A reader asks:
What does a virtual assistant do? And how can one help my business? I run a small business but the volume of emails and customer inquiries has exploded. It’s challenging to stay organized. Yet we can’t afford to hire a full-time administrative assistant or office manager — nor do we have the space, because our office is tiny. A colleague suggested I hire a virtual assistant. Can you give me some idea of the types of tasks a virtual assistant can do?
— Howard from Albuquerque, New Mexico
Howard, this is a great question. Yes, we will explain exactly what a virtual assistant does. We’ll go one better for you. At the end of this article we outline 42 different tasks a virtual assistant (VA) can do for a small business, so that you have examples to draw on. But first, let’s answer some basic information.
What is a Virtual Assistant?
A virtual assistant is an independent worker who assists with administrative, business development, social media, marketing or other tasks. By taking on recurring tasks and administrative work, they free up time for small business owners, entrepreneurs and managers.
The virtual assistant works remotely, often from a home office. Virtual assistants may be US-based but may also be located in another country.
VAs have become incredibly popular with small businesses over the past decade because they are a flexible workforce. A virtual assistant can be part-time or full-time, depending on your requirements. Need 20 hours a week? No problem. Need 30 hours? What about 40? VAs are available.
Virtual assistants may be paid an hourly rate. Or they can get paid a fixed fee per week or month.
Often you can get a better deal and deeper benefit by hiring a full-time virtual assistant, for several reasons:
- Prices can be surprisingly affordable, especially for offshore workers.
- It’s easier to integrate a full-time assistant into regular workflows and get deeper benefit from the arrangement.
- A full-time VA will be better positioned to learn any special software apps you require, develop cordial relationships with co-workers and customers, and grow with you as the business grows.
Some virtual assistants work as independent freelancers. Others are part of a company or agency where you hire the company to provide a flexible workforce. When you work with a virtual assistant company, you dealing with a manager who will discuss your needs and find the best fit.
Benefits of a Virtual Assistant
Virtual assistants can do a lot to boost your business’s productivity. Think of it this way. How an owner spends his or her time might be the biggest factor in the success of the business. So business owners (and key managers) need to spend their time on high-value activities.
Rob Levin, Chairman of Work Better Now, puts it this way, drawing from his own experience.
“In order to spend time on high-value activities, it was important for me to spend less time on lower-value activities. This is why I not only hired a virtual assistant 5 years ago but why I co-founded a company, Work Better Now , to provide virtual assistants to other business owners.”
Levin’s partner Andrew Cohen and Work Better Now’s CEO, says the most common question asked by the company’s prospective clients is “what can a virtual assistant do for me?”
To answer that question, Cohen provides a list of 47 tasks a virtual assistant can do.
47 Tasks a Virtual Assistant Can Do
A virtual assistant performs a variety of tasks. These range from scheduling appointments to screening and responding to emails. But scheduling and emails are just the tip of the iceberg. If it can be done online, a virtual assistant can probably do it.
Here’s your ultimate guide to virtual assistants, what they are and what they do.
Managing your calendar, both professional and personal, is one of an entrepreneur’s greatest challenges. From providing reminders to scheduling appointments, virtual assistants can make it effortless for you. They can:
1. Coordinate and schedule calls and appointments. This alone typically saves owners about 10 hours a week and keeps them from doing these tasks that they dislike. The key is to give your assistant rules about when and who. VAs also schedule calls for some team members.
2. Confirm appointments. A best practice is to give the virtual assistant a list of appointments to confirm, such as the next day’s appointments. This eliminates wasting time when the other party forgets or waits until the last minute to cancel.
3. Provide reminders about calls and appointments. There are times when you might forget to make a call, especially when out of the office or in back-to-back meetings. The virtual assistant can call or text you a few minutes before to ensure you don’t forget.
4. Reschedule calls and appointments. While you may try to avoid it, sometimes, you need to reschedule. Your VA can handle this for you.
5. Provide notice of schedule changes to others. The virtual assistant will also provide notice to the other party and get the rescheduled time confirmed.
6. Protect time. It can be hard for business owners to say no to someone who wants to meet for a coffee to “catch up.” The VA can be the bad cop.
7. Send and maintain a “pending list”. Each week, virtual assistants can send you a list of people that have not responded to requests for setting up a meeting or a call so you know when you need to get involved.
8. Inform significant others when you will be out of town. As part of a travel process, the VA gives significant others a calendar invite with the out-of-town dates along with flight and hotel details. This keeps them informed.
Email and Contact Management and Communications
If you’re buried under a ton of emails — or if you need someone to update your contact list — take note. A good virtual assistant can save hours of time by doing the following activities:
9. Screen emails. Based on rules you set, VAs will delete, respond, forward or flag emails for your attention.
10. Add people to contacts. When you have a call, meeting or some other form of engagement with someone new, the virtual assistant can add that person’s details to your contacts.
11. Update people’s info to contacts. Sometimes, a contact’s phone number or other information is not known right away. A VA can add information to contacts as it becomes available — say from an email signature.
12. Add contacts to CRM. One of the main reasons that small businesses don’t use their CRM app is due to the time involved in entering data. Virtual assistants can add to and organize your CRM system.
If you need some light receptionist work done, or phone interactions, a virtual assistant can do certain tasks.
13. Perform light receptionist duties. When expecting important calls that you may not be available to answer, calls are forwarded to the virtual assistant.
14. Transcribe voicemails. As most voicemails can now be received by email, these are forwarded to the VA for transcription. And any necessary follow up activities.
Arranging flights and hotels for business travel could eat up way more time than you realize. Isn’t that time you could better spend working on your business? A virtual assistant can:
15. Research flights. A virtual assistant can screen flights to meet you criteria and present options to you. By providing them with airline, seat and other preferences, the VA will save an amazing amount of time over the course of a year.
16. Research hotels. Similar to air travel, by providing the virtual assistant with hotel preferences, including any special rates you get, they can present a shortlist to you.
17. Book flights and hotels. By providing the VA with credit cards and frequent flyer information, they can book travel once you’ve decided.
18. Research transportation options. This includes rental cars, rideshare and sometimes even public transportation.
19. Book transportation. Beyond researching these options, your virtual assistant can also book the rest of your transportation — as they do your flights.
20. Arrange for events. Whether it is a special restaurant or meeting space or even a concert, the virtual assistant researches and makes arrangements for you.
21. Suspend newspaper or mail. Your virtual assistant can cut off these regular services when you are traveling.
Whether researching leads on LinkedIn or finding email addresses, there is a lot of leg work in business development. A virtual assistant can do these activities, letting you focus on the personal interactions involved in making sales.
22. Research leads on LinkedIn. B2B businesses (and some B2C businesses) must keep a list of ideal clients. A virtual assistant, following guidance from you, can research LinkedIn and creates a list of prospective clients.
23. Find email addresses. Using databases along with Google, a VA can find email addresses of prospective clients you need to contact.
24. Design presentations. A VA can enhance proposals by finding and inserting a prospect’s logo and changing the text color to match. They can also animate slides as appropriate.
As you scale your business, there will be plenty of management functions that need to get done. You may need to assemble reports for clients. This may simply mean putting together a lot of data you may already have. There are other management functions — like recruiting more people to your team. You can easily delegate some of this to your virtual assistant.
25. Assemble reports. A VA can create KPI reports at pre-determined intervals to track progress.
26. Help to recruit employees. The competition for good people is tougher than the competition for employees. VAs screen LinkedIn for prospective employees based on criteria that you provide.
Does doing the books or sending invoices fill you with dread? Why not have your VA do this stuff instead.
27. Maintain the books. With a little training, virtual assistants can review and match transactions and handle monthly reconciliations.
28. Create and send invoices. With the help of templates, a VA can create invoices and send them to clients.
29. Chase down payments. All companies should have an accounts receivable process. virtual assistants can follow that process and collect A/R. The process can include escalation to the business owner or someone else when appropriate.
You’ve got a personal life too. Making restaurant reservations and sending gifts takes time. But they’re extremely important for maintaining your personal relationships. And you’re supposed to be running a business at the same time? Get your virtual assistant to help.
30. Make personal restaurant reservations. Armed with personal preferences and log in details for booking sites like Open Table, VAs can book restaurant reservations and then invite the guests.
31. Make purchases. Sometimes even Amazon doesn’t have what you need and the purchase process is too time-consuming. A virtual assistant can shop online and get you what you need.
32. Research and send gifts. When a gift card won’t do, your assistant can look for something unique and make it happen.
33. Manage the logistics for your hobby. Whether finding and arranging a studio for your garage band or arranging the details of your book club, a VA can take the tedious details off your plate enabling you to rock (or read) on.
34. Track down problem orders. When an order doesn’t arrive on time, a virtual assistant can do the waiting-on-hold and get to the bottom of it while keeping you updated.
35. Manage the family calendar. This is another simple personal task your virtual assistant can take off your plate.
36. Schedule medical appointments. With birthdates and insurance details, a VA can schedule doctor visits and even start to fill-out those annoying forms.
37. Pay personal bills. For those vendors you don’t buy from regularly or who don’t have online payment options, a virtual assistant can pay the bills.
38. Call stores to get information. Whether you are looking for a hard-to-find bottle of scotch or a gift, a VA will make the calls to find the store that has what you are looking for.
Your job as a small business owner is planning for your company’s future. As a result, you want to focus on creating new products and services — and other projects that will take your business to the next level. So maybe you should leave jobs like filling out online forms and handling file management to someone else.
39. Fill out online forms. A virtual assistant equipped with company information can fill out forms including subscribing to SaaS products.
40. Take notes from webinars. Sometimes you would like the information from a webinar but don’t want to invest the time to watch — even for on-demand! A VA “attends” and provides the notes.
41. Convert files. Have a PDF but need a jpeg? A VA can convert it for you.
42. Conduct research. A virtual assistant can conduct first-level research for decisions that need to be made, such as which SaaS product to choose.
43. Set up projects in your project management system. A VA can set up the project and then invite the appropriate participants.
44. Handle file management. Whether you use Dropbox or a local server for file management, a virtual assistant ensures that files are put in the right place with the right filename. He or she also ensures that the right people have access.
45. Schedule social media. A VA takes your social media posts and schedules them per your process.
46. Proofread and edit letters, blogs and presentations. One of the great risks you run when you get overloaded is that mistakes may creep into your work. So your virtual assistant can help you with that.
47. Maintain a virtual assistant manual. Most business owners love processes but hate making or sticking to them. A VA keeps a manual of how to do their tasks. This comes in quite handy when a virtual assistant is out sick.
Things a Virtual Assistant Does Not Do
Of course, there are a few things your virtual assistant won’t do. You needn’t worry about a virtual assistant’s attitude if you ask them to do something. A VA does not:
- Roll his or her eyes at you. At least you won’t see it if it happens! And you won’t “hear” it in any communication.
- Require a bigger office or another desk. These folks won’t be sharing your office space, so there’s no need to make extra room.
- Interject drama. With virtual assistants you won’t have big egos to coddle. You won’t need to walk on eggshells or worry about gossip overriding professionalism. The nature of the relationship being long distance means office drama is nonexistent.
Next Steps to Get a Virtual Assistant
- Identify the tasks in your business that would be best to outsource. Hint: Focus on tasks that do not require your expertise. Ask yourself if the task is the best use of your time or would be better done by someone else?
- Use services like Work Better Now to identify virtual assistants that fit your needs.
Whether you want to scale your business, stop doing tasks that annoy you or just want more free time, a VA is a game changer. I think you can see hiring a virtual assistant could be key to your success. Hope this helps you decide whether a VA is right for your business.
For more information about virtual assistants, read:
- How to Succeed in Your Small Business While Doing Less with Virtual Assistants?
- 22 Secrets to Hiring the Right Virtual Assistant
All answers to reader questions come from the Small Business Trends Editorial Board, with more than 50 years of combined business experience. If you would like to submit a question, please submit it here.