task of their choosing.

Q: What is a Virtual Assistant?
A: Virtual Assistants or VA’s are freelance workers that  assist executives, entrepreneurs & busy professionals by providing administrative services for a fee

Q: Where do they work from?
A: VA’s work from their own office away from their clients

Q: How do they charge?
A: Usually by the hours and it will vary from between £15-55 per hour depending on the services provided and the amount of hours used. Most VA’s will sell blocks of time to clients who use them on a regular basis and usually for a reduced hourly rate.

Some interesting figures:

74.1% of VA’s are based in the USA, followed by 9% in Canada, 8.2% in Australia & 3.3% in the UK.

Unless you get to meet your VA face to face you will probably find them via on-line networking & marketing sites so it can be hard to know who you can trust unless you have had a recommendation or referral. So here are a few things you may want to consider:

  • Look for VA’s with higher education or equivalent experience working as an executive PA with a large business or corporation or has the equivalent experience as a VA
  • They should have experience with common software such as email, Word, Excel, Publisher etc as well as many of the on-line programmes used for accounting, databases, newsletters etc
  • Ask about their ability to meet a deadline unsupervised and give them achievable ones – they are human after all and not super heroes!
  • Any VA should know their own skills and market only those. Beware of any VA who offers to do it all
  • Ask for at least one supportable positive reference.
  • Identify their credentials and experience
  • Many VA’s have a high level of education and experience in business situations. Remember, this person will be handling your personal arrangements and various work tasks so screen candidates carefully and look for someone whose background matches the work you require

Once you have found your VA you will need to spend some time with them (usually remotely) going through the tasks you want them to take on and sometimes showing them how to use any software they may not be familiar with.

  • Assign all regular tasks that divert you from your core duties. These tasks should be ones that are not crucial to the work you do & will unnecessarily eat up your time such as scheduling meetings, reservations, sending out newsletters or updating the CRM
  • Be clear about the deliverables you expect. This includes format of the file, number of files, method of delivery, due date etc. Leaving things to chance is a recipe for disaster
  • Give detailed instructions. In the early days your VA will not know your preferences. During the first few weeks/months be explicit in your communication about what you need – dates, locations etc – so there is no confusion about the process
  • Establish a process and policies. Over time begin to organise your preferences into polices. This will make it possible to send simple requests and know that it has been handled as you required
  • Define & reinforce these policies over time. The first few times your VA impresses you with their actions commend them on their work and emphasise that this is exactly what you expect in the future

Things to avoid

While the precise methods you use to develop your VA will vary, there are several mistakes that can be damaging to your working relationship. Avoid the following:

  • Do not use your VA to do tasks best performed by yourself.VA’s are there to free up your time and not to perform critical tasks on your behalf.  For example do not use VA’s to compose your blog posts – you are the expert in your field and know what you want to say. However use them to load the post to your site and give it the exposure it requires
  • Do not give your VA too much responsibility too soon. Allow them to prove themselves on increasingly bigger projects before trusting them with important documents or your credit card details!
  • Do not send instructions that could be misinterpreted. Every vague detail introduces the chance of confusion and the best instructions are those which are not ambiguous
  • Do not overreact to early mistakes. Even the most experienced VA will make mistakes in the beginning. So you should accept that your VA will occasionally make small errors
REMEMBER…DO WHAT YOU DO BEST & DELEGATE THE REST

The more your business grows, the more administrative tasks you have; the more time you spend on administrative tasks, the less time you have to generate new business.

How much is your time really worth? More than it costs to use a Virtual Assistant?

Time is your most valuable asset because it is your responsibility to generate new revenue for your business. Your second most valuable asset is your VA!

Doing small and often trivial administrative chores yourself does not really add value to your business and the sensible solution is to delegate those less profitable tasks by hiring someone more than capable of carrying them out, but whose hourly rate is somewhat less than your real financial worth. So what’s stopping you?

You may have a multitude of reasons that prevent you from hiring a full-time personal assistant. You may not need a full-time, or even part-time employee but just require someone for occasional or limited secretarial services. Then there are the employers responsibilities, employees are entitled to sick pay, maternity leave and paid holiday and often seek generous benefits packages. It is estimated that the true cost of an employee is over double and often up to triple the cost of their annual salary in terms of benefits and liabilities.

Significant for some potential employers is also the loss of privacy and space – are you working from home or have limited office space? You may not want an employee working from your home or simply not have the room for an additional employee in your office or all the equipment they may need.

Wouldn’t it be perfect if you had a business assistant that was always ready to work for you, but only when you need them? Providing administrative services from their own home or office, using their own equipment?  Meet the Virtual Assistant (VA), an invaluable work force that provides a practical solution for small businesses owners. A VA frees up your valuable time so you can concentrate on the important things that only you can do in your business.

There is no need to share office space or even for your VA to live in the same town or city. Work assignments are communicated through email; telephone, fax or post and web-based tools such as instant messengers and online calendars and planners are also often used as a means of keeping in touch.

Because your VA is self-employed, and invoices you only for the actual hours worked or by tasks completed, and is dependent on referrals and steady work flow from existing clients, she/he can be the perfect solution for a busy small business or entrepreneur. When you hire a VA you get all the benefits of outsourcing – no employer liabilities, tax and benefits issues, along with knowing you have someone to whom you can delegate.

You can easily justify a virtual assistant in terms of your greater productivity and your greater efficiency. You need to be the leader in your business and your VA will insure that you focus on what is important, rather than urgent. Your VA can also lend “size” to your company, which will impress potential clients.

As more and more businesses move their marketing and communications to the Internet, VA’s are becoming the obvious solution to staffing issues. For an hourly fee often less than the real cost of employees, businesses can take advantage of professional assistance and a variety of skills at the click of a mouse.

Utilising a Virtual Assistant

In the past we have been taught to work on our weaknesses. Current psychological research has discovered that this formula will give you marginal success at best. Operating to your strengths and doing what you do best is how to be successful. But that is not the only part of the mix and the second is to delegate your weaknesses. In fact, when you delegate a weakness to someone who does it better, faster and more efficient than you it becomes a strength.

If you choose to do those tasks that you enjoy or need to do then you are choosing not to do “something else”. This “something else” could be time with your family, friends or for yourself and of course not forgetting the bottom line – time with your clients. Your talents are better utilised where only you can perform particular tasks.

For example, if you move all your database information to a web based application it is accessible even when your computer is not and your VA and you can be using the application simultaneously in real time. Your VA will be able to make follow up calls, send out correspondence, post articles, do email marketing campaigns etc. When you’ve collected business cards this information needs to be checked and uploaded to your database. By using a Virtual Assistant you can delegate the post administrative tasks and this translates into time you can spend with clients instead of on administrative work. Your job is to show up and do what you do best. That is the idea. Do what you do best and delegate the rest!

Have a very clear picture of what you enjoy and what you are good at and make these the areas you spend your time on. Look at the areas of your business you put off or find difficult to do as these are most likely to be the areas that you need to delegate out to someone who is quicker and better at it than you.

For your business to grow and prosper effective delegation is the key and without the right team behind you, you cannot work to your full potential!

Doing your homework before you hire a Virtual Assistant can turn the vision into a reality. The notion of hiring a Virtual Assistant may seem too good to be true, however the following steps will get you on the right track to finding the right VA for you and it  will save you time and money when you do start looking!

As business owners themselves, Virtual Assistants are also professionals with experience in running a business so are understanding of your needs. Although some Virtual Assistants will specialise, they also have skills in many other areas so you will want to understand and appreciate what skills are most valuable to you.

If you follow these steps, the benefits will become obvious!

  • Write down the tasks you perform each day. You may want to do this over a week or two. Write down everything; checking email, calling customers, advertising, etc.
  • Go through your list and determine everything that is repetitive or can be considered a process, and create a new list.
  • As you perform each task on your list, document the steps as they are performed, from start to finish.
  • Create an “Actions” document for each task. This will increase your confidence that things will be done the way you want them to be done when you hand them over.
  • Make a new list of all the things you should be doing but can’t seem to find the time, and the projects that you lack the necessary skills to complete. It may be organising your inventory, getting your first website online, updating content, contacting previous customers, getting started with and running your Social Media Marketing or researching new opportunities.
  • Go through your “To Dos” and determine the types of experience needed to complete your projects (i.e. internet research, web design, customer service skills, etc.).

Now that you have all your processes documented, and you know the skills that you are looking for, you are ready to find a VA that fits your needs.

Who needs a Virtual Assistant?

More and more people are becoming familiar with the term “Virtual Assistant” or “VA” but who actually needs one? The answer is simple, anyone who owns a business!

Hiring a full or part-time employee can be expensive and many small businesses cannot afford them, however this doesn’t mean they don’t need one. In today’s tough economy it is even more important to spend time on building your business and providing excellent customer service to keep the business and clients you already have. We all know there are only so many hours in the day and it is often impossible for everything to be done by one person, especially those seemingly mundane, but important, daily admin tasks. This is when delegating to a VA can be a life saver.

So what type of business can benefit from the services of a Virtual Assistant? Small business owners, entrepreneurs, consultants, coaches and trainers, therapists, photographers, artists, journalists…the list is practically endless. There are so many small business owners who are overwhelmed with the amount of work they need to do to run their own business and need the help of an assistant.
Many business owners are unfamiliar with virtual administrative professionals and the services available. Some may feel that cannot afford one and continue to struggle with everything themselves, some may outsource to a variety of professionals rather than utilise the knowledge and expertise of one VA.

Why Hire a Virtual Assistant?

VA’s are your online, personal assistants who perform a variety of workloads including clerical, administrative and creative tasks such as:
• Schedule appointments
• Coordinate with clients, partners and other employees
• Screen and make calls
• Monitor emails
• Prepare reports and documents
• Update accounts and expenses
• Update blogs & websites
• Update client databases
• Create and send newsletters

VA’s are flexible with the length of service they provide as hours and requirements will differ from client to client and some VA’s will just specialise in specific jobs such as handling emails or incoming sales enquiries.

While a full or part-time employee is paid regardless of the amount of work given to them a VA is paid only when their services are needed. This means less expense to you because you are only paying for the time used to complete your work and not for any down time or coffee breaks!

Today’s technology and the speed that the internet gives us in the delivery and exchange of information means that communication today is as effective as face to face interactions. The internet continuously reaches new horizons and the world is becoming a smaller place which means that employment is not hindered by space and distance.

So why hire a VA? Because today’s technology means you can!

Channel Virtual Assistance

…when you need to cut your costs but not your service!

We are frequently being told by the government and economists that we are coming out of the recession and there’s an increase in economic activity. It will be interesting to see how the latest VAT increase is going to affect things as we are all anxious about our costs and everyone’s aim is to get back on track by cost cutting. One effective way is to sub-contract or outsource work to a third-party.

Outsourcing and contracting out is making its mark in the business world as more of us make the decision to delegate work outside our own companies. There are numerous reasons to sub-contract work: cost savings, focus on your core business objectives and more leisure time are just a few. Using the services of a Virtual Assistant is the best method to outsource your work load or projects.  Many of you will think that using a VA  is an extra cost to the business, but this is not the case. There are many ways in which a VA earns more for your business than the cost of hiring them, so when you need to cut costs, but not your service – a Virtual Assistant is the answer.

When you hire a VA there is no long-term commitment, so you can, not only reduce your payroll, you can also ensure that your work is completed within budget and as efficiently as by a full-time employee.

VA’s have a network of professionals and associates to help them so when you engage a VA you have access to this entire team, their expertise and knowledge. A full-time employee would not necessarily have this network behind them. You don’t need to hire a full or part-time individual to act as an office secretary because a VA can do this for you remotely. You don’t have to pay for office space, equipment, maintenance; salaries etc. as Virtual Assistants work from their own office and use their own equipment.

Cost wise, it makes sense to outsource your projects and business admin as this is the best way to cut down on costs without cutting down on your service, and you can focus growing your business.
Benefits to hiring a Virtual Assistant

• You do not need to provide office space or equipment
• Gives you the time to focus on your strengths and core business objectives
• As VA’s are not employees, you will not have to deal with taxes or benefits
• VA’s are committed to your success so that you continue to use their services
• You do not need to pay for any training
• You will be more productive and accomplish more
• Routine tasks can be outsourced and left in capable hands

A great thing about VA’s is that they are able to help you get your business running smoothly, whether you are a small, large or a growing business. They will be able to take some of the burdens off your shoulders and allow you to focus on what you do best.

It’s all about cost-effective delegation, so do what you do best and delegate the rest!

Caroline Brett, Channel VA

Disruption caused by the heavy snowfall could cost UK businesses about £1bn. The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) estimated 20% of the UK’s working population, or 6.4 million people, do not make it to work when faced with adverse weather. Figures published from the most definitive survey of the small business sector (February 2010). One in seven members of staff failed to make it into work during the heavy snow and severe weather earlier this year. Although half (51%) of small firms surveyed said they were prepared for severe weather disruption, staff were unable to get to work because of transport disruptions (29%) and school closures (11%) which meant that parents had to stay at home to look after their children. On average, a small business with seven members of staff saw one employee absent on at least one occasion – that is 15 % of staff (from responding businesses) unable to make it into work for at least a day because of snow-bound roads and closed schools.

The Centre for Economic and Business Research said that UK economic output or gross domestic product per day was about £4.5bn. If 20% of the population have zero productivity for the day, there is a loss of £900m. Companies’ cash flow could be hit by delayed payments as a result of the disruption and this could mean that an additional 2,000 to 3,000 businesses may fail as a result of the bad weather.

Businesses need to do all they can to maintain normal service levels and ultimately avoid losing customers and revenue.

This year, we in the UK have had unusually bad winter weather conditions and are experiencing extraordinary amounts of snowfall, in February and now during December. I know we don’t get it as bad as other parts of the world and everywhere else copes, but we are not used to it and we fall apart at the slightest hint of the white stuff! Transport systems fail, road networks are blocked and impassable for many days, airports close, staff members don’t get into work and everything grinds to a halt.

Everything that is except those of us who work virtually and from our own offices!

Many companies will have contingency plans for such situations and have arrangements for staff to work from home but how many companies have lost valuable time & money because their staff couldn’t get in to the office?

As a Virtual Assistant I was able to continue as normal, because I did not have to dig the car out of a snow drift or have a problem getting it started. I wasn’t caught in traffic jam on the motorway because a lorry jack-knifed on the ice and blocked all the lanes. I didn’t get stuck at the train station waiting for a train that was delayed due to frozen lines and I wasn’t relying on delayed public transport to get me to the office. My commute to work was less than a minute and I was at my desk for my normal working hours, doing what my clients pay me to do!

Virtual Assistants or VAs work from their own offices and can continue to do the job regardless of the weather conditions. It’s not always about sensible delegation, it about making the sensible choice when looking for someone to look after your daily admin and help with running your business efficiently. Plan ahead. If you have never been in this situation before, now is be a good time to think about how you might handle future scenarios.

Doesn’t it make sense to use someone who will be there for you come rain, sun or snow!

Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year from Channel Virtual Assistance