A lot has already been written about the value of virtual assistants (VAs). What has not been fully understood is how best to use one. By definition, anyone providing services remotely to assist a business or an individual can be classified as a VA. However, this narrow definition is not valid anymore. Over time, VA firms have evolved to include not only basic admin tasks but also highly demanding and sophisticated tasks such as computer programming, financial analysis, and market research to name a few.
To best understand the scope of services offered, consider the following examples:
Website and Web Application Development
As more and more applications move to the web, demand for development and maintenance support has skyrocketed. A number of ecommerce and online business owners started asking for technology savvy VAs. As a result, now web development is offered as one of the services. Most of the clients are SMEs that hire a part-time or full-time associate to support their business. VA firms are not only developing basic websites but also developing and supporting web applications to facilitate business processes.
As the virtual world become more and more competitive, online marketing became a necessity to differentiate a company’s products and services from other competitors. Initially, VA companies were given basic internet marketing tasks such as link building, blog writing, etc. but with the passage of time some of these companies developed online marketing knowledge enabling them to devise marketing strategies and implement those with tangible results.
The benefits of outsourcing bookkeeping go beyond lower cost. Up-to-date books provide an accurate snapshot of company’s financial picture and thus facilitate better decision making. This outsourcing of bookkeeping is a new route for SMEs and hence has few uncertainties associates with it. Proceed by selecting the right bookkeeping platform that suits your needs and setup a process that is secure and easy to follow. Have an NDA in place before any financial information is shared with your service provider.
Online Store Management
As small online stores get bigger, the effort required keeping up with orders processing, updating content, customer support etc. can become very taxing. A growing business must keep its cost in check and hiring a VA can help in achieving that goal. The store owner must ensure processes are well documented; otherwise, expect a steep learning curve for the VA. Store owners on eBay, Amazon, and others are good candidates for employing a VA.
Human Resource/Recruiter Support
A major part of a recruiter’s time is spent on digging up candidates for a particular position, researching candidates’ backgrounds, filing information, and contacting/scheduling candidates for potential interviews. A VA can help with the recruiter performing above tasks. Online databases such as Linkedin, Demandbase, and Spoke etc. have made it possible for a VA to do some of the leg work.
A common task performed by VAs on an on-going basis is invoice processing. The Purchase Order (PO) must be matched with the invoice and the packing slip before the vendor can be paid. This three way matching is time consuming and can be setup where a VA can perform the task. Similarly, order acknowledgement and processing can also be performed by a VA.
Real Estate Services
According to the National Association of Realtors [(NAR), www.realtor.org, 2007 data], 81% of agents/brokers buy or sell homes by using the internet; furthermore, 73% of buyers drive by/view a home they came across on the internet. All this information processing can be done remotely by your outsourcing partner. A capable VA company can be your one-stop-shop for developing and maintaining your web presence, managing your CRM, updating your MLS listing, contact management (GroupMail 5, www.topproduceronline.com etc..), running your ads and online marketing campaigns, newsletter and flyer design to name a few.
Office Of the Future (OOF)
All of the above or other services can be combined together to form a back office or Office Of the Future (OOF). This is not an easy undertaking and must be carefully evaluated. The time and effort required to build a viable back OOF is fairly significant. Before you start looking for a back office service provider, estimate the hours required for each service. For example, if you estimate your weekly bookkeeping requirement is 10 hrs; internet marketing is 30 hr; website development/support is 20 hr; and admin support is 20 hr, then your total requirement is for two full-time associates. Your back office will probably have more than two associate but your total cost will not exceed two Full Time Employees (FTEs). In an ideal situation, your OOF will be staffed with FTEs since shared resources create a certain level of inefficiency.
So why should one work with a VA firm that offers BPO services as opposed to a regular BPO firm? The answer is simple: lower cost and equally good service. VA firms tend to service SMEs and as a result have lower cost structures as opposed to regular BPO firms that have historically serviced larger clients and have higher cost structures. The focus must be on pooling your requirements so there is enough work for at least one full-time associate. This minimum volume will enable the VA provider to provide quality service. In the long run, the goal must be to create a small back office with your provider staffed with a variety of skill set and that will create a win-win scenario for both parties.