4 Types of Virtual Assistant Services

By Bill Peatman | Updated: 18 May, 2021

Small and medium business (SMB) owners, CEOs, and executives often spend a lot of their time on administrative tasks. Technology has automated many functions previously handled by an assistant, so many businesses have eliminated the position.

Now, instead of having a trusted professional to manage administrative work, business owners and leaders must manage those tasks themselves—setting up, troubleshooting, and overseeing administrative work.

Examples include:  

  • Voicemail to answer the phone.  
  • Email to correspond with clients.  
  • Apps to plan travel and record expenses.  
  • CRMs to track sales.  

As tech tools have become ubiquitous, executives are expected to be self-sufficient and able to shed the cost of admin. The problem with this so-called self-sufficiency is that it comes at the cost of time.

Consider the numbers:  

  • Executives spend an average of 16 hours per week on administrative tasks.    
  • Professionals spend about three hours a day tending to email.    
  • Business travelers spend an average of 12 hours planning each trip.    
  • Sales leaders spend just one-third of their time selling.    

More and more executives are turning to virtual assistants (VAs)—remote and often offshore workers who provide admin services on demand—to bridge the gap between a full-time assistant and doing everything themselves. The virtual assistant industry grew by some 40 percent in 2020, partly because the work-from-home mandates made hiring off-site workers of all types more acceptable.  

See how productivity has changed in the past four years: Download the 2024 Executive Productivity Report

Virtual Assistant Services

If you're an SMB exec looking for a virtual assistant, you can now find various options for engaging one or more VAs for your business. Let's look at four different types of virtual assistant services and what they offer (or don't) for SMB executives.

1. Freelance Virtual Assistant

You can hire an individual virtual assistant as a freelancer working from home using a job board or community platforms like Nextdoor. You aren't really using a service in the traditional sense; of all the types of virtual assistant services, this is the most like hiring an employee.

You have to vet, interview, train, and manage the freelancer you choose, including providing payroll, taxes, and other overhead.

The pros of this option are:  

  • If you hire locally, the VA can visit the office when needed and perform in-person tasks such as deliveries.  
  • The cost of hiring a virtual assistant may be lower due to the lack of a service provider "middle-man."  
  • You have the opportunity to build a long-term relationship.  

The cons of hiring a freelance VA are similar to the risks of any freelance hire. Most concerning is the time it could take to train and manage another employee when you're trying to save time and the quality and reliability of the worker.

Drawbacks include:  

  • The time to train and equip with your technology and processes.  
  • More management overhead on your part.  
  • Uncertain quality and reliability.   
  • The freelancer could leave at any time. 

2. Virtual Assistant Marketplaces

Virtual assistants are also available through gig marketplaces like Fiverr. Most but not all VAs available on these marketplaces are offshore, and the price can be appealing. Upwork, for example, offers prices as low as $10 per hour.

The pros and cons of using a marketplace are similar to hiring a freelancer, except that marketplace VAs usually have many reviews and samples from clients to help you vet their quality and reliability. Marketplaces can be ideal if you have sporadic support needs and only need one-time tasks done now and then.

Benefits of virtual assistant marketplaces include:  

  • Low hourly rates.  
  • Immediate access for short-term assignments.  
  • Ability to review past work.  

The risks of engaging virtual assistants through a marketplace, if you want to have a weekly hourly commitment, are similar to those of hiring a freelance VA:   

  • Time to train and equip with your technology and processes.  
  • More management is needed on your part.  
  • Uncertain quality and reliability.   
  • The worker could leave at any time.  

 3. Contract Virtual Assistant Agency  

Contract virtual assistant agencies have arisen to take some of the risks out of hiring a freelance VA. The agency vets and recruits the VAs in advance and enables you to select the person with the right experience for your needs. That makes the risk of quality and reliability significantly lower than hiring on your own.

Still, once you select the VA, they typically work as a 1099 employee or pay the agency.

Benefits of a Contract VA agency include:  

  • Better vetting and more certainty of quality and reliability than directly hiring freelancers.  
  • Faster hiring than recruiting yourself.  
  • The VAs could be local in some markets if that is important.  

The cons of a contract agency are similar to those of a freelance VA. The risk of shoddy work or lack of reliability is usually lower. Some agencies don't guarantee that you will work with the same VA—they farm out work based on the agency's utilization priorities.

Building a relationship with someone who can get to know you and your business is typically more challenging with this type of virtual assistant service.

Cons for a contact agency are:  

  • Any training and management are up to you.  
  • Could leave at any time.  
  • May not have a dedicated VA.  

4. Managed Virtual Assistant Service

With a managed virtual assistant service, the service provider hires, trains, and manages the VA as its full-time employee, eliminating the need for onboarding and oversight on your part. Typically, an account manager acts like an in-house manager, bridging you and the VA to ensure promised service levels and quality.

The account manager documents all processes and trains a backup VA to take over if the primary VA is absent or moves on. The account manager also helps you continually optimize the service to maximize productivity.

The benefits of a managed VA include:  

  • Faster hiring than recruiting yourself.  
  • No training or performance management on your part.  
  • Backup VA ensures continuity.  
  • Guaranteed service levels.  

How Woodruff Sawyer saves 1,000/month with a managed VA service: read the case Study

With a managed VA service, the service provider takes much of the risk of delivering a quality VA service. It depends a bit on how an engagement is structured—your risk grows with the length of a contract. If a particular VA doesn't work out, a backup is ready to take over.

The cons of a managed VA service include:  

  • It won't be the cheapest option.

If price is your greatest concern when comparing the different types of virtual assistant services, a managed virtual assistant service may not be the best option.

Also, if you only need occasional project-based support, you'll pay for the time you don't need. But it can be a great choice if you want to offload ongoing tasks to a VA with a team of trainers and managers behind them and an account manager who guides you on effectively utilizing your VA team.  

Prialto offers a managed virtual assistant service. For more information about what it's like to work with Prialto, read our quick guide.