Solopreneurs frequently ask me questions about virtual assistants. I turned to Amy Wright, CEO of AmyWright.biz for answers.
Larry Keltto: What kinds of services do virtual assistants typically provide?
Amy Wright: Oh, it runs the gamut from basic calendar management, customer service and scheduling all the way up to super techie things like adding a shopping cart to a webpage or setting up applications like Infusionsoft and everything in between. I think the better question is what do you need in your business that will make you more efficient? That’s what VAs do.
Larry: Why do solopreneurs hire virtual assistants?
Amy: There comes a point in every startup business where the owner just can’t do it all, and that’s a good thing, it means you’re growing. Most of the time VA’s are hired to take the “mundane, administrative” or the “behind the scenes” off of the shoulders of the solopreneur so that they can do what they do best… create and market their products or services.
Larry: What services do solopreneurs typically purchase?
Amy: Again, I think it depends on what they need and sometimes they don’t know. They only know that they are overwhelmed and feel like their day is spent chasing their tail. It’s a great practice to spend 2-3 days logging their daily tasks, to see what’s eating the most time. If it turns out that they’re spending a ton of time answering email, in social media and in customer service…it’s probably a good time to consider outsourcing.
Larry: How much do virtual assistants cost?
Amy: You can hire a VA for as little as $15 per hour, but that would either be an inexperienced newbie or someone overseas typically. Not to say that, that’s a bad thing. Everyone has to start somewhere, right? I was a waitress when I was recruited as an assistant over 12 years ago. Someone took a chance on me and look at me, I’m amazing. (Laughter).
In all seriousness, VA’s make between $25- upwards of $65 per hour. Don’t let that scare you. Would you rather spend $30 per hour for someone to handle the details for you or spend your time doing it when you could be making your hourly rate doing what you are great at?
Larry: How many hours per week should I purchase from a virtual assistant?
Amy: Some VAs work on a weekly retainer and some just bill by the hour. It’s always recommended that you discuss your expectations ahead of time, start small and make sure that he/she has the ability and time to grow with you. If you track your time, like I recommended early, you should be able to see how much time daily you think you’ll need someone.
Larry: How realistic is it for a new solopreneur to hire a virtual assistant if there’s no revenue yet (or not much revenue)?
Amy: It’s not. You don’t want to hire someone just so you can say “I’ll have my assistant call you”. If you are just getting started and you can handle everything on your own, you should. There are tools to get you by until you can afford to have help, like Hootesuite for social media posts, Tungle or Timetrade for scheduling and canned responses in Gmail. Those are great timesavers for any business owner. Not to mention, you should always understand every working part of your business, down to the last detail. I believe that’s really important. How can you ask someone to help you if you aren’t clear on the details yourself?
Larry: Do virtual assistants go by any other names?
Amy: Oh God yes. Some people are really funny about it too. Almost cult-like (laughter). Sometimes it depends on the specialty of the VA, like someone specializing in paralegal work may refer to herself as a VLA (virtual legal assistant) or one specializing in SEO may call herself an SEO assistant, you may hear terms like Administrative Consultant , Virtual Office Manager, Business Consultant…I say, call it what you will, your bottom line is getting your client relief from their administrative (and sometimes even more than that) tasks. One of my clients called my his Right Hand Gal. Suited me fine.
Larry: How are these services purchased — ala carte, packages, or something else?
Amy: Most of the time, there is an agreed upon hourly rate, the VA keeps track of hours and you pay her invoice. Some choose to work off of a retainer model, like an attorney and some have packages that you can choose from based on their scope of work for you. Obviously it’s completely up to the VA since she is a business owner herself. Just like you, Larry may charge hourly while a competitor has a package model.
Larry: When I hire a virtual assistant, am I hiring one specific person to serve my business?
Amy: Typically, yes. That’s a great question to ask while interviewing though. “Will you be doing all of my work yourself, or do you subcontract help?”
You’ve worked hard to get your business where it is. You don’t want to just hand passwords and trade secrets over to anyone. It’s kinda like taking your kids to daycare for the first time. You want to know who’s handling things, right? It can be nerve racking in the best of situations (both business and daycare). Be certain to get an NDA (Non disclosure agreement) signed before you hand over anything about your business.
Larry: There seem to be a LOT of virtual assistants. How do I know I am hiring someone I can trust, and someone who will do a good job?
Amy: There are a lot. It’s a growing field since the economy tanked. Anyone can throw up a website and call themselves whatever they want. Get referrals. Testimonials. Do your research. Any good VA should have clients who can vouch for them and give you first hand experience on what it’s like to work with that person. If they are new to the field (remember that’s not necessarily bad), check references for past employers.
Larry: Off topic slightly, but are the oDesks and eLances of the world hurting VAs and the rates they can charge?
Amy: Not off topic at all, Larry! It’s a very good question. It depends on what you are looking for AND who you hire. I don’t think they are hurting VAs. In fact, I know of many VA’s who get work from services like these as a starting point. Many “Admin workers” in Odesk are overseas workers that you can hire for $3-5/ hour. That’s great for small jobs that don’t require a relationship like transcription, logo design or little jobs like that.
Business owners that I’ve spoken to want a VA they they can build an ongoing relationship with. Someone who knows the intimate details of their business. A partner, if you will. That’s hard to do when there’s a language barrier or huge time difference. I’ve tried to work with overseas contractors in my business. I’ve had a few good ones and a few bad ones. So far my overall experience has been negative on more complex things.
Larry: What other comments do you have regarding virtual assistants?
Amy: Think through the process before you get started. This is not a shoot, ready, aim type A personality thing. You should prepare, which takes time. I do offer free 15-minute consults for anyone who is thinking that it might be time to duplicate themselves. Here to help.
Amy Wright is a business nerd who rocks out to 80’s music, loves the color purple (not the movie, but the actual color) and her lovely family.
Amy explains her business: “Sometimes you need to hire someone… just to hire someone. Ads, resumes, references, background checks, phone calls and emails trying to find that “perfect fit”… it’s a pain for a busy entrepreneur. I use my HR ninja, virtual-assistance magic, and administrative moxie to virtually duplicate you in a matter of days. Cool, huh?”