Feeling overwhelmed in your business? If you’re a freelancer or self-employed, you have a special skill. But when you look back on your week, how much of your time is actually spent doing what you’re best at?
As a freelancer, I’ve often thought about hiring a virtual assistant myself. So to figure out where to start, I did some research and spoke to Caroline Marshall, who runs her own VA company called Upsource. In this guide, I’ll cover the world of virtual assistants, what they do, and how hiring one could help you achieve your business goals.
What is a virtual assistant?
It’s become a buzzword in the freelance community. So what exactly is a VA?
Virtual assistant definition
A virtual assistant (VA) is an assistant who supports you remotely, like a personal assistant (PA) for our online world. They might help you run your business or even handle aspects of your personal life, like scheduling appointments or ordering goods online. They are often self-employed contractors who work from home. But there are also VA agencies and VAs can do their job from anywhere with good internet access.
Why hire a virtual assistant?
Being self-employed doesn’t mean you have to do everything yourself. It’s something we believe very strongly at Jimdo, and it’s why we’ve made it easy to create a professional website, complete with texts, images, and a professional design to match your business.
If you’re still spending more hours on admin tasks that you could outsource than on billable work that earns you money, then it might be time to consider hiring a virtual assistant. Freelancers and small business owners use virtual assistants for lots of different reasons. Here are some examples:
- You want to spend more time doing what you’re best at and delegate the tasks you hate (like admin, answering emails, chasing up overdue invoices or pitching new clients). If you’re a creative professional—like a musician, designer, or writer—then freeing up your headspace and schedule for creative time is even more important.
- You want to increase your revenue by spending less time on work you don’t get paid for—like sending emails, prospecting, and other admin—and instead, focus on billable client work that’s more lucrative for you. A skilled VA is also likely to be much more efficient at administrative tasks, so it can be more cost-effective to pay them rather than use your own time.
- You’re feeling overwhelmed and turning down freelance work more often than you’d like, and you need help to make your business run more efficiently.
- You have recently increased your freelance rates and want to reinvest some of that income back into your business.
- You want to find a better work-life balance. A good virtual assistant can free up extra time to spend with your family, and you could have someone around to handle everyday admin or answer emails while you’re on vacation. More vacations? Yes, please!
- You’ll have a backup person for emergencies. For example, if you fall ill or have to take time off unexpectedly, having a VA who you already know can be really helpful.
What exactly does a virtual assistant do?
There’s really no limit to what a virtual assistant can do—providing they can do it remotely, as they don’t usually work in-house. It’s all about finding the right VA with the skills to complement your business. Here are some examples of tasks that virtual assistants can do:
- Administrative tasks.
- Organizing and responding to emails.
- Updating your business website or online portfolio.
- Diary and schedule management.
- Networking on platforms like LinkedIn.
- Finding new clients and creating proposals.
- Social media management.
- Graphic design (if they specialize in this skill).
- Recruitment management—like screening CVs or vetting potential employees.
- HR and people management.
- Installing or switching over to new software. Want to switch from your old email provider to Gmail? A virtual tech-savvy VA can handle that.
- General problem-solving.
- Minute taking—by attending meetings virtually or recording to transcribe later.
- Personal administration—like getting quotes for home improvements or finding a cleaner.
“There are even VAs who niche right down to specific platforms, like Pinterest,” says Caroline. “So if you’re looking for a VA to handle a specific task or tasks, you can approach a VA company who will be able to help you find the right person. You might just have to wait a little bit longer for your perfect match.”
How many hours do virtual assistants work?
It depends on what you need and the VA you hire. Virtual assistants can work for a few hours a month and upwards. Caroline gives us an example, “Our retainer packages start at a minimum of 10 hours per month. We usually find that, if clients need a VA, they can easily fill and see a return from those hours. For them, it can work out to getting back 1-2 days every month.”
How much does a virtual assistant cost?
Virtual assistants can cost anything from $25 per hour for a general admin VA to $60+ for a specialist, like a marketing or design assistant. That said, rates for virtual assistants vary depending on what level of support you need, what tasks you need help with, and how many hours a month want them to cover.
How much a virtual assistant costs can depend on what country you’re in, but because VAs work remotely, there’s less variation in costs than with an in-house employee, for example. Working with a VA company can be more expensive than hiring a freelancer, but this varies greatly by country, skillset, and industry sector.
Most VAs charge an hourly rate because their tasks can vary from month to month. But you might prefer to negotiate a flat project rate if your VA will be working with a set goal and timeframe. Check out my post on setting freelance rates to learn more.
Good resources for finding VA prices include the Society of VAs (UK) and the Association of Virtual Assistants (US).
How to find a virtual assistant
Finding a virtual assistant can feel like a big step, especially if you run a small business or currently do everything yourself. You need to find a company or freelancer you can trust, so Caroline recommends asking in your network for recommendations first.
- Put out a request for VA recommendations on LinkedIn.
- Ask your contacts or other professionals in your industry if they know a VA who’s doing a great job.
- Contact your industry body or association for recommendations.
- Google VA agencies in your country (this is not essential, but it helps if they are a native speaker of your language and understand local rules and regulations) and do your research by looking up customer reviews or checking their TrustPilot page.
- Post a job description of your ideal VA on your website (remember to include a contact form) and share it with your network.
Bring your business online with Jimdo.
Hiring a virtual assistant: tips and tricks
Finding a VA who fits your business and has the skills you are looking for can take some time and research. But hiring a virtual assistant is where most business owners come unstuck. What tasks should you assign them? How much do they need to know? How will they access the right areas of your business?
Here’s how to prepare for hiring a VA:
- Start by making a list of what you actually do every day. Before you officially hire a VA, take a close look at where you really spend your time. Use a time tracking app like Toggl and spend a week logging what you’re doing as accurately as you can.
- When the week is over, go back and review. If you notice that you’re spending lots of time on things like admin, responding to emails, pitching new clients, dealing with customer enquiries, or catching up with processing sales—that’s where a VA can help.
What to remember when you hire a VA
- Always include a trial period. Always go for a VA who offers a trial period, because you’ll only really know if it’s a good fit once you start working together. “It’s very easy to break trust,” says Caroline, “That’s why we start new clients on a three-month trial period to make sure we’re the right fit. It’s good to take a leap of faith but if it doesn’t work out, there shouldn’t be any pressure from your VA or agency.”
- Discuss security and confidentiality precautions. A virtual assistant will need access to different areas of your business to do their job. That’s why I’m only going to consider personal recommendations when looking for potential assistants. If you’re working with a VA agency, ask what background checks and security assurances they provide with their service. Always use your discretion when sharing personal information or confidential data like passwords, and if you are in any doubt, seek legal advice before committing to a contractor or service.
Please note that Jimdo cannot and does not offer legal advice. In case of uncertainty, we recommend contacting a legal expert.
What makes a good virtual assitant?
You’ve done your research, you’ve hired a VA, and you’ve been working together for a few weeks now. Have you made the right choice? Here’s what to look out for:
3 signs of a good VA
- They have used lots of different systems. We all have our favorite online tools and apps, so a good VA will be comfortable using all the most popular options and happy getting to grips with new systems quickly.
- They are proactive about helping you achieve your goals. Your goal might be to grow your revenue, to start selling online, or to have a better work-life balance. A good VA will actively seek out ideas and opportunities to help you do that. “A good VA will help you grow, not just cost you money,” says Caroline, “It’s almost impossible to grow while you’re doing everything yourself. Any business owner will tell you that.”
- They can tell you what’s working and what’s not. Sometimes, as business owners, we can’t see the wood from the trees. An external person, like a VA, will be able to come into your business, assess your processes, and find areas where you can improve and cut business costs. They will also bring their own expertise to the table. For example, if you’ve been struggling to manage your schedule with a paper diary, your VA might help you streamline this process by integrating an app like Trello or Google Calendar into your workflow.
“It’s not a ‘one size fits all’ with a VA,” explains Caroline. “A good VA will be able to guide you, even if you’re not sure what kind of help you need.”
3 signs of a bad VA
- They can’t follow instructions. A good VA will use their initiative and work without too much input from you, but they still need to be able to follow basic instructions.
- They don’t ask enough questions. “Constant questions can be annoying,” agrees Caroline, “But VAs need to ask them, especially in the early stages, so they can get a feel of your business and how you work.”
- They struggle to adapt to change. Your business might be different from one week to the next, so a good VA will be happy and able to switch up their focus with the needs of your business.
We all feel the pressure of running our own business at times. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and support when you need it, whether that means hiring a VA or making another change in your business. For me, it feels like hiring a virtual assistant to help me plan my time and improve my processes could be a good option. You can also join our Jimdo Community on Instagram for more tips and advice—we’re here to support you.