Virtual Assistants and Freelancers – Great for Your Business

Customer Service Rep on Headset PhoneDo you realize that there is actually an upside to the current economic downturn?

Quite simply, it is an abundance of highly qualified knowledge workers who have been recently separated from companies around the world and are looking for work. The reality is today, that many businesses are not in a position to hire them, but could very much use their help. Quite a few of these experienced workers are moving to a new form of independent work, the Virtual Assistant. It is an exciting prospect for both the businesses that need help but cannot afford to add staff, and for the folks who make themselves available, “online” on an hourly or per project basis to help businesses, “get things done.” There is no burden of hiring staff and then having to lay them off when business slows down or projects are finished. See my article, “Hybrid Teams Increase Small Office Quality and Efficiency – and Save Money.”

Since this situation is becoming more and more common with the current economic conditions, I thought I’d share some Q&A about Virtual Assistants:

What is a virtual assistant?

A VA, or Virtual Assistant is an experienced, self-employed, home-based, generally solopreneur, person who has a definite skill or set of skills who can assist businesses on an “as needed” basis. It may be administrative work, technical work, answering telephones remotely, or many other tasks that an “office assistant” might perform, but they never set foot in their clients’ offices. In addition, most business owners have particular tasks that they will turn over to their virtual assistants, and these can go beyond basic office or business administration.

What skills do I look for in a VA?

The basic skills a VA needs are office and business administration skills. A VA also needs to be highly organized, communicate effectively, and pay careful attention to detail. Many clients look for additional technical skills, such as writing, marketing, social media, blog or website maintenance, and multimedia production – even podcasting!

The skill set you’ll need as a VA, or look for in a VA that you hire, depends on the type of clients you want to work with. Find out what they NEED and build your skills to respond effectively.

What kinds of work can you expect a Virtual Assistant to do?

  • They make pick up some of the email correspondence load from the business
  • Many are very good making travel arrangements, either for individuals or groups
  • Though this is getting rarer, they may send out faxes
  • Many are very good at research and reporting findings
  • Other VAs have business writing skills
  • Some VAs with specialized equipment will transcribe audio recordings, and may also transcribe notes into editable documents
  • Many Virtual Assistants write blog posts and moderate a blog
  • Many will use their writing and internet skills to work with email autoresponders
  • Some will rewrite private label rights (PLR) materials to create original content for web sites and blogs
  • VAs with internet Search Engine skills can do SEO (Search Engine Optimization) to help a business increase traffic to their web site
  • Some more experienced and skilled VAs can create visual presentations
  • Some do basic website maintenance including writing and image research
  • Some businesses find Social Networking an unpleasant task, and let a VA maintain their presence on FaceBook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and others
  • There are many VAs and freelancers who have come out of the video production industry, and bring production and organizing skills to companies that do not want to invest in that sort of specialized talent

The common thread throughout all these tasks is relieving business owners and other workers of some of the day-to-day tasks, freeing them up for other more critical work… all without the burden of full time staff people.

One of the greatest pools of Virtual Assistant and Freelance talent is stay at home Moms and Dads: Highly skilled and motivated people who have left the office world to be there for their children, but still have much to contribute. With the ease of communication brought about by the internet, these people are ready workers who very much enjoy the best of both worlds… continuing the work they love and being always available for their children.

Virtual AssistantOne of the earliest great freelancer experiences I had was actually pre-internet, back in the early days of moving files over telephone lines via modem. In our production department, when we needed type set for our programs, we used to fax storyboards to a typesetter, and they would send back galleys for us to use. A slow procedure, especially for dealing with many last minute changes from presenters. As personal computers and modems came on line, we evolved to faxing storyboards to a freelance artist… an artist who had a, “day job.” She would come home in the evening and create the type for us on her computer. Next morning I would get into our office (which was 50+ miles away from her) before she left for work. We would connect and modem the completed files into our computer, and she would head off for her regular job. Then we output the type on an internal laser printer for production as slides. Using this process, we saved many thousands on production costs and a LOT of time. Good for us, good for the artist who was not on my staff, and would just invoice me for her time at the end of the project. She was also able to earn more money for herself as she had the full time day job, plus what she earned from us in her evening hours.

Again, in those early, pre-internet days, we would modem scripts from writers into our production environment ready for production – fast and efficient, saving us many hours and many messenger fees. Good all around.

How Much Do Virtual Assistants and Freelancers Cost?

Though you must always be responsible to your budget, either your overall business budget, or a project budget, I prefer to evaluate using Virtual Assistants and Freelancers based on how much more work I can get done because of the work that they have taken off my hands. This is a winning strategy because, whether they cost more than my time is worth or less, the value is always there. Remember, relieving you of work you don’t really like to do has value. I certainly can write, but I just don’t like to very much. So any writing I am able to offload relieves my mental stress, and leaves more time for me to do the things I enjoy more. Depending on VAs skills or experience, and their value to me, I generally find people ranging from $15 per hour to rates approaching $100/hour. But, I won’t hire a VA or freelancer unless they have value to my business or a particular project, or any certifications they may have (certification adds value).

For me, Virtual Assistants and Freelancers are truly valuable for my business, and have been for many years.

For those of you interested in becoming a Virtual Assistant, you might look at trade groups like: VA Forum, you take a look at a great book by Jen Houck and Nell Taliercio who have many years virtual assistance experience. They share their success stories and step-by-step tips in the Just Add Sweat Guide To Becoming A Virtual Assistant.

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