Choosing Your Virtual Assistant

Let’s face it. A virtual assistant is not for everyone. Yes, most virtual PAs are freelancers, which means that you don’t need to worry about tax, pension, benefits and redundancy. But working remotely also has its disadvantages. If you or your business require an assistant to be physically present at all times, then look away now. If, on the other hand, you are currently looking for or working with a virtual PA, then you will know how difficult it is to find the right person for you. Just Google the words “virtual assistant” or “virtual secretary” and you’ll find many companies that provide the services. But how do you choose the virtual assistant that is right for you?

You first need to assess your needs for today and tomorrow. If you only require a holiday cover once in a while or some support every now and again with your expense claims, then you definitely want the most flexible option you can find. A lot of companies now offer “pay-as-you-go” packages, and at Virtual Office Assistant we do too. This is an ideal scenario if you don’t want to commit or want to test the water with your provider first.

However, if you require the same quality of support you would expect to have with a full-time or part-time employee, you need to clearly define the tasks you would consider outsourcing, the skills required for those tasks, the amount of information you’re willing to disclose, as well as the time you’re prepared to invest in the relationship with your virtual assistant. And of course, you will want to specify the number of hours you need per week and budget you can afford. Once your job description is clearly set out, you may realise that what you’re looking for is not so much a PA but a marketing manager, a bookkeeper or a translator. Assistants are sometimes seen as a jack of all trades. To a certain extent this is true, but ultimately it’s all about expectations and finding the right expertise. Would you have your house built by your doctor? Having an open discussion from the outset is in the interests of both parties. Think of your initial conversation as a job interview. Professional virtual assistants will always prefer to reject tasks that do not fall within their remit.

Once you are satisfied that your chosen VA and your business will be a match made in heaven, do not forget to cover some other fundamental points around confidentiality and data privacy. Here are a few questions you may want to ask the assistant:

  • Will you share my details with any other third party?
  • What are the arrangements to protect confidential information (including how sensitive data will be stored)?
  • Do you back up your data and documents?

Some tasks e.g. travel arrangements and visa applications require sensitive information to be disclosed, so it is crucial to understand how your VA will treat your data.

One final topic you will want to address is the VA’s working pattern – between what hours does the VA operate, are weekends viable, what about time zone constraints, and so on. With the increasing complexity of digital communications, the VA may have a preference between email, text, other forms of messaging (such as WhatsApp) alongside telephone and video conference. So much to think about – but a good VA will be on top of the detail for you.