Businesses can only grow if they get the right type of help and engage the right amount of expertise. In years gone by this would almost always have been provided by full-time or part-time staff. Today, the virtual assistant can fulfil many or all of these roles and can provide additional benefits to the small business owner too.
Why Times Have Changed
The business environment has changed a great deal in the last decade. We’ve seen amazing progress in the world of technology and communication. We’ve also seen the consequences of poor economic management and a lasting recession. These factors combined have led to a sea of change in the way that business owners run their operations and plan for future growth.
Today, it’s no longer necessary to maintain a costly office setup, with a variety of full or part-time staff dedicated to specific areas of expertise. Not only is it not necessary, but by doing so you can set yourself up at a competitive disadvantage, as rival organisations see the advantages of streamlining and outsourcing.
This has given rise to the meteoric ascendancy of the virtual assistant. In truth, there is very little the virtual assistant cannot do compared to a “real-life” assistant, sitting at the next desk or in the adjacent office.
When small business owners make a realistic comparison of costs the difference becomes quite clear. It makes no sense from a logistical and economic point of view to continue to maintain a costly “bricks and mortar” office anymore.
There are many hidden costs associated with employing somebody on either a full or part-time basis. Some of these costs include benefits, contribution to a pension scheme, payment for sick leave, paid holidays, annual vacation. These are some of the payments necessary to keep an employee happy and to conform to legal requirements. Yet these costs only reflect part of the problem.
When a business owner commits to employing somebody full time they also commit to training and ongoing development. They need to provide a platform for growth, in order to keep the employee happy and to ensure they don’t start scouting around for other positions. Engaging a full-time employee is also a commitment made without being fully sure of the future. It can be difficult to scale up or down your requirements as a small business owner and it can take a long time to replace somebody who leaves. When your business is not firing on all cylinders due to staff shortage or training this can once again place the organisation at a competitive disadvantage. In short, the keyword for all companies these days is agility and this is not an easy goal to achieve if the organisation cannot easily manage employee growth.
As a business grows its needs by necessity will change. Therefore, the ability of the business to grow will be determined by how quickly it can change direction and how easily its employees can be retrained or in some cases replaced.
One other point should not be overlooked when it comes to hiring employees versus virtual assistants. It can sometimes be difficult to make the necessary decisions related to employee engagement, due to perceived feelings of loyalty or even personal attachment. By contrast, the relationship with the virtual assistant is by definition more remote. Even though either option represents a professional relationship, it is often easier to consider the virtual assistant simply as the provider of a professional service, as the relationship is usually engaged at a distance.
Why You Have To Be Social
Most small business owners today understand that they should have a presence on social media, even if they don’t really understand why. They may be confused by the name itself. How does “social media” have anything to do with the world of business – isn’t it something that people do in their spare time, just to keep in touch with their friends?
As a consequence, many small business owners completely overlook the potential advantages of social media in relation to business growth, audience building and even customer service. They may also not know where to start, may not have available capacity or expertise among existing staff and may not feel that they have the time or inclination to take the job on themselves.
Social media has grown in importance significantly since Facebook and Twitter emerged less than a decade ago. Today, a huge portion of society has a presence on one or both of these platforms and many of the myriad other offerings. Due to the amount of time that people spend engaging with social media, the opportunity to “see and be seen” simply cannot be overlooked by the small business owner.
This is where a virtual assistant can truly shine. The VA will be fully trained in the various platforms and will know how to carefully, but conscientiously integrate the small business message into the social conversation. This must be done in a specific way in order not to alienate people, but when done carefully and according to a specific plan can create considerable potential benefits for the business owner.
For example, many forward thinking businesses use Twitter for customer service reasons. They understand that this particular social media platform is basically a continually developing and changing notice board, where customers can quickly spread the word about their experience and relationship with your organisation. A virtual assistant can set up and maintain a specific account that provides advice or assistance to your clients should they have any questions or concerns. By doing this carefully and in accordance with the business plan other potential customers can see how your organisation handles its customer service and can be tempted to do business with you as a consequence.
When the business maintains a presence in social media circles it can seem to be far more relevant. When it contributes to a conversation with interesting and valuable information or suggestions, this can grow the level of trust in your organisation considerably. There’s a lot to be said, after all, for the phrase “out of sight and out of mind.” As people spend so much of their time in social media circles, if your organisation is in front of them from time to time in a relevant and contributory way, this can help considerably with ongoing and future marketing.
The key here is consistency, however. Social media campaigns must be ongoing and carefully planned from a strategic point of view. This is a perfect job to outsource rather than try to handle in-house. Social media platforms are constantly changing. The virtual assistant is so engaged with these platforms they are best placed to keep up with these changes and implement them for your organisation as necessary.
Why What You Don’t Know Can Harm You
Far too often a small business owner believes that they simply cannot be replicated. They may not outwardly state this as a policy, but inwardly they may feel as if they have to “have their fingers in” every element of the business. It can be difficult to outsource, especially some of the tasks that may traditionally in the past have been seen as the domain of the business owner him or herself.
This level of thinking may well have been brought about by what, in the past, was a very clear delineation between tasks in the office environment. For example, somebody would have been employed to handle only payroll issues. Another person would have been employed for data entry reasons. Yet another would have been employed only as a receptionist. Often, then the small business owner would have been left to take on the “other” tasks and the myriad of smaller responsibilities that did not fit in the job description of the aforementioned people.
As a consequence, many potentially crucial business development tasks may have fallen by the wayside. Yes, the business owner may believe that they were responsible for some of these areas, but in truth they would know that they simply didn’t have time to allocate within their already burgeoning schedule.
This is one reason why many business owners are considering a complete change in structure. It’s also why they are considering a project based approach to infrastructure that not only streamlines their operation, but ensures that many crucial tasks are no longer overlooked.
For example, consider industry knowledge and intelligence. Most people would immediately recognise the importance of keeping on top of developments in their niche, yet they may not have been able to do so for the aforementioned reasons. There is a perfect solution today. A virtual assistant can be engaged on an ad hoc or ongoing basis to keep up with industry news and developments, and certainly to ensure that no important developments or events are overlooked or possibly missed.
A business owner should develop a strategy and outsource this task to a virtual assistant. Then, the most important sources of information can be monitored. When developments come up that are likely to be of interest to the business owner, the virtual assistant can go out and gather more relevant information. They can do additional research in order to present a valuable cache of information to the executive.
Business owners are not expecting the virtual assistant to take high-level action, as this is of course the remit of the owner. However, no action can be taken without the right type of information and without somebody – the virtual assistant – keeping a watchful eye on developments on a regular basis.
In addition, when customers and prospects see that the organisation clearly has its finger on the pulse, then they may be more inclined to do business, or to continue placing their trust. The virtual assistant can provide the ammunition necessary to reach this goal on a very efficient and cost-effective basis.
Why Business Owners Are Living Life According To Somebody Else’s Agenda
Somebody once said that an email inbox is a tool for other people to impose their agendas upon you, as the business owner. If you sit down and think about it, this assertion has more than just a ring of truth to it. In fact, a typical day can easily become derailed for the small business owner if they aren’t very efficient at managing their communications.
For some reason, an incoming email still sets off the internal alarm bells, as if the rest of the world must stop until that email is addressed. When a business owner starts their day by checking what emails have arrived then they almost certainly set themselves up for failure unless they have a system in place to deal with all of this.
This is where a virtual assistant can be of great value. It’s also a good idea to delegate the management of calendars to a virtual assistant to ensure that time is more efficiently managed from a broader perspective.
There are many very efficient email delivery tools on the market today. Some are locally based, but many are handled in the cloud. It’s definitely possible to give access to more than one person to an email inbox and this access should be given to a virtual assistant for efficient management.
Some small business owners are afraid to delegate or outsource in this manner, as they think that somehow they’re going to “miss” something. Yet the key here is to provide clear and concise guidance for the virtual assistant, who will then carefully sift through email as it arrives and will know what to do in every situation.
For example, many arriving emails simply require a return message to confirm that the mail was received and that action will be taken in due course. The virtual assistant can handle this quite easily, using the protocol that you establish in advance. You can also train them to respond in a certain way according to the nature of the incoming email. If a regular number of emails come in, for example, looking for information on a certain product then the virtual assistant can attach the necessary information and reply without your input whatsoever.
In slightly more sensitive areas you can still save time by getting the assistant to create the response appropriately, but send it to you for your approval before it’s sent out.
Get the virtual assistant to handle calendar scheduling as well. Provide them with information and advice relating to blackout dates and times, when you’re not available for anything and then leave them to manage the rest. You will be at much lower risk of missing deadlines, important meetings or even key dates such as an important birthday celebration.
Remember that true freedom only comes in letting go of the reins when it comes to email management and calendar scheduling, both of which can be critical time sapping tasks. You should take the time – as a one-off task – to set up the guidelines for the virtual assistant and then enjoy more efficiency and productivity in the years ahead.
Why Your Business Is More Virtual Than You Think Already
Some business owners balk at the idea of hiring a virtual assistant. They seem to think that if they can’t physically see and interact with a business assistant that they don’t have any control for some reason. Yet isn’t it the case that a large proportion of professional relationships in any niche these days can be considered to be “virtual?”
It’s a cliche, for sure, but the world is a small place now. It’s perfectly possible to expand a business by trading with offshore partners around the globe and almost certainly, these relationships are fostered and conducted via email and phone calls. The amount of time that a business owner spends in personal, one-on-one interaction with a client is usually very small indeed, even if they are physically located in the same town or city.
Consider also, relationships with other professional service providers. You will usually conduct conversations with accountants on the phone or through email, with an attorney or a tax adviser the same way. Why is it necessary therefore to insist on the physical presence of a person, when it comes to a whole variety of administrative tasks?
It may certainly be true to say that clients expect, or rather anticipate that you have an office with full or part-time staff. There’s nothing wrong with leaving them to assume this. In many respects it portrays a picture of a larger business organisation and one which is more established, perhaps. In truth, so long as the same level of service is being provided it doesn’t matter whether the service provision is remote or in-house.
A virtual assistant can be an attentive and highly responsive personal assistant, who deals with all of the same tasks and responsibilities as efficiently and promptly as somebody who may be sitting at a desk in an adjacent office. The key is to cultivate a relationship with a virtual assistant and keep them up-to-date with all your tasks and requirements, so they can respond accordingly. As most virtual assistants will tailor their working hours according to yours, they are only a phone call or quick email away. Furthermore, they can often get to work on a particular task or set of tasks in a neutral environment. This can be advantageous as compared to a personal assistant who is physically present in the same environment as you may be, complete with all the distractions that may be causing you to be less efficient than you should be.
A virtual assistant can be a trusted business partner. They can be far more than just an employee. Because they are by necessity also entrepreneurial in nature, they usually understand the mindset needed. A fully developed relationship with a virtual assistant can be far more than an employer/employee relationship. It can be a situation where the virtual assistant provides advice and recommendations based on their own business journey as well.
Consider just how virtual your business really is. Consider the advantages of downsizing an unnecessarily large ‘live’ business staff and enjoy the agility provided by the virtual assistant industry.