A number of years back whilst judging the Virtual Assistant Awards, I realised that a lot of the entries weren’t actually from virtual assistants… They were from freelance temps who were working on site for clients. Sure, they had the same skill set, they potentially recruited their clients from the same pool of entrepreneurs and business people… But they weren’t being a virtual assistant.
I seem to recall a very heated discussion with one of the other judges about this – she felt that anyone identifying as a virtual assistant should be accepted, I adamantly felt that we should be assessing their virtual assistant skills i.e. working virtually.
Now, over the years I’ve worked both on and off site for clients (I have bills to pay after all!). I also will pick stuff up or drop it off and will often meet face to face with local clients. But what I’ve noticed with clients who insist on me being on site to work is that they have a totally different mindset to those willing to work virtually.
These days if someone wants me to go on site, I just say that we don’t do that, they aren’t ready to work with a VA, and suggest they phone their local temp agency. In the long run, it’s less hassle. Here’s why:
- Micromanaging – I work best when I’m able to organise my own workload and decide how to juggle it with everything else I’m doing. This is a key virtual assistant skill. If someone wants to hover over me to check on what I’m doing, the trust isn’t there.
- Money – I’d have to charge travel time and petrol to accommodate an onsite client. This makes using me even more expensive – plus I’d charge for every single minute I’m in the car or sitting in their office waiting for the computer to boot up or whilst they finish their phone call. It totally defeats the cost savings of using a VA.
- Disorganised – If they can’t formulate what they want into a phone call or screen sharing session, what makes you think they are going to be any more organised or succinct when you are sitting face to face with them in their office full of distractions? You need your clients to be organised in order to work with you – sometimes that requires a bit of wrangling to put stuff in place initially, but after the first week, everything should be able to be done virtually.
- Business growth – I need to be able to deputise when my business grows and most of the time the clients don’t notice if there is a different name at the bottom of an email (as long as they are getting the same great service)… Try sending a replacement into work, and it’s fairly obvious that things have changed!
So why do clients want virtual assistants to work on site? Why don’t they use a temp?
Because it’s cheaper and more efficient to use a virtual assistant… Yes, really! Most temp agencies charge a minimum half day hire. They will also take a percentage of whatever the temp earns so the quality of the temp is not the same as hiring directly – VAs are experienced assistants and will be able to complete a lot in a short space of time. And you have a massive lack of continuity because most temps are looking for permanent roles, and the temp agency wouldn’t always have someone available. I hear of VAs getting bullied into not charging for travel time or expenses all the time as well…
e.g. VA @ £30/hour for 2 hours + travel time of 1/2 an hour = £60
Temp for half day @ £20/hour = £80
What are the virtual assistant skill sets?
Whilst VAs will have lots of skills in common with PAs or temps, we have a very unique set of skills which we use to manage our clients remotely… And those are the skills which VA Awards should be assessing. Things like:
- Creating rapport with your clients and building great relationships, without the casual interaction that exists whilst sitting next to someone in an office.
- Managing tasks remotely – from making coffee, to managing diaries, organising mail outs, dealing with cashflow issues like postage etc. These are all things the VA must overcome in order to make working with them as easy as working with an on site employee.
- Marketing – without resorting to face to face meetings, you are able to spread your net further and employ more creative and effective techniques for recruiting new clients.