This post is part of our Spending Hacker Business Class series which helps small business owners secure the BEST deals on products and services they need for the ongoing operation of their business.
This post was written by one of our members Simon MacLean.
Simon is a Virtual Assistant based in Australia and here are some of things he can do for his clients:
- Online research and article writing;
- Build and manage their website and social media;
- Follow up on business enquiries and make appointments; and
- Daily admin.
You can learn more about Simon through his website.
What is a virtual assistant?
A virtual assistant (VA) is a highly-skilled, freelance, independent professional who remotely provides admin, technical and creative support services. For them to provide you with the best tailored solution for your business they are going to have to get to know you and what you do well. So, it is important that you choose wisely.
The advantages and indeed main reasons for using a VA rather than simply employing someone, is that you don’t have to worry about providing them with office space and you don’t have the associated costs of a member of staff, such as holiday pay, super and paying them when they are sick. So, you are going to save money! However, you should still use the same care you would if employing someone.
A virtual assistant does not come to your office, instead they work from their own office, using their own tech and provide support for you and your business using the internet and phone. Due to the wonders of modern technology it is quite simple these days for someone, properly equipped, to appear to your customers as part of your business. That is why care must be taken when choosing them, particularly if they are communicating directly with clients on your behalf.
This is not to put you off, as once you have found a good match for you and your business, the benefits can be many. They take care of the daily admin, freeing you to generate extra income and profit!
The benefits of a Virtual Assistant (VA)
- The VA is (usually) a small business owner themselves so they understand what it is like to be self-employed.
- The employment overheads for you are significantly lower than having an in-house staff member on a full-time or even part-time basis as there is no payroll tax, superannuation contributions or other benefits to be paid.
- You do not need to supply them with any equipment, such as a computer or telephone as they use their own.
- You can choose the number of hours you require them for. Most VAs can be hired for a fixed number of hours per month, for a specific project or just hired when needed on a per-hour basis. As they are not an employee, you have the flexibility of using them when you are busy and not when it is quieter.
- You can find a VA with the specific skills you require, such as web or graphic design, business management experience, employment knowledge or bookkeeping experience. Don’t be afraid to ask, you will often find that a VA has many years’ experience in one field or another that may be useful to you (editor note: Simon’s experience includes software development, training and writing blog articles).
Potential Issues to look out for when hiring a VA
Just like an employee, not all virtual assistants are the same, they have different skills and experience.
You do not want to be paying someone to learn at your expense.
Some VAs have excellent computer and technology skills, others less so.
Some are very good communicators, keeping you up-to-date with progress, others not so good.
Having said that, if a VA is upfront and says that what you are asking is new to them, but that they would like to learn and they are prepared to put some of their own time into learning, then it may still be worthwhile using them.
At the end of the day, it is important to talk and discuss what you require from them.
You must set clear goals and objectives, if you don’t the danger is that the VA does what they think you want, rather than what you want.
If this sounds like hard work, it doesn’t have to be, it just requires some thought and planning, before taking someone on!
When should you hire a VA?
There are usually two main factors when deciding whether to bring on-board some additional help:
- Workload; and
Most business people reach a stage where they are struggling to keep on top of everything, or they are asking more and more of the people around them, such as their families.
This can often lead to stress and feeling ‘burnt out’.
Sometimes they put off getting help, as they think it is just easier to do it themselves, rather than taking the time to train someone else to do it.
But, is it the best use of your time?
Would your time be more effectively used generating more income from the business?
When looking at budget and whether you can afford to pay a VA to do the work for you, remember the idea is to free up more of your time so you can work on the things that generate income.
How much should you pay a VA?
With virtual assistants, you get what you pay for.
In Australia, virtual assistants charge between $30 and $95 per hour, depending on their skills, experience and the contract agreed.
Generally, the more guaranteed hours you agree, the more preferential the rate.
Paying in advance often gets a reduction as well.
Compared to employing someone, you are not lumbered with all the additional overhead costs, such as office space, taxes, super, equipment, etc.
The VA is paying for all of that, so their price should reflect that.
If the VA is charging a low price, you need to ask yourself why?
Is it a lack of skill or experience, or are they just not very good business people?
If so, they may soon be experiencing cash-flow problems and be out of business, which is no good to you. You are wanting someone with the skills required to do the job properly.
It is not just the hourly rate, it is what they accomplish in the hours you are paying for. You might congratulate yourself for obtaining services at $39 per hour, but if they take twice as long to do the work as another VA who charges $55 per hour, it actually ends up costing you more!
As mentioned, you will usually find VAs offer the best rates for a regular number of hours every month, as it guarantees them work.
However, regardless of how many hours you need, ask them what their best rate is and for how many hours.
Then, be prepared to make an offer (i.e. haggle!) as it may depend on how busy the VA is. If they have available hours, they would probably rather have some work than none.
The advantage of using a VA, as opposed to hiring someone, is that you can try them and see how good they are. If they are not delivering, in the way you expect, you can stop using them.
What to look at when hiring a VA?
- Do you get on? Simple but important! If you are going to work with someone, even if only for a limited number of hours per month, it is important you get along. Doesn’t mean you must be best buds, but are they enthusiastic, approachable, organised? Do you think they will be good for your business?
- Do they have the right technology skills? They are going to be working primarily over the internet, using a computer. Do they know what they are doing? Do they have the right equipment? If your business uses certain software, are they familiar with it or can they learn it quickly? How will you communicate, do you use the same systems, or ones that can work together? If you want them to work on or modify your website, check to see if they have the knowledge and tools to do so.
- Other skills that may be important. Yours may be a new and fast developing business. Do you need someone with prior business development experience, who can assist you by putting in place company procedures, staff documentation, employment contracts? Are you looking to develop a website and/or social media presence? Check to see if this is part of the virtual assistant’s skill set.
- Professional first impression. If they are going to be working on your business, first look at their business. Do they have a professional website and social media presence of their own? If they can’t or haven’t taken the time to project themselves professionally, how are they going to do it for you? When you are communicating with them, how good are they at responding to emails and keeping in touch. If they can’t do this well at the point when they are looking at you as a potential client, then what will they be like when they are working for you?
- Are they available? They may be the best VA in the world, but if they are trying to juggle a household, three children and another part-time job on the side, they may not be suitable for you. Even if they do have the hours available, are they at a time that suits you? If they are located the other side of the world so they are working when you are sleeping, it may not be ideal.
- Small or large? A VA business may be a one man/woman business, or it may be a large corporate, with hundreds or even thousands of employees. A smaller business may struggle to provide the hours you need, when you need them, particularly if theirs is a successful business. The larger corporate may be more impersonal, with an assigned employee to look after your account. At the end of the day it is personal preference, although if yours is a smaller enterprise, it may be preferable to work with someone who better understands your situation because they are also a smaller business.
- Contract. Check the contract offered, is it clear on the fees charged, the hours agreed, how you will be expected to communicate? When and how you will be invoiced and how you are expected to pay? Does it cover confidentiality?
Many business people find that, having started down the road of using a VA, they keep them for a lot longer than first anticipated.
They may take one on, thinking of it as a stop gap, before employing full time staff.
But then find them so useful and such an asset to their business they don’t want to let them go!
Getting the right virtual assistant, is important, so take the time to do it right and you won’t regret it.
Some great advice and tips there from Simon, don’t you think?
If you want some more, and prefer to consume them in a video format, here is one I personally found to be extremely useful:
If you have no idea where to start looking for a virtual assistant, the platform discussed here may be a good option, especially if you want your VA to be based in Australia.
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