What is a virtual assistant and how can you use one?

With low overhead and high flexibility, virtual assistants are a cost-effective staffing solution for companies of all sizes

As companies grow in size, it becomes increasingly difficult to stay on top of the daily tasks necessary to keep the business running. When employees wear many hats in a quick-moving environment, it can be tricky to keep operations and administrative needs running smoothly. But hiring full-time, on-site support staff isn’t always an option, either—and that’s where virtual assistants step in.

Virtual assistants have existed for as long as technology has facilitated remote work, but the trend has increased rapidly in recent years; in fact, Business Wire estimates that virtual assistants’ market size will reach $25.6 billion by 2025. They are especially beneficial when many teams are spread out and employees are working from home due to the coronavirus pandemic.

This is because virtual assistants can work from anywhere and can often perform a variety of tasks on a flexible contract. With low overhead and limited commitment, virtual assistants are a cost-effective staffing solution for companies of all sizes.

But what exactly is a virtual assistant, and how can you employ one to streamline operations at your company?

What is a virtual assistant?

A virtual assistant is essentially like having an executive assistant who provides administrative work and office support on a remote basis. They usually work as an independent contractor, although some are hired as full-time remote workers. Virtual assistants are employed by companies of all sizes and across many industries.

What does a virtual assistant do?

There are no set tasks that virtual assistants perform, and assignments vary depending on the employer. Here are some of the most common jobs given to virtual assistants:

Administrative work

Virtual assistants are most commonly hired for admin work. This includes scheduling meetings, booking travel, organizing calendars, and even answering phones via a connecting line.

Bookkeeping

Keeping track of finances is an essential part of running a profitable business, and virtual assistants can help manage a budget, make purchases, and track expenses.

Personal assistant

Virtual assistants can help organize tasks outside of work, in addition to their standard duties. Booking vacations, organizing a calendar, and purchasing gifts for friends and family are some of the more common personal duties.

Customer service

For companies offering a product or service, virtual assistants can be the first point of contact for customers looking for assistance with troubleshooting or an outlet for feedback. Virtual assistants can address basic, habitual concerns or give tutorials. If they are unable to help a customer, they can escalate it to the appropriate person within the company.

Data entry

Not all tasks fall under the umbrella of admin work; there is a wide variety of responsibilities that virtual assistants can take on, including data entry. In this role, a virtual assistant can easily compile data, check for accuracy, and delete unnecessary records. This is especially beneficial for patient recording, billing, postal work, and school administration.

Social media production

While many companies understand the importance of online engagement with potential customers or clients, the demands of social media management can sometimes seem endless. Virtual assistants are helpful for responding to comments and communicating with followers, but they can also maintain a posting schedule and even analyze account data.

Content management

If you use editorial content to drive traffic to your site, increase brand awareness, and engage potential customers, then you likely know the immense amount of work that goes into operations. A virtual assistant can help manage a production calendar, organize writing resources, and facilitate various elements of the publishing process, making it easier for you to focus on growing the content program.

Research

Every business must rely on research to inform its operations, whether it’s analysis of the market, customers, or performance. Research, too, can be a commodity to sell to clients. But research can be a time-consuming endeavor, even with dedicated resources, so some companies use virtual assistants to assist with compiling this information. Because these tasks are typically more manual, they’re best suited to virtual assistants specialized in data analysis.

What is a virtual assistant salary and how are they paid?

According to job search website, Zip Recruiter, salaries for virtual assistants vary depending on experience and area of expertise:

  • per hour (from as low as $6.97 to as high as $59.86)
  • per week (from as low as $279 to as high as $2,394)
  • per month (from as low as $1,208 to as high as $10,375)
  • per year (from as low as $14,500 to as high as $124,500)

While some assistants will accept checks or money orders for their work, most prefer to be paid through secure online services like PayPal. How they invoice their work can vary: Some prefer upfront payments, or some bill their employer weekly or monthly.

If virtual assistants are employed as full-time remote workers, they need to be on the regularly scheduled payroll.

How to hire a virtual assistant

Hiring a remote assistant might seem simple since it’s a less formal role, but the hiring process can require just as much preparation from the employer. The basic steps include:

Establish expectations

Before engaging with a new contractor, it’s important to record your expectations. Make a detailed list of the tasks requiring attention, and ensure to clearly communicate priorities and deadlines.

Decide on a manager

When a part-time resource doesn’t fall into your official org chart, it can be easy for management responsibility to be vague and shifted across a team. Avoid this trap by establishing from the get-go who is responsible for communicating tasks and tracking projects.

Create a budget

If you’re looking for a flexible arrangement with an assistant that can scale up and down as needed, make sure you have a firm understanding of budget beforehand so that costs don’t accidentally get out of hand.

Post the job

Create a job description with a list of responsibilities and post it to an appropriate site. Passive Income lists a few of the most popular sites, including:

  • Upwork
  • Fiverr
  • TaskRabbit
  • Hello Rache

These websites will find qualified candidates in your specific field.

Virtual assistants can let you focus on what matters most—your business

Time is an important resource when running a business, and sometimes the menial, everyday tasks can become a barrier to focusing on new opportunities and areas for growth. Having a virtual assistant handle your administrative work will ease your workload significantly, providing more time for you and your team to focus on high-impact projects.

Coworking spaces like WeWork also help with time management; front-desk and cleaning staff are included in flexible contracts, and office operations like stocking kitchens and refilling coffee are handled by community managers. Along with this support staff, using WeWork’s dedicated coworking spaces and state-of-the-art resources will put your company on the path to continued success.

Madelyn Cuello is a writer for Ideas by WeWork, based in New York City. Previously, she was a copywriter at Macy’s and Lord & Taylor, as well as a contributing writer at online publications The Cnnekt and Highlark. 

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