AS THE way we work has changed over the course of the pandemic, the use of virtual assistants has skyrocketed. Outsourcing admin tasks, bookkeeping or social media marketing to an online assistant can be a great way for a time-poor small business to relieve the pressure.
In 2019 Statista valued the global revenue for outsourced services at $135billion (£97billion) and Cision predicted the virtual assistant industry would grow exponentially by 4.4 per cent 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-year history.
What is a virtual assistant?
A virtual assistant (VA) is usually a freelancer who works remotely on a set of personal or business tasks, from anywhere in the world. The tasks can range from managing calendars and contacting clients to running 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 taking on an employee. They use their own equipment and can work a varied number of hours depending on what is required each week or month.
How do I find a VA?
Using existing networks — such as niche Facebook groups in your line of work — can be an excellent way to find people who understand your industry.
There are also agencies who vet people and match you with workers with the right skill set.
Jemma Zoe Smith, MD of The Education Hotel (educationhotel.co.uk), 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 sourced via an agency recommended by a friend.
She says: ‘I needed someone in the UK who understood the education system and was friendly because she is talking to customers. But having someone in the Philippines also works really well for me because she works when I am asleep and then I can look at everything she has done first thing in the morning.
‘I used the agency not because it was a lower cost but because they could find someone for me quickly and had done all the quality checks for me.’
How do I ensure quality?
Do your due diligence and check references, interview people and be sure to look at their previous work.
Melissa Gauge, founder of SpareMyTime agency (sparemytime.com), says it is important to be specific about the skills you need, which may mean having more than one VA for different roles.
‘Getting an admin VA to do social media might not get you the best return,’ she explains.
Melissa says it is important to nurture a great relationship with your VA. This means being clear with instructions by giving detailed guidance and never assuming a VA will do things the same way as you.
Time-tracking software such as Clockify and Toggl Track can be useful to see how long tasks take and how much time to allocate to specific jobs. It is also important to ensure that the business owner sets up and controls accounts, then shares them with the VA, rather than the other way round. This means data is GDPR compliant and you are not at risk of being locked out of any software. It also allows you to change the password if you decide to stop using a VA, which keeps your information secure.
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 whereas others may be paid a one-off project fee.
The average hourly rate for an administrative VA in the UK is £25 but a VA in south-east Asia may be lower than British minimum wage.
‘Find someone whose strengths will match your weaknesses’
BLOGGER Jen Mellor (above) uses three UK virtual assistants regularly for different tasks — spending up to £500 a month.
Having people working in the same time zone and who have a clear understanding of the writing style on her blog Just Average Jen is extremely important, she says.
Jen, from Nottingham, found her VAs via blogging groups on Facebook.
She uses one VA specifically for Pinterest, one for writing blog content and a third for ad-hoc social media support. Jen has used platforms including Fiverr in the past but found it difficult because responses came in the middle of the night due to freelancers being based in different time zones.
‘You get what you pay for. If someone is low cost you will have to spend more time editing their work, so be prepared to pay a bit more,’ she advises.
She has learnt through trial and error who to use on a regular basis. ‘I commission one thing to try and work out whether to go back to that person again or not. It is about finding someone whose strengths match your weaknesses,’ she says.