“One of the biggest reasons why entrepreneurs nowadays struggle to grow their businesses is because they are simply wearing too many hats,” said entrepreneur and author Chris Ducker.
He’s right. Service Now’s State of Work report found that executives spend an average of 16 hours a week on administrative tasks. That means the leaders of businesses are paying themselves a hefty salary to do things that an assistant might otherwise do.
Why do they do it? Because technology has enabled and trained executives to be self-sufficient but not self-efficient. “They do everything in the business,” Ducker said. “They ARE the business.”
Ducker labels this “superhero syndrome. “It’s a dangerous, downward spiral that most entrepreneurs suffer from,” he said.
Enter the Virtual Assistant
The 2020 shift to mostly remote work has made millions open to the idea of a remote virtual assistant to free up executives’ time to grow their businesses—hand off many of these hats they wear. The tasks virtual assistants perform can be divided into two categories: front office and back office.
Front Office Tasks
Front office tasks are customer-facing duties—think of someone at the front of a physical office. These tasks typically include:
- Screening calls and emails
- Placing calls and sending emails
- Managing email campaigns
- Planning travel and events
Back-office tasks are those that support your business’s infrastructure and systems. Back-office tasks that a virtual assistant can easily perform include:
- Sales prospecting
- Following up on sales leads
- Doing CRM data entry and cleaning
- Document preparation
- Scheduling job candidate interviews
- Email marketing
The work is important, or the entrepreneurs wouldn’t be doing it. If you don’t invoice, you don’t get paid, for example. But invoicing is also work that is easily delegated.
Let’s look at sales operations as an example. If you want to build a marketing campaign, you can start by building a list of known and/or unknown contacts to reach out to. You can search your internal CRM database or a third-party platform like LinkedIn or ZoomInfo, based on persona criteria:
- Company size
- Job title
Building a prospecting list using predefined criteria is something that a virtual assistant can easily do. You can expand the criteria or build multiple lists for different market segments with similar criteria. But it’s only the beginning of how a virtual assistant can support sales. An assistant can:
- Send email invitations to prospects
- Enter response data in the CRM per business requirements
- Follow up on email responses
- Schedule appointments
Building templated documents is another time-consuming task that a virtual assistant can take off your plate. Common document prep tasks include:
- Building a profile of a prospect ahead of an intro call
- Using recorded meetings to create next-step memos after a meeting
- Creating job descriptions for recruiting
- Creating sales sheets using company templates
- Creating social media and digital ads
- Report templates
Any document that has standard fields that need to be updated or customized for a customer, recruit, or sales opportunity can be offloaded to a virtual assistant. Presentations and Spreadsheets
Virtual assistants can also help executives maintain and expand their professional networks. Building a list of priority contacts enables the assistant to schedule meetings optimized around your calendar. For example, if you are traveling to a different city the assistant can book meetings for you while you are in that area. They can also track your preferences (or your contacts’ preferences) for meeting locations and times.
Responding to Email
It’s not uncommon for executives to spend up to three hours a day reading and responding to emails. A virtual assistant can learn your email preferences and monitor your inbox, alerting you when key contacts reach out to you, and responding on your behalf to messages that don’t require your personal attention. Other email management tasks a virtual assistant can perform:
- Storing emails in folders by categories
- Sending confirmation emails for important meetings
- Archiving old emails that are no longer relevant
- Removing meetings from your schedule that are rejected
What Virtual Assistants Don’t Do
Over time a virtual assistant will learn your business, and some may have skills that enable them to contribute beyond admin tasks. Some have developed expertise in digital marketing tools and social media tools, for example. That said, virtual assistants are not ideal for specialized tasks that require expert training and deeper business experience. Examples include:
- Graphic design—a virtual assistant can upload a photo or graphic into a template but probably can’t design your annual report.
- Web development—making edits to existing web pages is no problem, but coding is probably not in a virtual assistant’s skill set.
- Accounting—light bookkeeping, yes, but heavy accounting experience is unlikely.
There are many types of virtual assistant services. Most fall into two broad categories: managed and unmanaged. Managed services hire, train and manage the performance of the virtual assistants while unmanaged services match you with a qualified assistant, and training and management are up to you. There are also services that focus on a specific industry job function such as project management, real estate, sales, or bookkeeping. For an example of how a managed service offed by Prialto works, see the case study below.
Case Study: Castlight Health Offloads Admin Work to Focus on Growth
Tom McGurran was Castlight Health's VP of Customer Success. With 50 people on his team, managing 250+ accounts worth over $80m in revenue, you could say had a lot on his plate. When Prialto started working with Castlight, though, Tom was still working in their sales division.
Castlight launched a pilot program, providing Prialto Productivity Assistants (PAs) for a few sales VPs, and told the VPs to use this service only for calendar and travel management. However, many people struggled to make the service work with such narrow guidelines.
Offering To Do More
Tom's PA, Jenny Tuguigui started with simple tasks. For example, Jenny started with scheduling, but quickly realized that Tom didn't quite know how to utilize her best - and saw opportunities to provide more support.
"I started offering to do more," Jenny said. "Because I was CC'd on his emails, I'd say, 'I saw in your calendar that you're traveling to Phoenix. Do you want some help to organize that?'"
Over time, Tom began to pass more tasks over to Jenny, and she began to understand how much he should be involved. Picking up additional duties daily as she saw them in his email, Jenny's proactive attitude ensured Tom was always on top of his schedule and on track with his team.
Prialto was also working with a few of Castlights sales VPs to help with scheduling and other core administrative activities. However, when the Prialto team noticed how Castlight's team was using its CRM, the PAs could see more opportunities to support the executives and began assisting with sales operations projects when PAs had additional bandwidth. By using buffer projects to fully utilizing their PAs, Castlight started to see more growth. Prialto grew right along with them, adding additional PAs to supplement their sales operations.
Supporting More Executives
When Castlight's internal leadership saw how Prialto was helping the sales executives focus on revenue-generating tasks instead of being bogged down with admin work, it became clear that the rest of the company's executives could benefit from this level of support.
Prialto worked well with Castlight's internal assistants, too. By plugging into Castlight's Slack platform, both on-site EAs and Prialto PAs work collaboratively as one team. As a result, the team found more opportunities to assist. For example, the PAs helped onboard new executives when Castlight acquired another company based on the PA's understanding of their office building, internal processes, and more.
Jenny transitioned right along with Tom when he moved from his sales management role to a customer success role. The way she continued to take on operational tasks has made her indispensable to him.
Jenny became the control tower for all incoming requests for support and client issues. As Tom's primary gatekeeper, she handled all incoming requests, ensures they go through the right channels, and prioritized them in the task-management tool Trello. She also took on CRM tasks like running reports and managing his Salesforce dashboard, reminding Tom and his team members about follow-ups, missing documents, and schedules as needed.
Wear Fewer Hats
A virtual assistant can perform just about any administrative tasks that you can delegate. Good ones excel at building processes that improve productivity and save time. Some will require a bit of up-front training, but that time will be recouped later when the task is entirely off your plate.
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.