By Robin Roberts
Business is going great, so great you find yourself overwhelmed, particularly with peripheral tasks that take time away from generating a profit. You need help, but you either work out of your home or in a tight–spaced office. You have no budget to hire permanent employees, provide them with a desk, computer or phone, let alone pay benefits. Why not consider a virtual assistant (VA)?
What Is a VA?
Virtual assistants are known as independent sub–contractors, off–site staff, or freelance professionals who offer business support services out of their fully equipped home offices. They can take a load off your plate, freeing you up to focus on growing your business. They’re available to help with one–off projects, such as power point presentations, or ongoing work, such as administrative tasks.
Who Are They?
VAs are as varied as their skill set: stay–at–home moms with administrative experience such as bookkeeping and correspondence, college graduates with tech skills such as website design, sales and marketing specialists who have been laid off when their companies downsized, or professionals, like Elayne Whitfield, who wanted to run their own business. Whitfield was a tech executive before founding Barrie, Ontario–based Canadian Association of Virtual Assistants (CAVA), which connects VAs and clients. Considered a pioneer in the industry after 15 years, Whitfield is also a business coach, mentor, speaker and co–author of How to Build a Successful Virtual Assistant Business, which is used in Virtual Assistant college courses such as the Virtual Assistant Certificate program at Red Deer College in Alberta.
What Do They Do?
Originally, VAs worked primarily on administrative tasks, such as accounting and bookkeeping, correspondence, dictation, transcription, managing travel and scheduling meetings. As technology has evolved, so too have the skills of VAs, who now also offer support for:
- website design, development and management;
- press release writing;
- sales calls;
- social media management;
- internet/database research.
“Certain VAs, because of their experience and interests, evolve into specialists,” says Whitfield. “For example, as online events become more popular, a lot VAs become experts in that, or in organizing webinars. Some VAs will niche and only work with a specific business group, such as realtors, because that’s their knowledge base and interest.”
Who Uses a VA?
Whitfield says realtors, speakers, authors and business coaches are among the top professionals who use a VA, but just about any company can benefit from the support. Whether you’re a contractor or a consultant who just can’t keep on top of everything, a VA can step in and handle:
- thank you notes;
- purchase orders;
- phone calls;
- one–off or ongoing projects;
- editing or proofreading documents;
- uploading content to your website;
- helping you prep for a meeting.
Where Do I Find a VA?
A quick internet search will return dozens of results, but there are a few organizations, such as Whitfield’s CAVA and Alberta–based Canadian Virtual Gurus, that are one–stop shopping centres, making it easy to search through a directory of people and their skills to match your requirements. “You really have to vet them, do a proper interview process, check references, talk to them on the phone, to get a better sense of them, their personality, how they fit with you and your business,” says Whitfield.
What’s the Cost?
Whitfield says VAs set their own rates, but they can range from $25 an hour for basic services to $125 an hour for more specialized or technical support.
“With today’s technology, just about everything can be done virtually,” says Whitfield, “except we can’t make your coffee.”