Regardless of the size and scale of your business, you can find great value in hiring a Virtual Assistant. In the 1970’s, long before the Internet became a major force in business development, virtual assistants were identified with company executives who were always on the move.
They were tasked to manage mundane tasks such as making hotel and restaurant reservations, checking if the laundry or dry cleaned suit were available and confirming travel arrangements.
It wasn’t until the mid 1990’s that virtual assistants started to evolve and find opportunities in other industries. In 2006, Tim Ferris’ bestselling book “The Four Hour Workweek” blew wide open the doors on how virtual assistants can significantly benefit your business.
Today there are millions of virtual assistants worldwide. Leading online job platform Elance claims it has eight million virtual assistants of varying skill sets among its community members.
But with the advantages of hiring a Virtual Assistant also come the disadvantages. This is to be expected as the industry continues to grow and more people are switching careers to become virtual assistants.
The Pros of Using a Virtual Assistant
- Streamlines your cost
The primary benefit of hiring a Virtual Assistant is that it lowers your cost of operation. A Virtual Assistant technically is self-employed and owns his own business with virtual assistance as the main trade.
You only pay a Virtual Assistant per productive hour. Because he is contracted on a per project basis and not employed full time, the Virtual Assistant is not entitled to the usual set of benefits.
In addition to cost savings from compensation, you do not need to allocate additional budget for rent, Internet and utilities. These are all considered to be part of the Virtual Assistant’s cost of business.
It is estimated that hiring a Virtual Assistant will generate a cost savings of 40%.
- Become more efficient
Virtual assistants are great in organizing and finding new ways to make processes more efficient.
Not many people realize that virtual assistants start out as regular 9-to-5 employees. They know the culture and have the experience to work with supervisors and other employees.
They utilize these experiences to their career as virtual assistants because they have a keen understanding of the value of time. For the most experienced virtual assistants, time wasted is opportunity foregone.
Thus when you hire a Virtual Assistant, one of the first items on the agenda is to organize the workflow. This could be done by systematizing the filing of work or introducing new technology to make frameworks simpler yet faster.
- Increases productivity
By having had previous experience, most virtual assistants do not need extended periods of learning. They will need time to acclimatize to the new set of responsibilities but generally this happens while being on the job itself.
Thus, you do not need to spend much time training them. A seasoned Virtual Assistant only needs to be oriented before he assumes the job full time.
Also, by delegating work to a Virtual Assistant, you will be able to free up time for you to focus on functions that require your expertise. You no longer have to allocate time for non-essential tasks or functions that do not immediately translate to business income.
Finally, because virtual assistants are paid per productive hour and upon accomplishing milestones, you can be rest assured they will work harder to meet your targets.
- Safely scale operations
If the financial statements show you are ready to scale up your business but you remain unsure about your cash flow, your best option would be to hire virtual assistants.
As previously mentioned, the cost of hiring a Virtual Assistant is comparatively low. It will not significantly impact on your cost of operations thereby keeping your capital exposure to risk at a minimum.
Second, since virtual assistants are hired only on a per-project basis and not full time employees, you can terminate the contract if the arrangement is not working out.
If you hire your Virtual Assistant through an agency, you can have the candidate replaced without losing much time.
- Strengthen weak areas
Virtual assistants are no longer just virtual secretaries or virtual personal assistants. Today’s incarnation is much more skilled and highly trained.
You can find virtual assistants who are specialized in a diverse set of skills. There are virtual assistants for market research, transcription services, telemarketing, customer support, digital marketing and payroll preparation.
And given their experience and advanced training, you can always expect top end, high quality work.
As the job has evolved so has the designation. Virtual assistants have grown to be referred to as telecommuters, freelancers or home based workers. Regardless of title, the nature of the job has remained the same.
- Gain flexibility
As proprietors of their own business, virtual assistants can set aside their own time.
If you are based in North America and you want your business managed for 24 hours, you should hire virtual assistants from the Philippines and India where time zone differentials exist.
A good example would be an insurance company that needs sales and administrative support.
You can hire virtual assistants who can work with you during operating hours to do sales calls or set appointments. Then you can schedule a shift after operating hours to update your CRM data base, receive incoming inquiries and update work files.
- Be less stressed
When you able to delegate a great deal of responsibility, you will have more time for yourself. Productive time is not just measured by the amount of work that you were able to accomplish.
By having time for yourself to recharge, you will be able to come back more reinvigorated for work. Stress is a hindrance to productivity.
Entrepreneurs are encouraged to take active rest during their time away from business. Active rest means getting involved activities that support productive behavior.
Time with family, exercise, learning new skills are examples of active rest. Doing the laundry, cleaning up your home is not. When you have virtual assistants to entrust your business to, you can take that two-week vacation you’ve always wanted with your family.
The Cons of Using a Virtual Assistant
- Logistical short comings
Despite the availability of technology and highly evolved forms of communication, it’s hard to beat physical collaboration.
You have to factor in the compromised ability in determining productive behavioral patterns when working with virtual assistants. Working in the virtual world, from the comforts of their own homes creates a sense of security and entitlement which filters real behavioral patterns.
When you share a physical space, it would be easier to get the message across and identify behavioral issues simply by looking out for cues.
- Dealing with the language barrier
This is especially true if you hire virtual assistants from remote locations such as India, the Philippines, China and Europe.
The issue on having a language barrier is not just a factor of diction and grammar. Cultural and social nuances will come into play to create differences in perception.
For example, a company from New York may decide to hire a Virtual Assistant from the Philippines to conduct appointment setting. New Yorkers are generally, very upfront in their approach. They tend to go straight to the point and lay out whatever is on their mind.
Filipinos by nature are more conservative in their approach because they grew up under stricter, predominantly Catholic family rules. They will tend to be more formal, extend due courtesy and use salutations in their spiel more than North Americans normally do.
This is may not sit well with the New York-based client who does not want to waste time on pleasantries. But in the same token, you should not expect the Filipino Virtual Assistant to behave like a New Yorker because it is not within his cultural and social profile.
In this situation, there has to be a moderation of expectations and both parties have to work toward a common ground where interests are preserved.
- Questions on dedication and commitment
A Virtual Assistant may not be able to dedicate himself to you campaign. By nature, he will manage as many projects as he possibly can. That is how he makes his money and builds his business.
A Virtual Assistant will often handle three to four clients at a time, allocating two to four hours per project. If you want to hire a Virtual Assistant and need one who can dedicate himself to your project, this issue has to be made very clear before work can commence.
And even if you do reach a commitment, there still exists the possibility that the Virtual Assistant will sub-contract your project to another Virtual Assistant.
One of the benefits of becoming a Virtual Assistant is your income potential is dictated by the number of projects you can handle. Accepting projects is also an assurance for them that the stream of income will not be seriously compromise if some work gets discontinued.
- Risk of data security
Whenever you engage the services of a Virtual Assistant, you will be passing along confidential information and records. For real estate, insurance and sales companies this includes the leads list.
Even if you use an online Cloud-based file sharing platform, you have no means to finding out if your leads list has been copied or downloaded to another file. A leads list can be converted to cash.
Hiring a Virtual Assistant is no different from hiring someone to assume regular office work. You still need to subject them to interviews, tests and conduct strict due diligence.
Overall, the advantages of hiring a Virtual Assistant outweigh the disadvantages. Safety measures in setting up the IT framework, regular communication and periodic assessment of process should be able to mitigate the risks associated with hiring a Virtual Assistant.
Felix works with the virtual assistant company OutsourceWorkers. He enjoys writing about entrepreneurship and small businesses.