Via the Metropolitan Organizing Blog, Tess Strand on offshore outsourcing versus working with a ‘local’ virtual assistant:
When should a business owner choose an offshore virtual assistant over a local one?
The truth is that any business owner going offshore for virtual support is doing so because of cost alone.
With that said, if a business owner finds an offshore virtual assistant with an excellent command of the English language who delivers not only tasks as requested but can strategize business growth with them and offer expertise in social media or web design, or real estate – whatever the VA’s specialty is – if you find a VA who can offer all of that, consistently, at ‘offshore’ prices then of course it’s a good business decision.
But any business owner basing this investment in their business on price alone is going to get what they pay for. That applies to VAs in North America or Europe too, by the way. Location isn’t really the issue – it’s work quality. Ultimately, I’d advise a business owner to get the best help they can afford but to first look carefully at what they’re hoping to achieve by working with a virtual assistant and make their decision accordingly. If the goal is to outsource automated tasks with little room for error, that’s very different from outsourcing something like marketing collateral or customer service and communications, for example, where a less than ideal result could at best be an expensive mistake; at worst, disastrous or damaging to the company image
My favorite quote to share with business owners considering investing in a virtual assistant comes from a perhaps unlikely source: an American oil well firefighter named Red Adair who said, “If you think it’s expensive to hire a professional to do the job, wait until you hire an amateur.” I think that pretty much sums it up.
Read the entire interview over at Gerlain Thomas’ Metropolitan Organizing Blog.
Miguel Berger, Broker at Better Homes and Gardens® Real Estate Tech Valley in Albany, New York joined the franchise in February of 2001.
As someone who readily embraces technology, Berger has been on the cutting edge since his first day in real estate.
This includes outsourcing and employing virtual assistance; something the industry has been slow to embrace.
Why a Virtual Assistant Makes Sense
After opening his own independent brokerage in 2001, Berger saw great value in hiring top assistants that would work virtually, thereby reducing his overhead and time spent managing employees. His first hire was Donna Trainor, an Albany, NY bookkeeper
“Donna keeps my books straight and notices if anything appears irregular,” said Berger.” “She is also a great tax resource. It is nice to know where you are financially at any given moment and have peace of mind that someone is watching out for you and your business.”
Berger does admit that initially it was a financial decision based on economy of scale: an approach common to many startup businesses.
Later, using offsite professionals became a growth decision for his business. In 2002, Berger heard about Angela Allen, a writer, real estate SEO specialist, and tech geek who lived on 25 acres in rural Kentucky.
While other brokers were struggling to understand Wi-Fi and to successfully work wirelessly across their offices; Berger outsourced his marketing to a remote professional 900 miles and three states away. He entrusted her with the growth of his business and hired her to be his virtual marketing department.
“I’ve been working with Angela of WickedWriter.com for over ten years now,” said Berger, “and we have never met face to face.” Berger says the two use email and phone conferences to plan, discuss, and brainstorm. “Since Angela has real estate clients across the country, she helps me stay informed of real estate trends in other areas. If I have projects I want to pursue, she usually has ideas and approaches that really help.”
“Angela is a marketing machine and is constantly challenging me to do more and become more creatively. I appreciate Angela for pushing me to always think outside of the box. I consider both Donna and Angela an essential part of my team.”
Virtual Assistants Offer Flexibility and Support
Berger likes working with remote professionals. By doing so, he can add staff without adding distractions to the office. There is no need to create physical space for these employees and there are no limiting schedules. Berger knows real estate is not a 9-5 job and using remote specialist’s means he can email information to his bookkeeper or his marketing specialist any time, provide the target deadline and forget about it.
“I call Angela and ask her to work up a project, do research, or develop a plan when it comes to my mind,” says Berger, “and she gets it done. I send all my financial information to Donna and she keeps my books in order and provides me with detailed reports at any interval I choose.”
Virtual Assistants Make Financial ‘Cents’
Financially, Berger says it makes sense to use off-site specialists. “Especially during the last three years, I couldn’t have justified having a person doing marketing full time, it’s not affordable. By using Angela, I don’t have the full-time overhead. She works on the projects I need, when I need them. Likewise, there’s no need for me to have a full-time bookkeeper in the office when Donna can provide all the services I need from her location. It’s about efficiency,” said Berger, “it’s not just about overhead.”
Berger said he can be anywhere and still manage his business with technology, “There’s no water cooler talk on my dime. There are no distractions in the office. You ask for it, you pay for it and you get it. You are no longer required to have people in the office to work. And, honestly, the fewer people there are in the office, the more work gets done. There are fewer non-work related issues to be discussed and the work place is more focused and productive.”
At the end of the day, it is a productivity issue.
Berger says his agents aren’t in the office much either because they are out working. Recently, Berger expanded his offsite service providers to include individuals who had been working onsite. His administrative assistant, Laurie, had a baby a short time ago and is currently working from home.
“She knows what she needs to do and she doesn’t have to be in the office to get it done. With software like GoToMyPC, she’s working on the computer in the office, from her computer at home,” said Berger. “She does our ads for open houses, handles our relocation information, and isn’t distracted by worry over what is happening with the new baby elsewhere. And, I didn’t have to train someone new. It’s great. Everyone wins.”
New Approaches to Old Challenges
Berger has always employed new approaches to old challenges. He maintains that he never wanted his to be the biggest brokerage, merely the best. Every step he takes helps to ensure that.
“Before negotiations with Better Homes and Gardens,” said Berger, “I’d never encountered a franchise that would allow me the freedom to provide the personal service I want and the freedom to continue to incorporate and adopt new technologies at the speed I require.”
Decisions, like success, depend on providing the best service, continually improving productivity and providing an environment for individuals to perform at their personal peak levels,” says Berger. “I achieve that through new technology, an open mind and my affiliation with Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate. At the end of the day, it is a productivity issue.”
About the author: Miguel Berger, Broker at Better Homes and Gardens® Real Estate, is a household name in Real Estate and has been since 1985. He is energetic and willing to work 7 days a week and enjoys making Real Estate a pleasurable and informed process. His success stems from thoroughness in details, and years of experience and practical knowledge. He has been a leading force in the integration of technology and marketing.
I have heard it from past clients and others in this industry that your working relationship with a Virtual Assistant may be more like a marriage. While that may be a bit silly, it’s partially true, and that is why it makes sense to take time to locate the best VA for YOU, understanding that this may well develop into a fruitful and long-term relationship.
Not only can a Virtual Assistant provide first class and quality workmanship, but she can also provide advice, recommendations and other resources over and above what may otherwise be considered to be a straightforward contract. A good VA or Online Business Manager works with many clients and is able to have an inside look at how their businesses are run.
Once a good partner has been selected, it’s important to pay attention to the finer details and specifically how payments are going to be handled. This is a vital component of the working relationship. VA’s and OBM’s are in business to help you, but we also need to be profitable. Making sure that you are able to pay on time is important, and a very large part of the relationship.
There are several different ways to approach payment arrangements and a lot of this would depend on the type of work that you are outsourcing to your VA. Typically, a virtual assistant is flexible and can accept a number of different payment arrangements. Sometimes the VA will accept a number of different payment arrangements from the same client, based on the portfolio of work required. In the corporate world it is traditional to deal with an invoicing system and most, especially larger, clients expect that the vendors provide them with a “net 30 day” arrangement. This is the amount of time that the client will take to process the invoice through their internal system, prior to a check being written and sent to the vendor.
In truth this is a somewhat cumbersome arrangement and hardly what we would call efficient in today’s “communicated” world. A lot of organizations are a little bit “tardy” when it comes to paying these invoices, and a 30 day payment can often stretch into 45 or 60 days before the check is actually written and sent out in the mail. Nevertheless, your virtual assistant can consider the potential costs associated with accepting this form of payment and this may be reflected in the rates that are agreed upon.
When work is project based, an invoice can be created at the appropriate time and linked to a purchase order provided by the client, if applicable. With a traditional invoicing arrangement like this terms may be due upon receipt, so when the VA submits or e-mails an invoice it should be processed promptly. Your VA may have a merchant account, meaning that they will be able to collect payment by processing a credit card on file. This alleviates the client from the hassle of physically writing a check and mailing it, as the VA can be authorized to process the card for the payment when the invoice submitted is approved.
At Virtual Assistant Chick, we use the online payment processing giant Paypal to alleviate the need to collect credit card numbers from our clients. You simple click “pay” on your invoice and then are taken to Paypal’s website to complete your payment. If the VA is working on a monthly retainer basis, then the payment would be expected by a certain date on a regular and ongoing basis. This could be handled by credit card, by standing order or by a transfer of funds from a bank, or by setting up a “subscription” in Paypal. I have this option in place for many clients, and it allows us to work seemlessly with them without having to worry about payments coming in on time.
About the author: For the past 7 years, April Sullivan has worked along side many Realtors, Business Coaches, and Entrepreneurs, helping them build the businesses of their dreams. By developing systems, strategies, and new solutions, she has been a partner in their success. April is the founder of Virtual Assistant Chick, EntreLeverage, co-founder of the REVA Academy, and is also a new VA mentor. She lives with her husband and 4 children in sunny California.
Recently I have been experiencing a great deal of inquiries as to what exactly my company does and how we serve the general consumer. So in response, the following is just a few points on the subject. Thanks in advance for reading.
From personal experience, I am finding that my services are proving to be extremely useful for the small business owner and startup businesses. The way I do business and the structure of my company fits perfectly for those small business owners who need some assistance but are afraid of the physical and monetary encumberences of hiring a permanent employee, (providing office space, equipment, steady hours, etc). The small business owner usually finds themselves in a position where they are experiencing greater activity and bringing in more money but maybe not quite enough to take on a steady employee.
The structure of some businesses makes it impractical for them to have a live office which is another reason why Virtual Assistant’s are increasing in popularity. The Virtual Assistant works from their satellite office taking the burden of providing office space and equipment off the small business owner. Because VA’s (or Business Support Specialists which is my preferred title), work on an as needed basis, clients can be assured they are only paying for the work completed. There is no need for guaranteed hours, (so no worries about wasted employee office hours) or the offering of benefits as Virtual Assisstants work on a subcontractor basis and are responsible for taking care of these items on their own. You would be amazed at the amount of work a Virtual Assistant can conduct in an hour’s time! It definitely goes without saying that you are getting more for your money with a Virtual Assistant than a steady employee in most instances.
These attractive qualities alone are proving to serve the small business owner immensely as they are now free to focus on their income producing activities, all the while knowing there is someone just a click away if they need some instant support or to remind them to follow up on a task. Another hurdle the small business owner faces is organization. Many business owners do not address this issue until they are so overwhelmed and lost they can’t conduct business in a productive manner as they are being pulled in a million different directions. Virtual Assistants can alleviate this stressor by keeping track of databases, calendars, contacts, responding to emails, making online files for easy access, etc.
In addition to the small business owner and startup community, well established businesses are seeing the benefits of utilizing a Virtual Assistant. Writing and editing articles for online publications, social media management, customer relations management are just some of the avenues that the well established professionals can take advantage of in using a Virtual Assistant. By delegating these tasks to an on call administrative assistant, professionals are able to branch out and further their business goals by taking on new projects they have been putting off due to lack of time.
About the author: Catie McClure has over 10 years experience in the administrative services industry and is the founder of McClure Virtual Business Solutions – based in Massachusetts. She is the author of 2 blogs: My Virtual Assistant Blogspot which focuses on training and support for new and aspiring VAs as well as the McClure Solutions Blog which is a client-focused blog. You can also find Catie on Facebook.
The Virtual Assistant industry has grown so much in the past 10 years that it’s easy to understand that clients might get confused about where to find a Virtual Assistant and how to know if they’ve got a good one.
There are some things you can do to put your mind at ease.
Firstly, did you find them online or have they been referred to you? This will make a difference as to how you might feel about the working relationship. Receiving a recommendation or referral from someone you trust will help you over the first hurdle and give you more confidence in the person you will be working with.
What do you need to know about the Virtual Assistant?
How long have they been providing the type of support they are offering you?
Generally many VAs come into the industry having a background of previous office or admin support of some sort, with at least 5 years’ experience. So, even if they are a brand new VA, the fact is that they will have experience in what they’re doing to support you.
What kind of services are they offering?
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that VAs can do anything and everything. They can’t. Many specialise in niche offerings such as transcription, data entry, social media support, research, word-processing, editing and proofreading, etc. It is rare to get someone who can do everything you want and the reality is you may need to engage 2 or 3 VAs to carry out all the work you have available. You can either engage them direct or get one main VA and have them manage your projects and help you engage the others as needed.
What time do they have available?
Some clients need someone 5, 10 or more hours a week, some only need them 5, 10 or more hours a month. And others on an ad-hoc basis. Be upfront with what your needs could be and if you don’t know, let them know but explain what’s required as much as possible.
How much contact do you want with your VA?
Remember that VAs are not employees and do not need micro-managing. They are self-employed independent business owner/operators who are used to using their initiative and organisational skills to get the work done. They won’t need you to be checking up on them every single day but you will need to let them know of your time needs and what you expect of them in reporting back and completion of the work.
How do you wish to communicate?
Some people (clients) prefer phone, some Skype, some email, some face-to-face. It’s important to be clear about how you like to communicate and discuss this with your VA. I have a couple of clients who have regular (once-a-week) phone meetings with me and the rest of the time instructions are emailed. I say ‘phone meetings’ because that’s what they are. Meetings that last 30 mins to an hour or more and the time is charged for. Occasional calls generally aren’t, but then it depends on how often that might take place and how much time is involved.
Are you happy for your VA to sub-contract or outsource your needs if they’re unable to fulfill a request?
Once you are happy with your VA you will probably go to him or her for things that you know they don’t do, but in the hope they can do it for you or find someone who can. I’ve frequently sourced other service providers on behalf of my clients because they’ve been with me for quite sometime and they trust that I understand and know their needs.
How long will you want to have a VA?
That can be a question that’s not answerable. However, it’s worth thinking about. Some clients have projects that have a lifespan of only a few months or a year or two. Other clients have long-term plans for their business and want someone who’s going to be around for the long-term. My own longest-term clients have been with me for 12 years or more and many others between 2 and 7 years.
There may be other things you want to know, i.e. how do they protect your material, do they shred, delete, destroy?
Do they have a backup system in place?
Will they require you to sign a contract or will they simply invoice you on completion of work or on a regular basis, say monthly?
Finally, you’ll need to consider how you feel about the contact you’ve had with your potential VA, whether by voice or email. Do you feel that you connect with them? Did you communicate with each other easily or were there constant miscommunications? You need to feel comfortable with the VA you are going to work with – did they instil confidence for you? Checking their website or LinkedIn profile or whatever they have online will help a great deal.
About the author: Kathie M. Thomas pioneered the Virtual Assistant industry in Australia and established the first VA network in the southern hemisphere. Through a desire to work at home and be present for her family of 5 daughters, she registered her business in March 1994 and took it online in January 1996. Kathie has written many articles online and has been published in books and magazines. Visit Kathie’s blog: Virtual Assistant – The Blog.
Don’t hire a virtual assistant until you read this!
Is there such a thing as a perfect employee? Pretty close. Hiring a virtual assistant can be one of the smartest decisions you’ll ever make as a business owner. Imagine for a moment … a virtual assistant who’ll take charge and finish that PowerPoint presentation you’ve been putting off OR make those dreaded travel reservations.
Outsourcing help for some of your most time-consuming daily tasks will give you extra hours back each day. You’ll be able to focus more on growing your business, spending quality time with your family or even exploring your passions and hobbies.
Are all virtual assistants created equal? No.
The good news is you have a giant pool of virtual contractors to choose from. Can you find the one who’s right for you? Never fear, the cavalry is here!
You’re about to learn 8 essential tips for hiring the perfect virtual assistant:
> He or she must be deadline-oriented.
Talk to him or her. Missed deadlines could mean life or death to your ongoing working relationships. This is serious stuff. If a big project comes to a grinding halt due to an assistant’s lack of time management, it can damage your reputation as a business owner. Avoid this heartache now. Emphasize the importance of communication during an ongoing project and make your point that, unless your assistant is nursing a broken arm, you won’t stand for missed deadlines! It should also raise a red flag if your worker makes a delivery promise that doesn’t sound believable. Superheroes are hard to find.
> Your virtual assistant must be tech savvy and have a reliable computer and email service.
If he or she brags about saving your work on floppy disks, run for the hills! You want a VA who’s up to date with a current content management system to organize and complete your projects.
> You have to talk money.
Some virtual contractors expect a full or half deposit up front per project before work can begin. Don’t think too harshly of them if that is the case. Most virtual assistants take their work very seriously. They, too, run a business and don’t want to be scammed. Collecting a full or partial deposit up front lets the VA know you’re serious about working with them. If you like what a potential virtual helper has to offer you, payment expectations and invoicing methods are an important part of that decision. Although money is not a fun subject to talk about, good communication can save you frustration later. Ask if he or she will offer you a discount for large amounts of work. It’s a win-win situation for both of you.
> Establishing trust is essential.
Would you put all your money in a bank that no one’s heard of? Definitely not. It’s the same principle with a virtual assistant. Ask to see references, and then check them! A professional VA will also provide work samples. This is your chance to see the quality of work. Do a quick proofread of the sample and see if your potential hire pays attention to details such as grammar and spelling.
> Intelligence, professionalism and confidentiality
wrap those up with a bow and you have the perfect virtual assistant. If your potential contractor thinks NDA is a new rap group, move on. There are virtual assistants out there who give the profession a good name. Non-Disclosure and Work for Hire Agreements will protect both of you. The legalese in both documents outlines expectations for confidentiality and project requirements – essential for any successful business.
> As with any business relationship, misunderstandings about billing can sometimes arise.
It’s how those problems are handled that can make the difference. Ask a potential contractor how he or she handles revisions. Are all revisions covered under the original invoice? How many revisions are acceptable before the assistant charges an additional fee?
> Personality, customer service, and the ability to communicate are essential.
You have to discuss up front if the virtual assistant feels just as comfortable talking on the phone to a client as he or she does via email. Remember, he or she represents YOU. Bad customer service is a reputation killer. There are websites where clients can vent about bad customer service. The last thing you need is to hire a virtual assistant who is rude, unprofessional and can’t handle stressful situations. If the VA doesn’t have an immediate answer for a client, he or she must know how to respond politely and with a promise to research the issue and keep in touch with the client until the answer is found.
> Clear Expectations
Can your virtual assistant leap tall buildings in a single bound? Probably not, but that shouldn’t necessarily rule them out. We all have certain expectations for the person we want to hire as our right hand. He or she may have personality plus and some fabulous skills, but may not be familiar with PowerPoint. Relax. It doesn’t have to be a deal breaker. If that’s the ONLY issue holding you back from hiring a contractor and you believe he or she is trainable and enthusiastic about learning new skills – then go for it!
You can’t teach confidence, personality and trust. If the virtual assistant has those assets and a workable skill set, it’s time to take the plunge. Start with a test project. See how he or she handles the work. If it’s close to what you’re looking for, congratulations! It was just a test and your potential hire passed. Think of what he or she can do once you’ve worked together for awhile. You’ve discovered a gold nugget on a virtual planet of potential workers.
Without a doubt, outsourcing is transforming the experience of solo-entrepreneurs everywhere. With the help of the right virtual assistant, you CAN have your life back and maybe take those guitar lessons you’ve always wanted to take.
About the author: Business Growth & Marketing Mentor, Deanna Maio, teaches coaches, consultants, and other service providers how to get more clients, work less hours, and enjoy their businesses again. Wanna learn how to outsource successfully and build a team to support you? Get her free special report “5 Simple Steps to Create a Powerful Virtual Team” at www.PowerfulVirtualTeams.com
Take a look at your to-do list, are there tasks on there that are taking away the time you should be using on your business? If so, it’s probably time to start looking for a virtual assistant.
It could be a single person that is dedicated to working with you and your business, or even a service that provides assistants on an as need basis, either way, a virtual assistant (also called a VA) can free you from the administrative tasks that aren’t an effective use of your entrepreneurial time. Another major advantage of a virtual assistant is that they work remotely and as needed so you don’t have to spend as much as you would for an employee that works on site, all the time .. you know, the clock punchers.
So .. ready to contract a VA for your business? If you are, here are some tips on finding one and working with one successfully.
-1- Know Who You’re Hiring
It might seem like common sense, but some might not think about it. If you’re going to entrust someone with your info, whether it be for social media, public relations, bookkeeping tasks, or any number of sensitive information required tasks, you need to make sure you trust the person you hire. Talk to colleagues, get referrals. Check out social media groups specifically for virtual assistants. There’s many such groups on LinkedIn, Facebook and Google+.
Interview the virtual assistant as if you were hiring an employee, but also keep in mind that VAs are also independently owned businesses. You need to ask more questions, especially about their business. Need some help asking the right questions? We can help you out there.
-2- Make Sure Your VA Understands What You Do
Not every VA has the same experience and skills, you’ll need to find one who understands the kind of work that you do. While they may not understand your medical practice in detail, they should have some relevant medical industry experience.
Be willing to set aside some time to for training. Your business processes are yours, and perhaps you are the only one who knows how it all goes together. You should not have to train your VA in every aspect of their tasks, however.
Example #1: Social media marketing: Your VA should bring their SMM skills to the table, however you may need to instruct them on post formatting, your editorial cycle, or your preferences.
Example #2: Virtual reception: Your VA will know how to answer the phones line, but you will need to provide some training for those instances when a call comes in that are specific in nature to your business.
-3- Figure Out the Payment Up Front
There are many different types of virtual assistant business structures – solopreneurs, small multi-VA practices and large employee-based virtual assistant businesses – and all have different pricing models. While hourly pay might seem like the easiest option, it may not always be the cost effective option. Many virtual assistant practices offer retainer hours, where you purchase a set number of hours at a discounted rate.
Another payment model is a fixed price model, which is primarily used for a one-time project or piece. Many content writing practices use a per piece, or a $X/100 words pricing model.
The structure of how you pay aside, make sure you’re getting the best work for the price. Please keep in mind that cheaper isn’t always better. The saying “You get what you pay for” comes to mind often. You are paying a bit more for workers that are more skilled and experienced. It always ends up being worth it in the end. Know what you can afford and start there looking for the best value you can buy.
-4- Keep Their Schedules In Mind
Having remote partners means potentially having time zone differences and that has a direct impact on how you and your VAs work together. If you have someone that is in a different time zone, you should make sure that they can get back to you within a reasonable time frame. Consider outsourcing locally. This doesn’t necessarily mean in your town, but keep your radius small:
• If not your town, then your county
• If not your county, then your state
• If not your state, then your time zone
• If not your time zone, then your country
Something else to keep in mind is that you aren’t likely to be the only business that the assistant is working with. It’s important to respect the fact that just like your regular employees your VA has other responsibilities other than the tasks you assign them.
Virtual assistants are not your employees, they have other clients, whose tasks are just as important at yours. We’re lucky that we are so important in your lives!
-5- Be Clear In Your Communication
Communication is an important part of any relationship, this is especially true in a business relationship that is virtual. It’s hard to explain things clearly digitally but it’s necessary to make sure that they can effectively perform the tasks they were assigned. Create a YouTube video for some of your tasks; you’ll save time and never have to answer a question twice.
Most often, if a VA doesn’t complete your task successfully, it’s because of communication that wasn’t clear in the instructions you gave. While a seasoned virtual assistant will be proactive in asking questions, we cannot know everything. So spend a bit of time and extra effort to make sure that you were clear and that both parties are on the same page.
About Out of the Office Virtual Assistance:
Since 2006, Out of the Office has offered ideas and ways to increase your productivity, decrease your workload, and work more efficiently. We nurture a successful business relationship, while continuing to grow as your business partner. We are focused on streamlining your administration, social media planning and execution, content writing and offering creative solutions for your business success.