taking your business virtual

What I've Learned Working with a Virtual Assistant

By Brett Russo

There are several definitions of a Virtual Assistant but perhaps I can best sum up what a Virtual Assistant is with another meaning to its acronym, VA: Valuable Asset!

I can pinpoint the exact time my business experienced its greatest turnaround; and that was when I made the decision to hire a Virtual Assistant. It’s been more than one year since that monumental day and here are a few lessons I’ve learned the past 365 days working with a Virtual Assistant:

Productivity is significantly higher.

Right off the bat, the value of having a Virtual Assistant on-board will be felt on the level of productivity. Immediately as early as the Virtual Assistant’s first official day on the job, my productivity just went through the roof! It took some time to adjust to the new work flow; not having to update records, check e-mails, messages and return calls, but the realization that I did not have to manage those tasks was a shot of energy.

I could now focus on matters that needed my attention and core competencies. I could attend to more meetings, work directly on projects that used to pile up, manage the on-boarding of clients and allocate more time on expanding the company’s portfolio by closing the prospects in our pipeline.

Operations run more efficiently.

With a Virtual Assistant, my back office is fully-secured. Most businesses don’t place much importance with their back office because these do not directly contribute to revenue. But in reality they are important to ensure efficiency in the organization.

Back office covers accounting, Human Resources, Information Technology and administrative support. I hired a VA to cover both accounting and administrative support and another one to manage my website. My accounting VA provides me all the necessary references to guide me in managing the businesses’ funds. These include the cash flow statement, the cash disbursement schedule and the projected income statement. The VA also handles payroll preparation, bookkeeping and keeps track of our accounts receivable.

The VA for website management makes sure its programs and other features are updated and running efficiently. My knowledge in IT is very limited so having someone who can troubleshoot and oversee my website; the bread and butter of my business, is very comforting.

Business is better organized.

With a VA, I no longer need to waste precious minutes looking for an important file or document. I also don’t have to update my Customer Relationship Management program or CRM regularly. My skills in data entry are average at best. Just like my VA for IT, it is such a huge relief to have someone with the capability to get more work done accurately and promptly.

My VA for administrative support also keeps track of payments to creditors and I’ve never had to worry about having services discontinued because I missed a payment deadline. Our work flow requires her to send me the initial reminder at least three (3) days before the actual payment date and a final reminder the day before due date.

Greater degree of flexibility and mobility.

Over the past year, I’ve developed a team of virtual assistants who are tasked with different responsibilities. Some members of my virtual team come from the Philippines and the time differential allows me to become creative with the scheduling process.

The Philippine contingent is designated to provide social media management and administrative support. They work in two (2) shifts 6:00am to 2:00pm and 2:00pm to 10:00pm, Manila time. The first shift covers my work hours in Australia and is managed by my VA for administrative support. The second shift covers the end of regular office hours but I do get inquiries from clients until 12:00am Australia time. My VA for social media manages these hours because these are periods of high activity online. She is also authorized to attend to inquiries from clients that come in via e-mail or phone call.

With my virtual team, there are no missed opportunities!

Greater consistency in execution of action plans.

Because these virtual assistants have specific skill sets and tasked to accomplish their respective scope of work, I can be rest assured all of the action plans that have been designed will be executed with consistency and precision.

Take for example my VA who handles research. We maintain a schedule whereby research work on identified topics such as keywords, industry statistics, consumer profiles and competitor analysis should be available on certain dates. Research is exhaustive work and forms the basis for a number of my business development strategies. It is important to have information accurately sourced and interpreted.

My VA is consistent in having these studies available when I need them. More importantly, he takes the time to guide me through them and discusses his methodologies in detail.

Increased level of competence.

Even as the business owner, my knowledge in several key areas of responsibility in an enterprise is severely limited. My biggest weakness is IT.

Since having a VA for IT management responsibilities on-board not only do I have to worry about my website malfunctioning but I am able to improve my competencies in information systems. I make it a point to have the VA explain to me everything that he does to address a problem in my website.

Now I am able to navigate my way around my WordPress website and upload or update content whenever I want. I can also do some minor troubleshooting in case the website slows down or becomes inaccessible.

Improved security and integrity of operations.

In addition to introducing updates and upgrades, my VA in IT also makes it appoint to secure the integrity of my website. He regularly sends me a report on the overall condition and functionality of the website. The report is more like an audit; I get to see which applications or plug-ins are hardly used so we can remove them and make the website more safe, faster and accessible.

The same goes for the virtual assistants who are assigned work that require confidentiality and security. They are given limited access to online file sharing platforms. Should my PC or laptop get compromised of if the browsers are down, I have the virtual assistants whom I can contact and access specific files or documentation.

Dramatically improved bottom-line.

Why does outsourcing to virtual assistants work? Because by hiring virtual assistants you are improving the position of the two (2) main components of the profitability equation: Revenues and Expenses.

By hiring a VA, you are acquiring a skill that is more affordable than a full-time, office based employee without compromising the ability to perform and produce for the business. A VA will charge on average AUD$7 to $15 per hour depending on skill and qualification. Virtual assistants from the Philippines and India charge even lower. The starting pay of a regular office assistant is AUD$20 per hour plus benefits.

Re-oriented approach to business.

Prior to launching my online business, I was working in a brick and mortar establishment. I used to believe that if you were going to set up a business, you would need a physical office otherwise, you would not appear legitimate or professional.

But rent is a business-killer; it is difficult to keep rent below 20% of gross revenues because business has periods of down-turn. After much thought and research, it occurred to me that as a small business owner with limited capital, hiring a VA was not just my best option. It was my only option.

Now, business is performing better compared to when I used to rent an actual space. In addition, I was able to disprove the way of thinking that working with people from remote locations would lead to several incidents of miscommunication. I have absolutely no problem working with anyone in my virtual team!

Less Stress!

Last but certainly not the least, I can finally breathe! With work distributed to my virtual team, I have more time to spend with my family, focus on my health and have a perspective on the things that matter most in life.

How would I define a Virtual Assistant? He or she is a gift from technology; the greatest and best representation of technology and the human element at work!

Brett Russo is an entrepreneur who started a company specialized in providing fully trained virtual assistants for Australia. Connect with Brett on Twitter.

Photo Credit: PicJumbo

3 Tips For A Virtual Business

Taking-Your-Business-Virtual

By Kristy Smith

With the rapid changes in technology reshaping the way we work, it’s crucial for modern businesses to adopt a new way of thinking, and open themselves to the possibilities of ‘going virtual’

The way we do business is changing. A recent survey by the Australian Bureau of Statistics indicates that more than a third of micro businesses now use the internet to enable staff to work from home, which represents an 8% increase in two years, while for larger businesses, more than 75% now have the facility for staff to use the internet to work from home. 

With telecommuting on the rise, the traditional 9 to 5 office workday will soon be a thing of the past. Entrepreneurs can take advantage of this shift in business mindset by setting up flexible and scalable business models that allow themselves and their staff to work remotely with adaptable and accommodating schedules. Some of the benefits of ‘going virtual’ include:

Reduction in costs - with overheads such as office space and commuting expenses eliminated the costs of running business are greatly decreased. This allows entrepreneurs to create adaptable business models that can scale very quickly to suit market trends

Increases in productivity - Over two-thirds of employers report increased productivity among their telecommuters 2 this is thought to be due to a quieter work environment with less distractions and the ability to have a more flexible work schedule, unhampered by commuting

Flexibility – with no need to travel each day and the ability to work outside of traditional office hours, going virtual suits the busy schedules of entrepreneurs and working families alike. 

So how do we leverage all the wonderful benefits of remote working? Well the devil is in the details when it comes to setting up and working in a successful virtual business. 

1. Make The Cloud your Friend
With all the wonderful technological advances of the past 10 years, there are a plethora of options when it comes to cloud based SaaS programs you can use to take your business virtual. So do your research and educate yourself on all the necessary and relevant systems that will enable you to work remotely.  Choosing and setting up these systems should be your # 1 priority if you want to ‘go virtual.’ Solid systems and administrative practices are the foundation of a successful business. Don’t know where to start? We’ve included a handy list at the end of this article to help you get the ball rolling.

2. Communication is Key
Without the face to face office time you’d get in a traditional work set up, you need to ensure that both you and your team communicate on a regular basis. This means regular skype meetings, project updates, phone calls and emails. For example, you could set up a weekly skype call each Monday to communicate with your team and go through the status of current projects. The key is to keep in contact regularly. When working with a remote team there can be the tendency to ‘set and forget’ and you can become of touch with your own staff, so make it policy to keep in contact regularly

3. Be Accountable
There needs to be clear cut parameters around how your remote staff will work and what’s expected of them. Virtual roles need well-defined job descriptions, and project management procedures must be carefully documented and followed. Many managers say that while they trust their staff, they feel better if they can actually see them and monitor their work. There are programs such as Screenshot Monitor that can assist with this virtually, and implementing a ‘results based’ merit system that focusses on the quality and output of your staffs work is a good way to gauge that your staff are being accountable whilst they work independently.

Don’t know where to start? Here’s a handy list of some of the most popular cloud based business software:

  • Project and Task Management: Basecamp, Asana, Trello
  • Accounting: Saasu, Xero, Shoeboxed
  • Email Marketing: Mailchimp, Aweber, Infusionsoft, Web Chameleon
  • CRM: Highrise, Zoho, Salesforce
  • Google for Business: Google Drive, Gmail, Google Calendar
  • File Sharing: Dropbox, Google Docs
  • Social Media Management: Hootsuite, Buffer
  • Content Curation: Feedly, Zite
  • Communications: Skype, Eventbrite, Go to Meeting
  • Blog Administration: CoSchedule

Kristy Smith is the energetic founder, director and driver of Virtual Elves, a business that provides you an understanding of how to work with a virtual assistant. Connect with her at www.virtualelves.com.au