As a solo business owner, you wear a lot of hats, serving as the strategist, the copywriter and the accountant all in one.
When you’re just getting started, it might seem exciting to handle everything on your own, but eventually you will grow to a point where it’s simply not possible to manage it all without suffering from serious burnout.
Whether you need help with recurring client work or need someone to help you market your business, bringing on another team member can make a big difference for your productivity and work-life balance.
Hiring a virtual assistant (VA) to help with some of your day-to-day tasks is one big way to free up your time to focus on the aspects of the business you enjoy the most while continuing to scale at your desired pace.
We spoke with Solo PR Pro’s very own VA (yep, we practice what we preach!) Tishia Lee, along with member Amy Spencer of Evo Communications, who has worked with a virtual assistant for the past four years.
What is a virtual assistant?
A virtual assistant, also known as a VA, is typically an independent contractor who provides professional administrative, technical or creative assistance to clients remotely.
In most cases, they take on routine, recurring responsibilities that directly impact their clients’ businesses, helping to free up the business owner’s time to focus on strategic and production efforts.
The popularity of VAs has exploded over the last decade as technology has advanced and made remote work easier than ever.
Working with a VA is ideal for small and solo-owned businesses because they are flexible — they can be part-time or full-time depending on your needs — and can live and work from anywhere, be it your hometown, across the country or even overseas.
VAs generally have different skillsets they offer as well, so solo PR pros can find someone to suit their unique business needs.
“Some may be more technical and can help with website or software-related tasks while other virtual assistants might be skilled in social media management, research or even customer service support,” says Tishia. “There is really no strict, one-size-fits-all description.”
The difference between a virtual assistant and a freelancer
You might be thinking this sounds pretty similar to working with freelancers. And yes, there are some similarities especially when you consider that many virtual assistants are freelance workers.
But the major difference between the two lies in the overall job scope.
While a subcontractor might be brought on for a very specific service or project, such as doing design work for a client’s website or assisting with a paid social media campaign, a VA will be involved more heavily in working on the business.
“My virtual assistant is a trusted partner who helps me run my business,” explains Amy.
How to find the right virtual assistant
Because this person will be so integral in your operation, Tishia encourages solo PR pros to take the hiring process very seriously.
“I recommend scheduling a consult call with at least three virtual assistants before hiring one,” she says. “These calls are important because it gives you the chance to feel them out. Not only are you looking to see what skills they have for specific tasks you want to hand off, but it’s also important to get a feel for how well you mesh together.”
Pay close attention to how they handle project communication and their preferences for organization. If the person you’re chatting with prefers to do everything over email but you’d rather have everything well-documented in software like Trello or Asana, they might not be the right fit for you.
Tishia also cautions that it can take some time to find the right VA. “Don’t get discouraged if you hire one and they don’t work out. Sometimes it takes going through a few to find the perfect fit,” she says. But once you have them onboard, they will likely be a huge asset to you and the future of your business.
Tasks you might assign to a virtual assistant
So what can a virtual assistant help you with? Their specific tasks will vary depending on the needs of the business.
Amy, for example, chose to bring on a VA to help her with some of the more administrative pieces that ate up large portions of her day, freeing her up to focus on more strategic work.
Here’s a non-exhaustive list of tasks Amy shared with us:
- Online research for client projects
- News coverage reports
- CRM support
- Spreadsheet creation
- Selecting and coordinating gifts of appreciation for our clients and subcontracting consultants
- Marketing the business, such as making updates to the website and marketing collateral
- Complex meeting scheduling support
- Booking travel
- Watching my inbox when I'm on vacation or out of town
- Occasionally helping me with personal tasks, like our family's annual holiday cards
Communication is key
When it comes to successfully outsourcing to a virtual assistant, Tishia emphasizes that communication is key. Be sure to communicate your expectations on project scope and deadlines upfront and clearly, as well as provide regular feedback on the work being performed.
When working with a virtual assistant, it’s important to be realistic with expectations as well. Most virtual assistants — just like you! — work for several clients and plan their schedules accordingly.
Getting a good gauge for their average timelines, abilities and hours upfront will help to ensure both of you have a positive working relationship.
“I found my current VA through a service called Bus Stop Mamas that helps moms and dads caring for their kids find fulfilling flexible work that fits their lifestyles,” says Amy. “My VA has small children and we often work asynchronously, allowing her to grab work time whenever she has it.”
At the end of the day, if you take the time to find and hire the right virtual assistant, it can mean huge benefits for your business and your mental health.
“Once I tried having a VA, I never wanted to go without one again,” says Amy. “It helped me get my nights and weekends back, which were often filled with the many administrative tasks that support the business.”
We want to hear from you! Have you hired a virtual assistant to help out with your business? Are you currently working as a virtual assistant? Let us know in the comments below or on social media using #solopr!
Photo Credit: Credit:Chainarong Prasertthai