What is a virtual assistant?
A virtual assistant is an independent contractor who provides administrative services to clients while operating outside of the client’s office. A virtual assistant typically operates from a home office, but can remotely access necessary scheduling documents, such as shared calendars.
People employed as virtual assistants often have several years of experience as an administrative assistant or office manager. New opportunities are opening up for virtual assistants skilled in social media, content management, blog post writing, graphic design, and internet marketing. With working from home becoming more accepted by workers and employers, the demand for skilled virtual assistants is expected to increase.
Key points to remember
- A virtual assistant is a freelancer who specializes in providing administrative services to clients remotely, typically a home office.
- Typical tasks a virtual assistant may perform include scheduling appointments, making phone calls, making travel arrangements, and managing email accounts.
- Some virtual assistants specialize in graphic design, blogging, accounting, social media, and marketing services.
- For an employer, one of the benefits of hiring a virtual assistant is the ability to contract only the services they need.
How does a virtual assistant work
Virtual assistants have become more important as small businesses and startups rely on virtual offices to cut costs and businesses of all sizes increase their use of the internet for day-to-day operations. Because a virtual assistant is an independent contractor, a business doesn’t have to provide the same benefits or pay the same taxes as a full-time employee.
Also, since the virtual assistant works off-site, there is no need for a desk or other workspace at the company office. A virtual assistant is expected to pay for and provide their own computer equipment, commonly used software, and high-speed internet service.
In a study of over 50 career categories, FlexJobs found virtual administration to be one of the 10 fastest growing remote career categories.
Virtual Assistant Tasks
The specific tasks of a virtual assistant vary depending on the needs of the client and the terms of the contract. Some virtual assistants handle clerical and accounting tasks, while others may post regular updates on social media or write blog posts. A fully-featured virtual assistant can also handle travel arrangements, appointment scheduling, data entry, and online file storage.
Virtual Assistant Qualifications
Although there are no strict educational requirements to become a virtual assistant, many customers will be looking for virtual assistants who have higher education or specialized training. A few online companies and community colleges offer courses and certification for virtual assistant skills.
A virtual assistant should be tech-savvy, have a wide range of computer skills, and a high level of proficiency with commonly used business software and programs. A virtual assistant specializing in bookkeeping should be adept at basic bookkeeping tasks, such as account reconciliations and double-entry bookkeeping.
Benefits of a virtual assistant
For the client, one of the benefits of hiring a virtual assistant is the ability to contract only the services they need. Depending on the terms of the agreement, some virtual assistants may be paid by the job rather than by the hour. In contrast, employees in a traditional office usually have to be paid for a fixed number of hours per day.
For small business owners, hiring a virtual assistant can help them free up valuable hours to focus on growing the business and generating revenue. It may be easier and more cost-effective to outsource tedious and time-consuming tasks to a qualified person.
How to hire a virtual assistant
With the growing number of independent contractors working from home, the job market has seen a proliferation of web-based companies that serve as intermediaries between potential employers and entrepreneurs. Some freelancer sites have huge labor pools made up of individuals from all over the world with a wide range of experiences and expertise.
On these sites, clients can post details about the type of tasks they need the virtual assistant to perform and the maximum rate they are willing to pay. Freelancers can then bid for the job and give the client samples of their work for review. In some cases, the client can set up a videoconference to interview candidates and further assess their qualifications.
Before hiring a virtual assistant, the client can ensure a smoother working relationship by creating detailed instructions on the tasks they should perform. A written manual reduces the risk of misunderstandings that can arise in a remote working relationship.