A woman sits at a table in front of an open laptop with a smartphone pressed to one ear. She speaks into the phone as she writes something on a piece of paper.
Virtual assistants can take on a variety of tasks, including daily or weekly to-dos, and you can have as much or as little contact with them as you need. — Getty Images/fizkes

Many small business owners struggle to wear every hat in their business. As a result, they may fall behind, be less thorough or feel mentally frozen, unable to figure out what to focus on what to do first. Entrepreneurs hire a virtual assistant (VA) to reduce their workload and concentrate on revenue-generating activities.

VAs work remotely and handle various administrative tasks, from general data entry to booking appointments. Some also provide specialized services, such as graphic design or accounting. Although most virtual assistants are independent contractors, you can also hire them as employees like a virtual office manager or administrative assistant. If you're ready to hire a virtual assistant, here's what you need to know.

Virtual assistant cost and budget considerations

How many hours a month do you need a virtual assistant? Is this a temporary or trial need or an ongoing one? Once you have these answers, look at your budget. A self-employed virtual assistant may charge by the hour or by the project.

However, to meet the test of an independent contractor versus an employee, you must provide flexibility in when and how your VA gets the work done. If you want control over their work hours and a set schedule, you might want to consider hiring a temporary employee.

The hourly rate for a VA starts at $25 to $30. People with more specialized skill sets and industry experience may charge $50 or more per hour. You can also offer benefits to 1099 workers to attract higher-quality candidates.

Create a budget for a set number of hours per month and consider offering a retainer. A retainer means the virtual assistant sets aside time for your company every month. But the hours rarely roll over, making it essential to plan and communicate your workload ahead of time.

[Read more: Temporary vs. Contract EmployeeWhat's the Difference?]

Document tasks and workflows

A virtual assistant handles daily or weekly tasks so you can focus on business-critical activities. Before you can write a job description, you need an idea of what your VA will do and how they'll do it. Start by documenting your daily tasks and highlighting ones that a virtual assistant could take over. Don't forget to mark down any software or skill requirements for each job.

Some of the top business tasks to outsource include:

  • File, email inbox and calendar management.
  • Appointment scheduling and reminders.
  • Travel arrangements.
  • Social media management.
  • Website or content updates.
  • Industry or market research.
  • Customer follow-up.
  • Lead generation or qualification.

Virtual assistants may also specialize in graphic design, audio or video editing or search engine optimization (SEO). Likewise, you may need a gig worker with QuickBooks experience and good oral and written communication. But you'll rarely find a VA who can do everything, and those that do charge top dollar. Administrative skill sets differ from customer service and so forth.

A virtual assistant handles daily or weekly tasks so you can focus on business-critical activities.

Craft a job description

Create a job description that explains the tasks and requirements. Plus, provide insights about what it's like to work for you. Remember, VAs scope out new clients, and the position has to be a good fit for both parties. For example, what's your management or work style? Do you need daily updates or have duties with strict deadlines?

Also, communicate any perks of working with you, such as development opportunities or exciting projects. However, it's seldom in good taste to offer perks in exchange for a cheaper rate.

Find and hire a virtual assistant

Leverage your personal and professional networks for referrals by asking for recommendations on LinkedIn and in your business-related Facebook groups. Create a listing on Indeed or Fiverr, or work with a recruiter or staffing agency to identify potential candidates.

Many virtual assistants have a website with credentials and client testimonials or include this information on their LinkedIn profiles. Vet candidates and set up video or phone interviews. Ask them about their communication style, what type of projects they're familiar with and how many hours they're available.

Contact your applicant's references and ask what their relationship was like and how they'd rate the VA's work. Next, offer the virtual assistant a paid trial. Typically, this task represents the type of work they'll handle. Provide instructions and give them a deadline. After the VA completes the project, pay them promptly, offer the job and send over your contract worker forms.

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

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