Remote virtual assistant helps small business owner.
Depending on the needs of the business, a virtual assistant can operate as an executive assistant, administrative assistant or personal assistant. — Getty Images/fizkes

A virtual assistant is an individual who provides administrative services to clients while working from a remote location. Virtual assistants are often independent, self-employed contractors, though you can also work with a virtual assistant agency. Additionally, many candidates have a few years of experience as an administrative assistant or office manager in a professional office setting.

If you’re considering hiring a virtual assistant, here is everything you need to know:

[Read: Overwhelmed? How Outsourcing Can Help Streamline and Grow Your Business]

Virtual assistant responsibilities

One of the major advantages of hiring a virtual assistant is small businesses can select and pay for the specific services they need. This level of flexibility can save business owners thousands of dollars every year, while also giving them the opportunity to expand their contract as their business grows and requires more services.

Some of the most common tasks and responsibilities of a virtual assistant include:

  • Calendar/schedule management
  • Travel arrangements
  • File organization
  • Email monitoring
  • Call management
  • Bookkeeping and accounting
  • Social media management
  • Vetting prospective clients and partnerships
  • Customer service tasks

Depending on the needs of the business, a virtual assistant can operate as an executive assistant, administrative assistant or personal assistant.

Do you need a virtual assistant?

  • For many small businesses, the thought of hiring and handing off certain tasks to a virtual assistant is daunting. Some business owners may feel they don’t have the budget or the time to introduce a virtual assistant to their company. However, just as you can’t build an empire alone, you can’t handle every aspect of your business alone.

Here are some signs it's time to hire a virtual assistant:

  • You're spending too much time on repetitive or menial tasks. If you’re considering hiring a virtual assistant, but aren’t sure you’re ready, start tracking how much time you spend handling small, menial tasks. These tasks can include answering emails, managing your calendar or booking appointments. If you spend several hours each week on repetitive tasks, it may be time to outsource them to a virtual assistant.
  • You don't need full-time help, just additional assistance. If your business requires a full-time assistant who manages several involved tasks, don’t hire a virtual assistant. Rather, virtual assistants are ideal for businesses that need to offload one or two specific tasks or projects that don’t justify hiring a full-time salaried employee.
  • You have the budget for it. Before hiring a virtual assistant, prepare a cost-benefit analysis to determine the value of your time versus the cost of time spent working on specific tasks. If you have the budget to hire a part-time contractor and your cost-benefit analysis indicates you will gain valuable time back, look for a virtual assistant.

Hiring virtual assistance on a trial basis is a good first-step to finding a worker that's fits your small business's culture.

How to hire a virtual assistant

Step 1: Document your processes

Before you start looking for a virtual assistant, document every task, project and process you want to hand off to an assistant. Wherever possible, create training or standard operating procedure documents that new employees or contractors can use to get up to speed. Be thorough and make sure to include any desired outcomes you would like to achieve.

Step 2: Post a job description

Next, create a job description that is clear, concise and outlines the specific tasks you would like to delegate. You should also include a list of skills and tools candidates should have or be proficient in, such as Excel, G Suite, Zendesk, etc. Once you have a prepared job description, you can post it on a website or directory. Popular places to find a virtual assistant include:

[Read: Looking to Hire Fresh Talent? The Key Is an Engaging Job Description]

Step 3: Review applications and conduct interviews

Depending on the site(s) you post the job description on, you could quickly start sifting through hundreds of applications. To filter out low-effort applicants quickly, consider adding an unusual question or “Easter egg” in your job posting. For example, at the bottom of the description, you could ask applicants to include the name of their favorite book.

Once you start interviewing, make sure you ask thorough interview questions to ascertain whether or not they are capable of handling the tasks you want to delegate.

Step 4: Hire on a trial basis

Once you have found a strong candidate, hire them on a trial basis, if possible. This will give you time to see how they operate and whether or not they are a good fit with your company. If you start working with a virtual assistant who doesn’t work out, it’s best to cut ties quickly and move on. If you find someone who understands your needs and is a good fit with your company, you can bring them more into the fold.

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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