Diana Ennen and Kelly Poelke, authors of Virtual Assistant - The Series: Become a Highly Successful, Sought After VA

Many entrepreneurs need to learn that they simply can't do it all on their own. Getting help with administrative tasks can go along way, especially when you are just starting out. Diana Ennen and Kelly Poelker are the authors of Virtual Assistant - The Series: Become a Highly Successful, Sought After VA, and know just how useful a virtual assistant (VA) can be to businesses of all sizes. They talked to us about how hiring a VA can help boost productivity and provide support that ranges from bookkeeping to marketing.

1. What type of support can a VA provide for an entrepreneur or startup?

Many entrepreneurs or startups don’t have the skills or experience or the time to do it all. Nor should they be tending to every last detail of their business personally. They went into business to offer the product or service they are good at, most not realizing the many different hats they have to wear when they become a business owner.

This is where the virtual assistant (VA) comes in. They can support clients in their administrative tasks, marketing to grow their business, bookkeeping, developing their web and online presence including social media, and so much more. Plus, many virtual assistants provide business consulting and can help not only in their business planning but also in putting together efficient, proven systems that work.

Virtual assistants like to partner with businesses to help them grow and thrive and they can be especially beneficial for entrepreneurs or start-ups.

2. There are a few services available that provide call answering, receptionists, and other VA duties. Are there any in particular that you would recommend?

While there are virtual assistant companies that offer phone answering services, most offer a broader spectrum of services to include an array of business support for their clients. Services such as transcription, preparation of documents, social media management, calendar management, internet marketing, bookkeeping, shopping cart maintenance, managing webinars and product launches as well as affiliate programs are the more typical virtual assistant service offering. It all depends on their skills as well as the needs of their clients. For example a real estate agent’s needs may differ from what an author or coach might need. The goal of the virtual assistant is to partner with clients who need their particular skill set. The right VA will know instinctively how to apply their knowledge to the various types of business their client base is engaged in.

3. What characteristics and skills should businesspeople look for when hiring a VA?

When looking for a VA you want to consider the length of time they’ve been in business, their business and technical knowledge, prior experience, and their skill set. Because virtual assistants can specialize in different niches, it’s important to look for a VA that possesses the skills necessary to complete the tasks at hand. You can find a great deal of information on their website (make sure they have one!) and then we always recommend having a personal conversation.

It’s an interview process just the same as you would go through to select any other vendor to work with your company. You want to check references, or at minimum take a look at the recommendations they may have compiled on their LinkedIn or Facebook pages, in addition to their website. We recommend talking to 2-3 virtual assistant companies. The right VAs will also interview the prospective client to ensure it’s a good fit for them, too.

Just as important as finding someone with the right skill set is finding one that matches your personality and your work style. Be sure to ask about their availability to clients, hours, how they bill, and whether they have backup systems in place for when they are not available or in the event they take extended leave of absence.

Your virtual assistant becomes an extension of your business. You want to partner with a VA who has your best interest in mind, is proactive, and makes suggestions for improvements if they can see a way to do things more efficiently, and sometimes even more cost-effectively. You need a VA who can make decisions and think on their feet. They don’t need to be micromanaged—entrust them with the tasks to be completed and let them do what they are best at while you take care of what you’re best at in your business.

Keep the lines of communication open. Be sure the VA makes time for regular calls with clients.

4. How is technology contributing to the need/usefulness for a VA?

Technology rocks! Technology is what makes it possible for the virtual assistant industry to exist and function day in and day out. It allows us all to work remotely with clients in a much more powerful way than being a home-based secretary, back in the 80s, who could only offer local pick up and delivery. Email, electronic documents and cloud-based shared storage all but removed the need for overnighting or snail mailing documents and disks to clients. Technology allows us to access a client’s email, calendar, computer, and files no matter where we are in the world. In that sense, it has removed the geographical boundaries contributing to a worldwide customer base. We are no longer tied to local customers only, though some may still choose to work only with locals. Video and web conferencing along with Skype-type applications allow us to have regular “in person” meetings with clients we have never met face-to-face. Because VAs have a pretty solid understanding of different technologies for working remotely and managing business functions it allows them to be a technology arm for their clients who may be less technologically savvy.

5. What misconceptions about the VA industry would you like to rid the world of?

One of the more common misconceptions is just exactly what a virtual assistant is. We need to start changing people's perspective in that regard. We are not the cheap labor performing menial tasks and grunt work. You know, like the ones you read about in the 4-Hour Work Week. We are not the "task list checker-offers" with no independent thinking. We are educated, professional business owners who provide a valuable service. We are pro-active, forward thinkers who do not need to be micromanaged. Our ideal clients look to partner with us on a long-term basis to build and grow their business.

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