| Mar 23, 2023 | | 15 min read

What is a VA? What do virtual assistants do for business in 2023


Ever asked yourself, what is a VA?

If your business relies on a lean team to make the magic happen, you’ve probably found yourself at one point or another wondering how you can get the extra support you need without having to commit to hiring full-time, in-house staff.

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As agency owners, we’re people who have multiple clients under our belt, have almost hundreds of emails coming in every hour to our mailboxes, and are looking for ways to scale our business effectively. So, what’s the answer? What is a VA? Let’s dive into what exactly is meant by the term virtual assistant.

What is VA?

What does a virtual assistant do? A virtual assistant (VA), as the name implies, is an assistant that helps and supports your business virtually. This does not mean that she/he is a robot. It simply means that the person is based at a remote location and is trained to facilitate you and your business when called upon.

It’s the advancement of technology that makes this process a possibility because businesses no longer need people to be present in the same room or even the same location for them to work.

The presence of the internet, along with document-sharing and other business-related software, makes it easier for people to work remotely and makes it convenient for companies to function.

Woman representing what is a VA, surrounded by four circles with icons illustrating different types of digital software and services: a feather for content creation, a star in a speech bubble for reviews, a location icon for listings, and a webpage with a gear for web design.

So what’s a virtual assistant, and what does a virtual assistant do exactly? How do they differ from other kinds of assistants? Since virtual assistants work on their own from a remote location, businesses can save extra expenses related to their location and equipment costs. Furthermore, the assistants can hit the ground running with minimal or no training, thereby enabling companies to save time and effort.

In fact, saving time, effort, and cost are the major reasons why businesses surge towards getting virtual assistants onboard. By outsourcing their internal processes, companies can spend more time focusing on the important aspects of their business, while the VAs do the heavy lifting.

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While businesses can hire virtual assistants for any and every possible function, some of the more common services among the VA circles are social media management, video editing, website design, digital marketing, and administrative tasks, among other things.

How to hire virtual assistants

To have the highest chance of success when hiring a VA assistant, it’s important to know what key criteria to keep in mind and to have an effective hiring process in place.

Hiring considerations

Before posting a job, going through these considerations can maximize your chances of quickly and efficiently narrowing the pool to the best possible candidates for your requirements.

1. Determine your agency’s needs

Before you start looking for a VA assistant, you need to determine your needs. What tasks do you most urgently need help with? What are your priorities? What are your expectations? Are there areas in which you feel you’re falling behind and require support? Knowing the answers to these questions will help you find the right virtual assistant for your business.

2. Define your budget

The answer to “what is a VA” can have a wide range of answers, from someone who completes simple admin tasks to someone who needs to be familiar with complex software. Because of this diversity of job descriptions, VA assistants come at different price points. Some may charge by the hour, while others may charge a flat rate for specific tasks. You need to define your budget so that you can have a goal for compensation negotiations. Keep in mind that while you want to save money, you also want to ensure that you're getting quality work.

3. Look for experience

When hiring a VA assistant, it's important to look for experience and relevant expertise. You want to hire someone who has either demonstrated the skills you’re looking for, or the ability to learn and adapt quickly. Take a look at their portfolio and don’t hesitate to ask for references.

4. Communication is key

When working with a virtual assistant, communication is essential to bridge the physical distance. Having a communication system in place ensures you and your VA assistant will be on the same page. Plan your communication channels and expectations for how and when you'll communicate.

5. Protect sensitive information

What virtual assistants do sometimes requires access to business data. This means it’s wise to have a secure system in place to protect your sensitive information, limiting access only to what is absolutely essential. Additionally, take the time to draft up a confidentiality agreement and plan to communicate the importance of protecting business data.

6. Flexibility

One of the benefits of working together both for VAs and for businesses is the built-in flexibility of the arrangement. However, it's important to establish expectations for when you need your VA assistant to be available. Defining these expectations before you start the hiring process means that you can be clear up front, reducing wasted time for yourself and for applicants.

7. Trial Period

Before you commit to a virtual assistant, it's a good idea to establish a trial period. This will give you the opportunity to see how they work and whether they're a good fit for your business. During the trial period, make sure that you're communicating regularly and providing feedback, giving you a chance to see how they respond to directions.

Hiring process

Once you know what is a VA and understand what exactly a virtual assistant does, you can start to think about hiring one. When it comes to hiring a virtual assistant, the process can vary depending on the tasks a business needs to be accomplished. For some companies, hiring a virtual assistant is a straightforward process since they only require a VA for a one-time task. However, for others, the process can take days or even weeks due to the complexity of the work required.

Keep in mind is that virtual assistant positions are generally filled through the internet since this is the forum that possible for VAs to be of service to businesses.

Post the job

To start the hiring process, businesses must post the details of the tasks they need a virtual assistant to accomplish. These tasks can be posted on various online platforms and job sites that act as intermediaries between businesses and VAs. The tasks that businesses need help with could be anything from managing time-consuming emails to handling their social media needs.

Obtain a portfolio

Once a business posts a job listing, they can expect responses from interested virtual assistants. Depending on the responses, the VAs might share their portfolio of work. This step is crucial as it allows businesses to assess the experience and skill set of potential virtual assistants.

A hand outreached picking up a person as if choosing them out of the group of people.

Conduct an interview

After reviewing the portfolio of work of potential virtual assistants, businesses might choose to hold video interviews with their shortlisted candidates. This step helps businesses understand the candidates better and assess their skills and credentials more deeply. It’s up to the business to decide if they want to hire a phone or video interview, or if they want to assess suitability through some other means. For example, they might give VA assistants a small paid one-time task.

Negotiate pay

In some cases, there might be a bidding process involved. Numerous virtual assistants may bid for a specific job they would like to work on, giving businesses plenty of options to choose from. It is during this stage that businesses and VAs negotiate pay rates and any other related details.

Finalize the contract

Once a virtual assistant is selected, businesses have the option of hiring VAs on either a full-time contract basis or a service-based freelancing basis. While both routes have their pros and cons, the flexibility of the process is what makes it so appealing to businesses.

Virtual assistant USA and abroad: hiring challenges

One of the biggest challenges that businesses face when it comes to hiring VAs, who act as freelancers, is shortlisting candidates based on a variety of factors. These include their wages, expertise, scope of work, and past proof of performance.

Screenshot of VA listings from popular hiring platform Upwork.

As it is evident in the image above, if a business wants to hire a virtual assistant, it will have to put in a lot of time to first shortlist one candidate and then interview them to bring onboard.

Would you choose the VA that charges you $50 an hour, has a 98% success rate, and is based in Colombia or the one that charges $35 an hour, has a 92% success rate, and is in the USA? What is a VA salary in one part of the world may vary dramatically from another part of the world, even if the work is similar.

While this process doesn’t seem tedious at the onset, the harsh reality is that time is of the utmost importance for businesses that are just beginning to scale. The truth is that they might not have the time and power to put in that extra effort to negotiate pricing and scope of work.

But, not all VA-providing platforms are the same. While some might have a more hands-on approach, where companies are required to put in extra efforts to hire VAs, there are others where most services have fixed prices and businesses can hire teams instead of freelancers.

In addition to these hiring challenges, there are some important considerations that businesses need to think about when they are hiring a virtual assistant in USA or abroad.

Time zone differences

One of the biggest challenges of hiring a VA assistant abroad rather than in the USA is dealing with time zone differences. Depending on the location of your VA, you may be working with someone who is on the opposite side of the world. This can make it difficult to communicate in real time and can cause delays in completing tasks. A virtual assistant in the USA may be easier to connect with on very short notice.

Language barriers

Another challenge of hiring a VA from abroad is the possibility of language barriers. Even if the VA speaks the same language as you, there may still be cultural and linguistic differences that can cause misunderstandings or miscommunications. This can make it challenging to convey instructions clearly and to ensure that tasks are being completed to your satisfaction. However, it’s important to note that international VA assistants can often communicate perfectly in English and other languages, so don’t assume this will be an issue until you’ve communicated with the candidate.

Hiring a VA assistant from another country can lead to legal and tax implications that you may not be familiar with. Take time to understand the laws and regulations surrounding hiring someone locally or abroad to ensure that you are in compliance with all applicable regulations.

Trust and security concerns

When working with a virtual assistant, it’s normal to be concerned about trust and security. It's important to take steps to protect your sensitive information and to ensure that your VA is trustworthy and reliable.

Lack of physical presence

Whether hiring locally or abroad, the lack of physical presence of VA assistants can take some adjusting. Unlike working with an in-person employee or team, it can be difficult to establish a strong working relationship with someone who you have never met in person. This can make it challenging to build trust and to ensure that a VA is fully aligned with your business goals and values.

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What do virtual assistants do?

Apart from bringing you your coffee, there is almost nothing that a virtual assistant can’t do.

Depending on what businesses need them for, virtual assistants can assist with almost every work-related task. What can a virtual assistant do, exactly? Here are some of the most common tasks:

  • social media management
  • operational and administrative tasks
  • website design
  • community management
  • content management

In addition to those, companies can hire role-specific VAs to handle specialized duties as well. In these scenarios, virtual assistants have a specific skill set that only allows them to focus on one domain. For example, sales and marketing, public relations, or customer service.

Three women at computers with headsets on surrounded by icons representing different things they may help with as virtual assistants. Around them is a truck, an airplane, a package, an applicant resume, speech bubbles, and credit cards.

While having a virtual assistant does provide businesses with the value to save time, money, and effort, there is a flip side to the whole concept as well.

Since most VAs are freelancers, who work on their own accord, there’s no assurance for companies that the work outsourced to them will be completed on time. Further, since most VAs work alone and from remote locations, there’s no way for businesses to supervise them and ensure that the VAs are paying attention to details as desired.

Before getting a virtual assistant on board, businesses must make sure that the VAs understand the tasks at hand and have clear instructions and deliverables. One way to ensure that is to have a well-written framework for tasks that need to be completed.

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Why you should hire virtual assistants

The simplest reason for most companies to hire virtual assistants is to have efficient business operations in place. Hiring VAs enables businesses to employ reasonable resources to fulfill tasks that internal employees either don’t have the time for or aren’t qualified enough to tackle.

Some of the reasons why businesses must hire virtual assistants are:

Reduced operational costs

It goes without saying that hiring VA assistants can help businesses save money through reduced operational costs. In contrast to hiring someone internally, hiring a VA gives companies operational flexibility since they don’t have to worry about equipment and benefits expenses.

Furthermore, since the concept of a virtual assistant states that the person would be providing his/her services on a contract basis, VAs have an unsaid understanding with companies to not expect payments in case they breach that contract by not working or not producing deliverables.

Time management

Hiring virtual assistants empowers businesses to utilize their time more efficiently. For example, would you rather waste four hours a day doing tedious tasks like cleaning out your inbox or spend those four hours conceptualizing innovative strategies to help your business grow?

That’s a no-brainer, right? Having VAs working for you to handle such tasks that you consider wasteful, helps you regain lost time that you can invest on your business rather than in it.

However, businesses must be wary of those freelancing platforms that provide VA services in a manner that ends up making them waste more time searching, instead of helping them save it.

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Decreased workload

What does a VA do? Pretty much anything you don’t have time for. Have you ever been in a situation where you missed your kid’s hockey game or a dance recital because you were either too busy handling ‘things’ or because ‘something came up’ at work?

Saving time and decreasing your workload go hand-in-hand when it comes to outlining the benefits of hiring virtual assistants. Having VAs, who can handle those ‘things’ or tackle that ‘something at work,’ can help you get more time and therefore reduce your increased workload.

Brand Improvement

The benefits of building an organic brand presence far outweigh the benefits of paid advertising. Not only does organic growth help reduce the financial burden on a business, but it also helps get more inbound leads, which all business owners would agree is the best form of marketing.

Getting virtual assistants on board helps businesses focus on multiple tasks at the same time, thereby giving them the ability to focus on important things like improving their brand equity. Such a practice helps them increase their organic consumer traction and scale their business.

Access to more skills

One of the foremost reasons why entrepreneurs and one-person businesses hire virtual assistants is to get easy access to skills and expertise, which otherwise would either be too costly or too time-consuming to employ.

Imagine you’re an entrepreneur running a marketing agency. One of the first things that you need to do, in order to attract potential customers, is to fill your marketing stack with services like website design and social media management.

While you can choose to do so by going the longer route of hiring internally, the option of hiring ready-to-employ virtual assistants is the more beneficial route since it enables you to hit the ground running in no time in a much more cost-effective manner.

Quality service

There might be instances where hiring a virtual assistant wasn’t a good experience for a business due to the absence of robust guidelines. However, most of the time hiring VAs leads to companies getting access to hard-working individuals, who insist on delivering quality service.

For example, a white-label chat bot can help businesses communicate with customers at the ideal moment in their journey, but a VA can jump in for more complicated tasks, ensuring that everyone gets quality service no matter the complexity of their request.

One can argue that VAs might be able to deliver more value than internal employees, but at the end of the day it all depends on how professional and focused an individual is.

How can Vendasta help you?

When it comes to fulfillment work, there are a lot of options present in the market today for businesses to hire virtual assistants. However, if you’re looking to enjoy an amalgamation of saving time, providing proof of performance, and scaling operations, then choose Vendasta.

Vendasta’s marketing services not only give you access to best-in-class talent to fulfill your tasks, but it also has a properly laid-out process in place that helps you save time.

It is common knowledge that most businesses venture towards hiring VAs because they want to save time, rather than waste it. And one of the biggest challenges with some of the VA platforms like Upwork and Fiverr is that often businesses end up wasting time trying to find the perfect fit.

This happens because these platforms leave it to the businesses coming to them to find the perfect virtual assistant on their website by weighing the pros and cons of those individual VAs. Businesses waste time playing the role of HR instead of being innovative and productive.

In Vendasta’s case, once businesses hire their white-labeled marketing services team to handle tasks, they can be assured that their tasks will be completed in a timely manner through our in-house (not offshore) strategists, who bring in years of expertise and experience.

Furthermore, businesses can sit back and relax without having to worry about which virtual assistant to choose while maintaining their brand identity and not losing touch with their values.

Lastly, when businesses hire virtual assistants from Vendasta, they also get access to a world-class end-to-end commerce platform that helps them scale without increasing costs.

So, what are you waiting for? Happy hiring!

About the Author

Ankur is a former Content Marketing Specialist at Vendasta with years of experience in marketing communications and journalism. When he's not writing blogs and producing content, he can be found tweeting, playing the guitar, and watching sports.

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