In the ever-increasing world of online working and communication—especially in these Covid-19 times—hiring a virtual assistant to take over some of the day-to-day tasks usually fulfilled by office-based staff might have crossed your mind.
However, if you’re a sole trader or owner of a small business, maybe you prefer to retain complete control and do everything yourself – whether for financial or other reasons. Perhaps you don’t trust anyone else to do things properly or perhaps you feel you can’t justify the cost of having someone do something you can do perfectly well yourself.
On the other end of the spectrum, maybe you’re the CEO of a large company and have no financial restraints when it comes to taking on outside help but you prefer to keep your employees where you can see them?
Or perhaps none of the above apply and you haven’t considered a virtual assistant at all and don’t even know what one does or how to go about hiring one?
What Is a Virtual Assistant?
As the name suggests, a virtual assistant is someone you delegate tasks to who works remotely.
They can be a self-employed freelancer you hire directly or some agencies can assign a suitable virtual assistant to you.
Long gone are the days of virtual assistants taking on only secretarial roles and mundane tasks such as booking flights and hotel reservations. Virtual assistants can help you out with any tasks you want to set them (and ones you haven’t even thought of).
As with most things in life though, there are pros and cons in hiring a virtual assistant and a few are outlined below:
Pros of Hiring a Virtual Assistant
A Virtual Assistant Saves You Money
Saving money is something all business owners are happy to hear about. Hiring a virtual assistant can save you money in the following ways:
- They work virtually, using their own equipment and resources, so there’s no need for you to provide them with an office, desk, computer, or anything else you provide your office-based staff with.
- They’re self-employed, so there’s no need for you to provide them with a holiday or sick pay or any benefits such as life or health insurance. You don’t need to pay into a pension for them either and they will take care of paying their own taxes.
- You only pay for the hours they work, so you won’t be paying them to while away their day browsing the internet on quiet days when there’s not much to do.
A Virtual Assistant Saves You Time
Time is money, as they say, so, if you want to save money, you’ll want to save time, too. As you’ll be aware, there are countless tasks involved in running a business. Some of those tasks are relatively small and don’t take up that much time and so you might as well do them yourself, right? But those little tasks all add up and, before you know it, you’re working fourteen-hour days trying to get everything done and, even then, you spend the rest of the day thinking about what else is still on the to-do list. A virtual assistant is ideal for taking over those little tasks to free you up to do something better suited to your time. Some tasks that are ideal to hand over to a virtual assistant are:
- Social media management: you may think keeping up a social media presence is simply a matter of posting the odd tweet or Facebook update now and then. This couldn’t be further than the truth. To really grow your business/company/brand on social media, you need to hire someone who can dedicate the time to post to your social media channels, keep an eye on any comments, engage with your followers, and work to gain more.
- Event organization: if you’ve got a list of people to invite to an event, a virtual assistant can email everyone on your list and keep a spreadsheet updated with the status of the replies and chasing up where necessary.
- Transcription: if your typing skills amount to a two-finger tap on the keyboard that takes you all day, dictates whatever it is you want to be typed up and send the audio file to a virtual assistant. A good typist will have that typed up quickly, neatly, and accurately in no time at all.
- Content writing: you may be great at writing reports and formal documents but do you have the skills to write engaging copy to send to your customers? More to the point, do you have the time to write content for blogs, newsletters, and any other marketing materials? A virtual assistant can take all this off your hands and provide you with a sparkling copy to win more customers.
- Proofreading/editing: if you do prefer to write your own marketing copy but know your spelling, grammar and punctuation aren’t as accurate as it could be, hiring someone to give it the once over and a bit of polish will make sure everything you send out is at its tip-top professional best. Your business won’t be taken seriously if your content is full of spelling mistakes and apostrophes in the wrong place.
You may think that, if you hire a virtual assistant, you’re going to have to spend loads of time training them up – time that could have been spent doing it yourself in the first place. Virtual assistants/freelancers/remote workers – whatever you want to call them – have a wide range of skills and are constantly updating them. A virtual assistant will be an expert in their field and will be able to hit the ground running after a brief from you. Because a virtual assistant will be used to working for all kinds of businesses, they’re adaptable and used to working on their own initiative without the need for constant hand-holding. Give them a task and let them get on with it while you get on with running your business. It’s in their interest to do the best work possible for you as that can mean repeat work and referrals to other businesses.
On the whole, virtual assistants are self-managing and you won’t need to spend time making sure they’re settling in, as you would with office-based employees.
The Cons of Hiring a Virtual Assistant
Hiring a virtual assistant sounds like a good thing so far, doesn’t it? It doesn’t come without its drawbacks though, of course, so here are a few things to consider:
Lack of Commitment and Dedication
A virtual assistant, while being dedicated to the current task at hand and giving it 100% while they’re working on it, won’t have quite the same dedication and commitment as a full-time employee who has the luxury of a full-time salary and all the benefits that come with that that they want to hang on to, such as holiday pay, health insurance, pension and any other incentives to stick with the company.
A self-employed virtual assistant on an hourly rate can leave whenever they want – although, of course, any virtual assistant worth their salt will give you notice you’re both happy with and won’t just leave you in the lurch. Most projects have a natural time-span, anyway, so this may not even be a consideration.
Lack of Communication and Control
You won’t be able to walk up to a virtual assistant to ask them something the way you can with an office-based employee. You will, of course, be in electronic communication with your virtual assistant but you can’t expect them to be in front of their phone/tablet/computer twenty-four hours a day ready to answer any urgent queries you may have. This is especially true if you and your virtual assistant live in different time zones to each other and one of you is starting your day just as the other is finishing theirs.
If you’re the type of employer who likes to keep an eye on their staff to make sure they’re working hard and not spending your time and money updating their Facebook status or watching cat videos on YouTube, you may find it hard to trust a virtual assistant to be working on your projects. This can be overcome though by hiring virtual assistants through websites such as Upwork who provide software to track the freelancer’s time.
The hourly rate of a virtual assistant is usually more than the hourly rate of an office-based employee doing the same job.
Lack of a Close Working Relationship
Friendships are formed in an office. People get together around the water cooler or breakout area and they go to lunch together. None of this happens with a virtual assistant and so you don’t get that close working relationship that happens in offices.
As you can see, there are many good reasons to employ the services of a virtual assistant. There are also a few disadvantages but, just as you would an office-based employee, you should conduct interviews either by email, phone, or video call and check out references if necessary. Keeping all the above in mind, there’s no reason at all why a virtual assistant can’t become a valuable member of your team and an asset to your business.
About the Author:
Gary Bury is co-founder and CEO of Timetastic, an independent and profitable web app for managing time off work, used by thousands of companies around the world.