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What is a virtual assistant?

Heather Barnett is a freelance writer and foodie whose work has been featured in blogs, websites, magazines, and TV and radio ads. She spends her free time relaxing with her soulmate, Keith; her dog, Mosby "The Fly Slayer;" and Felix th...

The hottest new work-at-home trend

If you're looking for a work-from-home opportunity but think you have to be a writer or designer to do it, perhaps it's time to look into becoming a virtual assistant. Almost anyone has at least one skill they can leverage to do it. What's yours?
Virtual assistant working from home

A virtual assistant is a self-employed administrative or personal assistant who works remotely (usually at home) for various clients. When most people hear "virtual assistant," they assume it's a secretary who works from home.

But the field has exploded into a variety of skill sets that could be valuable to various professionals. These days, a virtual assistant is someone a lot of busy professionals just can't do without.

Why do people hire virtual assistants?

A lot of people wonder how virtual assistants stay in business. I mean, if you need an assistant, why not just hire someone to work at your business full time?

It's pretty simple, really. It comes down to money and convenience. A full-time administrative assistant can cost anywhere from $35,000 to $50,000 or more (based on data at Salary.com for beginner to senior-level administrative assistants in Dallas, Texas). That's not even including benefits and bonuses. That's a hefty price to pay if you don't need someone around all the time or if you only need their help on a few projects.

A virtual assistant makes ends meet by working for multiple people. So you can hire them to work for only the hours or tasks that you need them for. If you just need someone for five or so hours a week to take phone calls while you're in meetings or onsite with a customer, they can do that. If you need them to work more hours one week, they can usually accommodate that. And if for some reason you need to save some cash, depending on the kind of contract you have with them, you can usually just discontinue their services until you've got the cash to afford it.

What can a virtual assistant do?

There are a variety of virtual assistants and they all have different skills. Some may gear their work more toward scheduling and logistics, while others may focus on web-based services like manning email accounts, doing research or social media. Here are just a few things they can help you with.

  • Upload blogs or email newsletters
  • Respond to emails and set up email lists
  • Transcribe voice memos, conference calls and more
  • Run your calendar and plan your travel
  • Research
  • Compile data into organized spreadsheets
  • Handle forwarded phone calls when you're unavailable or out of town
  • Any time-consuming or repetitive tasks
  • Help you hire other employees by doing preliminary research on candidates
  • Write and distribute standard business communications
  • Prepare presentations
  • Manage your social media accounts
  • Coordinate with vendors
  • Place orders for new supplies

There are actually so many things a virtual assistant can do, we can't list them all!

Want to become a virtual assistant? We'll tell you how! >>

How to hire a virtual assistant

Just because virtual assistants can do all this stuff doesn't mean they can all do it equally well. Look for someone who has experience in what you need. A lot of VAs can write press releases, for example, but often you're better off hiring a writer, as press releases are their own skill set. And a VA who's great at press releases can't necessarily handle an extra-busy schedule.

The key is to write down a list of which skills you need, and find someone who can do them all!

More on home-based business

How to set up a legal home-based business
How to start a newsletter for your home-based business
Work from home? Health insurance for freelancers

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