Managing virtual assistants for business success

Virtual AssistantLisa Ann Pinkerton, Founder & President of public relations and marketing firm Technica,  found herself turning to virtual assistants when her company’s staffing needs grew.

She needed staff, but her needs fluctuated often based on the size of her client’s projects.

“I needed staff who could help me with day-to-day tasks,” explains Pinkerton. “However, I did not want to hire full-time employees since my needs fluctuated often based on the size of client projects.”

Needed: a time-saving solution

Luckily, Pinkerton found one and then another virtual assistant through friend and family contacts. However, she still needed a good way to work with, and manage, both of them remotely.

She needed to direct and collaborate while still spending most of her time focused on clients.

“That realization led me on a search for good software for virtual assistants which would allow me to direct and collaborate with them, but also save me time while doing so; time which could be used to focus on my clients’ success.”

After researching and trying a few of the available online solutions, Pinkerton settled on oDesk.

A virtual assistant for managers of virtual assistants

oDesk was just what Pinkerton needed. Using the tool, she can:

  1. Privately assign tasks to one or both of her virtual assistants;
  2. Set the pay rate for each task separately;
  3. Monitor the time spent on her tasks because each virtual assistant must first log into oDesk and check out a task before getting to work (thus enabling time tracking and also setting the pay rate for that time based on the job on which they are working);
  4. “They handle all the paperwork and project workflow, leaving me free to focus on my clients.”
  5. Assure that here virtual assistants are indeed working on her tasks when they claim to have been by taking local screenshots at random times;
  6. Receive, review and pay invoices from each of the virtual assistants at regular intervals; and
  7. Elect to have oDesk handle the entire tax task by tracking and issuing 1099 forms.

“I love oDesk” says Pinkerton. “They handle all the paperwork and project workflow, leaving me free to focus on my clients. And,” she adds, “My virtual assistants love it too because they get paid a lot faster.”

Like many tech-savvy business owners, she picks and chooses to fulfill her business needs.

Pinkerton does not use oDesk for everything however. Like many tech-savvy business owners, she picks and chooses from the many, many solutions available to fulfill her business needs.

For example, Pinkerton uses Google Documents to collaborate with her virtual assistants, even though oDesk offers a solution for that as well.

“They do offer virtual meeting rooms,” says Pinkerton. “But I haven’t dug into that much because the last time I checked, they did not allow you to collaborate on a document directly like Google does.”

In addition, she and her virtual assistants use Skype for all their face-to-face and phone communications.

Technica’s staffing flexibility has become a differentiator.

Business benefits

The time and cost savings realized by using virtual assistants over full-time staff has led Pinkerton to claim her staffing flexibility as a differentiator. From Technica’s About page:

“To us, “growth” is not reflected in the size of our staff.  We add to our team to support client demand and keep overhead low to pass the savings onto you in the form of service.”

The Tools:

How about you?

Have you used virtual assistants successfully? What tools have you used to manage their work and to collaborate on projects? What advantages do you gain with the virtual assistant approach?

Please share your experiences and thoughts below.

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Comments

  1. So far I haven’t used a VA but this story really sounds promising. It makes a lot of sense to hand over routine tasks to an assistant to better focus on core tasks. Nice article!

    • Hey Robert!

      Yes, virtual assistants are a very handy approach to getting thing done and one which many have used to much success.

      I find Lisa’s approach to be additionally compelling because she’s discovered that she can even hand-off much of the day-to-day management of her virtual assistants! Now that’s really making use of good tools to get business done!

  2. Hey Matt, did Lisa give you any indication of how much she pays her VAs per month? I’m interested to try using a VA but I think my needs are pretty limited in the beginning.

  3. This is a good article. I have used Odesk before and they make it very simple to manage projects. I think they are great for website design and technical projects.

  4. This is a great article, but as a Virtual Assistant and Online Business Manager with 7 years of experience, I’m not particularly fond of using something like oDesk when working with VAs on a consistent basis. The VA is charged a percentage of the fee they receive, so they’re not getting the entire payment the client submits. Also, there are many tools to use such as Central Desktop and OfficeZilla where you can keep track of projects and tasks, log hours, etc.

    Rather than assigning tasks and keeping track of the VAs working on your tasks, it makes more sense to hire a Online Business Manager to do this for you – thus freeing up your time to concentrate on what you do best. It also makes for better morale from what I’ve seen, and helps to build long-term relationships with everyone on the team. Remember, most VAs are business owners as well.

    Someone asked about VA rates – most VAs post their rates on their websites, and for those who don’t, they offer a free consultation to discuss your needs and see how their services can work for you. Most rates vary from about $25 an hour up to $75 an hour, depending on the task. If it’s basic administrative work, the rate is lower. If it’s something like running a teleseminar, updating a website, etc., then the price would be higher.

    • Jeanette,

      Thanks so much for your great insights and tips on managing virtual assistants and on pricing as well!

      I do know about the fees charged by these services. Lisa had mentioned that one of the reasons she liked oDesk better than other online services is that it does not charge her for posting a job and it charges the service provider at a lower rate.

      Fees such as these are a part of doing business in this day and age, but as you point out, there are ways to go around them. Sometimes those methods work, sometimes they are more complex.

      In the end, it’s up to the buyer and the service provider to work out how to work within a long-term relationship. If the virtual assistant can make a case effectively for doing things differently, then the fees can be avoided.

      -Matt

      • I found an admin VA maybe three years ago (?) on elance. I needed someone local who was somewhat familiar with Atlanta geography. After a couple of months working together successfully we went off elance so now she doesn’t have to pay the elance fee. It’s one of the most productive things I’ve ever done and we use Google docs for everything–no more emailing revised versions back-and-forth ad nauseum.

        • Valerie,

          I’ve heard many similar stories where the relationships start as part of a service and then they go private. It’s a great approach and a good way to “try” before “buying”!

          -Matt

  5. Great article. I myself am a virtual assistant, and let me tell you that a client can really benefit from a VA. The hiring process is a lot easier, since the VA’s have already gotten a background, skills, reference checks, etc. VA’s only charge for the EXACT time used to do tasks. Email and phone communication is all we need to get our things done and it is literally like working in an office.

    • Thanks Zarina!

      Yep, I am a big fan of VAs as well due to their concise billing approach and how easy it is to work with someone no matter where they are.

      I like your comments about background, skill and reference checks! It is important to do that not only for VAs, but for all the folks who you hire to support your business.

      That’s why, as a VA or any contractor, it’s important to get those references and referrals! :)

      -Matt

  6. Hello everyone,

    I am so excited to have found this website. I have enjoyed reading this article and the comments. As a virtual assistant my self I personally satisfied to see the growth of the virtual assistant industry, and at the same time to see that small business owners are opening up to the affordable and convenient helping had of a virtual assistant. I take pride in my virtual assistant business growth because my growth in the industry is the reflection of my contribution to the small business owner/entrepreneur.

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    Managing virtual assistants for business success…

    Lisa Ann Pinkerton, Founder & President of public relations and marketing firm Technica, found herself turning to virtual assistants when her company’s staffing needs grew. Learn how that strategy contributes to her success….

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