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virtual assistants - an introduction

Using a Virtual Assistant can be a flexible and cost effective option for small businesses. What are the benefits, how much will it cost and how do you find a good VA to relieve you of routine business tasks?

what does a virtual assistant do?
VAs provide services remotely. They offer services that would normally be done by a personal assistant in offices, for example admin support, call minding, message taking, diary management, filtering emails, bookkeeping, marketing, project support , typing, internet research, cold calling etc. Reputable VAs are experienced and focused self employed professionals who work independently to your deadlines - they are not temps!

VAs use their own office and equipment. You do not have to pay their tax, national insurance and other expenses that accrue with permanent and temporary staff. Generally, VAs are very flexible and charge anything from £20 an hour upwards. You can get cheaper rates for more mundane work. Some VAs specialise, so you may want to find one for your specific business needs.

what are the benefits of using a virtual assistant?
Using a VA means you can concentrate on the business rather than the paperwork that goes with it. You get more time to do what you do best, without having to supervise, train or worry about staff.

VAs are flexible and available outside of normal hours. They have no minimum hour commitment and are only paid for the hours they work. You can use the same highly skilled professional every time you outsource work. The work you give a VA should be completed to deadlines, with no excuses for imperfect work. This means you can keep control.

You will not have to pay recruitment or agency fees, just pay for the time you use the VA. There are no additional tax, national insurance or employee benefits to worry about. If you do not employ anyone else other than the VA you may not need employer’s liability insurance, or pay someone to supervise your staff.

You do not need to find workspace or equipment for a VA, they have their own. So you might save money on office space, or even be able to work from home with the appearance of a full back-up team. No-one need know you use a VA. You can appear to be in control at all times – even if you are not!

do I need a VA?
VAs are not suitable for all businesses. Ask yourself the following questions before you make a decision.

  • Do I spend too much time on administration when I should be talking to clients or building up business?
  • Do I lose business because calls go to voicemail when I am out of the office?
  • Do I spend valuable time on repetitive, mundane tasks that someone else could do more effectively and more cheaply?
  • Do I want to avoid taking on staff, but need help with routine tasks?
  • Is my office too small for more staff?
  • Do I want to pay for resources as and when I use them to expand my business?

how do I find a good VA?
As always professional recommendations are best. But whoever you choose make sure they belong to one of the Virtual Assistant bodies, which provide listing of VAs and remove names if there are complaints.

check the following:
The International Association of Virtual Office Assistants this organisation provides an online directory of VAs in England and Scotland.

International Association of Virtual Assistants provides a listing of VAs in the UK and other countries.

Alliance of UK Virtual Assistants

how do I get the most out of my VA?
Before you employ a VA think about how you work and what changes you would like to make in your business. Is it routine paperwork that is out of control? Do you want specialist book-keeping help or someone to set up systems for you? Maybe you simply want a call minding service?

Keep a note of tasks you regularly do which could be outsourced. How much time do these tasks take away from the real work of growing the business? Make notes on specific procedures and practices. Once you know what you need you can narrow down your VA search. Use the websites listed above to find a VA you can work with. Talk to several until you feel comfortable.

Once you have found the right VA, make sure you both agree the nature of the work to be carried out, timescales and fees. Be very specific. Ensure you both understand the arrangement for billing and any other costs. What will happen if you want more work done? How will work be recorded and reported and how will confidentiality and security are handled?

what will a good VA offer?
A reputable VA will not only do all the tasks you specify, on time and professionally but will also have the right systems in place for your needs. These should include risk management procedures to help protect their business and yours, business security processes, procedures and systems and contracts for any work undertaken. They should have very high standards and demonstrate complete professionalism – make sure they have membership of the relevant professional bodies. They should be up to date with skills and training.

A good VA will have personal indemnity insurance and processes and systems to ensure client confidentiality as well as registration with the Data Protection Act. This should protect your business and give you some confidence in their professionalism.

Check the VA has a professional looking website, business stationery etc. Read references and testimonials for previous work and check they are current. They should also produce timesheets for work undertaken.

VAs should be able to advice on technology and tell you exactly what they are able to achieve for your business. Agree in writing precisely what work is to be carried out, the timescales involved and the cost. Of course these may change. The VA should just be able to get on with it as long as they are clear what you want them to do.


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