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  1. What do Virtual Assistants do? Do you need one? If you are a busy business owner, especially if you want to expand and need help to grow without investing in permanent head-count, then the answer is probably yes!  Read on to find out what a Virtual Assistant could do for you...

    So, what is a Virtual Assistant, anyway?

    When I launched Complete Business Bureau and first hit the local networking circuit, I'd start my introduction with the obvious opening line: 'I'm a Virtual Assistant'.  Self explanatory, right? Well actually, no.  This was usually met with a confused look, and a response of either 'Oh, like a PA?' or, more likely, 'Huh, what's that?!'  Apart from realising I needed to work on my elevator pitch (that's a whole other blog), I also realised that working with a Virtual Assistant, or VA, is still a relatively new concept - in the UK at least.

    Yes, some VAs do specialise in remote PA-type services, however many more will also offer a much wider range of business attributes.  Each one you come across is likely to have a slightly different skill set.  Don't forget that a VA will already be running their own business, so should easily identify with the challenges you face as a fellow business owner.

    A VA works with multiple clients on a remote basis, from their own office using their own equipment.  This means that they can provide flexible support to businesses who need an additional resource, without the overheads and commitment of bringing expertise permanently in-house. No payroll worries, no holiday or sick pay.  No need to find extra desk space either, which is particularly appealing to smaller businesses who work from home themselves. VAs will typically offer hourly and/or project rates for ad-hoc work, and retainer-style contracts for more regular working patterns. 

    What could a VA do for you?

    The best thing to do is rethink this question and ask 'what would I want my VA to do?'   If you need some inspiration, take a look at my 'Services' page here.

    Start making lists.  As you go about your usual working routine, think about all of the tasks that need completing:

    Task List 1: 'The Boring Ones'

    Jot down the tasks that you'd rather not be doing - you dread starting them and they either seem to drag on forever, or they don't get done at all (if you take a look through your to-do list I'll wager a bet there are some items that have been on there since the beginning of time!)  

    Many of my clients find these are day-to-day tasks essential to keep business ticking along, but won't be 'core' to their business as such. Everyone has them. No matter how much you love your business.

    Task List 2: 'The Difficult Ones' 

    The more challenging tasks where you know it's not really in your skillset - you may or may not enjoy doing them but they can take you forever and you're not even sure if you're doing it right!

    As much as we like to think we can manage it all ourselves, it's probably not the best use of your time when you could be doing the stuff you're seriously good at, your core skills that led to you starting up your business in the first place!

    How do you choose a VA?

    Once you know what you need, first of all do your research. Remember my earlier point that there are quite a few VAs out there.  Some will be more generalist and some will offer niche services; others may be able to offer a mix of the two. Search online, ask your trusted business connections for recommendations.  

    Any VA worth their salt should at least have a basic website in place with a clear overview of the type of services they can offer.  They will probably also have a LinkedIn profile where you can get more detail on their skills and specialties.

    Make sure their skills match what you are looking for.  For example, my sales and account management background makes me ideal for businesses looking to develop their sales funnel and grow their client base.  I'm also qualified to offer bookkeeping services, financial analysis and reporting.  I have a lot of experience in proposal and presentation writing too, which means I can provide an all-round business service for my clients.

    Other VAs might have a particular strength in the more 'traditional' PA skills, or perhaps their niche is marketing, PR or social media.  Some will also specialise in particular industries which is very useful if there is a lot of industry jargon or particular processes to consider.

    A good VA should be well connected, and will often work with 'associates' (these could be other VAs and/or other specialist small businesses) offering complementary skills.   If you choose a VA suited to your main outsourcing requirements who also works with other suppliers, they can manage your needs end-to-end by also project managing any other requirements that they need to outsource - allocating it to the best person in their virtual team.

    Many VAs will offer an initial consultation by phone or Skype, to help you identify what you need support with and explain why they feel you should choose them.  Take advantage of this opportunity to ask as many questions as possible so that you can be comfortable that they offer a good 'fit' for you and your business.

    Do you need a VA in your life?

    As a small business owner, are you ever entirely on top of that to-do list?  You are likely to reach a point where it's almost impossible to grow further without an extra pair of hands (or else reaching near-burnout).  Offloading select tasks to a virtual team member is a really cost-effective way to free up your time and ramp up your activity without taking on extra head-count.

    So, start making that list today.  What's on there that you could potentially outsource?  I'd love to know what your biggest 'time-suckers' are, and if I can't help you myself I will probably know someone who can! Feel free to comment below or contact me directly if you'd like to talk through any ideas.