Choosing a virtual assistant
So how do you, as a business owner and a professional, decide between a work-from-home-mum charging £10/hour, the offshore assistant charging £5/hour and the professional virtual assistant charging £25/hour?
Here’s what you need to check:
- Who’s doing your virtual assistant work?
- What capacity do they have and what’s the turnaround for work?
- What’s included?
- Where and when do they work?
- What back up systems and security do they have in place?
- How long have they been working?
A lot of VA companies have a pool of assistants doing your work. This makes sense, they simply assign whoever happens to be free when your work comes in. But it doesn’t guarantee the same standard of service each and every time you use a VA. At Virtually Sorted, we assign an account manager who will complete the majority of your tasks and be your main point of contact. Should you assign a task that is outwith their skillset, they can draw on the skills of the team, but you will only deal with one person.
About 82% of the virtual assistant industry is made up of sole traders. They will have different clients plus their own admin and office tasks to complete on any given day. It’s understandable that if you work with a sole trader, you are going to experience deadline clashes. That’s why we work as a team at Virtually Sorted. We have enough assistants to minimise those clashes and make sure that your work is prioritised. In terms of turnaround, we aim to have any work under an hour long and received by 5pm on a weekday back the following day by 10am. This system allows us to put in place our checking procedures too – all work is checked by two people before being returned to you.
As part of SVA, I’m often surprised by what newbie virtual assistants don’t consider to be standard office supplies. For instance, phone calls or standard paper might not be included. One of the more established SVA virtual assistants pointed out that charging for normal office supplies on top of your hourly rate was a little like a burger bar advertising burgers at £1 and then charging 50p for the bun, 25p for the napkin and 10p for the ketchup… You’d feel a bit peeved, wouldn’t you?
Our £25/hour charge includes all normal office supplies, but excludes postage or anything we need to buy in specifically for a job (e.g. lime coloured square envelopes are not standard, but plain DL ones are). We also feature a suite of VA tools which will make working with a virtual assistant as easy as working with a freelance secretary on site in your office. This includes: secure online workspace, free conference calls, free online storage and databases, email marketing tools, easy to use recording facilities and simple invoicing.
This might seem obvious, but you should check when your virtual assistant is available for work. A lot of people are attracted to the virtual assistant industry by the flexible hours. How annoying would it be to try and get hold of your assistant at 3pm with an urgent task, only to get an out of office response saying she’ll be online tomorrow because she’s gone to pick the kids up from school? Additionally, you want to consider where they are. For example, if they are in a different time zone, whose time are you working to? A lot of broken deadlines with offshore assistants are blamed upon the time difference. Even with home-based VAs, you really should consider what their working environment is like and whether it’s suitable as a professional office base. Does it have high quality, reliable broadband? Can you hear household noises like kids, pets or washing machines in the background? Or does it sound like a big, anonymous call centre?
Here at Virtually Sorted, all our incoming work is monitored and acknowledged Mon-Fri 9am-5pm by a central email address and phone number. The virtual assistants work in small office environments, which are regularly tested. It sounds just like they are in the office next door to you.
Your virtual assistant should not be using a generic email address to handle your confidential materials. Despite the security risk from hackers, it only takes one mistyped letter of that email address for it to be redirected to someone else entirely (e.g. @btinternet.com, @hotmail.com, @gmail.co.uk etc.). Your VA should be using a site-specific email domain – that way if it gets misdirected, it stays within the company. Additionally, they should be saving your materials (unless otherwise directed), for at least three months so that if you like or accidentally delete the files they create, there is a readily available back up. Consider what you are sending them too – is it irreplaceable? Do you have a copy? What would happen if their house burned down or their computer suddenly died?
As Registered Data Protection Controllers with the Information Commissioner’s Office, we take data protection seriously. All our data is securely held and backed up off site and we only ever use site specific, secure emails to transmit work. You’ll have 24 hour access to a secure online workspace just for your tasks too.
Even if your assistant has lots of experience in office working, a virtual relationship is entirely different and requires a specialist skillset, knowledge and tools. You shouldn’t be hanging around waiting while your assistant researches the best conference call facility or, worse, paying for them to research it. As professionals, they should have invested time and money in the tools of their trade. Imagine a joiner turning up without a saw and expecting you to pay him or hang around whilst he goes and gets one from B&Q – you just wouldn’t hire him.
Checking your virtual assistant’s pedigree tells you a lot about how they service their clients. Bad assistants don’t stay in business for long. It also tells you that their business model is robust enough to weather all manner of economic storms. You don’t want to hire an assistant only to have them quit three months later because they can’t afford to continue in business or discover they don’t like working as a virtual secretary after all. We’ve been in business as virtual assistants since 2004. During that time we’ve developed an efficient, easy way of working with remote clients.