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VAs: Virtual Assistants

    • 31 posts
    October 28, 2006 10:34 AM EDT

    Tammy, yours is a common complaint.

    What I`ve found in my 10 years of business, listening to clients and the marketplace, is that they haven`t known how to go about the process of hiring the right service provider. So what happens is that they fall back on the only things they know, which is to go about it as if they were hiring an employee (which doesn`t work because you aren`t hiring an employee when you hire an independent professional and there`s a whole different set of criteria involved), or they shop by price (which leaves out just about every other more important aspect for meeting your business needs and finding the right fit).

    To help business owners find the right Virtual Assistant and give them a process and understanding for doing so, I wrote an article titled "How to Hire a Virtual Assistant: Your 10-Step Guide to Finding the Perfect Fit."

    You can find that here:  http://www.virtualassistantnetworking.com/how-to-choose-a-vi rtual-assistant.htm

    Your other other comment, about it being easier to do yourself, is also a very common sentiment. What I like to get business owners to do is put some math to that. What do you consider your hourly rate as the business owner and entrepreneur? Multiply that by the number of hours you spend on non-revenue generating work (such as administrative tasks). That`s the number of hours you are NOT making money for your business, and the total you get after multiplying that is the amount of money that`s been expended on that work.

    The questions to ask yourself are, Is that a sensible, profitable and strategic use of your company finances? Could someone else do that work more quickly, more efficiently and more cheaply than you doing it yourself? Would that freed time be more beneficially spent by you on growing your business? And how much would your profits increase if you allowed yourself to focus your efforts there instead?

    Yes, some things could be just as easily handled yourself. But as the idea person and profit-maker in your business, is that the best use of your time and attention? What is that wastefulness really costing your business?

    Danielle2006-10-28 16:59:19

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    Danielle Keister, The Relief Virtual Assistance
    Administrative Support Services for Business Consultants and PR Professionals | Founder, Virtual Assistance Chamber of Commerce

    • 31 posts
    October 31, 2006 8:26 AM EST

    Hi, ciscocciein2006

    You really don`t have the same issues with a Virtual Assistant. It`s sort of like comparing apples to oranges. Employees are an entirely different animal, one that requires supervision and management. And while you`d think that at our rates, we would be more expensive, it`s actually employees that cost more.

    In establishing that, you can`t compare hourly wages to hourly rates. What you want to do is take in the big picture.

    You also want to keep in mind that Virtual Assistants don`t replace employees. VAs are the best fit for business owners who don`t have the time, space, budget or enough of a workload for inhouse employees.

    Employees require minimum working hours. You are paying them for every minute they are there, regardless of whether they are productive or not.

    You have to pay payroll taxes.

    You have to provide office space and equipment for them.

    With employees, you increase your administration and expenses, and you also increase the demands on your time and energy because you must supervise them and keep them busy.

    A Virtual Assistant is a whole other animal.

    Because they are in business for themselves, they have a vested interest in making sure clients are happy and well-attended to. Unlike employees, they aren`t there to just show up for a paycheck. Your satisfaction is what keeps them in business and keeps the referrals flowing.

    A good Virtual Assistant will offer you or work with you to develop systems and processes in your business, and help you get the delegative juices flowing.

    With a Virtual Assistant, you only pay for "time on task." Therefore, while the hourly rate might appear to be high, it actually is a very cost-effective, strategic savings when you compare overall costs and value. Most VAs offer a retainer package where you pay one simple monthly fee for a block of hours. You and the VA can work together to determine which package best fits your business needs.

    It`s really simple, strategic and cost-effective to work with a Virtual Assistant, and we`ve got many, many clients who will attest to the benefits and cost-savings we bring to the table.

    Danielle2006-10-31 15:49:18

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    Danielle Keister, The Relief Virtual Assistance
    Administrative Support Services for Business Consultants and PR Professionals | Founder, Virtual Assistance Chamber of Commerce

    • 31 posts
    October 31, 2006 8:36 AM EST

    Question to all of the established VAs posting on this thread:

    How do you take a break from being a VA? If you need a day off or are gone for a half day of appointments, what do you do?

    And what about a week or two vacation? Do you have other VAs that step in to help you out?

    Just wondering - Thanks - R@

     

    Hi, R,

    I build these things in my business sytems and operations just as I help my clients to do also.

    When someone hires me, it`s like when they hire an attorney or accountant. They hire me because we`ve made a connection, developed a relationship and they want MY brain and MY expertise helping them in their business. So while I handle my clients and their needs directly, I also have my own Virtual Assistants who help me with my business`s admin work.

    Occasionally, when I need assistance with a particular project that requires skills outside my own repertoire, then I hire subcontractor VAs.

    I`m very methodical about my scheduling, and this is something I very much recommend to my clients and help them to do also. I maintain one day of the week for my own business admin work. I maintain another set day for my weekly client telephone meetings. The rest of the week is reserved for client work.

    Because I have a system to manage and plan my work, I have greater flexibility to take time off if I want or need to. This is, again. something I help instill in my clients` businesses as well.

    It`s important to keep in mind that the intent is not for a Virtual Assistant to replace or even operate like an employee, and especially not to create or enable any dependence on the part of the client.

    To borrow an excellent phrase from my colleague Stacy Brice--while my clients very much depend on me, they aren`t dependent on me. Nobody`s business should be so dependent on any one thing or person that it can`t function on its own. Business owners are always responsible for the proper planning and smooth functioning of their business, and that includes taking into account that independent contractors operate their businesses independently and have other clients to serve as well as closed days and vacations, etc., just like they do.

    However, good Virtual Assistants certainly can help business owners put into place systems and processes that help their businesses run more independently and automatically, and will carry them through when their VA decides to take her own mental health days and vacations.

    Danielle2006-11-1 19:47:46

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    Danielle Keister, The Relief Virtual Assistance
    Administrative Support Services for Business Consultants and PR Professionals | Founder, Virtual Assistance Chamber of Commerce

    • 31 posts
    November 2, 2006 5:42 AM EST

    Hi, Rafi,

    You hit the nail on the head--trust is always the bottom-line when it comes to hiring any kind of company, and I think even more so for the Virtual Assistant since we don`t necessarily ever meet our clients face-to-face.

    Virtual Assistants go about establishing trust in the same way any other business does. Being clear about who your market is and speaking the same language, building credibility with marketing collateral and a website that are polished and professional and instill confidence, etc.

    Beyond that, networking and referral marketing are the number one ways Virtual Assistants establish trust with clients. It`s about connecting with people, finding common ground and when it comes right down to it, just making new friends.

    When I first started my business, I used all these things in the local arena and that was how I created a foothold for my business. Once I got established, I just naturally progressed into the non-local and virtual arenas. That is a common scenario for many Virtual Assistants.

    Rafi, are you thinking about becoming a Virtual Assistant?

    Danielle2006-11-2 12:57:36

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    Danielle Keister, The Relief Virtual Assistance
    Administrative Support Services for Business Consultants and PR Professionals | Founder, Virtual Assistance Chamber of Commerce

    • 31 posts
    November 2, 2006 2:30 PM EST

    Hi, Rafi,

    Well, to be honest, I think it takes careful planning to create a partnership that works. It`s really like a marriage and there are lots of questions to put on the table before each other to make sure you are on the same page and make determinations beforehand such as who will handle what, who will make what decisions, how you handle this and that, etc.

    It`s very common for business partnerships to come to very unpleasant ends, but that`s usually because the proper "counseling" wasn`t done beforehand.

    I think the strategy you`ve got could work very well with your wife performing the administrative services of the business, and you focusing on the marketing and networking. It certainly could be very advantageous.

    Check out my organization`s website as there`s a wealth of information on the industry, its history and setting up a VA business successfully.

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    Danielle Keister, The Relief Virtual Assistance
    Administrative Support Services for Business Consultants and PR Professionals | Founder, Virtual Assistance Chamber of Commerce

    • 31 posts
    November 3, 2006 3:06 AM EST

    Hi, Bupulga,

    I`d like to offer some clarification, because I think the misunderstandings about what a Virtual Assistant is and how they work is what keeps business owners from using a Virtula Assistant`s services to their best advantage.

    Virtual Assistants are administrative experts, but the definition of a Virtual Assistant that distinguishes them from a secretarial service is the relationship aspect. Hiring a Virtual Assistant to do project work does nothing to develop the ongoing collaborative aspect of the relationship. Hence, the natural evolution that is required in order to develop those intuitions and ability to make judgment calls on a client`s behalf never happens.

    If you hire someone to do project work, it`s not Virtual Assistance, it`s merely secretarial service. The only way a Virtual Assistant can get to know the client, his/her business, the workflows, etc., is if they are in an ongoing relationship with a commitment of hours every month. When that is the platform, Virtual Assistants very much can act in the same capacity as anyone inhouse in making judgment calls and contributing ideas toward the improved operations of a client`s business.

    I`m thinking there may not have been a good fit with your Virtual Assistant, and I think finding the right fit will become easier for business owners as our industry helps educate them, but either way, it`s important for business owners to understand that when they hire a Virtual Assistant they are hiring an independent business owner--not an employee.

    If the need and the urgency is so great that a client needs someone who is solely dedicated to only him/her and the workload, then they really need an employee. Virtual Assistance is not about on-demand service, and VAs who have been in business awhile and had more than one client, understand that they can`t make those kind of promises. The goal is to work in strategic, collaborative partnership, and it`s more important that they are excellent workload managers so that all their clients` needs get taken care fairly, consistently and in a systematic process.

    Not saying this is the case in your situation, but if a business owner works in a constant state of chaos or is unable to plan ahead, or thinks the relationship is merely an cheaper alternative to an employee that they don`t have to pay taxes on, they are not going to be a good fit for a Virtual Assistant.

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    Danielle Keister, The Relief Virtual Assistance
    Administrative Support Services for Business Consultants and PR Professionals | Founder, Virtual Assistance Chamber of Commerce

    • 31 posts
    November 3, 2006 8:32 AM EST

    Yes, there certainly is an offshoring development that`s been going on for several years now, but what I very much strive to impress upon the business world is that there`s a great difference between project oriented services and relationship-based Virtual Assistance.

    My clients would not be happy or satisfied with the former because the personal relationship aspect is commonly missing, as well as host of other issues such as language and cultural obstacles.

    I personally don`t feel threatened. My clients are not only clients, they are friends, and the day I feel they would be better-served with another platform other than Virtual Assistance--I wouldn`t hesistate to recommend that to them. But I`m not seeing any kind of sentiment developing in that regard, either in my personal business or in my industry overall.

    In fact, it`s interesting that certain countries that had been at the forefront of offering dirt-cheap services, have discovered that the market will bear a lot more than what they`d been charging, and now we see them complaining about other countries jumping up to take their place as the "cheapy" service providers.  But eventually, I believe we`ll see them charging more consistent rates with the rest of the industry as well.

    Plus, there just will always, always be those who shop price, and those who prize value and quality. What I mentor Virtual Assistants, and every business owner really, is to focus on those who would value your services and don`t worry about the rest.

    Danielle2006-11-3 15:35:32

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    Danielle Keister, The Relief Virtual Assistance
    Administrative Support Services for Business Consultants and PR Professionals | Founder, Virtual Assistance Chamber of Commerce

    • 31 posts
    November 3, 2006 12:36 PM EST

    That`s awesome, Bob! I think your plan is very smart--business owners like you who plan strategically can make the best use of our services.

    When you`re ready to hire a Virtual Assistant, feel free to use our Virtual Assistant Directory here: http://www.virtualassistantnetworking.com/directory/

    If you`d rather the VAs come to you, you can also submit an RFP (we call them Requests for Partnership) here:  http://www.virtualassistantnetworking.com/rfp-center.htm

    These are both free services we offer to business owners.

    I think it bears pointing out that we are the only Virtual Assistant organization, along with our education partner AssistU, to screen our Virtual Assistant members to meet minimum qualifications and our organization`s standards of excellence.

    Danielle2006-11-4 0:36:4

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    Danielle Keister, The Relief Virtual Assistance
    Administrative Support Services for Business Consultants and PR Professionals | Founder, Virtual Assistance Chamber of Commerce

    • 31 posts
    November 12, 2006 5:14 PM EST

    Hi, Craig,

    That`s actually a very good point, and a clarification that my organization is working hard to make for business owners. Too many have coopted the Virtual Assistant term without understanding what it means, and in the process caused confusion in the marketplace.

    Virtual Assistance, as the model was conceived to be by Stacy Brice, is by definition a profession of administrative support professionals (Virtual Assistants) who partner with clients to act as their assistant. By definition, Virtual Assistants work in an ongoing, collaborative capacity. When a business owner wants that kind of support in their business, someone who can not only perform administrative services in their business, they should look for a Virtual Assistant.

    If a business owner is only looking for task-based support, which is transactional rather than relational, then they should seek out a secretarial service.

    Business owners can use our client guide which includes the article "How to Hire a Virtual Assistant," to assist them in interviewing Virtual Assistants and discerning who is qualified. That guide is located here:

    http://www.virtualassistantnetworking.com/client-guide.htm

    We also have a glossary that is very helpful in understanding different outsourcing terms which are often confused as Virtual Assistance, but which are actually something different. Knowing these terms helps business owners look for exactly the kind of service they need. The glossary is located here:  http://www.virtualassistantnetworking.com/glossary.htm

    Hope that helps.

    Danielle2007-6-7 12:10:51

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    Danielle Keister, The Relief Virtual Assistance
    Administrative Support Services for Business Consultants and PR Professionals | Founder, Virtual Assistance Chamber of Commerce

    • 31 posts
    August 24, 2007 5:07 PM EDT

    Craig,

    There`s actually quite a significant difference between physical assistants and Virtual Assistants.

    Physical assistants are employees.

    Virtual Assistants belong to the administrative profession known as Virtual Assistance. They are business owners--not employees, and provide administrative services at a professional level that exceeds traditional administrative support. Many Virtual Assistants also provide additional technical and creative services.

    It was actually my organization, the Virtual Assistance Chamber of Commerce (http://www.virtualassistantnetworking.com), that spearheaded the standards movement in our industry and established the minimum qualification standard of at least 5 years upper level administrative support experience that the industry has adopted.

    Danielle2007-8-24 22:16:19

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    Danielle Keister, The Relief Virtual Assistance
    Administrative Support Services for Business Consultants and PR Professionals | Founder, Virtual Assistance Chamber of Commerce

    • 2 posts
    October 16, 2012 11:55 PM EDT