Finance Small Business Streamline your life with a virtual assistant
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Streamline your life with a virtual assistant

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Paying someone to pick up your laundry or clear a few pesky admin tasks used to be the domain of the high level executive. Not anymore.

The burgeoning rise of the “virtual assistant” worldwide means anyone can access an offsider, even if it’s just for an hour.

According to Australia-based online job website Freelancer.com, there has been a 95 per cent increase in demand for virtual assistants in the last three years.

Globally there has been a 156 per cent increase in jobs being posted since 2010.

“There has been a shift in the way businesses employ staff as more and more jobs can be done online, quickly, easily and cost effectively,” Freelancer spokesperson Nikki Parker says.

“Using freelancers as virtual assistants, to work on design jobs, build websites or any other task at hand, means a company that typically would not have access to enough resources can now tap into a global workforce and expand their business at rates not previously available to them.”

There has been a shift in the way businesses employ staff as more and more jobs can be done online.

AKA Virtual PA Australia Anita Kilkenny has been a virtual assistant for 14 years, starting her business when she had her first child to allow her flexibility to work from home and choose her own hours. She says when she first looked into the idea in 1994 there were only a handful of freelance assistants worldwide.

Now she says, there are thousands in Australia alone and, while it remains a niche industry, it’s growing fast, with small businesses, particularly sole traders, the most likely to use virtual assistance services.

Here’s how you can hire someone else to do your boring work.

What is a virtual assistant?

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Anita Kilkenny runs her virtual assistance business from her home.

There is no agreed upon definition for virtual assistants.

The Australian Virtual Assistants Association members are all Australia-based business owners, and are qualified in specialised areas including administration and marketing. Their services are contracted at an hourly rate, or for a package of service, from $25 – $80 ++ an hour depending on their level of skill.

There are also offshore-based services – as available on websites such as Freelancer and Odesk. These come at a far cheaper price from about $3 an hour.

Airtasker.com.au, which outsources anything from picking up a car from a mechanic to admin, says its locally based workers earn an average of $25 an hour.

How it works

On job sites like Freelancer, ODesk or Airtasker jobs are advertised and bid on. Likewise, workers advertise their services and rates.

Start-up company Airtasker co-founder Tim Fung has created an online site for the types of tasks a traditional PA might have done in their spare time, like picking up laundry, as well as admin.

Mr Fung used Airtasker recently to send someone to pick up a new set of keys to an apartment he was moving into. The job, which ended up taking the assistant 90 minutes, cost Mr Fung $30.

For qualified Australian-based VAs, you can contact directly through individual websites or through a network like A Clayton’s Secretary or Virtually Yours.

Business coach Casey Gollan uses offshore virtual assistants for his own business and his clients to do a range of tasks from admin and design to social media, email marketing and video editing which cost between $3 and $15 per hour.

Like anything, virtual assistants can be hit or miss. Be careful about language barriers, skills that relate to Australian businesses and make sure to screen potential contractors so they suit your business.

Why use a virtual assistant

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Source Bottle’s Bec Derrington.

Founder of free online service Source Bottle, which connects journalists and sources, Bec Derrington, says access to virtual assistance is fundamental to her business growth.

Her business needs daily time-critical assistance at the start and end of the day, but not enough work to hire a worker casually or part-time.

“It’s been a game changer for my business and I think probably with the proliferation of virtual businesses us all being online and outsourcing so much of the components of a small business, it probably is a growing trend.”

Ms Derrington has expanded her business to the US and UK, and says without being able to hire locally based assistance for these sites, this would not have been possible.

“Without virtual assistance, I’d go back to three years ago [when] I couldn’t possibly manage the international arm of the business, I would be very much chained to my desk and struggle to juggle the time critical nature of the business or grow the business in any meaningful way.”

She screens her VAs carefully, making sure to have processes in place to nip any issues in the bud and, as they have direct access to her website back-end, making sure appropriate safeguards are in place.

Tips and tricks

Ms Derrington, who has never met any of her VAs in person, says the following checklist is essential when employing a VA:

Monitor: I do check in, my virtual assistants have tasks they need to comply with and I check-in and make sure their KPIs are being followed through.

Communicate: I follow-up and touch base to see how they are going. She has almost daily contact via email, Skype or phone.

Employ the right person: Know what you want from a VA and recruit a contractor with specific skills.

AKA Virtual PA Ms Kilkenny has this advice for business owners to get the best out of VAs:

Be clear: Be specific with what you want and have that verbally or written down so both parties are clear what they are getting out of the relationship, including fees, content and time availability.

Be open minded: You might already be progressive to hire a VA, but they are often at the vanguard of technological changes, or have ideas to improve efficiency – listen to them and be open to a new way of doing something.

Deadlines: To make sure you get what you want when you need it, set a clear deadline.

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