Back in Dan Draper’s day, there were plenty of assistants to take over the administrative tasks that cropped up. But the days of “Mad Men” are long gone, and many of us are paying the price for having to handle mundane—but critical — duties. Maybe it’s time to bring back the things that make sense.
Technology has helped us be so self-sufficient that it can feel old-fashioned or sort of elitist to think we need someone to help us keep our calendar, book a flight or research a new customer.
But as the number of hours American workers spend on work-related tasks increases, it’s becoming clear that no amount of technology is going to fix the problem.
We need help. Human help.
Enter the virtual assistant.
A virtual assistant is someone you may or may not meet personally, but is trained to handle dozens of tasks that can bog down your day like scheduling meetings, posting on social media, getting bids or even scheduling your next vacation.
Even for control freaks
If you’re wondering if a virtual assistant is worth it, try keeping a log of what you do for a week. Think about how much you earn an hour, and whether making a restaurant reservation with a new client, for example, is worth that amount per hour. Would your time be better spent thinking of innovative processes, revenue-producing ideas or interacting with key customers?
Entrepreneur Cheryl Yeoh writes that she tried a virtual assistant for a week. She used Zirtual, which connected her with a virtual assistant for $197 a month. Under the plan she was allowed to delegate an unlimited number of tasks to her virtual assistant, up to 10 hours per month.
For example, her virtual assistant Alice helped her do preliminary research on a freelance project, and also chased down “a previous landlord who has owed me my apartment security deposit for the past five months,” she writes. “That’s a few thousand dollars in the bank!”
Jenny Blake, who also has written about using a virtual assistant, says it is “easily one of the best things I did for my life and business last year” even though she admits to being a “control freak.”
“For YEARS I had read all the books (4-hour Work Week chief among them), and knew the importance of delegating and not being a bottleneck. But each time I tried to move forward with hiring someone, I got overwhelmed, discouraged and gave up. Who to hire? US or overseas? What should I delegate? How do I do it efficiently? Can I trust them?” she writes.
How to make it pay off
Kellennne DeSimone is a virtual assistant to Veilsun Inc. executives. Before that, she was an on-site executive assistant for other employers.
She says that whether on site or virtual, she still does many of the same tasks that help keep busy people on target. The difference is that there is sometimes more of a learning curve for her virtual clients, who must learn “what they can let go of.”
“It happens a lot in the beginning that someone won’t let loose of something. But you begin to build trust over time so that I can then say to them, ‘Why are you doing that? Let me do it.’
If you’re considering using a virtual assistant, here are some suggestions on how to ensure it runs smoothly:
- Get recommendations. DeSimone was hired as a virtual assistant after former customers saw she was looking for work. Check with your network about stay-at-home moms, students and retirees who may have set up shop as virtual assistants. Or, check out the International Virtual Assistants Association. Sites such as oDesk warn that “you get what you pay for” so remember that a very low bid may not be the best hire for what you need.
- Get your ducks in a row. A virtual assistant is not a mind reader. That means you need to be clear on what you need him or her to do and agree how best to communicate and how often. Remember that just like any other new employee, the virtual assistant needs time to learn what you need and how best to help you. Once virtual assistants have your workload in mind, they can help you set priorities and make course corrections.
- Let them provide balance. DeSimone says not only can she help you research a new client, but she can schedule your haircuts, help you find day care for your children or schedule a moving van for your relocation. Yeoh says her virtual assistant Alice took up a dispute with the DMV and won, saving Yeoh from overcharges from her insurance company.
- Don’t micromanage. It may be difficult to gauge when a virtual assistant is working, but that does not meet you need to harass him or her to check on the progress being made. If you’re worried about things getting done, simply ask for a daily progress report. This also can help keep your virtual assistant in the loop. DeSimone says she once worked for more than a week on a project, only to find out later the project had been canceled but she was never told.
The bottom line is that hiring a virtual assistant may be worth it as you strive to be more productive and innovative. If you’re feeling overwhelmed trying to keep up with your personal life and career, it may be time to consider a virtual assistant who can enable you to focus on the things that add meaning to your life – not hassles.