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What Is Virtual Assistance?

Technology today has made it not only possible, but very efficient to work virtually—i.e. work with another person who is not in the same office, city, state, or even country! This is done mostly via computer, email, and phone.

A Virtual Assistant (VA) is a business owner who specializes in handling the administrative and online marketing needs of clients – from a distance. There are no geographical boundaries that would keep a VA from being able to work with you.

The benefits of working with a VA include not having the expenses or headaches associated with hiring an employee, such as the need to provide office space, office equipment, consistent work, and benefits. When employees are hired, it’s also necessary to administer payroll, pay taxes, and pay for “down time” – time spent on breaks, at lunch, etc. These costs add up quickly.

An AssistU trained VA is a professional and a business owner who is dedicated to doing the best job possible for her clients. There is no down time for clients to pay for, nor any of the other expenses associated with an employee. These things are taken care of by the VA and only time actually worked is invoiced. Additionally, a professionally trained VA is able to complete tasks efficiently.

A VA’s goal is to have a long-term working relationship with each client in order to learn his/her business well. This enables the VA to make a positive impact on the success of that business under the most ideal of circumstances—a “partnering” relationship.

The Top 10 Things To Know About

Professional Virtual Assistants

By Anastacia Brice

It wouldn’t take a lot of energy to look around and find a variety of definitions of who Virtual Assistants (VAs) are and what they do.

My belief, and the brand of Virtual Assistance practiced by AssistU trained and certified Virtual Assistants (VAs), is that the highest and best for this profession bases the role in partnership with others — not on piecework, project-work, or overflow-work, and not on transactional relationships.

Having said that, here are the top things you need to know about professional VAs:

1. A professional VA is a micro business owner who provides administrative and personal support to clients in long-term and deeply collaborative relationships. A VA frees a client up to do more of what the client loves and does best.

It’s important to know what a VA is, as well as what a VA is *not*. While there are certainly VAs who offer their clients additional services that would fall outside the norm of administrative and personal support, Virtual Assistance is not a catch-all name for any type of virtual professional. A VA, for instance, is not someone who provides consulting services. That person is a consultant. A VA isn’t someone who only provides bookkeeping services. That person is a bookkeeper. A VA isn’t someone who only provides marketing support. That person is a marketing consultant or a marketing assistant. A VA isn’t someone who solely books speaking engagements. That person is an agent. Nor are VAs Tax Advisors, Accountants, Medical Transcriptionists, Web Designers, or professional business and personal coaches.

What makes a person a VA isn’t that the services can be performed at a distance, but rather that the services that are being performed are administrative in scale and scope, and are provided with the desire to support the client across the board, not with just one specific function or task, no matter how ongoing that might be.

2. Most professional VAs are expatriate administrative and executive assistants from the corporate world who were tired of being abused, undervalued, disrespected, and unable to fully contribute.

They come to own their own businesses so that they can reclaim their lives, control their own destinies, and use all of their vast talents and skills to support clients they hand pick for themselves.

Unlike the positions they left in the corporate world, there are few constraints on VAs who own their own businesses, and you’ll find that they are quite proactive rather than just waiting for you to hand them tasks.

3. The advance of technology has made geographical distances a moot issue, and opens a talent pool impossible to touch when tapping the local market.

Professional VAs are able to easily support clients who could be down the street or on the other side of the world.

4. Professional VAs are not employees.

You don’t ever “hire” a VA. You work “with” a VA. You don’t have to provide space, equipment, a guarantee of hours, or benefits. You don’t have the employee hassles, have to pay employment taxes, have to buy additional insurance, or conform to federal mandates like OSHA or ERISA. One check, once each month. Simple and hassle-free.

5. Professional VAs bill at rates $30+ per hour.

With the advanced administrative and virtual skills they have, that’s a very fair fee, even perhaps a bit low. When you think about the value of your own time, and what you could do with more of it, it starts to look like a heck of a deal.

The more professional, industry-specific education a VA has, more experience working with virtual clients, the more she can make happen for her clients, and the more vast her resources, the higher her fee will be. Many VAs work on a retainer agreement with clients — they block a certain number of hours per month to be used by a client. The client pays a monthly fee (a certain number of hours X $/hour = monthly retainer) at the beginning of each month. Unused hours don’t roll over to the next month. Expenses are additional. The per hour rate on a retainer is usually discounted by about 10%, in recognition of the client’s willingness to buy a block of time. A retainer relationship comes with a higher level of commitment to the partnership created — for both people.

In case you wonder — my own VA, Marie, runs my entire life, personal and professional. When I’m on sabbatical for five weeks every autumn, she fundamentally runs the whole show. She’s quick, bright, knows me and my business inside and out, makes a HUGE difference in my life, and is wildly affordable. What’s not to love?

6. A professional VA’s time is 100% productive time.

With employees you pay for down time, for bathroom and drink breaks, and for time spent socializing with others, whether or not you know it. With VAs, you only pay for time spent working with you, so it always seems that there are more minutes in a VA’s hour.

7. Professional VAs know that they do their best work and create the greatest value for their clients only when they work in long-term and collaborative partnerships.

It’s not possible to create this type of high value in a series of transactions, or when doing project-work or piecework.

Let me illustrate:

Imagine that you’re on the road, in your hotel, looking over your notes for an important presentation you’ll be making late in the day tomorrow. You realize that you should have made a PowerPoint presentation for it. You go to the local phone book, and you find that there’s a secretarial service not too far from where you’re staying. You call, and the owner of the service assures you that if you provide her with the text you want on the slides, she can create a presentation for you in time for your presentation. All she requires is a 50% deposit on the work before she begins, and the content you want turned into the presentation.

You create the content, put it on a floppy, hop in a cab and take it over to her. You stop at an ATM on the way to get some cash — she doesn’t take checks or credit cards. Arriving at her home office, you gratefully surrender the floppy, your cell phone number, and pay the requisite deposit. You leave with her promise to call as soon as the presentation is finished.

The next morning, she calls to let you know you can come collect the presentation.

You hop back into the cab, go to her office where she quickly shows you what she’s created and gets your approval. It looks great, and you’re delighted. You happily pay the balance due for the project, hop back into the cab, go back to your hotel where you shower, dress, and then run off to your presentation, confident that the PowerPoint addition will cinch the deal.

In the meeting, you start to go through the presentation. When you get to slide three, you realize there’s a mistake on the slide. A huge one. And it’s your fault. You gave the woman who did the presentation the wrong information.

Wow. A gut-wrenching situation, huh? It’s similar to ones we hear of all the time. And the reason it happens, more times than not, is because the person doing the work doesn’t know you well enough to proactively support you.

Take the same scenario… but this time, with a twist.

You’re in your hotel, you need the PowerPoint presentation done. You create the content, and email it to your Virtual Assistant, Jane, with whom you’ve worked closely for the past six months. Jane acknowledges her receipt, and that she’ll have it done for you soon.

About an hour later, Jane calls. She says, “Henry, I wanted to talk with you about slide three. There’s a bullet-point that doesn’t make sense to me, given what I know of what you’re working toward with this client. And I’m wondering if you can look it over with me in case there’s an error. I would hate for there to be any problems with this!”

You look at the content you sent her, and sure enough — there’s an error. You correct it with her, then take a minute to look over the rest of the content, just to be sure there are no others. Off the phone, you sigh with relief and gratitude.

Wow. How much value has Jane just created for you?

Because she *knows* you, your work, and what you’re trying to accomplish, she can look at what you’ve given her and recognize challenges, handling them before they become big problems for you. And, because you work together in an on-going relationship, there was no rushing, no fussing, no worrying about stopping to get money to pay her with — she’s really your partner (in the relationship sense, not the legal) for success.

It’s true that the tasks of today need to be handled. But the true value of working with a VA comes as a result of the long-term and collaborative relationship you create together.

8. Professional VAs want to work virtually.

They like the idea of working without needing be in the same place as their clients. Most of them won’t ever meet their clients, and of those who do, most of the meetings will be purely social. If you happen to live in the same city as your VA, don’t expect that she’ll come answer phones for you when someone is out sick, or will visit once each week to do your paper filing. It’s simply not likely to happen.

9. There are some people who probably shouldn’t consider working with a VA.

If you are controlling, need to micro-manage, have trust issues, aren’t on line, can’t understand how or why this would work, live in the urgent, procrastinate, rush to deadline, aren’t organized, want someone at your beck and call, have a huge ego and can’t work in partnership with others, don’t understand the power created in a relationship with a fantastic assistant, aren’t open to learning new ways of working and communicating, or if you work in a high-pressure field where things run you instead of the other way around, you probably need an in-person employee, not a VA.

10. Professional VAs invest heavily in themselves and their businesses, all for the benefit of their clients.

Professional VAs are life-long learners. They are curious, open, receptive to new ideas, and they take the time to really hone their craft. Never move into a relationship with a VA who isn’t taking steps to better him/herself.


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