What is a Virtual Assistant

A Virtual Assistant or VA is an entrepreneur who, for a fee, provides professional administrative, technical, or creative assistance to clients from his own office. His clients are usuallysmall businessesbrokers and consultancy groups although sometimes big companies also avail themselves of the services of a VA to perform certain tasks. The process of engaging the services of a virtual assistant is called outsourcing.

The virtual assistant may also engage the services of other people to perform certain tasks especially if such tasks are beyond his own personal expertise. This process is called sub-contracting and the people the virtual assistant hires for this purpose are sub-contractors. The sub-contractors deal only with the virtual assistant who in turns deals directly with the client. They usually are professionals and even retirees who are experts in their own field and have spare time to perform the outsourced tasks. They normally work at home and require only a serviceable personal computer and a good internet connection.

Virtual assistants are proving to be a very important business arrangement for small businesses, brokers and consultants who cannot afford to rent additional office spaces, hire additional personnel and buy additional office fixtures and equipment as a result of a short-term project. The advent of modern communications technology has made it easier for these business organizations to outsource certain tasks to virtual assistants halfway around the globe. Common modes of communication and data delivery include the Internet, e-mail, telephone conferences, online work spaces, and fax machine.

Outsourcing work to virtual assistants is fast becoming a popular and sound decision even for routine tasks such as email or appointment management. The outsourcing client realizes certain benefits from the transaction such as:

  1. Lower cost. Virtual Assistants usually operate from their homes or from smaller offices hence their overhead costs are lower. If the virtual assistant operates from a third country such as the Philippines, the labor cost per unit of time is likewise lower. Moreover, if the task can be completed in a short time such as article writing, the client pays only for such time as opposed to paying the cost of a full time employee. These factors translate into lower cost in the performance of the task for the outsourcing client;
  2. Freedom from setting up legally mandated employee benefits. The outsourcing company does not have to pay compulsory employee benefits that tend to build up overtime such as retirement plans, health and insurance benefits, etc.;
  3. Freedom from legal complications associated with terminating an employee. In some countries, there are labor laws that make it difficult for the employer to terminate an employee whose services are no longer needed. With outsourcing, the obligation of the client terminates with the payment of the outsourcing fee;
  4. Instant access to expert services. By outsourcing, a client is able to tap the expert services he needs. He does not have to spend for the training of an employee over a period of time;
  5. Focus on the core business. With the less important matters being taken care of by virtual assistant, the client is able to focus on its core business and be more effective at it.

Outsourcing is a rapidly growing trend, made possible by three key factors:

  1. the desire of employees to maintain more control over their work styles,
  2. the desire of businesses to lower costs and improve efficiencies, and
  3. the availability of technology that enables both sides to connect.

Following are some of the tasks that are usually outsourced from virtual assistants:

  • Admin/Secretarial Support (Calling, Faxing, etc)

If the administrative details are bogging your business down, a virtual assistant is just a contact away. It can do email management, appointments management, take and make calls, receive and send out communications, anything that will distract you from your core business.

  • Article and Web Content Writing

If writing is not your strong suit, don’t waste time and money trying to develop the talent. And don’t give up on this very valuable tool either. A virtual assistant can write articles that will introduce you to your market and sell your business.

  • Bulk Ad Posting

If your business calls for bulk ad posting and you find the repetitive task of crafting the ads tedious, call a virtual assistant. Then watch as the responses start flooding your contact lines.

  • CRM/ Site Maintenance

If Customer Relationship Management is crucial to your business, a virtual assistant can design one for you and even maintain it so that you continue to be in constant contact with your most important public, your customers.

  • Data Conversion (from one format to another)

If you are constantly receiving information in various formats and you find it tedious and time consuming to organize and manage it, call a virtual assistant can solve this problem for you.

  • Data Gathering/Mining

If you want to organize a set of data, like prospective clients and their demography, from a voluminous source so that you can use them in your business, don’t get snowed under. A virtual assistant can simplify things for you.

  • Data Grabbing (from a website to an office document)

If you want to cull information from the internet and organize it into a usable document, don’t waste your time wading through millions of unnecessary details. Let a virtual assistant do this so you can focus on what you do best – selling your business.

  • Encoding/Typing, Formatting

Organizing information that comes in various formats and encoding it in a way so that your clients can access or read them can be a daunting task, especially if you do not have the time. Whether it is word, excel or powerpoint presentation, a virtual assistant can simplify life for you.

  • Resume and Cover Letter Writing

Resume and Cover Letters are crucial documents. They provide the prospective employers the initial information about the person even before they see him. It is vital, therefore, that these documents are read, instead of being thrown into the trash can, and coax the recruiter to invite you for an interview. A virtual assistant can craft resumes and cover letters that get read by the recruiters

  • Research

Research can also be done by virtual assistants. If you are going into a business in another part of the world, you can fly into that place and start asking around. Or you can call a virtual assistant and let him do the spadework.

  • Transcription (Audio to Text)

If your business calls for the handling of information in audio and you need to transcribe it to text, a virtual assistant can do this for you. We have transcribers who can do even medical and legal transcribing.

  • Web design/IT

If you have always wanted to have a website for your business but do not know how to go about making one, a virtual assistant can design one for you and even write the contents that you want your clients to read in your website.

Finally, with the current economic downturn, the need to be financially efficient has become crucial. Optimizing and outsourcing are two of your very viable options.

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You Too Can Be A Virtual Assistant!

If you are looking for a business that can be run from home, financially rewarding and intellectually gratifying, try setting up a Virtual Office and becoming a Virtual Assistant. It is estimated that there are between 5,000 to 35,000 virtual assistants all over the world and the number is growing fast. Retrenched employees who were forced by the current economic downturn to set up their own business welcome the opportunity that virtual assistants offer. They also welcome the help that virtual assistants provide in running their business. Aside from giving them enormous savings in overhead expense and personnel cost, virtual assistants provide these entrepreneurs a jumpstart in their business by tapping the instant expertise that their pool of virtual workers provides.

It does not take much to set up a virtual office. A personal computer with the latest applications and a good internet connection can already launch you into business. Of course you also need a decent website to announce your presence in the market. A good business plan and well thought out marketing campaigns should be able to bring you your initial clients. Don’t hesitate to tap the services of a virtual assistant at the early stage of your business.

You do not need to be an expert in every field that your client will need services in because you can tap virtual workers. These are professionals and experts, both retired and actively employed, who are just too glad to contribute their expertise, for a fee of course.They work on a contractual basis and a long-lasting professional relationship is normal. Typically 5 years of administrative experience in such areas as executive assistant, office manager/supervisor, secretary, legal assistant, paralegal, legal secretary, real estate assistant, etc. is already adequate to meaningfully contribute to a virtual office.

You should cultivate a healthy relationship with these virtual workers because in a larger sense they are your business partners. As your business grows, their roles will become crucial. You will need a team of trusted virtual workers to entrust work overflow to. The standards of a good virtual assistant are not that easy to meet if his final products are to be acceptable to his international clients. Establishing a virtual network of quality workers is likewise not an easy task. Managing professionals and experts is never a straightforward formula. Any work overflow that you outsource from them must bear the same care and quality as your own if you want to keep your existing clients. A perceived deterioration in quality is the easiest way to lose them to your competitors.

Virtual offices create an enormous amount of personal freedom, independence and gratification for its owner and his virtual workers. The dedication and commitment that virtual workers demonstrate testify to the satisfaction derived from a home office setting. And sometimes, virtual workers look up to the virtual office for that job satisfaction that their job fails to provide simply because they are not given the opportunity to do what they want to do.

To gain and retain clients, you need to maintain your professionalism in all of your dealings with them. If it has been a leap of faith for you to give up the security of a monthly salary, it is as much a leap of faith for the business owners to embrace this new concept of outsourcing tasks to a team of virtual workers who they may not even see face-to-face. A great amount of trust is needed in this relationship and your professionalism in correspondence and phone calls will go a long way in securing their trust.

You will also have to pay meticulous attention to the accuracy of the final product that you submit to your clients even if it is produced by your best virtual worker. Meet all your deadlines, and know at least two days ahead of time if you are not going to be able to meet them. Communicate that to your client before the project is late. When something goes wrong, honesty rather than cover up is still the best policy. Keep in touch daily from the beginning to the end of all projects with brief status reports ever careful not to waste your clients’ time.

If setting up a virtual office looks daunting to you, you can start out as a virtual worker until you are able to grasp the intricacies of a virtual assistant business. Then you can go into it yourself, more confidently this time. Outsourcing as a business option is here to stay.


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Tips For Effective Outsourcing

March 19, 2010 1 comment

There are many virtual assistants online that promise professional, expert services in very well-designed websites. Some will quote lower rates, some will promise faster deliveries and some will promise even the moon and the stars. So how do you go about choosing the right one? To start with, you have to know what to look for when it comes to hiring a virtual assistant. The basic consideration in hiring a virtual assistant is satisfaction of the client’s needs at a reasonable price. So there has to be a common ground between what you need and what he can provide.

Following are some qualities that you have to look for in a virtual assistant before hiring one:

  • Ability to work on flexible hours. A virtual assistant should be able to work the hours that your project requires without too many restrictions. That he is working halfway around the globe and should therefore be asleep when you are working is not an excuse. It comes with the territory, so to speak. If he imposes a lot of conditions or restrictions, you will be better off shopping around for other virtual assistants.
  • Willingness to accept various payment systems. A virtual assistant should not force you into a straightjacket arrangement when it comes to payment system. There are various arrangements that can be made depending on the nature of the task or project being outsourced, such as subscription, hourly or per project packages. A virtual assistant should be able to live with free-lance rates to be able to compete with company employees. Inflexibility in this area should already tip you off that the virtual assistant may not be the best choice for your company.
  • Ability to provide his own equipment and space. One of the main benefits that a virtual assistant can offer you is the fact that he provides his own working space and equipment. If his fees seem like he is charging you the cost of his equipment or the rent for his office space then maybe he is not the professional virtual assistant for you.
  • Ability to communicate in various modes. Since a virtual assistant does not share an office with you various modes of communication are vital. In order for your working relationship to operate in the virtual world you need to be able to reach him when you need to so you should not be tied down to only one or two communication options. A lack of communication is the number one reason why business relationships and projects fail, so make sure that your virtual assistant provides you with multiple contact options.

  • Possession of desired skills and expertise. It is not being unfair to ask for proofs of what he can do like a sample of his works. Look for telltale signs of lack of quality like misspellings, grammatical errors, misplaced punctuations, etc. A virtual assistant is supposed to be a professional and an expert, so these things have no place in his works. If he is unable or unwilling to offer you any proof of his work, look for another virtual assistant.

  • Computer and Internet literate. Computer and internet literacy should be a must. If he admits shortcomings in this area and requires Internet training or technical training before you can begin working together then you are not talking to the right party. Maybe you are even better off providing the training to your full-time employees.
  • Realistic claims. Virtual assistance is not for everyone. There are companies that are overstaffed and the employer is just looking for tasks that can be assigned to their staff. These are usually the Fortune 500 companies. So when a virtual assistant claims that such a company is his client, check it out. The slightest indication that he/she has been less truthful should push you to move on in your search.
  • Honesty and integrity. Even after you have already hired a virtual assistant, always be on the lookout for copied works. You do not want to have problems with patents and copyrights. The first sign of plagiarism or directly downloaded materials, start looking for a new virtual assistant.
  • Punctuality. Agree on realistic deadlines and stick to them. If your virtual assistant starts asking for extensions afterwards, he is not very professional and start looking for a new virtual assistant.

Finally, you will be well advised to remember the old adage. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is not true.

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Five Qualities a Top Virtual Administrative Assistant Must Have

With the rise of Virtual Assistance and increasing workforce trends that allow workers flexibility of time and being with one’s family when needed, the growth of remote/online workers have increased steadily throughout the years. People who used to think that a good job necessitates reporting to an office and staying in your cubicle the whole day, meeting set goals at the end of the day and being paid well for it are now realizing that this simply is not the only option. One CAN get a good job without being stuck in an office the whole day, get the job done and move on to other jobs and get good compensation – AND you can even spend time with your loved ones or take a break as often as you like without being called a slacker by your employers.

Virtual Assistants (VAs) appreciate this and are reaping the benefits of having regular work and having time to enjoy its rewards in the present.

What exactly are the top qualities a VA must have in order to be well-recommended to clients?

First-off, having great administrative, communication and cyber skills are really important. Most of the tasks taken on by VAs are administrative in nature (whether it be on the professional or personal level of the clientele). Therefore, it helps when the VA has the organizational skills to manage the various administrative tasks in order to give the desired output to the client.

Being able to communicate well one’s ideas and in the language of the clientele is of course conducive to better partnerships. There is less room for misunderstandings which may lead to dissatisfaction in the working relationship. VAs should also be quick in getting whatever the client is driving at. They must be intuitive and have the ability to read / hear what is both said and unsaid.

Cyber skills, of course, is a given considering that you are doing virtual work and the assumption goes that you have a fast and reliable internet connection. One must know how to utilize various internet offerings (such as emailing – knowing how to attach finished work and in what format, chatting for regular updates, etc.) in order to accomplish the task. Being computer-literate in terms of software usage (knowing which software to use) is important but even more so is the ability to command verifiable data from the internet. A VA who flounders around in researching and data-mining wastes valuable time.

Secondly, the VA must be a person who genuinely loves being of service to his clientele. Especially if the administrative work one does involves the personal life of the client, this quality is a premium. What the VA does is not just work but is a service to his client so that the client can concentrate on other things that are more important. The VA allows the client to balance his life priorities and rely on others so that he can relax and pursue more urgent things. If the VA considers his work as a service, he gets to appreciate his value and contributes better in the partnership. Thus, the VA must be pro-active and address whatever needs to be addressed as soon as possible. The client will appreciate the extra touch. It communicates concern.

Thirdly, the VA should be good in collaborative work. VAs may not possess all the skills needed in a particular task and they must be ready to accommodate others who may help them complete the task. Or their help may be requested by other VAs, therefore, they must be ready to build on what has previously been done before. VAs who work as teams are better able to handle bigger or more tasks and may counter-check one another to provide a more thorough output for the client. They can also get the job done faster and even jump in during busy periods.

The ability to collaborate is not just between VAs but also between the VA and his client. The relationship between the VA and his client is defined by collaborative support for the busy life of the client. This support transforms the VA to a resource that the client can often utilize to put order into the various aspects of his life.

Fourthly, the VA is also a continuing learner. In order to expand one’s functions, the VA is continually looking for better ways, better software, and more skills to accomplish an increasing variation of tasks. This necessitates flexibility, openness to new things, and thoroughness in order to acquire expertise.

Increasing one’s abilities cultivates a more lasting relationship that adjusts to the needs of clients. After all, this is a dynamic partnership. Ultimately, the goal of the VA is to help the client meet his goal.

Lastly, a VA is someone who is driven by a vision – of being able to do work that one loves, being compensated well for it, being respected for the service given and having time for a personal life as well. VAs should be proud of the work that they do, it is not just for stay-at-home people who choose to work when they need money or not when they don’t need it. VAs are highly-skilled, focused, efficient professionals who have opted out of the rat race in order to enjoy a productive and balanced life.

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Hire an All-Around Virtual Assistant – 5 Benefits to Your Business

An all-around Virtual Assistant (VA) can be the next best thing to having a staff of personnel at your beck and call. First there’s the problem of hiring the right persons with the right skills, ensuring that they can work well without constant supervision. Of course, they should also be motivated to see your business succeed.

If your business isn’t even that big to afford you a staff of more than one person, having a VA may be the solution to your administrative needs.

An all-around VA is a highly-skilled professional who can take on administrative tasks from the professional and personal level. They are experts in providing administrative, technical and/or creative solutions to your professional needs. But that is not all that they can assist you in. The need for a VA to do personal administrative tasks should also be discussed here albeit very briefly.

Let it be noted that if a businessman’s personal life is running smoothly, thanks to the help of his VA, then chances are, he has more time and energy to focus on running his own business. For example, an entrepreneur who’s too busy mounting a campaign for his product may not have time to go around and canvass for an anniversary gift for his wife. His wife is important to him; his business is, too. Yet we all know that in reality, many end up sacrificing their loved ones in order to establish a successful business forgetting that their reason for why they put up their business in the first place is so that they can provide for and enjoy the rewards with their loved ones. A successful person shouldn’t be successful only in the professional level but also in the personal level.

Now that that has been said, we now focus on the more direct benefits to one’s business when one hires an all-around VA.

These 5 benefits are:

1.     Wider accessibility to highly-skilled professionals. Not all businesses can afford to hire the services of highly-skilled professionals on a long-term basis especially if the need for their service is not a regular one. A VA would be in a better capacity to help out. Virtual Assistance came into being in order to serve the small businesses but nowadays, even larger firms are utilizing this industry. As a client, you are not limited to hiring the services of only those who have passed their resumes to you and who can report to your office. A VA may live anywhere and if that doesn’t bother you and both of you can arrive at an arrangement, then everything’s a go.

2.     You gain a partner in your business. An all-around VA is well-versed in collaboration and can even manage an online team for you. VAs have good communication skills that allow them to translate your needs to others so that they can work together to address your need. If your VA has been with you quite some time, his knowledge and continued exposure to the intricacies of your business will aid him in being of better service to you. He can begin to anticipate your needs and be intuitive in proposing solutions to your needs. He is interested in your success because it translates to a continued partnership.

3.     No employee overhead. – Because a VA is a business partner and not an employee, you need not worry about workspace, office rentals, equipment, regular salary, taxes, insurance, etc. You are freed from dealing with employee issues and counselling, sick / emergency leaves, career-pathing etc. Your VA is a self-driven, highly motivated and focused partner who enjoys what he’s doing and specifically chose this career because he loves the benefits which may not necessarily be dependent on you. They are confident persons who are in control of their lives. A happy worker is a productive worker.

4.     You can focus on the more important task of expanding the business and leave the smaller administrative tasks essential to running a smooth business with the VAs. Sometimes the smaller tasks are more numerous and time-consuming and can tend to distract you from what is really more important. Micro-managing everything can be stressful and may lead to sour relationships, dissatisfied costumers and even health problems. You can’t do it all so get an assistant.

5.     VAs are more on-task. They work thoroughly and quickly so that they can get paid and move on to the next task. If they work in a different time zone, your work is getting done though your VA even when you are sleeping. And ‘though they may be task-oriented, they too, are really your work partners who are interested in finding solutions to challenges and better ways to open up opportunities.

In essence, all-around VAs are professionals who got out of the office lifestyle because they know the importance of living a balanced and flexible life. They are the best persons to help you run your business and at the same time allow you to have a balanced life so that you can enjoy the rewards of what you have been working hard for.

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