September 16

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What Is a Virtual Assistant?

By Jaimie VanSickle

September 16, 2020


Historically Speaking

The Virtual Assistant industry started back in the late 90’s.  It was initially designed for administrative assistants who worked remotely from home.  Defining administrative assistants as the basic administrative duties such as scheduling, email management, documents, etc.

Over the course of the past couple decades, it has evolved into a “virtual industry” and the term “virtual assistant” now makes up an array of roles.

Today's Virtual Assistant

It’s not just about administrative support anymore.  It’s a loose term (or title) thrown about the industry that encapsulates “virtual (or remote) support” in all areas of business.  From the basic administrative duties, onwards to customer service positions, copywriters, graphic designers, website designers, marketing firms, social media experts, operations managers, and so on.

So don’t let the term “virtual assistant” throw you off. It simply means a contractor who works from home and owns their own business offering business support services or marketing services.

I commonly see people online talking about “hire a virtual assistant to help with that."  They may be referring to something administrative-oriented such as scheduling and curriculum management, or they may be referring to hiring a marketing agency to run ad campaigns.  Either way, both the marketing agency and the scheduler can be referred to as a “virtual assistant” in the early stages of hiring.

My beef with this term being so loosely used, is it doesn’t define the role a company is truly seeking.  Most virtual assistants will specialize in just a few tasks.  Maybe it’s scheduling, or email management, or curriculum management.  This is a virtual “assistant” role.  To assist a business with the administrative duties within a business.

But a business requires a whole lot more than just administrative assistants to run their operations.  

A marketing assistant, or a web developer, is an entirely different department, and requires a much higher skill set and level of experience.  These types of roles are more of a specialist role.

A Virtual Assistant is No Laughing Matter

With that said, most teams require more than one Virtual Assistant (or specialist) to run the operations of an organization.  But that’s also not meant to say that a Virtual Assistant is the low end of the totem pole.

Virtual Assistants need to own their place.  Their place is VERY vital in an organization and is the most consistent role within it. Just think of the executive assistant in an office environment.  That executive assistant is the backbone to the many important and critical things that go on in a business.  They’re like the superhero in disguise.  A really good VA (just as an EA - Executive Assistant) will fly in and scoop up the challenges before anyone knows they even exist.  

Everyone must have a solid VA in their business to sit as the baseline for the organization.  They’re the roots to build from, and the glue that will hold it all together.

You will quite often hear Virtual Assistants using the term “hire a VA for the mundane tasks”, but let me tell you, there’s nothing mundane about these critical details in a business.

It’s the VA who is ensuring revenue is being collected.  It’s the VA who is ensuring the bosses calendars are in order.  It’s the VA who is ensuring the customers are happy and the delivery of product and services is well underway.

A business cannot survive without a rockstar Virtual Assistant.  

I’ve been in this business for over a decade, and it’s not been easy.  It’s been a struggle at times working with difficult personalities, clients who won’t pay, websites and domains getting broken, links going down at the most critical times of the sales process, team members calling in sick or having a life changing moment (marriage, new children, etc), 10pm calls from a client because there’s a legal issue with Intellectual Property or social media….the list can, and does, go on.

It’s a challenge, regardless of which role you take.  But it's also a rewarding journey to be self-employed and own your future.

So, as you’re starting your business, or working through one you’ve already established, keep in mind that a VA is priceless, and they don’t do the mundane items, but rather the absolute necessities that keep a business alive and surviving.

Also bear in mind, that if you’re seeking to hire a Virtual Assistant, they’re an entrepreneur just as you.  This is a mutually beneficial relationship.  A great Virtual Assistant can become part of your business at an intrapreneur level.  Meaning they can come to care about your business as much as you do. Treating a Virtual Assistant with this utmost level of respect is what will soar them into that intrapreneur level, and that is a sweet-zone, my friend!  

A great Virtual Assistant is like entering the cloning phase!

But what do you do with all the Virtual Assistants and Specialists that are on your team?  Heck, finding good ones is a challenge on it’s own, and keeping them efficient and happy is all too well a known process.  They need to be managed, projects need to have a captain to ensure they’re being done timely and properly, all the while managing budgets and marketing endeavors, and allowing the business owner time to escape for the sweet-creative-zone they require for the bigger performances they act on. 

Well, no need to panic. 

The Online Business Manager

This is where the Virtual Operations Manager comes into place. They may be called an Online Business Manager, or heck, just a Virtual Assistant, but it’s the role that matters.  They are leading and managing your operations for you.  They are managing your team, the projects, the revenue, the clients, and even you!  And they can do it silently like ninjas because that’s what their expertise and specialty is in.  Oh, and let’s not forget the super hot skill of knowing all there is to know in the virtual business infrastructure.

Most Virtual Assistants understand they can eventually make $30/hour in the US scheduling and handling non-time-sensitive duties.  That’s a great living!  Fill your client roster to a full status and you can be making $60-$70K a year working from home doing a low-stress position, and having complete control on your life and your future.

Virtual Operations Managers (Online Business Managers) don’t have it quite so cushy though.  These are your more extreme players that dig the growth opportunities and upper level skills that motivate them.  They desire the leadership side of the business and happen to work well under pressure.  That’s why you’ll find their fees much higher, to hit the $50-$75/hour fees.  

But before you cringe, it’s not that bad!  They’re not billing you at 40 hours a week.  But even if they are, and you’re making 7 figures and upwards, having an experienced team member who organizes your entire business and personal life for a few thousand dollars a year isn’t unrealistic.  It’s actually necessary to maintain and grow that 7 figure mark.

They're Contractors!

Besides, I really want to point out the biggest elephant in the room….they’re contractors!!  You don’t pay taxes, unemployment hassles, COVID-19 hassles, insurance benefits, and so on.  

Take it from me.  I’ve had both in-house employees and virtual assistants, and the rates the VA charge are completely worth it.  Most newbs will charge $15-$20/hour, and heck, I was paying my employees the same hourly rates, but with all the legal employment and tax hassles that come with it.

Being a VA, and hiring a VA, is actually a secure position for both parties.  Contracts are light, if there’s one at all, and if you don’t like them, or they don’t like you, then you move on.  There’s no backlash, no costly unemployment issues, and no dragging out the off-boarding process.

It can be a tricky process to find the right VA, just as it’s a tricky process for the VA to find the right client.  We’re all entrepreneurs and we’re all in this together.  It’s not a battle of virtual assistant vs client.  It’s a business journey.  It’s nice to be on a journey with someone you like and work well with. So be patient in the process, for both sides of the equation.

Want to learn more about becoming a Virtual Assistant? 

Want to hire a Virtual Assistant or Online Business Manager? 

Let's talk!

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About the author

Jaimie VanSickle

Jaimie VanSickle, owner of J VanSickle Company, has been serving business for over 10 years. Jaimie has worked with over hundreds of clients, and has managed some of the larger online business infrastructures within the online and digital marketing industry. Jaimie’s extraordinary talents in both process development and business operations management has led to her becoming known as one of the top consultants in her industry. Advanced knowledge in all facets of online businesses, coupled with superior technology skills, helps Jaimie and her team bring all the moving pieces together seamlessly to meet the needs of business owners from around the globe.

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