Virtual Assistant (VA) Definition

What Is a Virtual Assistant (VA)?

A virtual assistant (VA) provides various administrative services from a remote location. A VA typically delivers staff and clerical functions but may perform other tasks as needed.

What Do VAs Do?

virtual assistant

In general, there are two categories for virtual assistants: administrative and specialized VAs. Some experienced VAs can be hybrids, which tackle both administrative and specialized functions and therefore charge higher fees for their services.

An administrative VA takes the role of an in-office assistant with routine office tasks or clerical work like[1]:

  • Handling phone calls and emails.
  • Managing a client’s appointments/travel schedules.
  • Setting and recording a client’s meetings.
  • Maintaining office records and files.
  • Placing orders of office supplies.

A specialized VA provides a specific skill set and performs duties related only to those skills. These VAs specialize in an industry, such as real estate. Specialized VAs’ services can cover the following[2]:

  • Creating and implementing marketing campaigns.
  • Writing website content (e.g., blogs and social media captions) and sales pitches.
  • Making videos for marketing products or services.
  • Managing a client’s digital assets like websites and social media accounts.
  • Researching to keep track of competitors and market developments.

Do VAs Require Special Equipment?

VAs require some essential equipment[3]. These tools include:

  • A computer with a headset, microphone and any other hardware needed to perform tasks required of their position.
  • Internet connection with at least 3–5 mbps[5], up to 10 for high-definition video conferencing.
  • Software, such as word processing, online filing, accounting, graphic design, and password sharing.
  • Cloud storage and collaborative systems, such as Dropbox, Google Drive, or iCloud.
  • Communication tools like Skype, Slack, and Zoom.

Depending on the nature of their employment with their employer, the employer may provide this set of equipment or demand a minimum of these tools at hand before they hire the VA.

What Industries Employ VAs?

Practically any business can derive advantages from hiring VAs. However, some industries’ operating structures are set up so they can gain the most benefit from employing virtual employees, like VAs, than in any other industry.

Here are five examples of industries where remote employees can help most[6]:

1. Real Estate

Real estate agents, property managers, and investors can get many benefits from hiring a VA. For example, a VA can help search for and follow-up leads, set and manage client appointments, and handle email correspondence. VAs also help manage their social media presence. Besides online ad postings, a virtual employee can provide customer service for existing and prospective tenants.

2. Legal Counselors

The voluminous paperwork that characterizes law firms presents the perfect workload for VAs. Lawyers can tap virtual assistance to free themselves of time-consuming tasks like legal transcription, data entry, and research. A VA can also help them in setting up client meetings and email communication management.

3. Information Technology

IT services, such as troubleshooting hardware or software issues, can be delivered remotely. Other technical support services like website development and maintenance can also be easily outsourced to VAs. Firms in the information technology sector were among the first to hire virtual employees.

4. Accounting and Finance

VAs excel in industries with repetitive tasks that cannot be wholly automated due to the need for human oversight, such as the financial and accounting sectors. VAs can perform functions such as data entry, organizing records, and handling accounts receivables and payables remotely. Some VAs can also handle budget management and bank reconciliation.

5. Marketing

VAs who can craft marketing campaigns on various channels, like social media, email, and others, are highly sought after. These remote employees can provide market research and produce marketing materials like ads, blogs, graphics, and videos, all of which can be done remotely.

BY THE NUMBERS: Among virtual assistants, 82.6 percent are women, while 13.3 percent are men.

Source: Zippia.com

Where to Find VAs

virtual assistant freelancer

Most VAs are self-employed freelancers offering their services worldwide as independent contractors. U.S. clients mainly source virtual assistance services from overseas, although some VAs are also based in the United States[7].

Employers can also source the VAs suited to their needs from these main recruitment options[8]:

Freelance Platforms

An employer can use a freelance platform like Virtual Staff Finder, Fiverr, and Upwork[9] to find any remote employee, not just a VA, and for any length of employment. Notably, freelance platforms offer payment protection, thus providing an advantage for both employer and employee.

VA Agencies

A virtual agency assigns a VA to an employer based on their requirements. While the employer has no other input in the screening process other than the parameters of what they need, it also frees them from getting bogged down in vetting applicants. This process is an advantage for employers who need immediate help with their work backlog.

Remote outsourcing firms like business process outsourcing (BPO) companies provide remote assistance for their clients[10], which offers services like VAs and call centers. A VA in a BPO company can be telecommuting or working from home as well.

Job-Posting Sites

Employers recruiting VAs can post help-wanted ads on job posting websites, such as Indeed. Many companies also use social media platforms like LinkedIn, Facebook, and Instagram[11] to diversify their human capital.

Pros and Cons of Hiring a VA

Just like any business practice, hiring a VA has certain advantages and disadvantages[12]. Below is a look at both sides of the coin.

Advantages

The employer often enjoys lower overhead with a VA as they do not have to accommodate a warm body in a physical office. VAs can boost the productivity of business owners who can focus more on revenue-generating activities and less on routine office work.

In addition, the marketplace for VAs is global and offers a diverse range of skills. Most platforms that offer VAs supply a short-term need for talent, enabling an employer to skip hiring a permanent employee.

Disadvantages

Screening VAs for the right fit for a business can be difficult and time-consuming. Employers may also have to devote more time to train a virtual employee.

Communication and building trust can be challenging because of the lack of in-person meetings and possible cultural differences.

Takeaways

  • A virtual assistant or VA typically performs administrative functions for an employer from a remote location, usually in a work-from-home arrangement.
  • VAs with specialized skills, such as digital marketing, are now widely available in the global labor market.
  • Hiring VAs has grown popular, particularly among businesses that require certain skills only occasionally or for the short term.

Sources

  1. Delegated (n.d.) Hiring a Virtual Administrative Assistant. Retrieved from https://www.delegated.com/get/virtual-administrative-assistant
  2. Duermyer, D. (2021.) What Is a Virtual Assistant? The Balance. Retrieved from https://www.thebalancesmb.com/virtual-assistant-1794441
  3. Personal Business Helper. (n.d.) What Essentials Do Virtual Assistants Need: 12 Essentials. Retrieved from https://personalbusinesshelper.com/what-equipment-do-virtual-assistants-need/
  4. Work Pajama. (2021.) Which Laptop Is Best for Virtual Assistants? (2021). Retrieved from https://workpajama.com/virtual-assistant-laptops/
  5. 20four7VA. (2017.) 15 Must-Haves for Virtual Assistants. Retrieved from https://20four7va.com/the-virtual-assistants-guide/va-tips/15-must-haves-virtual-assistants/
  6. Lackey, A. (n.d.) Top 5 Industries that Benefit from Using Virtual Employees. HireSmart Virtual Employees. Retrieved from https://hiresmartvirtualemployees.com/top-5-industries-that-benefit-by-using-virtual-employees/
  7. Gillivan, C. (2019.) What’s the Difference between a Virtual Assistant and a Freelancer? Business2Community. Retrieved from https://www.business2community.com/human-resources/whats-the-difference-between-a-virtual-assistant-and-a-freelancer-02245810
  8. Holton, L. (n.d.) The10-Step Guide to Hiring a Virtual Assistant. Myva 360. Retrieved from  https://myva360.com/blog/hiring-virtual-assistant
  9. Passive Income M.D. (n.d.) The Best Sites to Hire a Virtual Assistant. Retrieved from https://passiveincomemd.com/the-best-sites-to-hire-a-virtual-assistant/
  10. Live2Care (n.d.) Virtual Assistants in the BPO Industry. Retrieved from https://www.welive2care.com/2009/10/30/virtual-assistants-in-the-bpo-industry/
  11. Betterteam. (n.d.) Best Job Posting Sites for Employers. Retrieved from https://www.betterteam.com/best-job-posting-sites-for-employers
  12. C-Suite Assistants. (n.d.) Pros and Cons of Virtual Assistants. Retrieved from https://csuiteassistants.com/blog/pros-and-cons-of-virtual-assistants/

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