What is a virtual assistant?

“Virtual Assistant” is a term you’ll see liberally sprinkled across the internet on freelancer job boards, outsourcing websites, and sites that explain how to become a Virtual Assistant.

A virtual assistant is precisely that:

“Virtual” refers to the remote aspect of virtual assistance services. Practically, this means you can hire an assistant anywhere globally, which confers the advantage of geoarbitrage.

Georarbitrage means people make less money outside of geographies like North America, Europe, Japan, or Australasia. Hiring outside of those locations brings automatic savings. For example, an executive assistant hired in Atlanta will command a higher rate than an executive assistant in the Philippines.

An “assistant” is a person hired to assist or support an individual or business. Usually, the assistance is a defined suite of services. The better you define those services, the more successful your outsourcing experience. A remote assistant will usually need to improvise based on client needs.

There are many ways people talk about virtual assistance. Those interested in the core aspect of one-on-one support use terms like “executive assistant” or “personal assistant.” People interested in the remote part of the job will favor remote or online assistants and the moniker “virtual.”

How can a remote assistant help me and my business?

The range of things you can offload to a remote assistant is limited only by your imagination and the reach of phones, apps, email, and social networks.

For perspective, check out this quote from Tim Ferriss’ book, The 4-Hour Workweek:

I woke up this morning, and given that it’s Monday, I checked my email for one hour after an exquisite Buenos Aires breakfast. Sowmya from India had found a long-lost high school classmate of mine, and Anakool from YMII had put together Excel research reports for retiree happiness and the average annual hours worked in different fields. Interviews for this week had been set by a third Indian virtual assistant, who had also found contact information for the best Kendo schools in Japan and the top salsa teachers in Cuba.

In the next email folder, I was pleased to see that my fulfillment account manager in Tennessee, Beth, had resolved nearly two dozen problems in the last week — keeping our largest clients in China and South Africa smiling — and had also coordinated California sales tax filing with my accountants in Michigan.

The taxes had been paid via my credit card on file, and a glance at my bank accounts confirmed that Shane and the rest of the team at my credit card processor were depositing more cash than last month. All was right in the world of automation. It was a beautiful sunny day, and I closed my laptop with a smile. For an all-you-can-eat buffet breakfast with coffee and orange juice, I paid $4 U.S. The Indian outsourcers cost between $4–10 U.S. per hour. My domestic outsourcers are paid on performance or when the product ships. This creates a curious business phenomenon: Negative cash flow is impossible. Fun things happen when you earn dollars, live on pesos, and compensate in rupees, but that’s just the beginning.

It's a lengthy, prosaic passage, but he’s making a good point.

When you can effectively delegate (and delegate offshore for the full economic effect), you capture time. As Ferriss points out, the sheer range of things you can outsource is part of the attraction. You can hand off personal and professional research projects, meeting scheduling, and day-to-day management for your online or drop-ship business.

The upside to this approach is as deceptively simple as it is powerful. Good delegation claims time that you can use for high-level work, travel, business development — anything you want to do. Virtual assistants give you time, the rarest and most valuable commodity.

How does a virtual assistant deliver value?

Value arrives when  you have a good, reciprocal relationship with your virtual assistant. A good, reciprocal relationship produces confidence that your offloaded tasks will be accomplished properly. With that confidence, you can relax and focus on critical things.

The relationship sings when your virtual assistant’s skills are well-calibrated to your needs and attuned to your processes and expectations. At that point, he anticipates your assignments. By now, your routine, delegated tasks are running like clockwork.

In this way, you’re not only opening up new vistas of time for personal or professional pursuits; you’re clearing out a lot of mental storage capacity. You are focused on the most important tasks to capture revenue or building your business. You are processing both routine and high-level tasks quickly and cleanly.

In short, you are minimizing the routine work to soar to the highest levels of your endeavor with all the financial and well-being benefits that accrue.

Who uses an online assistant?

Anyone can benefit from a virtual assistant. There are only two requirements:

  1. You want to reclaim the time you spend on delegatable tasks
  2. you can communicate specific tasks and your expectations clearly

As entrepreneurs and online businesses get more accustomed to remote work, they get more effective at delegating responsibilities to virtual assistants.

The reasons are manifold: the industry has matured, the notion of offshore services is commonly well-received, and freelancing platforms that market independent virtual assistants like Upwork and Fiverr have enormous audiences. Also, the literature on personal productivity, like the 4-hour Workweek, extolls the value of outsourcing non-core functions.

People of all stripes patronize online assistants.

Authors engage personal assistants to keep their time devoted to writing and research. Busy executives hire virtual personal assistants to offload day-to-day minutiae, distracting them from loftier pursuits. Online businesses use support and marketing virtual assistants to help with order processing and fulfillment, business reporting, customer support, and online marketing. Sales-driven businesses and individuals use remote sales assistants to manage CRMs, generate leads, and coordinate meeting schedules.

How to Hire a Virtual Assistant

Depending on how you plan to outsource your work and manage your remote worker, you have a lot of choices. There is an abundance of assistants available either through freelance platforms or virtual assistant services agencies.

You can advertise directly using local job boards or LinkedIn to engage someone directly. This is likely the cheapest approach, and for a good reason, since you will need to expend the most effort to locate a group of suitable candidates and then start the process of assessment and negotiation.

Alternately, marketplaces that present freelancers to prospective clients consolidate many applicants in one place, structure their resumes, and even offer testing to verify their qualifications. These platforms also make rate negotiations and payment simple — albeit for fees that aren’t very advantageous for the freelancer.

Or…Hire Lambent Consulting for Managed Virtual Assistant Services

If you feel less adventurous about hiring, you can hire a firm to provide and help manage your virtual executive assistant. That’s what we do. Lambent Consulting sorts through onboarding to understand and document virtual support processes. Process documents help with staffing, training, and performance management.

More than documentation: we help with the day-to-day management to bridge cultural hurdles when necessary, coordinate scheduling, and provide a corporate framework for coaching and employee engagement. We also offer the technology for remote work and connectivity, hardware, and software support.