What is a Virtual Assistant?

What is a Virtual Assistant?

What is a virtual assistant? I am always surprised how often this question comes up. In very simple terms a Virtual Assistant (VA) is a self-employed person who provides professional administrative, technical, or creative assistance to businesses remotely from their home office. They are also referred to as freelance business support or contractors. 

However the breadth of experience, knowledge and skill far exceeds that which the title Virtual Assistant suggests, they are much more than just a general administrator.

Many VAs specialise in certain areas such as Digital marketing, social media, book keeping, sales support, marketing, GDPR, business applications and software, all encompassed in this one title.

You will find the majority of VAs come from varied backgrounds and are highly proficient at all things related to business support, systems, office support and everything you may need to run your business. You will find many VAs come from roles as: office managers, PAs, Managers, supervisors, and from within all sectors, from NHS, to legal, finance, property, and one that surprises many is teaching. Virtual Assistants have a wide knowledge base, are experienced and proficient with the mainstream office databases,  software and applications and are able to support you in almost all areas you may need help with to keep your business running smoothly and efficiently. So whilst the VA is focusing on the day to day administrative elements of the business you can focus on your clients, making sales and developing new business opportunities.

People often refer to a good virtual assistant as their “right hand person”, or “a key member of the team.” A VA is a person who is dependable, experienced, a problem solver, conscientious, adaptable and most importantly someone you can delegate those time consuming jobs to.  

Looking for a Virtual Assistant is no different from hiring a direct employee?

When looking for a Virtual Assistant it is no different from hiring any person in your business. They may not be on your direct payroll, but you are paying for their support, knowledge and expertise, so you need to feel comfortable with them, feel that they understand how you and your team work and most importantly have the skills you need to benefit your business.

I promise it is ok to speak to several VAs when hiring. It is no different from any other process where you are hiring a new person. This is your business and money and you must be comfortable with the person you are working with.

The Society of Virtual Assistants suggest there are over £2.5k virtual assistants across the UK, but as with any home based freelancer role this is really hard to know for certain. But if you ever speak with fellow business owners, I am sure you will find they will all know of or have worked with a Virtual Assistant.

However finding a VA is not always that easy as you often find you need to search through endless pages on search engines like google and click into multiple websites often finding it hard to see prices, services and then making comparisons. But earlier this year a new online directory https://virtualassistantnearme.co.uk was launched, profiling Virtual Assistants across the UK. Making it quick and easy to search for Virtual Assistants by location, skill set, or price point.

Virtual Assistants are a flexible, highly skilled, professional, confidential, adaptable, people. You will often find they are self starters. Many VAs were previously in employed roles and decided to set up their own business to provide their years of skills to businesses and business owners in need. You will often find they are very entrepreneurial.

Every Virtual Assistant has a different approach, some are happy to be very involved and become part of your team and are available to pop into your office or premise from time to time and others like to have certain tasks or projects and remain remote and maintain all contact virtually. Others like to have a few main clients they provide a lot of day to day admin support and others look for more project work, such as market research, setting up new systems.

With so many different ways in which you can work with a VA it is important that you find the right Virtual Assistant for you.

How much do Virtual Assistants charge?

This is very difficult to answer, as like everything, you get what you pay for. All VAs will bring an plethora of business skills to the table, and as with most things, the more you pay the higher the experience level and background. Its important to remember Virtual Assistants come from roles such as Executive PAs, Business Managers, Office Managers, Senior Managers, and supervisors.

You may find hourly rates on the internet suggesting rates around £25 per hour.

And yes I am sure you could find a VA for £15 per hour right up to £40 per hour, perhaps the higher rate is more usual in cities such as London, or a highly experienced VA but any rate from £25 upwards is a reasonable market rate to expect.

As with any service provider, product or piece of equipment you buy for you business, it is an investment. This is no different whether its a direct employee or freelancer/VA, the more you put in the more you get out. If you incorporate and include the VA fully you will get a better level of support.  

If you are looking for certain skills, qualities, knowledge and ability, there will always be a cost for acquiring this. As with direct employees you won’t get or attract the right level of expertise on the cheap. For example you will not be able to get an experienced marketing person for national living wage.

People are just as much an investment in your business as a piece of equipment.

People may suggest using a VA through a freelancer directory such as People per hour, where you can find VAs from other countries such as the Philippines where there rates start as low as £5 per hour, which if budget is the driving force for your decision then this might be your preference. But this can present a lot of difficulties for you and your business.

When working with a VA in the UK there are benefits that you may not be aware of such as being in the same time zone, strong understanding of GDPR and UK working practices, no language barriers, strong written English and grammar, and an awareness of business regulations and cultural norms. All which can be taken for granted, but can also cause a lot of difficulties for you and potentially for your clients.

BUT don’t forget Virtual Assistants are business owners themselves……

So they already have a strong business acumen even though the title of Virtual Assistant may not reflect this.

They have set up their own business and experienced first hand the challenges a business owner and small business experiences, so please don’t under estimate the value for money you will receive.

What costs are involved with hiring a VA?

Apart from the Virtual Assistants hourly rate, there won’t be any others. Unless you wish to provide them with supplies or cover extra expenses such as covering the cost of calls they make on your behalf.

The VA provides their own equipment, deals with their own insurance, National Insurance, Income Tax, pension contributions and all the other related costs. There are no direct staff costs for you.

You do not need to worry about holiday, sick or paternity/maternity pay.

In turn you do need to be aware that they will take holiday and could fall ill, so its important to have a plan for how you will deal with this situation. Which is also why communication is key with the VA, as the more engaged you are with the VA you easier it will be to manage and mitigate any periods where they are away.

What tasks can I ask a VA to do?

There is no definitive list of tasks. Virtual Assistants have such a wide array of knowledge and expertise, but below are some of the more common tasks.

Most importantly a VA can help with a growing multitude of small tasks that consume your time as a business owner.

  • Market Research
  • Email Management
  • Website Services
  • Minute Taking
  • Event Management
  • Managing calendars and appointment booking
  • Preparing reports and PowerPoint presentations
  • Email marketing
  • GDPR support
  • Report writing/Business plan writing
  • Social Media
  • Content/Blog writing
  • Book Keeping and invoicing – some VAs offering this service may hold accountancy qualifications.
  • Travel Booking
  • Administration
  • Personal PA services – helping you with your personal tasks, such as arranging an MOT, booking travel, comparing and researching household utilities, arranging deliveries and gifts.

How much work do I need to have before I can hire a Virtual Assistant?

This is a great question, there is no minimum amount of work you need to have. Many small business owners, are time poor but also it can be hard when they themselves are the service such as a coach, or carpenter, so to delegate what you actually provide directly to your client can be difficult, but what you can delegate are tasks such as email management & replying to email enquiries, researching and scheduling social media posts, reconciling your receipts with your bank account, or purely sending follow up emails. If you need to delegate tasks then this is when working with a VA is the best solution. You pay them for the time they work, you don’t have to give them a guaranteed umber of hours or level of pay as you would with a part timer on your pay roll.

If you don’t have the work, then you don’t have to engage them during that period.

But once you find the right VA for you and your business remember although they are providing a service to you, the more you involve them and make them feel an integral part of your team and business the more benefits you will get. This doesn’t mean you need to have continuous work for them, we understand businesses can have peaks and troughs but stay in touch with them.

If you would like to chat more about how a Virtual Assistant could help you and your business then feel free to contact my team at Oasis Business Support https://oasis-support.co.uk

Author: Heidi May – Business Owner and Coach

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