As the way we work has changed during the pandemic, the use of virtual assistants has exploded.
Outsourcing administrative tasks, accounting, or social media marketing to an online assistant can be a great way for a time-strapped small business to relieve the pressure.
In 2019, Statista put global revenue from outsourced services at $135bn (£97bn) and Cision predicted the virtual assistant industry would grow exponentially by 4.4% between 2018 and 2022.
The pandemic, coupled with cloud-based technologies and the widespread use of online meeting software, has seen UK virtual assistant networks such as Pink Spaghetti grow faster in 2020 than at any time in its 11 years of history.
What is a virtual assistant?
A virtual assistant (VA) is generally a freelancer who works remotely on a range of personal or professional tasks, from anywhere in the world.
Duties can range from managing calendars and client contacts to managing social media accounts or keeping track of finances.
Using one can be a great way to save time and fill a skills gap without the commitment or cost of hiring an employee.
They use their own equipment and may work a variable number of hours depending on the needs of each week or each month.
How do I find a VA?
Platforms like Fiverr, PeoplePerHour, and Upwork can be a great place to find freelancers with specific skills, although it can take time to find the right person.
Using existing networks – such as niche Facebook groups in your field of work – can be a great way to find people who understand your industry.
There are also agencies that screen people and match you with workers with the right skills.
Jemma Zoe Smith, MD of The Education Hotel, found a VA to help with customer support in her hometown of Oxford through a Facebook group for local businesswomen. She also uses a second VA based in the Philippines, for social media marketing, which she found through an agency recommended by a friend.
She says: “I needed someone in the UK who understood the education system and who was friendly because she talks to customers. But having someone in the Philippines also works great for me because she’s working when I’m sleeping so I can watch everything she’s done in the morning.
“I used the agency not because it was cheaper, but because they could find me someone quickly and had done all the quality checks for me.”
How to ensure quality?
Do your due diligence and check references, interview people and be sure to look at their past work.
Melissa Gauge, founder of SpareMyTime agency (sparemytime.com), says it’s important to be specific about the skills you need, which can mean having more than one VA for different roles.
“Asking a virtual admin to take care of social media might not get you the best return,” she explains.
Melissa says it’s important to have a great relationship with your VA. This means being clear with instructions by giving detailed advice and never assuming that a VA will do things the same way you do.
Time tracking software such as Watchmaker and Toggle track can be useful to see the duration of tasks and the time to allocate to specific tasks. It’s also important to ensure that the business owner creates and controls the accounts and then shares them with the VA, rather than the other way around. This means that the data is GDPR compliant and you are not at risk of being excluded from any software. It also allows you to change the password if you decide to stop using a VA, which protects your information.
How much should I pay?
Payment will vary depending on the skills you need and where the person is based. Some people will charge an hourly or daily rate while others may be paid a one-time project fee.
The average hourly rate for an administrative VA in the UK is £25, but a VA in South East Asia can be below the UK minimum wage.
“Find someone whose strengths match your weaknesses”
Blogger Jen Mellor regularly uses three UK virtual assistants for different tasks, spending up to £500 a month.
Having people who work in the same time zone and have a clear understanding of the writing style on her Just Average Jen blog is hugely important, she says.
Jen, from Nottingham, found her VAs through Facebook blogging groups.
She uses a VA specifically for Pinterest, one for writing blog content, and a third for ad-hoc social media support. Jen has used platforms such as Fiverr in the past but found it difficult as responses came in the middle of the night due to freelancers being based in different time zones.
‘In for money. If someone’s on the cheap, you’ll have to spend more time editing their work, so be prepared to pay a little more,” she advises.
She learned by trial and error which to use regularly. “I’m ordering one thing to try to figure out whether to go back to that person or not. It’s about finding someone whose strengths match your weaknesses,” she says.
Do you have a story to share?
Contact us by emailing MetroLifestyleTeam@Metro.co.uk.
MORE: Why You Have So Many Tabs Open
MORE: How do I sign an email?
MORE: Having trouble doubting yourself? Here’s how to deal with a crisis of confidence at work