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Why working on site is not being a Virtual Assistant

virtual assistants don't use typewriters!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!
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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 assistantYes, 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 remotelyAnd 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.
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  1. Rachel on 7 January, 2016 at 5:24 pm

    So true Caroline. So true. Clients who need you on site, definitely work differently to those who don’t. The mind-set of someone who works in a formalised office completely different to the one who doesn’t. We are business people who work well with other business minded people who need flexibility and are able to delegate the work, rather than micromanage the tasks. We work on mutual trust and respect rather than the manager/employee relationship.

  2. Michelle Shaw on 8 January, 2016 at 2:47 pm

    Totally agree Caroline. I have just had a request from a possible client asking if I would consider coming into their office, I must admit I was tempted .Reading this has reminded me why I wanted to work virtual, so I am sticking to my guns!

    • Caroline on 8 January, 2016 at 2:55 pm

      The risk is that they then go find someone to do it in house or as a temp… But really they would have done that anyway had you properly charged for your time/travel. You aren’t losing anything by not doing it!

  3. Karina Bailey on 8 January, 2016 at 3:28 pm

    I totally agree with you Caroline. I turned down a bookkeeping job last year as they wanted me to go onsite ~ which happened to be at the woman’s home. I gave her advice on how I deal with other clients’ bookkeeping virtually but she wouldn’t budge. For some reason she wanted me there.

    It was going to turn one day of my week upside down as she wanted me to be there by 9:00 a.m. and the travel was going to be a pain… So I bid her farewell.

    Saying all that though, I am going to be working away from my office in a couple of weeks time ~ it’s a one off. I’m taking the minutes at a seminar, and I’ve been given enough notice to block the day out, I’m being taken there and back ~ and I’m being paid for the whole day.

  4. Sarah Jones on 10 January, 2016 at 5:01 pm

    I have clients who sometimes ask me to go to their place of work (usually their home) to work together on a piece of work. I really enjoy meeting clients face to face for a change, I find it helps me to get to know their needs better, we can develop ideas more easily and it’s nice to get smartened up and go out and talk to real people! A balance is nice though, I wouldn’t want to be out of my office too much.

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