UK: Working With A Virtual PA

Last Updated: 15 August 2012

The following are some of the most frequently asked questions from business owners who express interest in working with a virtual PA.

1. What is a virtual PA?

A virtual PA is someone who is in the business of providing administrative support to clients in an ongoing, collaborative relationship. Many people are under the mistaken idea that a virtual PA is anyone who "assists" "virtually". That is not the case. The definition and concept of virtual assistance is not based on the literal translation of those two words.

Virtual assistance is a profession providing administrative support in a very similar way to the professional support provided to an executive in a corporate environment. In the same way that you call a doctor when you're unwell, an accountant when you want to file your tax return or a lawyer when you need legal advice, a virtual PA is the professional you call when you need skilled experience to carry out administrative support.

2. What is the "virtual relationship" and how does it work?

Administration is not an event. It's not something that is carried out once and never needs addressing again. It's ongoing work that must be carried out on a regular basis and accomplished throughout the life of your business in order for the business to grow, generate revenue and run smoothly and profitably.

By working in an ongoing relationship with a virtual PA, you know you can rely on someone who has an understanding of you, what's important to you, how you go about achieving your goals, and how your business operates. Of course you can utilise the services of a virtual PA on an ad hoc basis, as and when you need support, for example to cover your regular PA's holidays. But the longer you work together with a virtual PA, the more value you will gain in terms of cost effectiveness.

When you hire a virtual PA, you are working with a professional, not an employee. As a business owner, your virtual PA is going to have his or her own systems and processes for starting the relationship, and will help you to determine what can be delegated by talking things through in detail.

3. What kind of work does a virtual PA take on?

Virtual PAs focus on taking care of some or all of your administrative tasks, whether these are business or home related. They carry out the administrative work that normally takes up your time and energy and, often, takes your attention away from generating revenue.

4. Do virtual PAs take on other tasks besides administrative support?

Yes. While some may have their own employees and contractors, virtual PA businesses are usually solo businesses. This gives their client the added advantage of knowing that the person they hire is the person who actually carries out their work.

Every virtual PA has their own unique talents and experience. Many virtual PAs offer additional services that complement their core administrative support services. For these reasons, if you do happen to find a virtual PA who is able to offer complementary services in addition to their administrative support services, expect to be charged separately and/or at a higher rate.

5. What does a virtual PA charge?

Professional fees vary from one virtual PA to the next. But, as with most things in life, you get what you pay for. Keep in mind that a virtual PA's support is strategic; you won't be working with a virtual PA for the same number of hours that you would a full-time or part-time employee. Some virtual PAs offer value-added packages that you pay for on a monthly basis.

Virtual PAs offer a convenient and cost-effective alternative to in-house employees, and give their clients access to a higher level of skills and knowledge than they might ever be able to afford in an employee.

6. What types of people work with virtual PAs?

Many different types of people work with virtual PAs, but all of them have something in common. They require additional support and aren't afraid to delegate! Two of the most common reasons business owners choose to work with virtual PAs are:

  • They have a need for skilled, professional administrative support, but don't have the budget, space or equipment for an in-house PA.
  • Their administrative workload isn't large enough to justify the expense – and, often, the accompanying hassles – of an in-house PA or secretary.

7. Where does a virtual PA work?

From their own business premises. As virtual PAs are running their own businesses, they purchase their own IT equipment, software, printers, scanners and other relevant tools required for the job. Working together virtually is far more energy efficient and cost effective than working together within an office.

Most of the time, nothing more complex than sending an email or making a phone call and being clear in your instruction is required from you as the client. The a vast amount of technology available makes it very easy for a virtual relationship to thrive. Virtual PAs are experts when it comes to setting up new systems, and will be happy to share information and offer advice should you require it.

8. Are virtual PAs like employees?

No. This is a common misconception among many business owners that members of the virtual PA profession are working hard to dispel. Virtual PAs are independent professionals, who are committed often to more than one client. For these reasons, they are not employees.

There are going to be differences in how you work together and in the type of tasks a virtual PA carries out for you. For example, a virtual PA is not going to be instantly available to you eight hours a day, five days a week, in the way an employee who works only for you would be. Virtual PAs have their own business policies, standards and procedures for working with clients. As with any professional business, these are usually contained in their terms and conditions.

9. Are there certain tasks that it is inappropriate to ask a virtual PA to carry out?

When you consult with a virtual PA, she or he will outline the type of services they offer. Together, you will come up with a bespoke plan designed to support you that is unique to your business needs. The main thing to remember is that a virtual PA is a service provider, not an employee. The services your virtual PA provides are independent of your immediate day-to-day business operations.

There are some tasks in particular that are typically not provided by virtual PAs:

  • Virtual PAs are not receptionists or call centres. Their time is spent concentrating on client work and focusing on projects. They have their own phone lines and businesses to take care of. Virtual PAs do not usually run errands. What you may need is a concierge service. You might even look at hiring a student.
  • Virtual PAs do not work onsite. Virtual PAs are not temps. They are business owners who work from their own offices. Their work is virtual and performed remotely from their own place of business. Think of them in a similar way to how you think of your accountant or lawyer.

10. How do I know I can trust someone enough to give them access to my personal information and count on them to be competent enough to handle my work?

Much of this is going to depend on how you go about your selection process. Each virtual PA is an independent business owner. That means you are going to need to conduct your research based on a set of qualifying criteria, review websites and then consult with those virtual PAs who interest you and seem best qualified to meet your needs.

One of the best ways to find out about a level of service is to ask whether your potential virtual PA is able to put you in touch with any previous or existing clients. Testimonials speak volumes.

There is never a 100% guarantee that we won't have any problems with a service provider we select. As consumers, all any of us can do is try to make the most educated decision possible, based on value, quality, competence and fit. And that requires us to do our homework. Beyond that, there simply will need to be a minimum level of trust extended or there is no basis for the business relationship.

Trust needs to be earned, and do remember that virtual assistance is an ongoing, collaborative relationship. As you continue to work together, you build upon that initial trust. If, at some point in the relationship, it makes sense to give your virtual PA access to personal or confidential information in order to conduct work on your behalf, that's something you can decide then.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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