For cash-strapped startups, virtual assistants are often an economical way to have staff support that you could not otherwise afford.
They are called "virtual assistants" because they carry out responsibilities that employees have traditionally fulfilled. But virtual assistants take advantage of technology — particularly online and computing technology — to service your needs from wherever they happen to reside. Hence the word "virtual."
Think of virtual assistants as part-time employees who are paid only for the actual time that they spend producing something you've requested.
It doesn't matter whether you need two hours of help each week or twenty. A virtual assistant costs you nothing unless he or she is working on a specific assignment from you. Thus, because you never pay for idle time, you to have absolute control over your labor costs.
Putting Virtual Assistants to Work
A blog on the Entrepreneur.com website describes 10 Things to Outsource to Virtual Assistants:
- performing online research
- making database entries
- developing data presentations and summaries
- managing email
- taking care of social activities (e.g., sending out birthday cards, thank you notes, etc.)
- researching travel options
- scheduling appointments
- exploring new business opportunities
- doing research on your industry or an industry you service
Not to be outdone, Chris Ducker (perhaps the world's leading authority on using virtual assistants) offers a list of 101 tasks you can outsource to virtual staff to grow your business.
On this same website are several other helpful titles (they're free), including The Ultimate Guide to Virtual Team Building and The Definitive Guide to Training Virtual Staff. Chris also provides a number of guides on how to use virtual assistants for specific tasks such as handling your email, building your online brand, and marketing your blog.
Finding Your Virtual Assistants
But it's one thing to have an interest in using virtual assistants, quite another to know how to go about it. Fortunately, the online world makes it easy to get started.
Sites like these work in a similar fashion. You register on the site, then post the description of a project or job, lay out the expertise or credentials that a qualified assistant should have, and specify the compensation that you are offering for this service.
You then receive applications from virtual assistants, not only explaining how they meet your criteria, but giving you samples of work that they have done for other clients. If you don't find the right person using this process, you're not obligated to hire any of the people who apply.
Chris Ducker, whose resources I mentioned above, also operates Virtual Staff Finder, a company which matches entrepreneurs with virtual assistants whom Chris and his colleagues have personally vetted. Virtual Staff Finder provides you the names and background for the top three candidates whom they have surfaced for your job. This saves you the time of wading through dozens of applications from people who don't meet your criteria or expectations. Once you register at Virtual Staff Finder, you also receive a link to training videos on how to work with virtual assistants.
Although Elance and Odesk have merged recently, they maintain separate web pages. One of the things that I like at the Odesk site is a page on how having a virtual assistant works. As you scroll down this page, you'll find answers to many questions which are probably already on your mind. Such questions as how much to pay a virtual assistant. And how to be sure that your virtual assistant is actually putting in the hours for which you are being charged.
As an encore entrepreneur, you need to spend every hour possible working on the specific things which you do best to further your business. There's no better way to free up your time for that purpose than to surround yourself with the right virtual assistants.
Related Link: Round Out Your Potential with Virtual Assistants