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What Is A Virtual Assistant And What Can They Do For My Business?

30 Jan, 2015 | Annie Andre


A famous French writer named Charles-Guillaume Étienne once said, "On n'est jamais servi si bien que par soi-même.”

To avoid being pretentious, the English version is “If you want something done right, do it yourself”.

Doing it all yourself might seem like a good idea for certain situations, but every successful executive will tell you that you can’t grow your business without delegating.

Other than cloning yourself, what can you do?

You could hire a full-time employee to help with your business but sometimes that's just not possible. For example, you might not have the office space, the money, or maybe you only need help a few hours a week.

Have you considered hiring a virtual assistant? 

If you’re scratching your head wondering what a virtual assistant is, you can relax. By the end of this article, all your questions will be answered including:

  • What is a virtual assistant?
  • What can a virtual assistant do for my business?
  • How can a virtual assistant who works remotely be useful to me?

Most importantly, you’ll be able to determine whether a virtual assistant is the right solution for you and your business.

Let’s get started!

What is a virtual assistant?

A VA, short for virtual assistant, is a broad term used to describe a breed of remote workers who provide administrative support and/or specialized services to businesses, sales professionals, entrepreneurs, and executives.

Simply put, a virtual assistant is a lot like having a personal assistant who takes on many of the tasks and processes that need to get done but don’t necessarily need to get done by you. The main difference is a virtual assistant can’t get you coffee and you may never actually meet your VA in person because he or she works remotely, often in another country.

How can someone help me and my business if they are not physically present in my office?

Before the internet and email came along, most people were limited to snail mail, phone calls, and faxing which made it extremely difficult and inefficient to work off site or remotely.

But now, thanks to chat, email, and online screen sharing, it’s easy and nearly free to collaborate with anyone in the world quickly and in real time.

A virtual assistant in Latin America, Asia, the US, or anywhere else in the world can commute to work, be it virtually to San Francisco or to Boston. All they need is an internet connection to access documents, shared calendars, and other business tools to conduct their work for your business.

It’s no wonder virtual assistants have exploded onto the work scene.


What types of services do virtual assistants perform?

When virtual assistants first came onto the scene, they mainly performed lower level administrative duties like answering phones and word processing.

Today virtual assistant roles and responsibilities still include those low level tasks, but have grown to also include many more high level duties and roles such as lead generation, marketing, project management and even time optimization.

If it can be done remotely than there’s probably a virtual assistant offering that service to his or her clients.

The term virtual assistant may be new but the concept is not!

Some people believe the term virtual assistant is just the latest buzzword to describe a stay-at-home secretary, a word that is fading from the English language along with the term stewardess.

This may or may not be true, but what is true is US corporations have been reaping the benefits of offshore outsourcing for decades. It wasn't until recently with the cost of connectivity declining that smaller, even early stage start-ups and entrepreneurs could afford to tap into the global workforce.

Whatever the origins, it’s clear the virtual assistant industry is evolving into its own profession. Especially now with the ability to work remotely, executive level ‘virtual assistant” support is accessible to everyone not just big corporations or high level CEO's. So much so that it’s now common in leading business centers like New York, Los Angeles and Silicon Valley.

Something to keep in mind if you are looking to hire a virtual assistant is that not all virtual assistants call themselves virtual assistants.

This shouldn't come as a surprise considering there are heaps of job titles people use to describe the same job. For example, bank clerk and bank teller.

Here are just a few terms you might hear floating around the web which fall under the virtual assistant umbrella:
  • Remote personal assistant
  • Online personal assistant
  • Virtual executive assistant.
  • Virtual personal assistant
  • Productivity assistant

At Prialto, we call our assistants ”Productivity Assistants” because our assistants excel at helping you be more productive.

Why hire a virtual assistant?

Different people hire virtual assistants for different reasons. The obvious reason is so you can get a handle on many of your administrative tasks so you can be more productive and focus on your core business. But that isn't the only reason why you should hire a virtual assistant for your business. Here are just a few of the top reasons for you to consider.

Lower overhead

Because virtual assistants work much like remote freelancers or contractor, a business usually does not need to provide the virtual assistant with a computer, a desk, office space or health insurance like a traditional employee. Needless to say this can drastically cut overhead cost.

Pay for what you need

A typical employee works for one employee full time to make ends meet while a virtual assistant makes a living working for multiple clients. This means if you only need to hire someone to work two hours a day updating your crm database, you can because they don’t rely solely on the revenue from one client.

Focus on your core business so you generate more income

Sure you could do it all yourself but should you be spending hours doing something that someone else can do faster and more efficiently than you? It comes down to how much your time is worth. If 2 hours a day on the phone means an extra 500 dollars in revenue, then why are you spending your time on administrative tasks that you can easily hire a VA to do for much less than your own hourly rate?

The problem with virtual assistants

Although virtual assistants have been the answer to many businesses and entrepreneurs who need extra help, the industry has its own set of challenges and flaws:

  • For one, it takes time to scour the internet and find the right qualified virtual assistant.
  • Training is hard enough with someone physically there, but it can be challenging and time consuming to train someone remotely.
  • After a VA is trained, keeping him or on task remotely can be challenging. Many VA’s need input from you to move forward which may or may not work for you.
  • Delegating sounds easy but it’s harder than you think. It’s not uncommon for business to ineffectively use their VA just because they are unsure how to delegate effectively.
  • Because many virtual assistants are individuals who set up shop in their own home, there is a chance they could just disappear on you.
  • If your virtual assistant is sick or unreachable, there is no one to replace and means you’re left in a sticky situation if you rely on them daily.

As with any new hire, challenges exist so don’t let these issues scare you from hiring a virtual assistant. Prialto and a handful of other firms have established themselves as “managed services” for the virtual assistant industry to address the issues above.

The future

Thanks to technology making it easy and cheap to communicate at a distance, the virtual assistant industry is rapidly growing and evolving. In just a few years it has come a long way since the home-based secretary and there is no doubt virtual assistants will become the driving force behind many successful businesses and people.


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