The dictionary defines a professional as "characterized by or conforming to the technical or ethical standards of a profession." There is also the concept of "professionalism," which means "exhibiting a courteous, conscientious, and generally businesslike manner in the workplace."
So, there are two components to being a professional:
- Having the required skills and training for a job.
- Exhibiting behavior that meets business expectations.
As the role of virtual assistant has exploded in the 21st century, it raises the question, what are the technical or ethical standards of the profession? According to the review site Clutch, more than 4,000 virtual assistant providers are available. Do they all adhere to the same standards for professional skills and professionalism?
Professional Skills Required for a Professional Virtual Assistant Service
According to Indeed, "a virtual assistant completes administrative tasks from a remote location." The specific duties of a virtual assistant can vary from administrative to technical, depending on the person's skill set. Virtual assistants can work as independent contractors or with staffing agencies. Some assistants work with one company while others contract with different employers simultaneously. The most common tasks performed by a virtual assistant include:
- Taking calls and managing schedules
- Email triage and communication
- Booking travel and filing expenses
- CRM data entry and management
- Prospecting, list building, and email outreach for sales
- Scheduling social media posts
- Document preparation and distribution
Virtual assistants should be trained in the tools and technology needed to perform these tasks. These include:
- Calander/email platforms like Gmail, Outlook, Apple mail/I-cal
- Travel and expense software like Trip Actions, Expensify, and Concur
- Self-service travel sites like Kayak, hotel, flight, and rental car booking sites
- CRMs like Salesforce and HubSpot
- Contact databases like ZoomInfo and LinkedIn Sales Navigator
- Social media scheduling platforms like Hootsuite and Sprout
- Document, presentation, and spreadsheet software like Office 365 and G suite
Professionalism Standards for Virtual Assistant Services
Next comes the expectations for professionalism from a virtual assistant service provider. Back to Indeed— "Professionalism is a measure of how well you carry yourself at work, how you treat coworkers, and how you handle stressful situations."
For virtual assistants, you can break professionalism into four categories:
- Appearance: Assistants build trust through a consistent, appropriate appearance. Virtual assistants work with executives, and as such, the standards of professionalism need to match or exceed yours. In the virtual world, proper appearance includes assistants' video conference backgrounds.
- Etiquette and Focus: Professional virtual assistants have exceptional communication skills, are friendly and personable, and always focus on keeping executives one step ahead of their day. They hold conversations on task, respond to messages promptly, and set and meet deadlines for task completion.
- Consistency and Best Practices: If there is one word to describe the work that professionals do, it would be "consistent." Professional virtual assistants consistently deliver service. Consistency makes the service predictable and reliable. Virtual assistant consistency best practices include the following:
- Email and calendar invitation formatting
- Adherence to travel and expense policies
- Minimum and maximum response times to messages
- Adherence to CRM contact information standards
- Regular reporting on task completion
- Meeting schedules and deadlines
- Knowledge Building: The skills required of a virtual assistant change quickly. New productivity technology arrives and must be learned, for example. Professionals are constantly building their skills to provide better service. Professional virtual assistants also welcome feedback for performance improvement, professional development, and career growth.
How to Find a Professional Virtual Assistant Service
As mentioned by Indeed, there are multiple business models for delivering virtual assistant services, including:
- Independent freelancers that you hire directly
- Contract agencies that provide you with resumes of experienced virtual assistants to choose from
- Managed service providers that hire, train, and supervise virtual assistants on your behalf.
How to Find a Professional Freelance Virtual Assistant
It can be challenging to assess the skills and professionalism of an individual virtual assistant in advance of working with them. Individuals will list skills and experience on their resumes, but you will not know what it is like to work with them until you begin. Still, you can ask some questions to set a benchmark for your expectations:
- Do they have experience with the tools and technology you use?
- Have they gone through any formal training on your devices and technology?
- Do they have examples of email invitation formats for meetings?
- What are their response times to messages?
- What technology have they learned recently?
- How many executives do they support at once?
- What is their typical engagement duration?
When you hire a freelancer directly, much of the risk of inadequate professional experience and professionalism falls on you. You are responsible for performance management and quality control.
How to Find a Professional Virtual Assistant Contractor
Hiring a virtual assistant through a contract agency takes some risk from hiring an individual virtual assistant. Most contract agencies have a vetting process that the assistants they provide must pass—for competencies and professionalism. You will want an agency to have assistants with:
- Documented standards for professionalism.
- Training and experience on your tools and technology.
- Guaranteed response times and service levels.
- Limits on how many executives they support.
- Performance feedback channels.
- Track records of long-term engagements.
The question of performance management is a significant one. How much time you will have to spend training and reviewing an assistant's work will directly impact your productivity. The agency should have a set of professional performance standards.
How to Find a Managed Professional Virtual Assistant
Managed virtual assistant service providers hire, train, and supervise part- and full-time virtual assistants on your behalf. The virtual assistants are employees of the service provider, and most go through a training program where they learn (or validate) technical skills and professionalism. A managed service provider offering professional virtual assistant services should have:
- A documented training regimen for assistants
- Established standards for professionalism
- Guaranteed response times and service levels
- Performance feedback channels
- Track records of long engagements
- Contingency plans when an assistant is absent or leaves
- Ongoing learning and training programs
Managed virtual assistant service providers typically train backup assistants to step in when an assistant is absent. In this model, most of the risk of a poor hire or service is born by the service provider. The goal is to take performance management off your plate and create a fast track to productivity so that your training and management time is minimal. A managed service is also easier to scale—if you want to add more support, the backup can join your team and new backups trained.
Representing Your Business and Your Brand
Choosing a virtual assistant provider is important. Virtual assistants' professional skills and professionalism are essential because the assistant will represent you and your business with coworkers, partners, clients, and others, especially for long-term engagements. They will communicate via email, text, chat, and telephone, and the experience others have should be the same as any of your permanent staff.
Prialto has over a decade of experience providing a managed virtual assistant service. To learn more, contact us.
About the Author: Bill is Prialto's senior content marketing manager and writes about the future of work and how businesses can be more productive and successful. His work has appeared in the World Economic Forum Agenda blog and CIO magazine.