A VA is there to help you ‘when your overwhelm is feeling overwhelmed!’
– The C-Nic Route –
I’ve had countless questions regarding what a VA is and what we do and thought that the best way to answer all the questions is to write an article about it.
FAQ's for Business Owners
WHAT A VA IS NOT
Let me start by saying that a VA is NOT an employee. And I think most VA’s feel quite strongly about getting this message across. We don’t work for you in the sense that we are not ’employed’ by you in the traditional sense.
THEN WHAT ARE YOU?
A VA, or a virtual assistant is first and foremost a business owner and an entrepreneur. Very much like you, if you own your own business. We generally work from home but some will also work from a client’s office from time-to-time.
Many VA’s started their careers as traditional Personal Assistants (PA), Office Administrators (OA), Event managers, Service controllers or similar. They generally have strong administrative and organisational skills and have a passion for finding solutions and helping others succeed. Many of them make great project managers.
VA’s outsource their time, skills, technical, and creative abilities to small, medium and large businesses.
YOU ARE OUR CLIENT
We are self-employed - making you our client. And because we are as passionate about our businesses, as you are about yours, we take our jobs very seriously.
We place a high value on customer service and VA’s will do what’s needed to get the job done. Our business is on the line after all.
WHAT ABOUT STATUTORY PAYMENTS?
Having a VA means that you do not carry the additional responsibility for things like: National Insurance and taxes, holiday and sick leave pay, pension, public liability and professional indemnity insurance, business registrations, software and all the legal stuff required.
VA SKILLS AND SERVICES
VA’s can have a range of different skills and can offer various services such as (but not limited to):
- Administrative, traditional PA and secretarial support
- Diary, calendar & email management
- Web User Experience Testing (UX testing)
- Setting up, implementing & organising filing systems, processes & procedures
- Compiling reports, presentations, training manuals, etc
- Proofreading, editing, newsletter writing & blogging
- Social media
- Minute taking, transcription and copy typing services
- Event, workshop and exhibition management
- Travel arrangements (whether for holiday or work purposes)
- Various creative tasks
This list is by no means exhaustive and I’m sure there are VA’s doing much more than this for their clients.
WHY YOU NEED A VA
When you start a business – you’re on a high and you believe that there is nothing that can stop you. In reality though, things like admin, social media and keeping accounts up-to-date can easily cost you valuable time on evenings and weekends, when you really should be spending time with your family or friends. That’s why many of us started our businesses after all - for the freedom it would create.
This is where the help from a VA is really beneficial. If you calculate your hourly rate on the time spent doing all the things that steal your time, but still have to do, you may find that contracting the services of a VA will not only save you money and lots of frustration, but may free up valuable time to do the things you really enjoy.
A ‘2-for-1’ DEAL
The feeling of working with a VA can often be described as a ‘2 for 1’ deal!
Time = money and both are precious!
Your VA will be ferociously catching up on your admin that you’ve left hanging for the past 6 months while you spend valuable time networking and growing your business. The feeling of accomplishment when he or she comes back to you in a week or two with everything wrapped-up and up-to-date is priceless. You know that you’ve gotten twice the amount of work done in less time than it would’ve taken you to do the same - only because your time is split between EVERYTHING else on your plate.
HOW DOES IT ALL WORK?
Requesting the services of a VA is fairly simple. If you need help, in any way, shape or form in your business or home-life, a VA can most probably help.
Most VA’s will have a website where they advertise the services they offer and some will advertise their rates. You can find them on social media and can often find them at networking events (whether online or in-person).
WHAT HOURS DO YOU WORK?
Something important to note is that VA’s generally work flexible hours – and this means that they may work whilst their children are in school, and then do additional hours when they’ve tucked them into bed at night.
The beauty of having a VA – is that they ARE Flexible. Need someone while you're away on business or want to enjoy your family holiday? Chat to your VA if you need help during school holidays - so that your business keeps going and you can actually enjoy some down-time with your family.
DO VA'S WORK ALONE?
Sometimes yes but they may also work with other VA’s (also known as associates) who could assist if they are unable to. These are people they trust and work with on a regular basis. I mention this a bit later in the article, but will touch on this here too. If your VA works with an associate, be clear on who is taking responsibility for the project, who is billing you and who you will be liaising with. This is really important to avoid any confusion after your project starts.
The current going rate for a VA can vary from country to country and whether you are working in the city vs more remote areas.
Currently the rates in the UK are anything between £28 – £40+ per hour. Now before you fall off your chair, remember I mentioned that a VA will be responsible for their own insurance, taxes, pensions, compliance and systems, etc.
A VA will often be able to support you on different projects whereas an employee may be dedicated to a certain role.
After paying all the monthly costs associated with running a business (think utilities, office space, insurance, telephone expenses, compliance – eg. GDPR & ICO, and most importantly coffee – we all need coffee!), some may end up only earning between £15 – £20 per hour – depending on where they are based and their rates. (The current minimum wage is currently £10.42 per hour and the cost of living is more than that regardless of where you live!)
I think it's superfluous to mention that you shouldn't ask a VA (or any other entrepreneur) to lower their rates. There is a solution though - monthly retainers may be the answer to your problem if you are wanting to pay less.
This is beneficial for both parties. Generally speaking, VA’s would prefer working on a retainer basis, but there are those who offer their services on a per-hour or ad hoc basis which works for small businesses who may not need the minimum 10 hours per month or if you’re working on a contract.
Monthly retainers are often charged at a slightly lower rate. (Not always, so do check).
You may save a few £’s when choosing a retainer as the work and time is guaranteed. One-off projects could cost a bit more, but not all VA’s charge different rates. Do your research before outsourcing to a VA.
BENEFITS OF A RETAINER
Retainers mean that you have a dedicated assistant for a specific amount of hours per month (eg. 10 or 20 hours). You can use this time for them to focus on the things that are really important but you don’t have the time for.
A retainer is also really beneficial to both parties from a budgetary perspective. You know what you will be spending, and the VA knows what their income will be and will manage their time effectively around their other clients.
Something important to note is that a retainer means you have a dedicated 10 / 20 hours per month - this could fall at any time of the day. It does not always mean that these are specific hours. For example - if the work you are outsourcing does not require it to be done during the day, a VA may fit your work in at night or when it suits them. This is where the flexibility comes in. It’s important to keep an open mind and speak to and come to an agreement with your VA about what your needs are.
PAY ONLY FOR THE HOURS YOU NEED
A larger company will employ ‘x’ amount of staff – some who are worth their weight in gold and others who spend more time chatting than getting any work done. They are therefore paying their staff a monthly salary whether they've completed the work set out or not. Just because some tasks can be rolled over to a new month, does not mean it has to. A VA's main focus is on getting the job done.
With a VA – you pay only for the hours you’ve booked. You’re not paying for lunch or other daytime breaks.
DO I HAVE TO SIGN A CONTRACT?
Absolutely. When you employ the services of a VA you are entering a business agreement and therefore you will need to sign a legal contract. Contracts cover all the important things you need in order to protect yourself and the VA when it comes to work delivery, time management and all those nitty gritty legal things.
WHAT QUESTIONS TO ASK YOUR NEW VA?
It’s worth your while ensuring that you are clear on your expectations and the outcomes required when working with a VA. These are some of the things to check when working with a VA:
- Agreed amount of hours & rate per hour (or monthly retainer fee)
- Does the rate increase if working on weekends & bank holidays, or if you contact them at short notice?
- Confirm and be clear on deadlines - especially if you’re outsourcing a specific project.
- Be clear on the outcome. i.e. How will the completed work be measured (accuracy, deadlines reached, project completed, etc)
- Discuss GDPR & data protection compliance & confidentiality of information.
- Is your VA insured and do they have relevant insurance? Not all are. If this is important to you, I’d consider checking this.
- Do they work with other associates (outsource to other VA’s?). Talk to them about how this will work if it applies.
- If they work with other associates, then make sure you know whose client you are. Ie. Who is ultimately responsible for the project and who will be billing you?
- Take the time to explain clearly what your needs are and provide clear instructions. You may find that by explaining it properly the first time, you wont need to keep explaining it later.
As with any business, a VA should ideally have Professional Indemnity insurance. Check with your VA what insurance they have. Public liability is not needed if you are not visiting their office.
INSURANCE FOR SMALL BUSINESSES
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Please note that I am an affiliate for PolicyBee. If you purchase insurance from them, using my link, you will receive a special discounted offer and I will receive a small commission for referring you. This will not cost you a penny more. It just helps me keep my small business going. Thank you for your support.
GDPR / ICO
Data protection is an important aspect of any business, especially when you are processing any personal information. Instead of writing about it here, I am sharing a link to the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) who has a wealth of information on the topic. If your business meets certain criteria, its compulsory for you to register with them. At the time of writing this article, the cost is between £35 and £40 annually, so this is a small price to pay to remain compliant. Here is the Guide to Data Protection.
I hope that this article was comprehensive in explaining the benefits and services of a VA. If you have any other questions or would like me to add anything to this article, please reach out. And if you need the service of a VA, you know where to find me.
Direct any questions to: firstname.lastname@example.org OR book a 20min Meet & Greet with me here.
image: Photo by Emma Dau on Unsplash