Photo by TorleyFor most small businesses, office space constraints are a severe production bottleneck. For companies requiring a full-time tech support staff, or small companies fielding thousands of calls or e-mails a day from existing or prospective customers and business contacts, office real estate can often be allocated, quite inefficiently, to house these massive call or computer centers. This can be an extremely inefficient path for a business to take, due to the following:
  • Costly furnishings for dedicated rooms
  • Expensive equipment - computers and teleconferencing software and hardware
  • High phone bills and set up costs for landlines, and utility bills
It is due to this corporate reasoning that a new line of work, the virtual assistant (VA), has risen in prominence. Virtual assistants, not to be confused with its bulk form in outsourced call centers in foreign countries, are independently contracted employees who provide the same service as an administrative, technical or creative assistant from a remote location, either from home or a centralized location. It is estimated that there are currently 8,000-35,000 virtual assistants currently employed by companies worldwide, who offer complete administrative solutions to businesses. There are many advantages to hiring virtual assistants:
  • Employers are not responsible for employee-related taxes, insurance or benefits, as virtual assistants operate as their own, independently contracted business.
  • Virtual assistant services are very flexible and can be customized to your company's exact needs.
  • Calls and e-mails can be forwarded directly from your company to the virtual assistant seamlessly.
  • With a dedicated virtual arm handling your company's busy work, you can utilize your office space more efficiently for other manufacturing and production purposes.
  • Less office equipment means much lower overhead costs for your company
While this may all sound good on paper, there are some possible drawbacks to such a relationship:
  • If your virtual assistants are poorly rehearsed in your company's product line and basic information, it will reflect poorly upon your company.
  • It may be hard to contact your remote contractors on a regular basis. Most contractors prefer e-mail and phone call conferences over real face-to-face meetings.
  • Highly sensitive information may be leaked out of your company if a confidentiality agreement has not been set.
Here are some things to consider thoroughly before hiring a virtual assistant:
  • Many companies require VAs to have over five years of clerical or supervisory experience, such as secretaries, paralegals and office managers.
  • VAs should have professionally designed websites promoting their work with testimonials and references that check out. Check their spelling, grammar and focus.
  • Experienced virtual assistants should provide a consultation, or a demonstration of their skills and professionalism, to their prospective clients. Check for professionalism, punctuality and timely responses to your inquiries.
  • Clear understanding of your business and a quick study - make sure your VAs can quickly learn your trade.
  • Analyze their skills in pertinent technologies such as software and hardware.
  • VAs are not required to provide their résumé as they consider their website and testimonials to be experience enough.
  • Be clear about what services are offered, and which are not.
  • Be aware that professional VAs do not come cheap. Be prepared to pay at least $30-$50 hourly for their services, and to sign a long-term contract.
  • When in doubt, for whatever reason, either personal or professional, back out. You don't want to settle for a remote contractor, you want one that you are absolutely confident in.
If you are confident that your company needs a virtual assistant, you need to be well aware of the restrictive standards that virtual assistants operate by, which may surprise you as a manager.
  • Virtual assistants do not require or welcome your management or supervision. It is understood from your contract that you hand over your business' administrative responsibilities to him/her.
  • VAs set their own fees, hours, policies and procedures, and as the client, and once you enter a binding agreement, you are not allowed to change them.
  • VAs are not required to agree to changes to pay, or submit time sheets to you.
  • VAs will not allow you to control the means they use to accomplish the results that you have requested. As a client, your only concern is the end product. If you are dissatisfied with the end product, you have the right to make requests to improve the quality.
  • You are allowed to terminate the contract, which must be approved by an attorney, if deadlines are not met or the quality of the services is inferior.
As you can see, there are many considerations to take before entering a relationship with a virtual assistant. However, if your company's business is beginning to outgrow its office space, this is a cost-cutting and space-saving move you can seriously consider.