What is a Virtual Assistant? It’s My Secret to a Thriving Business

It seems counterintuitive, but paying a virtual assistant has actually helped me make more money.
Last updated Jun 22, 2020 | By Miranda Marquit
What is a Virtual Assistant? It’s My Secret to a Thriving Business

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When you’re self-employed, especially as a freelancer or other creator, it sometimes feels as though you have to do everything. If you’ve chosen to start a small business, you may feel similarly.

After a few years of getting bogged down in the many mundane tasks that come with running an online business, I realized I could better spend my time — and boost my profitability — by paying a virtual assistant to take on some of the work.

It sounds counterintuitive that adding an expense could increase your profit, but it’s the truth. Hiring a virtual assistant has helped me make more money — and here’s how I did it.

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What is a virtual assistant?

First, what is a virtual assistant? Well, a VA is basically a remote administrative assistant. Your VA can do a number of tasks that are normally associated with being in-office. That’s because many of these tasks can actually be handled by someone working from a remote location. A VA will often work from home or from a remote office space.

Although you can hire a virtual assistant as an employee, many online VAs are freelancers, so you hire them on a contract basis and typically part time. So whether you need someone to manage your email, help with administrative tasks, post to social media, do data entry, or help you schedule interviews, a VA could be helpful to you.

One of the great things about virtual assistants is they are probably more cost-effective than you think. You might believe a VA is a luxury or that assistant services are something only wealthy business owners can afford, but nothing is further from the truth. Although I make decent money with my freelance writing business, I’m far from ultra-rich — and I can afford to pay a VA.

Before you write off a virtual assistant as out of reach for your budget, take a step back. Once you start using a VA, you might be surprised to discover that having one is actually better for your bottom line.

My personal experience with a virtual assistant

When you run a business, there are a number of specific tasks that need doing — and they probably all need doing yesterday. Personally, I tend to get bogged down in some of the marketing aspects of my business, including social media management. When you work online, maintaining some sort of social media presence is necessary. However, I found that I sometimes spent up to an hour a day just posting on social media.

More importantly, I was posting to social media rather than spending that time writing — which is an activity that has a high return on investment (ROI) for me. I know a social media presence is important for my business, but I found the work tedious. Plus it took time away from writing and didn’t have a direct impact on my bottom line.

To solve the problem, I decided to hire a VA. In my case, the process was fairly straightforward. I turned to people I knew who had hired VAs and asked for recommendations. Many people came forward with candidates, and I was able to talk to several of them. Part of choosing the right VA is speaking with them about their specialties and skill set, as well as getting a feel for how they work. If your work style is compatible with a candidate, then you’ll be more likely to put together a good working relationship.

Training a VA, even an experienced one, can take a little time. If you have them handling tasks that involve customer support or communications with potential clients, then you might need to put in extra time to make sure they understand your voice. A Google document that describes processes and systems can be a good way to start. After a couple of weeks, my VA was able to work independently, and I only do occasional spot checks of their work at this point.

And, importantly, my business and personal workflow improved after hiring my virtual assistant. I immediately had an extra hour each day that I wasn’t spending on social media. This freed me up to write another article each day. I pay my VA an hourly rate, but my own hourly rate is much higher than what I pay the VA. Therefore, freeing up this one hour to do more profitable work has resulted in a net gain.

You could say I’m paying someone else to do something I could do myself. But now I’m able to focus on activities that directly bring more money into my business, and that leads to a better bottom line. Plus, I don’t have to do mundane tasks that drain my energy and make me less creative overall.

What can a virtual assistant do?

A virtual assistant can take over administrative work and everyday tasks that are sucking up your time and energy. These are tasks that can be handled by a wide variety of people and are often mundane or tedious. They might not be hard, but they can be draining, and they usually have a fairly low ROI — even though they might be required for your business to function and grow.

When you turn these tasks over to a VA, it frees you up to focus on big-picture items that are more likely to have a larger impact on your business. In my case, getting these items off my plate allows me to write another article, which is the activity that provides me with the biggest return on my time. However, it can also free me up to take client phone calls, promote my business in other ways, and even work on side projects that have potential down the road.

Here are some of the things a virtual assistant might be able to help you with:

  • Social media posting and community management
  • Customer support
  • Managing your email inbox
  • Scheduling appointments, interviews, and media appearances
  • Making travel arrangements
  • Keyword research
  • Fact checking
  • Database building and management
  • Bookkeeping (including invoicing and tracking payments)
  • Creating reports
  • Graphic design
  • Project management
  • Webinar production
  • Managing your website backend
  • Proofreading and editing
  • Transcription work
  • Buying essential office supplies
  • Creating presentations

Realize that some VAs have certain specialties. In general, you might not be able to hire the same person to both manage your website development and post to social media. However, you might be able to find a utilitarian VA that can help you manage your email, handle your calendar management, and post to social media. When hiring a VA, find out exactly what they are willing to do and what specialties they have.

In some cases, you might have to hire more than one person to meet your needs, depending on what you want done. The good news is that even hiring multiple VAs can often still be cost-efficient and help you scale your business in a way that results in a net gain for your bottom line.

What does a virtual assistant charge?

In many cases, virtual assistants charge an hourly rate. PayScale reports the average pay for a VA is $15.79 per hour, with VAs typically earning between $10.20 and $27.47 per hour. I paid my previous VA, who had a decent amount of experience and did a few tasks beyond posting to social media, $25 per hour. However, my current VA is relatively inexperienced and only does social media posting for me, so I pay him less at $16.50 per hour.

Some VAs might cost more. If you’re hiring someone to do more specialized tasks, it can cost you $50 per hour or more. For example, before I sold my podcast, I was paying a podcast editor $75 per hour to edit episodes, upload them to the server, and produce show notes. Carefully consider your needs and realize that more specialized work and a more experienced VA will cost you more. Make sure the math works out in favor of your business’s bottom line.

Managing your virtual assistant

Many VAs work as independent contractors and work from a home office, so you can’t necessarily control when and how they work, as you would with a full-time employee. Some may be doing VA work as a weekend side job, and some may work more traditional hours. But either way a good VA will still meet deadlines and stay on top of the situation. 

As long as you’re both clear in your expectations and you agree on the job description and hours, you shouldn’t have too much trouble. In addition, there are time-tracking apps that your VA can use to keep a tally of their working hours so you can monitor their productivity and pay them accurately.

If you hire someone as an employee, you’ll have more control over their schedule and how they work, but you’ll also have to meet other conditions. You’ll need to make sure you’ve set up payroll, and that you’re paying the appropriate state and federal taxes. Personally, I find it’s easier to just pay an hourly rate to a contractor.

How to find your virtual assistant

One of the best ways to find a virtual assistant is to ask for recommendations. Many freelance VAs work for multiple clients, so you can ask people in your network whether they know someone who is looking for a little extra work. You can also look at different websites to find VAs. There are a number of virtual assistant companies and job listing services available. Some remote work websites can be good resources for VAs too.

Some places to find virtual assistants include:

You can also use LinkedIn as a resource to find a virtual assistant. It’s possible to search LinkedIn using keywords related to the services you’re looking for and find VA candidates that way. Similarly, you could look on social media. If you belong to Facebook groups related to your business, post there saying you have virtual assistant jobs available or ask on Twitter. Many possibilities can arise when you use social media.

Once you have a solid list of names and resumes, choose three or four to interview. Get a feel for how they operate and whether their style matches yours. Get some references and check up on them. Remember — a VA is going to represent you in some fashion, whether it’s posting to your social media accounts or setting up podcast interviews on your behalf. You want to make sure they’re professional and can accurately represent you.

Bottom line

Even though it required an initial outlay of time and capital, hiring a VA was one of the best things I did for my business. In fact, my experience with a virtual assistant prompted me to find other ways to cut down on my activities, leading to me hiring a house cleaner and a personal shopper to take care of other everyday activities that took time and energy away from business and other things I want to enjoy. I even hired an accountant to manage my taxes, which is now one of my big tax tips if you're self-employed.

For you, it might make the most sense to hire a personal assistant or someone to handle the content management on your website. If you work in real estate, you might find that having a virtual team member to edit photos might be most helpful. Your business needs will probably be different from mine, but there’s also likely a VA that could fit your situation.

The key thing to remember is that when you outsource low-ROI tasks to a virtual assistant, it frees you up to focus on more important tasks that have the potential to bring more money into your business and enhance your bottom line.

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