As an entrepreneur, you can’t afford to try out every newly touted business service that is supposed to make you more productive. Your money may be limited, and your time certainly is. Finding services to improve your productivity is about finding the right fit. Where are you struggling? Where does your business need improvements?
One often-mentioned productivity tool is a virtual assistant. A virtual assistant is simply a professional who provides remote administrative, marketing, editorial, technical, or creative support to clients. VAs have become an increasingly viable option as it has become easier and cheaper to transmit data from one place to another. The reasons behind the increasing availability of VAs are straightforward—the same technology that allows an entrepreneur to work from home makes it possible for him or her to efficiently rely on someone working miles away—but the benefits virtual assistants provide to entrepreneurs are not always as obvious.
Given the uncertainty that comes with many entrepreneurial endeavors, the flexibility of a virtual assistant can be a major asset. VAs provide you with a way to import on-demand, scalable talent into your business on a temporary or long-term basis. They can fill in for specific projects based on their skill sets or regularly commit to a certain number of hours per week or per month, which can be particularly helpful during busy seasons or holiday crunch times.
But flexibility isn’t always enough. When you hire a VA, you should identify a particular problem you want solved or a specific task you need completed. Here is an inventory of 10 potential challenges your business may face that should prompt you to begin investigating a VA as a potential solution.
- You need extra help but cannot commit to hiring a full-time executive assistant. The flexibility that comes with having a virtual assistant allows you to use them only when you need them. Determine the number of hours your projects will take and hire a VA for that amount of time. A VA can be a cost-efficient alternative to a full-time employee or even a part-time employee who works pre-determined hours during which they may not be fully utilized.
- You don’t have the specialized expertise for certain tasks. You’re a brilliant entrepreneur, but you may not be a brilliant graphic designer nor a professional writer. You probably don’t have time to learn the entire Adobe Creative Suite or get your Masters in Journalism. Fortunately there’s a virtual assistant out there who does have that expertise.
- You don’t have an office manager or an HR department. While it is still a good idea to initially interview a virtual assistant who has been assigned to you, traditional hiring tactics as well as the costs, payroll headaches, and regulations associated with hiring an employee are unnecessary when employing a VA. A virtual assistant can be hired for one specific task and once the task is complete, you and your VA know the job is done. Virtual assistants can be brought on board for a set amount of time per week or once you feel like you have caught up on your work, you can put your VA on hold until you need them again or let them go entirely. You do not have to “fire” a VA. The job is simply considered completed.
- You need help with scheduling, coordinating, or organizing. Have you missed a conference call you didn’t realize was happening? Have you wound up at a wrong location for a lunch meeting? Have you landed in another city for a business trip and realized you forgot to book a car? If events are not finding their way to your calendar or travel logistics are going unhandled, it’s a good sign that you need organizational assistance. Finding a VA with an executive or administrative background could be a solution to managing your schedule and handling necessary logistics.
- You hate bookkeeping. No matter the industry you are in, someone has to do your bookkeeping and crunch numbers. Many small business owners shoulder this responsibility, assuming because they don’t have the funds for a full-time bookkeeper, they need to handle it themselves. But the assumption is false. Many VAs have knowledge of accounting software, which is cloud-based or can be accessed remotely, and can handle these tasks faster and on an as-needed basis.
- You’re making business decisions on insufficient information because you don’t have time to complete basic research or analysis. Business decisions are best made when you have all the facts you need and can spend time analyzing information. When you are trying to make a decision about why sales are down, it’s helpful to mine data sitting in your CRM database. When you are trying to increase website traffic, it’s useful to review the goal conversion analytics for your website. However, if you find yourself with no time for research, making decisions with imperfect or incomplete information, or unable to analyze the data in your possession, you can bring in a VA to fill in the gap. Get a VA who is proficient in the right software and have them run reports or conduct analyses so that you can make more informed decisions.
- You are too sidelined by small projects and cannot focus on core duties. Being a Jack-of-all-trades seems like a necessary trait for entrepreneurs, but it can prevent you from focusing on important duties and limit your ability to develop business and grow. VAs can take these small, time-consuming jobs off your hands. Many entrepreneurs who use virtual assistants find them most beneficial for outsourcing simple and repetitive work.These projects can be easily taught to a VA and, after an iteration or two, can be performed with little supervision, which allows the entrepreneur to maximize the time they save.
- You haven’t used your social media accounts in months, let alone engaged with any followers. Social media can be a powerful tool in gaining visibility and growing your business. So it is important to keep current with your company’s online presence. Sixty-one percent of startups use social media for marketing, and 92% of small business owners and marketers agree that social media marketing is important for their business. Social media is seen as the second most effective digital marketing tactic for customer retention (behind only email), and 43% of digital marketers say social media is their most effective tactic. Yet, many entrepreneurs get so bogged down in running their business that they neglect to develop or maintain a social media presence. This role is often a good fit for a marketing virtual assistant. They can create posts, engage with followers, and target influencers. Numerous platforms such as Hootsuite and TweetDeck, exist so an entrepreneur can manage accounts in one place.
- Your personal errands are interfering with your work productivity. While being an entrepreneur is hard work, you can’t completely neglect your personal life. By delegating personal duties to your virtual assistant—such as arranging for delivery of your dry cleaning, finding a day care center for your children, hiring a housekeeper, ordering a personalized birthday cake for a family member, or even arranging your personal calendar—you can free up more of your time to focus on your business.
- Projects are not being done as efficiently as possible. Maybe you’re great at writing your blog, but it takes you an hour to figure out how to post it on your company’s website. Maybe you’re great at closing sales, but you find the CRM software for tracking prospects to be insolubly obscure. Maybe you’re a fantastic manager, but it takes you forever to figure out where to post job openings and you’re always slow to set up interview with candidates. There is no reason to struggle through tasks someone else can do more efficiently.
We are constantly being told about some secret to productivity that will make our business run more smoothly. A virtual assistant is not a “cure all” tool. Rather virtual assistants come in a variety of different flavors, some of which may be useful to your business and some which may not. Before hiring a virtual assistant, analyze your business’ pain points and inventory what your business is not doing well. Then, find the right virtual assistant to target the problem.