Have more questions about working with a virtual assistant, or about how we can help you search for a terrific VA to work with? If so, you’re in the right place; we’ve distilled the questions we’ve received in close to 20 years to the most popular ones and offer them here. They’re content-rich and will probably answer your questions. Have questions you can’t find here? Feel free to contact us and we’ll help you get the answers you’re looking for!
Frequently Asked Questions about Working With a Virtual Assistant
What is virtual assistance?
What virtual assistance is not
As you move around the ‘net, you’ll see a variety of definitions about what virtual assistance is, and what VAs do. AssistU has always had a strong and distinctive brand of virtual assistance which we believe is the highest and best standard for the industry as a whole.
Our brand is about VAs being committed business owners, running professional practices in which they provide administrative, operations, and sometimes personal support, across the board, in long-term and collaborative relationships. So, a VA is a person who supports a client, across the board, without being geographically present in the client’s location.
Having said that, a VA is not someone who provides consulting services. That person is a consultant. A VA isn’t someone who only provides bookkeeping services. That person is a bookkeeper. A VA isn’t someone who only provides marketing support. That person is a marketing consultant or a marketing assistant. A VA isn’t someone who books speaking engagements. That person is an agent. Nor are VAs Tax Advisors, Accountants, Medical Transcriptionists, Web Designers, or professional business and personal coaches.
In our opinion, what makes a person a VA isn’t that the services can be performed at a distance, but rather that the services that are being performed are administrative in scale and scope, and are provided with the desire to support the client across the board, not with just one specific function or task, no matter how ongoing that might be.
While it’s possible that a VA may offer additional services, those who offer limited, or non-administrative services are not, in our opinion, Virtual Assistants.
Are we judgmental? We don’t believe so. There’s certainly room in the business world for whatever any entrepreneur wants to do. However, we feel, and have always felt, that there needs to be a strong definition of what this profession is about; for virtual assistance and VAs to have a future, we need to distinguish ourselves and what we offer as distinct from all others.
At AssistU, through our brand, we have been doing that since we created the profession close to two decades ago, and it’s part and parcel of what we stand for.
How are AssistU-trained VAs different?
- Their training is different from anything else available, anywhere
- Their standards are higher than most standards you’ll find VAs having
- They’re your equals in every conceivable way
- They’re proper business sidekicks
- They know who they are and what they offer
- They’re profitable. You want them to be profitable because that means they run healthy businesses and will be around longer than most VAs you’ll meet.
- They own their own businesses, and they’re all-in (not waiting for a better gig to come along)
- They work in long-term and collaborative relationships with their clients
- They’re bound by some serious ethical standards
- They care, deeply, about their own businesses and the businesses of their clients
- They’re invested and engaged
- They don’t believe in competition, so they freely share with and help other AssistU VAs (a benefit to you because it’s like having hundreds of VAs on your side)
- They can do a lot, but more importantly, they are a lot
There are others, but the best words for you to listen to are their clients’ words. Be sure to check some of them out.
We love what our founder has to say when she’s asked about this:
“There’s a pride and gentle confidence in themselves and their businesses that I’ve never witnessed in a group of women. They know they’re solid. They do not guess at what they do. They’ve built something good for themselves and their families. They’re different as a result, and it shows in who they are and how they work. It reminds me, always, of Dr. Maya Angelou’s poem, “Phenomenal Woman,” and especially this section:
Who would work with an AssistU VA?
Do all AssistU VAs work in long-term relationships? Can’t I hire them for just one project?
Because each VA owns her own business, each is going to have very different standards regarding the kind of work she is willing to do. All of the VAs you’ll find in our community primarily work in partnership with others. They find it’s more rewarding for them to do that, and feel they don’t do their best work unless it’s in a relationship with someone. Through our referral service, The Registry, we only process referral requests where it’s clear the client is interested in a long-term relationship, and we only accept referral requests from principles; while our VAs may work on teams, they insist on having primary relationships with the principle/business owners whose vision they support.
What are their specialties?
Isn’t it more expensive than hiring an employee?
When you hire an employee, on top of a salary or hourly wage, you have a ton of things you need to administer (payroll, maybe benefits), many things to buy or lease (equipment, furniture), you have to deal with a variety of insurances (workers’ comp, unemployment), pay your share of taxes, conform to Federal mandates (OSHA, ERISA), and you have to share space well (no more working in your pajamas!), or if your employee works for you from home, you’re legally compelled to make sure that, at a minimum, her work environment is ergonomically safe. It requires a lot of time to set up and keep on top of, and it can be energetically grueling.
Virtual Assistance was never intended to be the low-cost alternative to getting administrative and operational support. It was intended to be, and absolutely is, the most convenient alternative to having on-site or virtual employees provide that support. As a result, you pay more for the convenience of working with another business (not your employee) and having none of the responsibilities and requirements listed above.
If you value your money over your time, and you don’t quickly draw the connection between the fact that spending your time comes at a cost, then you might find working with a VA to be expensive. But if you want more time for yourself to spend in ways that matter to you, then working with a VA is really a bargain.
I’ve seen charts online that say I don’t pay for things like benefits. Is that true?
As an example, say you go to the grocery store and buy eggs. You may not be thinking about it, but the reality is that built into the price you pay for those eggs is some amount of money that allows the grocery store to pay for the eggs, plus help, and bags, and facilities, and all sorts of other expenses (as well as other things—like profit).
Same thing when you take clothes to the cleaner’s, see your dentist, or take your car to the car wash, or work with a VA.
No matter what you’ve heard, or what you’ve been told, or think about VAs and the “kind” or “level” of work they do, your AssistU VA isn’t some little person sitting at home in her bunny slippers who should be grateful to make $10/hour while her kid naps. She is a business owner, has all the responsibilities as any other business owner, and has to cover expenses with her fees.
So while it’s true that you don’t pay 100% of their benefits (or any other expense), it’s not true that you don’t pay anything.
What kinds of work might my VA do for me?
Having said that, there are two avenues of thought you need to travel while thinking about what you want your VA to do for you. They are:
1. The tasks of today
2. The goals of tomorrow
The tasks of today are the things that absolutely must be done if your business is to operate successfully. They are almost never things that are going to make you money, but they are the things that keep you from pursuing additional money-making opportunities.
For instance, it’s critical for you to reply to email, handle inquiries, schedule appointments, return calls, and do paperwork. While you probably handle all of them yourself, if you didn’t have to do any of them, and could focus on your core business, you would make more money.
So, although it costs money to have your VA handle them, she’s a pro with administrative tasks, does them faster and better than you do, and your giving them to her creates the time for you to make more, or focus on whatever’s most important to you.
Tip: Ultimately, if you are doing your own administrative tasks, you cost yourself a lot more than you would be paying to have a VA handle the same things.
Here are the kinds of basic “back office” administrative and operational work that a VA might handle for you:
- Handle email or US mail, handling most and forwarding to you just those which need your attention
- Make appointments, keep your schedule
- Personal/business paperwork
- Make/receive phone calls/inquiries
- Research of all sorts
- Plan meetings and events
- Plan parties (business and personal), weddings, reunions
- Make travel arrangements – business and personal
- Renewing passports
- Dining reservations (local and while traveling)
- Golf tee time reservations
- Theme park tickets
- Site seeing tours
- Worldwide weather information
- Provide turn-by-turn driving directions
- Handle reservations for seminars
- Customer care
- Support your online community (light moderation, replying to questions, helping solve issues—password or billing, for instance)
- Field service inquiries from potential clients
- Light/basic writing
- Light proofreading
- Basic copy editing
- Desktop publishing
- Newsletter publishing (print and online)
- Canceling, creating, renewing subscriptions
- Coordination of web design/hosting
- Scheduling blog posts and posts on your social platforms
- Buy/send gifts/cards for customers
- Research purchases for you; order for delivery when you decide
- Address/mail holiday cards
- Reminder service
- Bill paying
- Advocate for billing disputes
- Complaint handling
- Expense managing
- Create/maintain databases
- Create/maintain policy and procedure documents
- Relocation services help and research
The goals of tomorrow are the things you are working toward, and the tasks inherent in them that contribute to your bottom line. These are things that will bring people to you, like:
- Posting your articles to article banks, submitting your newsletter to e-zine directories, submitting your blog to blog directories
- Staying on top of your company news, and distributing press releases as appropriate
- Collaborating with you on appropriate “pitch” ideas for the media about your work
- Creating an online and offline media kit to submit with pitch ideas
- Researching things you can write about in your newsletter or blog (“feeding” you ideas based on what people in the blogosphere are interested in)
- Going to a telediscussion or webinar to learn about how to make your book an Amazon best seller, or build a successful affiliate program, or create easy info products you can sell or give away
- Setting up, and managing your affiliate and partner programs so that all of the people referring business to you feel fabulously taken care of
- Monitoring logs of online purchases of your products and proactively helping people who seem to have problems (or communicate that they do!)
- Being your gatekeeper; no one (except friends or family) gets to you except through your VA. She screens prospective clients using your criteria, and either passes people on to you, or refers them to colleagues you’ve put on a list for such referrals. She screens requests for your time based on criteria you’ve created, and says no to things you wouldn’t want to do, and facilitates next steps about things you would want to do. She’s the ultimate authority when it comes to you, and can even get you off the hook if you want to say no to something but aren’t quite sure how to do it!
- Joining online groups, participating with your company in mind, and using an email signature that includes your URL, and the info about subscribing to your newsletter or blog
- Monitoring your reputation and help you improve it
- Helping you set up a continuity program, and then run it successfully
- Set up and maintain your shopping cart and follow-up sequences
- Create/manage nurture campaigns
- Help you plan then execute a product launch
- Coordinate teleclasses, webinars, and telesummits
- Act as “producer” for your Internet radio or TV show, or podcast
- Setting up your profiles on various social media/networking sites, as well as giving you ideas for content to use to keep things fresh; possibly even maintaining your presence on the sites with information you share with her (works best when your brand has a presence, rather than you as an individual due to transparency that’s so important in social media)
- Helping you create online communities
- Creating a publishing calendar of various topics you might want to blog or write articles about
- Repurpose content you’ve already created, so that blog posts become Twitter tips, then video content, then ideas for teleclasses, then e-books, then free reports, and so on
- Systematizing your processes
- Actively looking for people with whom you could create strategic partnerships for your mutual benefit, and/or the benefit of your clients, then making the connection for you
- Helping you identify, then implement and manage, any number of multiple streams of income
- Subscribing to, then reading blogs and e-zines done by others in your industry, or markets you target.
- Providing a weekly update of all the news you need to know, but don’t have time to seek out and read yourself. Think of your VA as a personal clipping service, or news aggregator.
- Learning about new tools and methodologies for working that will make your processes and procedures better and more efficient, then implementing them and training you (and others on your team) in their use. The better you can work and collaborate, the more quickly you can respond to opportunities and challenges, and the more attractive you’ll be to potential clients. Your VA can always be on the lookout for how you can better serve, and attract, clients
Although these lists are by no means complete, can you see that the two avenues are very different?
Each powerful in its own way, you need to be doing ALL of those kinds of things on both lists if you want to be successful and profitable. Most clients really are only thinking of the back-office tasks they can delegate, and not focusing on how a VA can actively contribute to attracting markets, make connections, and help you serve your clients well – all things that she can do that do contribute to your bottom line.
It’s important to note that a VA’s job is never to actually put money in your pocket. That’s your job. But your VA can both handle the tasks of today, and the goal-reaching work you should be actively pursuing, thereby freeing you up to work with customers and make the money.
While it’s true that when you start working with a VA, you might only need the back office tasks done. Realize that if you’re really working on your success, it won’t take long before you need the goal-oriented stuff, too. Look for a VA who is savvier than you need her to be—it will serve you well in the long run.
On another note: Some VAs have specialized skills they can bring to the table for your benefit. In addition to the administrative and personal support they offer you, some VAs may also offer you:
- Corporate Intelligence
- Team Management
- Project Management
- Business Planning
- Quality Control
- Space Planning
- Safety Consulting
- Ghost Writing
- Positioning clients as experts in a given field/Publicity
- Web/Graphic Design
Of course, these skills are billed at a rate that is separate from and likely higher than the rate generally billed for assisting.
Some VAs have also developed niches – specializing in working with certain kinds of professionals. Some of those professional groups are:
- Personal and Business Coaches
- Real Estate Brokers/Agents
- Real Estate Appraisers
- Financial Professionals
- Consultants of all types
New niches and specialties are emerging all the time!
It’s not so important that your VA knows how to do it all. No one knows how to do that! What’s important is that you understand that he or she knows how to get it all done.
AssistU trained VAs have valuable resources that allow them to make things happen for you easily. Of added value is that when you work with an AssistU VA, you get the benefit of all the experience in our community, which has hundreds of VAs! They all support each other, and we support them. And all of that is brought to bear on your behalf by your VA.
Is there anything an AssistU VA can’t do for me, or that I shouldn’t ask for?
We mentioned that VAs will not do things that are illegal, immoral, and impossible. Those are the kinds of things you shouldn’t ask your VA to do. Additionally, you shouldn’t ask your VA to do things you need a different professional to do. For instance, there are many marketing functions that VAs can handle for you. But if what you really need is a publicist or a marketing consultant, and you expect your VA to perform at the levels of those professionals, your expectations are completely unrealistic, and you’ll be horribly disappointed. Don’t ask your VA to be something she’s not qualified to be.
What’s realistic in terms of how much time I might need from a VA?
The first is that you may need a little or a lot. That depends on what you need to get off your plate. The smart way to figure that out is to keep a list of everything you do that you didn’t need to do personally. That stuff is what you should delegate. To figure out how much time it takes, time yourself. The chances are that once your VA learns your business, it won’t take her as long as it takes you to do them, but it will give you a number to use in the beginning.
The second is that no matter how much you need, it’s unlikely that any one AssistU VA will give you more than 30 hours per month. That’s a benefit to you, because, in order for you to classify her as a contractor, there are laws about what needs to be true of her and her work. One of them is that she has to have multiple clients. So if she gives you much more of her time, it could start to look, legally, like she’s an employee, and you don’t want that (the legal ramifications are quite costly–don’t mess with tax law, that’s our motto!). Neither does she since she has her own business and isn’t looking for a job.
Additionally, while a few of our VAs will work with clients who need fewer than 10 hours of time per month, the majority require at least that level of commitment. They’ve learned, over time, that very little can be accomplished in less time, and they do their best work when more, not less, deeply involved.
How much can I really expect to pay?
Our VAs are in business for themselves and set their own fees, which are set so that they can honor the work they do and be leanly profitable. You need to speak with a VA, share your ideas and the vision for your success, and ask what it might cost to have her be a part of that.
Generally speaking, however, you can expect to pay one of our graduates between $40-$100+ per hour. VAs who work with your niche and our certified VAs will likely to be at the upper end of that range, or possibly higher. If you want a number to keep in mind for budgeting purposes and so you won’t have “sticker shock” when you talk with a VA and hear her fee, $50/hour would be a good one. Don’t look for cheap labor here—you simply won’t find it.
Keep in mind that Virtual Assistance wasn’t developed to be the inexpensive alternative to hiring employees, but the convenient one. Also, remember that the time you pay for is 100% productive time. It might feel to you as though there are far more minutes in a VA’s hour than you imagine. That’s because you pay for no down-time, or time that’s not productive.
What am I really buying when I work with a VA?
You’re buying a certain number of hours of a VA’s time, which you then fill with work that needs to be done. It’s up to you to direct enough work to the VA to use the hours; generally, unused hours aren’t refundable, and most VAs don’t roll unused hours over to the next month. This blog post has more info.
You also benefitting from:
- Everything she learned from us in her hundreds of hours of work during her training
- Every bit of distilled knowledge from extra classes she’s taken
- The content of every book, zine, and blog post she’s read
- Her years of experience in real-life work situations, both as an employee and a business owner
- Her solid business foundation and high standards, which probably rival yours
- Her practical knowledge gleaned from working with a variety of clients and businesses, and seeing many different ways of doing things
- Every error she’s ever made and the time to course correct so she can help you not make the same mistakes
- Her community ties. At AssistU alone, she has access to hundreds of talented VAs happy to help her help you by answering her questions, sharing their knowledge and expertise, and sharing resources
Where are AssistU VAs based?
How about off-shoring? I live in the US and can do that for as little as $2/hour. Why would I work with an AssistU VA and pay more?
That’s a discussion we should have over coffee sometime. :)
The short answer is that you might not. If what you need help with is easily replicated, has only one way to be done, is simple to describe, and requires no collaboration, you might do well with offshoring. People in those call centers tend to be quick and amazingly polite.
But if you need someone to closely collaborate with, someone who is a better creator than replicator, someone whose cultural use of the English language is more like your own, someone who has the ability to pick up on nuances in language and para-verbal cues, and if you want to be governed by the same laws, you want to work with a North American VA. And if you’re doing that, why wouldn’t you want to work with an AssistU VA?
Does working with a AssistU VA work better for any particular type of person or professional?
What we’ve found, however, is that some people are simply better prepared to work in these kinds of relationships.
The people who are generally in a good position to work with VAs are:
- People who value relationships
- People who accept personal responsibility
- People who easily see VAs as professionals, not minions, lackeys, or low-level employees
- People who see VAs as their equals in the relationship
- People who have big goals
- People who are Internet savvy
- People who are well-organized and don’t need to be managed
- People who can articulate needs and desires
- People who can delegate easily
- People who are trusting and trustworthy
- People who are focused, centered, and organized
- People who can easily commit and afford to working with a VA, long term.
People who aren’t in a good position to work with a VA are:
- People who aren’t online and who can’t understand why this would work
- People with big egos, who are controlling, and/or arrogant
- People who want to abdicate responsibility for their businesses, need to be saved, or see this as a Hail Mary pass before giving up and going back to a job
- People who can’t let go, who have to micromanage
- People who think VAs are task-oriented, low-level employees types, rather than equals in the relationships they form with clients
- People who live in the urgent, where everything is last minute, where they procrastinate then rush to deadline, where they need people at their beck and call because the work is the driver, rather than their driving the work
- People who thrive on drama and who have to have drama surrounding them at all times.
- People who don’t understand the power created in a relationship with a fantastic assistant
- People who aren’t easily trusting, or have issues with trusting others
- People who aren’t open to learning new ways of working and communicating
- People interested in finding cheap laborers to provide high-end assistance
- People who cannot easily afford to work with a VA long-term
What about teams? Do any of your VAs work in teams with different professionals so I can get all the kinds of help I need for my business from one place?
We don’t suggest you ever work with an agency (which is why we’re not one!) or a ready-made team. In our view, it’s a dangerous thing to do.
Yes; you get different kinds of providers to do work for you—all under the same roof. But if you have a falling out with the owner of the team and part company, you lose the whole team, and that would be painful beyond measure for you and your business.
What we suggest, instead, is that you build a team around your work. Start with your VA—your sidekick. Have her help you find other individuals you like and trust and who like and trust you. Find people who aren’t doing the work because the boss told them to, but because they chose to work with you to support your vision for your business.
And then, should you need to part company with one of them, you replace one of them—the rest of the team stays in place.
From a risk perspective, it’s far smarter. From a heart-centered place, it feels better, too.
I see on your site that there’s info about certification. Why should certification matter to me?
As someone wanting to work with a VA, there’s still more for you to consider. You need to look at what certification a VA holds, and how that certification is earned; that will tell you a great deal about the worth of the certification itself.
AssistU was the first organization certifying VAs, our certifications are the most difficult to earn, and they hold the VAs who earn them to the highest professional standards in our industry. Certification exams are experiential, not knowledge based, and are earned only after a VA has proven his or her ability and skill as a VA. Our first level of certification, for instance, requires an intensive eight-week long certification exam. Eight weeks. Eight weeks in which the VA has to show us his or her “stuff” before we’re willing to consider certifying him or her.
Every other certification in the Virtual Assistance industry is knowledge-based. Those certifications are awarded to anyone who has prior admin experience and/or can pass a test; whether or not that person has ever actually worked as a VA, or has what it takes to do so, simply doesn’t factor in .AssistU VAs are the only VAs in the world who are specifically trained to be VAs and then are certified based solely on what they prove they can do .That should matter to you when you think about certification.
Ok—let’s say I want to give this a go. Who’s the employer, you, or me?
AssistU-trained VAs own their own businesses.
What are my options for searching for an AssistU VA to work with?
- You can do a search of our referral service (The Registry) all on your own, using our system to connect with our amazing VAs. It’s absolutely free!
- You can engage Anastacia to help you with your search through her done-for-you service, Registry Gold.
And if you need help before you search, maybe getting clarity around your needs, or to ask questions about how this could work in your business and life,we suggest you book a Wise Help session to support you in getting what you need.
Information about all three options is found here.
Please note that while VAs are able to work with clients the world over, we do not provide referrals to businesses within the EEA States (the EU plus Norway, Iceland, and Lichtenstein) due to the the regulatory environment caused by GDPR. While we all embrace and work toward privacy in the spirit of the regulation, operating to the letter of the GDPR regulation is nearly impossible for the tiny businesses our VAs run.
Any tips for doing a bang-up job of interviewing VAs and choosing one to work with?
You might hear from one VA. You might hear from several. They’re all highly skilled and interested in you and your business. At the point at which they contact you, you simply need to arrange a time to talk with them. Once on the phone, you can both sense whether there’s a connection and whether you might want to work together.
Discuss your business, your needs as you see them now, and your challenges openly with the VAs. They’ll likely respond not only to what you say but also to what they hear in what you don’t say. They’ll ask questions and share their thoughts about the potential they see in working with you and how that might impact your work and your life.
Because the hope is to start a long-term relationship, and none of them want you to experience the business version of a quicky Vegas wedding that needs to be annulled just as quickly as it began, plan to invest time in the process.
Most of our VAs have very thorough consultation processes consisting of several conversations spanning a week or more. Pay attention to how those you talk to take care of you during this time—it will tell you something meaningful. Let them lead—they’re the experts in what they do, and they should make sure that everything they, and you, need to discuss gets discussed. Leave any misconception about using a more corporate job interview model here because it isn’t helpful. And trust their processes to show you sooner, or a bit later, who is meant to be your right-hand person.
And remember — this is a mutual decision to work together. Long ago, we shattered the traditional and crappy boss/assistant paradigm. It’s a budding relationship. Two people with varied skills and knowledge are coming together in partnership for your success. Just be yourself. Being as genuine as you can will allow the VA to understand you far more quickly than she would if you present a heavily professional corporate image.
And when you find one you want to work with who is excited about working with you—you won’t have to do anything. The agreement to work together will come very naturally. Before you know it, you’ll have a valuable, collaborative assistant and your business and life will begin to be very different.
It sounds like I need to be a pretty smart cookie to work with one of your VAs. All I wanted was a little admin help, and had no idea I’d have to work for it. Is there any way to make this easier on me?
As a former virtual assistant herself, the founder of AssistU with VAs of her own, and the thought leader in our industry, she’s delighted to share her wealth of knowledge and practical experience to support you in getting the clarity you need to move forward on the right path for you.
Are there clients of your trained VAs I can talk with?
Unfortunately, that also means that they don’t have the time to devote to answering questions from people who are considering working with Virtual Assistants.
What you can do, though, is read some of the many testimonials we’ve received from clients of the VAs as well as people we’ve worked closely with over the years.
“There are no shortcuts to any place worth going.”
– Beverly Sills