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All you need to know about having a virtual assistant
Written by Rowan Govender
9 February 2013

In the past, your typical office would have assistants whose jobs it was to organise schedules, do research, or put together presentations. As communication technologies have developed, it's become far easier to communicate with people all over the world. This has also helped the growth of the virtual assistant.

What is a virtual assistant?

A virtual assistant is much like an ordinary office assistant, who is someone who usually handles administrative tasks, but unlike a regular assistant they don't come into the office. They work remotely using tools like e-mail and fax machines in order to communicate with their employers. Virtual assistants can also handle other tasks, such as website maintenance or bookkeeping, depending on your company and the skills you require.

Virtual assistants aren't something new which have sprung up with the internet. They have been around for a while  but were considering quite rare in the past.  Growth in the virtual assistant field has increased as communication technologies such as the internet have gotten faster and easier to use. 

What are the benefits of a virtual assistant?

The virtual assistant website Lissaduty.com mentions a few of the benefits that hiring a virtual assistant.

  A virtual assistant saves you money on

  •  office space, office equipment, printers, Internet connection.
  • payroll taxes, health insurance, vacation, sick pay and holidays.
  • wasted time spent on breaks, at water coolers and personal phone calls.
  • time to train new staff.

So if you are thinking about hiring an assistant, ask yourself this question: is there anything that an assistant can do that a virtual assistant can't do?

If the only thing that can't be done by a virtual assistant is making coffee, it might be time to consider hiring one.

How to hire a virtual assistant?

There are a variety of websites, such as YourmaninIndia, which you can use to find a virtual assistant. The Mogul Mom  also recommends using social media sites such as LinkedIn or Twitter, Elance.com, The Virtual Assistance Chamber of Commerce, or even performing a simple Google search.

The trick is finding the right virtual assistant once you've identified potential candidates. Sometimes a virtual assistant can look good on paper, but not be quite what you were looking for.  Todd Wasserman, from Mashable, discusses two of the major problems with hiring virtual assistants: time zone differences and the language barrier:

Mumbai is 10 hours ahead of New York time, for instance, meaning that if it's 9 a.m. and you need something done right away, you'll probably have to wait a few hours. As for language, although India-based VAs generally are quite conversant in English, they can get tripped up by the nuances of the language, which could create misunderstandings. "I've had many people who've tried to outsource abroad," says DeJesus, "but a lot of times the language barrier and the time difference send them back this way."

For more information on using virtual assistants, be sure to read The 4 Hour Workweek  by Tim Ferriss. This book has spent more than 4 years on the New York Times Best Seller List and deals quite extensively with virtual assistants.


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