Get Virtual: The New Era Of Personal Assistants

Keeping your small business organized is a job in itself. Hiring a virtual assistant can help you manage the day-to-day.
Forbes Contributor: Makers, Inventors, Small Business, Forbes
June 29, 2011

Small business owners wear a variety of hats. Keeping them all on at one time can be too much for one person, so many owners seek help online in the form of virtual assistants. A virtual assistant can be a person who lives in your community but works from home, or it can be someone halfway around the world.

Virtual assistants have been around for a long time, but they caught on after Timothy Ferriss wrote his popular book, The 4-Hour Workweek. He explained how outsourcing non-critical tasks could help you work on your business as opposed to just working in your business. The main point is that you can’t grow if all you do is manage the day-to-day. You need to free up critical, high-level thinking time and an affordable assistant can make that possible.

Ferriss’ book added fuel to a rapidly growing trend: Online marketplaces for talent, such as GuruoDesk and Elance, are making it easier to connect with a burgeoning virtual workforce. These services are often free to sign up and allow you to search for workers who have been reviewed by other small business owners. The services make it easy to test an assistant by letting you deposit fees into an escrow that are released to the worker only after the project is completed to your satisfaction.

The challenge is finding the right person. I know many small business owners who have tried these services but haven't found the right person who can help them work on their business and get more done. So, I looked around my network for people who could offer some real tips:

  • Nina Feldman Connections offers numerous articles and tips, but also a professional matchmaker service to connect you with the right VA.
  • The International Virtual Assistants Association (IVAA) is a site to help the VA improve his or her own business, however, they have a directory you can search for VAs in your area. The advantage with associations is that the VAs pay a membership fee and one assumes that raises the bar slightly in terms of professionalism and work quality.
  • VA Networking site is a social network site specifically for VAs. You can submit a request for proposal from her 14,000+ members and you’ll hear back from members of that group who fit your criteria.

I have hired two virtual assistants through Guru.com and I still use both of them. I like the ability to manage my 1099 details through their payment system and it helps me keep track of my projects. When I was first searching, it was easy to sort through the highly rated people, based on my search criteria and their results. You can start small and slow and test out a few people at one time. You’ll be amazed at how productive people can be when they don’t have to come into an office.

If you’ve been wondering how to get your own virtual assistant, these resources should help you get started. Tell me about your work with virtual assistants or other virtual workers in the comments below.