For years, Merilee Kern has used virtual assistants. The owner of the PR agency Kern Communications offloads a wide variety of tasks, freeing her up to concentrate on running and building her business.
“Virtual assistants can be an invaluable asset to ease and expedite your professional life, and the availability of high-quality virtual assistants has increased,” Kern says. “You would be amazed at the caliber of talent in today’s VA pool.”
Business-Grade Virtual Assistants
It used to be that most virtual assistants were limited to basic administrative tasks like email management, database entry or research, but the new breed of virtual assistant is highly skilled, educated and equipped for even the most specialized tasks.
“When I first looked into using virtual assistants, I expected to primarily find people with clerical skills, but I soon discovered college graduates able to do just about anything, including writing blog posts,” says Kelly Walsh, owner and president of the coaching and consulting companies One Smart Career and One Smart Life. “The range of skills you can find among virtual assistants is tremendous, and using them is something I now also suggest to my clients in order to accelerate business growth.”
Small-business owners can get VA help with just about anything, agrees Sandra Lewis, founder of the virtual support company Worldwide 101. “Globalization and the resulting virtual work paradigm and the shift since the 2008 financial crisis to freelance/fractional work has made it easy to get skilled, reliable help—providing you hire a business-grade virtual assistant from a company that recruits and vets highly skilled VA’s.”
Armed With Advanced Skills
Skills typically covered by business-grade VAs include:
- Any administrative tasks, including email management, scheduling, travel planning and bookkeeping
- Customer service via email, live-chat and phone
- E-commerce management, including online order processing, stock management and ordering, website product updates and refund processing
- Social media and marketing (email newsletters, sales pages, blog posts)
- Lead generation
- Design (business cards, flyers, email templates, Web graphics)
- Web development (anything from installing plugins to a complete site redesign and build)
- Paralegal support
- Research/data compiling, intelligence gathering, reports
- Presentations using PowerPoint
Finding the Ideal VA
Locating the right VA for your business can be tricky, says business coach Suzanne Evans, author of The Way You Do Anything Is the Way You Do Everything: The Why of Why Your Business Isn’t Making More Money. She experienced exponential growth when she started delegating tasks to virtual assistants but notes that the selection process can be somewhat challenging.
“The saturation of the VA market has made it more difficult to discern abilities and skill sets,” she says. “VAs are like many virtual services. They are unregulated, uncertified and vary vastly, which makes vetting and researching to match the right VA to your company the key to long-term success.”
Consider the following tips when searching for a virtual assistant.
Be realistic. “It is unlikely that you will find someone who can do everything, and if the person says he or she can, be cautious,” Lewis says. “Most VAs will have either an admin or a customer service specialty by default, and then some VAs have additional specialist skills like social media and marketing or design, or Web development. With a good quality VA company you can get a primary VA for your core tasks and then have additional team members available for occasional tasks like design or Web development, as well as backup members, in case a VA gets sick.”
Look for a satisfaction guarantee. This indicates that the company stands behind the quality of its team and is concerned about reputation.
Ask about the recruiting and vetting process. “Make sure you find a company that goes to great lengths to hire the best VAs,” Lewis says. “You need an assistant with a great attitude who cares about your business.”
Look for a good match. Choose a company that makes the effort to really match you with the right VA. You want someone who not only possesses the skills you need, but a VA you can trust and with whom you can communicate and effectively delegate.
Start small. “As a small-business owner, the bottom line is paramount, and your default is probably not to spend money,” Walsh says. “When budget is a concern, start with just three or four hours a week and see how it works. If it proves successful, add more hours.”
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